Remarks by Ambassador William A. Heidt at the Independence Day Reception

Sokha Phnom Penh Hotel
July 1, 2016

Your Excellency Prak Sokhon, Senior Minister and Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, other distinguished representatives of the Cambodian government, fellow members of the diplomatic corps, ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you very much for joining us tonight at the U.S. Embassy’s celebration of the 240th anniversary of the birth of the United States of America. Sotie and I are very grateful to be among so many friends this evening. Since we returned to Cambodia, we have met inspiring people across the country who are doing business with America, partnering with us in our assistance programs, and strengthening civil society. These incredible people represent the best of what Cambodia and the United States can accomplish when we work together.

Grup groan haey! Bontaw dul tiet, dzia piasah angleis.

For example, Soy Pisey, from Ratanakiri, could barely speak English until she completed our two-year English Access Microscholarship Program. She hasn’t looked back since. This fall, Pisey will enroll in a North Carolina university to become an English teacher, the first member of her Bruhl tribe to study in the United States. She will join 500 other students from Cambodia who are currently enrolled in U.S. schools.

Thing Ly is a farmer in a rural part of Siem Reap province. With a helping hand from the U.S. government’s Feed the Future program, Ly has become a model farmer and the main supplier of food for schools in his district. Ly’s vegetables mean that the students of his community get a nutritious meal every day to help them do their best in school. And we are very proud of Heng Samnang, who grew up in a poor family on a rice farm in Preah Vihear province. Samnang bicycled 18 kilometers each way to attend university classes, getting top scores. Last year, he was accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, one of America’s most competitive universities. Samnang is the seventh Cambodian to attend a U.S. military academy, and symbolizes the growing relationship between the American and Cambodian militaries.

A boy named only “Pisey” was born in Prey Veng province in 1999 and orphaned as a baby. He was adopted by a single American father at age two and grew up in the United States with a new name: Jordan Windle. Jordan showed incredible natural talent at an early age, and with lots of hard work, has become a world-class diver. In May, Jordan and his dad returned to Cambodia for the first time to inspire young Cambodians to achieve their dreams. Jordan plans to return many more times, and perhaps one day he will even compete for his native country.

And finally, there is the story of a girl born in Pursat province whose life – like so many other Cambodians – was turned upside-down by the Khmer Rouge. After immigrating with her sister to the United States, she got a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree at an Ivy League school, started a career, and eventually moved back to Cambodia in the 1990s. That’s where I met her. I am talking of course about my beautiful wife, Sotie, who is one of tens of thousands of Cambodian-Americans serving as a bridge between our two nations and helping to develop their homeland.

Mr. Minister, these remarkable stories symbolize better than any government programs the strong foundations of the U.S.-Cambodia relationship. It is built on mutual respect for each other’s history and culture, and on the shared values enshrined in the constitutions of both our countries. It is grounded in the enduring work of building a stronger democracy and a deeper respect for human rights, in both Cambodia and the United States. And it reflects, above all, the deep connection between our citizens and a shared hope that the children of Cambodia and America will have a brighter future together.

And so, on this 240th anniversary of the signing of our Declaration of Independence, I invite Your Excellency and all of our honored guests to join me in a toast.

To the health of His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni, Her Majesty Queen Mother Norodom Monineath, and President Barack Obama…and to a lasting friendship between the United States and Cambodia.