Ija Ostrowska (Director – Community Job Centre):
At the end of 1990 and the beginning of 1991, the situation in the Ursus Mechanical Works changed dramatically. Mass lay-offs followed and the remaining employees were under threat of further impending redundancies. Unemployed workers began to arrive at the Department of Employment and the Social Services Office (today’s Community Job Centre), of which I was the director at that time. We began to support various initiatives and business ideas put forward by our Social Services clients. Once we had issued the first loans, we realised that the help of a professional business advisor was imperative. I learnt about the Peace Corps from the American Committee for Aid to Poland, with which I had carried out joint self-help support projects and partnership programmes for local organisations in the Ochota district.
Andrzej Doniec (Łódź Technical University employee):
A colleague with whom I had worked on various previous projects, informed me that he had invited me to give a lecture on Polish culture, history and attitudes during a preparatory course for American Peace Corps volunteers in Łódź. This led me to think that I should apply for a volunteer. In 1997 I made an application for a volunteer who would be familiar with environmental problems – environmental management and clean production. I believed that a volunteer of this type would be useful to us as an ‘educator’. It would be far easier for him to find relevant American material than for us. I also wanted him to take over some of my dealings with international contacts, as their number had grown considerably by then.
Marek Siarkowicz (Comprehensive High School Headmaster):
It was not easy to comply with conditions relating to the programme and organisation of volunteer placements. Self-contained lodgings were relatively easy to arrange in the boarding part of the school. Finding a ‘guardian’ was much more difficult. He should preferably be a full-time teacher of English. We had only just introduced English into the curriculum, the school was quite small so there were not enough teaching hours to warrant two full-time teachers. On top of that, there were not enough English language specialists. The first graduates of foreign language teacher training colleges found better paid employment outside the educational sector. Luckily, we managed to overcome all these difficulties.
The volunteers would agree a marking system for the pupils with their Polish colleagues, and together they worked out the marking criteria. This was not at all easy in view of the different educational systems in Poland and the United States and their differing experiences. In these matters, the volunteers had to learn our Polish traditions.
Halina Sadecka (employee of Centre for Promotion of Entrepreneurship):
We knew little about the American Peace Corps until Deborah Ryan arrived in Sandomierz. What really surprised us was that there were Americans who, of their own free will, actually wanted to be in Poland, to live in the same conditions as we did, to work alongside us and to earn similar salaries. And all because they wanted to support us with their own knowledge and experience in this difficult period of political transformation. Our Centre was one of the first non-governmental institutions in Poland involved in laying the foundations for a new small-business sector. While other organisations were only just beginning to learn these new skills, thanks to the input of the volunteers, our Centre was already prepared for the new Polish reality.
The new Social Welfare Act envisages the granting of small business loans to unemployed persons. Since February we have been helped in this by Len Klein [a Corps volunteer]. He analyses the business ideas which people bring, talks to them, gives them advice and, finally, issues the aspiring businessman with a reference as to whether he is a suitable candidate for a loan. Len Klein teaches people about reliability and responsibility. They must be aware that the money they have been given must be repaid. With Len Klein’s help and advice many businesses have prospered and some of the former unemployed people are already employing others – and that’s what it’s all about. Before Len’s arrival I searched in vain for professional help with this project. However, everyone charged fees for such help, and the people working for consulting firms did not believe that a client of Social Welfare was capable of doing something for himself.
Joanna Piotrowska (journalist):
According to the organisers of a seminar for women which took place a few days ago, no matter whether Polish women work professionally or spend all day at home bringing up their children, they are all entrepreneurs. The seminar and workshops run by Judith Pryor, a Peace Corps volunteer, met with tremendous enthusiasm. Judith runs a ‘business incubator’ in Łódź where new businesses are set up under the watchful eye of specialists and unemployed people are taught how to run their own ventures. .
Anita Lewicka (student of Peace Corps volunteers):
This was my first contact with an American but it was not a culture shock because we were in our own element while Mary Ziemer tried to introduce us step-by-step to her culture, and to make us feel comfortable with it. This was not cultural indoctrination, rather an invitation to learn about her culture. I thought that Americans must obviously enjoy working from basics. We knew from the start that everything would depend on our own systematic hard work and that much more would follow.
Mary, and later Jim were both very flexible. They adapted to our realities and managed to open us up to theirs – they were the same as us but just spoke a different language. The fact that they both came from a country which is very heterogeneous meant that this openness would later prove invaluable.
The second volunteer, Jim Hardin, was always in Mary’s shadow and played second fiddle to her. In my second year I had language laboratory sessions with Jim – in other words mainly listening. Jim tried to introduce methods which were still in their infancy at that time and which are now all the rage. Jim used the textbook only as a point of reference. At the same time, he created a great deal of his own material and even tried to make history into a form of conversation to prevent it being seen as a lecture.