U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
Other State Department Archive SitesU.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
Home Issues & Press Travel & Business Countries Youth & Education Careers About State Video

Remarks at the Peace Corps 2008 Worldwide Country Director Conference

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
April 28, 2008

View Video

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you, Ron, for that really wonderful introduction. I just want to say that I think the Peace Corps Director, Director Tschetter, is doing a fantastic job in leading this organization. Thank you for your leadership. (Applause.) I’m just delighted to be here with you to meet with you during this great opportunity to inspire leadership for yourselves, but I want you to know what inspirational leadership you are providing around the world. You really are, in many ways, some of the best ambassadors for what the United States is all about: the deep compassion that this country has; the sense of responsibility; the belief that every human being has the right to a life of dignity and opportunity. That is what the Peace Corps means around the world and it could not be true without you.

Now, we’ll forgive that Chris Hill and Richard Boucher were actually Peace Corps volunteers. (Laughter.) We’re very proud of that and we’re very proud of the fact that there are many Peace Corps volunteers throughout the Foreign Service, people who in a sense, cut their teeth on their Peace Corps service and then decided to make a formal career for the Diplomatic Service and that is something that we would love to see continue to happen.

The State Department has been known to tap your vast intellectual resources and to use those skills as people come back to build careers in foreign policy. There are, I am told, 22 who have served as U.S. Ambassadors, so that’s quite a record. I want to tell you, too, that this is really one of the great American success stories.

When John F. Kennedy, some four decades ago, challenged America through a speech to students at the University of Michigan, to serve their country in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries, he did something very special. President Kennedy’s vision for the Peace Corps has challenged over 190,000 American men and women who have served in 139 countries and are really involved at the grassroots, living in communities and making a difference, one person at a time. I like to think of them as the right people for the right time.

And because they are the right people serving at the right time, millions of people across the globe have a positive view of America, because the first American that they ever met, maybe the only American that they’ll ever meet, was a Peace Corps volunteer.

Today, Peace Corps volunteers are opening up a whole new world for the people that they serve by teaching computer skills and providing access to the internet, so keeping abreast with the challenges of today. The invaluable trust Peace Corps volunteers are gaining among the people that they serve gives them the credibility to talk about diseases like HIV/AIDS prevention in their communities when, frankly, others cannot. That is why the Peace Corps is emerging as an important part of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS relief, particularly in Africa and the Caribbean.

In fact, as the Director said, while visiting Accra, Ghana in February with President Bush, I was fortunate enough to have lunch with a group of your Peace Corps colleagues. And earlier this month, I accompanied President and Mrs. Bush to Ukraine where we had the opportunity to see an HIV/AIDS education play put on by Peace Corps volunteer Margaret McKenna and 15 of her students. Margaret and her students not only perform in their own community, but they travel to educate other schools throughout Ukraine about the danger of AIDS.

Throughout its history, the Peace Corps has met the challenges of an ever-challenging world by adapting and responding to the issues of the day, but never losing sight of the values that have sustained the Peace Corps throughout its history. Currently more than 8,000 Peace Corps Volunteers continue to meet these new challenges across the globe, particularly in places where the Peace Corps has been absent for some time.

Just this past February, of course, President Bush announced the return of the Peace Corps to Rwanda, after a 15-year absence. And this summer, the Peace Corps will return to Liberia with a Peace Corps response program working in education. In 2007 the Peace Corps returned to Ethiopia after an absence of eight years. And volunteers began their service for the first time in Cambodia in 2007 to train teachers and teach English in seven provinces.

I’m just so pleased to see that the Director and your leadership is looking outside the traditional box for Peace Corps volunteers as well. I understand your initiative to bring more Baby Boomers into the Peace Corps and that’s netted 63 percent more applicants from older Americans – good for us older Americans – (laughter) – since the initiative was launched last fall. You will need these volunteers because I cannot tell you how many countries want Peace Corps programs. Your programs are making a difference in people’s lives.

Each of you is to be commended for your dedication to helping the world’s neediest people, oftentimes in some of the world’s most impoverished communities. Through your work, you’re strengthening communities, you’re improving lives and you’re building bridges between nations. You are indeed, the right people for the right time. And I know sometimes, almost always, it’s done in places that are remote and very, very far from family, friends and the comforts of America. I’ve talked to some of those Peace Corps volunteers and I remember one story, in particular, when I was just in Ghana. And I said to one of the volunteers: “So tell me what your life is like.” And this volunteer described going to the well to get her water every day. She described coming back to the house. And I said: “So it’s rather irregular, whether there is electricity.” And she said, “No, it’s not irregular, there isn’t.” (Laughter.) At that point, I was reminded what our Peace Corps volunteers are willing to do. And it really is the best of what we are as Americans. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your leadership of this great organization. Thank you for protecting, defending and sustaining its values through all of these years. And thank you for expanding its programs and its reach at a time when, indeed, the number of people around the world, who are just trying to find a hand-up to dignity and prosperity and opportunity is growing and growing worldwide. Thank you again for what you do. (Applause.)

DIRECTOR TSCHETTER: Thank you, again, Madame Secretary, for taking time out of, I know, your very busy schedule to be with us here today. Do you have time for some questions?

SECRETARY RICE: I sure do.

DIRECTOR TSCHETTER: Okay. We have time for some questions, so anyone who would like to ask the Secretary a question.

Yes.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, I’m Jeff Kelley-Clarke. I served as a volunteer in Bahrain a long time ago. I’m wondering if you would comment on the role the Peace Corps has in trying to rebuild connections with the Arab world – the Muslim world, where we have volunteers in a lot of countries.

SECRETARY RICE: Yes. Thank you. Well, I think the Peace Corps has an extremely important role in trying to bridge the gaps and the differences in the Middle East and to reach out to those people. I think it’s extremely important to put in context what is happening in the Middle East, and then to think about how to engage the Middle East. I’ve been just last week, as a matter of fact, in Bahrain and I was also in Kuwait. I was recently before that just a couple of months ago in UAE. And I think what you’re seeing is that the people of the Middle East are becoming more and more demanding for a life of modernity and opportunity and really requiring their governments to rethink old bargains and this is very hard. I think you’re going to find that in the Middle East people are no longer going to be satisfied with being in a region that has been really very much behind in terms of education, in terms of opportunity, where there really are marginalized populations within political systems that don’t permit really very much room for political expression.

I think you’re seeing that something that I’m very interested in, which is the empowerment of women -- is bringing a lot of pressure for the education of girls. And the education of girls, not just in order to say that they were educated, but so that they can actually pursue real opportunity and, indeed, careers. And I can tell you that in almost every one of these countries now, I find it interesting that the leadership will say, oh, we have a woman in the parliament or we have a woman minister and they’re increasingly very proud of that. Now, this is a different Middle East. It’s not by any means, a democratic Middle East, it’s not yet a – by any means, a Middle East that is making the kinds of strides in human rights and civil liberties and pluralism that we would like to see. But it is a Middle East where those demands are growing. And it’s why the kinds of programs that the Peace Corps is actually able to run, which is at the grassroots level, one person at a time, one school at a time, one clinic at a time in teaching the teachers so that they can provide education. I think there is a real place here that a tremendous contribution can be made even above and beyond what is going on now.

And so with the growth of the ability of people to see through – whether it’s television, and you know how ubiquitous satellite television is throughout the Middle East, or whether it’s on the internet, people are just no longer satisfied with their status in life. And I think that’s a good thing. They don’t accept any longer that it is their status in life to be fill-in-the-blank, and I think that’s a very good thing.

So, I’m hopeful that in the Middle East, you will begin to see governments that can provide the kind of space that is needed for people to improve their lives, for them to have lines and channels for legitimate political expression. But I also think that the private efforts through organizations or through grassroots organizations like the Peace Corps, through nongovernmental organizations in giving people ways to pursue education, particularly women to pursue education, is going to be absolutely essential.

DIRECTOR TSCHETTER: Other questions? Yes.

QUESTION: Many of us are in countries where the predominant source of food is grain, rice, et cetera. And I’m wondering about your thoughts about the U.S. Government’s thoughts about the skyrocketing prices of grain worldwide.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I’ll tell you, we are very concerned about the status of the food situation in the world. The Director of the World Food Program, Josette Sheeran, was actually someone who worked for me as Under Secretary for Economic Affairs. And when Josette says that there is a silent tsunami, I think we really have reason for concern. She’s one of the most levelheaded people that I know. And the United States has historically been in the lead as a donor of food aid, at one point being as much as 62 percent of all food assistance. But the exchange rate, plus the – just the inability to get food to market, or food to people has made it very difficult.

Now, there are, kind of, four causes that we really have to look at and then I’ll tell you what I think we need to do in the interim. First of all, we’ve got to understand better what is happening in some conflict areas in terms of the distribution of food. It’s obvious that there are places like Sudan, where we’ve had a sudden uptick in the inability to distribute food. We thought that in one point, we had done a reasonable job, through bringing -- routes through Libya, of making at least a distribution of food possible. So, I think we need to look at conflict areas and see – Zimbabwe is another one – to really see where we have problems of distribution.

Secondly, we obviously have to look at places where production seems to be declining and declining to the point that people are actually putting export caps on the amount of food. Now, some of that is not so much declining production as apparently improvement in the diets of people, for instance, in China and India, and then pressures to keep food inside the country. So, that’s another element that we have to look at.

A third element that we have to look at is the incredible cost that fuel prices, everything from fertilizer to transportation costs, is bringing on our ability to distribute or to get food to people. And then associated with that, there has been, apparently, some effect, unintended consequence from the alternative fuels effort. Although we believe that while biofuels continue to be an extremely important piece of the alternative energy picture, obviously, we want to make sure that it’s not having an adverse effect. We think that it’s not a large part of the problem, but it may, in fact, be a part of the problem, the ethanol debate.

So, there are several pieces here that need to be understood better, but there are certain things that we know can work. One is: The United States needs to be able to locally purchase food. It would considerably drive down our transportation costs, it would considerably help markets in the market for local goods. Right now, we have to buy so much American and transport it that it really does eat away at our food aid dollars. And there is a bill on Capitol Hill that would help us do that. And I’ve been talking to a number of Congress people about trying to get that pushed forward.

Secondly, we need to look again at some of the issues concerning technology and food production. I know that GMOs are not popular around the world, but there are places that drought-resistant crop should be a part of the answer. And so, we’re looking, again, with that.

Third, we need a Doha round, which would – if we can complete the current round of trade negotiations, which would help to bring down agricultural subsidies by developed countries and give farmers, particularly subsistence farmers, greater access to market, we think this would also help. So, there – it’s a multifaceted problem. Now, we are – the President has just requested $200 million from the Emerson Trust, it’s called, to get emergency food aid in response to the World Food Program appeal. We are looking at what more we might need to do. We obviously want to address the short-term problem, but these other issues that I laid out, we need a broad-ranging and somewhat more integrated approach to make sure that we don’t just spend the food aid dollars and continue to face a food crisis down the line.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, I’m Bonnie Thie, the new incoming Director for Peace Corps China. And I would be interested in your thoughts on the role of Peace Corps in countries that are not the traditional countries where you get your water out of a well.

SECRETARY RICE: Yes.

QUESTION: If you could comment on that? Thank you.

SECRETARY RICE: Absolutely. Well, the great thing about Peace Corps is I tend to think that you’ve got, really, four different kinds of countries or different groupings of countries that you help. I remember very much when the Peace Corps went into Hungary when I was here the last time to teach English. And I think even in some, what we would call, middle income, lower middle income countries, there is potential to do programming that’s quite specific to a specific goal.

Secondly, there are the recovering countries from conflict. So, Liberia and Rwanda would clearly fit into that category. And that’s very heartening, because I’ll tell you, when you go to the Rwandan genocide museum and you see what happened to this country just a mere 14 years ago, it’s extraordinary that it’s a functioning country again. But it obviously is going to need a lot of help to rebuild. And so that’s another area in which the Peace Corps could go. Then of course, there are, as you put it, the more traditional places where it’s really poverty alleviation in very difficult places.

But then, finally, you’ve got a country like China which, of course, has resources in the macro sense. It’s a country, however, of 1.3 billion people. It will put three – it has 300 million people going to middle class status. That’s the size of the United States. But it has 150 million people who live on less than $2 a day. And that’s half the population of the United States. And so working with a country like that to, in effect, begin to make sure that people don’t remain marginalized, I think, is extremely important. And the programs that we run in a country like China, I would hope, that we would challenge the Chinese to – the Chinese or countries of that kind to augment, to be able to make synergies with the kinds of programs that can be run.

The Chinese will tell you -- and I think they’re right -- they will tell you if you think China is Beijing and Shanghai, go out to western China and see what life is like in western China. And my guess is you’ll run programs in places like that. So, still very important work to be done in developed developing countries, where the income distribution and where their quality of life is erratically different in different parts of the country. But what I would do from my position as Secretary – you do your work in a place like western China, but what I would do in my work as Secretary is challenge those countries to have policies and to have efforts that are actually evening out their own income distribution and not just continue to rely on, effectively, foreign assistance to do it.

DIRECTOR TSCHETTER: Zoltan.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, I’m an immigrant from Hungary. I couldn't be Country Director of Hungary, but I am a Country Director of Azerbaijan.

SECRETARY RICE: Azerbaijan. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: One of the things that is quite evident is that democracy is being throttled in Russia, and this is echoed in the southern arc of Russia, the former Soviet Union. I think you’re quite right, and that is that the Peace Corps touches one person at a time. One of our hopes over years has been to expand the Peace Corps program. President Bush had a much higher aim or goal in terms of numbers of volunteers, so did the previous president, and we haven’t quite achieved that.

If we are to touch one person at a time and get at changing this anti-democratic action, then we need more volunteers in that southern tier. Is there some advice that you have on that point?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the Director will tell you, I’ve been a big fan, a big advocate of doing precisely that. The Caucasus, particularly the -- not so much Georgia, but Azerbaijan, to a certain extent Armenia, there is important work to be done there to bring that part of the Caucasus closer to standards that we thought they were once meeting. And it has been a disappointment.

Now, one of the problems has been that because of the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, all kinds of bad policies are tolerated, let me put it that way, or excused by political leaders. And I often say to them that if they don’t solve Nagorno-Karabakh, they’re going to end up falling further and further behind the region because the region is moving on.

So there is more that we could do there. I would love to see more volunteers in that part of the world, both in places that are starting to move up and places that are still mired in the kinds of problems that you have in Azerbaijan. But let me just say something about the democracy in general in an area like this. There are times when it feels as if the democratic process is just an inexorable wave moving forward. I can tell you what it was like to be in the White House in 1989 and 1990, 1991, when you got up every day and you went in and some country had changed its social system overnight from communism to democracy, and, you know, you had first the Poles and the Hungarians, and then you had the Czechs -- Czechoslovakia at the time -- pretty soon it was East Germany. It just seemed inexorable, followed then by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of a quasi-democratic territory, former territory of the Soviet Union. So there are times when it feels like that.

Another time that it felt a bit that way was in 2005, with the Orange Revolution and the Rose Revolution and the Cedar Revolution, and it felt again like the tide was inexorable. And then I know that there’s been a sense that perhaps that tide has receded some over the last several years, but I think of it a little bit differently, which is it’s more like a stepwise function. Things move up and then they level off for a while.

And the question is: Can you prevent them from sliding back? Because there will be another step up. When people’s expectations are raised that they’re going to have a voice, when people’s expectations are raised that they’re going to have real choices, democratic choices, for leadership, when people get accustomed to circumstances in which their personal freedoms are not abridged, if you can find the support in civil society, if you can find the support in nongovernmental organizations, if the United States stays with that program, I believe you’ll see another step up. So that it’s not an inexorable trend, but it is one that keeps moving carefully upward. And I think that’s how we have to think about what’s happened in the territory -- much of the territory of the former Soviet Union.

Even Russia itself -- you know, I was in Moscow as a graduate student in 1979. Russia is not the Soviet Union. Let me be very certain for you. I was in the Soviet Union. I knew the Soviet Union. Russia is not the Soviet Union. And Russians have certain expectations about personal freedoms. They have certain expectations about economic freedoms. I think it’s going to make a difference in the long run, maybe even the medium term, to what kinds of politics is actually tolerated in Russia.

So we have to keep building the foundation. We have to keep, through programs like the Peace Corps, helping people’s horizons to change and their expectations to change, and what they will and will not accept to change. We’re never going to be able -- the United States on the outside -- to impose democracy. The good news is, I always remind people, you actually don’t have to impose democracy; you have to impose tyranny. And so if you get people thinking in a different way about what their expectations, rights, ought to be, I think you will see that over time this great wave of democracy will continue, even in places where right now it may seem somewhat remote.

DIRECTOR TSCHETTER: We have time for one more question. One more, right here.

QUESTION: Hello, welcome to the Peace Corps.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you.

QUESTION: My name is Camille Camacho. First of all, thank you for coming to visit us. Obviously, as a woman, you’ve come a long way to get to where you are. Do you have any words of wisdom that you could say to an aspiring young leader like myself?

SECRETARY RICE: Yes. (Laughter.) That’s great. The first thing is think of yourself that way, and I think that’s terrific. Yeah, I think it’s terrific.

I would say a couple of things. The first is you clearly found something you love to do, and the most important part of being successful at anything is loving what it is you do. I was very fortunate. I started out life as a piano major -- as a pianist. I was three years old when I learned to play the piano. I could read music before I could read. And I was absolutely going to be a great concert pianist.

And it was the end of my sophomore year, and I went to the Aspen Music Festival, which is a great school for prodigies, and I met 11-year-olds who could play from sight what it had taken me all year to learn. And I thought, okay, I’m about to end up at Nordstrom playing or -- (laughter) -- maybe a piano bar someplace. But you know, not Carnegie Hall.

And I went back and I told my parents, who had spent all of this time, effort, money in my piano career, and I said, “You know, Mom and Dad, I’m going to change my major.” And I remember very clearly my father said, “To what are you going to change your major?” I said, “I don’t know, but I’m changing my major.” And then we had the, you know, well, you’re going to end up a waitress at a Howard Johnson’s, you don’t know what you’re going to do with your life. (Laughter.) Well, it’s my life. Well, it’s our money. You know, just find a major. (Laughter.)

And fortunately for me, I wandered into a course in international politics, taught by Josef Korbel, Madeleine Albright’s father. And he had been a great Czech diplomat and he knew the Soviet Union, but he loved freedom, and he just opened up this world to me. And I went home and I said, “You know, I want to be a specialist on the Soviet Union.” And my parents kind of rolled their eyes and thought, right, so a specialist on the Soviet Union, great, at least sounds like a slightly better career path than you were on. (Laughter.)

But that says to me a second thing, which is to remain open, because there are times when one path may seem to close off and you need to take another path. And I think that one of the things that I’ve done right, more by accident than design, is that I’ve been pretty good about accepting ambiguity in life and not planning every step ahead. And one of the hardest lessons or hardest talks that I always had with my students at Stanford is to say you can’t plan where you’re going to be for the next 30 years of your life, take the next thing that’s in front of you and love that and see where that leads.

And the third point that the little story, I think, underscores for me is that I looked for people who could help. You know, you need people in your life who will inspire you and open doors to you. And sometimes networking or having mentors gets a bad name. You know, somehow it’s almost as if there’s something wrong with having people who will help you through your career, who will put opportunities in front of you, who will recommend you for that opportunity or come to you and say you really ought to do that. None of us, not a single one of us, has ever gotten anywhere without those people in our lives.

And so I think those are some of the lessons that I would say. And then the final one, and it goes particularly, I think, for women and minorities but maybe for anyone, is, you know, when I went home and I said, “You know, Mom and Dad, I want to be a Soviet specialist,” I was fortunate that they didn’t say, although they may have been thinking it, “What in the world is a black girl from Birmingham, Alabama thinking about to be a Soviet specialist?” There was nothing in my background or heritage that should have made me interested in that.

But it’s awfully important, awfully critical, not to let somebody else define your horizons. You’re going to find what it is you want to do and who you want to be, and the last question you ought to ask is, “Is that what I should do as a result of my gender or my race or my national origin or my disability or whatever?” Just don’t let anybody ask that question. And most importantly, don’t ask it yourself.

Thank you. (Applause.)

DIRECTOR TSCHETTER: Thank you. I can’t thank you enough, Secretary Rice. We very much appreciate your presence, your sage advice. This was an awesome last question. Thank you for asking that. (Laughter.) That was good advice for even us older folks, us Baby Boomers. So we appreciate having you here and we wish you all the best. Thank you.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

2008/330



Released on April 28, 2008

  Back to top

U.S. Department of State
USA.govU.S. Department of StateUpdates  |   Frequent Questions  |   Contact Us  |   Email this Page  |   Subject Index  |   Search
The Office of Electronic Information, Bureau of Public Affairs, manages this site as a portal for information from the U.S. State Department. External links to other Internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views or privacy policies contained therein.
About state.gov  |   Privacy Notice  |   FOIA  |   Copyright Information  |   Other U.S. Government Information

Published by the U.S. Department of State Website at http://www.state.gov maintained by the Bureau of Public Affairs.