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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
March 16, 2006

Mrs. Bush's Remarks at the Afghan Children's Initiative Benefit Dinner with Khaled Hosseini, Author of The Kite Runner
Embassy of Afghanistan
Washington, D.C.


7:05 P.M. EST

MRS. BUSH: Thank you very much, Ambassador. Thank you for your very, very kind introduction; and thank you for hosting this lovely evening tonight in your beautiful embassy. Mrs. Jawad, thank you very much. And, Tim McBride, thank you both for your enthusiastic work as the co-chairs of Ayenda -- the Afghan Children Initiative. You're doing such important work on behalf of the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council, as well, for the children of Afghanistan. And I want to thank both of you very much.

I also want to acknowledge Secretary Paula Dobriansky and the other members of the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council, who are with us this evening. Thank you also for your great work.

And I am especially thrilled to finally meet the author of The Kite Runner. (Applause.) Mr. Khaled Hosseini. President Bush and I both really, really enjoyed your book. And we recommend it. I recommended it today at a tea at the White House to some women who asked me what I was reading.

And, distinguished guests -- each and every one of you, the other ambassadors that are here -- thank you so much for coming; the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Pete Pace. I don't see Secretary Rumsfeld, but if he's -- there he is, in the very back. Thank you so much for joining us today, Secretary Rumsfeld. I know that Edi Gutierrez, Secretary Gutierrez's wife, as well. So I want to thank you very much for coming.

Distinguished guests, thanks to all of you for joining us tonight, and thank you for supporting Ayenda.

I've met thousands of children around the world. Today I was in Newark, New Jersey visiting a school, once again saw American children in their own schools. But all of these little children represent the love of a mother, the pride of a family, and the hope of a country.

The children of Afghanistan hold a special place in my heart. They are mirrors of their society. Only a few years ago, the photographs of their little faces reflected the sorrows of isolation and fear. But today, children smile. They play outside. They study math and science. They kick soccer balls and sing. And they even fly kites. Afghan children are vigorous, inquisitive, and full of promise.

I've visited Afghanistan twice, and both experiences were deeply moving. I saw for myself the dramatic transformation that's underway. I witnessed earnest, heartfelt exchanges between Americans and Afghans -- people who learned a great deal about each other and realize how much we're alike.

My last visit to Afghanistan was earlier this month, when President Bush and I dedicated the new U.S. Embassy building. That new building is a symbol of our long-term commitment to the people of Afghanistan and of the strong relationship between Americans and Afghans.

Years of war have had a staggering impact on the country and the people. They need very basic services, infrastructure, and help, and education. But everywhere you can see the results of the support from the United States and all of our allies, and many Afghan Americans who have returned home: Schools are being built; young Afghan women are studying to teach reading, or they're learning to read themselves; and villages are letting their children be outside to learn and to play.

President and Dr. Karzai told me recently that about 6 million children will start school, just as our ambassador said, this school term. And a lot of that number are girls. To accommodate the enormous need for education, schools have three schedules: The young children go in the morning; the older children go in the afternoon, and their parents go to school at night. The people are hungry to learn. And education will give them a chance to succeed -- and contribute to a peaceful and free country.

Afghanistan's future depends on literate, educated, and healthy children. This terrific initiative that we're all here to support tonight will make a difference. Through this program, we can all have a direct impact on Afghan children and their families. Each of us can give them the opportunities to do things that were once thought impossible dreams.

I'm grateful for all of your work together, and I'm grateful that we've been able to work together to help the children of Afghanistan realize peace and success in their lives. Thank you, all very, very much. And God bless each of us. (Applause.)

END 7:11 P.M. EST

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