Remarks by Ambassador Jean Elizabeth Manes at the
ILEA International Women’s Month
Community Outreach Event
Thursday March 22, 10:00 AM, ILEA
**This is a courtesy translation. Only the original Spanish language text should be considered authoritative.
It is a great joy to see so many young women — and very young women — gathered here this morning. For the students who are with us today, I want to tell you that you have a unique opportunity to meet these brave women law enforcement officers and listen to them talk about their struggles and triumphs, and maybe even discover your own passion.
The stories you will hear today will show you that women are kind and sweet, but also hard-working and affectionate. Women are also strong, courageous, and persevering. They are women who do not allow themselves to bow down under adversity. These qualities are necessary not only to work in the law enforcement, but for whatever path you decide to follow in your life, and to help create the space in other fields where women can also lead.
A big part of life is the search for passion. It is what makes us wake up in the morning and compels us to move forward. Because passion will teach us what our vision for the future is and what goals we want to achieve in life. It is my passion that has led me to where I am now. Since I was very young, I knew that I wanted to study foreign policy. I can not tell you exactly why, in my family there was nobody who did that, but when I graduated from school at the age of 18 I knew that I wanted to study foreign policy and I devoted all my energy to that.
At age 20 I decided that I was going to do an internship in Washington D.C. But, I knew that in order to achieve that goal, I had to be able to finance my own stay in Washington because the internship that I wanted was unpaid. Then the summer before I went to Washington, I worked hard to save money, at one point I had three jobs at the same time, but in the end I was able to go to Washington.
In Washington, I had two internship offers: a paid internship and an unpaid internship. The pay was not much in the paid position, but it was at least something to pay for food. However, the paid internship was for domestic affairs, not international affairs. And my passion was for international affairs. I talked with my parents about it. I imagine that some of you have also had this kind of conversation. Now that I am a mother – I have two daughters of 20 and 22 years old – I remember these conversations because now I have them with my own daughters about internships. My parents said: “Of course you have to take the paid internship”. But back then I did not want that. I wanted to follow my passion and I was willing to work up to three different jobs for months to save money and be able to follow my passion.
I accepted this unpaid internship and when I arrived in Washington mI shared a house with ten other roommates. You can imagine what it was like to wait for the bathroom in the morning! That’s a challenge for ten women. We lived on spaghetti, because we could buy three boxes of spaghetti for a dollar, and all the spaghetti that we cooked would last for a whole week. To this day, I do not like spaghetti. We lived a little tight for six months but I didn’t care, I was in Washington! I was following my passion!
And it was also this passion that motivated me to keep going during my internship, doing the work that nobody wanted to do (of course). There was a moment where all they had me doing was making photocopies — all day. But, persevered, and if there was anything I could do, I would offer my help. This disposition was valued by other officials, and eventually I was rewarded for my effort. Reaching a position like this is not achieved overnight. It is achieved by working consistently day after day. Every day is important, because every day is a step forward. When we find our passion, we must dedicate ourselves to it and work hard to achieve it.
I remember clearly, all those times where I was sitting in the last row in the audience room in the Capitol, listening to the political debates, and I thought: someday I will be there.
The, twenty-six years later, I was sitting in front of the Senators, representing my qualifications to be confirmed as Ambassador of the United States to El Salvador.
Next week, I will have have been the Ambassador in El Salvador for two years. My journey to this point started when I was a teenager, not much older than you, and it is not over yet. This is a journey which I constantly choose to continue. I chose it when I entered university; I chose it when I decided to dedicate my summer vacation to work to go to Washington; I chose it when I photocopied all day. I chose it on those days where I did not know if I was really going to achieve what I wanted. The road is not easy, there are obstacles and barriers of all kinds and difficult days. That’s why we need passion to help us get up in the morning and compel us to go to work or go to school.
If some of you still do not know what your passion is, and that’s fine. Maybe you’ll discover it today thanks to the professional women who are willing to help you on this path, and who are dedicating their time to the development of other young women. If your paths do not match what you see and hear today, keep trying new things. Surround yourself with inspired people and see what they are passionate about. In the end, you will find it if you do not stop looking for it.
Keep experimenting and keep working, because everything worthwhile takes work and the most difficult tasks have the greatest rewards. To all the women here today who are dedicating their time for the benefit of the next generation, to you I say, there is no better investment. I know it is something that comes from your heart, that you are willing to share your experiences and your challenges with this coming generation. I thank each of you for dedicating your time to raising the next generation of your countries.