Honoring a Great Gal [Archives:1998/31/Reportage]

August 3 1998

Her name is Marjorie Ransom. In the mid-1970s, she started the Fulbright Scholarships, AIYS, YALI and other American cultural and educational programs which have had an enormous inpact on Yemen. She was invited back in Sanaa last week by the Fulbright Alumni Association of Yemen (FAAY). Nearly 80 former Fulbrighters came to the dinner hosted for her.

Also honored on the occasion was Adam Ereli, outgoing USIS Director, who helped found the FAAY, which will pay for 2-3 additional scholarships every year.
US Ambassador Barbara Bodine, who spoke on the occasion, urged the Yemenis and Americans to support the organization. “The contribution Fulbright graduates made to Yemen’s progress makes FAAY a deserving cause to support,” she said.

Excerpts from some of the speakers:
1: Dr. Abdulaziz Saqqaf:
I would like to express my personal pleasure in being here tonight and to participate in honoring Marjorie, who has made a great difference in my life. I remember when I was preparing to go to the US. I was very worried. I did not fill in the forms well. Marjorie swooped over me and helped me with the form.
That was a long time ago. I’ve filled in many forms since. Then it was time to fit in. I was scared of competing with American students. I was a stranger and needed to belong.

I remember McKinnon Hall. Room 14. I was assigned to live with an American room mate. In our first encounter, he asked me, “Where are you from?” “I am from Yemen,” I answered. He looked puzzled, which I expected, and then said, “Which state is that?”
There and then I knew I was going to be fine. I don’t say in a derogatory sense, but in the sense that everybody can belong in America. You cannot be a foreigner.
Athens, Ohio, was a stepping stone to go to Harvard. I know that scholarship has made a difference in my life. I am going to make sure my kids are availed the same opportunities. That is why I am involved with FAAY.
2. Ambassador Barbara Bodine:
With us here tonight are both the leaders of the old and new generations of Yemen. Those who have helped in building up Yemen today, a Yemen in the process of democratization and reform. In this sense, we all have something in common, a belief in the future potential of this country and a personal commitment to do whatever we can as individuals to help realize its potential. We have another common element. We are here together as graduates of American universities. I’m therefore proud and honored to be among you all as my colleagues. We’re here tonight to celebrate what I feel is a milestone in the development in both Yemen and Yemeni-American relations. This milestone is the formation of the Fulbright Alumni Association of Yemen (FAAY).
The contributions which all you have made to Yemen is an eloquent and sufficient testimony to the value of not just the Fulbright Scholarship Program, but the USAID, and other programs which have funded the study of 12,000 Yemeni students in the US.
Equally important is what your experiences have contributed to the people and the government of the US. Senator Fulbright, when he legislated the program over 50 years ago, said that the purpose was to promote mutual understanding and friendly relations. That is what the FAAY is all about – using the experience of study in the US to develop Yemen and to strengthen the relations.
The people here tonight are proof that the Fulbright Program works. In the jargon of the strategic management school, I don’t know of any more compelling performance indicators better than that. Today I’m happy to say the relationship between the US and Yemen is flourishing. Because of your experience in the US, you have worked to help your countrymen and women and policy makers, opinion makers and others to understand us better and to work with us in a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect.
I recognize that what you have achieved has not come easily. There were times when being associated with the US was not necessarily a great career move or politically correct, when it could have brought on you suspicion, even times of harassment. Yet, you stood by us, and never forsake our mutual friendship. Tonight, allow me to thank you, for all you have done for us, for your support and staying true to your ideals and principles.
American universities are the best in the world for one reason – the people support them. The challenge before us now is to expand the number of scholarships for Yemenis to study in the US. The US government currently spends about $ 100,000 per year through the Fulbright program for Yemeni students. We want and we need more. With your help, we could raise an additional $ 100,000 and double the number of scholarships available for Yemeni students. So far, thanks to the generosity of companies such as the Hayel Saeed Group, Nabors, and individuals such as Ambassador and Marjorie Ransom, we are on the right path.
3. Mrs. Majorie Ransom:
I want to commend my dear friend Dr. Abdulaziz Al-Saqqaf, for the newly founded Fulbright Alumni Association, for their excellent work in bringing together some of the best talents and intellects in Yemen.
I’m immensely pleased and honored to stand here tonight; to be back in my beloved Yemen, with my husband (David) and so many dear friends.
I first arrived here in 1966, its distinctive people, its strong traditions of cooperation, and hard working people. Our first stay was not long, due to regional political complications.
We dreamt of coming back. David in 1972 became Yemen’s desk office in the state department in Washington. He was able to make into a visit by Secretary William Rogers a leg to Sana’a. That set in motion, the return of closer relations between our two countries.
When we returned in 1975, there were many pleasant surprises. The mid-70’s witnessed growing Saudi and US aid to Yemen. It was also a time when American oil companies came to look for oil. Later in the decade, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh was sworn in,. He remains the President today. He presided over a remarkable period of development, oil, education, and democracy.
The unification of North and South Yemen is an astounding act, unique in the Arab world and even the entire world. I had the privilege today of meeting President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and I took the opportunity to mention to him the Fulbright Program, and the important results that were visible in Yemen are those who were able to study abroad and in the US.
In Yemen’s relationship with the US, I see with my perspective of 33 years of experience, a record of close and fruitful association, which will certainly continue. My husband and I are very proud to have had a small part in that.
I can’t say how please I’ am that Barbara Bodine is the US Ambassador to Yemen. She is an excellent representative to the US and Yemen.
The Fulbright is an excellent program which deserves to be supported by individuals, companies and even governments. Across Arab World, contributions from governments, the private sector and others have increased. The governments of Morocco, Jordan, Syria and Egypt contribute significant amounts to the Fulbright effort.
My career is about helping talented people help themselves. I’m very happy tonight to come back to Yemen, and to see the fruits. I salute many of the men and women that have made such a difference. Thank you so much for this.
4. His Excellency Mr. Abdulaziz Abdul Ghani:
I am very happy to be here today to welcome Mrs. Ransom, who is actually one of the best friends of Yemen. The Fulbright program is one of her babies. She started many things in Yemen. We all studied in the USA and we noticed how useful that is. Therefore, we decided to send our kids to study there.
I hope that the cultural cooperation between Yemen and the USA will develop more and more. I would like to use this opportunity to thank all those who made an event like this possible, and those who helped establish the FAAY.