Remarks by Ambassador Lisa Peterson Award Ceremony – Swazi Expo for Young Scientists

UNISWA Kwaluseni Campus Multipurpose Hall

Honorable Minister of Education and Training,
MTN,
UNESCO,
Inyatsi Construction,
President of Science Teachers Association,
Head Teachers from the Participating Schools,
Founders of the WomEng NGO,
Members of the Media,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Sanibonani.

I would like to express my gratitude to the organizers of the competition for inviting me to this important occasion.  Today, we are recognizing all the incredibly talented young men and women who have traveled here from every corner of the country to demonstrate their experiments and their inventions.  I just had a chance to meet with some of them – and it is hard to describe just how impressive these young people are.  Their work personifies what is possible when we inspire young people to take risks and tackle difficult problems: whether they end up succeeding or failing, they are trying. And we should all commend their efforts.

The projects on display today represent practical applications of the knowledge that the students have gained in the classroom – so their teachers and mentors deserve a big round of applause as well.  The U.S. Embassy has been a robust and engaged partner on STEM initiatives in Swaziland. We recognize how crucial the STEM fields are – and will continue to be – in shaping our collective progress. By co-sponsoring this year’s Science Expo, we are showing you just how committed we are. But it’s not all about money. It’s about partnership, which is why we also invited along the founders of a woman-run NGO called WomEng to participate in this event. They are singularly focused on growing the number of women and girls in engineering across Africa and the world.

So, why does this matter for Swaziland? We know that girls often lack exposure to the technology and innovation that will eventually shape their worlds. According to UN Women, girls worldwide start to self-select out of STEM courses in early secondary school, in part because science and technology are often considered male domains. Even today, at this Expo, we see the evidence of this very troubling problem. So, we will continue to encourage and to push for the girl child’s active participation in STEM and in broader Swazi society.

As a Mission, we are building on previous STEM programs through our Public Affairs Section. In partnership with the Swaziland Foundation for STEM Education, we are now sponsoring afterschool coding and robotics activities in 48 schools across the country. These clubs will be run by dedicated men and women in the STEM fields to ensure youth have an opportunity to practice what they are learning in class.  These activities are also preparing students to compete in the national robotics competition in November.

The U.S. Embassy has also started discussions with the Mbabane Public Library to create a makerspace, which will provide access to modern tools, such as 3D printers, for the public.  In May, we sponsored a solution-based coding workshop, or hackathon, for girls in the Shiselweni region to develop a mobile application that addresses gender-based violence challenges. With the WomEng team, we brought together stakeholders in the government, education, and business sectors to discuss joint efforts at promoting women and girls in engineering. We hope these programs continue to expose more people to STEM and inspire youth to take up studies and careers in STEM fields.

Success is not going to be achieved by government alone. It depends on dedicated teachers, parents, students, and the broader community supporting excellence.  I am pleased to note the involvement of sponsors such as MTN, UNESCO, and Inyatsi Construction.  I further wish to challenge scientists and business leaders to think of creative ways to engage young people in math and sciences.

To all the young people who are here, this is an important step in your studies and in your lives. You’ve made it this far and I expect some of you to go even further in the competition. But more importantly, your actions at this age can have long-lasting impacts on your future. If you are energized by the power of science and technology now, there’s a good chance you’ll stick with it. And we hope you do – because we need your creative talents to help solve our world’s biggest and most persistent challenges. Poverty, hunger, gender inequality, and war – to name a few. No pressure, right?

Finally, to the parents and the teachers who have helped to inspire these young people, I extend my sincerest thanks and gratitude. I hope you continue to find inspiration in building the next generation of experts, scientists, and engineers. This level of excellence and creativity is only possible under your careful and wise guidance. The U.S. Embassy has been – and will continue to be – in your corner. Siyabonga.