Thank you for inviting me to address the International Scouts and Guide Fellowship’s Third Africa Regional Conference this morning here in Abokobi.
I am always happy to attend events such as this, because civic engagement is at the heart of the U.S. – Africa partnership, which also focuses on cooperating to promote security, good governance, prosperity, and opportunity.
I myself was a second generation girl scout, and no doubt those early experiences in my youth contributed to my values, my sense of belonging and community, and my passion for helping others as an adult. I learned to “Make new friends, but keep the old; one is silver and the other gold.”
I remember how proud and special I felt on Tuesdays, wearing my uniform to school and exchanging knowing glances with others also in uniform, especially the bigger girls we all looked up to. I remember preparing to March — and marching — in the annual Memorial Day parade in my hometown.
In keeping with the scouting motto “Be Prepared,” today I am wearing my Brownie pin, my Girl Scout pin, stars representing my 2 years as a Brownie, my flying up wings, and even my mother’s Girl Scout scarf.
My father and nephew were Eagle Scouts. My nephew William was here in Ghana just last week and was sorry to miss this event. I was grateful to have that Eagle Scout at my side when we recently hiked up Table Mountain in South Africa.
Like a good shepherd, he made sure I was not left behind, even though I had to take many rest stops while many others in our group forged ahead.
One of the world’s most well-known Eagle Scouts was Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, 50 years ago this July.
Many civic leaders in the United States benefited from their experience as scouts, such as the late Senator Richard Lugar, who joined the ancestors this past Sunday.
Senator Lugar was a longtime leader in shaping U.S. foreign policy, whose Eagle Scout credentials featured in his obituary, alongside the many other accomplishments he achieved in his 87 years.
By being here today, all of you have shown your commitment to continue your own personal development and to being leaders in your communities. I am sure some of you have already organized community service events, while others have launched programs on youth empowerment.
If you haven’t already, I encourage you to seek out opportunities in your daily life to promote civic engagement and education among the younger generations – your actions today can have a positive impact on the future of the continent itself.
As you may know, a demographic sea change is coming between now and 2050, when the continent of Africa will double its population to more than two billion people. The percentage of Africans younger than 25 years of age will surpass 75 percent. In fact, here in Ghana, Already more than half the population is under age 25.
Members of this growing youth bulge will have high aspirations for employment and quality of life. Youth participation is vital to development and can mitigate cycles of poverty; build resilient, democratic societies; improve health outcomes, and strengthen economies. And organizations such as this one, the International Scouts and Guides Fellowship, can play a key role in guiding the future generations along the right path. The U.S. Government shares your goal of positive engagement with the youth.
I see we have some current scouts and guides in the audience. The U.S. Embassy in Ghana believes in you and in all of Ghana’s young leaders. The United States offers several opportunities for Ghanaian and other African youth. For example, we launched the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) in 2010 to invest in the next generation of African leaders.
Through YALI, the United States has committed significant resources to enhance leadership skills, bolster entrepreneurship, and connect young African leaders from across the continent with one another. The U.S. Embassy in Accra also facilitates more than 20 educational and cultural exchange programs that send hundreds of young Ghanaians to the United States annually.
I also suggest you think about pursuing higher education in the United States, or encouraging others to do so. Did you know that each year more than 3,000 Ghanaians study in the United States? Our Education USA advisors in Accra, Kumasi, and in other countries throughout Africa are available to help you with the process.
Many of us here today are former scouts and guides who ourselves have benefited from youth development programs and grown into leadership positions. We are now in a position to change others’ lives for the better.
Indeed, scouting is about developing the next generation of leaders and channeling their talents, passions, and potential in a positive direction. The youth have enormous potential to change the trajectory of the world in a positive or negative way. Our future depends on them.
Let’s help them get it right by instilling the discipline and values of scouting. Scouting is not so much about earning the merit badges as it is about the persistent effort and the knowledge built through learning new skills.
The effort toward earning the badge is where the real value lies. This is how scouts and guides start putting into practice their motto “Be Prepared,” which is indeed a key ingredient for success in life.
Thank you once again for inviting me here today. Each of you can be force multipliers for leadership, as you mentor aspiring young leaders. The real future of our world is in the hands of the youth – and from what I have seen, the future is very bright.
I’d like to leave you with this question: “Who mentored you?” And I’d like to urge all of us to redouble our efforts to “pay it forward.” I wish you continued fruitful deliberations during your conference here in Ghana.