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Ambassador's remarks at the 2019 YALI Impact Symposium
February 26, 2020

Yaounde National Congress Hall – November 16, 2019
Theme: The Role of Youth in Peacebuilding and the Sustainable Development of Cameroon

Remarks by Ambassador Peter Barlerin

Hello and welcome to the 2019 YALI Impact Symposium.

I would like to express my gratitude to Minister Mounouna Foutsou, as well as to other members of the government for joining us today.

In addition, I would like to congratulate the Mandela Washington Fellowship Alumni Association for organizing this symposium. Thank you Stella, thank you Jean Marc.

For the third year in a row, the US Embassy has teamed up with the association to make an investment that affects the future of Cameroon.

This partnership is one of the many mechanisms that the United States uses to express its determination every day as a reliable partner of all Cameroonians who work for a peaceful, prosperous and democratic future.  In the United States in many high-tech start-ups, there are very few over the age of 30.  It’s a field of young people.  Young people are in charge. Young people are in power.

But in other parts of the world, including in some parts of Africa, youth have been largely excluded from national debates about the future, and that’s not right.

Today’s symposium gives young leaders a platform to find ways to promote peace in their communities.

Your communities need you.  Your country needs you.

You can make a powerful difference in the lives around you.

You don’t have to wait until tomorrow to make a difference.

In the words of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who by the way, was the youngest person ever to be elected President of the United States, John F. Kennedy said:  “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

Ask not what Cameroon can do for you, but what you can do for Cameroon, young leaders.

Each year the Mandela Washington Fellows Alumni Association receives over 2,000 applications for the 500 seats at this event.

The selection criteria are based on what you have already done, not what you may do in the future.

You don’t have to sit here and listen to me tell you you are accomplished.

You are accomplished.

Your projects are proof of that.

Projects like Patience Atim Mbah’s “Adopt a Garden Initiative,” which provides marketable skills and nutritional sustenance to vulnerable youth by planting vegetable gardens.

Or Dr. Imelda Mbock’s teen pregnancy awareness campaign, which has reached many students throughout Cameroon.

Each one of you has a similar story, and I hope you’ll be inspired as you learn from each other.

Be inspired by these facts, as well:  Each year the U.S. Government invests in African youth, equipping you to become agents of positive change in your communities.

Through our YALI Network, Mandela Washington Fellowship, and Regional Leadership Centers, we provide training and networking opportunities for rising young leaders throughout the continent, including here in Cameroon.

Our English Access Microscholarship Program provides disadvantaged youth with two years of intensive English language study and leadership development.

Graduates of English Access have a vitamin boost for jobs and opportunity.

Cameroon continues to lead Central Africa with the highest number of students independently studying in U.S. universities.

Our Education USA advising services are expanding outreach this year beyond Yaoundé to 10 new schools, as well as having a presence at public events like this one.

Through our exchange program alumni, we support youth from vulnerable communities.

This summer I visited the Mandela Washington Fellows Alumni Association “My YALI Family” summer camp, funded by the Embassy.

The program matched 50 orphans with 50 YALI alumni mentors.

Throughout the year, these mentors provided children with leadership skills to make the right life choices.

I remember while I was still sitting at lunch at the camp getting messages on my phone from an Anglican minister friend in the United States who had helped the young lady to the left of me, and from an American missionary friend in Garoua, who had helped the young man to the right of me.

They had seen the photos of the orphans and me eating lunch, posted fresh on the Embassy website.

It reminded me of how inter-connected we are, and how good people doing good things, regardless of their religion, regardless of their nationality, regardless of the color of their skin, or their age, can make a difference.

As the English novelist E.M. Forster wrote, “only connect.”  Only connect, young people..

Individually, your contributions have made a difference.

However, this conference is about connecting your talents and your capabilities to create broader, lasting change.  Look around you, young people.

You are a diverse audience representing all 10 regions of Cameroon.

I’m sure each of you can find someone in this room whose efforts complement your own.  Look around you.  Only connect.

The discussions and workshops on today’s schedule will help you make those connections, and I encourage you to maintain those connections beyond the symposium.

Vive le Cameroun!  Vive les Etat-Unis d’Amérique.  Go Cameroon!  Go USA!

I hope you have a wonderful symposium.