September 15, 2017
(as prepared for delivery)
Peace Corps staff, distinguished guests and most importantly the Peace Corps trainees and Volunteers, I am honored to participate in the swearing-in ceremony for the 11th cohort of Peace Corps Volunteers in Cambodia.
Your Excellencies, your presence makes clear the importance our two countries have placed on the Peace Corps and its dedicated Volunteers, who work to serve Cambodian communities and deepen the already strong ties between the United States and Cambodia.
I am thrilled that today 71 citizens from the United States will dedicate themselves to building connections between the United States and Cambodia, sharing life experiences in the villages, schools, and health centers together so that each of our countries understands the other better. They provide fundamental strength to the bonds that tie us together, a connection at the grass roots level between our people, a connection that remains vital to the prosperity of both today.
Cambodia has welcomed over 500 Volunteers since 2006. As we celebrate new Volunteers joining them in service, we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge the extraordinary progress in Cambodia. Cambodia has experienced a phenomenal level of development. Poverty rates have fallen from nearly 50 percent to less than 15 percent today. The country has averaged an annual GDP growth of almost 7 percent. Cambodia met most of its Millennium Development Goals well before 2015. Better access to schools and medical facilities and services has resulted in improved education and health status. The future is encouraging and promising.
And Peace Corps supports this progress. By sending Volunteers to Cambodian school and health centers, by working closely with your Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education Youth and Sport to identify the need for Volunteers, Peace Corps supports Cambodia’s vision for its future.
Peace Corps has had a clear and simple vision since 1961, to promote world peace and friendship. This vision has not changed, and it is accomplished at the grassroots level. When a young student gains confidence speaking English or a mother builds a garden to provide nutritious vegetables to her children, the Volunteer has helped create peace. That Volunteer has connected and affected the person, family, classroom or clinic for years to come. Side by side, shoulder to shoulder, Volunteers become living members of their communities. And as I look out over the faces of the newest cohort of Peace Corps Cambodia and the currently serving Volunteers, I am further encouraged as I know Peace Corps Volunteers will keep Peace Corps vision alive promoting peace and friendship between the people of Cambodia and the people of the Unites States.
On this day of swearing-in the new Volunteers, we have the honor of witnessing 71 fine American men and women answer the call to serve. After weeks of intense preparation in Kandal Province, these dedicated individuals are now ready to make the transition from trainee to Peace Corps Volunteer. The Peace Corps staff in Cambodia have helped you understand Cambodian history, language, and culture and prepared you for teaching in schools and working in health clinics. Your host families have opened their homes and shared their stories with you. You are ready!
Peace Corps Volunteers bring to Cambodia a combination of some fundamental traits of American society – a willingness to serve, an eagerness to learn, a desire to share, a belief in change, and abundant enthusiasm. I can see looking around the room that our volunteers are brimming with this energy. The United States has dispatched some of our best and brightest to the corners of the earth in this pursuit, and today we celebrate your entry into this treasured institution. Your service to your schools, health centers, and communities remain as important and relevant today as it was in 1961 when the United States sent the first five hundred Peace Corps Volunteers out to inspire hope and understanding among Americans and the rest of the world. Like that first set of volunteers, the 11th group of Peace Corps Volunteers in Cambodia will uphold President Kennedy’s affirmative and enduring vision and offer the best of America.
As Peace Corps Volunteers, you will be the real face of America – perhaps, the only Americans that many Cambodians will ever know. In establishing relationships, one by one, you pursue peace, erode barriers, and help create new structures on which the friendship between our two countries can firmly stand. As the Cambodians learn from you, you will also learn from them. You have experienced this in your nine weeks of training where your homestay families and the language and cultural trainers worked hard to prepare you for a successful service in Cambodia.