Remarks by Ambassador Pratt at Opening Ceremony of English Week

Ambassador Pratt Remarks at Opening Ceremony of English Week
May 7, 2023 

Excerpts from the Ambassador’s Remarks:

It’s a pleasure to be with you this morning for many reasons. The main reason is that this is my last week in Djibouti after two and half years. Being here with you on one of my final days in the country is very meaningful because I think that education is truly the key to what we are doing and to the development of every country.

Like you, I started my career as a teacher. I was a fourth-grade teacher in a primary school in Los Angeles for two years.  Then I went on to be a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa where I trained English teachers.  As I look around the room here today and see all of you in your careers as English teachers I am very inspired—it brings me back to 30 years ago. I can still remember my first day and my first week as a teacher and I will be honest with you: I was terrified. I had forty children in front of me, I remember there were two lines of twenty. I looked at my watch and I thought: Wow, I have seven hours to go it’s just me with forty children—What am I going to do?

In fact, when I moved from teaching primary school in Los Angeles to training English teachers in Africa, the job actually became much easier. It was training university-educated professors who know what they are doing and who were very motivated like you.  That job was much easier than having forty ten-year-olds.  But I know you’ll be teaching many different ages of children and many different experience levels and this is the big challenge. You have a classroom where there may be someone who is very advanced, someone who is right in the middle and someone who is just starting and you are trying to adapt your curriculum and how you are teaching to all these different levels simultaneously while trying to connect with the students, because if you don’t connect then the students won’t be motivated, so it’s really a challenging job and I salute you and I thank you for what you are doing and I think it’s really fantastic.

I would like to talk a little bit about what the United States and my embassy and Camp Lemonier have done here in Djibouti over the last few years. It’s hard to believe that we are already a year past COVID in a room without masks. It’s like we have forgotten what things were like two years ago. I was very proud that the United States helped Djibouti be the first country on the continent to receive a Johnson & Johnson vaccine as well as the Pfizer vaccine. I believe half of the population of Djibouti has received at least one dose of Johnson and many have received two doses. We are very proud to be there together working on this with the Health Ministry.

Another project I wanted to highlight is with his Excellency the Minister of Education—thank you so much and also to the Secretary General. We worked together on a program called DEGRA which is really one of the signature achievements of our bilateral relationship. We worked with the Ministry to develop textbooks for early grade reading, for the youngest readers, and over a period of three or four years we’ve been able to improve the test scores of these young readers by 10%. This is significant because as we continue the program we hope to achieve another 10% and another 10% after that so that as the students are moving into higher grades in primary schools they will have the skills that they need. If they don’t have those skills right from the start it’s very difficult for them. We know that if the older students don’t have basic reading skills they fall behind. You know that as English teachers the ability to read reinforces everything that they are hearing so that’s critical—I am quite proud of this program.

With our workforce training program we’ve touched 11, 000 youth in Djibouti and provided paid internships for another 500, which helps with unemployment. I am very proud to say that we’ve extended that program for another 5 years for more workforce development here in the country.

Moving on to the UN system–how many of you know that the United States contributes to the budget of UN organizations?  It sometimes surprises me when I see in a country United Nations programs like the World Food Program, the UNDP, there’s UNICEF—all these organizations are here. I’m quite proud that the United States is paying, in some cases, more than half of the budget of each organization. It’s not something that we talk about a lot but it’s something that I want to acknowledge, and I think that we should recognize because they are very close partners that are working very closely with the government to help Djiboutians every day and many of them are providing jobs and I think it’s a great relationship that we’ve got going forward.

And finally, I wanted to mention peace in this region. As we are here together today, we have a very difficult situation in Sudan which has been going on for about three weeks. We all pray that this situation can be resolved quickly and peacefully. I want to acknowledge the effort of the government of Djibouti for helping to push these two generals towards a ceasefire. The government of Djibouti has played a critical role along the IGAD members in promoting peace and the US is right there with Djibouti and the other countries.

Today they’re having peace talks in Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia and we pray that these talks go well. I’m also proud that we’ve participated in supporting the talks on Ethiopia last year working side by side with the government of Djibouti.

I would like to close by turning to his Excellency, the Minister of Education, who has been a tremendous partner for us. I want to thank you for your close work together, we really appreciate it. Thank You.