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Visitors from Belarus Learn About SCOE Reentry Programs

Annual Exchange Program Offers Knowledge and Experience Sharing

Visitors posing with SCOE staff

SCBC Project Specialists Pete Smith and Natalya Weltman, Director Christi Fee, and SCOE Communications Director Xanthi Soriano welcomed visitors from Belarus to learn about SCOE’s reentry programs.

Situated on the northern border of Ukraine, Belarus has allowed Russian forces to use the country’s territory in its war against Ukraine and is widely known for repression of government critics. According to the Human Rights Watch World Report 2024, almost 1,500 people remain behind bars in Belarus on “politically motivated charges, including human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, opposition politicians, culture workers, trade unionists, and activists. Authorities increasingly subjected political prisoners to incommunicado detention, torture, and other forms of ill-treatment.”

The International Visitor Leadership Program, an exchange program operated by the United States Department of State, is collaborating with the Institute of International Education to empower human rights advocates from Belarus by providing them with a month-long opportunity to exchange knowledge, experiences, and strategies with relevant counterparts in the United States. Participants are nominated each year for the exchange program by the staff at U.S. Embassies around the world.

As part of their visit to the United States, four Belarusian representatives toured the Sacramento Community Based Coalition (SCBC) last Thursday. SCBC is one of the successful reentry programs operated by the Sacramento County Office of Education (SCOE) in partnership with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to assist those reentering the community from prison and jail.

The Belarusian human rights advocates are learning about the historical context of human rights advocacy in the U.S. They are examining the influence of activists on policymaking, exploring the organizational structures of advocacy groups, and analyzing various human rights concerns—including issues like domestic violence prevention, LGBTQ+ rights, and access to education. Also central to the project is a focus on prisoner rehabilitation.

“The context of this visit is powerful, and it’s inspiring to think that our experience helping clients succeed in their reentry process here in the U.S. can help improve human rights in other countries,” said SCBC Director Christi Fee. “Meeting these dedicated and courageous visitors was exciting. We hope our success stories help inform and inspire their important work in Belarus.”

Project Specialists Pete Smith and Natalya Weltman helped the SCBC director showcase the reentry program, explaining the best practices the program incorporates to achieve results in reducing recidivism. Several clients also shared their experiences with incarceration and reentering the community.

During their U.S. visit, the Belarusians are particularly interested in learning about the importance of advocating for the rights of those unjustly imprisoned, along with ways to support their reintegration into society after serving their sentence. The group brings unique perspectives and expertise. From legal advisors to human rights defenders and youth activists, they represent the resilience and determination of those fighting for justice in Belarus.

By amplifying the voices of those who courageously advocate for the rights of human and political prisoners through initiatives like this, the international community shows its commitment to upholding the principles of human rights and democracy worldwide. Those living in the United States can get involved in the International Visitor Leadership Program at the community level. Visit Global Ties U.S.—an organization that supports the involvement of more than 80 nonprofit organizations—for information about a variety of local activities.