Belarusian Alumna Inspires Positive Changes in Kobrin Community

Speeches Shim

Tuesday, June 8, 2021
Elena Mezentseva presents “NO TO MODERN SLAVERY”, the first and only board game in Belarus dedicated to preventing human trafficking.

Elena Mezentseva is an activist of the Bona NGO and Kobrin Business Women Club. In 2013, she was selected to take part in the Community Connections visitor exchange program. Elena spent three weeks in Chicago, Illinois where she met with local civic and political leaders from the U.S. government and non-profit organizations who exposed her to the best American practices of using ICT to strengthen the NGOs’ capacity.

Upon her return from the United States, Elena implemented nearly a dozen projects to develop the local community of her hometown of Kobrin. The projects, implemented in partnership with international and local organizations, tackled a range of issues including developing a volunteer movement, promoting active aging among senior citizens, preventing domestic violence, promoting gender equality among preschoolers, teenagers and teachers, as well as programs to prevent human trafficking. Some of Elena's projects also contributed to building a community children's playground with sports and recreation facilities.

During Elena’s visit to the United States, she was most impressed by the American belief that "everyone can realize their potential, do what they love, make their dreams come true, and live an interesting, rich, and meaningful life with the support of government or non-governmental organizations."

Back home, Elena drew inspiration from the enthusiasm and energy of the elderly people of her city. With a wealth of their underutilized capacity, Elena organized a seniors community and encouraged them to play a more active role in the life of the local community. In 2015, she organized the Kobrin Golden Age University, mostly run by volunteers, with a vision to break stereotypes about older people as incapable. She did this by enhancing their participation in their communities and building a positive attitude towards seniors among the public.

In 2016, Elena began promoting the principles of gender equality, interlinked with prevention of domestic violence efforts. Her team developed various programs for children and young adults. These programs included targeting preschoolers and teenagers with board games that present the idea of gender equality and explain why understanding its fundamental principles is so important in the modern world. At the same time, teacher training programs developed by the team enabled elementary and secondary school teachers to discuss the issues of gender equality, domestic abuse, and human trafficking with their students.

In cooperation with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and with USAID funding, Elena developed “NO TO MODERN SLAVERY,” the first and only board game in Belarus dedicated to preventing human trafficking. This game uses easy-to-understand concepts to teach young people about this complex problem. Paintings by the winners of the Kobrin Art Contest for Kids were used in the game design.

Elena has long been passionate about the idea of organizing forum theaters and making them a popular activity in the schools of Kobrin. Forum Theater is a social interactive theater where participants prepare short sketches focusing on important social problems and presenting ways to solve them. In 2015, one of the schools in Kobrin organized forum theaters on preventing human trafficking, with a view to develop the skills and models of safe behaviors in non-standard situations. Later, in 2017, with the support of the US Embassy's Small Grants Program, Elena spread the Forum-Theater activity to rural schools of the Kobrin district focusing on one of the most pressing topics outside Minsk – gender sensitivity among young people and their embrace of equal opportunities for everybody.

Elena's irrepressible enthusiasm and her boundless faith in the power of the local community drove efforts of local residents to build a children's playground and sports area in 2017. "I was amazed by the involvement of local community members in the creation of the public space for sports and recreation. People volunteered their time and energy, they worked as a team, and put their heart and soul into the project once they realized they were doing it for themselves and for their own children."

In addition, Elena was involved in the implementation of the "Agreement of Mayors" in Belarus project. This activity instigated a number of educational events on environmental issues and coordinated the cultural exchange project for schoolchildren as part of the Eastern Partnership Territorial Cooperation Support Program "Belarus – Ukraine". In 2017, Elena was named the Person of the Year in Kobrin in the "Society and Initiative" category.

The alumni network is a valuable resource to the Community Connections program. Elena contributes to this network by organizing and holding events for the alumni in the Brest region. Community Connections alumni of Kobrin have a strong local community and Elena often invites her fellow alumni to be experts and consultants in her projects.

Since the start of the Community Connections program in 2006, more than 700 Belarusian professionals explored American best practices and experienced American culture in various U.S. communities. Every year, the program provides an opportunity for 60 Belarusian professionals to develop leadership and entrepreneurship skills to contribute to the social and economic development of Belarus.

Last updated: September 13, 2021

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