Many thanks to The Post for printing Roger Landrum's letter on the Peace Corps {Aug. 14}. It is one of the few times anyone has gone beyond the anecdotal and self-congratulatory tone typical of Peace Corps press coverage. Mr. Landrum correctly identifies Blaine Harden's observation that today's volunteers are older, more highly qualified and better trained as both inaccurate and less than relevant.

Every Peace Corps director for the past 15 years has made that same claim as a way of demonstrating the effectiveness of his/her stewardship. What it demonstrates is that most of them were content to make minor adjustments to the Peace Corps rather than expanding its scope. In reality, there has been far more management than leadership. The good news, and the bad news, is that the Peace Corps essentially has not changed over its 25-year history. In fact, it has become programmatically cautious, unimaginative, conservative and self-satisfied.

One would hope that in the coming years the Peace Corps will expand its program to include such related, though nonvolunteer, activities as: 1) supporting emerging local volunteer programs in the Third World; 2) increasing its support for multinational forms of voluntarism; 3) instituting an active program to share the Peace Corps' unique perspective on the Third World with the American people; and 4) deliberately sharing its unique, field-generated low-cost technical information with local, national and international organizations involved in development. While some of these ideas have been discussed for many years, little has been done to give them substance. There are just too many poor, hungry and sick people throughout the world for the Peace Corps to be so satisfied with describing itself in terms of the direct impact its 5,000 (or even 10,000) volunteers can have.

As frequently happens in business, Peace Corps' byproducts (field-tested technical information, experience with short-term technical training, knowledge of the Third World and understanding of the critical role ordinary people can play in the process of development, to name a few) should be seen as an opportunity to extend the impact of the Peace Corps far beyond where it is today. To do less does not do justice to the Peace Corps' original vision.


Former Peace Corps Staff Member