On July 4, 2011, the U. S. Embassy in Dakar celebrated our country's independence by commemorating two very special 50th anniversaries, those of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. Peace Corps. Ambassador Marcia Bernicat welcomed guests at the Meridien President Hotel in Dakar. As dusk drew near, hundreds of people gathered around the hotel's swimming pool to listen to Ambassador Bernicat's Independence Day message.
Ambassador Bernicat began her speech by recalling the bravery of our founding fathers 235 years ago. She reminded us how, "with the benefit of 235 years of freedom, most of us have forgotten just how radical the words 'unalienable rights' and 'all men are created equal' sounded when a courageous group of men ratified the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776."
Ambassador Bernicat recognized that in countries, such as Senegal, it can be difficult for people to "pursue happiness or take advantage of the 'blessings of liberty' if they don't have food on their plate or clean water to drink."
Thankfully, fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy decided that we needed to transform our ideals into action, and he worked with the U. S. Congress to create USAID and the Peace Corps.
In Senegal, USAID and the Peace Corps have championed the cause of universal coverage, blanketing more than half the country with mosquito nets, which is expected to contribute directly to a continuing decline of malaria cases in the country. Under our USAID education program, we have worked together with the Government of Senegal to complete a new middle school curriculum that is now being rolled out across the country. We have constructed 86 new schools, and helped middle school enrollment go from 19.65 percent to 45 percent in eight years. In this way, we have helped 50,000 vulnerable children complete at least their basic education.
We also have an amazing Peace Corps program. With more than 230 volunteers spread throughout the country, Senegal is the biggest Peace Corps program in Africa. Volunteers make clean water available to villages. They help entrepreneurs build new businesses and create jobs. They are helping Senegal feed itself, working with farmers to enhance their productivity and building hundreds of school and community gardens. And this year, to honor those who have served as Peace Corps Volunteers worldwide over the past 50 years, our Volunteers and their communities will plant and protect 200,000 trees across Senegal, one for every Peace Corps Volunteer who has ever served.
Fifty years is a big accomplishment, and we at the U.S. Embassy were proud to be able to celebrate these accomplishments with our Senegalese friends and colleagues.