I am honored to be here today to celebrate the swearing-in of Peace Corps Madagascar’s newest Education Volunteers.
It has now been 57 years since President John F. Kennedy ignited the imagination of a nation by creating the Peace Corps. Today, each of the future volunteers participating in today’s ceremony is joining the legions of Americans who have answered President Kennedy’s famous call for service with a resounding “Yes.”
Today’s participants are about to join over 230,000 Peace Corps Volunteers, past and present, who have served in 141 countries around the world.
Today also marks another important milestone. 25 years ago today, 9 Education volunteers took the brave oath of service and endeavored to be the first ever Peace Corp volunteers to serve in Madagascar. Since 1993, more than 3,000 volunteers have served here. Peace Corp volunteers are known for their outstanding linguistic and cross-cultural skills, as well as, for excellence in teaching, cultivation and health promotion. Students, counterparts and community members remember Peace Corps volunteers by name and speak fondly of America in large part due to the time these volunteers have devoted to engaging with the community.
Today’s cohort will work with their Malagasy colleagues at middle and high schools, as well as, universities, providing English language instruction to the Malagasy people.
And now I would like to say a few words directly to the trainees:
Trainees, as you embark on this new journey to your respective communities, remember that you will be promoting change and progress not only through your work, but also by your daily interactions with people in your communities.
You will be a window into America for the people you work with. Indeed, it is you – more so than those of us at the Embassy or the Peace Corps office – that create a personalized image of the United States and what it stands for. I am certain that the impression you will make will be one of optimism, humanity, generosity, openness, and acceptance.
I commend you for making a decision that will not only change the lives of the people you will work with, but also your own. Over the next two years, you will be challenged and tested in ways yet unimaginable to you. For most of you, this will be the single most difficult and life-defining experience you will ever have.
Your experiences with Malagasy culture and your interactions with the people will create rich memories, a window into another world, a mirror for self-reflection, and the strength to struggle together for the betterment of all.
As a Peace Corps volunteer you become not only a global citizen, but also a representative of American culture. This privilege comes with great responsibility. In many of your communities, you will be the only American, and as such, you will become the face of America. Every day you will be faced with the formidable challenge of representing the best of American life and its diversity.
So, in closing, to all our Malagasy friends here today — officials, trainers, current and former Peace Corps staff, partner agency staff and Embassy staff – I say “Miasotra Tompoko“ (means very respective thank you) for all of your support. We are grateful to be your guests, to have the opportunity to discover your beautiful country and its people, and to work together with you to make it a better place.
Thank you and good luck to you all.