For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 9, 2007
President Bush Participates in a Conversation on the Americas
Hyatt Regency Crystal City
Ask the White House: Discussion on Conference on the Americas
White House Conference on the Americas
Fact Sheet: White House Conference on the Americas
10:30 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. Please be seated. Thanks for coming today. In my recent trip down to Central and South America, I told the folks that we were going to host a conference here in Washington, a conference to promote best practices, which really says, how best can the United States help people in our neighborhood.
Laura and I had a magnificent trip to Central and South America. It reminded me of the importance of having a peaceful and prosperous neighborhood. It's in our interests, in the interests of the United States that our neighborhood be healthy and educated. And so this conference is an attempt to bring together key people of my administration and faith-based groups and private sector groups from the United States, as well as our neighborhood, to discuss how we can work together to promote social justice, to help people realize a better life through good education and good health care.
I do thank members of my administration who have joined us. I understand after this event there's going to be a series of breakout groups, led by members of my Cabinet -- Hank Paulson is here, the Secretary of the Treasury. As a matter of fact, he's heading down to, I think, Brazil tomorrow. Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, Secretary of Commerce, will be leading a group. Mike Leavitt will lead a breakout session -- he's the Secretary of Health and Human Services. And then Margaret Spellings, who is the Secretary of Education. I think you're going to find these folks to be concerned, compassionate Americans who care about the lives of our citizens in our neighborhood. And I appreciate them, certainly.
And then you get a speech from my wife, which is like really smart to have her speak. (Laughter.) You're stuck with the B team right now, and then the A team will be coming for -- (laughter.)
I want to thank all the folks who have joined us. Thanks for coming. As you can see, we've got an interesting way of making a variety of points. What I hope to accomplish at this breakout session is to, first, explain to our fellow citizens how important it is that the United States be active in the neighborhood in which we live.
Secondly -- and, by the way, thanks, ambassadors, for coming. I appreciate you all being here. It's very kind of you to take time out of your busy schedules to be here. We're honored you're here. Secondly, it's important for us -- for me to explain to our fellow citizens some of the work we're doing in the neighborhood. I think our citizens will be pleased to know, for example, that we're working very hard to get trade agreements through our Congress, because the best way to help defeat poverty is to encourage commerce and trade.
We've got trade agreements we've reached with Peru and Panama and Colombia. It's really important for the United States Congress to pass these trade agreements. If you're interested in prosperity in our neighborhood, if you want to help improve the lives of others, then the United States Congress must honor the agreements we've negotiated with these important countries and pass this legislation.
I'd like to see the Peruvian deal done by the beginning of August. They've got time to get the bill done. Members of Congress have got ample days on the calendar to pass this important piece of legislation, so we can send the clear signal to our neighborhood that we want you to be prosperous; that we want to help you realize your potential through trade with the United States of America. Trade agreements are good for both sides -- it's good for U.S. workers, and it's good for Peruvian, Colombian, or Panamanian workers. And it's in our interest to promote trade.
Secondly, we're doing a lot to promote health. One symbol of our commitment is a Navy medical ship called the Comfort, that is traveling the region, but, more importantly, is providing basic and sophisticated health care to people in need. I mean, the United States, we're strong, no question about it, but our greatest strength is our hearts. Tenemos corazones grandes aqu en este pa s. We care deeply about the plight of other people. And when we see their suffering, we want to help. And the Comfort is a way for us to send a clear message that we care about the people that live in the neighborhood that we occupy together.
You know, Laura and I had an amazing experience in Guatemala. That's Maria's country. We went to the highlands. We first saw a small business guy, who was formerly a subsistence farmer who put together a cooperative of fellow farmers that now have got access to the U.S. markets, and they're making a living. The most important thing was, he said, I'm saving money so my child can get a higher education.
But we also went to an outpost where the U.S. military was providing basic health care for people. Now, we've expanded on that health care initiative by setting up a nurse's training center in Panama. That's what Leavitt will be discussing, Secretary Leavitt. The reason I bring this up is that we understand how important it is for people to have good health. We understand that a healthy society is one that will -- is one in which people will be more likely to realize their full God-given potential. And we want to help, and we want to be involved. And part of our discussions today will be how best to -- how best can the United States and faith-based groups and private groups and NGOs work collaboratively to achieve important objectives.
A third objective is education. As I mentioned, Margaret Spellings will be here. She's the Secretary of Education. But the United States is deeply involved in people-to-people projects, all aimed at improving literacy. We believe strongly in helping teachers teach, and therefore, teacher schools make a lot of sense. But the purpose of the groups today -- of this meeting today is to help us better focus our resources and do a better job of helping people in our neighborhood realize their potential.
I happen to be a person who does believe in an Almighty, and I believe the Almighty implants in each soul great human potential. And it's in our interest to help people realize their full potential. And two ways to do so -- and two practical ways to do so is for the United States to be involved in health issues, as well as education issues, and we are. And we're spending a fair amount of taxpayers' monies to achieve those objectives. And so one of my objectives is to explain to the American people, it's in your interest to help people in our neighborhood become better educated, and it's in your interest that we help people get good health care, because a healthy and educated and prosperous neighborhood is in the long-term interests of the United States.
It is also in our interest to help a neighbor in need. It renews our soul. It lifts our collective spirit. I believe to whom much is given, much is required. We've been given a lot as a nation, and therefore, I believe we're required to help -- help people realize their potential.
So that's why I've come. I've also come to hear some of the folks on our panel. You're probably glad I'm about to quit talking so you can hear some of the folks on the panel, too. We're going to start with Shannon. He's worked for me at the NSC in the White House, now is at the State Department. He is the main guy when it comes to South and Latin America -- I don't know if that's a diplomatic term, "main guy," or not. (Laughter.)
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: It works for me, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: That's right. Welcome.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Mr. President, thank you very much, and thank you for being here for this conversation.
This conversation will really frame and inform the rest of this conference. And we have around the table with us today representatives of Mexico, Brazil, Haiti, the United States, and Guatemala. It really does span the Americas, but it also captures the themes that we're going to be talking about today -- expanding economic opportunity, investing in education, strengthening health care, and building public-private partnerships.
And our panelists, I believe, will highlight the dynamism and the hope and the effort that really defines the Americas today. And they're evidence that there is a positive agenda in this hemisphere, and it is a positive agenda that has emerged within our democracies. And they're evidence that there are common values that join us and that there are shared tasks that confront us. And, ultimately, they're evidence that we all respond to the demands of our peoples for respect, dignity and freedom.
Our conversation is about the future of our democracies and the recognition that citizenship in our democracies is not just political; it's also social and economic. And our citizens seek not only a voice in their national destiny, but also the capacity and the opportunity to shape their personal destinies. Our panelists and those who follow today in the different breakout sessions highlight, I believe, the richness of our hemisphere and the potential that can be released when governments listen to and work with their peoples.
Finally, this conversation is evidence that our diplomacy in the Americas, the diplomacy of the United States, is larger than just the diplomacy between states; it is really between and among peoples. And we're working towards an alliance of peoples in the Americas. And, Mr. President, I think this is a great place to start.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, thank you, Thomas.
Before I call on Maria, I do want to say something about our expectations, and that is, we expect governments to be of, and by, and for the people. We don't -- and we expect governments to be honest and transparent and open. We reject the notion that it's okay for there to be corruption in government. We really believe that open, transparent societies are those that lead to hopeful tomorrows.
And so part of our foreign policy -- for example, through the Millennium Challenge Account -- is to set expectations, expectations that most people want: the expectation of a government that invests in the health and education of her people; the expectation that there will be no corruption, that there will be transparency, that people will be able to express themselves in an open forum without fear of reprisal.
And so, no question we want to be involved on the people-to-people programs, but we also have the objective of enhancing good government, as well, which we believe strongly will lead to more hopeful futures.
Anyway, Maria is here. Where are you from, Maria?
MS. PACHECO: I'm from Guatemala.
THE PRESIDENT: Que bueno. Bienvenidos.
MS. PACHECO: Muchas gracias.
THE PRESIDENT: And so what do you do for a living?
MS. PACHECO: In Guatemala, I have a little business incubator. But before I go into that, I just want to say that I'm really happy to be in a country like this, because I think this country represents dreams and represents dreams becoming realities. And I also come here to this country with a dream.
Before I get into that I'd like to tell you a story that --
THE PRESIDENT: Por favor. You speak in English and I'll speak in Spanish. (Laughter.)
MS. PACHECO: Bueno. Esta bien.
THE PRESIDENT: Except I'll ruin the language, and you won't. (Laughter.)
MS. PACHECO: I'm Guatemalan, and in Guatemala in 2001, there was a famine that occurred for the first time. There was a drought in these communities, and there was a coffee crisis. And in the newspaper there were pictures of small girls dying of hunger. And we were able to come to this community and see what was happening and meet the people. And along the road, I met this woman called Dona Santa (phonetic). And she took me to her house, and I go there -- a little palm house -- there's a little boy, sick, and I tell her, you know, Dona Santa, why don't you take him to a hospital, he's going to die? And she said, you know, Maria, I have $5 in my pocket. With those, I can try to save this child or I can try to feed the other six for the rest of the month.
But for me, I love this story because it has a happy ending. When we asked Dona Santa, you know, what can we do for you, what do you need? She said, markets. She said, Maria, if you can sell what we produce, the rest we can do on our own.
So that changed the whole way of what our organization was thinking of doing, and we started selling markets. We were able to find an industry that needed packaging, this industry exports products to the world, and they needed a fiber packaging done by hand.
And what we see, five years after this community has had a steady source of income from being connected, is amazing. Like you said, in the community, the women started feeding their children. For the first time, we have kids in the 11th or 12th grade dreaming of going to school. But the most important thing that we saw is what you said: the human potential that was in these women, that seemed to be a problem, just came out through markets. And the pride that you could see in them is really what I think markets are all about.
THE PRESIDENT: Let me ask you a question. So, you started this group initially to -- what's the name of it?
MS. PACHECO: Keij de los Bosques.
THE PRESIDENT: Si. (Laughter.)
MS. PACHECO: It's a Mayan word. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: You started it when, in 2001?
MS. PACHECO: In 2004.
THE PRESIDENT: In 2004, good. How many members?
MS. PACHECO: We have -- well, there's 22 people in the company, but we're working now with more than a thousand women in Guatemala in different regions.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. So, lesson one, by the way, there is such thing as social entrepreneurs. It is somebody who says, I'm going to help somebody else, and takes time, talent, energy, and as a result, you're affecting a thousand lives -- a thousand primary interfaces, which affects, no telling, how many lives.
One of the messages, I hope, that comes out of this meeting, is that you can make a difference. It doesn't take much. And as a matter of fact, society has changed one heart at a time, and therefore, if you're one of those persons changing hearts, you're part of societal change for the better.
And so I hope that we can inspire our fellow citizens to become involved with the NGOs or the faith-based groups or the community-based groups, all helping our neighborhood, and hopefully inspire people, like in Guatemala, to step up and do the same thing that Maria has done.
So, are you pretty upbeat? Optimistic? Pessimistic? Tell me how you're looking these days.
MS. PACHECO: I think what we have seen with this community, it gets us really optimistic because with this event, not only the community changed, but the private sector and the government is saying, how can we do more of this on a bigger scale? So I'm really optimistic because what I have seen is that trade can be beautiful -- a trade that recovers ecosystems; a trade that values ancestral cultures; a trade that incorporates people that were outside of the productive sector, for the first time, into a supply chain. I think that kind of trade becomes a very important tool.
THE PRESIDENT: I appreciate it. Look, it's very important for my fellow citizens to understand that when we open up markets in a fair way -- in other words, we treat our producers the same as producers in other countries -- it benefits us. It particularly helps lift people out of poverty. And that's what we want. We want people prosperous in your neighborhood. If you're living in a neighborhood, you want there to be prosperity in your neighborhood. So I appreciate you bringing up the importance of markets, and providing -- giving people just a basic opportunities in life, and it will make it -- it's a transforming strategy. And so thanks for coming.
Maria, it says here you're an organic farmer?
MS. PACHECO: Yes, I was an organic farmer for 12 years.
THE PRESIDENT: What were you farming?
MS. PACHECO: I was farming vegetables.
THE PRESIDENT: Vegetables, yes. I'm not big on vegetables, but thanks. (Laughter.)
MS. PACHECO: Broccoli. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Don't tell my mother that. But thank you very much for coming.
MS. PACHECO: Thank you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I appreciate your time.
Matthew, what do you do?
MR. CLAUSEN: I work for Partners of the Americas.
THE PRESIDENT: And what is that?
MR. CLAUSEN: Partners of the Americas is an organization -- we've been around for over 40 years now, and we connect people with other people in our hemisphere.
THE PRESIDENT: Really. What does that mean, connect people with other people?
MR. CLAUSEN: It means we have volunteer groups in almost every state of the U.S. that are partnered with similar groups in almost every country in the region.
THE PRESIDENT: That's great.
MR. CLAUSEN: And so those local groups are filled with volunteers that are teachers and doctors, along with churches and organizations and business people. And when we engage those groups, we engage those people, say in an exchange, for example, somebody from Wisconsin going to Nicaragua, or someone from Paraguay coming to Kansas, they may be traveling alone, but it's almost like the plane was filled with all of their connections to their communities. And people say -- we say we work with civil society, and people say, well, what is civil society? That's civil society; it's all those people, they're all those connections. When you have one person interacting with a new community, it has a ripple effect, a multiplier effect, a leverage that is a great investment.
And if you look at a small investment -- a couple of examples. The Youth Ambassadors program, which we've had the pleasure of working with the U.S. government and our embassies and the private sector, to provide opportunities to underprivileged youth in nine different countries -- these are kids who are self-starters. One of our Brazilian Youth Ambassadors, I asked him who his English teacher was, and he said, Mariah Carey, on the radio. This is someone who deserves an opportunity, and he was able to come and spend a week in Washington, see how our government, how our democracy works, and then, more importantly, perhaps -- no offense to Washington -- he was able to go out and stay with a host family, go to school with kids his age, learn about cultures in different states in the U.S., and take that experience back with him.
THE PRESIDENT: So are you looking for volunteers?
MR. CLAUSEN: We are always looking for volunteers.
THE PRESIDENT: And how would one who might be interested in volunteering find information about ways to help? Do you have a website, for example?
MR. CLAUSEN: We do. We have partners.net, is a great place to start.
THE PRESIDENT: Partners.net. What would one find there?
MR. CLAUSEN: One would find a list of our programs and our partnerships; which states are partnered with which countries, and some of the areas of priority, areas that they've been working on. You would also find information about a program that you announced in 2001, the American Fellows program, which we are proud to say has been a great success. Not only is it just a government fellows program, it's also a business fellows program. And by the end of this month, our 100th fellow will have returned from service.
We believe in these people-to-people partnerships, but we also believe in sector-to-sector partnerships. We have -- our "A Ganar" program involves teaching youth employability skills by using soccer, team sports. And we work with the Inter-American Development Bank, and we have very important private sector contributions from corporations like Microsoft.
THE PRESIDENT: So what happens if somebody wanted to become a teacher for the summer, or wanted to take a trip, and part of the experience of the trip was to make an impact on somebody's life? Can they find that kind of program on your website?
MR. CLAUSEN: Certainly. There are many opportunities for exchange. And one of the good things now -- we have a lot of representatives here from other organizations. We're certainly not the only show in town, and it's great to have that competition, in the healthy sense of the word. There's a lot of opportunities for service learning.
THE PRESIDENT: And so is there a common website? Do we have a website, for example, as a result of the meeting? I might ask my friend, Karen Hughes, to think about this. She probably has already thought about it, knowing her -- and that is to think maybe about a listing of different ways our fellow citizens can get involved in helping different programs, either financially or through time and effort. Maybe we ought to think about that. I know you already have.
Good, thanks. Anything else you want to say, Matthew, while you've got the floor here?
MR. CLAUSEN: Well, I can't pass up that opportunity.
THE PRESIDENT: Here's your chance, man. (Laughter.)
MR. CLAUSEN: Well, there are some interesting initiatives out there. One in the Senate now, a bipartisan bill that's the Global Service Fellowship Act, which would give vouchers to people who want to volunteer, not just in this region, but elsewhere. It's a great idea, because people can come with a little bit of resources, which when they then go and travel somewhere, they're not only doing what they're doing, that exact activity, but they are citizen diplomats. And there's no better way, I think, for any country, not just ours, to represent what we believe in than by just doing things together in a community.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. A healthy society is one in which people are responsible for their behaviors. A healthy capitalist society is one in which corporate America, in this case, is responsible for -- becomes a responsible citizen. And we have got such a soul here in Vivian Alegria. She is from Mexico.
MS. ALEGRIA: Yes.
THE PRESIDENT: Welcome. You work for?
MS. ALEGRIA: For the Coca Cola Foundation in Mexico.
THE PRESIDENT: Coca Cola Foundation. And what does the Coca Cola Foundation do?
MS. ALEGRIA: The Coca Cola Foundation in Mexico is focused on projects that strengthen the communities and that raise the living standards; focused on education, and directed to the most needy communities. So we are building the schools for these children that live isolated, and we are refurbishment -- what they call indigenous scholar shelters. This is like boarding school, where children can live from Monday until Friday, in order to attend school. Because of the dispersion we have in our indigenous population in Mexico, sometimes they need eight-hour distances in order to go to school.
THE PRESIDENT: So you're building schools?
MS. ALEGRIA: We're building schools and boarding schools. We're working closely with the government, with the Mexican government. That was a very important partnership for us, because we have the people, they have the knowledge, they have infrastructure. And what is most important, they know the country needs. So we are supporting them.
And right now the school shelters, they're like true community centers for these populations. We have multiple use room inside the shelter, where they can have libraries and also computers. Computers in these communities, they have been really the difference for these children, because it's like a window to the world for them; finally, through Internet -- all of them have Internet, with solar energy, some of them -- through Internet they have a lot of opportunities right now.
We're working also with different NGOs, universities, doing their social service there; the federal and state government and with Coca Cola Foundation, and we're putting together different programs inside the shelters. So we have a nutrition program for the children, health and wellness, and also a reforestation program and arts and crafts, reinforcing their tradition and their culture
All the shelters, they're friendly with the environment, because all of them have a harvest water system, also a reforestation program. We're taking advantage of this program in order to take the people of the Coca Cola company -- include the people of the Coca Cola company in the system, to help them with the maintenance and planting trees and all the different activities we have to do there. So we are trying to foster -- we are fostering, not trying, a culture of collaboration and sustainability.
THE PRESIDENT: I think one of the things that our citizens have got to understand here, there's a lot of corporate America that are very much involved in the communities, of which they're active. And that's important. And I would encourage our companies that do business in the neighborhood to understand that it's one thing to sell a product, it's another thing to help people be able to buy the product, and become involved in the communities in which they're doing business. And I'm confident a lot of our companies are. I know Microsoft, for example, is very much involved with education programs. Laura and I are working on a very important initiative to help eradicate malaria in parts of the world, and corporate America is helping there, too. So for those of you who represent corporate America, thanks for coming, and thanks for being involved.
And if you're not, get involved. It will not only help your business, it will help your country, because I want to keep saying this over and over again, an objective of our country and this government is for there to be a healthy, educated and prosperous neighborhood. It's in our interests. America does better when people in the neighborhood in which we live are feeling better, can read better, and are making more money. Prosperity is -- and health and education are just essential to a peaceful community around us.
Anyway, so thanks for coming, Vivian. It's good to see you.
Gilberto. You are from Brazil. Great country.
MR. DIMENSTEIN: Great country. Great, great country.
THE PRESIDENT: I'm proud to report that relations with Brazil are improving a lot. I've got a very close relationship with President Lula, we've worked hard to make it that way. And one of the interesting initiatives we're working on is a alternative fuel initiative, where the United States and Brazil can work and share technologies, not only between our two countries, but in the neighborhood, so that we can all become less dependent on oil.
Anyway, so relations are good. And so, what do you do for a living, Gilberto?
MR. DIMENSTEIN: I'm a journalist.
THE PRESIDENT: A journalist? That's good. (Laughter.)
MR. DIMENSTEIN: Very good?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
MR. DIMENSTEIN: Or not very good?
THE PRESIDENT: No, it's great, believe me. (Laughter.) Isn't it? Yes. (Laughter.)
MR. DIMENSTEIN: I work for Folha de S o Paulo, one of the leading newspapers in Brazil, and a global organization, another leading media organization. And then the last almost 20 years I've been writing about violence against kids and the lessons in Brazil --
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you.
MR. DIMENSTEIN: -- denouncing the assassination of kids, sexual exploitation. Many of the books is relating to many parts; this is my private life. But at the same time I do my (inaudible) work, and I create a program that is called (inaudible), which means "teaching neighborhood," and this motto means this. We go to the neighborhood and we see everything that we have in the neighborhood -- NGOs, the schools, charities, universities, volunteers, theaters, cinemas -- whatever, everything -- and the great net among all of these people, all of these institutions, and the kids, the lessons. We will have (inaudible) in school as a neighborhood.
So it's a 24-hour teaching neighborhood where it can have health, linking to the school, linking to the theater, lining to the social assistance. And the kids are going to school as he lives or she lives in the place where they can learn everywhere.
And in the last -- I developed this idea and started when I was living in New York, because I was so impressed about how the community could tackle the violence. I was in school in Columbia University. And I started to do this in '97, when I was living in Manhattan. And then only this year UNICEF decided to adopt this idea as a model to assimilate throughout the Americas. And last week, the federal government decided to replicate this idea all over the country because we have indicators showing that (inaudible) Escola could at the same time, improve education, the performance, without spending money, only rearranging the potential. At the same time, we have very strong signs that when we create social capital and human capital together, the violence in schools goes down, as well.
THE PRESIDENT: Fantastic. And when you say countrywide, first, you've got a big country. This will be promoted by the federal government in cooperation with --
MR. DIMENSTEIN: With UNICEF, and there are a bunch of American companies that are supporting us, like Intel, J.P. Morgan, who are helping training, because our goal, Mr. President, is to train people in the community in order to create nets. That's why our program is a mix between education and communication. And we've learned that when we put people together it's very easy to make the education improve. One instance, we create one model, the neighborhood that I live, because you want to change the world, first try to change your neighborhood.
THE PRESIDENT: That's right.
MR. DIMENSTEIN: And only because we put together the health center to the school, the school performance improved 30 percent in one year and a half, because the people have problems in hearing or eyes, and so on and so on, and discovered that the best way to spend money is not to waste money -- and to not waste money, you see everything you can use toward education. That's the (inaudible) Escola, teaching neighborhoods 24 hours, that we create that.
THE PRESIDENT: So part of the purpose of this gathering is to analyze best practices. And by that I mean what works. Gilberto has just described a program that works, and hopefully somebody will be inspired by this idea and try it out in another part of our neighborhood.
And so I appreciate you coming. Thanks for bring something that --
MR. DIMENSTEIN: Thank you very much for the invitation.
THE PRESIDENT: You're not only a social entrepreneur, you're an educational entrepreneur. And we appreciate your vision and your hard work to make your country a better place.
An individual can make a significant difference in the life -- in somebody else's life. And when you can motivate and encourage millions of individuals to make a difference in somebody's life, then the impact becomes pretty profound. And here's an example of one fellow who is working hard to improve his country. Thanks for coming.
Dr. Marie. How are you, Doc?
DR. DESCHAMPS: I'm doing fine, thank you. It's an honor to be here.
THE PRESIDENT: What kind of doctor are you?
DR. DESCHAMPS: From my graduation in Haiti as a doctor -- I was trained in the U.S. and become an infectious disease specialist. At that time, AIDS epidemic had started, but we did not know the entirety of HIV/AIDS at that time. So stigmatization was high. And I decided to return home and co-founded the GHESKIO Health Institution as an NGO, working closely with the Ministry of Health. So a two-faceted TB, HIV and infected (inaudible), we developed the model eventually which its services offering care and prevention treatment for the HIV, the tuberculosis, malaria, and other sexual transmitted infection.
And, unfortunately, we saw that the epidemic went from the beginning where it was mostly male individuals, it became now an (inaudible) disease, and actually 62 percent of the population coming to the clinic are women. So I decided to integrate a (inaudible) of health service with (inaudible) clinic, offering treatment also to the pregnant woman to prevent mother-to-child transmission.
And, unfortunately, sexual violence toward women became very high also in Haiti. So in 2000, I integrate a unit offering care and treatment for victims of sexual violence, which is an interesting model where all those services are integrated. The Ministry of Health had requested that we replicate this model throughout the country. So for the last three years, with the PEPFAR funds, which are an incentive, we have created a network of 27 health institutions, public and private, offering the same services.
And what is amazing is that what we are observing is that we are creating more partnership with other organization, working in the field, and we share the experience. And with a strong partnership, public and private sector partnership, we are about to replicate our model also in the existing health institution.
THE PRESIDENT: So she's from Haiti, obviously. She's a doc. She's deeply concerned about HIV/AIDS and malaria.
You know, our government and the people -- the generosity of the Americans, American people can be -- as manifested by just money, spending money. Up to now we have talked about how American citizens spend time and effort to help improve lives. We also spend money. And this is an area where I feel very strongly that America should be involved and make a difference, and that is fighting the pandemic of HIV/AIDS and dealing with malaria.
And so, to this end, I'm asking Congress for $30 billion expenditure over the next five years. She mentioned PEPFAR. That's, like, initials for the AIDS initiative, and we're making a big difference.
The reason I bring this up again is that -- I'm not bragging, I'm just telling the American taxpayer that through your hard work and your tax dollars, we're helping programs like Maria's that are saving lives. We can measure the lives being saved. We can measure the amount of antiretroviral drugs ending up in people's systems. We can measure how many different groups there are involved. This is an area, for example, where the faith-based community has made a significant difference, not only in our own hemisphere but in other affected countries as well.
Maria mentioned that it's amazing what happens when they start networking; when one group attracts another group, that attracts another group, and all of a sudden, there's a grassroots organization in place to deal with this terrible pandemic.
And so I want to thank you for going back to your country; for lending your skills to help solve a significant problem that can be -- that at least, we can arrest the race. At least we can help -- and we save children through the mother-to-child transmission -- programs that prevent that transmission of AIDS.
So, good going.
MS. PACHECO: Thank you.
DR. DESCHAMPS: Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. You upbeat? You feeling all right about things?
DR. DESCHAMPS: Oh, very good. We are very happy. And what we found, interestingly, when you give them the drugs, patients feel better, they're healthy, and they don't beg for food, their one job. So, interestingly, with the PEPFAR funds, we are able to give them the help that they require and now they ask for a job. So we create, again, partnership, with a micro-credit institution, so healthy individuals, whether they were HIV or not, have access to micro-credit. And now they create their own micro-business.
And what is interesting is that 95% of those individuals, who were a beneficiary of this organization, were able to return the funds back. So more and more people can use now the micro-credit.
THE PRESIDENT: That's one thing that Secretary Paulson's going to discuss in the break-out session that he is going to be leading, and that is, our view of the importance of micro-loans -- micro-credit, as a way to help people, again, help themselves and realize their potential. So thanks for coming.
DR. DESCHAMPS: Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Glad you're here.
DR. DESCHAMPS: Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Our last panelist is John Howe, formerly of the great state of Texas. Once a Texan, always a Texan, John. (Laughter.) He is the President and CEO of Project HOPE. Why don't you explain what that is and tell us what you're doing.
DR. HOWE: Thank you, Mr. President. Next year's the 50th anniversary of this wonderful organization. In 1958, President Eisenhower provided encouragement for us to be created. To tell you a secret, we're not legally charted as Project HOPE. We're legally chartered here in Washington as the People-to-People Foundation, doing business as Project HOPE.
THE PRESIDENT: Good.
DR. HOWE: And it was in that era that President Eisenhower provided a ship. And the rest is history. This is in 12 countries, over 12 years. The last two years was in Brazil, and, reaching out and making a difference as a result in Peru, where Secretary Hughes will be later this summer, the ship visit, the original S.S. HOPE. And as a result, the first medical school university hospital was created outside of Lima. And the same stories were recapitulated on and on.
But that's yesterday. Let me put a face on today. In the past 72 hours, a woman named Elmira Quia left her village in Guatemala, in pot-holed barrios, and she took a trip -- on foot, with a truck, with a bus -- 400 kilometers to reach the ship; the great Naval hospital ship, the Comfort, that had been dispatched by Admiral Stravitas (phonetic), who's with us today.
And onboard were Project HOPE volunteers; ordinary Americans, volunteers. And she met Dr. Nick Morris from Powell, Wyoming, and Nick is a general surgeon. She walked there because she was not able to care for her family, because she had a huge -- now I'm going to get medical -- abdominal hernia. And she met Dr. Morris, and Dr. Morris took her to the ship and repaired that hernia.
She's back in her village today, having been cured. And it was life-changing for her, sir, but it was life-changing for Dr. Morris. Put another way, as we were talking with our colleague from Guatemala, after two stops out of the 12 this summer, of the Comfort, the volunteers on board the Naval hospital ship from Project HOPE and our Navy counterparts, have cared for 27,000 patients, at the least, in Guatemala. And when you count in the patients in Panama, just completed 35,000. Next week I'll have an opportunity to go onboard the ship in Nicaragua to say thank you to the volunteers, say thank you.
So, sir, I want to say that when you gave permission for the Mercy, the other big white hospital ship to respond to the needs in Banda Aceh, what you unleashed is evidence of the spirit of volunteerism in our country -- 4,000 doctors and nurses applied for the 210 positions two years ago, and we've had a similar experience. So it's a wonderful example of America at its best.
THE PRESIDENT: Thanks, John. You know, it's interesting, our country has got certain images that -- some are true, some aren't true. And it's very important, as part of our diplomacy, diplomatic effort, on behalf of the American citizens, to remind people about some of the great generous acts that our citizens are doing. And they do it out of the goodness of their hearts. There's nothing better than being a volunteer. It's probably one of the great acts of kindness that somebody can do, is to volunteer to save somebody's life, or just to add a little love in somebody's heart.
And we've got millions of our citizens who do that on a daily basis here at home. And it's in our interest that citizens who so want to can do that outside, in our neighborhood. And part of the purpose of having this gathering today is to remind our citizens of that which we're doing, and to call upon our citizens, if they've got time, to help somebody in need. As you said, the doctor from Wyoming benefited just as much as the woman in Guatemala did. And that's the beauty of giving.
And so I thank you all for joining today. Our panelists did a magnificent job, like I knew they would. I thank you all very much for your interest in coming. To my fellow citizens, I appreciate you taking time. I appreciate you being involved. I thank you for caring about the plight of our fellow human beings in the neighborhood in which we live. For those of you from other countries, welcome to America. You'll find this to be a loving country, full of decent, caring, fine people. And it is an honor to be the President of such a country.
Que Dios les bendiga. May God bless you. Thank you. (Applause.)
END 11:15 A.M. EDT