Status: Presently Inactive
Program dates: 1992-2002
Volunteers Served: 175
Estonia reclaimed its independence in 1991. The country committed itself to the transition from a command economy to a free market system and decentralization of power to the counties. One aspect of this process was the privatization of large state enterprises and farms, something that was likely to result in near-term increased rural unemployment and loss of agricultural productivity. In an effort to address these concerns, Estonia focused on identification of alternative economic strategies in rural development, including entrepreneurial skills development for both commercial and agricultural businesses. The Government of Estonia pledged its support to the local governments’ economic development plans to promote private entrepreneurship. However, the plan to build small enterprise capacity in rural areas was hindered by the lack of business expertise available locally.
Moreover, the country wished to regain its place in the Western world, including access to business expertise, world markets, science, and technology. Lack of English language proficiency hampered these endeavors, slowing Estonia’s progress. The country found itself with an overwhelming demand for English language instruction through all education levels. Therefore, the country needed a greater number of English language teachers as well as educational institutions for training new instructors or upgrading skills of currently serving teachers who were not English subject specialists.
A Country Agreement between the United States and Estonia was signed on February 6, 1992 by US Vice President Dan Quayle and the Head of Estonian Government, Tiit Vahi. The Peace Corps would assist in developing basic business skills necessary to participate in a market-driven economy and increase access to English language instruction in Estonia.
As in Latvia and Lithuania, the Small Enterprise Development project had a difficult beginning. As originally planned, the project focused on agricultural business advisory assistance. In early 1992 when the Peace Corps programming mission was in Estonia, legislation was in preparation that would have established an agricultural Advisory Service. While the first group of Volunteers was still in Pre-Service Training in the summer of 1992, the Advisory Service was abandoned due to a change in the Government. Thus, when the Volunteers reported to their sites, there was no governmental structure in which to work. An attempt made by the Peace Corps to involve the local government units in the sponsorship of the Volunteers met with some success. However, communication of the purpose and nature of Peace Corps services to the local level had been imperfect, and the lack of understanding of the potential assistance resulted in Volunteers having to identify their own niche in their communities. As in Latvia, there was a widely-held assumption that the Volunteers would be capable of reforming the agricultural production methods of Estonian farms. Much of the initial success of the Volunteers depended on the strength of the local governors to market the special business skills the Volunteers offered.
In 1992 the Government of Estonia was in the process of re-organizing itself into a democratic structure. Consequently there was a period of frequent administrative changes that affected the Peace Corps. The responsibility for the Peace Corps program shifted among government officials several times, and no one person held the portfolio long enough to deal with the start-up problems being experienced.
While the Volunteers continued to build their own beneficiary pool, their tasks were varied and multi-faceted. The efforts of the Volunteers during the first six months were business-focused, but many of the tasks were those of community development as they conducted needs assessments, identified target markets and attempted to convince local governments to establish short and longrange development assistance for entrepreneurs.
For these reasons the second input of SED Volunteers scheduled for 1993, Group 2, was postponed for one year to establish a stronger base of support and direct agency sponsorship that was finalized nine months after the first Volunteers’ service began. The portfolio was passed from the Department of Local Government and Rural Development to the Department of Regional Development at the Ministry of Internal Affairs in December 1993. From that point, Volunteers were assigned directly to the municipality economic development units and worked toward establishing units of information and business advising within the government unit itself.
One further change in the SED project was implemented as Estonia’s civil society structures took shape. Due to the rapid development of Non-Governmental Organizations in Estonia, the Peace Corps brought in NGO Volunteers in 1997 to support NGO management and development.
Volunteers were requested by an agency or a school and were posted to that agency as their primary assignment. Peace Corps Volunteers served in 64 towns and in 128 organizations in Estonia including secondary schools, universities, educational centers, NGOs, business advisory agencies and tourist information centers as well as city and county governments. Volunteers worked in all 15 counties.
As a matter of policy, the Peace Corps assigned Volunteers to as many communities as possible, stressing service to the smallest towns and villages. Of the 64 towns served, 78% had a population of less than 10,000. Volunteers were replaced in successive years in some organizations due to continuing or newly created projects that needed PCV involvement, or because they were umbrella organizations in which PCVs served the whole sector and assisted other PCVs in the country. In addition, the Peace Corps in Estonia geared its efforts to assist isolated Estonian regions and Russian-speaking areas that had the least access to international resources.
The first group of 22 Peace Corps trainees came in summer of 1992 and went through the intensive 11-week Pre-Service training program. That year 12 TEFL, and 9 SED Volunteers were sworn in to serve in the country for two years. Each subsequent year a group of new Volunteers joined the Peace Corps family in Estonia. In all, 9 groups totaling 163 worked in Estonia as Volunteers, except, due to the reasons described above, there was no Group 2 SED in the year of 1993. Totally, 40 SED, 15 NGO, 100 TEFL and 8 Teacher Trainers served in Estonia in 1992- 2002.
Volunteers are considered to be “on duty” 24 hours a day, seven days a week, except when on their annual leave. Without the responsibilities of home and family, they are able to devote 100% of their time to attaining the three goals of the Peace Corps. In addition to their primary assignment as a teacher or business advisor, all Volunteers carried out secondary projects that usually involved assisting community groups realize their own projects. The Volunteers had an “outreach day,” negotiated in advance with their site supervisor, in which they were able to work with other people in the community. Each Volunteer carried out multiple projects during his/her service whose impact is immeasurable. This report cannot do justice to the variety of secondary projects or their accomplishments.
The lines between TEFL and SED/NGO projects disappeared in these secondary projects and each Volunteer crossed over into activities of the other sector. SED/NGO Volunteers taught Business English in their centers or secondary schools, maintained English clubs or evening English classes in their town for adult learners. TEFL teachers assisted businesses with their English language correspondence, brochures, and other documents. They helped NGOs in their towns design projects and write grant proposals. Virtually all Volunteers taught the use of the computer and the Internet to their colleagues and clients, ranging from basic typing skills to the construction of web sites.
Secondary projects usually fell into the areas of environment, HIV/AIDS awareness, gender and development, sports, and youth-at-risk. They paid most particular attention to youth development as well as inter-regional and international networking and professional development among teachers and other professionals.
Intensive summer camps were organized around a variety of contemporary issues, all conducted in English giving the participants practice using the language for discussion and recreation. They also involved participants of both Estonian and Russian heritage, contributing to a better cultural understanding between these groups. Three such camps are mentioned here.
The Põlva Democratic Youth Forum and the Vinni Youth Forum, together involving almost 300 young people, were organized in conjunction with other organizations and offered students the opportunity to participate in democracy-building activities, take an active role in addressing contemporary issues within their communities, and help create networks to share resources among themselves, teachers and local authorities. The Northeast Estonia Student Business English Camp was a practical business and English language program targeted toward young ethnic Estonian and Russian students in Northern and Eastern Estonia, organized by business and education Volunteers. Each year about 100 students gained knowledge and skills in global business, communication skills, teamwork and the development of friendships between different cultural groups.
Summer camps and special projects in the primary assignment agencies were funded by a variety of international donors, governments and foundations. From SPA and EBDP funds alone, approximately $255,743 was donated to support these activities. European funds and local contributions of time and facilities were also generously provided in support of Volunteer-generated projects.
As a skills–transfer project, all Volunteers were teachers of a sort, no matter their project assignment. They arrived at a time in Estonian history when very few resources existed to support either English instruction or business development. Consequently they created a huge body of educational resources for schools and business centers consisting of curricula, lesson plans, games, puzzles, teacher aids, audio tapes, reading materials, as well as textbooks.
They helped create resource centers, libraries, business centers, NGO centers and youth centers. They introduced the concept of networking among business professionals, NGOs, teachers, and local governments to enhance knowledge and effectiveness. They encouraged activities of professional development within school faculties and assisted teachers of other languages gain certification to teach English. They taught the principles of project design and management and the art of fundraising. Through their efforts, they have attracted millions of dollars from international donors to support the projects of local Estonian development.
Originally the purpose of the English Education Project was to improve the English language proficiency of Estonian students in Forms 10-12 so that they could more easily access further English-medium education and information from which they were isolated during the Soviet period. Additionally, it was intended that through the close involvement with English teachers in the schools, the Volunteers would be able to introduce them to modern, communicative methods for the teaching of English.
Since 1992, 108 PCVs, of whom eight were teacher trainers, have taught English in 29 secondary schools and 33 gymnasiums, two basic schools and two colleges, six technical schools as well as a medical school and a teacher training center. Volunteers have worked with 23,842 students from Forms 3-12 as well as with 1,631 teachers and 5,144 adult learners. Usually, Volunteers taught four days a week in their assigned schools. One day per week they spent on outreach program activity, either teaching or working on other projects with students, teachers, community members and in resource development. About 200 educational institutions in Estonia have benefited from Volunteerproduced resources or books and additional materials acquired for daily use through these outreach activities.
Volunteers taught 16-22 formal classes per week and spent after school hours helping students improve their English language proficiency. Through a variety of active classroom and informal activities and techniques, students were able to gain greater confidence in using English.
Of particular concern was preparation for the 12th Form examination. They organized and conducted practice and review sessions, research and discussion of interview topics, writing practice, reading comprehension exercises, and practice interviews for their students. In addition to the activities for the 12th Form exam, a number of Volunteers were asked to assist students in preparing for the TOEFL exam, an examination needed for entry into universities in many English-speaking countries.
Volunteers enriched the students’ learning experience through contests such as National English Language Competitions and English Olympiads. During these activities students were able to demonstrate their English knowledge and increase their self-confidence. They introduced debate to improve critical thinking skills, as well as drama, student newspapers, English clubs, and a wide variety of extracurricular activities, all designed to give practice in spoken English. Volunteers initiated and organized various student exchange programs across the Baltics, Eastern Europe and the United States. For example, Volunteers organized a basketball exchange to America that involved thirteen students and two coaches from five schools from Estonia and America. The exchange progressed into a yearly event.
Volunteers worked actively with teachers in their own schools, as well as in communities and regional educational institutions. Volunteers visited other schools in their area and delivered “open” lessons for teachers and students. Working together, Volunteers and local teachers learned by observing each other’s classes and providing constructive feedback, a new concept for many local teachers. Also, Estonian teachers learned new ideas and teaching techniques in a learner-centered approach to teaching that was used by Volunteers. Volunteers also learned from local teachers about grammar teaching methodologies and classroom discipline.
Volunteers were actively involved in the Language Improvement Program in Estonian and Russianspeaking areas that helped teachers improve their English language skills. For example, together with the Pärnu Teacher Training Center, PCVs helped facilitate a Language Improvement Program conference for teachers of English as well as longer courses entitled “Practice Your English”.
Volunteers and their co-workers organized and ran a Professional Development Program (PDP) for certified teachers in their communities such as Tallinn, Kohtla-Järve, Sillamäe and Narva. Volunteers also provided their support in a re-qualification program for Russian language and other subject teachers that enabled a number of these teachers to qualify to teach English in Grades 3-6.
Volunteers participated in the Estonian Association of Teachers of English (EATE) annual and Regional English teachers’ conferences and seminars and gave presentations on cultural, methodological and language issues. They delivered sessions on essay-writing, how to better utilize a native speaker, how to use music, English newspapers and games in the classroom and many other topics.
Moreover, a number of Volunteers assisted the Estonian Ministry of Education in the grading, testing, interviewer skills transfer and material development of the national 12th Grade English examination. In addition, they assisted the English departments in their schools in designing and implementing profiled English curricula for students.
Small Enterprise / NGO Development
The purpose of the project was to build small enterprise capacity in Estonia’s rural areas by providing entrepreneurs and potential entrepreneurs with access to the business skills necessary to profitably function in a free market economy. The project was part of the Government of Estonia’s wider effort to address the problem of rising unemployment through the promotion of small enterprise development. Consequently, the original goals of the program were to increase the number of rural Estonians skilled in basic business practices including record-keeping, planning, and marketing, as well as business capitalization and identifying sources of needed inputs and potential markets. As the program developed, there was increasing involvement of Peace Corps SED Volunteers in NGO development. In 1997, the Project Plan was modified to include a new goal of building organizational capacity and management in NGOs.
The country has benefited from 40 SED and 15 NGO Volunteers who served in 30 communities in 1992-2002. The SED/NGO Peace Corps Volunteers were assigned to ten county, six parish and seven city governments, ten business services and advisory centers, two regional development centers, Junior Achievement, the Human Rights Institute, a Tourism Information Center and Estonian National Tourism Board, the Baltics Small Equity Fund, and finally to ten NGOs. This allowed the project to be flexible in matching Volunteers with the sites as well as maximize the use of their particular backgrounds.
The Peace Corps SED/NGO project has assisted 6,394 entrepreneurs in gaining basic business practices, 3,290 rural Estonians in gaining skills in locating and taking advantage of profitable points of supply and market, and assisted 2,836 Host Country Nationals in effectively organizing and managing NGOs in Estonia.
The most common every day practices done by every SED/NGO Volunteer in Estonia were client consultations on basic business practices. Volunteers assisted entrepreneurs with business, strategic, and marketing plans, helped in identifying investment opportunities and potential investors/business partners as well as provided guidance with the local plans and budgets.
Volunteers together with their counterparts organized training courses and seminars on business planning, management, marketing, accounting, business ethics, computers, resume writing, selling skills, banking, and many other business-related subjects. Volunteers have also designed and taught courses on public speaking, and organized discussion groups, “EU Village Coffee Talks,” in over 30 villages throughout Estonia with the goal to increase EU awareness among Estonian villages. A well-received and useful training was on Project Design and Management (PDM) first conducted by the Peace Corps staff, and then by the local Estonian organizations and Volunteers.
This teaches the principles and methods of creating successful projects of large and small scale that can enhance the chances of attracting funding.
A number of Volunteers assisted as professional consultants for Junior Achievement Applied Economic Courses in high schools. Seminars and training courses for teachers in country schools were organized and presented in each of Estonia’s 15 counties. In addition, about 60 teachers were trained, during three 3-day training seminars, to teach JA’s GLOBE (Global Learning of the Business Enterprise) program, which was incorporated in JA’s Curriculum for the 1997-98 school year. Another PCV networked with an American delegation traveling to Estonia and obtained a grant of $1000 to purchase three classroom sets of JA GLOBE materials from the Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce and Bryant College in Rhode Island. Another Volunteer assisted JA in fundraising and networking with local and international companies, helped to find funding through EBDP grant for students and teachers and JA local staff to attend the annual European-wide students’ company competition in Denmark in 1997.
PCVs participated in setting up Business Advisory and NGO Centers. Furthermore, Volunteers helped different organizations train their management and employees in building organizational capacity, plan their activities, develop grant proposals, improve fund raising skills, work with clients and foreign and local partners, and develop their boards of directors. Good examples of different activities initiated and supported by Volunteers were establishment of an Economic Development Center (an NGO) in Tapa with funding from the U.S.Embassy’s Democracy Commission, and participation in the EUfunded project “Business Around the Baltic Sea”, where the Haapsalu Business Center was involved.
Volunteers contributed a great deal of work to tourism development. One Volunteer was assigned to the National Tourism Board and coordinated activities in the rural sector that included farm tourism and tourism brochure development. Another Volunteer developed a tourist display and secured funding for a presentation at an international tourism conference in Sweden for the island of Hiiuma. He also placed historical/tourism signs in English and Estonian on the island, which was a novel concept at the time.
Business Volunteers who worked in educational institutions developed not only curriculum for business courses but also session plans on various business topics including marketing, business communication, computer business application, money and banking, foreign exchange market, worldwide financial system, accounting reports and many others.
In addition, Volunteers taught Business English classes, organized community English clubs, and taught adult classes. One Volunteer designed an introductory “crash course” for beginning learners of English; another had an English language program on the local radio station in Põlva; and one more created a negotiation game which enabled high school students to develop their negotiating skills in two-week long summer economics camps.
Volunteers, together with their counterparts, worked on materials development projects. For example, a Volunteer in Tapa worked with colleagues to produce a business catalog that was used to market much of Tapa’s available vacant land and buildings and attract investors. Other Volunteers put together a 99-page e-mail directory including contact information for companies all over Estonia that was distributed to SED Volunteer sites. A group of PCVs developed and published a “Total Quality Management” training curriculum.
The Peace Corps program in Estonia was administered from a central office in Riga and the satellite office in Tallinn. The Tallinn office was opened in 1993 and had two Program Assistants, English Education (TEFL) and Small Enterprise Development (SED). The Program Assistants were promoted in 1996 to the title of Program Manager and carried thereafter primary responsibility for the operation of the Peace Corps program in Estonia. In 1993, an Office Manager position was created. The Resource Center was opened in March 1995 and was coordinated by a part-time Resource Center Manager. Until 1998, medical support for Volunteers was provided by part-time local and American medical staff. In 1999 a full-time American Medical Officer started working in Estonia. Estonian Language Coordinators worked part-time to meet the Volunteers’ language learning needs.
At the completion of the Peace Corps mission in the country, the Resource Center materials were distributed to four organizations and agencies including the Pärnu Teacher Training Center (NGO HarKo), Rakvere Regional Language and Teacher Training Center, Tartu NGO Center and Kivioli Regional Development Center.
Peace Corps News
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Report on the U.S. Peace Corps Baltics U.S. Embassy / Estonia