The State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs will host several programs this year to protect and promote the rights of persons with disabilities. The first of those programs is a sports exchange that began today and includes 4 deaf students from Fa’atuatua Christian College in Samoa – Seigafo Mavaega, Rosita Simone, Emo Lapi, and Ionatana Leutele.

For the next two weeks or so, Seigafo, Rosita, Emo, and Ionatana and their coaches will participate in the Deaf Track and Field Games in Washington, D.C. as well as leadership training, sportsmanship development, and cultural activities in Washington and New York. I understand that they arrived in the States yesterday and that the program is off to a great start.

Deaf athletes Mavaega Seigafo, Rosita Simone, Lapi Emo, Ionatana Leutele. Sitting – Coach Iamafana Petaia, Reverend Mafi, Chargé d’Affaires Chad Berbert and Caroline Conlon.

Standing: Seigafo Mavaega, Rosita Simone, Emo Lapi, Ionatana Leutele. Sitting: Coach Petaia I’amafana, Reverend Mafi, our Chad Berbert, and Caroline Conlon.

Invited by the American Embassy and the State Department’s SportsUnited office, the athletes are part of a group of 19 deaf youth (ages 13 to 18) from the Pacific region including Fiji, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, and Micronesia as well as Samoa. The program is designed to focus on athletic training and competition as well as personal development through sport.

Our Samoan athletes have been preparing and training hard for the trip with support from Senese Inclusive Education Support Services. Senese Director Donna Lene says, “This is an exciting and tremendous opportunity for our deaf Samoans to train abroad with other deaf youth. It will be an eye opening experience for them and a chance to meet new people and develop their social and sporting skills in a signing environment.”

Senese’s Deaf Services Coordinator Petaia I’amafana and Deaf Services Advisor Caroline Conlon are accompanying the athletes on the trip. A farewell ceremony to bless the participants was held at Senese Campus Vaitele on April 26. Thank you to Senese for partnering on the trip and to the Central Bank of Samoa, Ah Liki Wholesale, and AusAID for their support and assistance as well.

I have written before about the importance of supporting and promoting sports programs for people who happen to have disabilities. I’m delighted that our SportsUnited team has launched this exciting exchange program and that we have several fine athletes from Samoa participating.

To the athletes: Manuia le tou faigamalaga ma le tou alofaiva atu i fā’agatama. O tou māmā na.

I am pleased to be back in Samoa for the second time in a month … this time to meet a high-level US delegation arriving from Washington. Leading the delegation is my good friend Dr Kurt Campbell, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. With him will be Admiral Patrick Walsh (Commander of the US Pacific Fleet), Nisha Biswal (Assistant Administrator of USAID), Brigadier General Richard Simcock (Principal Director of the Office for South/Southeast Asia), and several others.

Assistant Secretary Kurt M. Campbell.

Asst Secretary Dr. Kurt Campbell.

During the trip the team will meet with government officials, NGO leaders, entrepreneurs, veterans, scientists, and members of the general public in Samoa and seven other island nations.

Discussions will focus on the full range of issues of concern to those of us whose homelands touch the waters of the Pacific … including fisheries security, climate change, sustainable economic development, disaster planning, humanitarian relief, support for civil society, renewable energy R&D, regional political issues, and donor nation coordination.

Also on the agenda will be the Pacific Island Forum (to be held in Auckland just before the Rugby World Cup this September), as well as American business investment in the Pacific and ways to increase mutually beneficial business opportunities.

The composition of the delegation and the diversity of the agenda illustrate America’s “3D” commitment to robust engagement in the Pacific … through Diplomacy, Development, and Defense. We already have strong bilateral political, economic, and security relationships in our shared Pacific neighborhood. The current trip will take a broad inter-agency approach to building further on that firm foundation.

The journey started yesterday in Kiribati, where the delegation met with President Anote Tong for discussions focused on climate change and economic development prospects. There were wreath-laying ceremonies at a World War II monument and cemetery to commemorate the immense sacrifices made by Americans during the Battle of Tarawa and elsewhere in the Pacific in the service of peace, stability, and self-determination.

The delegation

As I write this, the delegation is en route from Kiribati to meet me here in Samoa, arriving in time for dinner. We will launch the visit with an outdoor banquet for senior officials and other community leaders, so that the American team can get a sense of the diversity and vibrancy of Samoan society in a festive, casual environment.

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