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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Laura Bush
Laura Bush
First Lady of the United States

February 20, 2008

Laura Bush
Mrs. Laura Bush joins a discussion with orphans and caretakers at the WAMA Foundation Sunday, Fab. 17, 2008 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, during a meeting to launch the National Plan of Action for Orphans and Vulnerable Children. White House photo by Shealah Craighead

Thank you for participating in “Ask the White House,” and for your interest in President Bush’s and my trip to Africa. I’m writing to you from Ghana. We’ve visited Benin, Tanzania, and Rwanda, and tomorrow, we’ll head to Liberia.

The trip has been great. I am encouraged by the results of development partnerships between the United States and African nations. And I’ve met people who are determined to build better lives for themselves and their families.

Now, I look forward to taking your questions.

Jennifer, from Alabama writes:
Ma'am - I was in Rwanda for the first US African Missions in Sudan and was deeply moved by the appreciation and admiration for Americans that the Rwandans have. I've seen it in Chad and Ghana as well. Has you seen that same impression on this trip of Africa as well?Thank you

Laura Bush
Thank you for your question, Jennifer. And thank you for your work in Africa. Like you, President Bush and I have been overwhelmed by the response in each country we’ve visited. In Tanzania, we saw billboards that thanked the American people for supporting the country’s fight against HIV/AIDS. Women waved American flags and even wore wrap skirts with the President’s image on them! In Ghana, people thronged to the roadsides to cheer and welcome their American visitors.

This is my fifth trip to Africa, and on this journey -- as in every other -- I’ve heard people literally say “thank you.” AIDS patients have said, “I’ve come back to life because I’m on anti-retrovirals.”

The American people should be proud that their generosity is saving lives across the continent of Africa. And they can be gratified by knowing that their compassion is returned with deep affection and thanks.

Sergei, from Pennsburg, PA writes:
Mrs. Bush, do you think PEPFAR Initiative has been effective enough for the Democratic-run Congress to renew it?

Laura Bush
Absolutely. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief is an extraordinary success--and a source of pride for the American people. In 2003, when President Bush launched the initiative, only 50,000 people in Sub-Saharan Africa were thought to be receiving anti-retroviral treatment. Today, that number is more than 1.3 million. PEPFAR resources are helping HIV-positive mothers avoid passing the disease onto their children. The Initiative is educating young people across Africa about how to prevent HIV, and to make wise decisions that will keep them healthy. On this trip, I helped launch Tanzania’s National Plan of Action to care for AIDS orphans and vulnerable children -- a program supported by PEPFAR.

The reason PEPFAR is such a success is that it works in close partnership with African governments. Through PEPFAR, we’re making an investment in the future of these African nations, and helping them build a sustainable health-care infrastructure that can help fight AIDS over the long term. This program is not just an act of compassion -- it’s smart foreign policy.

And it’s a program Congress should be proud of, too. Congress has funded the initiative, and shares in its success. The best way to build on that success is to reauthorize PEPFAR.

Thanks for your question, Sergei.

Mary, from Indiana writes:
In what ways has education in Africa improved since President Bush increased aid to Africa?

Laura Bush
Thanks for asking about education, Mary. It’s a very important question -- because improved education is essential to Africa’s success. The more people are educated, the better equipped they are to build their country’s infrastructure and participate in their country’s economy. The more people are educated, the more likely they are to know how to protect themselves from diseases like malaria and HIV. Eliminating these diseases requires trained doctors and nurses -- which requires people to be educated.

In 2002, President Bush launched the Africa Education Initiative. This program has provided scholarships to thousands of girls across Africa, and will train more than 900,000 teachers on the continent by the end of the decade. Through the Initiative, American universities have partnered with African governments to print and distribute millions of textbooks. I’ve been able to distribute these textbooks on some of my past trips to Africa--including a previous trip to Ghana.

A few days ago, I met with members of Benin’s Mothers’ Associations. With support from the Africa Education Initiative, these groups give women a voice in their children’s education, and help improve children’s access to schools. I also met with young girls who have received some of the Initiative’s Ambassadors Girls Scholarships. These girls were confident, excited--and so happy to be in school. One of the girls, Irene, is the first in her family to complete primary school. Now, she says she wants to be president of her country.

Earlier today, I was at Ghana’s Mallam D/A Primary School, where I helped open a “reading hut” and library supported by USAID/Ghana’s Education Quality for All project. Beneath the shade of the reading hut, I saw how much the children love books as they read to me with some help from a giant turtle character--Ghana’s “reading mascot.” As a former teacher, it was a pleasure to be with children so eager to learn.

And as a former teacher, I know how important the Africa Education Initiative is--and how important all of our efforts are to improve education for people across the continent.

Icadon, from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania writes:
I applaud your trip to the Tanzania.In order to understand the people of Tanzania and rest of Africa can you tell us what similarities you have noticed between the people of the United States and the People of the African Countries?

Laura Bush
Thanks, Icadon, for your question. And thanks for your country’s very generous welcome.

I’ve found that Africans are warm and generous, like Americans. And I know mothers and fathers everywhere want their children to grow up to be healthy, productive members of society.

Mausumi, from Flagstaff Arizona writes:
Mrs. Bush, thank you for the opportunity to ask you my question. I would like to know how you pass the time while on long flights aboard Air Force One. Thank you.

Laura Bush
Good question, Mausumi! On flights, I catch up with my staff, review schedules, and read briefing papers for the trip. It’s fun to travel with the President, and I always enjoy spending time with him. I always have a good book nearby. And of course, on overnight flights, I sleep.

Zachary, from Oxford, Massachusetts writes:
In regards to Africa, what advice would you offer Americans who may be interested in providing help to the struggling continent?

Laura Bush
Thanks, Zachary. There are many ways caring Americans can help others abroad.

First, Americans should know that your tax dollars are hard at work and doing a lot of good in Africa.

If you’re at a stage in your life when you can travel — no matter what your age — consider volunteering on the continent. Earlier today, President Bush and I had lunch with Peace Corps volunteers in Ghana — and they said this experience has been one of the most satisfying of their lives. The Peace Corps has more volunteers now than at any point in its history. And while we were in Rwanda, President Bush and I were happy to announce that the Peace Corps is returning to the country.

Faith-based organizations are doing amazing work in Africa. Find out what your faith congregation is doing to help, or get involved with an NGO that works on the continent.

One easy way to save lives in Africa is to raise money for insecticide-treated mosquito nets. Anyone who can raise $10 can buy a net and save a life from malaria. It’s a great project for scout troops, school clubs, and even sports teams to get involved in.

Today in Ghana, President Bush and I were joined by Jordin Sparks, star of American Idol. Last year, through the “Idol Gives Back” campaign, viewers of the show donated millions of dollars to charities that work in the United States and Africa. Some of this money helped purchase 2 million bed nets for mothers in several African nations. Jordin was with us today to help raise awareness of malaria — and to encourage people to tune in for the next “Idol Gives Back” effort, which airs April 9.

Melanie, from NYC writes:
Mrs. Bush, In the State of the Union the President mentioned "the Millennium Challenge Account". Could you explain how this program can help developing countries, like Africa?

Thank you Mrs. Bush


Laura Bush
Thanks, Melanie, for your interest in the Millennium Challenge program. The Millennium Challenge Corporation is a U.S. government corporation that works with some of the poorest countries in the world. Established in January 2004, MCC supports just governments, free economies, and leaders who invest in their people. MCC’s mission is to reduce global poverty through the promotion of sustainable economic growth.

MCC’s grants are used for expensive infrastructure items like roads, clean water projects, airports, agriculture, and schools — all items that are important for economic growth and poverty reduction.

The hallmark of MCC is partnership between the U.S. government and our compact nations. Our partner governments devise their own strategies for development, based on the needs of their people. And then the United States provides the technological expertise and financial resources to support those plans. On this trip, President Bush signed a $700 million MCC compact that will help support Tanzania’s plans for growth.

Laura Bush
Thank you so much for your questions. I enjoyed the opportunity to join you on Ask the White House.