CCH welcomes community organizing interns from central Europe

By Rachel Ramirez

CCH Community Organizer

On Thursday, two young professionals from central Europe will begin a 3-week training with CCH community organizers through an international exchange program. They are among 19 men and women now participating in “Building Grassroots Democracy in Minority Communities,” a 6-week exchange co-sponsored by the U.S. State Department.

Miroslav Ragac comes to CCH with two years’ experience at the Center for Community Organizing in Slovakia, where he worked on a housing campaign in the city of Banská Bystrica. Since 2010, Miro has worked for the International Organization for Migration in Zvolen, Slovakia. As a project assistant, Miro assists Cuban migrants to the Slovak Republic during their resettlement period.

Anita Vodál is a trainee lawyer with the Roma Program at the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union in Budapest. She is learning organizing strategies for her work with the Roma people, who make up a large share of those living in deep poverty in Hungary. 

Miro and Anita will participate in home-stays with CCH staff and board members, hosted by legal director Laurene Heybach, Board President Jaquie Algee and Board Secretary Richard Goldstein. Our seven-member organizing staff will contribute to the interns’ experiences by having them attend meetings, events and actions. CCH first participated in the exchange last April, hosting an organizer/journalist and a social worker from Budapest, Hungary.

As an organizer who works with Chicagoans facing post-incarceration re-entry issues, including homelessness, I was fortunate to go to Europe on the exchange for three weeks in January. Seven U.S. community organizers and I visited Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Bulgaria. We met with 137 European organizers, and we trained and consulted with more than 1,400 people.

It was an immense privilege for me to be able to travel and talk with Europeans who are committed and passionate about community organizing, and furthermore, to contribute to the process of building civic participation in their newly-democratic countries. The exchange was an incredible experience in translating my organizing and training skills to a new context, across language and cultural differences.

Miro, Anita and the other trainees arrived in the U.S. on April 1. After training in Maumee, Ohio and Detroit, they arrived in Chicago April 7. A 3-day organizer training begun Monday was taught by CCH and staff from other host organizations in Chicago, including Lakeview Action Coalition and Logan Square Neighborhood Association. When the training concluded today, interns prepared to begin their 3-week stays in nine U.S. cities, from Little Rock, Ark. to Manchester, N.H.

We hope that the trainees’ time at CCH will contribute to their professional growth and the development of community organizing in central Europe. When our interns leave May 2, they will rejoin their group for nine final days of training in Washington, D.C .