More than 4,700 people with some agricultural expertise have volunteered for Peace Corps work in famine-stricken African nations in the last four days after the agency's director, Loret Miller Ruppe, made a nationally televised appeal for 10,000 workers on Thursday.
Ruppe yesterday called the response "very impressive" and said it apparently was the largest short-term flood of volunteers since the early days of the agency in 1961 during the Kennedy administration.
She said the agency hopes to use the pool of volunteers to fill 600 requests from 24 African nations for Peace Corps workers with agricultural skills. In addition, she said the agency is starting a new long-term African Food Systems Initiative this spring in which volunteers with expertise in various aspects of farming will be grouped as a team to work overseas. Most Peace Corps volunteers, who serve two-year tours, traditionally have worked by themselves.
"We're really trying to prevent future Ethiopias," Ruppe said. The Peace Corps has volunteers in 12 of the 18 African countries identified as having the most severe food shortages, although not in Ethiopia, where the Marxist regime expelled Peace Corps workers in 1977.
Ruppe said that although the people who volunteered after hearing her plea on "CBS Morning News" have a wide range of backgrounds, many are older farmers, "people with serious hands-on experience."
The agency has established a national toll-free number, (800) 424-8580, to handle the inquiries. Interested Washington-area residents should call local Peace Corps recruiting offices.