Himawari Hotel, Phnom Penh
September 16, 2016
Honorable Dr. Im Koch, 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 10th cohort of Peace Corps Volunteers in Cambodia and the celebration of the 10th anniversary of Peace Corps 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 69 new volunteers will continue to build these bonds. They will continue this important work in a country that is the one of the United States’ key partners in South-East Asia. We don’t have just one Ambassador here in Cambodia. In fact, all 69 of you are ambassadors of peace and friendship, and I hope you take your responsibilities seriously.
Cambodia has welcomed over 450 volunteers since 2006. As we celebrate their service and 10 years of Peace Corps Cambodia, we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge the extraordinary decade of progress in Cambodia. Cambodia has experienced a phenomenal level of development. Poverty rates have fallen from nearly 50% to less than 15% today. The country has averaged an annual GDP growth of almost 7%. Better access to schools and medical facilities and services has resulted in improved education and health status. The future is encouraging and promising. 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 69 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. You are a joining a very select group of over 220,000 United States citizens who have served since U.S. President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961. 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. Think about how much our world has changed from 1961 to 2016. Technology has transformed the way we communicate. And more than ever, we need to instill volunteerism and building bridges among cultures and people.
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 and optimism.
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 10th cohort 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.
The journey on which you are embarking will only be the beginning of a lifetime of service. Many of you will later become teachers, doctors, engineers, lawyers, development workers, and even diplomats standing at the podium just as I am here today. The enduring legacy of Peace Corps is evident in the U.S. Embassy, where many of my colleagues are former volunteers, having served in places like Cote d’Ivoire, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Macedonia, Moldova and Mozambique.
I would like to recognize the hard work of the Peace Corps staff for their dedication in seeing this training through to such a successful conclusion. I would like to thank the Kendal authorities and their communities for hosting the trainees and supporting Peace Corps efforts. And I would especially like to highlight the Royal Government of Cambodia’s openness and warm welcome of the Peace Corps program that allows it to thrive here. Finally, Volunteers, I want to congratulate you on completing your pre-service training. You are extraordinary Americans, giving of your time and talents far from home, and I am confident that you will leave a legacy that will shape many lives for years to come.