Honorable Secretary to the Governor of the Northern Province, Mr. Ilangovan; Honorable Divisional Secretary, Mr. N. Linganathan; Honorable Secretary of Fisheries for the Northern Province, Mr. R. Varatheswaran; Honorable Chairman of Sevalanka, my good friend Dr. Harsha Navaratne; Sevalanka Director of Special Projects Ms. Lakshi Abeyesekara; Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to be here today as the U.S. Embassy hands over this very important livelihood assistance of ten fiberglass fishing boats, fishing nets, and outboard engines to benefit the more than 200 families here whose lives depend on the sea.
We know that restoring livelihoods makes a huge difference to communities still recovering from having been displaced from their homes as the result of the conflict.
Earlier this month, our US President, Barack Obama, asked each of his US Cabinet members to ask themselves, every day, “what am I doing right now that could help real people?”
I am happy to say that we are fulfilling this request today!
This event is all about “people to people”! These fishing boats are a gift from the U.S. people to the people of Nagakovil. My team and I are so happy to be here with you!
This is not my first trip to the north, however. In fact, in August 2002, I traveled to the north for the first time as part of a U.S. State Department delegation. It was very different here in the north a dozen years ago.
Of course, the conflict was still on. Times were very difficult for the communities of the north. We traveled by road through the devastated Chavakachehcheri town and then stopped at Sarasalai, where we inspected demining activities being conducted with US support. We took a trip to Muhamalai, which was then the front line. We then went to Jaffna to meet the Bishop and many political and civil society members.
That trip made an indelible impression on me. I never forgot the families I met, the mothers, fathers and children whose lives had been disrupted, who had lost their homes, lost their livelihoods, and who wanted nothing more than to return to them.
The war ended seven years later in 2009, but even today, many remain displaced, unable to return home due to issues related to durable housing, unresolved land and property issues, and of course the need for sustainable livelihoods.
Although there has been progress in re-establishing infrastructure in the north, many returnees continue to face difficulties in earning a livelihood, and in meeting their family’s basic needs in order to live in dignity and reintegrate into their communities.
Today, we know that the community in Nagakovil is working together to rebuild lives after repeated displacements. We know that this has been a long and difficult process.
The U.S. government, in partnership with all of you, is committed to helping returnees through provision of essential support services.
USAID remains the largest single donor and is a strong advocate for durable resettlement. Our current program with Sewalanka is aimed at fulfilling that purpose.
Farmers need to return to the farmland their fathers farmed. Fishermen need to return to the waters their fathers fished.
In this respect, Sewalanka has done a fantastic job in working to deliver badly-needed services to returnees.
We are proud to be Sewalanka’s partner! I especially congratulate Sewalanka’s energetic and dedicated Jaffna staff for their commitment and tireless work!
I would also like to thank the GA, the Divisional Secretary, and fisheries department for their invaluable support for this project.
Last but not least, I congratulate the Nagakovil community and the fisheries society members for their warm welcome in organizing this event. I wish you great success in your future endeavors.