Status: Presently Inactive
Program dates: 1992-2002
Volunteers Served: 217
Latvia regained its independence in 1991. The separation from the former Soviet Union dictated dramatic change, including the mandate to redirect Latvia’s planned economy to one based on a free market model. The Government of Latvia started the process of privatizing publicly–owned businesses and farms. Despite consensus on the need to proceed, there was concern that the reforms would adversely affect rural Latvia’s agricultural production and, subsequently, the standard of living due to a loss of jobs and a decline in rural income. Therefore, the Government of Latvia embraced a policy to support agricultural advisory services providing technical and business advice to newly privatized farmers to help them make the transition. It invited the Peace Corps to assist Latvian farmers by offering basic business, accounting and management skills necessary to participate in a profit oriented, market driven economy.
The Government also realized the nationwide necessity of fluency in the English language in order for Latvians to take advantage of the expanded opportunities to participate in international research and education, and to set up the cooperative relationships with other nations willing to aid in the transition process. The Government was not able to meet the expanded demand for English language education at the primary and secondary school levels and requested assistance from the Peace Corps.
A Country Agreement between the United States and the Republic of Latvia was signed by US Vice President Dan Quayle and Prime Minister of Latvia Ivars Godmanis on February 6, 1992. Two projects, English Education and Rural Enterprise Development, were launched in July that year when the first group of Volunteer English teachers and Agribusiness advisors arrived in country.
As the first Agribusiness Advisors took up their assignments in 1992, it became apparent that the original assumptions regarding reform of the agricultural sector were overly optimistic, and by 1996 the Peace Corps shifted its emphasis away from agribusiness to concentrate on the promotion of rural enterprises in general.
As originally planned, the project was to assist in the development of the agricultural sector of the Latvian economy. Two new institutions were established and the Peace Corps was involved with both from 1992-1995. One was the Latvia Agricultural Advisory Service (LAAS) that served to provide technical assistance to Latvian farmers and was responsible to the Latvia Agricultural Ministry. The other was the Agricultural Finance Corporation (AFC) of Latvia that received funding from the World Bank and was established as a relatively low cost source of credit to Latvian farmers. Both institutions had a central office and field offices in rural Latvia.
However, there was scant demand for the Volunteers’ services in the field. Two principal problems were encountered. First, the agricultural sector proved more difficult to privatize than anticipated. In addition to disagreement on agricultural policy, there were complexities of land tenure, including restoring land to registered owners prior to 1940, absentee owners, and the length of time needed to establish title. Also, some of the land was given to laborers who had worked on the state farms, but who may not have had any desire to be a private farmer. Many of the parcels were small with poor profitability prospects. As a result, there was weak demand for agricultural credit or for advisors to help create sound agribusiness practices.
A second issue revolved around a basic misunderstanding between the Peace Corps and some Latvian officials of what kind of assistance the Peace Corps Volunteers could provide. There was an assumption on the part of some that the Volunteers would be highly trained agricultural technicians who would reform agricultural production, that is, recommend new cropping systems, demonstrate better farming practices, etc. In fact, the Volunteers were business advisors with qualifications in agricultural economics, accounting, marketing, or other business-related skills. They were not the agricultural technicians some officials expected to see. There was disappointment on both Latvian and American sides.
However, there were other people in rural communities interested in establishing their own businesses unrelated to agriculture. In the absence of other demand, Volunteers started working with these potential entrepreneurs, and they associated themselves with local governments and business centers that provided advisory services to this new class of private entrepreneur.
Therefore, a new project design and new working relationships were necessary to reflect the reality in the field. The Peace Corps decided to postpone the request for additional SED Trainees in 1996 until a stronger relationship could be established with the appropriate Ministry and until project goals could be agreed upon at the national level. Thus, there were no Group 5 Rural Enterprise Development Volunteers entering the program in 1996.
A new Memorandum of Understanding was signed in July 1996 with the Local Government Administration Department. The name of the project became Small Enterprise Development (SED). The project also related informally to the Ministry of Environment and Regional Development that consulted in placement of Volunteers. New goals were established, along with Volunteers’ roles and tasks in their new assignments in the municipalities. The project focus shifted to commercial businesses, with Volunteers placed in advisory agencies for small and medium—sized business development and regional economic planning offices in local and regional governments.
By 1995, there was a growing community of Non-Governmental Organizations springing up as Latvians organized themselves privately to work for the welfare of their communities in the absence of the “social safety net” formerly provided by the State. The international community, in the form of the SOROS Open Society Fund, USAID, and the EU PHARE program, among others, were willing to fund the emerging civil society structures. However, the NGOs had no experience in organizational governance, project design, proposal writing, or accounting for expenditures ina manner required by outside donors. Volunteers in rural communities were asked to assist such organizations. Placement of Volunteers to NGOs increased and the Peace Corps NGO program was formally implemented in 1997 with the aim of helping improve organizational capacity and self-sufficiency in Latvian NGOs. The SED Volunteers became the SED/NGO Volunteers.
The demand for English education remained high during the 10 years of the TEFL Project. The Project was modified to reflect the changing needs of a rapidly developing Latvia. The TEFL teachers were asked to include lower Forms in secondary schools and to teach Business English in post-secondary institutions. In addition, Volunteers were assigned to Teacher Training institutes.
Volunteers all had a primary assignment to a school or an agency that had requested their services. The Peace Corps, as a matter of policy, assigned Volunteers to as wide an area of Latvia as possible. Peace Corps Volunteers served in 67 towns and in 164 organizations in Latvia. This included secondary schools, gymnasiums, universities, colleges, educational institutions, NGOs, business advisory agencies, tourist information centers, agriculture consultation bureaus and credit offices, city, local and regional governments. 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 a large client base and assisted other PCVs in the country. Volunteers worked in all counties of Latvia. Of the 67 different Volunteer sites, 67% had a population of less than 20,000 residents.
The first group of 24 Peace Corps Trainees came in June of 1992 and went through the intensive 11- week Pre-Service training program. That year 14 TEFL and seven SED Volunteers were sworn in to serve in the country for two years. Each subsequent year a group of Volunteers joined the Peace Corps’ in-country family, except for the SED Volunteers in 1996, as mentioned above. In all, nine groups, totaling 192 Volunteers, were sworn in following their Pre-Service Training. Additionally, six Volunteers transferred from the Peace Corps’ program in Russia in August 2001, bringing the total to 198. This was the largest number of Volunteers in the three Baltic countries. A total of 57 SED, 14 NGO, 101 TEFL, 18 Business English, and eight Teacher Trainers served in Latvia.
Volunteers are expected to be “on duty” 24 hours a day, seven days a week while in the Peace Corps. Without the normal distractions of home and family, they are able to devote 100% of their energy and attention to their service. In addition to their primary job as a teacher or business advisor, Volunteers all carried out multiple secondary projects. These projects grew out of the Volunteer’s own interest and the needs of the community in which he/she lived. These secondary projects had an impact as great as the work done in the primary assignment, and this report cannot do justice to their breadth and accomplishments.
One day each week was an “outreach day.” Negotiated in advance with their site supervisor, the Volunteers were able to work with other members of the community, whether it was another school or organization, an adult English class, an environmental clean-up project, or working with other Volunteers on national-level projects such as youth summer camps. In the secondary projects, the distinction between TEFL and SED/ NGO Volunteers became blurred, and virtually all SED/NGO Volunteers taught English classes formally or informally, and almost all TEFL Volunteers assisted businesses and NGOs with their activities, such as helping write project proposals, brochures, and other documents that needed to be done in English. Many, if not all, Volunteers helped their agency and other community members acquire computer skills ranging from learning how to type to the construction of sophisticated web sites.
Volunteers paid consistent attention in their secondary projects to youth development and inter-regional networking among teachers, business professionals as well as youth. They organized and managed a series of summer camps for Latvian professionals and students that provided an intensive weeklong training opportunity dealing with raising the aspirations of young people, acquiring new teaching techniques, deepening business skills, or exploring contemporary issues such as human rights and environmental protection. Some of the youth camps were devoted to developing English skills, and all of the camps were conducted in English giving the participants an intensive experience in using spoken English. The youth camps, especially, concentrated on Latvian integration issues, always including participants of both Latvian and Russian heritage. Issues of Gender and Development provided another theme for secondary projects in which the leadership and business skills of women and girls were the focus. Matters of public health were also of concern to Volunteers who worked creatively to enhance awareness of HIV/AIDS, drug and alcohol abuse, and sexual health.
The summer camps and other special projects completed as part of the primary assignment or a secondary activity usually required external funding. Volunteers and their counterparts were able to attract funds from a variety of sources. Two funds that were made available to Volunteers’ projects from USAID were the Small Project Assistance (SPA) and the European Business Development Fund (EBDP). From these two sources alone, almost $443,000 was generated as grants supplemented by local material and cash contributions.
The Peace Corps program has been a skills transfer program, and Volunteers in all project sectors were teachers of a sort, no matter which project they were assigned to. They created a huge body of teaching material, curricula, lesson plans, active learning methods, audio/visual aids, and they wrote textbooks that have been published by the educational press. They created educational Resource Centers, Business Centers, Community Centers, and created guides to funding sources, and business plan formats. They have introduced the concept of networking. They have taught the basics of project design and management and methods of fundraising that have brought millions of dollars of funding for Latvian community projects.
Originally, the purpose of the English Education Project was to improve the English language proficiency of Latvian students in Forms 10-12 so that they may more easily access further English-medium education from which they were isolated during the past fifty years in all fields of knowledge. However, as the transition progressed, schools lost many of their English teachers to the more lucrative private sector. At the same time, the demand for English instruction was felt at all levels of society. Peace Corps teachers were asked to teach in the lower levels of secondary schools, as well as to offer Business English in post-secondary institutions, and to train other English teachers.
Since 1992, 127 PCVs, of whom 18 were Business English teachers and eight teacher trainers, have taught English in 77 secondary schools and gymnasiums, nine universities, academies and institutes, four colleges and tertiary level schools as well as two educational institutions. Volunteers worked with 21,742 students from Forms 2-12 as well as with 2,721 teachers and 2,788 adult learners. About 225 educational institutions in Latvia have benefited from Volunteer-produced resources or books and additional materials acquired for daily use.
Volunteers increased English Language resources in their schools by developing lesson plans, curricula, additional teaching materials, tests and examinations, recorded tapes, games and puzzles. For example, a TEFL Resource Guide was developed by a Volunteer and made available to all PCVs and their counterparts at schools where PCVs teach. Also, a joint PCV and counterpart Theme- Based 4MAT Lesson Plan Book was distributed after one of the Peace Corps conferences to more than 24 schools. The book contained complete lesson plans to teach theme-based units at the upper secondary school level. Furthermore, a Volunteer completed a 17-page Guitar Technique handbook in Latvian/ English to distribute to music students. The handbook contained music theory as well as blues/jazz/rock cultural knowledge of the United States. Another Volunteer developed a Basic Business English textbook, a one-semester guide for teaching Basic English in a business context. The book included a syllabus, lesson plans, activities, quizzes, tests, homework assignments and other supplementary materials. Moreover, Volunteers developed courses on teaching American Literature in the secondary school, teaching Spanish as well as edited an exercise book for primary school English students.
All of this material, some of it unique, has been systematized and left at the Volunteers’ schools for other teachers to use as they wish. The best of the material has been placed on a CD-ROM that has been distributed to schools throughout Latvia.
Volunteers worked on larger material development projects in order to meet the need of new locally available English teaching materials. For example, more than 2000 copies of a 119-page English Reader “Of Latvia and Other Places” were distributed throughout Latvia. Many local English teachers and Volunteers worked on this project by submitting reading materials. The same Volunteers produced and published at a non-profit educational press a 64-page Teacher’s Manual, “Ideas that Work”, that was also distributed to schools in Latvia.
Six Volunteers from Group 5 (1996) worked cooperatively to develop a listening cassette for preparation of students for the 12th Form Exam. This listening cassette included 14 separate theme-based dialogues spoken by the PCVs. The cassette andaccompanying materials were received by the Latvian Association of the Teachers of English, to be included in their resource center, available for copying, and accessible to the nationwide membership of the Association.
The resources and materials obtained and produced by Volunteers helped teachers and students improve their language learning and teaching. This was particularly important in the smaller sites where teachers and students had no access to resources that were available in larger towns.
Among the techniques used by Volunteers to develop critical thinking skills and to develop confidence in speaking were debate clubs and student parliaments. In establishing student parliaments in their schools, Volunteers organized seminars for the participants from the schools who were interested in setting up student governments. They secured funding and coordinated student leadership courses. Each year more and more schools in Latvia started to introduce this form of student involvement into school life and group decision-making processes. As a result, ten student parliaments in eight regions in Latvia were established.
By acquiring Peace Corps Small Project Assistance and other international and local funds, Education Volunteers opened Language Resource Centers in Rçzekne University, Higher School for Social Work in Rîga, Latvian Maritime Academy and Jçkabpils Gymnasium that were accessible to not only students and teachers but other community members as well. Resource Centers possessed books, magazines, newspapers, file cabinets with lesson ideas, plans and curricula, computers with access to Internet, audio-visual equipment, VCRs and other materials. Furthermore, Volunteers assisted schools and received funds from the SOROS Foundation to buy computers for the schools.
Small Enterprise / NGO Development
When the project was launched in 1992, its purpose was to build small enterprise capacity in Latvia’s rural areas by providing newly privatized farmers with access to those business skills necessary to profitably function in a free market economy. This did not prove feasible due to the reasons mentioned above, and by 1996 the project had been reoriented to serve small enterprise development in general, with a focus on rural communities.
During the period from 1992 until 2002, the SED/NGO project supported 32 communities in Latvia by bringing 57 SED and 14 NGO Volunteers. The SED/NGO Peace Corps Volunteers were assigned to sixteen regional and city governments, two municipalities, five enterprise support centers, one local government, eleven agriculture consultation bureaus, four agriculture credit offices, two adult education centers, nine NGO support centers, ten other NGOs, and finally to the Latvian Tourism Board and EU PHARE. 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 assisted 1,382 newly privatized Latvian farmers and 4,673 entrepreneurs in gaining basic business practices and skills in locating and taking advantage of profitable points of supply and markets. The project also assisted 784 NGOs in development of organizational capacity, increased self-sufficiency, long range planning and organizational development. As a result, the long-term goals of the SED/NGO Project were achieved by a variety of Volunteer and community initiated activities and projects.
SED/NGO Volunteers spent the majority of their time advising individual entrepreneurs on business practices. They also developed and conducted seminars and workshops for their business and NGO clients designed to enhance their management practices and increase their understanding of the dynamics of a free market economy. They worked with local government officers to help improve municipal planning and management skills, with credit officers to increase their management and computer skills, with the tourist industry on ways to promote tourism in Latvia, with farmers in building their business capacity, and with NGOs in fundraising and board of directors development.
They helped create Business Advisory and NGO centers including Enterprise Support Centers in Rîga, Rçzekne, Daugavpils, Valmiera, Liepâja, Jçkabpils, Ventspils and Saldus, and the Business Information and Coordination Centre in Lîvâni.
In the tourism industry, Volunteers contributed to the establishment of networks among members of the industry, and cooperative relationships with regional and local governments. They helped establish the Talsi Tourism Information Center with a grant from the EBDP fund; encouraged the establishment of a Hotel and Tourism Information Center in Mazsalaca; and promoted a project in Preiïi, Dagda, and Krâslava to create common tourist packages and share ideas to improve tourism in the region. Volunteers established contacts with the foreign press to promote tourism in Latvia.
Volunteers created publications to promote tourism and improve the operation of the industry. Included are brochures covering east, west and south Latvia as well as a “Latvia Hotel Guide,” “Latvia Travel Agent’s Manual,” a 20-page “Tourism Marketing Brochure’97.”
Volunteers created a large body of teaching materials in enterprise related subjects, since when the Peace Corps arrived, there was very little published material available to support the newentrepreneurs and NGOs. As part of their work, SED/NGO Volunteers wrote and published booklets in Latvian such as:
“Guide to Marketing”
“A Farmer’s Guide to Business Decision Making”
“How to Develop Business Plans”
“Farm Management Guide”
“Credit from a Banker’s Perspective”
“Farm Business Management Education Project”
“Investment Guide of Kurzeme and Zemgale Regions”
“Nine Steps – a Short Guide on Organizing Charity Events”
“Funders in Latvia”
“Proposal Writing Handbook for NGOs”
Volunteers also developed materials and brochures describing economic and/or tourism potential of their cities and regions such as “Cēsis Regional Economic Development Report,” “Marketing Brochure for Rīga School of Crafts,” “Kuldīga Tourism Promotion,” a farm marketing brochure for farmers in Bauska, three accounting manuals for the Valmiera UAC, Latvian business managers and accountants as well as city information guides for Ogre, Cēsis and other towns.
A Geographic Information System (GIS) was developed for the Talsi Regional Government to enable staff to better identify and develop resources for Talsi regional economic development planning. Grants were awarded to other Volunteers to increase the resources at the Regional Educational Resource Center and for setting up a resource library at the Rīga Stock Exchange.
The development of entrepreneurial skills in young people was an important objective for the SED/NGO project. Volunteers worked with the Junior Achievement economics programs and implemented them in many regions of Latvia including Lielvārde, Rēzekne, Ogre, Kuldīga, Jelgava, Daugavpils and other smaller regions. Volunteers taught students and trained teachers about the JA programs and teaching methods. They also assisted the JA staff with the translation and distribution of the JA economics teaching computer game MESE (Management and Economics) to 14 secondary schools in Latvia. Moreover, an EBDP-funded project was implemented in Preiïi to provide three regional schools with books and computer materials in English, Latvian and Russian to improve economic knowledge of the students.
NGO development was a particular focus for Volunteers. Among the issues they addressed was fundraising. Volunteers and their counterparts were trained by the Peace Corps in elements of Project Design and Management at workshops offered periodically by Peace Corps staff. Using materials developed by the Peace Corps headquarters and adapted locally for both language and content, these workshops trained groups of Latvians in the art of project design, but also trained them to act as trainers in their own organizations.
Funding is a major priority for NGOs and Volunteers were highly successful in helping them write grant proposals. However, the NGO sector was dependent on foreign funding, and after the early years of the transition, such funding was less available. Volunteers turned their attention to ways that NGOs could gather support from local sources.
As an example, using SPA funds, eight Volunteers and eight NGOs organized a training event for 21 participants from Tukums, Alūksne, Rūjiena, Mazsalaca and Preiļi. Entitled “Charity Event Training: Breaking the Grant Mentality Rules in Rural Latvia,” the training explored ways that NGOs can encourage local philanthropy, stage special events, and attract the interest of Latvian corporate sponsors. The training program culminated in a special fundraising event to which 170 local potential donors were invited to review the displays of materials prepared by the NGOs, including mission statements, products, services, and some items donated for auction. The event raised LVL 2,200 (approximately $3,800) that was divided among the participating NGOs.
The Peace Corps program was administered from the central office in Rīga that was opened in March 1992. The Country Director, Associate Directors for Education, SED Programs and Administration, a Program and Training Officer, Medical Officers as well as Training Coordinators for the three countries worked in the Riga office. Host Country SED and TEFL Program Managers for Latvia were hired in 1993. In 1994 the office expanded by opening a Resource Center to better support Volunteers and meet their technical needs while working in Latvia. A Latvian Language Coordinator, part-time since 1992, became full-time at the beginning of 1995.
At the conclusion of the Peace Corps mission in the country, the Resource Center materials were distributed to seventeen organizations and agencies:
- The University of Banking
- The High School of Business and Management
- The Children’s Environmental School
- The University of Economics and Culture
- Selija NGO Center
- Saldus Regional Council
- Dobele Adult Education and Information Center
- The NGO Center
- The Latvian Academy of Culture
- The University of Latvia Faculty of Economics
- The Association of Latvian English as a Second Language Teachers
- Mazsalaca Resource Center of Teachers of English
- The Vidzeme University College Library
- Daugavpils University of Pedagogics
- The University of Latvia Faculty of Education and Psychology
- The Liepāja Academy of Pedagogy
- The Latvian Association of Teachers of English
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