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Environmental Progress - Spring 1997

Illinois EPA Attorney Returns From Peace Corps Assignment

Janet Magnuson spent two years demonstrating democracy in the former USSR.

When people think of the Peace Corps they tend to picture remote villages in Asia, Africa or Latin America. However, the Peace Corps also sends volunteers to countries in the former Soviet Union, including the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Ukraine, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania and Russia. Czechoslovakia split peacefully on January 1, 1993, to become the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Janet Magnuson, an Illinois EPA Bureau of Water attorney, was asked to go to Slovakia (also referred to as the Slovak Republic) between July 1994 and October 1996. The Peace Corps normally sends volunteers to their assignments for a period of two years plus a three month training program which is usually held in country and includes language, cultural and technical training.

Peace Corps Slovakia currently has three types of volunteers: small business development, environmental management and English teachers. Janet was assigned as an environmental volunteer, working with local governments, parks management and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The NGOs need considerable management and fund-raising guidance. Since all organizations that existed before 1989 (the fall of Communism) were state-run, many have little or no experience in running an organization. Working in a post-Communist culture presented many challenges and difficulties; most individuals are not accustomed to making decisions or thinking for themselves in a workplace environment. They are struggling to understand what democracy means and how to incorporate democracy into their government so that it can work for them.

Janet spent most of her time with a granting organization, the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC), with headquarters in Budapest, Hungary. Many of the projects involve institutional development of local organizations or specific projects such as environmental education seminars or a clean-up action. They also provide a fellowship program.

During her two year assignment, Janet taught English and environmental education to high school students; did fund-raising and grant-writing; taught basic management concepts; reviewed grants; proofread and edited English texts and conducted a survey of approximately 80 environmental NGOs in Slovakia. The survey involved the preparation of a questionnaire and follow-up interviews with approximately 80 environmental NGOs in Slovakia. She also worked with an environmental NGO called Tree of Life, the second largest NGO in Slovakia with a focus on environmental education of children.

Looking back, she says that while she struggled with many challenges, it was an experience she enjoyed immensely.

Bratislava Old Town

Bratislava's Old Town was a familiar sight to Illinois EPA lawyer Janet Magnuson, who recently returned to the Agency after spending two years in Slovakia as a Peace Corps volunteer.

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