Remarks at a Ceremony Honoring Peace Corps Volunteers for Africa

April 23, 1985

Today, I think it's America that is cheering you. As we send you off to Africa on your mission of aid and good will, you make us proud to be Americans.

This is the second day of National Volunteer Week. And I've been meeting here in the White House with men, women, and children from across our country who are outstanding examples of the volunteer spirit. But I've come to realize that even if we celebrated Volunteer Week every week, all year long, it wouldn't be enough time to honor all the remarkable, selfless Americans who give their time, money, labor, and love to help their neighbor. Even if, as in your case, the neighbor lives across an ocean on another continent.

The French chronicler of American life, Alexis de Tocqueville, remarked on the spirit of voluntarism in this country 150 years ago. I was only a small boy then. I didn't hear him -- [laughter] -- but I remember well. He said, ``Americans are forever forming associations.'' ``No sooner do they see a need,'' he observed, ``than they rush to meet it.''

Well, the tide of giving and concern that has risen in response to the plight of millions in Africa is one of the latest and proudest examples of that quality in the American character that makes us rush to volunteer. New private sector initiatives are developing at unprecedented rates to find innovative ways to help those in need. Americans of every age, from every city and region, have pitched in to do their part.

In Portland, Oregon, Sarah Kreinberg is just 7 years old, suffering from cancer, has donated over $2,200 that she earned selling tree ornaments and other handcrafted items to friends and neighbors because she wanted to help other suffering children in Ethiopia. Her parents, by the way, were Peace Corps volunteers in South America.

When the First Baptist Church of Belfry, Kentucky, received an unexpected gift of $125,000, the congregation unanimously voted to send $100,000 of that to Ethiopian relief. Their generosity set off, as a member described it, ``one miracle after another of giving.''

Last February the all-star players of the National Basketball Association donated their prize money, and the NBA matched the players' contributions for a total of $100,000.

Today, every few minutes on the radio, you can hear the stars of rock, soul, and country music who came together as ``USA for Africa,'' singing the chorus of ``We Are the World,'' America's recent number-one song hit. Every time a record is sold, more money is raised for African famine relief.

Since we first learned of the crisis in Africa, private donations have been flooding in, and they now total over $100 million. With our recently approved supplemental for humanitarian assistance, the United States will have committed over a billion dollars to African famine relief.

But as we see here today, America is giving more than money. Last January Peace Corps Director Loret Miller Ruppe announced a recruitment drive for agricultural volunteers for Africa. In the following weeks the Peace Corps was beseiged by responses. All across America there were people rushing to volunteer, willing to interrupt their lives and devote the next 2 years to meeting the emergency.

And you are a cross section of America. Now, some of you are first generation Americans; some of you are naturalized citizens. You come from all across the country, from Honolulu, Hawaii, to Madawaska, Maine, and you represent a wide range of ages. I'm told that one retired couple, the Bells, is following their son into service in the Peace Corps.

Soon you'll be in Africa, where you'll be a vital part of the relief aid to help the millions suffering from malnutrition and starvation. You'll be living in some of the most impoverished countries of the world, working in food production, soil conservation, fisheries production, forest preservation, and water supply development. By bringing your training and skills to bear on the underlying problems of agricultural and economic development, you can help your host nations make the difficult but vital journey from dependence on short-term aid to self-sufficiency.

Last month, when Vice President Bush returned from his trip to the famine-stricken regions of Africa, he gave me a personal account of the heartbreaking conditions in that land. While there, he visited one Peace Corps project, and he told me of the outstanding work of the Peace Corps volunteers. The crisis in Africa is severe and the problems deeply rooted, but relief efforts are already making a great difference.

Today we also honor three outstanding individuals who are making a difference around the world and have been selected as Peace Corps Volunteers of the Year. Kathy Lynn Gilchrist of Salem, Oregon, established a seaweed farm in Micronesia, providing a new food source and employment opportunities. Mr. Lynn Blaylock of Minneapolis, Minnesota, is working with dairy farmers and sheepherders on the Caribbean island of Barbados to increase and improve livestock feeds. And Phil Heilman of Gibsonia, Pennsylvania, is working with school-age children in the west African nation of Burkina Faso to start home and school gardens and raise small animals to increase food availability. All three of these Volunteers of the Year deserve our warmest thanks for their untiring commitment to the peoples of the host nations.

In the chorus of the song, ``We Are the World,'' they sing, ``We are the ones to make a brighter day, so let's start giving.'' Well, you have answered that call to make a brighter day. We are proud of you; we are grateful. Good luck, Godspeed, and God bless you.

And, George, let's now start meeting and shaking hands with these young people.

Note: The President spoke at 11:12 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his closing remarks, the President referred to the Vice President.