Remarks by Ambassador Nina Hachigian at the National University of Malaysia (UKM) for the ASEAN Youth Volunteers Program (AYVP)

Mr. Vice Chancellor, Mr. Deputy Vice Chancellor,

Mr. Under Secretary,

AYVP Alumni,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honored to be here today with all of you to kick off the next phase of U.S.-ASEAN cooperation.

Next year, ASEAN will come together even more closely as an economic community.

ASEAN unity is good for ASEAN, it is good for the United States, and it is good for the world.

ASEAN integration means our exporters and investors will have more trade opportunities which will create more jobs here.

A more cohesive ASEAN will be more able to tackle challenges that we share like trafficking and terrorism, and it will be able to play an even stronger stabilizing force in Asia where many big powers seek influence. It will be heard even more on global issues of the day.

In the spirit of ASEAN integration, the United States is more than delighted to help the young people of ASEAN contribute to ASEAN and to our world.

Before becoming President, Barack Obama said in his auto-biography Dreams from my Father, “the best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.”

I think this sums up exactly what the ASEAN Youth Volunteers Program is doing in the region. It’s giving young people a way to channel their desire to do something worthwhile.

And it’s giving them an opportunity to effect change not only for themselves, but for the region and the world.

When Prime Minister Najib took the gavel as the new ASEAN Chair in Nay Pyi Taw a couple of weeks ago, he said, “Malaysia’s job next year is to make ASEAN as close as possible to the people.”

What a great priority for ASEAN as it embarks on leading the ASEAN Community. What is even better is that Malaysia has already shown this commitment by making the ASEAN Youth Volunteer Program a reality.

Through the endeavors of the Ministry of Youth and Sports’ and with our collaboration, we were able to shape this program. The United States Government believes in the power of volunteerism.

That is why we are so happy to support this program, and other youth programs in the region like the Young Southeast Asia Leaders Initiative, our Fulbright scholarships, and Peace Corps programs in Southeast Asia.

We know that the Malaysian government, and UKM and the Ministry of Youth and Sports share this enthusiasm about volunteerism and this commitment to youth engagement. Our joint decision to strengthen and expand this partnership means we are acting on our shared belief.

Aside from the impact that we know volunteerism can have on communities, the AYVP offers much more.  It offers young people a platform to develop themselves in ways that go far beyond what they learn in a classroom, or in their professional careers. And it is helping to create an ASEAN identity that the participants will carry with them the rest of their lives.

I was just in Myanmar with President Obama, who highlighted the U.S. Commitment to youth development in the region through the Young Southeast Asia Leaders Initiative – YSEALI. As you know President Obama held the very first YSEALI Town Hall here in Malaysia last year. He held another one in Myanmar on the margins of the U.S.-ASEAN Summit and the

East Asia Summit. YSEALI focuses on four themes:  economic development, environmental protection, education, and civic engagement. So we see our support to AYVP as part of our broader youth engagement in the region.

In Myanmar, I had a chance to meet with a group of young people in the YSEALI program, two from every country. A comment from a one of them stuck with me. He said that before becoming involved in YSEALI, he did not really appreciate or understand ASEAN. But having had a chance to participate in that program, he was beginning to see the real impact of ASEAN.

I suspect many of the AYVP alumni may feel similar things. As ASEAN gains even greater prominence in the region and the world, which I know is also a priority for the Malaysian government as ASEAN Chair next year, a sense of

ASEAN identity and community is important.

So it is heartening that people like the YSEALI participant who I met in Myanmar are starting to see how they fit into this community, and how acting together, ASEAN Member States and their people have more impact than they do when acting alone.

In this first month I have been struck at the number of things that ASEAN works on across its three pillars. It’s quite astounding and ambitious. But I think that youth engagement is perhaps one of the most important ASEAN endeavors.

With youth representing 65% of ASEAN’s population, I don’t think there is a more worthy time for youth initiatives than the present. The ability of this community to meet challenges like climate change or a decline in biodiversity, which affect us all, no matter which region we call home, will depend on engaging and empowering young people.

This is why I am proud of our commitment to the young people of ASEAN.

Fulbright is another one of our programs. The Fulbright program annually awards 700 grants for exchanges of scholars between the United States and ASEAN member states.

And in YSEALI, 273 YSEALI members participated in exchange programs to the United States, and since YSEALI’s inception in 2013, more than 9,000 ASEAN young men and women have become YSEALI members.

These aren’t just numbers; these represent thousands of individual stories of people who have benefited from a more connected, more youth-driven world. And what I really want to do today is stop talking and hear your stories.

What I have been trying to do more than anything in my first month on the job is to listen. And it’s your voices, the voices of young people that I most want to hear.

You already demonstrated a belief in volunteerism to apply for the program in the first place. Congratulations on your acceptance; I understand the process is very competitive!

And I hope that AYVP is allowing you to believe something else: that you have a connection to and something to offer to your

ASEAN neighbors. And that you have something to learn from those neighbors as well

Mr. Vice Chancellor,

Datuk Dr. Noor Azlan, the commitment of UKM to harness the power of these young people from around the region will have a lasting impact on their communities and on them. They will grow together as ASEAN citizens in a commitment that will last a lifetime.

Mr. Under Secretary,

Mr. Effendi Razali , you must be feeling very proud of your Ministry’s investment of resources into a program like this.

You have made a very important decision for the future of this region.

And I’d like to thank USAID for helping to share the great commitment to volunteerism that is part of American culture by providing on-the-ground support for this amazing program.

We are so pleased to mark the continuing of this partnership today. Thank you very much for your hospitality. I look forward to discussing with you how we can support this program so that it can have an even greater impact on youth and the larger ASEAN community than it does today.