November 22, 2015
Vanakkam! Thank you, Minister Gurukularaja for that kind introduction. Thank you, Principal Ashraf, for inviting me to visit your marvellous College. And thank you Chief Minister Wigneswaram for finding the time to join us today. Thanks to all of you for having me!
It is an honor and really a wonderful pleasure to be here at Osmania College. This is a historic institution, one that has been at the heart of Jaffna’s Muslim community for many years. We’ve been reminded of that role just this week, when I understand Osmania took in local families whose homes were damaged by flooding. There were over a hundred people, mostly women and children, living in classrooms. I know that some of those families are still on the grounds today, and our thoughts are with you.
Your hospitality for these families in need reflects the best instincts in all of us. This welcoming of these families illustrates your role in the community, and shows how a united community can overcome great obstacles.
It also shows just how far Osmania has come. We are here today to celebrate the future, but as we do that, we do not – we cannot – forget the past. That is particularly true on these grounds, where just over 25 years ago the Muslim community of Jaffna was gathered and told to leave their homes. Before the term “ethnic cleansing” was known, the Muslims of Jaffna experienced it. And the subsequent years were a very dark time. The damage, of course, was not just to buildings, like these ones, but also to people. There was great suffering, and the effects of that suffering are still being felt today. Without reliable access to schools like Osmania, a whole generation of young people suffered from limited educational opportunities. I know that this community – like the rest of Jaffna, the Northern Province, and all of Sri Lanka – are still rebuilding and recovering.
I join you today on behalf of President Obama. President Obama and the American people are committed to supporting you and your country in the long rebuilding process, and in the difficult journey of reconciliation among all peoples. And as we work to do that, I know that there is no better way to help than to support schools like Osmania. The education you all provide will enable girls and boys to enjoy greater opportunities and brighter futures. In this way, stronger schools will support the transition from conflict to peace. This will also require ensuring that all young Sri Lankans have access to education. Not only will this ensure equal access to improved opportunities, but it will enable everyone to better understand what happened – and why there can be no place for hatred and division in the future.
In these goals, the people of the United States stand with you. Since 2008, the U.S. Government has supported schools affected by the conflict in the North and East. We have helped you improve infrastructure and construct new facilities so that these schools can accept more students and guarantee year-round instruction.
Today, we celebrate the opening of a new facility at the College. With the help of approximately $450,000 U.S. dollars in funding from the U.S., Osmania has built this beautiful new science building, repaired damaged facilities, built a new set of restrooms for boys and girls, and instituted a rainwater harvesting tank. Together, these developments will enable hundreds of students to enjoy an improved education.
I know that some of those students – those eager students – are here with us today. And I just want to say to them that the United States is incredibly proud to be able to support you. [Applause.] You are the future of your country, and we know that you are going to help take your country on a path to accountable government, active civil society, and lasting democracy and prosperity. To contribute in those ways, though, you have to do your homework. [Laughter.] So can you promise me, before I step away from this podium, that you’re all going to work really hard in school? Yes? Ok, wonderful. [Applause.] Thank you so much, it’s a great honour for me, a true pleasure, to be with you. Nandri.