Deputy Chief of Mission Robert Hilton’s Remarks at the Opening of U.S.-funded Refurbished School in Batticaloa

Governor Bogollagama, Member of Parliament Moulana, teachers, staff and students, good afternoon and as-salamu alaykum.  I’m delighted to be here today to formally open this beautiful addition to the Bathuriya Vidyalaya school, and most importantly, to meet with some of the engaging young people who are studying here.  And let me thank the students who performed for us for their songs about unity and coexistence.

The future of Sri Lanka is its youth, and that future depends on access to a quality education in a safe and nurturing environment.  Originally built in 1976, this all-girls school was selected by the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) for upgrades based on recommendations from the Sri Lankan Eastern Province Ministry of Education and the Disaster Management Center. Together, the U.S. Government and the Sri Lankan Ministry of Education have invested 95 million rupees (approx. $624,750) to build this three-story addition to the school.  This addition means that another 480 students will have the opportunity to pursue their education.

The walls of this new addition offer a safe environment for students to explore new concepts and challenge old notions.  The windows provide students a view of different landscapes of ideas, while the doors open to new opportunities.  This is what a school represents: a chance for Sri Lanka’s youth to learn, to examine, to challenge.  It is especially important to offer these opportunities to young women and girls.  The education of women has historically been overlooked in many societies, including my own.  I’m pleased we can provide this assistance to the future female leaders of Sri Lanka.

There is more to this structure than just a school, however.   We are standing in a densely populated area that is unfortunately vulnerable to natural disasters.  Because of this, we have worked with the Disaster Management Center to construct a building that can serve as an emergency shelter for the local population in times of need.  The kitchen can prepare 500 meals a day and the new 35,000-liter water catchment system and 2,000 and 500 liter water tanks will ensure safe drinking water for anyone who shelters here.

Over the past four years, PACOM and our Embassy teams have worked closely with the Eastern Province Ministry of Education and the Disaster Management Center to bring us to this day.  I would like to thank them for their support and cooperation throughout this project, and also thank the school principal, Mr. H.M. Mansour, and our partners at Magbool Engineering Consultants and Hairu Engineering Consultancy (pvt) ltd.  I also want to recognize the U.S Army Corps of Engineers for their essential contributions and thank Richard Stanlee and the Pacific Command/U.S. Embassy Civil Military Support Element.  They made it all possible.

This cooperation is part of the U.S. Embassy and government’s support for a reconciled and unified Sri Lanka.  We stand shoulder to shoulder with the Sri Lankan government as it rebuilds the economy, advances good governance and the rule of law, and works to ensure equal rights and human rights and equal opportunity for all.  I am pleased to be here today to inaugurate a small piece of this vision.