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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Visitor from Paraguay learns about Newton government

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  • Americans expect the government to be open, accountable and transparent, and they often take it for granted the public is allowed to attend government meetings and request to view government documents. However, not all countries enjoy this level of transparency, and people around the world don’t always have a voice in their government. Romy Fischer, who lives in Paraguay, is working to help her country’s government become more open, and she has spent more than a month in Newton studying democracy and municipal government. In turn, it’s given the officials at the city of Newton a new perspective on the benefits Americans enjoy. “Her curiosity, and her open mind and her gift for language has made it such a mutual learning experience for us,” said Community Advancement Coordinator Barb Burns. “The things we take for granted, Romy and her country are being very purposeful in. ... I just think that it’s really an enriching experience for Newton.” Fischer is a legal advisor and project manager for a non-profit organization seeking to improve the quality of democracy in Paraguay. For many years, the country was under the control of a dictatorship, and it’s only been within recent history that it has started taking steps towards democracy. Some of the laws and government structure remain repressive. Politicians promise to end corruption and poverty but don’t have a specific plan of how to do it. Politicians also may use public resources — such as ambulances and medicines — to promote their own campaigns. “We have many things to work on,” Fischer said. “... We have to build a new culture.” The people of Paraguay sometimes are reluctant to share their opinions, but Fischer wants to inspire them to participate more in government and to hold the government accountable. “People are starting to talk about that, they are more aware,” she said. She also wants to bring reform to the schools, so children can learn about the principles of “democracy” — a word Fischer herself never heard in high school. She said one of the things she’s learned while shadowing government officials in Newton is that one of the keys to democracy is having strong local governments that aren’t simply controlled by the centralized government. She has enjoyed feeling a sense of safety in Newton — she can sleep peacefully, she said, and she feels safe riding her bike to work. She also has appreciated meeting different people in the community. “They were open; I felt respect in all the people that I met,” she said. “... I will miss you, Newton.” 

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