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Public Papers - 1990 - June

Remarks at a White House Ceremony Marking the Entry of the Peace Corps into Central Europe

1990-06-15

Thank you all very much, and welcome to the drizzly Rose Garden. [Laughter] But we're very pleased you're here on this special day. And I want to thank Paul Coverdell for his leadership during this exciting period, this new period in the history of the Peace Corps. I'm delighted that Secretary Mosbacher is here, and Secretary Eagleburger and Robson and, of course, Chief Justice Burger. It's a pleasure to welcome you back to the White House. And we're honored to have the representatives of the Hungarian and Polish Governments here as well, Ron Roskens, the head of AID, and so many former Peace Corps veterans, Members of Congress here today. I'll be careful; I'm sure I'll omit some. But I see Silvio and Jim Leach, Tom Petri, and Chris Shays and others. Jerry Lewis was supposed to be here -- and Silvio Conte I mentioned -- for this historic sendoff rally. Most of all, we're honored to have this opportunity to salute a dedicated, committed group of talented Americans who were here to take leave of these shores and become the first Peace Corps volunteers to serve in Eastern Europe. And today we're very pleased to welcome all of you, to tell you just how exciting and important we believe that this new mission will be.

From the time it was first launched in 1961, the Peace Corps has been a thrilling and an ambitious undertaking -- lofty in principle and yet, in its day-to-day struggle with challenging circumstances around the world, as practical and down-to-earth as government ever gets. The United States Peace Corps built its reputation the old-fashioned way -- step by step, village by village, family by family -- bringing the world a bit closer, one friendship at a time. For nearly 30 years it has drawn 120,000 idealistic Americans from all walks of life and sent them to the far corners of the Earth. And for nearly 30 years, the men and women of America's Peace Corps have built bridges of understanding and good will between the peoples of the United States and the peoples of scores of other nations. And today we launch a new people-to-people effort through which the citizens of America, Poland, and Hungary can work together in the exhilarating process of building new democratic societies.

Paul says that in many ways it is as if the Peace Corps had been in training for this historical moment. It shows that our mission, our desire for peace, knows no political or geographic boundaries. I agree with what he has said. Barbara and I have traveled all over the world, and the experience has taught us one important lesson: History is made not simply by nations but by their people. And that's why your efforts are so very, very important.

With your arrival in Poland and Hungary, the Peace Corps will serve in 70 nations, including half of all the developing nations. And our volunteers do battle against the age-old enemies of humankind -- famine, illiteracy, poverty, and disease.

I think back to 1985, when we visited the famine-stricken regions of Africa and saw firsthand the heartbreaking conditions of those lands. And I remember visiting our Peace Corps project and witnessing the quiet heroism of young Americans whose efforts were providing relief and whose lives were truly making a difference. Tomorrow you will set sail for a different region, and you'll encounter a different kind of hunger, a different kind of craving from that which Bar and I saw in Africa.

But the hunger is powerful, and the need is real for the nourishment of free ideas and the sustenance of free enterprise. Vaclav Havel, Czechoslovakia's beloved playwright-turned-President, spoke of this need when he addressed that magnificent joint session of Congress just last spring. And he said, ``We must all learn many things from you, from how to educate our offspring, how to elect our representatives, all the way to how to organize our economic life so that it will lead to prosperity and not to poverty.''

The key you carry with you will be the English language -- what Paul calls the language of commerce and understanding. And just as national literacy has long been the key to power, so today English literacy has become the key to progress. Like your liberty, your language came to you as a birthright and a credit to the dreams and sacrifices of those who came before. And today you're investing that birthright in the ancient dreams and the new ideas of faraway peoples and their own nations reborn. Your investment is America's investment in the consolidation of democracy and independence in Central and Eastern Europe. Peace Corps programs in Poland and Hungary, and then soon in Czechoslovakia, are another tangible element of America's sustained commitment to Central and Eastern Europe's democratic transformation toward a Europe whole and free.

The 121 Points of Light gathered today -- make that 122 -- [laughter] -- gathered today in the Rose Garden represent 121 reasons why this new Peace Corps initiative is bound to succeed: pioneers like Margaret Mary McGill, an Adrian Dominican Sister who has also pioneered the use of bilingual classrooms; recent graduates like Katherine Uderstadt, who taught math and reading to second graders in Massachusetts public housing; lifelong public servants like Washington's own Felix Lapinski, a veteran educator who has tutored in English across three continents; and volunteers like Belle Rothberg, who has taught English to Spanish-speaking working people. Born to Polish immigrants before the Great War, teaching has kept Belle as young as her ideas. She recently even taught a course on the American Dream. And Belle says -- the quote here -- ``I remember my mother's yearning for the Vistula, and I have longed to walk in her footsteps. I love to teach, and I want to teach, continue to teach as long as I can.''

Now, that's one great ambition, and that pretty much says it all -- speaks well of a great nation. To Belle and to all of you, we wish you Godspeed in this very important journey and wisdom and strength in the challenges ahead. Congratulations. Thank you for what you're doing for this country. Thank you for what you're doing for the people of the world. And God bless you all. Thank you very much for coming.

Note: The President spoke at 9:30 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his opening remarks, he referred to Paul D. Coverdell, Director of the Peace Corps; Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger; Deputy Secretary of the Treasury John E. Robson; and Representatives Silvio O. Conte, Jim Leach, Thomas E. Petri, Christopher Shays, and Jerry Lewis.

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