September 28, 2018

Through the Participant's Eyes: Americans in Russia

CIPUSA has an extensive network of people, organizations, and universities whose paths intertwine with one another throughout the years.  Our goal is to provide meaningful connections for this growing international network, with hope that when the right people are brought together they generate new and creative ideas. From this, new projects are formed that address today's challenges and provide continued growth and sustainability.  

Organizations in the CIPUSA network, located in Michigan, Arizona, and Russia took their shared values and missions, and the desire to reconnect with their extended alumni and their respective partners to work towards growth.  As a result of this brainstorming, Colleagues International, a Michigan non-profit, was awarded a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. Working in collaboration with Empower International, CIF Russia and CIPUSA, Colleagues led this project to support the development of Russian NGO’s to better serve their communities and to help create a framework for CIF Russia to transition into an umbrella organization that serves members and partners throughout Russia.

Throughout the past year this project allowed us to bring social workers and social entrepreneurs from both St Petersburg and Moscow to train in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Phoenix, Arizona.  What is special about this group is our shared connections. Some were CIF Russia members, and others past Open World Delegates from previous years. This was old friends, with new initiatives.  Reconnecting is invigorating, and enhances our own investment in each other's work and lives. It makes our work more meaningful-I’m helping a friend to be successful, not a stranger. Months after the initial US visit, 9 of us were able to travel together to Russia to now be hosted by our past guests.  Those who joined our Russia-bound group had been involved with hosting in the US. Some were families, others were trainers, organizational hosts, and program coordinators. As the months passed, our connection to the project grew, as did our connection with the people involved. 

We showed them our city, and they showed theirs.  They enjoyed Wild West GhostTowns, and we saw Russian Ballet.  We had burgers and pizza for them, and they shared pelmeni and vitamin salad for us!  There is so much that goes into creating a meaningful, purposeful, cultural and interactive experience, that our appreciation grows for one another as the days pass by.  We were now being hosted by our house guests, and they were making us dinner in their home, or drove us around and shared stories of the past, while we soaked up the beauty of the buildings, palaces, gardens and people.  We reconnected with old friends, and it made this project special. In the end, our bonds grew stronger, as did the ideas for further collaborative work with one another. We look forward to sharing future stories of how we turn this years worth of brainstorming, sharing, and exchange into sustainable growth and improvement in the social sector for our Russian counterparts. 

The following pictures describe the U.S. team’s visit to St. Petersburg and Moscow in late July.


We arrived in St Petersburg and after going for a walk around the city center to shake off our plane legs, we stopped to enjoy our first group late night dinner together with our wonderful hosts, CIF Russia!


We got the royal treatment!  A private dining experience while we visited the Hermitage!  


St Petersburg is filled with such rich history and beauty!  Here we have a guided tour of the gardens and Palace at Peterhof, with CIF colleague Andrei, eager to share Russian history with us.


Reunited!  Kristina and her host mom Mary from Kalamazoo, Michigan, enjoying the sites in St Petersburg.


Our programs are comprehensive-we not only meet amazing people but they host us in their home for dinner!  Our hosts are preparing our plates-and it was delicious!

Throughout our week we met with many amazing social workers, social entrepreneurs, and those working in other NGO’s that serve vulnerable populations, or work towards community betterment.  Here we are in an engaging discussion with social entrepreneurs, learning about their workshop, as you can see the wonderful goods for sale behind us! (Don’t worry, we did a good amount of shopping before heading out!)


We are so proud of our mistress of ceremonies, Maria from CIF Russia.  Here, as we conclude this part of the trip, we are in small table dialogues with peers to share about our week and gauge suggestions for future partnerships.  Great work CIF Russia! You have amazing professionals in your community!


Good bye St Pertersburg!  What a lovely farewell! We took a river boat and had the opportunity to stop right under the fireworks. On this day the city also celebrated Navy Day!  We were awed by the pomp and circumstance, the navy ships, and people bustling all over the city center.

Farewell St. Petersburg!  Nothing is more exciting than the ongoing life connections and bonds that are built through this amazing program.


The warmest welcome from our friends in Moscow!  These amazing social entrepreneurs are gifted in hosting and celebrating!  We are lucky to have such great partners!


What better way to kick off your arrival in Moscow then to have a guided night walking tour that ends in the Red Square!  WOW! Words can’t describe how this feels.


This is Andy. Andy is fun!  He’s also a rock and roll star who doubled as our guide all around Moscow. Not only does he play guitar, sing, tell history, and run amazing community projects, he is demonstrating a Flash Mob that took over Moscow.  Thanks Andy!


When you are surrounded by parks, you can’t help but take group pictures!  Here are some of our amazing travelers, from Kalamazoo, Phoenix, and Cleveland!


Jodi and Lisa-what can you possibly be doing? You’re learning through “Tales by the fireplace”-it's a guided exercise to allow children, teens and adults to understand, through experiential exercises, about aging.  We know these two gained empathy!This is one of several projects and organizations run by one of our hosts, Natalia.

Our final site visit in Moscow with the wonderful women's social entrepreneur group, OPORA Russia. What a wonderful way to conclude the working part of our program, meeting these inspirational women and learning about all of the work they do for their communities.


What better way to end our time in Moscow, and Russia, then a beautiful river cruise!  What a stunning city!

Farewell Moscow!  Russia, we all loved you and hope to be back!  Our colleagues from Kalamazoo spend time winding down with Svetlana, one of our amazing hosts!  This cruise was a fantastic end to an amazing week!

Posted by Lindsey Walsh on September 28, 2018 at 4:36 PM in Participant Permalink
Carol Lopinski says:
October 11, 2018 3:18 PM

What a wonderful overview of an amazing experience! I am so grateful to have had the opportunity and am anxious to continue our relationships and connections. Thank you CIF Russia hosts and members for a once in a lifetime adventure. All my best, Carol
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Stacy Moreno says:
October 20, 2018 12:08 PM

LOVED IT!! Keep on doing great work! This is so fabulous!
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