The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
September 24, 2007

Mrs. Bush's Remarks at a Global Health and Literacy Luncheon
The Pierpont Morgan Library and Museum
New York, New York

photos  Photos

12:17 P.M. EDT

MRS. BUSH: Thank you very much, Dr. Rice. Thank you all. Thanks so much. Thank you, Dr. Rice, for that very kind introduction. And I want to say a special welcome to Mrs. Ban. Thank you so much for welcoming all of us here for the United Nations General Assembly, along with your husband, the Secretary General. And, of course, welcome to the First Ladies, and one First Gentleman -- brave First Gentleman, I might add -- (laughter) -- who have come from around the world. The First Ladies are wearing a little pin that looks like a book, so as you look around your table, you can see who the First Ladies are at your table, or First Gentleman, and have a chance to talk to them about their countries.

Mrs. Laura Bush speaks during a luncheon on global health and literacy Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2007, at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York. "Over the last five years, Afghanistan's primary-school enrollment rate has increased by more than 500 percent. At the same time, Afghanistan's infant and child mortality rate has dropped nearly 20 percent," said Mrs. Bush citing an important example of how education and children's health are intertwined. "Just a few years of increased school enrollment have produced these promising advances in children's health." White House photo by Shealah Craighead Members of the diplomatic corps, administration officials, business executives, leaders of NGOs, philanthropists, distinguished guests -- thank you all very much for coming.

I want to acknowledge our guests from the countries devastated by the recent flooding in Africa. Already, international organizations, along with the U.S. and other countries, are working with those local governments to help. Our prayers are with the people who have been affected by this major disaster.

Every September, world leaders gather in New York for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly. They come to advance the United Nations' historic mission. It's a mission that an American First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, helped to shape. Mrs. Roosevelt was an author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, crafted in the aftermath of World War II. The Declaration enshrined the rights that belong to every human being, regardless of gender, religion, race or class. Among those fundamental rights is one that's important to every person in this room. "Everyone," the Declaration states, "has the right to education."

Fifty-nine years later, the challenges facing our world have changed, but the importance of education has not. Research shows that educated women raise better-nourished, healthier families. Citizens who can read can follow the instructions on a medicine bottle. They understand warning signs. People who can read are more likely to know how HIV and malaria are transmitted, so they can make informed decisions that will keep them and their families safe.

Many nations, and the private sector, are forming strong partnerships to promote global literacy and health. I've seen the benefit of these partnerships. The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the President's Malaria Initiative include programs that educate people how to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS and malaria -- while these programs save lives. Last year, representatives from 67 countries, 39 education ministers, and 30 first ladies -- including many who are here today -- attended the White House Conference on Global Literacy.

Mrs. Laura Bush listens to the African Children's Choir during a luncheon on global health and literacy Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2007, at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York. White House photo by Shealah Craighead That conference has generated regional literacy conferences, organized by UNESCO. Already, there have been regional conference in Qatar; Bamako, Mali; and seems like there's been one more, I can't remember -- Beijing, of course. There are going to be more conferences coming up in India, in Azerbaijan, and in Costa Rica. And I want to thank all of the people here who have been involved in producing these conferences, especially the people with UNESCO, but all the other people from governments that have produced these conferences around the world.

In Qatar, Sheikha Mozah launched three new literacy partnerships with Mauritania, Mali, and Sudan. In Beijing, Madame Liu convened experts on literacy's role in rural development. At the UNESCO Conference in Bamako, President and Mrs. Tour brought together 27 education ministers and 11 first ladies.

That conference in Mali reunited two presenters from our White House Conference: Dr. Perri Klass and Maria Keita. Dr. Klass is the medical director of the Reach Out and Read program. Reach Out and Read works with pediatricians and nurses to give young children books during their medical visits. Maria Keita leads Mali's Institute of Popular Education.

When they met again in Bamako, Dr. Klass gave Maria books for her pupils. And Maria told Dr. Klass that she had trained 15 students to bring Reach Out and Read to Mali's rural villages. As the 15 facilitators distribute books, they'll immunize children and teach basic hygiene to mothers. Because of the partnership between Maria and Perri, young children in Mali will enjoy better education and improved health. Dr. Perri Klass is here in the audience. (Applause.)

In Afghanistan -- where infant mortality rates are among the world's highest -- I visited the Women's Teacher Training Institute in Kabul. The Institute is a joint initiative of the Afghan and U.S. governments. It receives private-sector support through the United States-Afghan Women's Council.

At the Institute, women from the provinces have a safe dorm to stay in while they're trained to be teachers. So far, the Institute has trained nearly 400 women to be community literacy instructors. These teachers then return home and train more teachers in a cascading effect. The goal is to open and staff as many schools in Afghanistan as fast as possible.

Over the last five years, Afghanistan's primary-school enrollment rate has increased by more than 500 percent. At the same time, Afghanistan's infant and child mortality rate has dropped nearly 20 percent. Just a few years of increased school enrollment have produced these promising advances in children's health. I'd like to recognize the wife of the Afghan Ambassador to the U.S., Shamim Jawad, and all the members of the United States-Afghan Women's Council in the audience. Would you all please stand? (Applause.)

In Senegal, Madame Wade and I saw the benefits of the Africa Education Initiative. The Initiative was launched in 2002 to provide scholarships to girls across Africa and to train 900,000 teachers by the end of the decade. Through the Initiative, six American universities have partnered with six African countries to produce and print primary-school textbooks. These textbooks are tailored to each African nation's culture, curriculum and language.

Some of these books are going to Dakar's Grand Medine Primary School. At Grand Medine, the new texts are improving educational opportunities for children, and their families' health. As children learn from their books, they teach their parents how mosquitoes transmit malaria. They pass along lessons about basic first aid. They show their families hygiene practices that halt the spread of cholera. Mrs. Wade and I met Grand Medine's Vice Principal, Mrs. Ba, who explains: "The books are benefiting the whole community." Mrs. Wade. (Applause.)

In Zambia, more than a million people are infected with HIV. More than 700,000 children are AIDS orphans. The First Lady of Zambia, Mrs. Mwanawasa, is fighting this epidemic as President of the Organization of African First Ladies Against AIDS.

This organization has brought together 40 First Ladies to defeat HIV in their countries. The U.S. government is joining their efforts with a $200,000 contribution from PEPFAR. These resources will support the African First Ladies as they educate adults across the continent about their responsibility to protect themselves, and their children, from HIV and AIDS. Mrs. Mwanawasa. (Applause.)

The lack of education in my country is also an obstacle to good health, especially for women. Many women in the United States don't know that heart disease is the leading cause of death among American women. Through the "Heart Truth" campaign, the U.S. government, media organizations and the fashion industry have joined to raise public awareness of this disease.

Nothing draws attention like a red dress -- (laughter) -- so this is the "Heart Truth's" symbol. Over the last five years, women have come to recognize that little red dress. They're reminded to pay attention to the symptoms of heart disease. If they feel any of these symptoms, they go to the hospital in time to save their own lives. Be sure to pick up your red dress pin after lunch, so you can join the campaign to tell the "Heart Truth." And I want to recognize Dr. Elizabeth Nabel, the Director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, and one of the founders of the "Heart Truth" campaign. Dr. Nabel. (Applause.)

Another major threat to the health of women in my country, and around the world, is breast cancer. To raise women's awareness, my friend, Nancy Brinker, established the Susan G. Komen Foundation in honor of her sister Susan, who died of breast cancer. In the United States, women were once too embarrassed to talk about breast cancer. Twenty-five years ago, they didn't know to go get mammograms. They didn't go for regular screenings. Because Nancy had the courage to speak out, women everywhere across our country now recognize the pink ribbon. They benefit from early breast-cancer detection, which is the closest thing we have to a cure.

Two partnerships between the Komen Foundation, the U.S. State Department and American cancer hospitals and regional experts are raising global awareness about breast cancer. The Partnership for Breast Cancer Awareness and Research of the Americas will reach women in Brazil, Mexico, and Costa Rica. In these countries, many breast-cancer cases result in death -- because the cancer is discovered too late. This partnership will educate Latin American women about regular screenings, so they can detect breast cancer in its earlier stages.

The U.S.-Middle East Partnership for Breast Cancer Awareness and Research will educate women in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. Through the partnership, women in these three countries will learn about the importance of early detection. I'll visit the Middle East in October, during Breast Cancer Awareness month. And I look forward to talking with women there about this important issue. I'd like to recognize our new Ambassador, Chief of Protocol, Nancy Brinker, and the founder of the Susan G. Komen Foundation. (Applause.)

Last May, President Bush announced a new international education program: the Basic Education Initiative. Through this Initiative, the American people will partner with six nations: Ethiopia, Liberia, Honduras, Ghana, Mali, and Yemen.

These six nations have ambitious education plans, approved by the Education for All - Fast Track program. Fast Track education plans work. In the first ten Fast Track countries, the number of trained teachers increased by about 30 percent. In the Fast Track country of Niger, school enrollment has increased by 84 percent.

In the six countries we're announcing today, the Basic Education Initiative will support Fast Track plans to improve literacy and increase school enrollment. The Initiative's goal is to reach 4 million children over the next five years.

A new position in the government has been established to oversee the work of the Basic Education Initiative and to organize our international education efforts. I'm so glad that the new Coordinator of the President's International Education Initiative is here today. Ladies and gentlemen, Dr. Thomas Corts. (Applause.)

Dr. Corts has had a distinguished education career in the United States. He brings to his new job extraordinary compassion and skill. Congratulations, and thank you very much, Dr. Corts.

And thanks to each one of you. Through your governments, foundations, businesses, and faith congregations, you've improving education and health for millions of people. Your individual energy and compassion are touching millions of lives -- including Alice Mwale.

Mrs. Mwanwasa and I met Alice at Zambia's Regiment Basic School. Alice, who is 15, was orphaned by AIDS at the age of seven. Today, she lives with her brother, who sells charcoal on the local market. Her sister braids hair to make money for the family. With a scholarship from the African Education Initiative, Alice can go to school. This AIDS orphan plans to become a doctor, so she can care for Zambians who are infected with HIV. Someday, she hopes to find a cure for AIDS. With her education, Alice said, "I want to save my people."

Alice reminds us that education is vital in every time and place -- from Lusaka to La Paz, from the United Arab Emirates to the United States of America. By improving education, we can advance goals that unite people in every country: healthy lives today, and a more hopeful world for our children.

Thank you all very much. (Applause.)

END 12:34 P.M. EDT

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