Remarks for Peace Corps Education Volunteer Swearing-In Ceremony

Remarks for Peace Corps Education Volunteer Swearing-In Ceremony (August 13, 2015)

Ambassador Scott H. DeLisi

August 13, 2015

Chief of Mission Residence, Kampala, Uganda

Good afternoon. I’m delighted to welcome all of you here today as we swear in a new group of 56 Peace Corps Education Volunteers.

Let me begin by recognizing the Honorable Minister of Health and thank the Minister for receiving our new Peace Corps Volunteers on behalf of the Government of Uganda.  We appreciate the strong support and collaboration of the Government of Uganda for the Peace Corps Program here as we work together to realize a vision of peaceful, prosperous, healthy, and democratic Uganda that will be model for Africa and the world.

Thank you as well to the assembled Peace Corps staff, our host schools, colleges and organizational partners, and also thank you to our colleagues from the U.S. government agencies who make up our U.S. Mission in Uganda.  We appreciate the support all of you offer the Peace Corps and I am delighted you could join us for today’s ceremony.

To the people of Uganda, and to our local community partners in particular, I want to tell you how vitally important your engagement and support is to us.  We entrust our volunteers to your care and know that they will be received with a warmth and hospitality that reflects well on all Ugandans.  You make them part of your communities and your families, and your engagement with them makes our Volunteers’ experience in your beautiful country productive and life-changing.

I understand that at a recent farewell gathering, one host family mother proudly described her Peace Corps daughter as her “first born.”  That is an example of the beauty, and the magic, of the Peace Corps experience and reflects the spirit of partnership that makes the program so successful.

For Americans, the Peace Corps represents our highest ideals of volunteerism and service.  The goal of the Peace Corps has always been quite simple — to build a foundation of mutual understanding between people while promoting peace, friendship, and shared values.

President Museveni speaks warmly of Peace Corp volunteers who were his colleagues in his youthful days as a teacher.  Prime Minister Rugunda reminisces about the Volunteers who taught him and touched his life. The fact is, the commitment and hard work of Peace Corps Volunteers and their day-to-day interactions in the classroom and community have shaped leaders, chief justices, and generals.

The impact of our program is not only profound but it extends beyond the direct beneficiaries of our Volunteers’ programs.  The shopkeepers our Volunteers buy goods from, the village leaders with whom we partner, the neighbors we live with, and so many more, are touched as our Volunteers help strengthen their communities.

Today’s group of fifty-six new volunteers is almost as diverse as Uganda itself.  We have volunteers ranging in age from 21 to 66.  We have medical doctors, nurses, and PhDs as well as a Personal Trainer, Air Traffic Controller,  Surgery Veterinary Assistant and one Volunteer who worked and lived full-time on a sailboat in the Caribbean.  We have Volunteers who have traveled extensively in the world and some who had never before left the United States before coming to Uganda.

One volunteer, Aruna Kenyi (a-ROON-a  Ken – yee), was born just next door in South Sudan but had to flee to Uganda at the age of five due to the civil war.  He lived in a number of refugee camps in Uganda for eight years before moving to America in 2003.  Motivated by a desire to give something back to the country that once sheltered him as a refugee, he is now in Uganda to serve as a Peace Corp Volunteer.

Each volunteer has her or his own unique story but they are all united in their commitment to service and their willingness, as Americans and Peace Corps Volunteers, to work in a true partnership with the people of Uganda to create a narrative of hope for an ever better future.

Mr. Minister, the volunteers being sworn today will contribute to Uganda in the critical areas of health and agricultural development.  The twenty-four health volunteers will work in HIV prevention as part of our unrelenting effort to bring this epidemic under control once and for all.  They will also apply help fight malaria, the nation’s most pernicious killer, and they will work on critical issues of maternal-child health.

We also have ten volunteer doctors and nurses in this group who will serve as Peace Corps Response Volunteers in the Global Health Service Partnership.  This program for medical education and training is beginning its third year and our new GHSP volunteers will join colleagues like Volunteer David Baure (Bow-ray) who is currently at Mbarara University helping terminally ill patients die with dignity and who teaches his nursing students the value of acts of care and compassion.

In this year’s group we have specialists in oncology, internal medicine, pediatrics, intensive care nursing, public health nursing, and nursing education.  Notably, one of our new GHSP nurse volunteers, Nurse Robert Kasibante (Car-see-ban-tee) is a Ugandan-American who has returned to make a difference in the land of his birth.  This group of talented and dedicated doctors and nurses will help build a more robust and skilled health care workforce in Uganda.

And we are excited to add two more GHSP sites this year at Busitema University and Muni University as we continue to support medical and nursing schools in under-served areas of the country.

Finally, we also have twenty-two new volunteers here today who will be working with the Community Agribusiness Project. This project, which was established in 2013 with our partners at the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, focuses on empowering farmers to make the most profit out of their land.  Over 80% of the Ugandan workforce is employed in agriculture but many farmers still struggle to provide food for their families.

Although this project is less than two years old, both past and currently serving volunteers have already had significant impact in their communities.  These twenty-two work new volunteers will work will help demonstrate to Uganda’s youth the abundant opportunities the agriculture sector has to offer their generation.

To our 56 new Volunteers let me say that within days you will be finding your own new and innovative ways to make a difference.  You are part of a special group who, through your service, represent the best of America.  You are coming forward to offer your skills, your energy, and your heart and your soul, to help others, to build bridges, to deepen understanding, and to make the world a bit better one village, one household, one person at a time.  I could not be prouder of you and I am honored to have the opportunity to swear you in today.

And, as I do, you need to understand that for the next two years you will be represent what our nation stands for.  You will be the first American some of your Ugandan counterparts will come to know.   And like it or not, you will in your own way join me as Ambassadors for the United States and your actions will ultimately reflect not just on you but on all our volunteers and on America.  I know that you will bear that responsibility with dignity and honor.

As Volunteers you will also play a considerable role in helping to shape the future of the youth of this nation, and few things are more critically important than that.  In Uganda today, 80 percent of the population is under the age of 30, half the nation is under the age of 15 and one in three Ugandans are under the age of 10.  Inevitably you will engage with these young people in countless ways.

You will be role models.  You will inspire.  You will help broaden horizons and, for those who emulate you, you will change their understanding of the world.  And, in doing so, I hope that as Americans, you will reflect the values that underlie our nation’s engagement in the world.  Values that emphasize respect for the rights of all, values that underscore our conviction that societies are stronger and richer when we cherish a diversity of voices and opinions rather than fear them, and values that reflect our core belief that no matter our culture, our faith, our gender, our color, or ethnicity, we all share a common humanity and should be given the chance to live lives of dignity and productivity.

Volunteers, know that as you take on your new role you will be the embodiment of the long friendship between the people of Uganda and our own citizens and, as educators, innovators, and role models, you will change the lives of those you touch.  But know that you will be changed too.

You will grow, you will marvel, and at times you may despair.  You will be humbled, and you will be challenged.  You will also overcome, and you will be filled with a sense of accomplishment.

You may, from time to time become frustrated, you may occasionally throw things, and you may even sometimes question your path or the difference you make.  But know this; when all is said and done you will be enriched, you will be empowered, you will make a difference and you will be changed for the better, forever.

Thank you for your service.  Make us proud.

Now I ask that you please rise so that I may swear you in.

I ______________ do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge my duties in the Peace Corps.  So help me God.