AFTER a prolonged period of dormancy, the Peace Corps has suddenly emerged to reclaim a share of national media attention. To say the Peace Corps is in the national spotlight would be an overstatement, but Peace Corps can now say, paraphrasing Descartes, ``I appeared recently on network news, therefore I am.'' When it comes to press coverage of the Peace Corps, it's been feast or famine. Early on, Peace Corps was all the rage. Everybody, it seemed, wanted to answer the call to service and help, in President Kennedy's words, ``. . . those peoples in the huts and villages across the globe, struggling to break the bonds of mass misery.''
Nowhere has misery been as big as in Ethiopia. Widespread famine in that country and throughout much of Africa has reawakened the national conscience, helping to renew interest in Peace Corps service. Peace Corps Director Loret Miller Ruppe recently launched a nationwide campaign to recruit 600 qualified volunteers to help meet the long-term challenges of adequate food production in Africa. The response has been astounding: One thousand inquiries per day have streamed into Peace Corps offices.
Does this new rush of interest suggest that we have turned the corner toward a post-Yuppie, more selfless America? Don't hold your breath. A recent survey by the American Council on Education reports that college freshmen give ``being financially well off'' second ranking on their list of priorities, behind becoming authorities in their field of study. In 1970, achieving financial success was rated No. 9.
But the Peace Corps is on the move again. It has begun an impressive array of new initiatives, from fresh ideas in Central America, the Caribbean, and Africa to strengthened training, recruitment, and management. Peace Corps has increased its cooperation with other federal agencies and has finally begun supporting long-overdue development education efforts.
In addition, a group of former Peace Corps volunteers (the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Washington, D.C.), in a report entitled ``Peace Corps 1985: Meeting the Challenge,'' lists five recommendations for the Peace Corps to carry out during 1985:
Set a goal of 10,000 volunteers in service, with increased representation in South America and Asia.
Establish Goal III of the Peace Corps Act (educating Americans about the peoples and nations served) as a central mission of the agency.
Remove appointment of Peace Corps country directors from the political patronage system.
Appoint a qualified Returned Peace Corps Volunteer as the next Peace Corps director.
Create a Special Committee of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers to advise the director on improving Peace Corps.
The instinct to serve in the Peace Corps is a healthy one. It should be encouraged, as is being done in the new recruitment drive. Creating the conditions for self-reliance in developing countries, the No. 1 Peace Corps priority, deserves national support and greater public attention. But barely 5,000 Peace Corps volunteers serve today, compared with a high-water mark of 15,000 in 1967. Peace Corps budget has eroded steadily since then, hampering its ability to meet its goals. Now, with heightened public awareness about the crisis in Africa, Peace Corps appears poised to make a new beginning. This should give new hope both to Americans and to ``those peoples in the huts and villages across the globe. . . .''
Matthew Cossolotto, a legislative aide in the US House of Representatives, is a former Peace Corps volunteer.