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Ambassador Blake's Remarks for the USAID Park Opening in Habaraduwa, Galle

April 4, 2008

It’s a pleasure to join you all today to help officially open the wonderful new playground here in Habaraduwa.   It is a wonderful thing to celebrate something that will, undoubtedly, bring much joy over many years to come. I am pleased to be able to represent the people of America here today. 

As with any successful venture, there is a strong team behind this project, and I would like to express my thanks for the commitment of its various members to a shared vision for a very worthy goal.

Starting right here in Habaraduwa, I would like to thank the Pradesiya Sabha and its Chairman, Mr. Bandupala Abeykoon, who worked very closely with us on both the beach park development project – on which construction with USAID support finished in 2007 – as well as this playground. Their support and assistance has been invaluable and demonstrates the level of service a community should expect from its locally elected authorities.

I would also like to thank government and non-government authorities in 86 other communities along the affected coastline for helping to direct the generosity of the people of America. 

We also had several important private American supporters for this project:  the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Bush-Clinton Tsunami Fund, both of whom have done a lot of work to help tsunami-affected communities across the island.

Last but not least, a special thanks to the implementing partner for this project – Sarvodaya, under the guidance of Executive Director Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne. I would like particularly to commend the team trained to assemble these playgrounds. Their work in three districts of the Eastern Province, during a particularly turbulent 18-month period in which government military operations were ongoing, demonstrated great courage and commitment.

This is a milestone today because it marks final opening ceremony of the playground project.  This is the 87th park that we built in the Tsunami affected districts to help children to recover from physical and psychological effects of the 2004 tsunami.

The first playground under this project was opened by my predecessor, Ambassador Jeffrey Lunstead, at Dharmapala Park in Galle town on the first year anniversary of the tsunami in 2005. Since then playgrounds have been constructed in nine tsunami-affected districts, including heavily conflict-affected divisions in the East, including in Vakarai, Batticaloa, and Eachalampattu, and Trincomalee.

Research and studies have shown that play therapy is not only a proven method for healing the psychological wounds of conflict- and disaster- affected children, but also a great tool for their physical and mental development. 

The playground equipment that you see here meets the highest international standards. All of the equipment has been imported from the US specifically for this project, and the installation team has been trained by experts from America.

The response from communities to these parks has been so overwhelmingly positive that Sarvodaya decided to split three of the larger sets of equipment among six sites to meet the demand. This will result in a grand total of 88 playgrounds under this project, after the security situation allows Sarvodaya to install the final set in Jaffna.

The main objective of this project is to help the children of this country rediscover their smiles and regain the power of hope. Sri Lankans, like Americans, share a common belief that our children are the future. So it is always our goal, as parents and community leaders, to make sure they grow up in a healthy and safe environment that nurtures self-discovery and development.

Let me express my sincere hope that the equipment for the 88th playground will not have to collect too much dust in the warehouse. I know that Sarvodaya shares my eagerness to see the swings, slides and spring-equipped animals completely under siege by a platoon of grinning kids in Jaffna. Making peace in Sri Lanka is anything but the work of children – but have no doubt that the results of a sustainable political solution to the conflict will be enjoyed by children for generations to come.

In closing, on behalf of the Bush-Clinton Tsunami Fund, I would like to take this opportunity to read to you a letter from former US President Clinton on the completion and success of the playgrounds.

March 26, 2008

Warm greetings to everyone celebrating the opening of the new playground in Koggala, Galle District of Sri Lanka, and the completion of the Playgrounds Project.

The earthquake and subsequent tsunamis that occurred throughout the Indian Ocean on December 26, 2004, touched hearts everywhere. People half a world away learned of the loss that survivors had suffered and determined to do everything they could to ensure that they did not lose hope as well. It is in that spirit that I agreed to serve as the U.N. Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery and to establish with former President Bush the Bush-Clinton Tsunami Fund.

While so much of what survivors lost can never be replaced, all of us have a responsibility to build back better the things that can -- especially for the children. I hope that this playground, and the others like it, will be able to give these children back a part of their childhoods, to allow them to recover both physically and emotionally, to offer a source of normalcy during a profoundly difficult time and to provide a safe place for them to just be kids, full of life and a limitless capacity for joy.

I extend my deepest thanks to Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne, and all the men and women of Sarvodaya, for your role in implementing this project, as well as the men and women of USAID and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, who helped make it possible. Best wishes for a memorable and meaningful opening ceremony.”

Thank you!