December 26, 1999: Headlines: COS Solomon Islands: COS - Kazakhstan: COS - Kyrgyzstan: Service: Record-Eagle: RPCV Duane Beard has served in the Solomon Islands, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Solomon Islands: Peace Corps Solomon Islands : The Peace Corps in the Solomon Islands: December 26, 1999: Headlines: COS Solomon Islands: COS - Kazakhstan: COS - Kyrgyzstan: Service: Record-Eagle: RPCV Duane Beard has served in the Solomon Islands, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan

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RPCV Duane Beard has served in the Solomon Islands, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan

RPCV Duane  Beard has served in the Solomon Islands, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan

RPCV Duane Beard has served in the Solomon Islands, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan

Beard takes Christmas break from job in Kazakhstan

Former Leelanau County administrator Duane Beard is home for the holidays


Record-Eagle staff writer

TRAVERSE CITY, Michigan - Lots of people came home for the holidays to Traverse City, but Duane Beard traveled halfway around the world to do it.

The former Leelanau County administrator is back from the central Asian country of Kazakhstan, just south of Central Russia and west of China.

There, he works for an international management agency helping the former Soviet republic make the transition from years of centralized communist rule to free market enterprise and local decision-making.

"In some ways I'd say that nothing I had ever done could've prepared me for what I encountered there," Beard said. "It's a land of great contrasts."

But a professional challenge in a faraway land is nothing new to Beard, who could be the prototype for an adventure character whose dual lives are mild-mannered public servant and worldwide explorer - sort of like Indiana Jones without all the hair.

His professional career has literally criss-crossed the globe, from township and then county government positions in the Upper Peninsula to an administrative post with the Peace Corps in the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific.

He returned to northern Michigan in early 1987 to take the Leelanau County post, which he held for seven and a half years. Then he went for the first time to the former Soviet Union working for the International City/County Management Association in Kyrgyzstan, a country just south of his current home which also had been a Soviet republic. He worked there for two years, mostly on privatizing the country's public housing system, and then joined on again with the Peace Corps, running its operation there for the next two and a half years. It was his fourth commission to the Peace Corps in the past 35 years.

Now Beard has returned to the ICMA in the neighboring but much larger country of Kazakhstan. He is part of what's called the Central Asia Municipal Management and Development Project and works in Almaty, a city of 1.2 million people on the western edge of the vast country, which is the ninth-largest by land mass in the world.

"There's huge natural beauty there. It's a very diverse country," Beard said. There's a mix of mountain regions, deserts and short-grass prairies and he compared the climate to this country's Great Plains states. "It's cold in the winter and hot in the summer, and fairly dry," he said.

The ethnic mix of the country is about as diverse as its geography, Beard said. The 14 provinces are made up of mostly native Asian people, but also include Russians, persons of German descent who were deported there by Josef Stalin, even pockets of Finnish people who emigrated there generations ago.

"The people are great," he said. Central Asians are known world-wide for their hospitality, he said, and it's a reputation that's well-deserved.

"The people are warm, friendly and hospitable," he said. "People will share whatever they have, whether they can afford to share or not."

He also describes Kazakhstan as a largely safe and stable place, without the civil unrest and corruption found in some former Soviet states.

Atamly is a large and in many ways modern city with international companies and five-star hotels. But Beard says it's not affluent for most. With a population supported for decades by a huge, centralized government based in another continent, the transition toward private ownership and free markets isn't easy.

"Now people own their own apartments, but they don't know who owns the roof or who owns the stairway," Beard said. That's forced them to work together on forming things like condominium associations or commons groups, which are new concepts to most.

"Some people figure it out fairly quickly. There's a sort of dawning awareness to what it all means," Beard said. "Not surprisingly it tends to break down a lot along age lines. The older people tend to be more resistant to what can be a change.

"I think the realization will come slowly," he continued. "I think it will be an evolutionary process. I think it's going to take a sustained effort. I think as Americans we have an enlightened self-interest to help these places. It's not free, but it's cheaper than the alternative."

Specifically, Beard's title is "chief of party" whose job is to work with the Kazakhstan government on policy development on issues of decentralization, in areas ranging from helping communities form their own local governments to reforming civil service agencies and re-training public employees.

"I feel very strongly that establishing good local government is much more imperative than a lot of things we can do," Beard said. "I believe a good local solution is almost always better than solutions that come from a higher level, and they're almost always cheaper.

"I think we're responding to the wishes of the Republic of Kazahkstan," he said.

Beard's lifestyle there is more like a government worker than a foreign ambassador. He lives in a modest home and for transportation drives a seven-passenger Russian-made military-style vehicle called a Uaz.

"It looks like a '60s Volkswagen microbus, but it's got four-wheel drive and it's bigger," he said. "You can get parts and mechanics in every village between Almaty and the Arctic Circle."

Beard hasn't yet decided what to do when his contract ends in a couple of years. He said he'll keep his family's home base in northern Michigan but his globe-trotting days probably won't end anytime soon. He's thought about joining the Peace Corps again as a volunteer, but also would enjoy teaching and being able to share what's literally been a world of knowledge and experience.

"I never expected to see all these interesting places," he said. "It's fun."

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Story Source: Record-Eagle

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS Solomon Islands; COS - Kazakhstan; COS - Kyrgyzstan; Service



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