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One of the most successful U.S. foreign policy efforts ever instituted - the Peace Corps - celebrated its 30th anniversary March 1, still laboring to help needy people in poor countries and doing it in a person-to-person way that no bureaucratic program can ever duplicate.

The Peace Corps has been successful, in a quiet way, because of three things: its aims, its methods, and its people. All are unique in a world of government agencies and programs.The aims of the Peace Corps are compelling because they seek to help those who need it most in a totally altruistic way. Though America foots the bill, there is no political agenda seeking some persuasion, payment, advantage, propaganda or gain for the United States as a result.

Goodwill flows to the United States from what the Peace Corps does, but that is not a principal goal or objective. The aim simply is to help and to serve.

Peace Corps methods are totally at odds with most government programs. Volunteers are usually sent to poverty-stricken places where they live with the people, sharing primitive housing and food and hardships.

They teach school or farming or simple skills that will enable people to improve their lives in small but significant ways. And they do it, not from a position of "American" superiority, but as an equal, a friend, a fellow worker who is sharing instead of imposing.

The attitude of helping others attracts into the Peace Corps those who are idealistic, who are willing to sacrifice and to submerge self in the service of others in an immediate and real sense. While the typical volunteer is still a young college graduate, there is a growing need for mature people, couples and retirees with special skills.

For the '90s, the Peace Corps faces challenges. Money is a problem. The budget is larger in current dollars than in the 1960s. But in terms of real purchasing power, the Peace Corps receives only half the amount appropriated in 1966. The ranks of volunteers need to more accurately reflect the racial makeup of the United States, but it remains difficult to attract minorities into the program. And as volunteers are being sent to Eastern Europe, it is important not to reduce Peace Corps efforts in the Third World, where human needs continue to be the most dire.

The Peace Corps has been a wonderful success story and is a credit to the best in the American people. As this organization starts its fourth decade, it deserves congratulations and enthusiastic support in trying to help some of the world's most needy people.