Remarks by Ambassador Rebecca Gonzales at the St. Philomena School Building Handover: Setibing, Maseru District, May 15, 2019

Good morning.

Please allow me to begin today by first paying my respects to:

His Majesty King Letsie III

The Right Honorable the Prime Minister

The President of the Senate

The Speaker of the National Assembly

Honorable Ministers (especially the Minister of Education and Training Professor Rapapa and Minister of Energy and Meteorology Au)

Honorable Members of the National Assembly

Senior Government Officials

Lesotho Defense Force Representatives

U.S. Department of Defense Officials

Church Leaders

Local Chiefs

Councilors

School Principal

Students of the St. Philomena School

Members of the Press

Bo-‘M’e le Bo-Ntate,

I am delighted to be here today to cut the ribbon on this beautiful facility today. We are thrilled that the children of St. Philomena’s school now have these wonderful classrooms and upgraded facilities in which to study and learn.

The United States and Lesotho have enjoyed excellent bilateral relations for more than half a century. We are extremely proud of our cooperative efforts to support a healthier, more secure, and more prosperous Lesotho. I am proud that this project was made possible through the United States’ military. Those of you who know or have worked with members of the U.S. military will recognize quickly the spirit of collaboration and dedication, indeed of friendship that made this project possible. That too is the hallmark of our U.S. military’s humanitarian efforts and attest to the constructive role that the military played. Several officers and colleagues from our Office of Defense Cooperation in Pretoria are here today. I know they are extremely proud not only of what has been accomplished, but of the relationships they have developed with their Basotho counterparts throughout the process.

Just a few weeks ago, I attended the opening of a primary and secondary school in Mantsonyane that was established by Ntate Sam Matekane. Now today we are here today celebrating a beautiful new facility constructed directly through our joint efforts. To participate in these two events back to back reinforces to me that Americans and Basotho share important values – especially when it comes to education.

As the daughter of a public school teacher, who is still teaching in the Washington DC school district today, I know that providing a quality education to our youth is the best gift we can possibly give them. In schools, ideas are generated, friendships are formed, citizens are educated, and the foundations for future prosperity are laid.

As the U.S. Ambassador, I am very proud of our education and exchange programs like Fulbright, YALI, and our partnership with the Ministry of Education through the Peace Corps – all of which are vital aspects of our contribution to the future of Lesotho. So are the programs like this one through the Office of Defense Cooperation’s Humanitarian Assistance Program, as well as our Ambassador’s Self-Help Fund, which has helped communities construct schools, footbridges, and hygiene facilities all across the country. But we are also deeply committed to support Lesotho’s national reform process and helping to build capacity in health, business, and other sectors. To me, the construction of a school is a metaphor for another important construction process happening in Lesotho – the national reforms.

If the school is dilapidated, with no roof, or crumbling walls that cannot keep out the cold and rain, the child cannot focus on learning. If pressing economic concerns or social custom prevents a boy or girl from attending school, then it is no surprise that that individual child will not grow up to reach his or her full potential as a person and as a citizen. However, if a community comes together and decides this institution, this school, is important to us and to our future, then that community will invest in sturdy walls. Together the community will make sure each individual child, regardless of gender, geography, or parentage, has the opportunity to study and become the best version of him or herself. Then as individuals and families are uplifted, we will start to see a change in the community and move forward on a path of stability that benefits the entire country.

This is just like the process of reforms – in cannot be done by one person or one group alone. It must be a collective effort for which every Mosotho takes ownership and responsibility.

We are proud to have helped you build this school here today. As a guest in your country and representative of your longest, most steadfast diplomatic partner, I say that we are here to support and encourage you, but the hard work and the brilliant reward of constructing a better future for Lesotho is yours alone.

Last but not least, I want to offer a few words to the students of St. Philomena. I understand the name Philomena means “daughter of light.” So I want to speak to the sons and daughters of light. I know you are already enjoying your studies at this incredible school. That message from all of us here today speaks very loudly to me as it did when I met your peers in Mantsonyane so – I want to make sure you hear it too. That message says – You are special, you matter, and your ideas matter.  Your ideas are worth listening to.  Here in this school, you have a place to try, to succeed, and to fail when necessary, because all of those experiences are critical learning opportunities. Enjoy the process of learning.

Thank you again to my colleagues from U.S. Department of Defense and an extra special thank you to Ntate Senekane from the U.S. Embassy in Maseru who was part of this project since the beginning. And thank you to all the members of the Ha Fosi and St. Philomena communities. Your hard work and dedication has made a profound difference for these children, and the benefit of your work will be felt for generations.

Kea Leboha. Khotso, Pula, Nala.