The US Ambassador to Sri Lanka praises Thisuri Wanniarachchi’s work in her July 4th speech

Remarks made by the Ambassador Butenis at the Independence Day 2010 celebrations

July 2, 1010

Good Evening.  Mr. Minister, friends of the US Embassy, welcome to our annual July 4th celebration.  I’m honored to be hosting you at our reception, my first as Ambassador here in Colombo.  I would like to give a special welcome to the Honorable Minister of Petroleum Industries, Susil Premajayanth who is representing the Government of Sri Lanka this evening.  He, like many of you, is no stranger to our festivities.  We are honored by his participation tonight.

This weekend, in towns, villages and cities across the United States, Americans will celebrate the 234th anniversary of our independence.  Families and friends will join together to grill hotdogs and hamburgers at their local parks; to watch high school bands and fire trucks proceed in parades down Main Street, or to catch colorful firework displays that light up the nighttime sky.  July 4th is a celebration of all things American—our traditions, our culture and our values.  Tonight we’re happy to be celebrating our Independence Day with our friends in Sri Lanka.   We might not have the fireworks and high school band, but I hope you will enjoy the touch of Americana that we’re bringing to you this evening.

Beyond the fanfare and festivities, tonight we are also celebrating the partnership between Sri Lanka and the United States—-a friendship that began when American ships docked in these harbors shortly after our independence from Great Britain; and continued when Buddhist and Christian theologians and missionaries from the United States founded schools and hospitals; and further strengthened when the United States opened its Embassy here in Colombo shortly after Sri Lanka’s own country’s independence from Great Britain.

But tonight I don’t want to focus only on our historical ties; I want to look at the present and future.  Our relationship is strong, vibrant, and ever-expanding.  If you look over the audience, you’ll see what I mean.  In attendance tonight are Government officials, business leaders, educators, members of NGOs, journalists, military officials, alumni of American universities, and many Sri Lankans who are also US citizens, or who hold permanent residence in the United States, or who visit as tourists, students, businesspersons or to visit family.  All of you are here tonight because you are a key element in making our relationship stronger.

Let me give you a few examples of individuals and groups that demonstrate the breadth and depth of our friendship.

Here tonight is a young writer named Thisuri Wanniarachchi. A few months ago, Thisuri sent me a book she wrote called Colombo Streets.  It’s about a young Tamil girl from Kilinochchi who loses her family through terrible tragedies and who moves to Colombo to live with her adoptive Sinhalese family.  I was immediately struck by Thisuri’s talent and creativity.  She’s now going to participate this summer in a prestigious workshop for young writers at Kenyon College in Ohio.

I also want to highlight tonight the work of the American Chamber of Commerce and its members in strengthening commercial ties between our two countries.  Collectively, AmCham-member companies contribute to a trade and commercial partnership that accounts for billions of dollars of trade and commerce, employ tens of thousands of Sri Lankans, and help make the U.S. one of Sri Lanka’s most important economic partners.

Also here tonight are representatives from the US-Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission.  The Commission has enabled hundreds of Sri Lankans to go to the United States to pursue advanced degrees, conduct research, or teach at colleges and universities.  At the same time, scores of Americans have come here to learn about Sri Lankan cultures and traditions.

Another important group that I would like recognize is our partners from Sri Lankan and international NGOs and international organizations.  In the last two years, the United States has contributed over $140 million dollars in assistance to Sri Lanka.  Those funds assist the Government’s demining efforts in the North; provide food to newly resettled IDPs; support the construction and repair of schools and hospitals; and enable a multitude of other programs and initiatives.  We work closely with the Government of Sri Lanka to identify needs, but it’s these Sri Lankan and international NGOs and International organizations that transform our contributions into concrete projects and support for Sri Lankans across the island.

While they could not be here tonight, I want to mention the Sri Lankan military cadets who have attended  U.S. service academies since 2003, including a cadet who just left for our Air force Academy,  all contributing to the strong connection between our two militaries.

Lastly, tonight I also want to recognize our colleagues from the Government.  On a daily basis, members of my staff and I work hand in hand with our Sri Lankan government counterparts.  We work together on a range of issues of mutual concern:  protecting people against human trafficking and exploitation; addressing both global and local environmental concerns; and promoting greater trade and commerce between our countries—these are just a few examples.  Most of our interaction never makes it into the press, but our cooperation is both effective and essential in advancing issues of mutual concern.
In conclusion, I thank each and every one of you for your efforts in making sure that our friendship remains strong.

Thank you all for coming tonight and for celebrating our Independence Day.  I hope you enjoy the rest of the evening.

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