As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I am traveling with Under Secretary Judith McHale in South Africa to highlight the role young people are playing in shaping the future of Africa and the world and find ways to work with governments and citizens to partner with this generation to create positive change. I want to provide DipNote readers an update on our time in South Africa before we depart tonight for Senegal.
Instead of giving you a travelogue, I want to focus this entry on specific events over the past few days that help illustrate two major priorities for the United States in engaging young people around the world: fostering honest, two way dialogue, and helping young people build the skills and networks they need to be positive agents of change.
Fostering honest, two way dialogue
Last night, Under Secretary McHale and U.S. Ambassador Don Gips hosted over 30 young South African leaders -- including bloggers, writers, artists, and businesspeople -- for an open discussion. The group was passionate and eloquent, and had strong feelings about America and U.S. policies. During more than two hours of intensive discussion, the young leaders addressed a range of topics, from entrepreneurship to the death of Osama bin Laden. The participants didn't always agree with each other, or with the United States, but it was an important exchange of ideas, one in which we were able to hear what was on the minds of young South Africans and they were able to express their views directly to senior U.S. officials. By the time I got back to the hotel, I saw that participants had been busy tweeting throughout the discussion -- broadening the reach of the dialogue to many who were unable to be in the room.
This event was a great example of the U.S. government inviting citizens into honest dialogue -- but the U.S. government is not the only one who must be engaged in deeper conversation with young citizens around the world, the American people must be, too. We witnessed a fascinating example of this people-to-people exchange at the Apartheid Museum, where we were able to observe a Skype video chat program between students in Soweto, South Africa and Birmingham, Alabama. These classes have hosted regular video chats, and the students are preparing for to visit each other this summer. Listening to these students exchange views on everything from race relations in their communities to Nicki Minaj demonstrated the power of readily-available technology to build bridges across oceans and cultures.
Helping young people build the skills and networks they need to be positive agents of change
Young people around the world have the energy and brains to play a tremendous role in society -- from the business sector to the political arena. However, they don't always have the skills and networks they need to find productive and fulfilling outlets for that energy. I want to highlight two programs we are sponsoring in South Africa that are helping to build those skills.
On Saturday, we visited the Mae Jemison U.S. Science Reading Room in Mamelodi township. It is a U.S.-sponsored, after-school library where students are doing everything from building robots to learning anatomy. With a growing membership of over 1,000 young South Africans, and over 3,000 books, the Reading Room has quickly become a favorite place in the community. When we arrived, our young tour guide said with a smile: "Welcome to our library. This is our library, not yours!" The Reading Room is inspiring many of its members to pursue careers as doctors, engineers, and researchers. We were lucky to be there on the first day that students brought their parents to the reading room. Speaking with students and parents, it was clear that this center was unlocking a world of possibilities and energizing the broader community.
We finished our time in South Africa by announcing the expansion of a partnership with the Ministry of Higher Education and Training to broaden linkages between U.S. community colleges and South African institutions. The event was held at the University of South Africa (UNISA), and was a collaboration between the South African and U.S. governments and a diverse range of private sector partners who have an interest in ensuring skilled graduates. The partnership is designed to strengthen vocational training and encourage entrepreneurship, so that graduates are well-suited to join the 21st century workforce in both of our countries.
Our embassy and many others are hard at work on youth and education issues in South Africa every day. Our time here has been far too short to experience the depth of the society or the myriad of ways in which young people are getting involved in their communities, and I hope to return to this country soon. In the meantime, I'll write more from Dakar. Stay tuned!