It gives me great pleasure to be here this morning to celebrate the return of the Peace Corps to Nepal. The Peace Corps has played such a special role in creating lifelong bridges of understanding and affection between the U.S. and Nepal.
Peace Corps volunteers everywhere retain fond memories of their experiences overseas. But those who had the good fortune to serve in Nepal — including a senior member of my team here in Washington — seem to be a particularly loyal and enthusiastic group, reflecting the deep impact their experience as volunteers, working so closely with people in often very remote parts of Nepal, has had throughout their lives. And I’d suspect that the villages and towns that have hosted volunteers feel just the same way.
So the Peace Corps’ reluctant departure from Nepal in 2004 due to security concerns was a sad point for all of us, and marked a difficult period for Nepal – a time when Nepal was torn apart by violence, a conflict which is now, thankfully, a thing of the past.
Just as the Peace Corps’ departure was emblematic of a dark period in Nepal’s history, its return is equally symbolic of the positive trends that now prevail.
Real progress was achieved last year toward completion of the peace process launched in 2006. There is a renewed sense of optimism in Nepal that, at last, its citizens can move beyond the conflict and its aftermath to seize the opportunity to address many serious challenges and conclude the peace process.
The new Peace Corps Volunteers, when they return this summer, will focus on agriculture and nutrition. This fits perfectly with Nepal’s own shift in focus. Nepal has not yet been able to participate fully in the remarkable development and growth that its neighbors have enjoyed. The Peace Corps Volunteers will be well placed to join USAID’s essential, ongoing efforts to assist Nepal to address the fundamental and, unfortunately, growing issue of food insecurity.
I think we can anticipate that this will be a productive partnership and that these combined efforts will have a real and measurable impact in Nepal.
But Peace Corps volunteers will have a broader, indelible impact in Nepal, just as Nepal will have a lasting impact on all of them. Allow me to share a few examples that I have learned about.
First, the State Department has long been the beneficiary of Peace Corps alumni who bring the skills and the understanding that they acquired to their subsequent work for the Department of State.
One great example is Dr. Molly Teas, the senior advisor for education in my Bureau. Dr. Teas was a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal and recently had the opportunity to revisit the village in Nepal where she taught and lived as a Volunteer and to reconnect with people she knew then. She and I are so happy she could be here today. (Thank you Molly!)
Another distinguished alumnus is our current Charge d’Affairs in New Delhi and eminent South Asia hand Ambassador Peter Burleigh who got his start in South Asia as a Volunteer in Nepal.
I would also like to read for you just a few thoughts shared by people currently in Nepal who have previously been associated with the Peace Corps.
From our new Human Resources Officer at our Embassy in Kathmandu recalling her experience as a PCV in Nepal:
“My most adventurous work trip in Nepal was to Khaptad National Park. I took a short flight from Kathmandu to Nepalganj. The plane could only fit a few people and several bags of rice. From there, I took an overcrowded, 12-hour bus ride, then hiked for two days before I reached the park’s headquarters. It was the most tranquil place I have ever been.
No communication and no vehicles, in or out. Only a few local herders lived in the park and food was carried in on yaks. I spent a month there assisting the park ranger and still remember it fondly. I made many good friends in Nepal and I am still in touch with them. Now that I have returned to Nepal with the Embassy, it is exciting to see my friends and reconnect in person. Many of them now work at the Embassy. It’s like I never left.”
From a former Peace Corps Mail Room Manager, now a clerk at the US Embassy in Kathmandu:
“For me, Peace Corps is everything. It changed my life. During my time with Peace Corps Nepal, I worked with more than two thousand PCVs. For me, Peace Corps was a school and a university. I will never forget Peace Corps.”
And this from a Peace Corps Volunteer who is now the Director of Himalayan Programs at the Mountain Institute:
“I came to Nepal in 1975 as a drinking water specialist. I lived with a family in a very remote village, including a 7-year-old host brother. I came back to work in Nepal 16 years ago, and just last month ran into my host brother, now all grown up. He is now a Joint Secretary at the Ministry of Finance for Forestry. My little host brother grew up to be a national policy shaper, impacting the lives of the people of Nepal. I can only hope that the cultural exchange we enjoyed every day we lived and grew up together in some way helped to contribute to the person he has become.”
These reminiscences remind us of the thousands of lives that Peace Corps touched in Nepal. From the positive impact of volunteers on their pupils and villages to the life-changing inspiration that those villages gave to their American volunteers. The legacy of Peace Corps is immeasurable. So it is with great joy that I join you here today to commemorate the beginning of a new Peace Corps era in Nepal.