Edward and Sophie visit Sri Lanka to celebrate friendship and the Commonwealth

The Earl and Countess of Wessex have spent five days in Sri Lanka, on a visit designed to celebrate long-standing relationship between the UK and Sri Lanka, the Commonwealth, education and young people.  The couple arrived on Wednesday 31st January; they were also there to officially represent The Queen at Sri Lanka’s celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of independence from the UK.

This year, the United Kingdom will play host to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) and so various events are taking place in the coming months to celebrate the special relationship shared by members of the Commonwealth.

Day One

Upon their arrival, the Earl and Countess were greeted by the Sri Lankan State Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wasantha Senanayake, and his family.  The royal guests were presented with bouquets and a traditional flower garland, before the party took photos to commemorate the visit.

The Countess of Wessex greets the Sri Lankan State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Wasantha Senanayake (Royal Family)

The Earl of Wessex shakes hands with Wasantha Senanayake on arrival in Sri Lanka (Royal Family)

Edward and Sophie then visited Third Space Global, a British-owned firm which provides online 1-to-1 teaching sessions. Third Space Global is an important employer for Sri Lankan young people, who provide teaching to over 6,000 primary school children in the UK through its web-based services. In addition to helping British children, the company also contributes to education in Sri Lanka by offering workshops to local teachers.

The Earl and Countess were there to launch Third Space Global’s new mission statement, and unveiled a plaque to mark the occasion. The visit took place in the company’s newly-opened office at Orion City.

The Earl and Countess of Wessex visit Third Space Global, a British-owned company who provide employment for young people in Sri Lanka (Royal Family)

Edward and Sophie unveiled a plaque to mark their visit to Third Space Global (Royal Family)

Day Two

On Thursday, the Earl and Countess visited the city of Kandy, which is a World Heritage site. The royal couple visited the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, which is one of the most sacred Buddhist shrines in the country.  The Temple is located in a former royal palace complex, which used to house the monarchs of the Kingdom of Kandy. The Temple is named after its well-known relic, a tooth which is said to have been taken from the body of Buddha after his death.

During their visit, Edward and Sophie toured the temple and learnt about the sacred tooth, as well as paying their respects in the Temple’s inner sanctum, where they were able to view the relic and received blessings.

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Sophie and Edward then visited St Paul’s Church, which is also located on the former palace complex. St Paul’s is an Anglican Church, officially to the Church of Ceylon (the Anglican Church in Sri Lanka). During their visit to the church, the Royals admired the stained glass window and signed the visitor book before departing.

The next stop on day two of the trip was to Kandy’s Trinity College. The college is a private all-boys school, offering both primary and secondary education, which was founded in 1872 by Anglican missionaries.

The Wessexes met with pupils from Trinity College, as well as girls from the local Girls’ High School, chatting to the children about their hopes for the future and why they felt that learning English was a useful skill. They also had the chance to admire some of the crafts which had been produced by junior school pupils.

In addition to the schoolchildren, Edward and Sophie also met with representatives from local Guide and Scout groups.

The Queen’s youngest son and his wife then had the opportunity to see the Peradeniya Royal Botanical Gardens, which is particularly famous for its orchid collection.  The Gardens have a long-standing connection to the British monarchy; Queen Elizabeth II visited back in 1954, while buildings within the Gardens were used as the WWII headquarters of Lord Mountbatten.

The Earl and Countess of Wessex planted a myrtle tree to formally mark the 70th anniversary of Sri Lankan independence.

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The final public engagement of Day 2 was a visit to the Sri Lanka Tennis Association.  Prince Edward spoke to the country’s Davis Cup and Fed Cup teams, and the couple also had the chance to watch some wheelchair tennis.

Before departing, the Earl and Countess laid the foundation stone of what will be an indoor tennis complex, while Edward also unveiled a plaque to commemorate the visit.

The 53-year-old royal couple ended their second day in Sri Lanka with a private dinner given by His Excellency Mr James Dauris, British High Commissioner to the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.

Day Three

On Day 3 of #RoyalVisitSriLanka, the Wessexes took a tour of the Court Lodge Tea Factory in Nuwara Eliya. Sri Lanka is one of the world’s principal tea exporters and is particularly renowned for its Ceylon tea.

The Earl and Countess then visited the Mentally Handicapped Children and Families Project (MENCAFEP). The project has been running since 1988 and now supports over 3,000 Sri Lankan children and families. Supporting those with mental disabilities is one of Sophie’s key charitable areas; in the UK, she is Patron of MENCAP.

During the visit, Edward and Sophie spoke to children and families who have been supported by the project to find out how MENCAFEP is helping them to realise their potential.

Prince Edward learnt about MENCAFEP, which helps support children with mental disabilities and their families (Royal Family)

The Countess of Wessex speaks to children who have received support from MENCAFEP (Royal Family)

The Earl and Countess also met with Sri Lanka’s President, HE Maithripala Sirisena, on behalf of The Queen, who delivered a message to the President and people of Sri Lanka on the 70th anniversary of the country’s independence.

“It gives me great pleasure to send to Your Excellency my congratulations on the occasion of the celebration by Sri Lanka of the seventieth anniversary of Independence.  The relationship between our two countries has continued to grow over the years, and it is my hope that the connections between our people continue to flourish in the years to come.” Read the full address here.

Sophie and Edward then had dinner with Sri Lankan Ministers to end day three of their visit.

Day Four

On Saturday, The Earl and Countess of Wessex visited the Ceylon School for the Deaf and Blind, another engagement in keeping with the Countess’ patronages. The Royals were greeted by a large crowd of locals and chatted happily to those who had gathered to see them. Students from the school, as well as local Girl Guides, have been following The Duke of Edinburgh award scheme and explained to Sophie and Edward how the programme helps them to succeed, despite their disabilities; the children also gave some musical and dance performances for their royal guests.

The Earl and Countess also paid a visit to the British Council in Sri Lanka, where they discussed a wide variety of issues. Sophie and Edward once again heard from students who have been involved in The Duke of Edinburgh Award, and also spoke to young people who have been working on projects based on the Commonwealth.

The Countess also participated in a discussion about the challenges faced by women in Sri Lanka, as well as the success women have experienced there.

Day Five

On Sunday, the Earl and Countess of Wessex attended the celebrations for the 70th anniversary of Sri Lanka’s independence from the UK; the couple were there as official representatives of The Queen. The country celebrated by holding a large military parade, attended by the country’s President, Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, the Wessexes, and other political figures and dignitaries.

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Sri Lanka achieved independence from British rule in 1948 and now the 4th of February is a public holiday in the country to mark the occasion. The celebrations normally take place in Colombo and are televised.

At the celebrations, the Sri Lankan President made a speech, stressing the importance of economic freedom for the country, claiming that Sri Lanka would never be completely independent until this was achieved.  The Royals sat amongst other guests as they watched the impressive display, which included many of Sri Lanka’s Armed Forces, horses and elephants.

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