Ambassador DeLisi’s Remarks at Peace Corps Re-Launch Ceremony Kamal Kunj
January 17, 2012
Namaskar Honorable Ministers, respected secretaries, colleagues, guests and friends of Peace Corps.
It is with great pleasure that I receive you to Kamal Kunj today to mark the return of the Peace Corps to Nepal. This residence has been the site of many significant Peace Corps events. It has seen receptions, volunteer swear-in ceremonies, and even a Peace Corps wedding, so it is fitting that we come together on these grounds to mark today the Peace Corps’ return to Nepal.
Advocating for the Peace Corps’ return to Nepal was one of my first tasks as Ambassador to this country and I am grateful to have been able to play a small role in making this event possible. I want to recognize as well our former USAID Director Kevin Rushing for his extraordinary commitment and effort and also our present Director, Dave Atteberry, who has shown equal dedication to making this happen. I would also like once again to thank the Government of Nepal for its own extraordinary efforts. Peace Corps works in partnership with its host nations and we would not be here today except for the Government of Nepal’s keen interest in seeing Peace Corps return and the efforts of colleagues throughout the government to make this happen.
I also want to thank Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams and Director for Europe, Mediterranean, and Asia, Helen Lowman, who is here with us today. I know that opening a new program, or reopening an old one, takes tremendous time, energy and commitment and I know as well, that there are many countries around the world eager to experience the unique people-to-people partnerships that are the essence of the Peace Corps program. Thank you for giving Nepal that opportunity once again.
For me, the Peace Corps’ return is emblematic of the broad and deep ties between Nepal and the United States, which the forty-two years of Peace Corps presence in Nepal from 1962 – 2004 helped to cement in the first place.
When the Peace Corps departed in 2004 due to the uncertain security environment it was a sad occasion for all of us, and marked a difficult period for Nepal. That was then, however, and this is now. Today Nepal is making real progress toward completing its peace process and creating an inclusive democratic state for all its people. I remain an optimist about the nation’s future and I think that Peace Corps’ return sends a powerful message that the US government and the Peace Corp’s leadership share the conviction that Nepal is on the right path.
However, today as we mark the Peace Corps’ return, we should not only look with optimism to the future but we should take a moment as well to celebrate Peace Corps tremendously rich past here in Nepal. Our Peace Corps Volunteers played a special role here for forty-two years in the country. They are fondly recalled as teachers and as development partners. They are characterized as having been hard working and dedicated to their villages and their host families. But, perhaps most tellingly, they are, quite simply, remembered as friends.
One of our former Peace Corps Nepal staff commented that volunteers sow seeds but he lamented that the volunteers rarely see the fruits that grow from them. Perhaps some of our volunteers did leave before seeing the full bounty of the harvest from their work but we see those fruits every day in the gifted Nepali colleagues from all parts of society whose lives were changed for the better by the Peace Corps Volunteers who influenced them in their youths.
I have heard of many tales of how the Peace Corps program in Nepal changed the lives of Nepalis and Americans alike. One Peace Corps Volunteer who served in Nepal in the early 1970s, (and who continues to work in Nepal today), says that 37 years after his service, his host family is still an integral part of his life. Another Volunteer told of how his host family would tell guests that he wasn’t a visitor, but rather a member of their family, and how much that meant to him, while so far from home.
A former Peace Corps staff member who now works at the Embassy told us that in his time with Peace Corps, he worked with over two thousand volunteers and that he considered Peace Corps to be his school and his university. If so, his education was a rich and diverse one. Another former Peace Corps staff member, now working in USAID recalls how when he was in class five in 1966, a Peace Corps Volunteer taught him American songs. That experience was special enough for him that he remembered those songs over the years and ultimately, decades later, shared them with his own children.
My favorite tale, however, is that of a volunteer who arrived in Nepal in the early 70s. Upon reaching his village in the west he tried hard to explain to a village elder where he had come from. The elder asked how many day’s walk it was from this place called America. The volunteer, at a loss to calculate the walking distance, finally tried to explain to the village elder, who had never seen Kathmandu and never seen an airplane, how he had flown a long way to come to Nepal. The elder pondered this for a moment, drew the only logical conclusion, and said to the volunteer, “oh, you must be a god, then.”
Andrea and Amy, you have a big task ahead of you if you are to live up to that expectation!
The fact is, however, that these stories have kept the Peace Corps alive during its seven year absence from Nepal and they serve as a reminder of the powerful impact our Volunteers have had here, and of the equally powerful impact that Nepal has had on them.
We know, of course, that despite the one elder’s assumption, our volunteers are not gods. They are mere mortals, as are their Nepali partners. But together we can build partnerships that will make a difference and that, we hope, will make the gods smile at least a little bit.
I know our Peace Corps colleagues here today will face challenges as they work to get Peace Corps Nepal up and running again in the coming months. I want you to know, however, that we are all here to support you and to ensure a great start to the beginning of this new Peace Corps era in Nepal.
Thank you for your commitment and your energy and, to Helen and, through her to Director Williams, a heartfelt thank you for your faith in Nepal. I think we all know that this is the rebirth of something very special.