August 9, 2022

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At the YSEALI Environmental Responsibility Town Hall – United States Department of State

5 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Pleng Chan

MS GARCIA:  Well, it’s my pleasure to be here today with all of you and the Secretary.  I wanted to welcome you to the YSEALI town hall on environmental responsibility.  Everyone knows me, and I know them, but I Amparo Garcia.  I’m a Cultural Affairs officer.  And without further ado, I’d like to introduce the Secretary of State Antony Blinken.  (Applause.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Thank you.  (In Khmer.)  (Laughter.)  Wonderful.  Wonderful to be with all of you.  And I have to tell you I was especially looking forward to seeing all of you participants in the YSEALI program.  I’m going to focus, I think, today on the environment, on climate, on some of the incredible work that you’ve been doing. 

But I just wanted to say at the outset this program is one of the things that is nearest and dearest to my heart, to that of President Biden, and of course when we both worked with President Obama it’s something that he felt pretty strongly about.  Because, as you know from your own experience, it’s doing so many wonderful things to connect some of the most remarkable members of the younger generation here in Cambodia and throughout Southeast Asia with the United States, with young Americans, with our leading universities, and hopefully not only giving you some experience and knowledge and tools to build on the things that you want to do back home, but also creating remarkable networks among each other that last well beyond your formal participation in the program.

Cambodia is going to be hosting the next big session of YSEALI later this year.  I think it’s an opportunity to bring together another remarkable generation of young people.  So we’re really, really looking forward to that.  And at the same time, there’s a very strong network here in Cambodia, the thousands of Cambodians who are part of the YSEALI network, the 300 or so alumni at this point.  But I’m eager to learn from you about your experience with the program but also, especially, the work that you’re doing, the experience you’re having working to help protect the environment, to deal with the challenges that all of our countries face with climate change to build a really sustainable future where people all across Cambodia can provide for themselves, provide for their country.

I was just – by the way, I came from a wonderful program that we have with Cambodians who are in the agricultural sector, and I saw some of these remarkable products that we’ve helped build partnerships to produce and export, from cashew nuts to mangos, but done in an environmentally protective way.  And all of this is, I think, a tremendous possibility in the future of making sure that we are doing what’s necessary both to protect our planet but also to give our people opportunity.  And I know that each of you in different ways is working on that. 

So I’m eager to not talk and really to listen to each of you and to have a conversation.  So why don’t I stop there and we can open it up.

MS GARCIA:  All right.  Thank you, sir.  Well, to open it up – oh, I think they want to clap.  (Applause.)  Good, good.  So to open it up, I’d like to turn it over to Cynthia Chen (ph), who is going to start us off with a brief story about her experience. 

QUESTION:  So good morning, Mr. Secretary, and good morning, Mr. Ambassador, and good morning, everyone.  Really, thank you for coming here and (inaudible) with YSEALI.  (Inaudible) ambassador working on the topic of fish migration and the chain of water quality and (inaudible) the Mekong River. 

Before YSEALI, I was not doing so good at school, but along the way I did a (inaudible).  And I was surrounded by a lot of great people, and they kept telling me that you did a great job and you should apply to YSEALI.  But I keep – I have a certain doubt because of my GPA is only 2.0, and I kept questioning my ability to learn and to grow.  But with them to encourage me to apply to YSEALI, and I passed YSEALI, and during the fellowship I actually met with one inspiring woman named Susie Lacey (ph).  It’s the best (inaudible).  And she said to me, like, the first thing is come and tell us in front of us young people that – the YSEALI fellows.  She said that thank you, and America is glad to have you here, and what you did matters for this generation and the next generation.

At the moment I feel, like, awake because really, those things and – I mean, like, we really have those things as we as Cambodians.  And we are young.  We are very energetic.  And with those support, those acknowledgements, those recognitions, we feel like it helps us to live just like a quarter of (inaudible) say that it’s never too young to live.

Thank you.  (Applause.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  What you said is really important because – and it’s especially important for me to hear that because one of the things that happens is as you get older – (laughter) – you kind of get more and more set in your ways.  Even if you try to have the most open mind possible, we all are the product of our own experiences and what we’ve done.  And the most important thing is for all of you, this generation and the generation that will follow you, to make sure that we are thinking in fresh ways and new ways about the challenges we face. 

And the simple truth is this just because we did something one way for the last 50 years doesn’t mean we need to do it the same way for the next 50 years.  So your ability to think anew about things, to look at maybe how we can do something better, and then to challenge all of us who may be in positions of responsibility to do the same thing – that’s the most important thing.  That’s how we make progress.  So thank you. 

MS GARCIA:  Well, thank you very much.  With that, I would like to invite our friends from the press to please step outside.

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