Journals from the GLC Professional Fellows Program
A reflection written by Tünde Tóth and Genoveva Horvath, GLC Fellows Program participants
Our exciting journey as GLC Professional Fellows started with a call for applications for a community organizing program organized by the Great Lakes Community Action Partnership (GLCAP). The program included a four-week internship at different NGOs, which immediately appealed. We were among 12 applicants selected from five countries – Albania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Romania and Hungary. Each of us underwent a series of interviews testing our English language skills and their ability to work in a team. The national coordinator of the program was the Civil College Foundation (CKA). We arrived together in the United States on the 4th of September, 2023. We spent our first days together in downtown Chicago, getting to know each other through team building activities and attending orientation. We also received a five-day training on community organizing that was very inspiring and gave us an opportunity to learn about the exciting way Americans communicate – well beyond what they communicate about! In our free time, we explored the city and discovered Chicago’s amazing architecture and culture.
After 5 days, we split into pairs and were sent to different states across America where we were matched with organizations in our home field for a four-week placement. At the end of the program, we gathered together in Washington, DC for a conference with participants from around the world who had come for similar programs. It was amazing to meet so many interesting people from around the world, to talk with them and discover the differences and the many similarities between us.
But what happened during the four-week internship?…
I work at the Trade Union of Teachers in Hungary (PSZ), and community organizing is part of my job. I applied for the GLC Professional Fellows Program to learn best practices abroad and bring them back home to implement in Hungary.
An Albanian fellow and I were sent to Toledo, Ohio, for internships at the Toledo Federation of Teachers (TFT). This organization represents teachers in the public schools. Kevin Dalton, our mentor and the president of TFT, took us everywhere with him for four weeks. We attended meetings, visited different schools, and met teachers. This opportunity to shadow him gave us great insight into trade union activities and the U.S. education system.
Dalton was elected president of TFT in 2011. Since that time, he has both worked on professional issues and also helped the community. He believes that if the city of Toledo becomes more livable, families and children will be more relaxed and balanced, and that balance will appear in the classroom, too.
We had the opportunity to visit several schools: elementary schools, high schools, and an aviation academy. Compared to Hungary, these schools were better equipped, and the buildings were more modern. However, their problems were very similar to those in Hungary. For example, classrooms face a shortage of teachers, and salaries are lower than average. Trade unions in the U.S. also face similar challenges as those in Hungary.
According to my experience, the biggest difference between Hungary and the United States is the attitude citizens hold on certain issues. Teachers and citizens are much more aware of their rights in the U.S., and they are much more active in public life. They are constantly being encouraged to practice their rights. For example, they regularly vote for school boards and about their taxes.
I would like to start a training program for teachers and educational workers in Hungary. We need to start building rights awareness, and we need to educate our members about their rights and how to practice them effectively.
I did my internship in Chicago, with an organization called ONE Northside, which deals with several different social problems: from housing and environmental injustice to curbing police brutality and keeping the peace between urban gangs. ONE Northside unites and nurtures community-based leaders across Chicago’s diverse Northside neighborhoods to build collective power to eliminate injustice and make lasting change.
A Romanian fellow and I were closely engaged with the housing justice project – we even joined a protest at Chicago’s city hall and could also join the City Council! We also learned about their other work as well, including their police accountability and their parent mentoring projects. The violence prevention team is making a direct impact on those most effected by gun violence caused by the rival Chicago gangs. I was impressed by how ONE Northside works to mobilize and train people in their communities to advocate for themselves and their neighbors on the issues that affect them the most, like affordable housing, access to mental health services, resources for their public schools, solutions for climate change, and so on. These efforts deeply inspired me and confirmed my belief that “teaching people to fish is more valuable than giving them fish” – as the wise saying goes.
We got to know other local organizations as well, such as “Voice of the People” and the Chicago Housing Initiative (CHI), which promote and provide affordable housing in Chicago, and more.
I picked up many useful ideas and techniques in base building and fundraising, which are both crucial areas of community building. I learned about building and climbing leadership ladders and other leadership development tools. I am particularly excited about beginning to use “One-on-Ones” and understanding the power of Relational Action.
However, what made the biggest impression on me was the power of volunteering in American culture. I am inspired to make the power of volunteerism known and propagated among the Hungarian people. I believe that this could be an effective way to move Hungarian society out of apathy and fear, and to indirectly make the Hungarian people more aware of democratic principles and civil rights, which too many people are currently afraid to exercise, and hopefully empower them with a much stronger civic awareness.
As part of our internship, we were required to participate in volunteer activities – which I was delighted to do. I volunteered at a beach on Lake Michigan – planting trees, picking up litter and generally helping to restore the natural beauty of the dunes. I also volunteered to a present on climate activism at a local school and spread flyers to promote upcoming musical events for the organization Music Declares Emergency. For my fourth volunteer activity, I helped distribute hot meals to people in need at the Temple Sholom, which was a deeply moving experience.
Another impactful experience I took part in was the Global Climate Strike organized by Fridays for Future Chicago. This experience was closest to my heart and my own ambitions. I also attended a professional baseball game at Wrigley Stadium, the home of the Chicago Cubs; and visited an improvisational theatre troop in the city which “gave birth” to the first such theatres. It was a pleasure to taste the special Chicago-style pizza, to see the ‘Bean’ and Buckingham Fountain, to visit the Museum of Science and Industry, to look out from 360 CHICAGO at the top of the John Hancock building, and to visit Jane Addams Hull-House Museum.
As a cultural experience, my homestay with a genuine American family provided first-hand experience about the American way of life that I found incredibly informative. And, much to my surprise, it was not that different from our European way of life. In fact, this journey has confirmed in many ways that we are all human beings, no matter where we are located geographically, with similar challenges, knowledge, curiosity, fear and joy.
We received so much on our visit to the U.S., but our new American friends and colleagues confirmed that they gained a lot from hosting us. We have provided an outsider’s perspective on their work. We also shared many different aspects of European society, such as politics, education, culture, geography and language, as well as situations and challenges that we experience in our home countries. Everyone was so helpful and cooperative as we discussed our challenges and exchanged knowledge and methods on how to overcome these challenges.
We strongly believe that the real value of this internship lays in this mutuality: people from across the globe learning from each other, empowering each other, and sharing the faith that we can make a difference in our societies and can effectively aim for a better future for each of us and our countries!