Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Ronald Reagan Building, Washington, DC

Thank you, Megan, for kicking us off. Good morning, and welcome to all of our guests joining in person at the Mission and virtually. I’m grateful for the chance to swear in Amy Tohill-Stull as our new Mission Director for the West Bank and Gaza.

I want to welcome a few special guests.

First, Deputy Chief of Mission Stephanie Hallett, who recently joined the U.S. Embassy in Israel. As a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Stephanie has served all over the Middle East and North Africa in Oman, Bahrain, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. I know she and Amy will work closely together, along with Ambassador Nides, to continue to lay the foundations for a two-state solution and deliver development and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people.

Welcome to Megan Doherty and the rest of the staff from the Middle East Bureau, as well as staff from our West Bank and Gaza Mission, and thank you for your tireless work in the face of the most challenging circumstances.

And welcome to Amy’s family – her partner, Jamie, and her children, Garrett and Marissa, attending in person at the Mission; her mother, Marilyn, and her siblings, Kevin, Brian, and Gwen, all tuning in virtually.

I want to take a moment to acknowledge Amy’s late father, Edgar Tohill. I’m told Edgar would be immensely proud today as he should be, for he was one of Amy’s biggest influences, and helped shape the career she has today. 

When Amy was seven, her parents called a family meeting. Her father, Edgar, who worked with the Army Corps of Engineers, had just landed a position in Saudi Arabia. Together – with input from everyone, even the youngest kids – the family decided to move to Saudi Arabia for two years. Little did they know that those initial two years overseas would turn into more than two decades and that Amy would grow up to be more comfortable living abroad than in the United States.

When they arrived in Saudi Arabia, the family settled first in Riyadh, and then in King Khalid Military City, a new compound that Amy’s father helped build. Instead of attending baseball games and concerts, Amy and her siblings would race beetles and organize camel spider fights, watch for shooting stars, and try to capture scorpions in glass jars. She swam competitively and learned to scuba dive by the time she was a teenager, joining her father on diving trips in the Red Sea. 

And the Tohill kids learned to ride motorcycles together. Their parents were a little less anxious than I would be, given that there wasn’t anything they could hit out in the sand. Together they explored Saudi Arabia’s many wadis and searched for the Qaysumah diamonds glowing quietly under the vibrant desert sunsets.

But Saudi Arabia, and Amy’s life abroad, also inspired Amy’s career in international development. Amy sometimes visited the Bedouin communities that had set up camp just outside the King Khalid Military City, and saw similar communities in other countries where the family lived and traveled. She describes these early exposures to poverty and the family’s extensive travel and overseas living as pivotal to her interest in international development and human rights. 

So she studied hard, absorbing her father’s motto: “there’s no such word as can’t.” She showed an early interest in political science and earned grades so good that her parents would push her annoyed siblings to do the same. She finished middle and high school in South Korea, where her father took a Chief of Construction job with the Army Corps of Engineers, then returned to the U.S. for college at Purdue. She spent her summers back in Korea, working at the U.S. Embassy – experience that helped her land her first job after college, working with the U.S. Information Service in Seoul, now part of the State Department. 

Her experience with the Information Service inspired a desire to continue working with the U.S. government. And in the early 1990s, she began her first job affiliated with USAID at the World Resources Institute’s Center for International Development and Environment.

From that job, Amy joined USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, now part of the Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance, which she helped form years later. There, she helped the Agency respond to disasters like Hurricane Mitch in Central America, earthquakes in Turkey and India, and crises in Kosovo, East Timor, and post-9/11 Afghanistan. After years of being constantly deployed overseas, she joined the Foreign Service in March 2002, through which she has represented USAID in Zimbabwe, Jordan, Afghanistan, and Nepal.

And she has proven herself to be incredibly steady in a crisis. Just six months after she arrived, in 2015, Nepal suffered a 7.8 magnitude earthquake that killed more than 9,000 people and destroyed more than 600,000 homes and buildings in and around Kathmandu. Amy sprung into action, helping to orchestrate the initial response while she, her family, and her coworkers moved out of their homes and into the relative safety of the Embassy. For weeks, they weathered severe aftershocks from makeshift beds in offices and under desks, limited to emergency food rations save the local restaurant that made them delicious chicken sandwiches. 

It was over those sandwiches that Amy led the drafting process for USAID’s recovery plan for Nepal, a plan that raised more than $300 million for Nepal’s recovery, relief, and rehabilitation. And through it all, Amy prioritized the safety and well-being of her local staff, securing relief funding and ensuring they and their families had access to safe, temporary housing.  

Her success in Nepal was due in large part to the trust she was able to build among local staff and communities. As one colleague said, “Amy has a character and personality that leaves her counterparts at ease.” She is a quiet listener, devoid of judgment. And perhaps echoing her parents’ family meetings, she emphasizes collaborative decision-making, working to bring every voice to the table, and explaining her decisions so that others could see her logic. 

And her door was always open, literally. Her coworkers remembered staff members quietly taking turns showing up at Amy’s office for impromptu chats. She would listen, comfort, and do what she could to help them. And she would do so with the utmost enthusiasm and dedication, never complaining, never faltering. Her staff always knew, as one colleague said, that “if you’re struggling, you’re going to go to Amy, and she’s not going to judge you for it.”

Amy is so trusted and so steady in crisis that after she led the effort to create the Agency’s Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance, which responds to disasters and provides life-saving aid to hard-to-reach communities. She was a natural choice for its Deputy Assistant to the Administrator. In that role, she oversaw the Agency’s response to Hurricane Dorian in 2019, Hurricanes Eta and Iota in 2020, and the Haiti earthquake in 2021. And she has helped address the COVID-19 pandemic and the current global food crisis, coordinating with the United Nations, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization, the World Bank, and other private and inter-agency donors. 

Today, Amy takes on a job arguably as difficult as any prior: Mission Director for USAID’s work in the West Bank and Gaza. 

She has had to hit the ground running. Within days of landing in the region, Amy found herself facing another crisis, as the latest conflict in Gaza led to the deaths of over 40 Palestinians and wounded hundreds more in both Israel and Gaza. Amy coordinated with officials from Israel, Egypt, the United States, and United Nations to maintain a steady supply of humanitarian aid into Gaza, an arrangement that seems to be holding amid the ceasefire. 

Despite an eventful start to the job, Amy takes the reins at a cautiously optimistic time for our Mission. Just last year, the Mission resumed operations after a three-year hiatus under the previous Administration. And this past spring, the Biden Administration launched the Nita Lowey Middle East Partnership for Peace Act, the largest investment in people-to-people peacebuilding activities between Israelis and Palestinians in history. A few weeks ago, during his trip to the region, President Biden announced two new grants as part of the Partnership; grants totaling more than $7 million that will help build trust between Israeli and Palestinian health sectors and provide tech-based training for young professionals from both communities.

Thanks in part to the work of Amy's predecessor, Aler Grubbs, Amy will lead a terrific team of not just Americans, but Israeli and Palestinian local staff who, in what we hope will serve as a model of partnership between these two communities, are working together to provide the Palestinian people with critical humanitarian and development assistance.

That assistance includes humanitarian aid to meet immediate needs on the ground, but also investments in vocational training, civil society organizations, and small- and medium-sized businesses. It also includes improving water and wastewater systems and access to quality healthcare, for example, supporting the East Jerusalem Hospitals Network, for which President Biden has announced another $100 million in debt relief and technical assistance. 

I can think of no one better equipped to lead our work in the West Bank and Gaza than Amy with her unrelenting commitment and persistence, reliability in a crisis, and ability to win the trust and loyalty of those who work for her. USAID is fortunate to have her representing our Agency, and our government, in the region. And I know she is warmly welcomed by her staff and the communities she is already serving. 

With that, it’s my pleasure to administer the oath of office.

Samantha Power
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