Citizens of San Luis Obispo County, it's time to brush up on your Ukrainian, stand up straight, and look democratic. The SLO County Chapter of the League of Women Voters (which is not exclusive to women and hasn't been since the 1970s) is hosting a delegation of five Ukrainian government officials Oct. 14 through 22 in conjunction with the Open World Program. Congress started the program in the late '90s, originally with the purpose of bringing Russian citizens to the United States to learn about how a democracy operates. Several years ago, the program was expanded to include several Eurasian countries, including Ukraine.
"The League of Women Voters decided to participate in the program, and they asked for proposals from their local leagues," said League President Trudy Jarratt.
The SLO County League prepared a proposal, which the national League of Women Voters accepted, making the SLO County League of Women Voters one of only five branches across the entire country that was chosen to participate in the program.
"The objective of the program is to acquaint them with how a democracy runs, and, as a side benefit, we hope that the people they meet in SLO County will form a lasting liaison," Jarratt said. "These newly elected officials could possibly be very important players in the Ukraine. It is a fledgling democracy."
Each member of the Ukrainian delegation is a newly elected city official. An interpreter certified by the State Department will accompany the delegation, and members of the League of Women Voters will house them. In addition to the interpreter, the League of Women Voters is requesting that any community members fluent in Ukrainian contact the group about attending social functions.
During the trip, the delegation will meet with local government officials and media representatives and also be exposed to a sampling of SLO County's cultural and social offerings. The packed itinerary offers dining at local restaurants, including AJ Spurs in Grover Beach, a tour of Monta"a de Oro, a meeting with a city manager, dinner with the mayor of Morro Bay, dinner at Farmers' Market in SLO, a performance titled "Triple Gold" at the Clark Center, the opportunity to observe a Pismo Beach City Council meeting, shopping at Wal-Mart, a tour of Hearst Castle, and dinner and dancing at The Graduate. Toward the end of the visit, on Oct. 20, the League of Women Voters will be host to a banquet at the San Luis Obispo Country Club. A Ukrainian delegate will speak about his experiences in San Luis Obispo and State Superintendent of Education Jack O'Connell will speak about the significance of education within democracy. The public is welcome to attend the banquet. Tickets cost $30, and are limited.
Each of the events on the itinerary was carefully selected as a reflection of successful cooperation between the government and the governed. Cooperation between community members and the League of Women Voters was also necessary to make the experience possible. The Clark Center Association provided tickets to "Triple Gold" free of charge, and many organizations and government officials are volunteering their time to discuss the roles they play within a democratic government.
"We want them to go back home and say, 'I spent eight days in SLO County and I want my town or city to be run the same way San Luis Obispo is,'" Jarratt said. "It is a true democracy."
The League of Women Voters of San Luis Obispo County can be reached at 543-2220.
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