Khotsong, Bo ‘Me le Bo ‘Ntate
Please allow me to pay my respects to:
His Majesty the King
The Right Honorable,
the Prime Minister
Honorable Members of Cabinet, in particular
The Honorable Minister of Gender, Youth, Sports and Recreation
And, most importantly today,
Peace Corps trainees
I’d like to welcome you to this very special occasion, the swearing-in of 23 new Peace Corps Volunteers!
The Peace Corps is a very special organization, and it has a particularly impressive history in Lesotho. Volunteers have worked successfully to strengthen mutual understanding and the bonds of friendship between the people of Lesotho and the people of the United States since 1967, a year after independence.
Over those 48 years, more than 2300 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in Lesotho, working closely with their Basotho counterparts in the fields of education, health and agriculture. Peace Corps/Lesotho continues to be a vibrant and dynamic program. Currently, there are 81 Peace Corps Volunteers serving in all 10 districts of the country; 51 of them teachers in Basotho schools. The 23 of you swearing in today will join 30 current Volunteers working in the health sector as part of the Healthy Youth project.
The Peace Corps has been a key player in the U.S. government’s large-scale initiative to support Lesotho in its struggle against HIV/AIDS. The U.S. works in partnership with the Government of Lesotho, non-governmental, and community organizations to fight this scourge and our Peace Corps Volunteers play an important role in this effort.
The Volunteers taking their oath today will work with local organizations to help prepare youth for their adult roles as healthy and active community members. Peace Corps Volunteers will assist young people by promoting the development of life skills and collaborating with Basotho partners to prevent HIV and link youth with essential health care services.
Let me take a moment to express my appreciation to the Ministry of Gender, Youth, Sports and Recreation for its strong support. The Ministry prepared the way for these Volunteers. Some of them will continue the work of prior Volunteers, while the others will be the first Peace Corps Volunteers at their host organizations. I am grateful for the close partnership between the Ministry and Peace Corps. Together, we are contributing to the goal of improving health and opportunities for the youth of Lesotho.
I have met 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, should it, 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. They teach essential life skills; they teach young women to set their objectives beyond what they’ve learned to expect; and they show the people of their communities how to lead healthier lives, in protecting themselves against the scourge of HIV/AIDS.
Peace Corps 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 the collaborative efforts of all those who have ensured the success of the Peace Corps program over the years. 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 team of Language and Cultural Facilitators who have ensured that Volunteers possess the necessary language skills, and the essential professional and cultural knowledge. And thank you to the surrounding communities and the host families who have welcomed Volunteers in their homes and shown them all the things that make this beautiful country so special.
And now, I would like to address a few words to the group of Volunteers who are about to swear in.
Trainees, you are about to become Volunteers. You have trained hard; been exposed to things you probably had never imagined; and experienced some emotional ups and downs, as you learned to live without many of the comforts you were used to, and to function effectively in a culture so different from your own. I’m sure you have discovered along the way that a sense of humor is essential to adapting to a new culture. You will need it more than ever as you move into your new communities.
You are about to join a very special family – that of Peace Corps Volunteers and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. That family includes hundreds of thousands of Americans who share a common bond. We all left the comforts of home, many of us to live in tiny huts without electricity or running water. We all left close friends behind but built deep and lasting friendships in our host countries. We all witnessed the Herculean daily struggles of most global citizens just to make ends meet, and we learned not to take for granted the material abundance in the United States. And we all learned the painful lesson that many of the challenges that we encountered every day were beyond our ability to influence.
So why become Peace Corps Volunteers? In my view, there are at least three very good reasons.
First, you can make a real difference. You will contribute to the development of your communities in ways big and small, lending your expertise and ingenuity. Remember that the impact you have on those around you will be significant but often not immediately apparent, and learn to be patient when projects don’t unfold as quickly as you would like. Remember, too, that – like it or not – you are ambassadors of your own country and that people will form lasting impressions of the United States based on their interactions with you.
Second, I am convinced that Volunteers take away from their experience much more than they leave behind. Each of you will be profoundly changed by your experience here, as you discover an inner strength more powerful than you might have realized, and surpass personal limits you thought were insurmountable. You will learn to communicate in a new language, using different cultural cues, and will learn how much can be accomplished even with paltry resources. These experiences not only will enrich you as individuals but they will also endow you with skills that will make you enormously attractive to potential employers back home.
Last, you will help strengthen the understanding of Americans about the rest of the world. Two weeks before I left for my own Peace Corps service in Mauritania, a good college friend said to me, “Matt, have a good time in the Peace Corps but don’t come back all weird.” I’ve never forgotten that comment, probably because it reflected a lack of understanding about the world beyond the borders of the U.S., and an uninformed belief that exposure to other ideas and cultures changes us only in negative ways. You and your fellow PCVs can help change that perception, through your conversations with family, friends, and acquaintances. As Peace Corps Volunteers, you will make a difference here in Lesotho and when you return to the United States.
Today is the culmination of a lot of hard work and emotional investment, and you should feel proud of what you have accomplished. As an RPCV who was in your shoes not too long ago, it is a tremendous honor for me to be able to swear you in as Peace Corps Volunteers. Congratulations on making it this far, and have a wonderful two years.
Khotso. Pula. Nala.