Celebration of the 35th Anniversary of U.S.-Zim Exchanges

Ambassador D.Bruce Wharton chats with Atlas Corps participant, Chiedza Gadzirayi
Ambassador D.Bruce Wharton chats with Atlas Corps participant, Chiedza Gadzirayi

Ambassador Remarks

Celebration of the 35th Anniversary of U.S.-Zim Exchanges & The 75th Anniversary of U.S. State Department Exchanges World-Wide

Thank you Michael Mabwe; thank you Darin Macanelly for joining us from Washington tonight, and welcome guests.  It is an honor to see so many of you here tonight.

I am so pleased to be in this room with you, and share in celebrating the 35th anniversary of U.S.-Zim exchanges and the 75th anniversary of U.S. State Department exchanges world wide.

These exchange programs began in 1940.  As the world dealt with the aftermath of one World War and saw another war beginning, the United States recognized that information and ideas could have a far greater impact than weapons and sought to improve international relations by bringing people of different countries together.  Two professors from Latin America became the first exchange visitors, traveling to the United States for their first time to share their culture and experiences in a program we have since come to know as “IVLP” – The International Visitor Leadership Program.

Many hundreds of thousands of exchange participants later, I stand here today in front of all of you.  Alumni.

And though it is already obvious simply by looking around this room, you are in impressive company.  Did you know that 63 US Exchange alumni are Nobel laureates? Even more impressive perhaps, is that 385 alumni – of the very same programs you participated in – have gone on to become the heads of state or government.  In Zimbabwe alone, alumni include over 15 members of parliament, the vice president, numerous top justices, four of the Vice Chancellors of Zimbabwe’s state universities, countless public sector and civil society leaders, and, looking around this room, people you simply really want to know.

I look out at this audience and I see all that is right about the present and future of this great and beautiful country.  Together we are generating innovation and entrepreneurship, laying the groundwork for economic prosperity, building respect for diversity, and striving to create a better world.  And, along the way, we are working toward the common goals that make Zimbabwe and the U.S. more natural allies than adversaries.

U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright, when he first envisioned an educational and cultural exchange program to connect people, said “The essence of intercultural education is the acquisition of empathy–the ability to see the world as others see it, and to allow for the possibility that others may see something we have failed to see, or may see it more accurately. The simple purpose of the exchange program…is to erode the culturally rooted mistrust that sets nations against one another. The exchange program is not a panacea but an avenue of hope….”

Together we seek to erode mistrust among nations–between our two nations–and to build that avenue of hope.

The importance of people-to-people diplomacy is understood by the highest levels of U.S. government.  Secretary of State John Kerry reiterates unwavering support for exchanges.  President Obama highlighted the importance of exchanges in his last State of the Union Address.  International Exchange programs give us access in places otherwise difficult to reach and help pave the way for future negotiations and relationships.

You may be surprised to learn that the U.S. has a history of running exchange programs with countries we do not have formal diplomatic relations with – such as Iran.  When President Obama announced the new Cuba policy last December, he did so by announcing a broadening of exchange programs.

If we aren’t meeting, shaking hands, sharing experiences today, how will we address issues of mutual concern tomorrow?

Diplomacy is about people.  Not countries.  It’s all about the people.  That is why we are celebrating you tonight.

I know everyone here has incredible stories about their exchange experience and how it impacted their lives.  Some of those moments are being shown on the screen here this evening.

Whether you participated in your exchange program, months, years or decades ago, you brought Zimbabwe to the American public and helped build lasting relationships that cross our globe. Every connection you made planted a seed, and those seeds grow over time, both here in Zimbabwe as well as the U.S.

Those connections allow us all to live in a safer, more peaceful, and equitable world because exchanges move people and move ideas, sharing the values of liberty, individual dignity, and civil society.

Edward R Murrow, a famous U.S. journalist once referred to what we are all doing right here in this room, as the last three feet of the international communication chain. Murrow argued that media – even with the dawn of the television–could only do so much to reach people– and that personal contact alone can truly bridge those last three feet to actually having truly “reached” someone.

Tonight is an opportunity for us to strengthen the ways in which we share the exchange experience story. That story telling is at the heart of the purpose of the exchange programs. You have those stories.

And you are all leaders – connected by your exchange experiences to my country, and also connected by your common commitment to a brighter future in Zimbabwe.

Let us share those stories. Not just tonight. Not just on this screen. But I ask that you keep your exchange experience in mind as a reminder that the U.S. supports your goals for a better tomorrow in Zimbabwe. It has been a privilege for the United States to support each and every one of you in your exchange and I’m here tonight to toast to the success of those exchanges – to your success – now and for years to come.

Let’s raise our glasses to 35 years – because 35 years is a great start –an excellent start in fact.  Let us build on all that we have accomplished together. Let us make sure the 75th and 100th anniversaries of US-Zim exchanges will be truly triumphant.

Cheers, then, to the future of US-Zim relations, to all of you, and to all that you do.