As prepared for delivery
Remarks for Ambassador Michael Gonzales
Peace Corps Swearing-In Ceremony
Peace Corps Office
Thursday, October 27, 2022
The guest of honor, Minister of Education, Hon. Douglas Syakalima
Director of Public Health, Dr. Patricia Bobo
Peace Corps Country Director, Tim Katz
His Royal Highness, Chief Chamuka VI
Senior Government Officials
U.S. Mission Agency Heads and team members present
Members of the media
Returned Peace Corps Volunteers
All protocols observed
Good morning, and thank you so much for being with us today on this great occasion. Today, I have the privilege of administering the oath of service to our newest 31 Peace Corps Volunteers in Zambia. They have completed a rigorous two and a half-month training in local languages, culture, and technical knowledge, and they are now prepared to formally begin their service as Peace Corps Volunteers.
When they take the oath today, these 31 most recent ambassadors of the American people will join nearly 2,400 other Americans who have served as Peace Corps Volunteers in Zambia over the past 28 years. If you had any doubt about Peace Corps’ commitment to Zambia – let me highlight one particularly impressive data point: Peace Corps Zambia has traditionally hosted the single largest number of Volunteers of all Peace Corps countries worldwide!
I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the Zambian government, and the government representatives here today, for the tremendous support you have given to Peace Corps since the program began in Zambia in 1994. I would also like to thank the staff of Peace Corps Zambia for fostering the partnerships and providing the critically-needed foundations to enable our Volunteers to thrive. We look forward to continued collaboration on critical development projects that serve the Zambian people and foster life-long ties between the Zambian and American people well into the future.
The work of Volunteers has changed over the years in response to evolving challenges: from food security, gender equality, nutrition, HIV/AIDS, and malaria prevention, to taking on COVID and climate change. Despite the nature of these challenges, Volunteers have always been ready to meet the moment, working at a grassroots level, working with and alongside community members to add value to the work being done by the Zambian people in critical developmental areas.
Some of the Volunteers swearing in today will support teachers in the development of innovative and gender-equitable teaching methodologies in teaching English as a foreign language. Others will promote sustainable practices to improve maternal and child health and fight malaria. Every one of them will support efforts to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and identify paths to treatment for those impacted by the disease.
To the Volunteers: all of you brought valuable knowledge, skills, and backgrounds with you when you arrived in Zambia. Peace Corps staff helped prepare you to adapt and apply these to the Zambian context. Now you have acquired the tools — the training, the language, the inter-cultural competence, the organizational and communication tools, which will enable you to make a major impact in the communities where you will serve.
And so now you become the change agents. By working diligently in your communities, at your sites, through your actions, attitudes, and service, you will develop relationships and build community acceptance of new ideas. You 31 soon-to-be Peace Corps Volunteers will impact communities across Zambia in seven provinces, in the rural villages of Katete and Chadiza Districts, to Mansa and Kasama, Kapiri-Mposhi, Mfumbwe and Kasempa Districts, to Choma and Kalomo Districts and beyond.
So to you, our Peace Corps Volunteers – this oath you are about to take formally commits you to serving the ideals and values for which the United States stands. You will work alongside local leaders and the Zambian people to tackle the most pressing challenges of our generation. And in the process, you will learn about the Zambian people, their culture, and this great country.
But, as Peace Corps Volunteers, the clock does not stop at 5:00 or the end of the day. As Peace Corps Volunteers, you are actually also ambassadors of the American people, and I can tell you that that role of ambassador is not taken off as you slip out of your shoes. It stays with you at the market, at the river, and at church; at play just as it does when you are at work. So, represent us well. In light of your positions as ambassadors, how Zambians – whether they be individuals or entire communities – view you will shape how they view our country. So, please do not just share yourself in your job, but proactively share yourself with your community as you join your neighbors for nshima, as you help the community kids with their homework, as you join your community in football matches, or partake in local dancing, weddings, celebrations, and even in mourning. Ask questions and share stories and remember to laugh – laugh a lot with your community.
I also ask of you, be present. How many of you saw the first Harry Potter movie. Do you remember when Harry came upon the Mirror of Erised? Prof. Dumbledore told him that the mirror showed the “deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts.” It became clear over the years that the mirror could bring more harm than good and many had wasted their lives before the mirror yearning for what they do not have. I fear that many of you have a small Mirror of Erised in your pockets, but let me echo the counsel of Albus Dumbledore: “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.” For, while today two years may sound long, it will go by quickly. So, do set aside your devices and connections back home, and concentrate your time in Zambia on building those relationships and making the memories that this unique opportunity allows you.
Be open-minded, stay resilient, and be flexible – because just as you will leave a lasting impression on Zambia and her people, Zambia will also have a lasting effect on you. There is an entire community walking with you in your journey, and you will feel the satisfaction of adapting to a new way of life, the excitement of learning new things, and the appreciation of new friendships. And, in a couple of years, as this latest chapter of your longer journey winds down, you will find that you are no longer the person that you are today. You will have changed because of your community and your service, and you too will have made an impact on your community. Not only will you have made an impact through your day job on improved English teaching outcomes and improved community health, but you will have shaped Zambia’s views of America and America’s appreciation for Zambia.
In sixty years, as a young Zambian boy races through the doors in the high-rise apartment overlooking the lush parks and affluent suburbs of Kabwe, or maybe it’s Chinsali enabled by Zambia’s central role in driving the sustainable, climate-smart economy of the future, he will leap into his grandmother’s arms and beg “tell me about America.” And, she will not talk about Hollywood, or politics, or donors, or global superpowers. She will say, “Ah, let me tell you about when Trinity came to our village.” That, that is the lasting influence that you will have as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Relish it!
Before, I conclude, let me also note that once you are a PVC, you are always a PCV. That status, that elite club of expeditionary Americans will remain with you as you join the ranks of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers or RPCVs, providing continued service throughout your lives. I myself am a proud Peace Corps in-law, and so much of the mystique and character that attracted me to my wife Carol Jenkins was manifest in, and refined from, her experience as a small-business volunteer with Peace Corps in Lithuania from 1993-95. So, today, I would like to take a moment to also thank Carol and the many RPCVs currently working in Zambia for the United States Government and our partners who are represented here today within the audience.
Thank you so much for your willingness to dedicate two years of your life sharing in America’s friendship with Zambia and working hand-in-hand with the Zambian people. I hope, and fully expect that it will be a rewarding experience, and I hope to visit many of you in your sites over the next two years.
And now, it is my honor to ask the Volunteers to please rise for the oath.
I, (State Your Name), do solemnly swear (or affirm)
That I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America
against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
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 faithfully discharge my duties in the Peace Corps.