Ambassador Yamate Madagascar/United States Exchange Alumni (MUSEA) Reception Remarks
American Center Tanjombato, February 9, 2017
Distinguished and proud members of MUSEA – the Madagascar United States Exchange Alumni;
Which includes – alumni of the IVLP, Humphrey, Fulbright, YALI, AWEP, and SUSI exchange programs;
Honorable guests, ladies and gentlemen, colleagues and friends.
Thank you all so very much for being here tonight. I have attended many events with Alumni of American exchange programs, both here in Antananarivo and when I travel, and I am always excited to be with you, and be personally renewed with energy and hope from hearing your stories.
Whether you traveled to the U.S. on a Fulbright scholarship, as an International Leadership Visitor, as a YALI fellow or on any other program, you gained insights into America and the American people – who we are, how we think, how we act, our culture, our governance, our diversity, our cuisine, and our thoughts and dreams from past-present and future.
And what is crucial is that you have brought this insight and knowledge gained, from the exchange, back to Madagascar to share with your fellow citizens and continue your own exciting work here.
In September 2015, we gathered in this same space to celebrate the launch of the “Madagascar/United States Exchange Alumni” – MUSEA. Over the past 18 months, you have done an astounding job of working to support each other and your fellow Malagasy.
MUSEA has been instrumental in opening and operating the Youth Civic Center in Analakely, a site that supports English language learning, youth development and citizen participation. A group of Alumni worked together to win a grant for your innovative project, “Halt Poverty, Control Tourism.”
You have worked with Peace Corps and the Embassy to create a national program for the Girls Leading Our World (GLOW) Camps. Alumni have mentored hundreds of students on topics such as leadership and starting a small business. And last but not least, many of you have volunteered your time, experience, and wisdom in helping select the next generation of program participants for YALI, Fulbright, and other exchange programs.
I am impressed by all of these formal activities. In the end, however, I believe that for many of you it is the informal activities that you engage in every day which will have the most lasting effect.
Every day, a Malagasy exchange program alum has an interaction with a friend, family member, colleague, government official, or new acquaintance that challenges that person’s perceptions of the U.S. and maybe changes their opinion a little bit.
Residents of Madagascar have access to many different images of America, through newspapers, television, movies and popular music. Some of these images are wild distortions, meant to inspire strong emotions. Some, while being accurate, present only one side of a complex issue. And others that tell the most balanced and nuanced story still cannot capture the variety of opinions, viewpoints, and experiences of more than 320 million Americans.
Now I don’t expect any of you to capture all of that either. But what I hope and believe you do is encourage people to question what they hear and see, and present your experiences in the United States as a counter narrative to the most inaccurate and incomplete stories and images.
I know you can do this, because I know you have done it. I know that when you met Americans in Washington, California, Texas, Missouri, Indiana, or wherever else you traveled, you met people who knew nothing about Madagascar or the rest of Africa, whose only idea of what this continent is really like comes from wildlife documentaries and children’s cartoons. You have personally informed thousands of people about daily life in Madagascar, and opened their minds just a little bit wider. Thank you for that service that you provide to my fellow citizens, as citizen Ambassadors to the United States.
And thank you for being the spokespersons you are, here in Madagascar. The work that you do and the example you set of international exchange and cooperation help the United States government be a better partner to the people of this country, by promoting mutual understanding and highlighting the gifts we have to offer each other.
You represent many of the current and future leaders of Madagascar. I have great faith and confidence that together you will continue to strengthen democracy and the rule of law in Madagascar, help drive economic growth, and improve social and environmental well-being.
I congratulate you on your many successes over the past year, and I speak for all of my colleagues when I say that we – so very deeply – value and appreciate our partnership.