My respects to:
- Bella Galhos
Good afternoon. I’m delighted to be here today.
I would first like to congratulate our YSEALI members for arranging this seminar. Some of you may have heard me say it before, but we at the U.S. Embassy are always impressed with the energy and insightfulness of the individuals in our youth network. You are unafraid to deal with some of the most challenging issues of our time. In the past month have visited many YOUnified projects that approach these challenges in unique and creative ways. And you are doing the same here today.
The issues of disabilities, human rights, and social inclusion are fundamental. As a young democracy, Timor-Leste has the opportunity now to address these issues in an extremely productive way. You can begin to weave solutions into the fabric of society. Young people are the future stewards of democracy in your country, and what you do now matters. What you are doing to promote social inclusion and human rights, to make sure everyone counts—that all matters.
What you are doing right now, and what I hope you continue to do, is participating in civil society. When it comes to human rights and inclusion, government is of course very important. Governments are beholden to protect all their citizen, and they create the legal frameworks to do so.
But civil society’s role is just as important—actually, maybe more important. Civil society actors work to heal communities. They give voice to the powerless and the marginalized. They carry out research. They monitor and report. They help vulnerable populations claim their rights. They advocate. They make sure that no one is left behind.
This work ensures that human rights are recognized. Each actor in civil society might have a different focus, but together, their work makes communities and governments better. They hold government accountable. They create a vibrant democracy.
The U.S. Embassy supports you in this because we prioritize human rights in all our programs. For instance, USAID has a program dedicated to strengthening civil society both here and regionally. We work regularly with CODIVA and last year provided funding for the Pride parade, because we believe in the power of visibility. We’ve also given grants to local organizations working on women’s empowerment, food security, and LGBTQI inclusion. We work with civil society to help ensure that everyone’s voices are heard.
While we diplomats do a lot of work in this area, it really is up to you as youth and as leaders to build your civil society from the bottom up—what you’re doing right now. It’s important to work with each other and find mentorship relationships, both individually and between organizations.
That’s what our program, the Young Southeast Asian Leadership Initiative, YSEALI, is all about. YSEALI is the U.S. government’s signature program to strengthen leadership development and networking in Southeast Asia. YSEALI strengthens ties between the United States and Southeast Asia and nurtures an ASEAN community. YSEALI is designed to create relationships and bring youth from the whole Southeast Asia region together.
Although it was originally open only to ASEAN member states, the U.S. Embassy brought it to Timor-Leste because we see the power of youth leadership and civic engagement here. The topics that YSEALI focuses on are exactly the topics that we see Timorese youth working on: civic engagement, sustainable development, education, and economic growth.
Through YSEALI, you can apply to educational exchanges in the U.S., exchange programs in the ASEAN region, and seed funding for your projects here in Timor-Leste.
Together, you can solve problems your communities and countries face and build a strong civil society to ensure a vibrant, democratic future.
I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunities that YSEALI gives you – apply for scholarships and the exchanges. Find other like-minded young leaders. Look for opportunities to connect and contribute. The U.S. Embassy has many other programs that support youth in civil society – you may know about UmaAmerika at UNTL, where the volunteers are dedicated to community service. If you’d like to learn more, I encourage you to seek out YSEALI and UmaAmerika alums to see where you might fit best.
Thank you again, and I look forward to seeing how your work builds a more inclusive society in the future.