May 31, 2006

Alexandra Hill and Patricia Schmid, representing the 2005–2006 Humphrey Fellows

All of us -- each in our own way –have traveled from afar to be here today. When we first arrived a year ago, we carried in our luggage — clothes, books, dreams, expectations... and a mixture of happiness, anxiety, and sadness for having left behind many loved ones.

A question occupied a space in our subjective luggage: what is this Hubert Humphrey Fellowship Program really all about?

A year later, we know this.

Hubert Humphrey was a visionary who fought for genuine cooperation between the United States and the rest of the world. At a deeper level still, a year later we understand that his legacy has not been forgotten — on the contrary, it lives and grows stronger every day through this Fellowship Program.

This program enables mid career professionals from around the globe to experience first hand the impressive array of resources, technologies, energy, and strengths that the United States has developed. This is truly the most powerful country in the world.

But the program also enables fellows to experience our shared humanity with the American people, who also struggle with many of the challenges we face in the developing world. We have realized that we had a lot to learn from the US, but furthermore we also had a lot to teach. People everywhere are suffering from mental disease, substance abuse, HIV, and countless other afflictions.

Despite social, cultural, and economic differences, the undeniable truth remains that people are in need of help -- black, white, Asian, Hispanic -- speaking English, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Swahili, or Albanian, this does not matter.

And so, our shared concern is how to help human beings build a life with dignity. Wherever they may be.

In the United States, Drug abuse and homelessness for the mentally ill demand our attention. Our societies cry out as well. HIV rates in Nigeria are almost overwhelming; India is plagued by growing heroine, tobacco, and alcohol use; Kosova must rebuild a health system destroyed by war, in Brazil, people with mental disabilities are still perceived as incapable to work; criminal gangs and generalized social violence haunt El Salvador. Tanzania has an increasing drug abuse situation. In Russia, young children are using alcohol. Ukraine has a severe problem with heroine use. In Syria, tobacco use is a large-scale problem… We have become much more aware today than a year ago of the need to help one another in figuring out ways to address these challenges of our homelands

But we also have shared our strengths. Of these strengths, one of the most inspiring for us is the example that the people of this country set for themselves and for others when they refuse to accept life as an unchangeable given, and use their freedom to fight for their rights.

The American people that walked with us during this year showed us their magnificent strength that comes from the capacity to respect and care for others.

The fellows in this program exemplify this kind of strength, as well. The kind of strength that keeps hope alive in the face of great hardship and pain. From our fellows we have learned that Nigeria has the happiest people on earth, that Syria has a well developed cuisine, producing delicious meals, that in India, the largest democracy in the world, there are 57 different languages; that Kosovo has a very resilient population that never gives up; that Cairo in Egypt is considered to be one of the safest cities in the world; that Brazilians are perhaps one of the most RACIALLY mixed people in the world; that in El Salvador people get together every Sunday to eat ‘pupusas’—in spite of wars, natural disasters, and gangs; that in Tanzania women occupy 40% of political ministries; that many Russians and Ukrainians, despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, still see one another as compatriots.

This past year, we, too, learned that we don’t belong to countries, that we are part of NATIONS, and that nations are ALIVE and made up of people just like the ones that we have the honor to represent today and to whom we owe ourselves.

People like our American friends who have been wonderful hosts to us … People like Fadi from Syria who is a thoughtful father; people like Adballah from Egypt who is a gentleman and a very good adviser; people like Benn from Nigeria who is a great representative of Nigerians’ strengths and happiness; people like Dhanesh from India and Stephen from Tanzania whose incredible capability of studying, has impressed all of us. People like Islam from Kosovo who can be named the personification of resilience. He has survived one war and one hurricane and he is also a very talented singer; people like Anna from Russia who is not only a skilled psychiatrist, but also a caring person, and an excellent drawer; people like Nataliya from Ukraine who is a warrior, a passionate psychologist and a very sweet mother; people like Patricia from Brazil who can be seen as intelligence and empathy concentrated in one person; people like Alex from El Salvador a brilliant person and one of the best friends one could ever have.

Internalizing all of this was an intense process. Now that we start looking back, we realize and begin to understand what this program is all about: international exchange, acquisition of knowledge, cooperation, respect to differences, collective thinking, and no imposition of beliefs. To establish and sustain something like that was the dream of Hubert Humphrey. When you see the world right now…the wars, the conflicts, the injustice, the cruelty… One may think that Hubert Humphrey was a dreamer…but he is not the only one…along the year Hubert Humphrey’s dream has become our dream too.

Unfortunately, the program is coming to an end –as all good things must come to an end. But we are not the same. We have all become friends in the true sense of the word…We have shared the good and the bad, our weaknesses and our strengths, our tears and our laughter—our vulnerabilities and our deep commitment to life and to those that are not as fortunate as we are. The sense of duty and responsibility that we initially felt towards our individual countries has grown into a life-long mission. We now know that we must make a difference — no matter where we are, for as long as we can.

We will remember each other forever. How can we not? Each of us has helped transform one another. We are more than fellows in a common project. We are now part of one another. And no piece of luggage is large enough to carry this gift. This gift we carry within.”