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First Peace Corps Contingent Heads To Russia

November 20, 1992

WASHINGTON (AP) _ They have the traditional Peace Corps idealism. But these Peace Corps volunteers have a post Cold War mission: to bring the capitalist experience to Russia.

″I guess we don’t know quite what to expect,″ said Gretta Larson, a volunteer from Scottsdale, Ariz.

Larson is one of 102 volunteers who are flying to Moscow today as the first Peace Corps volunteers to serve in Russia.

″It is difficult to imagine that 30 years ago anybody seriously could have foreseen that these 100 would be welcomed and invited to Russia,″ said Andrei Kolosovsky, the No. 2 official at the Russian Embassy.

Kolosovsky and acting Peace Corps Director Barbara Zartman addressed the volunteers at a ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial on Thursday.

″We offer our goodwill, our expertise, our spirit,″ said Zartman.

The volunteers endured a misting rain and chill wind. Parts of the speeches were drowned out by low-flying planes from nearby National Airport.

″Authentic Russian weather,″ was how Kolosovsky described the day.

Since the Peace Corps was founded in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy, it has sent more than 135,000 volunteers to more than 100 countries.

Unlike most of their predecessors, the volunteers going off to Russia have business backgrounds and hope to assist people trying to bring capitalism to the former home of communism.

They’ll arrive in Moscow on Saturday and then split up, with some going to Vladivostok and others to Saratov. They will undergo three months of additional training, particularly in the Russian language, before heading to individual communities.

Last week, 60 volunteers headed for Ukraine. Peace Corps officials said that by the end of the year they hope to have people in Armenia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Forty-three other volunteers are working in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

The Russian contingent said they have no illusions about the difficulties they will face. Some will live with families, others in hotels or apartments.

″No heat or hot water from May to October,″ said one. They expect resistance from an entrenched bureaucracy likely to accuse them of being CIA agents.

But they also have been told many Russians will welcome them.

″You must have a lot of faith in what you are doing, a lot of patience there,″ Kolosovsky said. ″You will get the gratitude of the Russian people, their warmth and hospitality.″

Volunteer John Tressler of Englewood, Colo., said he hoped to impart to the Russians his experience starting two businesses from scratch. He started a janitorial service ″out of the back of a 1951 Plymouth.″

″It’s obvious it’s going to be a different kind of life for all of us, a new experience, a new adventure,″ Tressler said.

Ted Canfield of Yarmouth, Maine, has a masters degree from Harvard Business School and has worked as a management and financial consultant.

″Some of these enterprises are going to need investment capital,″ Canfield said. ″One of our missions if we can is to help them find the foreign capital to get them going.″

Robert and Kelly Walker of San Francisco are among the married couples in the group. He works in food distribution, and she is a trainer for the Federal Reserve System.

Walker said he hopes his experience will help improve the Russian system in which much of the food ″gets lost or spoiled in the distribution.″

For Ruth Rouse, the trip to Russia marks a return to the Peace Corps. Thirty years ago she was a volunteer in Costa Rica.

She graduated from Stanford in 1963 and said that 10 percent of her class entered the Peace Corps.

Her husband, Roger Dennis, a small business consultant, is also going to Russia.

He said that two years ago they visited the village where she had served in Costa Rica, and many people remembered her as the English teacher and community organizer. ″She was the first Peace Corps volunteer there,″ he said.

Will this be a similar experience?

″I think so,″ she said.

One of the ways the Peace Corps trainers tried to give the volunteers a sense of what they will face in Russia was to have them play a board game. They weren’t allowed to talk to each other.

They sat at several tables and had to keep moving from one to another. What they weren’t told was that each table was playing the game by different rules.