Remarks by U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs-Designate Thomas Shannon on USG Assistance in the Eastern Province Trincomalee

December 15, 2015

I want to acknowledge the Eastern Province Governor, Ambassador Kariyawasm, the Opposition Leader, and the Chief Minister.

This is my first visit to Sri Lanka and my first visit to South Asia.  We arrived last evening.  This morning I had the great pleasure of looking out to a beautiful ocean from the hotel where we are staying in Colombo and then flying by helicopter to this wonderful site.  Enroute I was thinking that as honored as I am to be nominated to be the next Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, I may want to stay here in this very beautiful country.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to be here in this fine hotel, which is a wonderful example of what’s possible when you mix the vision and hard work of Sri Lankan entrepreneurs with the expertise of our USAID professionals.

You would be hard pressed to pick a better place for a hotel – in one of the oldest cities in Asia – with a simply fascinating historical record that goes back thousands of years – next to some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen, and that’s a statement of importance because I come from California and I’ve seen some beautiful beaches.  And near one of the world’s largest natural deep-water ports.

And when you combine Sri Lanka’s advantages in tourism – the tremendous beauty of its landscapes, and the unparalleled hospitality of its people – well it’s simply a recipe for stunning success.  And not just for the visitors who are lucky enough to come here, but, more importantly, for the people who work at the hotel, and the families they support with that income, and the many people in the community who benefit from all the economic activity that is generated.

I’ve been in Sri Lanka for less than two days, and it’s been so exciting to witness first-hand the important work that communities, civil society organizations, and local authorities across this island are undertaking to improve the living standards of Sri Lankans.  I am impressed by the progress your country has made, both economically and socially.

And the United States is so proud to work with you and help support that progress.  For nearly 60 years, U.S. development assistance has invested in the people of Sri Lanka, in their communities, and in the relationship between our two nations.

Our programs have ranged across the country and spanned almost every sector, including agricultural development, environment and natural resources, health, education, democracy and governance, economic growth, and humanitarian assistance.

This partnership has resulted in remarkable achievements over the past six decades: controlling and eradicating malaria, modernizing the rail transportation network, improving nutrition, enhancing irrigation, developing Chambers of Commerce, and much, much more.

When the devastating tsunami struck in 2004, USAID was there to help Sri Lankans rebuild: financing the reconstruction of the Arugam Bay Bridge, fishing harbors, vocational training centers, and a water supply system.  While we will never forget the lives that were taken by that tragedy, and the lasting damage it did, we are impressed by your courage in rebuilding for the future.  Throughout Sri Lanka’s conflict, and in its aftermath, USAID helped over one million people get access to the food, shelter, water, sanitation, hygiene, and support that they needed to survive.

There are some amazing people here this morning, with some remarkable stories to tell. And it is incredible to learn how USAID played a part in each of those stories, especially in changing the lives of young men and women with disabilities, who were able to rebuild their livelihoods and bounce back with courage and hope.

USAID’s disability programs also help people get access to high quality rehabilitation services, so that they can do the everyday activities that so many of us take for granted.

In the audience we also have some young farmers from Trincomalee, who are receiving USAID-supported training in advanced agricultural methods and technology.  These skills will help them to increase their productivity and their incomes, strengthening their communities and serving as role models for local youth.

Today I will get to speak with some young women who are working in apparel factories – factories that USAID helped get off the ground.  I am excited to hear about their about their jobs, what they can do because of their incomes, and their plans for the future.  They are a heartening example of what is possible when women are economically empowered and working toward their dreams.

We are proud to have played a part in the amazing things Sri Lanka has accomplished over nearly 60 years. And in the decades ahead, we will continue to focus on areas critical to long-term progress.  We will work toward equitable economic growth – especially in less-developed regions – creating more jobs and higher incomes.  And we will work toward an enhanced partnership between the state, civil society, and citizens. That means a strong legal system, a robust civil society, and an effective government that is able to deliver services to all Sri Lankans.

We will continue our support to communities in the East, currently worth more than 3.2 billion Sri Lankan rupees ($23 million).  We are supporting programs that bring together Tamil, Sinhalese, and Muslim youth on the sports field.  And we are providing them with English language and entrepreneurship training, as well as opportunities for exchange programs, and ways to address issues like gender-based violence.

We’re also working with partners in the East to help eradicate the risk from those terrible remnants of war – landmines.  That means increasing mine-risk awareness and building the capacity of mine detection teams.  We’re moving toward a future where a farmer can till a field and a child can play cricket without any fear of losing a limb, or worse, to a hidden land mine.

Finally, we’re also partnering to help conflict-affected families resettle in their communities. This involves a wide range of services, from shelters to sanitation to schools.

It’s been a long road, and there is still far to travel. But the United States will steadfastly support the Sri Lankan people as they continue on their historic journey towards prosperity, peace, and reconciliation. Together, we can build better lives and create better futures for the people of both our nations.

I want to congratulate all of you for the tremendous work you are doing.  What happens in Sri Lanka is of global consequence.  Your success in rebuilding your country and reconciling your people will be an example to the rest of the world, so fraught with conflict at this time.  The United States is proud to be a partner in this effort and proud to be an ally of Sri Lanka.