Remarks by Ambassador Lisa Peterson Awards Ceremony of the 2016 FIRST Lego League Championship Swaziland

MTN CEO Representative Mr. Sibusiso Nhleko
Science, Maths and ICT Inspectors
Head teachers of participating schools
Presidents of Science, Maths and ICT Associations
FIRST Lego League Operational Partner Johannes de -Vries
University of South Africa (UNISA) Head of Computing and your team
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Sanibonani (Greetings to you all).

Let me start by congratulating all of you for your incredible efforts to advance science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in Swaziland. If you take a look around the room, you see a supportive team of people committed to innovation, creativity, and excellence. And you should all be proud of what you’ve accomplished today. I’d also like to thank the organizers of the competition for encouraging Swazi youth to find solutions to challenges through the sciences – it’s an important message and one that the U.S. government also embraces. Just last week, President Obama hosted a group of young people for the first-ever Kid Science Advisor meeting. Ranging in age from 9 to 17, these future scientists, engineers, and tech savvy young people discussed all the ways they hope to use science to improve lives. One young girl wants to develop a “smart” cane to improve the mobility of blind people while another young girl wants to redesign her school’s chemistry curriculum. At the highest levels of our government, we understand the importance of letting youth lead when it comes to science and innovation.

This awards ceremony of the 2016 FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Lego League Swaziland Championship continues to inspire future scientists and engineers. Now in its second year, the competition has introduced more than 300 young people from 28 schools across the country to real-world engineering challenges by designing, building and programming an autonomous robot to complete tasks. This is remarkable progress from the 11 schools and 89 students that participated last year. So the word about robotics is spreading, thanks to you! I am even more pleased to see robust participation from young girls in STEM. One of our key initiatives is to promote science and engineering for young women, who are historically underrepresented in these fields across the world. I’m proud that our Mission is spearheading efforts to get girls involved in coding, robotics, and engineering. Their full participation will ensure that Swaziland can tackle the most pressing challenges of the future.

This year also has a special focus on people in rural areas, who may not have access to certain resources, to be involved in shaping the future of STEM in Swaziland. Great innovation can come from anywhere – and this is just as true in Swaziland as it is in the U.S.

This championship introduces participants, at an early age, to skills that are critical in the knowledge based economy we are living in today. These skills include analysis, problem solving, creativity, networking and collaboration. Through guidance from their coaches, the teams have discovered exciting career possibilities and learned to make positive contributions to society. Most importantly, students are learning to be flexible and adaptable in a rapidly-changing environment. The skills they learn today will help them to create solutions to challenges and create jobs for tomorrow.

I am amazed by the incredible efforts and designs that I have seen here today. Congratulations, in advance, to the winners of this year’s competition – you should enjoy the rewards of your hard work. To the other teams, I have no doubt that through the experience you have gained today, you are already devising strategies to win next year.

The U.S. Embassy is already exploring new and exciting ways to keep the momentum going on STEM initiatives. But we need your help. We need your energy and your dedication. We need your commitment because that’s what it will take to compete regionally and globally in this arena. And we know that Swaziland has all the elements to be the best because you’re all sitting here today.

I look forward to next year’s competition and many more opportunities to work together on STEM in Swaziland. Thank you.