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Mrs. Laura Bush opens the luncheon following the White House Symposium on Global Literacy: Building a Foundation for Freedom at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Temple of Dendur in New York City. Mrs. Bush noted that in the morning session the group learned the outcomes of UNESCO's six regional literacy conferences from around the world. White House photo by Chris Greenberg.

Mrs. Laura Bush opens the luncheon following the White House Symposium on Global Literacy: Building a Foundation for Freedom at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Temple of Dendur in New York City. Mrs. Bush noted that in the morning session the group learned the outcomes of UNESCO's six regional literacy conferences from around the world. White House photo by Chris Greenberg.

Global Literacy

First Lady Advocates for Literacy and Education Around the World

Mrs. Bush Helps Lead International Efforts To Reduce Illiteracy

Mrs. Bush urges governments worldwide to invest in the education of their people to help reduce inequality and build a foundation of freedom for all. She supports education programs to foster economic development, advance opportunity, and promote human rights worldwide, particularly for women and children. Men and women who are literate can participate more fully in their communities and build brighter futures for their countries. Strengthening education programs also helps build a stronger workforce, spur business and trade, and increase economic development.

"Literacy is at the core of sustainable solutions to the world's greatest problems. Literacy builds the foundation for freedom from poverty, freedom from disease, and freedom from oppression."

Mrs. Laura Bush

Mrs. Bush is the Honorary Ambassador for the United Nations Literacy Decade (UNLD) through 2012, serving as an international spokesperson for the education of people in every nation, especially women and girls.

  • Illiteracy is a global challenge. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), more than 771 million adults around the world cannot read. Eighty-five percent live in 35 countries and more than two-thirds are women. In response to these statistics, the United Nations General Assembly declared 2003-2012 as the United Nations Literacy Decade and designated UNESCO as the UNLD's lead organization.

Mrs. Bush promotes UNESCO efforts to develop and advance effective literacy programs. Better assessment of literacy challenges is critical to reducing global illiteracy. Mrs. Bush encourages new programs that ensure continued progress toward achieving UNESCO's goal of the Education for All movement, which aims to meet the learning needs of all children, youth, and adults by 2015.

  • UNESCO's Literacy Initiative for Empowerment (LIFE) assists each country with evaluation of its literacy needs, development of national strategies, and implementation of new programs and policies. This initiative targets 35 countries with a population that is more than 50% illiterate or a population of more than 10 million people without basic literacy skills.
  • The Literacy Assessment and Monitoring Program (LAMP), managed by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, launched a new national assessment that measures literacy skills within the context of country-specific activities. This program helps countries identify needs and direct resources appropriately. LAMP was piloted in El Salvador, Kenya, Mongolia, Morocco, Niger, and the West Bank. LAMP's conceptual and methodological approach, assessment instruments, and guidelines will be implemented in additional countries in 2009. In 2006, Mrs. Bush announced a $1 million contribution to LAMP from the U.S. Government.

As Honorary Ambassador for the UNLD, Mrs. Bush convened education ministers, literacy experts, and leaders from around the world in 2006, 2007, and 2008 to emphasize the need for a sustained international commitment to promoting literacy. By investing in literacy and education, governments meet their fundamental obligations by giving all people the opportunity to improve their lives, their health, their communities, and their nations. Highlights from the conferences, held during the United Nations General Assembly in New York, include:

  • In September 2006, Mrs. Bush convened the first White House Conference on Global Literacy (WHCGL). Experts from around the world joined 30 First Ladies and 39 Ministers of Education to share information and learn about exemplary literacy programs that increase economic self-sufficiency, transfer literacy skills from one generation to the next, and help people make wise decisions that will keep them, and their families, safe. Building on those discussions, UNESCO convened six regional conferences in Qatar, China, India, Mali, Azerbaijan, and Mexico.
  • In September 2007, Mrs. Bush organized a Global Health and Literacy Luncheon that highlighted the vital link between increasing literacy and improving health around the world. Mrs. Bush announced the six countries selected for the President’s Initiative to Expand Education – Ethiopia, Ghana, Honduras, Liberia, Mali, and Yemen. Aiming to reach four million children in five years, this $525 million Initiative supports existing ambitious education plans to improve literacy, increase school enrollment, and enhance the school experience. It includes $100 million dedicated to special programs for after-school and out-of-school youth in particularly disadvantaged areas, hoping to enhance their employability in their local contexts.
  • In September 2008, Mrs. Bush hosted the White House Symposium on Advancing Global Literacy: Building a Foundation for Freedom. The Symposium addressed the progress made during the first five years of the UNLD by underscoring the outcomes of the six UNESCO Regional Literacy Conferences. Speakers also discussed the LIFE and LAMP initiatives to enhance literacy programs and the quality of life worldwide. The U.S. Government demonstrated its commitment to advancing global literacy worldwide by contributing over $2 million to the United Nations Literacy Decade Fund to Advance Global Literacy. Two weeks later, at an event highlighting the UNLD Mid-Decade Review Report, Mrs. Bush announced an additional commitment of $500,000 to the Fund.

Mrs. Bush Advocates Programs That Educate And Empower Women

From Afghanistan to Zambia, Mrs. Bush highlights education efforts targeted to women and girls. Mrs. Bush supports efforts to ensure women and girls receive the education and skills that will enable them to assume leadership roles in the political and economic life of their countries. Women who can read are also more likely to be advocates for their children's education, and research shows that educated women raise better-nourished, healthier families.

  • As Honorary Chair for the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council (USAWC), Mrs. Bush supports efforts that help provide Afghan women and girls with educational opportunities and skills previously forbidden under the Taliban. The Afghan Women's Teacher Training Institute in Kabul provides women a safe place to live while they study to become teachers. Between 2004 and 2008, nearly 500 women graduated, and many returned to their home provinces to train other teachers and to help open new schools throughout Afghanistan.
  • Mrs. Bush visited the construction site of the Ayenda Learning Center in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, in June 2008. The USAWC established a special initiative to assist children called Ayenda which means "future" in Dari. Funded by Afghan and American citizens, this school will provide a safe place to live or study for more than 200 children who were orphaned by the Taliban.
  • At the 2006 WHCGL, Mrs. Bush highlighted Arzu, Inc. – a program supported by the USAWC in Afghanistan – as an example of the important connection between education and economic growth. Through the Arzu program, women weave rugs to support themselves and their families while also participating in literacy classes. As the women learn, they are better able to manage their income and they become informed consumers.
  • During her visits to Africa, Mrs. Bush met with many recipients of the Ambassadors Girls Scholarship Program. As part of the President’s Africa Education Initiative, the Ambassadors Girls Scholarship Program awarded 375,000 scholarships in 40 countries, totaling $46 million, from September 2004 to September 2008. These funds support girls in primary and secondary school, helping them grow into educated members of their societies and play positive roles in the education, political, and economic sectors of their countries.

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