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Remarks by Mrs. Bush
Prague, Czech Republic
May 21, 2002

Remarks by Mrs. Bush to Roundtable Discussion at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

10:47 A.M. (L)

MRS. BUSH: Thank you so much, Tom. Thank you very much for inviting me today. And I'm looking forward to listening to each of you and hearing what you all have to say. But first, I can't resist applauding the important work that you and other organizations that you represent are doing in Afghanistan and many other places throughout the world.

Organizations including People-In-Need, Caritas, International Organization for Migration, and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty are delivering supplies, information and economic assistance to people who desperately need them. By doing so, you're delivering help and hope for a better life, one person at a time. You know better than anyone that the need is great. Thanks to you, the people of Afghanistan are learning that the world's concern for them is also great. The people of Afghanistan -- to the people of Afghanistan, you offer the outstretched hand of the world.

I'm meeting with you today not only to get an update and commend your work in Afghanistan, but also to focus on the critical importance of nongovernmental organizations, NGOs, in fostering a civil society, a society where freedom and democracy can flourish.

More than 25 American NGOs are currently working in Afghanistan. Together to other international organizations, they'll help rebuild the education system, integrate women back into society, and jumpstart small businesses through training and micro-lending programs. I don't think it's an overstatement to say that the work of NGOs formulates the glue that helps hold a civil society together.

The United States of America puts a lot of money into starting and strengthening NGOs, because they meet needs and foster communities in a way that government often cannot. Government can build schools and pay teachers, but it took the PTA to organize parental involvement and community investment in those schools. Government can provide money, as it did in setting up an American enterprise fund in the early days of democracy here in the Czech Republic. Yet it was the American Chamber of Commerce that helped identify emerging corporations and linked available money with aspiring people in a way to improve and invigorate the entire economy.

Also here in the Czech Republic, the Association for Education for Citizenship and Democracy has developed civic education curricula and trained teachers to help teach democratic values to the nation's young people. The Environmental Partnership Foundation has matched American environmental experts with local Czech leaders, resulting in many land stewardship and community development projects. The Broumov Center has sponsored community and cultural events to encourage tolerance, fight racism and promote cross-border cooperation with Poland and Germany. In all these examples, the United States government supports and helps fund the important work of nongovernmental organizations, because they strengthen the foundation of democracy.

Nongovernmental organizations are made up of highly motivated, caring people. They frequently do what government cannot do, providing humanitarian relief in places where local parties or ethnic groups are suspicious of government. They sometimes do what government will not do. NGOs helped deliver food to starving people in Afghanistan, even when the Taliban tried to block these deliveries.

Because they work at the local level, close to the people, NGOs generate new ideas to solve old problems. And always, they focus on individual human beings that we are trying to help. Our government works with NGOs around the world in much the same way that my husband wants our government to work with faith-based and community groups into our own country. His faith-based initiative recognizes what NGOs prove every day, that people who are motivated by their faith or by good will for their fellow man, people who have a passion to make a difference, are often far more effective at delivering help to people in need than government ever could be.

United States of America believes the work of NGOs is so important that our government will spend close to $1 billion worldwide this year on programs that help foster democracy and the civil society upon which it depends. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is a great example. Radio Free Europe is a non-profit, private entity that is funded through a federal grant from the Broadcasting Board of Governors. By bringing news to people who need it, this radio service is widely credited with helping to end communism in Eastern and Central Europe. Polish leader Lech Walesa said its role was comparable to the one the sun plays to the earth.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty defines its fundamental mission as helping people create the conditions of freedom in which they can make decisions for themselves and for their countries. One of those conditions is information. Some of Radio Free Afghanistan's most important work right now is informing citizens about the Loya Jirga and what it means to their lives.

Another condition of freedom is freedom of association, an individual's ability to join with others of common interest and common concern. Freedom of association is often denied in the world's most repressive societies, as it was in Afghanistan when women were isolated and treated as virtual prisoners in their homes. Some of the most important work that NGOs will do in Afghanistan is helping women integrate back into society. After years of isolation, many women who are joyful about their new freedom are also understandably apprehensive and uncertain about how to take their place in society. NGOs can help bridge that gap with training, education and moral support, providing opportunities to bring together like-minded individuals and help them find a comfortable place.

All of you are here because you are committed to making a difference. On behalf of the American people, I thank you for the important work that you are doing. As you and your organizations work in Afghanistan and around the world, you're providing resources, training, education and a powerful example, an example of the best that a civil society has to offer.

Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.

END      10:55 A.M. (L)

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