Remarks – Ambassador David Reimer
Alumni Reception @ CMR
Saturday, January 21, 2023 @ 5:00 pm
Good evening everyone, and welcome to my residence. We’ll skip the formalities and just say “all protocols observed.”
I am very excited to be welcoming you all tonight and to see so many alumni here. First of all, I’d like to thank the Sierra Leone U.S. Alumni Association’s executive board for the collaboration in making this event happen.
Ladies and gentlemen, tonight is a night of celebration. We are gathered here to recognize those alumni who have had a special impact on their communities. But before we do, I’d like to take a moment to recognize all alumni of U.S. exchange programs.
As all of you know, traveling and experiencing another culture can have a tremendous, life-altering impact on an individual. But more than that, the impact that these programs have extends far beyond any one participant. The seeds that are planted during an exchange program take root and grow. The relationships, ideas, and connections that start to form on a program often multiply and grow, bearing fruit for years to come.
This outsized impact is why the United States continues to invest in exchange programs. Just in Sierra Leone, we send around 60 Sierra Leoneans to the United States every year. These programs range from the YES exchange, where teenagers attend an American high school for a year, to military education training for promising officers, to leadership fellowships like YALI, just to name a few. Over the years we have sent participants in almost every sector of society. And I’m proud to say that whether in the private sector, civil society, or in government our alumni are everywhere from the classroom to the boardroom. And I hope that at least in part, your experience in the United States contributed to your success.
Helping to build the capacity of Sierra Leone’s future leaders is certainly one reason why we invest in these programs. Regardless of what exchange you participated in, you likely gained new information or a new perspective that benefited you when you returned. But building capacity is not the only reason we invest in exchanges.
In fact, the main reason we do these programs can be found right in the name: exchange. These are not training programs, although you may have gained some skills. These are not education programs, although I hope you learned something new. These are exchange programs. The goal is about exchanging view points. Exchanging experiences. Learning from each other and building new relationships, so that you, Sierra Leone’s current and future leaders, will know and understand the American people, and so the current and future leaders of the United States can know you, and know Sierra Leone through you. It is upon this basis, the basis that you have helped create, that the future of the U.S.-Sierra Leone relationship lies. Just as you were ambassadors for Sierra Leone when you were in the United States, upon your return you became ambassadors for the U.S.-Sierra Leone relationship. Staff at the U.S. Embassy come and go. Even Ambassadors come and go. But you all are here, and can tell the U.S.-Salone story better than we can ourselves. You understand more than most what our relationship has accomplished, and the values and goals our two nations share for our common future.
Thank you all for the role you have played in building mutual understanding between our countries. I ask you to join us as we continue to work towards a brighter future for both the United States and Sierra Leone. In fact, I have three specific asks for each of you:
First, as we recognize the awardees of this year’s Alumni Association Impact Award, draw inspiration from your colleagues on how they used the opportunities they were given to give back to their communities. As the Alumni Association has championed through their annual give back day, these programs and opportunities that you had should not rest dormant with you. Use your positions of leadership and influence to create positive change for your communities and Sierra Leone.
Second, remember, you cannot have an exchange with just one person. These programs are about connections and relationships, so if you’ve fallen out of touch with colleagues you met on the exchange, or with the alumni association, or with the Embassy, let this be a reminder that together, we can achieve more. Reconnect with the association, reconnect with your networks from the exchange. And if you are doing something interesting in Sierra Leone inspired by your exchange program, tell us about it! Send a message to the alumni group, tag us in social media, we love to see what happens to our alumni once they get back.
And lastly, continue to do the amazing work you are doing, in whatever sector you happen to be in. Our exchange programs are some of the most competitive and prestigious programs in the world. Over 500 current or former heads of state are alumni of the IVLP program. Over 40 former heads of state or government are former Fulbright scholars. You were chosen for these programs because you represent some of the best and brightest in the world. The work you are doing is important, it is valued, and it lays the foundation for all of the work we are doing here in Sierra Leone.
With that, I’ll turn it back over to my team and the Association to announce the awardees of the first Alumni Association Impact Awards. I hope you enjoy the evening. Thank you.