AMERICAN women who are political activists are reaching out to their counterparts in Poland through a unique educational initiative sponsored by the League of Women Voters (LWV).
Recently, 20 Polish women activists spent four weeks studying grass-roots democracy in the United States as part of the organization's "Building Political Participation in Poland" program.
The 20 women, who were awarded fellowships, stayed in the homes of 10 LWV members around the country last month.
"This is an ongoing project with a lot potential," says Linda Moscarella, a trustee of the LWV Education Fund.
The Polish program was a pilot project, part of the league's ongoing effort to assist emerging democracies throughout the world.
During their stay in the US, the 20 Polish women met with local politicians, business leaders, civic organizations, and other groups to learn about citizen participation, American style. Now back in Poland, they are working on an October follow-up conference to be held in Krakow, Poland.
The conference will provide opportunities for the fellows to reach out to a wider range of individuals and organizations in their own country. The LWV will award grants to Polish groups and individuals that show promise in developing grass-roots organizations. In addition, the league is preparing a special manual for the conference, written in Polish, on how to organize citizen participation and political activism.
Katarzyna Kretkowska, an English professor at a Polish university and regional leader of the Polish Democratic Union Party, was kept busy with many activities during her stay in Connecticut. But she was surprised that the women political activists she met were not working professionals.
"The typical League of Women Voters member I met in Connecticut was either retired or was not working professionally," Ms. Kretkowska said.
"Women in Poland have to work professionally ... to, with their husbands, form the family income," she said at the league's national convention in Boston last month.
Kretkowska says 86 percent of Polish women in her country are working professionals.
Zofia Rummel-Syska, a Warsaw city-council member and specialist in conflict management, was in southern California. She says she gained an appreciation for some of the strong environmental programs there. She also noticed that local politicians must abide by strong ethics guidelines.
"[What] we have to work on in Poland is how you deal with corruption, because corruption is everywhere. In Poland, you had a lot of corruption in the communist system.... But it is so well done in the USA that there is very careful watch over what the councilors do."
LWV member Anita Silberberg of Connecticut was hostess to Ms. Kretkowska and another Polish woman fellow. They met with local women politicians, visited a school, a newspaper, and a TV station, among other activities.
"We had a day at the telephone company, not to hear about their services or products, but to hear about how they might react to an approach from a grass-roots organization, what kind of activities they might sponsor," she said.
The Polish women lack skills in fund-raising and how to recruit activists, says Orna Tamches, project manager for the league's Emerging Democracies program in Washington:
"The big problem they have right now is, there's a lot they want to do and to change, but they haven't got any money."
However, she says, the Polish women have learned in the US.
"They are doing so much right now. All of them have to work for a living. ... They are struggling with their families and redeveloping the economy and the political system."
The LWV's "Building Political Participation in Poland" program is a cooperative effort with the Foundation for Support of Local Democracy in Poland. The program receives funding from the Pew Charitable Trusts, the US Information Agency's Office of Citizen Exchange, and the US Institute of Peace.