Ambassador Jess Baily’s remarks at the ribbon-cutting for the renovation of Rajko Zinzifov primary school in Cair, supported USAID’s Interethnic Integration in Education Project (IIEP) and EUCOM
October 6, 2016
“Mr. Mayor, Director Agushi, teachers, parents, and students – Mirdita, Dobar Den, Good morning.
I would like to begin my remarks with a big thank you to the choir that greeted us here. Those were beautiful voices that represented a lot of hard work that sang in three languages captured the spirt of this day better than anything I could say. I am delighted to be here today to commemorate the completion of the renovation in your school and also the activities that have gone on long before that and will continue long after.
In just a few minutes, we will cut a ceremonial ribbon to celebrate installing new doors and painting the walls in your school. These renovations, which others have noted, were funded by the United States European Command, but were made possible because of your efforts to improve interethnic cohesion among students and teachers.
To date, the United States military has renovated 61 schools across Macedonia, and there will be two more such ceremonies in the weeks ahead.
And while the physical refurbishment is indeed worthy of celebrating, I would like to focus on the less tangible, but critically important development happening here and in many other schools. USAID’s Inter-ethnic Integration in Education project works in partnership with local communities, such as Cair and the Ministry of Education to build bridges across ethnic divides in every school in Macedonia.
As part of the project, students and teachers of different ethnic backgrounds build a path toward better understanding and friendship through classroom projects, extracurricular clubs, sports, school outings, music and camps.
The Newspaper headlines here and elsewhere in the world will often focus on the divisions between people—divisions based on ethnicity, on religion, on other issues. Overcoming these tensions and bridging differences is not an easy task – no matter where you are.
For example, from its founding, the United States has struggled in overcoming ethnic and religious divisions. And it continues to struggle as recent news stories have made all too clear. As President Obama recently stated, overcoming racial divisions requires “forging consensus and fighting cynicism and finding the will to make change.” It requires that “we… learn to stand in each other’s shoes and look at the world through each other’s eyes.”
That is exactly what happens when students and teachers of different ethnicities and religions come together to learn, to play sports, to create art, to make beautiful music. Only by interacting together in positive ways can we understand each other’s lives.
Students and teachers however, cannot do it alone. They need the support of their families, their community, and their leaders. Everyone must make a concerted effort to overcome and heal these divisions.
Words are not sufficient to bring about lasting change. Real change requires action and deeds, starting with the very small acts that you see. I commend you, your families, your school and your communities for taking an action to make your school a better place. Only by taking these first steps, can we ensure that our communities are strong in the face of the misunderstandings and external pressures that inevitably, anywhere in the world, would threaten to tear you apart. Community resilience begins with mutual understanding and the difficult task of building unity.
Because we believe this goal is of utmost importance, the United States partner with the people of Macedonian through projects like the Interethnic Integration Education project to build a stronger, more cohesive society.
On behalf of all of my colleagues at the U.S. Embassy from the European Command and U.S.A.I.D. in Macedonia I wish you – the children, parents, teachers and community – the very best in this school year and all success in the future. And based on what I can see I know that success is for sure.
I would do one last thing, and I think it’s very important to do. Yesterday was World Teachers Day and I would like to take this moment to give a short round of applause to all the teachers who are helping in leading the students along this path.
Thank you very much for having me here today, and I look forward to cutting the ribbon soon.”