Please allow me to begin by paying my respects to His Majesty King Letsie III,
The Right Honorable The Prime Minister,
The Honorable Ministers of his Majesty’s Cabinet, in particular,
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, who is with us today,
Peace Corps’ Chief of Staff Laura Chambers, who is on a 3-day visit to Lesotho,
And the Country Director for Peace Corps, Wendy Van Damme
All protocol observed
I am delighted to be a part of this special occasion today. And I am so honored that both Minister Sekhamane and Laura Chambers could join us.
Our gathering today really has two purposes, from my perspective. First, we are marking Peace Corps’ move to a larger, more spacious office compound. The new space will provide a much better environment for Peace Corps staff and Volunteers, and will enhance the ability of the head office to support Peace Corps Volunteers across the country.
And this move has important symbolic value as well. Peace Corps has been in Lesotho since 1967 and, with this office move, is sending the message it is here to stay. That is exciting, as the Peace Corps is a very special organization, and it has an especially impressive history in Lesotho. More than 2300 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in Lesotho, working closely with their Basotho counterparts, especially in the fields of education and health.
Volunteers here serve mostly in rural communities, where they are the face of the United States. To many Basotho, their impressions of the United States, and of Americans, come from their interactions with Peace Corps Volunteers. I have been moved by the many stories I’ve heard from Basotho from all walks of life, from senior government officials to NGO directors to community activists, whose lives have been touched by a Peace Corps Volunteer, and their memories of those experiences are inevitably positive. But that shouldn’t be a surprise, because that is what Peace Corps Volunteers do. They touch lives. Through their enthusiasm, their professional expertise, their aptitude for foreign languages, and their cultural sensitivity, they make a real difference in the communities to which they are assigned.
As a former Peace Corps Volunteer myself, I know that Volunteers sacrifice a great deal when they make this commitment, leaving behind their families, their friends, and a familiar culture for two years. A prominent American political personality once described Peace Corps Volunteers as the embodiment of the American ideal, because they project in the world exactly the kinds of values we as Americans hold dear. And I couldn’t agree more.
But it is important to remember that Peace Corps Volunteers do not accomplish these things alone. They are achieved only through collaboration and the contributions of many. Thank you to the officials of the Government of Lesotho who have done so much to support the Peace Corps and helped it succeed. Thank you to the teachers who have ensured that Volunteers possess the necessary language skills, and the essential professional and cultural knowledge. We are grateful to the other Peace Corps staff (many of whom are here today) who ensure that Volunteers are healthy and well-supported as they serve in their communities. And thank you to the host families who have welcomed Volunteers in their homes and shown them all the things that make this beautiful country so special.
Peace Corps/Lesotho continues to be a dynamic and vibrant program. Currently, there are 76 Peace Corps volunteers serving in all 10 districts of the country. 51 volunteers teach English or maths in Basotho schools, while 25 serve in the health sector, helping Lesotho in its struggle against the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Just last week, 57 new Peace Corps trainees arrived in Lesotho. They are currently in training in villages in Leribe, where they live with host Basotho families. These Volunteers will finish up their training in December, when they will head out to begin their two years of service in villages across the country.
This has been a special week for Lesotho, which on Tuesday celebrated 50 years of independence. Congratulations, Honorable Minister, on that important milestone. Throughout the year, the United States has also recalled and celebrated 50 years of partnership with Lesotho, highlighting the many things we have achieved together, government-to-government and people-to-people. The Peace Corps program is perhaps the most shining and long-standing example of our partnership. And it is a program that continues to thrive. Not only is this building an example of Peace Corps’ steadfast presence and partnership, so is the first Peace Corps country agreement since 1967, which the Honorable Minister and I signed together earlier this year.
I want to conclude today with a quote from one of my favorite poets, Maya Angelou, who described the value of cross-cultural interactions in the following way. “Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” What a perfect description of Peace Corps Volunteers, who for nearly a half-century have strengthened mutual understanding and the bonds of friendship between Americans and Basotho. It is quite a record, and one I hope will be emulated over the next 50 years.