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Remarks at Ground-Breaking Ceremony Early Childhood Education Building

Peter A. Prahar — Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America

May 18, 2010 — Yap State, FSM

One Building, Six Challenges

Let me begin by paying my respects to the traditional leaders of Yap.

Honorable Governor Sebastian Anefal, former Governor Vincent Figir, Director of Education Margaret Margou, Major General Donald Goldhorn, honored guests, ladies and gentlemen.

We are gathered here this morning to break ground – at long, long last – on the Early Childhood Education Building.

This is the first infrastructure project requested by Yap State under the Amended Compact signed in 2004, six years ago, to actually get underway.

I trust that this start signals that the logjam has broken at last and that work will begin soon on other infrastructure projects requested by Yap State, including renovation of the hospital, construction of additional new school buildings, and, if funding permits, replacement of several bridges.

Let me use this momentous occasion to issue six challenges to the stakeholders in this project.

Challenge #1: First, to the Raymond Tamow, owner of T-Company. Congratulations on having won the award to build this school through a fair and open competitive process. And now the challenge: To build a school building that will stand as a tangible symbol of the importance of education and provide decades of service to the young children of Yap, their teachers, and their families. Compact financial assistance is scheduled to end in 2023 – 13 short years from now. It is the intention of the United States to have helped the FSM and its state governments construct infrastructure – such as this building - that will continue to be of use for many years after the end of Compact funding. The U.S. Government has no interest in providing funds for junk buildings or junk infrastructure. I would hope that you, the contractor, will make sure that everyone on your payroll and on the job site understands the importance of what he is doing and is committed to putting his best effort into delivering quality workmanship – something they can proudly show their kids and grandkids in later years and say “I worked on that.”

Challenge #2: Another challenge – this one to the community and Department of Education: Take care of this building. Let’s make sure that it’s a place we can be proud of every day – trash and graffiti free, with functioning restrooms, and outfitted with appropriate instructional materials and equipment. Greet each incoming class in September with a fresh coat of paint and other repairs. Use the building to send the message that education is important and that it is valued.

Challenge #3: And to the teachers that will work in this building, this challenge: Have the commitment to your careers and to your students to not only get your teaching credentials, but also to keep up with developments in your field.

We all know how important the first years of a child’s life are to success later on in life. This is a time when children first see themselves, learn to think about how they function, and learn how they expect others to function in relation to them. For this reason, the teachers and caretakers in an early childhood education program must be carefully chosen and specially trained. This work requires the very best making their very best efforts.

We also know that thinking about early childhood education is evolving. In the past, we have concentrated on child’s learning through play. We now know that children can successfully begin academic work much earlier in life. For this reason, programs in the U.S and elsewhere are incorporating more educational approaches and academic material in their early childhood education programs. I challenge you to do the same.

Challenge #4: Now a challenge for the teaching staff in the elementary, middle and high schools. We know that a well conducted early childhood education program will give students a significant advantage when they start elementary school. But we also know this advantage will fade away in grades three and four if they do not continue to receive well structured training in well managed classrooms. In other words, you are responsible for maintaining the learning momentum that the students gain through participation in the early childhood education program. It is a big responsibility, one that lasts for more than a decade and one that requires a continuous team effort to meet successfully.

Challenge #5: In handing out challenges today, one of the most important – perhaps the most important - goes again to the parents and communities: There must be meaningful parental and community involvement in educating your children.

In the U.S., in fact, we have learned that the single most important factor in a child’s success in education is parental involvement. Here in Yap, I’d say that links to the family and community, home culture, and home language are just as important if not more so. This is not a responsibility that can be handed off to the teachers and Department of Education alone. A child’s parents and other caregivers need to be an integral part of the education of a child in order to provide support, encouragement, interaction, and stimulus.

Challenge #6: Finally, a challenge to everyone here and maybe the most difficult one: Make a commitment that only local food will be served on this campus.

Let’s begin developing healthy eating habits from early childhood. The citizens of the FSM are facing a health catastrophe as a result of what are called “life-style” diseases: diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease. We can trace these directly to the epidemic of childhood and adult obesity caused by consumption of large amounts of saturated fat, salt, and refined carbohydrates. All these are found in imported canned goods and rice. All are found in extraordinary amounts in the “junk foods” like soda pop, ramen, and potato chips. Let’s get this garbage out of the schools and out of the students’ mouths.

We know what a healthy diet consists of and, thankfully, all the elements of that diet are available here in abundance in Yap: lean meat and fish, vegetables, and fruits. These provide the protein, fiber, and micronutrients like calcium and Vitamin C needed to grow healthy children into healthy adults.

We are all committed to ensuring that the children that attend this school and others later on acquire the skills needed to succeed in the 21st century’s global economy and become leaders in their communities and nation. We also need to make sure they are healthy enough to grasp the opportunities and choices this education will open for them.

So there you have it: One building, six challenges.

On behalf of President Obama and the American people, I wish you all the best in meeting these challenges.

I will be back when this building has been completed to see what progress you are making in educating the young people of Yap State – both in mind and in body.

Thank you.