Peace Corps is getting new breed of volunteer

January 13, 1992|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON LLB — WASHINGTON -- Richard Garnitz, a 70-year-old former furniture store owner, is considering leaving his two-bedroom apartment overlooking the third fairway in a suburban retirement community to enter a two-year life of uncertainty where he may find himself in long lines just to buy eggs and milk and fretting over a scarcity of fuel to heat his living quarters.

Mr. Garnitz, a former Commerce Department employee, Foreign Service officer and international trade expert, may join the Peace Corps to become a part of its first group ever to enter and assist what was once the Soviet Union.

Peace Corps Director Elaine L. Chao announced recently that the organization, for the first time in its 30-year history, will send more than 600 volunteers, mostly with business backgrounds, to the former Soviet republics over the next two years to help their transformation into capitalist democracies.

Volunteers will assist businessmen in the Commonwealth of Independent States with concepts of private enterprise and will help governments define their goals.

"This is an opportunity for volunteers to participate in shaping world history," Ms. Chao said. "This is a very special and exciting period of time."

While the volunteers have yet to be selected, Mr. Garnitz and his wife, Sydelle, are part of a new breed of potential candidates, many of them older than the usual Peace Corps volunteer. The average age of Peace Corps workers is 31.

"We both like adventure, if you will, and both feel we could contribute to the democratic and open market economy of the countries," said Mr. Garnitz, of Silver Spring. "We're physically able to go. No problem about that. If we decide it's right, we might take the plunge."

Mr. Garnitz's interest in answering the republics' appeals for U.S. help has as much to do with his views about communism and U.S. foreign policy as it does with adventure.

"The best way to help what amount to new countries to develop a democratic and market economy is to help them help themselves rather than pour a lot of money into them," he said.

"I feel very strongly that an economically stable country is not a danger to its neighbors and the rest of the world. Communism is a wasted way. They've got about 75 years of wasted time."

The volunteers will most likely be working alone, and they will receive only a modest living allowance, health care, and housing.

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