It is truly a pleasure for me to be here today, in such esteemed company, for this momentous event. After several years of effort, together we are opening this beautiful facility, the American Center of Madagascar.
Over five years since our former cultural center in downtown Antananarivo closed, I am pleased that there is once again a gathering place for cultural exchange, teaching of English, and promoting mutual understanding and shared values.
Together, we have created one of the largest American-focused cultural centers in all of the African and Indian Ocean region, and certainly a first in terms of this type of partnership. I am pleased to note that in Madagascar, we have together created a model that will be honed and that will be replicated throughout the world.
This was no easy feat, the creation of this American Center. It took years of effort, and the tireless engagement of key partners, first and foremost the English Teaching Program, the ETP, to get this effort off the ground.
I would like to personally recognize ETP Board Chair Mireille Razafindrazaka and ETP Director Vony Razanandrakoto. If not for the efforts of these two incredible forces of nature, this project would not have ever come together. Please join me in a special round of applause for them.
I also want to recognize the roles that have been played by the various members of the American Center Association, the driving force behind this facility.
- I begin with Microsoft, who is engaging women, youth, and other groups in the state-of-the-art computer laboratory. Microsoft’s country representative could not be here this evening because she is currently on a State Department-sponsored international visitor leadership program in the United States.
- InSquare is successfully running the American-themed café.
- The American Chamber of Commerce is a key partner, bringing together the voices of the business community and promoting investment and entrepreneurship.
- The U.S. Graduate Association, a long-time collaborator with the Embassy, brings to the table the premier organization for those Malagasy who have studied in the United States.
- Liberty 32’s participation underscores the importance the center places on the promotion of civil liberties, democratic values, and human rights.
- And of course, it goes without saying that the ETP’s promotion of English language instruction opens doors of opportunity to Malagasies of all walks of life, particularly youth.
I would like to express a special debt of gratitude to First Immo and particularly its president, Hassanein Hiridjee. Along with ETP, First Immo has been our longest-serving partner on this project. Hassanein Hiridjee and his team recognized the value and potential of the American Center, and navigated it through the variety of hurdles and challenges that such new initiatives often encounter.
Lastly, I would like to thank Luke Zahner and the Public Affairs Team within the U.S. Embassy. I am truly proud of the perseverance they have shown to see this project through, from idea to completion.
This project got its start, in large part, because of the youth of Madagascar. We saw how they used the old cultural center, how they pack the Information Resource Center at the Embassy all week long, and how much they yearn for other outlets to make contact, develop their skills, and expand their minds.
President Obama has made the promotion of the region’s youth a key priority, symbolized by the launching of the Young African Leadership Initiative – Mandela Fellows program in 2014. I’m pleased to say that, working with the extremely talented group of Malagasy Mandela alumni, the American Center will feature a new American Corner and a “YALI Innovation Center.” I look forward to inaugurating this new resource center with our Mandela Fellows and other alumni of State Department exchanges on Thursday, the day after tomorrow.
Thank you so much for joining us, for this celebration tonight.