Director Pushes Peace Corps to Meet Needs of World, US

PAUL COVERDELL is a slight man with a Georgia voice sandy like his hair. But his handshake befits his firm forward leadership of the Peace Corps. Appointed as director of the corps two years ago, Mr. Coverdell is pushing the volunteer organization to meet not only the increasing needs of Central European and developing countries, but also the educational deficiencies of inner-city America.

Meeting with Monitor editors recently, Coverdell said he is focusing on key areas:

Expansion. The director wants to develop programs in each country that has expressed a desire for volunteer workers. Since July 1989, 30 countries have sought Peace Corps volunteers. By the end of 1992, Coverdell says the number of countries served will have increased from 62 to more than 90.

Ethnic diversity. When Coverdell took over leadership of the corps, 94 percent of the volunteers were white. New recruitment efforts raised the volunteer pool to more than 10 percent minority last year, and that number could rise to 15 percent this year, he says.

Domestic benefits. One of the corps's original goals is to bring the knowledge gained overseas back to the United States and put it to effective use - an ideal that Coverdell says has been neglected for years. A new correspondence program between American classrooms and volunteers in the field aims to increase geographical and international awareness in the US. Another dispatches returned volunteers to high-risk inner-city American schools as teachers while they earn master's degrees in educ ation.

Thirty years after President Kennedy established the organization, it is flourishing. The fall of communism in Eastern Europe has ended a 20-year period during which the corps did not expand. Since July 1989, when Hungary accepted volunteers, the corps has begun serving five countries in Central Europe, seven in Africa, six in Latin America, and five in the Pacific. The number of volunteers has risen from about 5,000 to 6,000. For fiscal year 1991, the White House raised the corps's budget by $21 millio n, to $186 million, the largest increase in 20 years.

Along with this expansion, Coverdell has worked to remove a longstanding obstacle between the corps and certain countries. The organization has traditionally targeted ``third world'' countries.

``There were certain countries that could not accept that definition,'' Coverdell says. Consequently, the corps has never had a program in Egypt, Brazil, and Argentina, to name a few.

To reach the needy of these countries, Coverdell has had to change the language of the organization's goals.

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