Russian visitors take home lesson in civics, courtesy of Cornelius
The Forest Grove News-Times (Forest Grove, OR)
Posted on September 26, 2007
By Nancy Townsley
|Chase Allgood / News-Times - Russian delegates enjoy a meal at Grande Foods in Cornelius. They were joined by host Holly Witte of Cornelius (far left) and Mayor Bill Bash (second from right) as they participated in a discussion about local commerce.|
Tatyana Agafonova was impressed with the glut of parks in western Washington County and the way residents “care for nature” here.
Igor Zaborskiy said it would be very easy for him to work with Americans, who are “so active in their businesses and communities.”
And Pavel Bodrykh, who has visited Oregon once before, thinks citizens of his native Russia have a lot to learn from the U.S. system of government, which includes the built-in checks and balances needed to “discourage crime and corruption.”
The Russian delegates visited Cornelius and Forest Grove last week as part of an Open World leadership program headquartered in Washington, D.C. They were escorted around town by Cornelius resident Holly Witte, who has facilitated similar groups for the past 10 years.
During a Friday afternoon lunch at The Ice Cream Shoppe in downtown Forest Grove, Murat Zakuev, a Russian farmer who rounded out the group of four, summed up his experience this way: “People were sincere and had so many happy wishes for us.”
By the time their airplane took off for home from Portland International Airport Sunday afternoon, the Russians had met mayors, toured schools, participated in public meetings and chowed down on some uniquely American food, such as hot dogs, milkshakes and root beer floats.
To a person, they said they had a good and informative time.
“I’ve been asking the question, ‘what can I use in my work from what I’ve seen here?’,” said Zakuev, 36, a former accountant. “I’m looking forward to helping my citizens get involved in addressing the local issues.”
Zaborskiy, 41, who hails from the Arkhangelsk region in northwest Russia, wants to make a difference as his country strives to make a new mark on the world stage.
“It’s really a relatively young republic,” Witte observed.
As a leader, Zaborskiy said, “I want to help people understand how to take responsibility for their future. It’s a great thing that Americans have such a clear perception about what is being done (by government) using their money.”
Cornelius City Manager Dave Waffle, who dined with the visitors in Forest Grove, seemed fascinated by their “inquisitiveness and integrity.”
“It’s been a privilege to share time with them,” said Waffle. “They’re welcome back anytime.”
A former mayor, Bodrykh, 28, was convinced his city could benefit from checks and balances of U.S. government.
“We’ve had many problems with mayors in different cities – there’s been corruption and prosecutions,” he said. One well-known leader, he added, “spent money from his budget on different purposes than he stated.”
Activism was a priority for Agafonova, 46, a former kindergarten teacher, who enjoyed talking with administrators in the Forest Grove School District (see related story on page 10A).
“The parents seem very involved with school,” she said.
After touring Cornelius, Agafonova proclaimed the city “America at its best.” She had high praise for the community’s hospitality, saying people were friendly everywhere she went.
For Witte, who shared host duties with her husband, Jim Redell, the latest Open World tour afforded her a refresher course on the mindset of folks from Russia and Ukraine.
“They’re anxious to get back home and put into place some of what they’ve learned, like having unified standards for clean water,” she said toward the end of the whirlwind week.
“They’re in that twilight phase between Communist authority and freedom,” Witte said. “They need to be encouraged.”
[Reprinted with Permission]