I have just returned from serving two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in a remote village in the Shaba region of Zaire. I was the first volunteer to serve in that post, and I was assured at the start that I would be followed in my work by two other volunteers. After completing my service, I was informed that I would most likely not be replaced. This was very distressing news to me. During my two years as an agriculture volunteer, I initiated many projects that will now have no follow-up.

Now that I'm back home, the story becomes more clear: Peace Corps Director Paul Coverdell has begun the overhaul of the Peace Corps and will be expanding the program to Eastern Europe {"Traditionalists Upset at the Peace Corps," front page, Jan. 2}. I can't believe that the purpose of the Peace Corps is to teach English to middle-class Poles, at least not at the expense of what I feel to be more viable programs.

Mr. Coverdell is willing to sacrifice programs in the Third World so that new ones can be taken on in Eastern Europe. In Zaire volunteers are involved in many types of projects, which range from teaching farmers how to build ponds and raise fish in order to increase the amount of protein in their diets to capping springs and wells so that villagers can drink uncontaminated water to starting vaccination programs to protect children from dying of diseases like measles and tuberculosis or being crippled by polio. Other volunteers teach women about nutrition and how to prepare rehydration serum so that their children don't have to die needlessly from malnutrition and diarrhea. Isn't this what the Peace Corps should be about?

What are we doing in Eastern Europe? There have been volunteers in Zaire for almost 20 years, and the total number today is only 190 and probably falling. According to The Post's article, ''Poland alone is to get 213 volunteers, which will make it one of the five largest country programs.'' I think that the Peace Corps' expansion into Eastern Europe is entirely for political reasons, not to help people lead better lives and enjoy a higher standard of living.


As author of an oral history of the Peace Corps to be published in June, I know that Peace Corps Director Paul Coverdell's candor about the corps' relationship to U.S. foreign policy is stinging to those in the Peace Corps community who maintain that the organization operates independently. But as a federal agency, the corps has always been tethered to foreign policy and the political process.

Likewise, Peace Corps Inspector General Gerard Roy's description of an agency in "chaos" is characteristic of Peace Corps headquarters during the first two years of each previous administration when a newly appointed director set about making changes that some (or many) found objectionable. It's doubtful that Mr. Coverdell, or any other director, would not seize on the invitations from Eastern Europe or any other opportunity that would bring the corps favorable publicity and support the policies of the president who had appointed him.

Ultimately, the integrity of the corps rests with the volunteers themselves. It is therefore incumbent upon Mr. Coverdell and his staff to recruit, train and program them so that they can best fulfill the agency's development and cross-cultural goals. Unfortunately, such painstaking work is not the stuff of sound bites or rousing testimony before congressional committees. Thirty years of internal evaluations and congressional studies document chronic weaknesses in these crucial areas. This, I think, is a lot more shocking than the perennial internecine battles at the agency's headquarters.