Members of the diplomatic corp,
Deputy Chief of Mission, Mr Doug Sonnek,
Mr Dennis McMahon, country director US Peace Corp,
Members of the Peace Corp Volunteers,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Bula vinaka and a very good afternoon
I’m delighted to be here today at this swearing in for the 93rd group of Peace Corps volunteers to serve in Fiji – the ceremony that signifies the beginning of your two-year service in Fiji.
I know you’ve already experienced our world-famous hospitality during your nine weeks in Fiji so far. You have gotten that first taste of our culture. I’m sure it is all new and fascinating, and your understanding and appreciation of it will only grow deeper and more sophisticated as you live it. But for now, allow me to formally welcome all of you to our shores on behalf of the Fijian Government and our people.
Let me begin by saying, thank you. Since 1968, over 2,500 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Fiji, and have built ties within our communities that have lasted lifetimes. As I’m sure you all know, some past volunteers have even extended their stay in Fiji and remain with us to this day. And given what I’ve been reading about the U.S. elections, I suspect that some of you may be considering doing the same.
But seriously, the work that you do and the experience you will have of immersing yourselves in our culture will give you a unique and invaluable perspective into our society, our customs and our people –one that few others can claim. You will be a part of us and you will learn from us, and by this time — two years from now — you will have forged a bond with our nation, and with our people, that will stay with you forever.
I am very proud of the partnership between my Government and the Peace Corps, and I am a firm believer in the idea that a just and free society must do its best to lift up the marginalized, provide them opportunities and make them equal. Fiji is currently undergoing a wave of development never before seen in our history. For many years we suffered from divisive politics that held our nation back – but over the past decade, Fiji has emerged as a dynamic island economy and the hub of development in the South Pacific. And my Government is working every day to make sure the benefits of that progress extend to every Fijian, irrespective of where they are in Fiji, whether that be in our cities, towns, or rural and maritime areas. So that we can empower every Fijian to seize the opportunities that we are creating for our people.
Some of you will be serving in areas that are isolated, areas that may not have the same level of services and infrastructure that you see here in Suva. But every day we are working to reach those pockets of our country. To bring them into the fold of our development and make sure that they participate fully in our advancement as a nation.
Over the next two years, you will be working alongside our Ministry of Education, Ministry of Youth and Sports and Ministry of Health, assisting with campaigns to get our young people moving, to help them live healthier and more productive lives so they can become more actively engaged in our nation’s progress.
I’ve traveled throughout Fiji leading efforts to put our young people at the forefront of our national development, making sure that – regardless of where they call home – our students have access to the resources and opportunities that will help them cultivate their talents and reach their full potential. We are building the next generation of leaders and citizens in Fijian society. And you have the chance to be a part of that, to help us lay the foundation for the future of Fiji. To engage with our young people, to inspire them and to be inspired by them.
Again, welcome and thank you for your service. I look forward to seeing your work and staying updated on your progress, and also to the Meke performance I’m told you have planned for us today.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.