Remarks for Ambassador Patricia M. Haslach Col. John C. Robinson American Center Grand Opening

Remarks by Patricia Haslach
U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia at the Grand Opening of
Col. John C. Robinson American Center
Monday, May 9, 2016
National Achieve and Library Agency, Addis Ababa

(As prepared for delivery)

Your Excellency Minister of Culture Engineer Aisha Mohammed

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good evening everyone! It is with great pleasure that I am here tonight, in such esteemed company, to co-host this momentous event with Minister Aisha Mohammed.  After almost a year of planning and renovations, we are here to inaugurate this beautiful facility, the Col. John C. Robinson American Center, in partnership with the National Archives and Library Agency.

It’s been over 40 years since our former cultural center in the Piazza neighborhood of Addis Ababa closed, and even though we continued our education and cultural outreach from the Embassy, I am pleased that there is once again a separate gathering place for cultural exchange, teaching of English, and promoting mutual understanding and shared values with a focus on science and technology.

Together with NALA, we have created a multi-function, state-of-the-art, high-tech center of learning and innovation – one of only ten such centers in Africa!  This was no easy task!  As I mentioned, it took months of effort, and the tireless engagement of key partners, first and foremost the staff of NALA.

I would like to recognize the Director General of NALA, Ato Abraham Chosha and the Director of Library Services, Ato Yared Tefera.  If not for the efforts of these two gentlemen, this project would not have come together.  Please join me in a special round of applause for them .I would also like to thank my Public Affairs Team at the U.S. Embassy, as well as our American Center Program Specialist Fitsum Seyoum.  I am truly proud of the perseverance that you have shown to see this project through, from idea to completion.

Tonight, as you have seen and heard, we are dedicating this Center to an American aviation visionary and great friend to Ethiopia, Col. John C. Robinson.  I am pleased that we have a number of people here this evening to help us celebrate Col. Robinson, in particular his foster son, Ato. Degu; and the author of a book on Col. Robinson, Yahoshuah Israel.  Thank you both for being here this evening!

To establish the Center, we have invested almost half a million dollars in renovations, computers, internet infrastructure, iPads, Maker Space technology, and other digital resources. The idea behind this American Center is to catalyze and empower the most dynamic and innovative parts of Ethiopian culture and spirit, with a particular focus on the youth.

In addition to commemorating Col. Robinson, we are dedicating the programming room to my left and the Maker Space room to my right to important individuals in the history of Ethio-American friendship: Melaku Beyen, the first Ethiopian student to study medicine in the U.S., and Mignon Ford, a leader in education and women’s empowerment in Ethiopia.  We are delighted to have Mignon’s son Professor Abiyi Ford here with us this evening to celebrate.  Thanks for being here Abiyi! Our Mignon Ford Maker Space is designed for budding entrepreneurs and future engineers, and we expect to welcome hundreds of visitors to use our technology resources and attend our programs every week.

President Obama has made the promotion of Africa’s youth a key priority, symbolized by the Young African Leadership Initiative – Mandela Washington Fellowship.  I am pleased to see so many of our YALI fellows here this evening and I look forward to your continued participation and support of the American Center.  I also want to thank all of our Girls Can Code participants who are here this evening as “Tech Ambassadors!”  These amazing 11thgrade girls spend every Saturday together learning about computer coding and other important life skills, and will now be able to come to our American Center to use our Lego Robotics and Kano computer kits, among other tools.  They will be demonstrating these technologies for you this evening as you walk around and explore all of the resources that we have to offer!  Thanks for being here this evening girls!

Tonight’s grand opening not only officially inaugurates the American Center, but also launches our opening week of events, open houses and thematic programs, including our new TechTuesday event tomorrow evening!  In addition, there will be programs on English language learning using our iPad apps; over 190,000 eBooks and 1.5 million graduate dissertations available for academic use; massive open online courses led by our alumni, and sessions on how to study in the United States, to name only a few!  I hope you will all take the time to look at our program calendar to see what else we have in store.

In closing, I want to point out the beautiful symbolic piece of art to my right that we had specially commissioned for the American Center.  A special thanks to Ato Bekele Mekonnen of the Addis Ababa School of Art for his leadership in this project, entitled Ethio-American Friendship!