Public Affairs Office Riboon Cutting Ceremony

Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Bruce Wharton at the PAS Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony

Good afternoon and thank you all for joining us.

I’d like to echo Karen Kelley’s welcome to this official opening of the newly renovated space for our Embassy Public Affairs Section. You’re here because you’re an important part of our community and we wanted to celebrate with you today.

It is especially meaningful to hold this celebration in March, Women’s History Month in the U.S.A. In my embassy, we try to do more than just celebrate the contributions of women to our world:  We want to create opportunities for them.

We know that doing so is in our collective best interests.  So, in that vein, let me celebrate my American colleagues: Karen Kelly, her deputies Kelly McCaleb and Nicole Finnemann, and Caitlin Cetola who is here from our Washington, D.C. headquarters.  There is an old Chinese saying that “Women hold up half the sky.” It makes me proud that that in our Public Affairs Section, they are holding up the whole sky!

Zimbabwe is famous for its hospitality. Those Americans who are lucky enough to work here quickly feel that we’ve found a second home. We want Zimbabweans to feel the same when they are in our offices. So, we have renovated our public affairs space in the hope of matching the spirit of Ubuntu that we have experienced here.

We have upgraded this space to enhance learning, exchanging ideas, comfort and camaraderie. There are areas designed to facilitate research, discussion, and innovation with peers, partners, mentors, and advisors.  And, we have upgraded our technology for greater connectivity and communication. All of this is directed at creating new opportunities for mutually beneficial cooperation between our countries.

As great as the renovated space is, it is really the people who work here that matter most.  Please allow me to introduce and thank our Zimbabwean colleagues here.

Our IRC Director Stephen Mushonga and his team in the library can assist you with your research and information.  Director Mushonga also offers online training to improve your own research skills.

Deputy Library Director Priscillah Kapungu organizes “Food For Thought” discussions that feature Zimbabwean and American experts in wide range of fields. Right after this ceremony and reception we will host this week’s Food For Thought discussion — an exploration and celebration of Women’s History.

Library Technician Kenneth Mangemba runs the meetings of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle. The CLSC is the oldest book club in the United States and opened its first international chapter in Zimbabwe in 2010.

Rebecca Mano, or “Mai Mano” as her many student fans call her, and Tapfumaneyi Muchenje manage our life-changing EducationUSA advising service. Mai Mano and Baba Tap offer sessions that give students and parents access to admissions officers from U.S. universities to learn about the opportunities for study in the U.S.A.

The entire PAS team works hard to promote understanding of U.S. policies and our Mission’s activities in support of the people of Zimbabwe. They also create opportunities for exchanges between Zimbabweans and Americans.

Sizani Weza and Caroline Mtingondo arrange press briefings, interviews and information for Zimbabwe’s media professionals, actively supporting professional journalism in Zimbabwe.

Thando Sibanda works to coordinate programs for and engagement with young Zimbabweans. Thando teaches me and others about social media, and is an accomplished spoken word artist.

Michael Mabwe, another poet and spoken word artist, works with the Zimbabwe-U.S. Alumni Association and helps us stay in touch with and be informed by the views of the thousands of Zimbabweans who have participated in our programs.

Gladys Tutisani and Dorothy Garwe manage the range of exchange programs we offer. Those include President Obama’s Mandela-Washington Fellowship Program, the Fulbright and Humphrey Fellowships, the International Visitor Leadership Program, sports envoys, and cultural exchange programs.

Gay Nyakwende manages the communications outreach on our important activities in health diplomacy, significantly advancing our goal of supporting public health in Zimbabwe by making information available to all Zimbabweans.

Graphics Editor Nigel Wilson adds his creative visual impact to our Public Affairs Section materials, runs sound systems, chases trains, and does a thousand other things.

And Reginah Mawere and Rameck Bizali provide the administrative and clerical support that keeps our Public Affairs Section running smoothly. They also play important roles in the rest of our embassy – Reginah as a leading member of our employee association and Bizali as the manager of Obama Boys Football Club, the team that finished last season at the top of the standings in the Harare Professional Soccer League.

I hope that you will take the time to meet all of these talented and creative people who work to enhance our relationships with the people of Zimbabwe.

I have to add a personal note here. Many of the people I have just mentioned were my teachers, my professors in of one of my favorite subjects:  Zimbabwe. If I know anything about this great country and its paths toward freedom, justice, and prosperity it is because of what I was taught by Bizali, Caroline, Dorothy, Gladys, Priscillah, Rebecca, Stephen, and Tapfumaneyi. Many others have also helped me understand Zimbabwe, but these eight are the people who were here at the Public Affairs Section – then known as USIS – when I first came to Zimbabwe in 1999, and who have remained steadfastly engaged in this vital work ever since.  They haven’t stopped working to make both the U.S. and Zimbabwe better places. Thanks to their instruction and inspiration, neither have I.

And there’s much more ahead. In the coming months, we look forward to participating in the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair in Bulawayo, the Harare International Festival of the Arts, to celebrating the history of State Department exchange programs in Zimbabwe, to sending off the group of talented Zimbabweans who will be selected to participate in the 2015 Mandela Washington Fellowship program, to expanding our outreach capabilities in Bulawayo, and many other activities.

I hope that you will you’ll find many reasons to return to the Public Affairs Section, and that you will feel that this is a welcoming space.

Now, let’s cut this ribbon and celebrate the newly renovated Public Affairs Section!

Thank you.