Malawi Standard (Blantyre)

Malawi: American Peace Corps Are Best Friends Indeed

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Sanjika Palace -Blantyre, Malawi — Let me begin by extending to you all a very warm welcome to the residence as we celebrate 40 years of Peace Corps volunteerism in Malawi. This is a great day to you as well as to us Malawians because it marks the spirit of sharing and solidarity that the United States of America and Malawi have enjoyed together through Peace Corps Volunteers over the years. It is indeed now 40 years since the first group of Peace Corps Volunteers came to Malawi as part of President John Kennedy's commitment to nation building in developing countries in 1963.

I invited you to come here today for me and the entire Malawians society to experience the joy in solidarity with you that 40 years have passed since the first group of Peace Corps Volunteers came to Malawi. Today I want to congratulate you all and express the gratitude of the government of Malawi and my own, for entering into relations of friendship with us for the good of our two countries.

I congratulate you because it is always the young people with the spirit of self-help and discipline, concern for others and their aspiration who pioneer to a new era. It is the young people who are the engine for reform, whether it is Nicole Nelson teaching at Chikangawa Community Day Secondary School in Mzimba or Emily Petersen working at Tulonkhondo Health Centre in Mwanza. I cannot therefore underestimate the remarkable contributions Peace Corps Volunteers have made in Malawi during the past 40 years.

Your Excellency, the extraordinary achievements of Peace Corps Volunteers are reflected in the fact that they have touched the lives of many Malawians even at grassroots level. Yes indeed, Peace Corps Volunteers also taught some of the Malawians who are holding high positions today. These include Ministers and Members of Parliament who are serving in my government. As the Country Director has already said, my own Vice President, Rt. Hon. Justin Malewezi has had inspiration from Peace Corps too. The President of Malawi standing before you was also at one time taught by Peace Corps.

In addition, Principal Secretaries, and other people who have distinguished themselves in both the public and private sectors benefited from the teaching of Peace Corps Volunteers. As the fruit of selfless and dedicated Peace Corps Volunteers these individuals are contributing positively in the social and economic development of Malawi.

I want you to know that we are also greatly indebted to the United States Government and the Peace Corps Agency for making sustainable contributions in the areas of education, health and HIV/AIDS and the environment in Malawi. All these areas are very critical for the social and economic development of our country. As I have said elsewhere, I believe that education is the key to any meaningful development. It is for this belief and conviction that my government introduced free primary education to give opportunity to even very poor children. The outcome has been miraculous in that the primary school pupil enrolment has almost tripled. In 1994 the primary school pupil enrolment was 1.9 million and it is now at almost 4 million. As a result, we need about 10, 000 teachers.

We have also increased access to secondary schools through construction of more secondary schools. These initiatives have however brought the need for more teachers as well as teaching and learning materials. I am grateful and happy that as volunteers you have supported my government's initiative through your participation and involvement in secondary schools, especially in rural areas even in the remotest parts of the country such as Chitipa in the Northern Region. We will still depend on Peace Corps Volunteers to assist us in achieving quality education through skills transfer and improving teaching and learning resources.

As you are aware, one of my greatest concerns is the extent to which the HIV/AIDS pandemic is eroding our most skilled human resource base including our youth. The interventions that government is making indeed require the support of all stakeholders including Peace Corps Volunteers who can work in our communities as educators and counsellors, teaching HIV/AIDS prevention strategies and counselling techniques. I strongly believe that since there is no cure for AIDS we should insist on asking every Malawian to change behaviour.

I am very encouraged that you are making some remarkable strides in behavioural change through your life skills programme. It is my desire that all Malawians should change their behaviour as a means of arresting the further spread of HIV/AIDS because the disease is also creating numerous orphans.

I have no doubt that with the various support activities you are undertaking in our rural communities the problem of orphans will be alleviated. The phrase, "America, the hope of the world" will be truly very meaningful to the orphans as they become self reliant and independent through your valuable support. I believe that democracy in itself is meaningless unless people have good health, among other things. The great majority of our people need to be reached and taught how to prevent themselves from contacting HIV/AIDS.

It is therefore very important that we build large capacity that would work in our communities. I would like to see more Peace Corps Volunteers working in the health sector. I believe that it takes a health nation to develop and achieve sustainable development.

While launching this year's Tree Planting Week, I bemoaned the environmental degradation that has become a burden on the communities. For example, early this year some parts of the country experienced floods that destroyed crops including road and electricity infrastructure. On that day, I encouraged every Malawian to conserve and plant trees. I am encouraged that as Peace Corps you are playing a vital role by serving as environmental educators and community coordinators.

Your activities will enable the communities to have the capacity to stand on their feet and repair the damaged environment. You are teaching our people what you as an American nation has achieved and are now working with them to improve the environment for a better Malawi. I wish you to know that your efforts in supporting Malawians to conserve their environment have earned you my praise and gratitude. Continue with your good work!

I look to the United States government for more cooperation and assistance in the provision of more Peace Corps Volunteers. I believe that the presence of more Peace Corps Volunteers in the country will afford our people opportunities to improve more in the areas of education, health and HIV/AIDS, and the environment.

Moreover, it is my ardent desire that the Peace Corps Volunteers should expand their programmes of activities to include teacher training, agriculture and vocational training. These are very pertinent areas for this country to achieve sustainable development. I am aware that this would require an increase in the financial resources usually made available to the Peace Corps development assistance programme. Certainly, Ambassador Meece will look into his request with the necessary authorities in Washington.

Listening to what has been said by the various speakers, I am aware that what started many years ago as a spirit of friendship and sharing between the United States Government and the Government of Malawi, has grown over the past 40 years on the Malawi soil and has reached maturity. However, the Peace Corps programme has reached this far because several young Americans motivated by moral virtue and compassion for assisting the poor, leave their studies or work and come to this country to live among poor Malawians.

I am also aware that as Peace Corps you live under difficult conditions in the rural areas and that your wages are small but you do worthwhile work. I thank you most sincerely for all the sacrifice and efforts of walking together with Malawians and placing your individual skills and talents at their service to shape a better Malawi.

Let this be a day of celebration as well as a day to reaffirm our commitment to work hand in hand in the development of Malawi, and strengthen the good will and mutual understanding existing between the citizens of our two governments.

I encourage you to make Malawi your second home. This is the Warm Heart of Africa. Where else would you want to be in Africa? I would also like Malawians to travel freely between Malawi and the United States of America.

I wish you very happy 40th Anniversary Celebrations. Thank you for your attention and may God bless you all.

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