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'Looking forward to provide cultural and educational resources to the entire Jaffna community' -...

Jan 24, 2011 11:32:22 AM- transcurrents.com

The American Corner in Jaffna: 'A place that will connect Jaffna with the rest of Sri Lanka and the world'

Full Text of speech by US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Ms. Patrcia Butenis the at the opening of American Corner in Jaffna

January 24, 2011

Vanakkam. Good afternoon to all of you, and thank you for coming to the opening of the American Corner in Jaffna. I am delighted to be here today for this important event, which expands the American partnership with the people of Jaffna.

I would like to give a special welcome to Northern Provincial Governor, Major General Chandrasiri, and Jaffna Government Agent, Ms. Imelda Sukumar. I would also like to thank Sughirtharaj, Director of the Jaffna Social Action Center, for his tremendous support in establishing the American Corner.

Not everyone may realize that Americans have a long relationship with the people of Jaffna. American missionaries arrived here in 1813, almost two hundred years ago. They taught English and learned Tamil, founded the first printing press in Jaffna, started the first Tamil language newspaper anywhere, and established Sri Lanka’s first medical school.

Last June, during my first trip to Jaffna, I visited a cemetery in Uduvil where several Americans lie in rest. There I learned that former Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, one of the United States' most renowned diplomats, visited the gravesite of his great-grandmother Harriet Winslow, founder of Uduvil Girls School — whose choir sang earlier in the ceremony. This was the first girls’ boarding school in all of Asia.

The opening of the American Corner today is a symbol of our sustained commitment to the people of Jaffna. And, with its opening, we add another American "first" to the list – the American Corner is the first facility in Jaffna to have an operating ADSL internet connection.

An American Corner is much more than a small library where people can read books, magazines, or current newspapers. The American Corner is a place that will connect Jaffna with the rest of Sri Lanka, and with the world. Through digital video conferences, the Jaffna public can now interact with American scholars or business leaders in New York, Los Angeles, or Washington D.C. Of equal importance, you can also connect with a network of universities throughout Sri Lanka and with our American Corners in Kandy, Oluvil, and Colombo, as we are doing today. We will engage young people via the internet, web casts, and programming to develop their communication and leadership skills. Our online databases, English language library collection, regularly scheduled book clubs and film screenings will provide educational and cultural resources to both children and adults. We hope and expect that the American Corner will quickly become a vibrant community center, and provide a space for dialogue between Sri Lankans and Americans.

The American Corner is only one of the ways we are engaging with the people of Jaffna. The U.S. Agency for International Development created 20,000 full-time jobs in the North and East through an innovative series of partnerships with private companies. We have also given many small grants to youth organizations for projects such as training translators, promoting the performing arts, and addressing domestic violence. I even gave the Jaffna Public Library some books from my own collection of detective stories and mysteries.

The Jaffna Social Action Center is an ideal partner organization, with a deep commitment to community-level support and youth-based initiatives. We look forward to working closely with JSAC to provide cultural and educational resources to the entire Jaffna community.

Thank you all again for coming to the opening today. I look forward to following the activities at the Jaffna American Corner as it continues the strong tradition of American engagement here in Jaffna.