Good afternoon and Namaste,
Chief guest The Honorable Chakra Pani Khana, Minister of Agriculture and Livestock Development, government officials, distinguished guests, Peace Corps Country Director, Sherry Russell, Peace Corps staff, current and returned Peace Corps volunteers, and most importantly trainees, soon to be volunteers. This is the first time that I have the privilege of presiding over a swearing-in ceremony for new volunteers in Nepal and I feel a tremendous amount of pride, both as Ambassador and as an American. The trainees represent the best our country has to offer in terms of commitment, capabilities, and energy.
As U.S. Ambassador to Nepal, I cannot imagine a finer example of the collaboration and partnership between our two nations than the long-standing relationship between Peace Corps and this country.
The trainees here follow in the footsteps of almost 4,000 previous volunteers, including some who are with us here today, who heeded the call to service and chose to come to Nepal to serve not only our own country, but also the people of Nepal. To those returned Peace Corps volunteers who are with us today, I want to thank you for your service. Before addressing the trainees, I would like to make a few acknowledgements:
First, I want to thank the Government of Nepal officials here today. We have representatives not only from the three ministries that Peace Corps works with on its food security and education projects- the Ministry of Health and Population; the Ministry of Agriculture, Land Management and Cooperatives; and the Ministry of Education, but also representatives from the Ministries of Federal Affairs & General Administration, Finance, Home, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We are so grateful to all of the ministries for their support of the work that Peace Corps volunteers are doing to accomplish our two countries’ shared goals. Thank you for being here and for the continuing collaboration.
Second, I would like to acknowledge the work of the Peace Corps staff- especially the pre-service training staff who work intensively with the trainees for eleven action-packed weeks, ensuring that the trainees can speak Nepali, navigate local customs, ride a public bus successfully, eat daal bhaat correctly with your hands, and are ready to integrate into their host families and new homes where they will live for the next two years. Thank you for all that you have done and continue to do.
To the trainees, soon to be volunteers, I would like to recognize the hard work you have done to get this far, and, as is often the case, to address the challenges you have before you.
You are the ninth group of food security volunteers and the first group of education volunteers to come to Nepal since the Peace Corps Nepal program re-opened in 2012. Because there is so much to learn in preparation for Peace Corps service, your preparation and your training is demanding.
Your rigorous 11 weeks of language learning and technical training are at a close. I understand from Sherry, Matt, and the staff that you worked so diligently that you are now able to give speeches in Nepali- at least short ones- and that one member of your group will do just that today. I am looking forward to hearing that and practice my own Nepali listening skills.
During your training some of you – the food security volunteers – travelled to visit current volunteer sites both to understand first-hand the conditions under which you will serve, and to view the work of those who came before you. This visit was not a chaperoned visit. Our Peace Corps volunteers were provided information and assistance, but you were expected in only your 7th week in Nepal to buy tickets, board buses, speak in your still developing Nepali, travel to districts in mid- and western-Nepal, and find their assigned volunteer and community. The good news here is that all of you who left Kathmandu also returned safely.
In the meantime, the education volunteers remained in Panauti working diligently to prepare for their second week of practice teaching, learning about the culture and norms of Nepali classrooms and developing effective English teaching strategies. As you are the first group of English education volunteers to serve in Nepal since 2004, you are in fact pioneers. There are no currently serving education volunteers for you to visit, but soon you will be out in the districts yourselves, setting the standard for the education project and paving the way for more education volunteers who will come after you.
It is this kind of spirit and initiative that will serve each of you well. It will help you remain curious and motivated, ready to learn from, and with, your communities and from each other in order to implement the best and most relevant practices in your schools and in your communities.
So, there is no doubt that you will continue to make these types of concrete and positive contributions. But make no mistake, when you first arrive at your site, you’ll spend most of your time not teaching but learning: learning the rhythms of your adopted community, learning the personalities and relationships of the many people in your household, meeting your new neighbors, and learning how to more effectively communicate.
This is not a bad thing. Even as Ambassador I had a sharp curve at this, and at every one of my new posts. While most of you will want to jump in right away and start teaching, this learning time is critical for building trust and for understanding: understanding what is already there, what is working, envisioning what could work better, and building buy-in on turning this vision into reality. Enjoy that period. Later in your service, once you have integrated into your community and feel comfortable there, you will switch to more of a co-collaborator or a teacher role – brining to bear the talents and skills you offer your community. Throughout your service, the ebb and flow of teacher and learner will gradually change, and your adaptation to those changes will allow you to be the most effective you can be.
In a few minutes, you will stand and take the pledge that signifies the official beginning your service as a Peace Corps volunteers.
In taking this pledge you commit to serve alongside the people of Nepal to improve the well-being of rural communities across the country. Recently, I launched a new Twitter hashtag on my account – I am sure that you have all been too focused in training to have seen it. The hashtag is “Close Where It Counts” and it challenges our traditional definitions of neighbor and partner, but I would say in your case, you really will be “close where it counts” in your communities and engaging with partners – just one more example of how we support initiatives that matter in the lives of Nepalis and make a real difference. As Peace Corps Volunteers, working in remote areas and with traditionally marginalized populations, you are going to have outsized impact on the good that the U.S. can do and the understanding that Nepalis have of Americans and our culture and values.
With this pledge you commit to embody the best, and the noblest, and the worthiest values of our nations. On behalf of the people of the United States, and myself, my confidence, let me affirm our confidence in you and our pride that it is you, precisely you, here, on this day, who represent us to the great and noble nation of Nepal. For the work you have already done, and for the contribution you are about to make in the next two years, I thank you.
Administration of the Pledge
Trainees, please stand.
You have traveled a long road to arrive at this point. You have wisely used your training period to make your commitment to two years of service in Nepal. As Peace Corps volunteers, you may never fully know the positive difference you make in the lives of others. But never doubt that you will be a force for positive change, both here and in the U.S. by virtue of your contributions to Nepal.
Pledge – Nepal
I, state your name, promise to serve alongside the people of Nepal with an open heart and an open mind.
I will face the challenges of service with patience, humility, and determination.
I will foster the bonds of friendship and collaboration with my Nepali counterparts and community and embody the attributes of curiosity, cultural sensitivity, and respect.
I will live up to the highest standards of honesty, integrity, and dedication.
I will embrace the mission of world peace and friendship for as long as I serve, and beyond.
In the proud tradition of Peace Corps’ legacy – I will fulfill my duties as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
Congratulations Peace Corps Nepal group 206 – you are now ready to begin your service.
I am confident you will have an unforgettable experience in Nepal, and I wish you the best of luck!