Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Thomas F. Daughton at the Peace Corps Swearing-in Ceremony, Andreas Kukuri Conference Center, Okahandja, Namibia
Good morning! It is a great pleasure for me to be here once again to launch the latest generation of Peace Corps Volunteers in Namibia. Internationally since 1961, Peace Corps has sustained its commitment to developing the resilience of youth and families around the world, and since 1990 more than 1,600 Peace Corps Volunteers have honored that commitment here in Namibia. Today, these 14 Americans will reaffirm that commitment and continue that tradition as they take up their role as community development agents in regions throughout Namibia.
During their training, these community economic development (or CED) Volunteers have been taught about some of the challenges that exist in the communities where they will work. Starting today, they will use what they have learned – and what they continue to learn on the ground – to help improve the livelihoods of their neighbors, of small business owners, and of aspiring entrepreneurs.
Unlike in many countries in Africa, the Namibian economy has managed to demonstrate growth consistently over the last five years. And yet, as the government announced recently, unemployment among Namibia’s youth still hovers around 40%. In a changing national and international economy, Peace Corps is partnering with vocational training centers to build the skills and networks that youth need to thrive. Last year, CED Volunteers led training for more than 750 young Namibians, helping them improve their financial literacy, build business skills, and pursue their dreams of small enterprise development.
I have traveled to all 14 regions during my three years in Namibia. Whenever I have met with Volunteers, I have seen firsthand their dedication to building the skills of all Namibians and creating opportunities for resilient community economies. Just last month I visited a Volunteer in Rundu who was playing an important role at the local Community Skills Development Center. Her contributions to the training programs at the COSDEC, the relationships she had developed, and the teamwork on display were clearly having a positive impact on the lives of many young Namibians in Kavango.
In Zambezi region, another Volunteer is working alongside her Namibian counterparts to expand the Sikunga Conservancy to improve its sustainable management and revenues from fishing in alignment with the existing wildlife programs. The Volunteer and her counterparts are currently working alongside the conservancy management committee to draft contract standards for the private sector, an effort that includes working with regional officials from the Ministry of Fisheries to develop an appropriate management plan for the zone. This collaboration is creating a sustainable future for Sikunga as well as a prototype for other conservancies.
Meaningful collaboration like this between our Peace Corps Volunteers and Namibian organizations is an ideal for which Peace Corps Namibia prides itself. Another notable example is found in right here in Okahandja, where a Volunteer serves as a business advisor to the Okahandja Small & Medium Enterprise Development, known as OSMED. In collaboration with the board, she is strengthening the organization, developing leadership skills within the organization, and implementing a training and mentorship program in key business skills. Her trainees have become part of the ongoing collaboration and two weeks ago, the trainees and OSMED counterparts hosted a showcase for 33 local SMEs. The Market Day energized networks within the Okahandja business community and created visibility for products and services of aspiring entrepreneurs. This continues a five-year legacy for OSMED, an organization founded by a Peace Corps Volunteer and the Honorable Steve Biko Booys, Councilor for the Okahandja Constituency.
Beyond these core activities, I am proud that Peace Corps is committed to preparing Namibian youth to be productive adults and citizens. Recognizing that not all youth will continue their education, Volunteers across all projects are challenging young Namibians to understand their personal abilities and build communication and decision-making skills. Nearly half of all our Volunteers created a school club last year, including 10 business clubs. These activities help young Namibians build support among their peers, establish leadership skills, and learn about critical issues relevant to employment.
To the 14 new volunteers being sworn in today, let me say that I know our expectations of you are high – sometimes unrealistically so. But the long history of Peace Corps in Namibia is an indication that there are nearly limitless opportunities before you. I have no doubt that each of you will be making an important difference in the families and communities you reach. The students, entrepreneurs, family members, and others in communities where you work will remember you long after you have served your two years.
The American people appreciate the work that you all will begin soon and the risks you accept in your service. I want to commend you in advance for the lasting imprint you will make on the lives of so many Namibians, and to thank you for your service on behalf of the United States.
I would also like to express my appreciation for the host families and communities that open their homes to Volunteers. Your guidance and hospitality are what has made this program a success for more than 26 years. Let me add my thanks, as well, to the Namibian government, in particular the Namibia Training Authority, local authorities and our many partner organizations across the country, for the support our Volunteers receive. It is a hallmark of the friendship and cooperation between our countries dating back to Namibia’s independence in 1990.
I hope and anticipate that our partnership will only grow, allowing Peace Corps in Namibia to develop a legacy unmatched across the globe. Our Peace Corps Volunteers are one of the most enduring symbols of why America is here in the first place: to help Namibia succeed. As we continue to work together, we are sure to build resilient community economies and change lives for the better.
Congratulations, Volunteers, and thank you.