Remarks by Ambassador Lisa Peterson: WomEng Launchpad Event – St. Michael’s Girls High School, Manzini

Representatives from St. Michael’s Girls High School,
WomEng team members,
Future engineers,

Good morning!

What a joy to see so many motivated, intelligent, and inspired young women – you all deserve a big round of applause! I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s program, complete with presentations, Q&A, and a fun hard hat activity. Judging by your creations, Swaziland is going to produce some of the world’s top engineers. And I hope many of you do choose to pursue engineering in your studies and careers.

Engineering requires a high level of commitment. The coursework is very challenging yet exciting. Your social life may be put on hold while you pursue your dreams.  And your classes may be filled with people who doubt your intelligence and your right to be in the room. But rather than become discouraged by these realities, use them as fuel to power your ambition. The future is already here – and it is being built by dynamic, innovative young people like you who see things much differently than your parents’ generation.

Swaziland – and the world – will benefit tremendously from your talent, your mind, and your energy. You owe it to yourselves and to the generations that come after you to think big.

As the U.S. Mission, our focus has been on exposing young people across Swaziland to different technologies and helping them to apply new techniques to solve age-old problems. Through these types of programs, they are envisioning the world and their futures differently. Along with our incredible partners, including WomEng, we are helping young people to not only think creatively but also to use what they already have to solve problems. This is the beauty of STEM – it is not about replicating what other countries do but rather discovering the ideal solution for the local context.

Aside from our support for WomEng, we are also working with schools, through the Swaziland Foundation for STEM Education, on coding and robotics programming. We have co-sponsored the FIRST Lego League National Coding and Robotics Competition for the last several years. In rural areas, one of our Peace Corps Volunteers has been working with GLOW counselors and their members on a girls’ coding project. This program is enhancing their ability to access technology, an important first step to leveling the gender-imbalanced playing field. We’ve hosted numerous screenings of “Hidden Figures” for young girls and boys, which has helped to reinforce positive representations of people and women of color for a new generation.

And of course, our relationship with WomEng continues to flourish and empower young women engineers to take up their rightful space in a male-dominated industry.

Taken together, and coupled with necessary educational and economic investments, Swaziland is that much closer to cultivating the talent it needs to achieve the National Development Strategy. In the coming years, the most viable jobs, up to 90 percent, will require skills in information and communications technology. The world cannot afford to leave girls behind on this journey.  So it is incredibly important that we all keep highlighting success stories of women in STEM, particularly within the local context.  I’m sure you’re familiar with the expression: “Be the change you want to see.”  I think it also helps to see the change you want to be.  Having role models and mentors, such as the strong and intelligent women engineers here, is incredibly important to helping the next generation move up to even greater achievements.

So the time now comes to ask yourselves, “how can we, as young Swazis, start to be the change we want to see?” Oprah Winfrey often calls this “the next right move.” Don’t carry the weight of the world’s problems on your shoulders. Don’t focus on the big picture just yet – at this time, with the people around you, think about the next right move to share what you know with others or encourage more conversations around girls and women in STEM.

Step by step, this is how you build a coalition. If you start small and work together, you’ll look back in the coming years and see that landscape has changed for girls in STEM. And you’ll be the reason why.

Thank you.