A condensed version of this article was published in the May-June 2022 edition of The Review.
The war in Ukraine has captured global attention, but for Michigan Municipal League Board Member Rebecca Chamberlain-Creanga it is personal.
Chamberlain-Creanga, a member of the Troy City Council and who also works at The Kresge Foundation, spent two and a half years in Eastern Europe in the 2000s while earning her doctorate in anthropology from the London School of Economics and Political Science. One of her experiences included working at the U.S. Embassy in Moldova, which neighbors Ukraine. Through her work there as a conflict specialist, including on projects with the World Bank, she created connections with many Ukrainians that she maintains to this day.
Her story is one among many about Michigan individuals and communities supporting Ukraine.
Chamberlain-Creanga’s love for learning speaks to the lifelong learning pillar of Community Wealth Building. Her commitment to gaining new experiences and knowledge have helped her in ways she could never have imagined in the wake of the conflict in Ukraine.
Troy, Michigan has a very large Ukrainian American population, and her knowledge and personal connections helped spark inspiration and good relations within the midst of turmoil. Chamberlain-Creanga spearheaded a proclamation of support for the Ukrainian community in Troy and around that was unanimously approved by the Troy City Council. The idea for this proclamation came out of a conversation Chamberlain-Creanga had with Troy’s former state Representative Martin Howrylak, who is active in the local Ukrainian-American community. The proclamation was formally presented to Troy resident Vera Petrusha, a leader in the Ukrainian-American Crisis Response Committee of Michigan—whose members were present for the reading of the proclamation at a city council meeting on February 28, 2022. Other public officials, including Senator Gary Peters, tweeted their support. Additionally, the proclamation was shared with her hometown of Charlevoix, Michigan where her father, Sherm Chamberlain, now serves on the planning commission after previously serving several years on the Charlevoix City Council. After seeing Troy’s, the City of Charlevoix then crafted its own proclamation of support for Ukraine.
“What’s happening globally is impacting people locally—those who I serve—and for them to know that they are cared for, because my charge as a council member is to care for the health, safety and welfare of our people,” Chamberlain-Creanga said. “When their welfare is under attack, or they are struggling, I thought it was important to make a stance to say ‘we stand with you.’”
Hearing about the devastation of people both inside and outside of her community prompted Chamberlain-Creanga to take action.
After the proclamation had been written, she noticed a Ukrainian flag flying at a house close to her neighborhood and decided to “cold call” by going up to the house and knocking on the door. In conversation with the neighbor, it turned out that the family had Ukrainian roots, with multiple family members who spoke fluent Ukrainian. They explained to her that they had been up until three a.m. every night trying to call their family, just to see if they were still alive.
After telling them about the proclamation “they were so moved, and they told their family in Ukraine and they were so touched,” she said.
Creating this sense of solidarity within her community in Troy, and beyond is a great example of the importance of lifelong learning in helping form strong communities. Chamberlain-Creanga’s passion for serving her community paired with her knowledge of the region allowed her to make her community a place that people are proud to live in.
Chamberlain-Creanga‘s learning hasn’t stopped now that the proclamation is finished.
In April, while many were heading to warm climates for Spring Break, she and her family took a trip to Oradea, Romania—not far from the Ukrainian and Hungarian borders—to visit with her husband Ovi’s family and to provide humanitarian support to Ukrainians fleeing war. Oradea has received many refugees, and so she was able to visit multiple refugee centers there. A friend of Ovi’s helped establish a center for refugee children who have special needs or disabilities, they are working to help the children out of Ukraine so that they can get the care they need. Additionally, they visited a refugee center that is set up by the Red Cross and Romanian authorities.
During the trip, she and her family were also able to visit the peaceful Chernivtsi Oblast in western Ukraine. Ovi’s uncle makes trips there frequently with supplies. Since the region is peaceful, “it is an important hub for humanitarian aid supplies,” she said. Chamberlain-Creanga, her husband Ovi, and their son William joined Ovi’s uncle on one of his trips and were able to meet with local government officials as well as visit refugee centers there.
In reflecting on her recent travels Chamberlain-Creanga remarked “a lot of it was starting with learning, going back to that pillar of Community Wealth Building. Just to first of all talk to people. It was really a posture of learning, and then where we could help, where we could bring some donations.”
She stressed that listening is a huge part of the lifelong learning process—listening to both refugees and those running refugee centers. She has learned more about how everyone is working together to help people access the supplies and care that they need.
While visiting the Ukraine region, Chamberlain-Creanga was particularly impressed with the resolve of the people.
“We saw billboards expressing urgency and positivity. There’s such a sense of love for country and a feeling of ‘we’re going to get through this.’ When I tell them about the support for them back in Michigan, there’s a sense from people that ‘if Troy, Michigan is with us, the world is with us.'” She also shared: “There was a flag as you left the big government humanitarian base. People who come to help write the name of their cities, so I wrote Troy on there.”
Her advice to others looking to continue their own personal lifelong learning journey and to help Ukraine is, “Number one—look around you.”
She shared that there are always opportunities to gain knowledge. Her commitment to lifelong learning is a prime example of the importance of continuing to strive for knowledge, and how that knowledge can shape and impact our lives in ways that one could never have expected. She noted that before taking action, there is always learning that needs to come first.
To create better policies, to create stronger communities: “learning is essential,” she said.