Monday, July 24, 2023

Washington, D.C.

[Remarks as Prepared]

ADMINISTRATOR SAMANTHA POWER: Thank you for that introduction, Peter [Natiello]. And thanks to Ambassador [Lisa] Kenna for joining this morning in a testament to the strong partnership between USAID and State to serve the people of Peru. 

I’d also like to offer a special welcome to Amy’s two children, who I hear have been studying hard to be ready to impress with their Spanish skills once they touch down in Peru. A big thank you to Amy’s sister, Erika, and her mother, Peggy, for flying all the way from Seattle to be with us today, and a warm welcome to Amy’s friends and the members of her extended family joining live or attending online. I also want to take a moment to acknowledge Amy’s late father, Bob, who, as we’ll hear, was instrumental in shaping Amy’s worldly orientation. 

And of course, we have to thank her husband, Adam, even though he didn’t have to commute very far to get here today. You see, Adam is one of our own – a member of our Office of Transition Initiatives, who has helped several governments strengthen their media environment and improve their own communications. Adam, thank you for your service.

There’s something special about serving as a Mission Director in Lima, and it isn’t just the ceviche and the pisco sours. USAID/Peru just happens to be the proving ground for our Agency’s Counselors – our highest ranking foreign service officers. Both Ken Yamashita and Bambi Arellano, who join us here today, served as Mission Directors in Peru before taking on the Counselor role. Chris Milligan, our previous Counselor, did not serve in Peru, but we still let him attend here, today. 

And we’re all thrilled that Amy will be building on a storied legacy. 

Anyone who’s spent any time at all with Amy will quickly notice her trademark empathy and concern for others. And her family will be quick to tell you that she’s been that way since the beginning. Growing up, Amy always cheered her peers on – even when they were the ones competing against her on the rival swim team. She spent her free time playing cards with a group of elderly citizens without families to care for them. And Amy’s mom Peggy, reports that Amy even miraculously skipped the moody teenager phase. As the mom of two budding teens, I want tips! 

But perhaps Amy’s most defining trait is her willingness to race headlong into the unknown, undaunted. When Amy’s father accepted a job with the Army Corps of Engineers that took the family overseas to Japan when she was a child, she didn’t fear the big cultural shift; she embraced the move. During her time at Notre Dame, Amy didn’t have the typical study abroad experience in London or Paris. She spent one summer in Alaska, working at a women and children’s shelter. She spent another in a village in Ghana, helping undertake community projects. Her third summer? Preparing case files for an orphanage in China.

After she graduated, Amy joined the Peace Corps, moving to Doumbou, Niger – a tiny 200 person community on the edge of the Sahara desert. It was two miles away from the nearest road, but again, Amy embraced the unfamiliar. She worked as a schoolteacher, helped members of the community build energy-efficient stoves, and worked with farmers to improve their harvests.

Amy’s commitment to service led her to join USAID in 1998, and she’s never looked back. For her first assignment, she was sent to Ethiopia to reinvigorate an underperforming humanitarian assistance program – unfortunately a recurring challenge. As a young woman who led with empathy, many of her male colleagues were quick to underestimate her. She found herself being ignored in meetings, with her male counterparts who asked for answers instead. So she let her work do the talking. In just a few short months, she’d identified the problems that were keeping the program from functioning as expected, convened the right partners to shape a solution, and turned the program around. Soon enough, she was recruited to run the program full-time.

Amy also became a legend for her nerves of steel. Not long into the job, Amy and a small group of her colleagues ventured out into the fraught Somali region to undertake a set of sensitive negotiations. During their meeting, her group’s helicopter mysteriously vanished. As others panicked, Amy helped the group remain calm until eventually their pilot returned. It turns out, he had merely flown off for a break, bothered by the heat and swarming bees.

From the very beginning of Amy’s time with USAID, it was clear: Amy is fearless. She’s willing to take on any challenge, and keeps a cool head in a crisis – working quickly toward solutions, even while others around her are still in panic mode. And she’s a skilled negotiator – adept at getting people to the table and telling compelling stories that get them to understand her point of view and take action.

In early 2002, Amy became one of the first two USAID staff to move to Kabul after 9/11, just two weeks after the Embassy reopened after over a decade of inactivity. Amy had never spent time in the region, but she embraced the opportunity to serve in a new way. She joined 88 Marines and 12 State employees living in the chancery and bunkers, with just two working showers and three toilets to share. 

When a missile strike nearly missed the Embassy, Amy quickly called her mom to calmly reassure her. And that’s how she conducted herself – unfazed, laser-focused on delivering for the Afghan people, shepherding humanitarian assistance to tens of thousands of Afghans after a devastating drought. 

While serving in Nepal, Amy encountered another variation of the unknown – a new USAID colleague named Adam. This was no routine professional encounter. Adam embodied so many of Amy’s core values. The son of an anthropologist, he was raised in Nepal, and he shared Amy’s passion for service. Eventually, they were married in 2008, and welcomed both their children while serving USAID alongside one another in Kathmandu.

At every post, Amy’s trademark empathy never wavered. Her colleague from her time in Honduras remembers the monthly team breakfasts, the cultural events, and the “hours-long, laugh-so-hard-you-cry farewell parties” that Amy regularly held. 

As another colleague put it, “She never said no to taking part in a skit, playing a game, or stepping onto the dance floor, even if it meant that photographic evidence of such events could haunt you for years to come.” 

She became, in the words of her team: “the person who you seek out when it is just ‘that kind of day.’”

Her compassion and clear-headedness were instrumental when the ultimate unknown descended on the world – the COVID-19 pandemic – and transformed how this Agency would operate. First as the lead of our Foreign Service Center, and later as a leader in our Bureau for Public Affairs, Amy helped staff navigate a new, virtual reality. She helped keep foreign service recruitment on track, even at a time when people couldn’t travel. She helped develop careers, even when the trainings were all virtual. And, as the head of our internal communications – despite having no communications background, other than dinnertime conversations with Adam – she was instrumental in holding the Agency’s culture together, even as COVID was pulling us all apart. 

One colleague described how essential Amy was during those months. “She was simply the pulse of USAID. Her feel for the building and the field, her read of institutional morale, and her sense for reaching people with messages of care and depth helped shepherd this Agency through one of its toughest periods.”

Now, as the Peruvian people experience their own period of uncertainty, they have the ultimate ally in Amy. As you heard from Ambassador Kenna, our relationship with the Peruvian people is as old as USAID itself. We know, again, Amy will be met with heavy doses of the unknown: new challenges, new opportunities, and new ways in which to serve and advance USAID’s mission. 

Less than a year after the Peruvian people endured an unexpected political transition after an affront to their constitutional rights, citizens are still reeling from the violent fallout and grappling with the future of their democracy. So USAID is supporting government, civil society, and private-sector leaders as they assess potential wrongdoing, increase citizen engagement in government oversight, and protect human rights. 

At the same time, a wave of migrants fleeing violence and extreme poverty in Venezuela has poured into Peru – creating both challenges for host communities and significant opportunity – IMF research shows that migrants from Venezuela could increase the GDP of their host countries by as much as 4.5 percent by 2030, if host countries integrate them into their formal economy. So USAID will continue to facilitate professional certification and job training for migrants so they can contribute their skills and expertise to their communities. 

We are also working together to take on the narco-trafficking and other transnational crime threatening the safety of the Peruvian people as cocaine production reaches record highs. We’ll need to keep supporting Peruvian businesses in building more safe, legal pathways to economic prosperity – like partnering with farmers to increase their revenues from legal crops so they won’t need to turn to coca production to make ends meet. 

And as rising temperatures threaten Peru’s ecological treasures, we will continue to invest in the local and indigenous leaders who are standing up to protect Peru’s extraordinary natural resources and the communities who rely on them.

As the Peruvian people strive toward greater stability, security, and prosperity, USAID/Peru is fortunate to have Amy taking the helm. We know she will continue to do what she has done for her 25 remarkable years at USAID – serve as an unwavering beacon of support even amidst uncertainty, convene great teams to accomplish transformative work together, and provide steadfast leadership when it’s needed most. 

Samantha Power
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Samantha Power