Women and girls of Smorgon empowered by Belarusian Community Connections alumna

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Tuesday, June 8, 2021
Community Connections alumnae Yulia Shpakovskaya (on the right) with Tatsiana Naumovich carrying out the financial literacy course for women.

In 2014, Yulia Shpakovskaya, as the head of Smorgon social service center "Warm House," took part in the Community Connections exchange program on the theme of “Domestic Violence Prevention”. Yulia and nine other Belarusian professionals spent three weeks in St. Louis, Missouri, exploring best American practices to prevent violence. Today, Yulia continues her professional career as the Deputy Head of the Young Women Christian Association Smorgon, implementing several projects to promote gender equality, prevent domestic violence, and support victims of domestic violence.  

Yulia's visit to the United States through the USAID Community Connections exchange program left an incredible impression on her. She was amazed by the work her American counterparts were doing with aggressors and victims of domestic violence. "It took me quite some time to come to my senses after the exchange program," Yulia recounts. "I was simply swept away by the variety and number of organizations that work with domestic violence, providing comprehensive but also targeted assistance to all parties of aggressive acts depending on their gender, age and the nature of aggression. I was also impressed by the system of restraining orders and follow-up measures through a judicial system with built-in incentives for aggressors to choose between a jail term and anger management therapy. Typically for the United States, many aggressors are keen to find a solution to their problem." 

Yulia worked on domestic violence issues long before she participated in the Community Connections program. She was involved in various preventive efforts and awareness campaigns to discuss the problem, characterize how one should not tolerate domestic violence, inform how to stay away from violence, and suggest appropriate ways to be a witness to aggressive behavior. Yulia’s participation in the exchange program was perfect timing because Belarus was considering proposals for a bill on domestic violence. To date, provisions on domestic violence have been included in the law on misdemeanor prevention. As a result, Belarus introduced protective orders that ensure isolation of an aggressor away from the family for a certain time period.   

Yulia realized that apart from temporary protection from aggressors, victims needed other kinds of support. They needed social and psychological rehabilitation, legal literacy and awareness of their rights to be resourceful, both for themselves and their children. Therefore, Yulia and her team opted to train professionals to work with survivors, as well as building networks between agencies combating domestic violence. 

Once back home in Smorgon, Yulia, in collaboration with USAID Community Connections alumni Roman Kruchkov, Tatiana Naumovich, and Olga Matukhova, designed and implemented a number of local projects targeting  victims of domestic violence and professionals who could provide assistance to them. 

In 2017, Yulia used the support of the US Embassy Small Grants Program to implement a project that contributed to interagency cooperation between law enforcement, education, and medical institutions on solving domestic violence issues and strengthened the capacity of professionals working with this topic. The project also facilitated multifaceted professional assistance to victims of domestic violence in Smorgon.  

Over the past three years, Yulia has continued her programs of comprehensive aid to women victims of domestic violence and awareness raising events for teenage girls. Her projects promote interagency cooperation and capacity building efforts for specialists, provide rehabilitation services to victims, raise legal awareness, offer financial literacy training for women, and teach women and teenage girls skills for living in a violence-free environment. 

One of Yulia's most outstanding projects is "I will do it in a different way," which helps teenage girls from socially disadvantaged families to reach their potential, reduce the likelihood of developing a victim’s mentality, and become resourceful and self-reliant adults. The project team will develop a victimhood prevention model based on best practices from working with teenagers from Sue Shear University, RAVEN, and Safe Connections, which Yulia learned during her USAID Community Connection exchange program. This project is implemented through the US Embassy's Small Grants Program.

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 US communities. Every year, USAID provides an opportunity for 60 Belarusian professionals to develop leadership and entrepreneurship skills and to contribute to the social and economic development of Belarus.

Last updated: September 13, 2021

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