Assalamu Alaikum, Vannakam, and Aybuowan. President Saheed Rismy and friends, I’m delighted to be here as you mark your 72nd conference and thank you for the kind invitation. I was so impressed just now as you did the roll call and representatives of each of the 25 districts in Sri Lanka stood up – stood up proudly and with a spirit of service to represent your region. As we saw in the presentation today, your work to help vulnerable communities across the country shows the dynamism of this association.
As I was anticipating what I would say to you today, I reflected on what tomorrow, September 11, means to me, my country, and the world. For many of us, 9/11 has become a day of remembrance, resilience but also a day for service, building connection, and strengthening bonds among all communities of every ethnic and religious group.
Your warm welcome today reflects the wonderful hospitality I’ve appreciated from the Muslim community since I arrived here in Sri Lanka.
I had the privilege of visiting Colombo’s iconic Red Mosque soon after arriving and very much appreciated the congregation sharing their perspectives. I also had the pleasure of meeting members of the Muslim community during my travels around Sri Lanka, including visiting the oldest mosque in Jaffna and in Kandy, where I was able to meet a key YMMA member from the region along with members of the Muslim business community.
In April, I was honored to host an Ifthar for our Muslim friends, the first such in-person gathering after a break due COVID. It was a wonderful evening of fellowship with Muslim men and women who have made significant contributions in politics, business and society across Sri Lanka, a testament to the important contributions Muslims have been making to Sri Lankan society for over 1,000 years. It was also a memorable evening where I could enjoy my favorite dessert of all time, wattalapam. I know in many Muslim kitchens, the recipes of a good wattalapam are handed down for generations with the best jaggery.
The United States government values our partnership with Muslim communities across the world. Our Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken hosted an Eid celebration at the State Department this year, highlighting the importance we place in our engagement with Muslim communities in the United States and globally through our overseas missions.
I appreciate the YMMA’s long-standing friendship with our embassy and am especially pleased to be here celebrating our ties, and your successes and community contributions. The All Ceylon YMMA has played an important role since its inception in supporting communities, especially youth leaders with an ethos of service.
We at the U.S. Embassy have been proud to have invested in emerging youth leadership through support for the YMMA’s ‘Future Leaders Program’.
We believe the youth of Sri Lanka can help drive progress towards a peaceful, united, and prosperous. Your work is important to training the next generation of leaders who will build bridges of understanding and respect across Sri Lanka’s diverse communities.
As you all know, the world faces transnational challenges these days, and it is the rising generation of leaders like you who will help find innovative solutions. I want to applaud the work of the Bar Association represented by Saliya Pieris, the Guest of Honor today. He and his team have been courageous in speaking up for rule of law and speaking truth to power.
In Sri Lanka today, the country is facing major challenges and an economic crisis. During this period, your spirit of volunteerism is already helping to improve your communities, and you will continue to play a vital role. In my conversations with many of you before the event, you spoke about helping widows, preschoolers, and caring for the sick. The United States is a friend and partner to Sri Lanka during this challenging period. Since June, we announced $180 million in new humanitarian assistance – assistance that goes straight to those who need it the most to provide farmers with fertilizer and seeds, to help dairy farmers be more productive, providing meals to schoolchildren so they don’t go hungry at school and can instead play and learn with their friends, and the financing to SMEs that give small business owners just a chance to live out their dream. I met women in Kandy whose hopes were dashed during COVID but with business training and financing were able to build small businesses in handicraft and baked goods. But please know it’s not about the dollar amount of assistance but the true spirit of friendship, compassion, and partnership that we want to help the people of Sri Lanka. And it’s not just financial assistance, but the United States will continue to speak up for democracy, human rights for all, rule of law, good governance, and transparency.
I wish all the members of the All-Ceylon Young Men’s Muslim Association, and the women’s wing, the Young Womens’ Muslim Association, continued success. I want to especially acknowledge the work of Deshamanya Fawaza Thaha, the president of the Young Women’s Muslim Association here today. So, as you look around this room, please look at the person to your right and to your left, to the person in front of you and behind you. You are a strong, resilient association and community. We may not be able to fix all the challenges of the country overnight, but what you are doing matters. Do what you can for your community and for those in need. Your faith and your service are providing a great example to everyone in Sri Lanka. I believe in the hope of this community and know Sri Lanka will become stronger. Thank you.