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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
September 26, 2002

Mrs. Bush's Remarks at Conference of Spouses of Heads of State and Government of the Americas
Mexico City, Mexico

Thank you very much.

My dear first ladies and friends, I am pleased to be a part of the Conference of Spouses of Heads of State and Government of the Americas. I appreciate hearing your perspectives about your activities in your countries. I look forward to learning more about the progress of the projects discussed here today.

President Bush joins me in this special message: When our neighbors suffer any kind of loss, but especially that of life and property, we share their grief. We want you to know that our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Mexico and the Caribbean whose lives have been affected by hurricane Isidore.

Señora Marta Sahagun de Fox, la Primera Dama de Mexico, gracias.

Thank you for hosting this important conference and making us feel welcome in your country. The United States and Mexico share a border and a rich history. Our future rises over the same horizon, and our goals for our people are the same. We share a great optimism for the future of our countries, and the children of our nations.

Friends and distinguished guests, no matter what country we call home, no matter what customs or faiths or cultures we embrace, one value transcends every border: all mothers and fathers throughout the world love their children and want the very best for them.

As President Bush said earlier this year in his State of the Union address to the United States Congress: "All fathers and mothers, in all societies, want their children to be educated, and live free from poverty and violence. No nation owns these aspirations, and no nation is exempt from them."

Just two days ago, the United States Census Bureau released 2001 data on poverty and income in my country. The poverty rate for African-American children in the United States is the lowest level ever reported, and the rate for Hispanic children is the lowest level reported in more than 20 years.

Another recent report, released this summer, showed a decrease in the poverty rate for children living in homes headed by their mothers. In 1980, 51 percent of children in female head of household families lived in poverty. By 2000, this figure had decreased to 40 percent.

This report also shows that children of the United States are less likely to die in infancy, teenagers are less likely to become pregnant, and young people are less likely to use tobacco than in previous years.

In the United States the number of Hispanic children has grown faster than any other ethnic group in recent years. And 19 percent of American children live with at least one parent who was foreign born. The United States is a diverse nation and we take great pride in our diversity.

While these improvements show some success, we cannot be satisfied -- we have much more to accomplish. The life of every child is precious. Children are our future, and the promise of the future lies in the quality of the education we give them today.

Through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) our government is investing more than $850 million annually in the Western Hemisphere, including about $38 million to improve child survival and maternal health in 11 countries of the Americas. These programs focus on childhood illnesses and vaccinations, malnutrition, water and sanitation access, and malaria prevention and treatment.

Throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, USAID also manages a $52 million program to support education and training.

This year President Bush launched a major five-year education initiative, the Centers of Excellence for Teacher Training, to improve reading instruction and upgrade the knowledge and skills of teachers, especially in disadvantaged communities.

The key to breaking the cycle of poverty is to have educated workers. And educated workers begin as children who are ready to learn.

The first five years of life are a critical time for children to develop the physical, emotional, social, and cognitive skills they will need for the rest of their lives. Infants and toddlers need parents and caregivers who understand the importance of these early years.

If we take time to talk and listen to children -- to read with them, share books with them, and teach them to name things in their surroundings -- then we will give them the skills, knowledge, and confidence to succeed in life.

Children do not automatically learn to read -- they first need help to develop pre-reading and vocabulary skills.

As a former public school teacher and librarian, I knew I wanted to help. So when my husband became president, I launched an initiative called Ready to Read, Ready to Learn. This initiative informs parents and other caregivers on how to help their children acquire the skills they will need when they enter school.

One way this information is being shared is through a series of booklets called Healthy Start, Grow Smart.

These colorful, easy to read booklets, provide month-to-month tips for new parents. Every month during their baby's first year of life, moms and dads can rely on this real information, in real time.

The booklets contain useful information on infant brain development, health, safety and nutrition. They are available in English and Spanish. I have some with me today, and I am pleased to share these booklets with you.

We've also created brochures for parents of older children, called A Guide for Reading. The Guide lists specific ways that parents can help their children become ready to read and ready to learn. These guides are available in both English and Spanish through our country's Department of Education.

From the crib to the classroom, from the classroom to the workplace, our children deserve to realize their hopes and dreams. This can only come from a quality education.

I am proud to join President Bush in his mission to make our schools the best they can be and to make our children the best students they can be.

As leaders and as citizens of the Americas, our most important responsibility is to give our children hope for the future and to help them feel connected to the future. With commitment, resources and energetic leadership, we can reach -- and teach -- children everywhere.

Today we are rededicating our efforts as nations -- and as individuals -- to protect, educate, and provide opportunities that will allow our children to build foundations that will last their lifetimes and serve future generations.

This legacy is one we will all be proud to share.

Thank you very much.

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