August 22, 2019
Good morning, everyone. Ayubowan. Vanakkam. Asalam Alaikum. It’s good to see everybody in the audience today and I want to especially thank the very distinguished group of speakers who came before me for their words of inspiration and I think explanation about why everyone is here today.
And of course with the support of Dr. Wijesekara, Dr. Ariyaratne, and colleagues in the U.S. embassy, we’re very pleased to be able to enable this event to take place.
This welcome to the symposium, the Pillars of Resilience symposium, I think is incredibly important to communities here in Sri Lanka but also setting a model for communities around the world. I know some will be recognized today with certificates. I congratulate you on your commitment to your community, but also your commitment to your fellow man.
The embassy supports interfaith dialogue in general. We have long been a supporter of reconciliation and peace efforts in this country. We do this out of a very committed belief that there is strength in diversity and there is peace in communal harmony. We believe that a community is more than just its politics. A community is a blend of beliefs and talents. A community is a network. The stronger our connections, the more vibrant and engaged our network, and the more we work together, the more resilient we ultimately become. So, improving social cohesion among Sri Lanka’s ethnic community, ethnic and religious communities, has been a high priority for years, maybe even decades. Maybe even more than decades. And since the Easter attacks, unity is more important than ever.
Reconciliation, respect, and resilience are inextricably linked and religious leaders like you are uniquely positioned to advocate for the practices needed to ensure unity and resilience. That’s why we awarded a grant for this training and why we have supported other efforts.
Religious leaders function as sources of support in communities. I think we’ve had ample examples of that. Your own personal experiences related to the tsunami, floods, and other events here. You help communities weather moments of crisis.
In the United States, religious leaders and religious and charitable organizations are likewise very critical components of our disaster management network, just as these institutions are critical components of our communities. There’s a reason people take refuge with you in times of crisis.
As a result of this, and an acknowledgement in our own country of the foundational nature of this network, the critical crisis response component of this network, the U.S. disaster management agency FEMA actually created capacity building tools to help religious groups respond more effectively during a crisis. Again, numerous people have noted the need for the technical component of response.
By helping communities hold themselves together, attending to their physical and their spiritual needs, we see that no one is left behind in the wake of disaster. I’m very pleased that these FEMA materials have been used to advance the Pillars of Resilience curriculum here in Sri Lanka.
Community leaders cannot ignore language or actions that divide. Together we’re stronger and more able to help each other and of course help the most vulnerable among us.
This is a diverse audience representing many faiths. Representing many communities. You are all pillars of resilience for your communities and for your country. You are pillars that make a strong foundation. Together, I know that you can help your communities weather any storm.
I urge you to take what you’ve learned through your training, what you will learn today, and lead your communities through uncertain times. I also urge you to encourage interfaith dialogue at all levels. This can only be a beginning of what is to come. We firmly believe that diversity is a strength for all communities and as I’m sure the technical sessions will later demonstrate today, that diversity can be a strength in community response.
Thank you very much for allowing me to join in this welcome moment for the symposium today. I appreciate the opportunity and hope that the sessions this afternoon go equally well.