Welcoming Remarks, Peace Corps Appreciation Ceremony April 20, 2018

Welcome to the Peace Corps Appreciation Ceremony; we thank you very much for coming. I would like to recognize:

Traditional Leaders of Pohnpei
Secretary of Foreign Affairs Lorin Robert
Acting Governor of Pohnpei Reed Oliver
Acting Secretary of Education Wayne Mendiola
Other State and National Officials
Acting Director for Inter-America & Pacific Emily Untermeyer
Peace Corps staff and volunteers
Returned Peace Corps Volunteers

In this ceremony, we look back in appreciation to 51 years of service by Peace Corps Volunteers in the Federated States of Micronesia. Beginning in 1966 until today, Peace Corps Volunteers have made truly significant contributions to the FSM, and have forged close bonds with the Micronesian people.

This moment is particularly poignant for me, as I started my international career in 1979 as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and that service set the tone and tenor for everything I have done after. It was a formative experience, as it is for most volunteers. My daughter was also a Peace Corps Volunteer, and it changed her life, too. As I have discussed the Peace Corps closure with folks here in the FSM, I have discovered, with even more force than I had realized previously, how Peace Corps Volunteers have touched the minds and especially souls of people here, and how they have even changed lives. The level of integration into Micronesian culture is something that I, a twelve year veteran of Peace Corps, have not seen to the same high degree that it exists here. Truly strong bonds have developed between our two peoples through the Peace Corps, and as Secretary Robert said to us yesterday, Peace Corps Volunteers were America’s ambassadors before ambassadors like me were posted here. And they were ambassadors in far-off and far-flung site unlike any place they may have lived in the U.S. And they excelled.

Peace Corps achievements here are legendary and go to the heart of the legal and educational framework of the country. Last weekend, I spoke with a former PCV Sandra Kostka (one among many still here and contributing) who was in the first group of Volunteers to arrive in 1966 – she never left. She described an entirely different Pohnpei when she arrived – the Volunteers arrived by boat from Chuuk, there were no roads or cars except in the town of Kolonia, and to get to their sites from Kolonia they had to travel by a small boat with a 6HP motor (it took all day). Peace Corps Volunteers have worked as teachers since its FSM inception, not just on the main islands, but in the most remote islands conceivable; as such, they have been intimately involved in the creation of the curricula in the public schools. Peace Corps lawyers helped to put together the FSM legal framework in the early 70s when Micronesia was moving towards independence. A Volunteer in the early 2000s originated the idea of the Canoe Festival in Yap, which ensured the conservation of traditional canoe navigation, which at the time appeared to be slowly dying out; this annual festival has kept the tradition alive, and it has now expanded to include the College of Micronesia FSM. I have heard countless stories of FSM officials being taught by a Peace Corps Volunteer teacher at some point in their education. Most recently, a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Kosrae produced the film “Island Soldier”, a stunning film that captures some important truths about US military veterans in the FSM. The list of achievements is long, and it is far from exhaustive; really, it is the tip of the iceberg.

In a way, it is a shame that it takes this closure to celebrate the close partnership of Peace Corps Volunteers and Micronesians, the close bonds that developed, the humanness of the shared experience here. In 2016, we celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Peace Corps in Micronesia, yes, but at that time there was no indication then there would be an end. Peace Corps Volunteers owe so much to their Micronesian families, to their colleagues, to their counterparts, to their cohorts. For that, on behalf of the American people, I wish to thank our Micronesian friends, deeply and heart to heart.

Thank you.