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Remarks by Mrs. Bush
Prague, Czech Republic
May 21, 2002
Radio Address of First Lady Laura Bush to Radio Free Afghanistan
MRS. BUSH: Hello, I'm Laura Bush. I'm speaking to you from the headquarters of Radio Free Europe in Prague. I'm delighted to say hello to the men and women, boys and girls of Afghanistan on behalf of the people of America. We want you to know: America ba shooma ahst.
I'm pleased to speak with you directly, to let you know that the people of America are committed to the people of Afghanistan. We care about you, and we will be your partners in the reconstruction of your country. We know that life in Afghanistan is extremely hard. Years of war have devastated your beautiful land. Poverty and malnutrition are widespread. Many of your citizens cannot find jobs or the health care they need. Many of your public institutions and much of your infrastructure, including roads, buildings, water supply and schools, have been destroyed.
Yet despite these great difficulties, these are times of hope and even times of joy in Afghanistan. The world has watched with happiness as we see pictures of boys and girls going back to school, of women moving freely outside their homes, of farmers beginning to plant -- replant their fields with food crops. We will never forget the images of Afghan men, women and children smiling and singing and laughing as America, our coalition partners, and your own fellow countryman helped liberate you from the brutal oppression of the Taliban regime.
America is working along with our partners throughout the world to help meet your immediate needs for food, water, shelter and medicine. With the help of the United Nations world food program, record amounts of food have been delivered in record time to more than 6 million men, women and children.
As we work to help your nation rebuild, the United States Agency for International Development is funding three immediate priorities: Agriculture, education and health care. Agriculture is the largest and most important part of your economy, and a way of life for 70 percent of Afghanistan's people. America has provided 7000 metric tons of wheat -- of wheat seed and technical assistance to more than 40,000 farmers to help increase grain production. We're also distributing fertilizer and helping rebuild crop irrigation systems and more help is on the way. We will double the number of seeds for fall planting to 14,000 metric tons. By helping farmers begin producing again, they have the opportunity to earn their own living, improve the nation's economy, and feed the people of Afghanistan.
Many of the schools are once again open in Afghanistan and America has delivered 5 million textbooks written in the Afghan languages of Pashto and Dari. The curriculum for the textbooks was developed by Afghans. They were edited and printed at American University, the University of Nebraska at Omaha. The textbooks cover math, algebra, geometry, language, reading, writing, science and health, social studies, civics, geography, physics, chemistry, geology and biology. The American Red Cross is also collecting school supplies for Afghan children.
As the school year started, my husband, President Bush, asked Americans to help fill 3000 trunks with pencils, notebooks, rulers, paper and crayons, and more help is on the way. School supply chests are still being assembled, another 5 million textbooks are being printed, and teams of educators are conducting training sessions with thousands of teachers. We're also encouraging reading by hosting reading classes and supplying books for public libraries. By giving children books and supplies, we give them hope for a better future.
Health care is an urgent priority in your country, where one of the greatest tragedies is that one of every four Afghan children dies before the age of five. And for every 1000 live births, 17 mothers die, a statistic that makes Afghanistan second only to Sierra Leone in maternal mortality. America has committed millions of dollars to expand the number of community health workers, bring basic health services to many communities, improve water and sanitation, provide immunizations and health care for pregnant mothers and newborns. More than 2 million children are being vaccinated against measles and women's resource centers are being developed to provide training and access to information on women's health issues.
The children of my country are especially concerned for the children of yours. Although you live half a world away, American children are learning about you in their schools and in their homes. President Bush asked the boys and girls of America to raise or earn a dollar and send it to help pay for food and medicine for the children of Afghanistan. And American children have responded eagerly, sending more than $4 million so far to help pay for food, shelter, clothing, health care and toys. And when the envelopes came in the mail, they contained more than money. They were filled with messages of hope from the children of America to the children of Afghanistan.
A 10-year-old named Giovanni wrote, "I earned this dollar from my teacher by cleaning our class. I hope this will help the children and give them what they need to survive."
A little girl named Grace said, "I'm sending a dollar to help the innocent children of Afghanistan. I wish to help one that life of a child."
Another letter said, "Dear children of Afghanistan, we care about you. We want you to have food, clothes, water and medicines." Sincerely, Gary Coppernell, a U.S.A. kid.
Another child wrote, "I hope every dollar we sent will help the children of Afghanistan grow up to be healthy and live a good life."
These are the voices of America. All of us want all the citizens of Afghanistan to be healthy and to live a good life. We know that will require a great deal of work and we've only just begun. This morning, I met with a group of people who represent nongovernmental organizations working to improve lives in Afghanistan. More than 25 such organizations from America are already at work in your country; many others from around the world are joining them. These groups are helping to rebuild the education system, provide training to farmers, teachers and health care workers, and help start small businesses by paying for services that benefit the entire community.
One such project helps Afghan women earn money for their families by selling school uniforms for Afghan girls. This project began when the Afghan Minister for Women's Affairs, Sima Simar, asked the United States for help to send women back to work and girls back to school. Dr. Simar requested sewing machines and fabric. Two hundred sewing machines and the first 50,000 shards of fabric are being delivered; another 550,000 yards of fabric, 144 million buttons, 30,000 pairs of shoes, 10,000 pairs of socks and other goods are on their way from corporations and private citizens around the world.
These are still hard times, but also hopeful times, for Afghanistan. As a former teacher and librarian, I'm especially excited that the schools of Afghanistan are now open and that boys and girls are now allowed to attend them. Education is so important. One of the most important things the mothers and fathers of Afghanistan can do to improve the future of your country is to send your children to school so they will learn to read and learn skills that will help them lead productive lives.
Another important thing every citizen can do his participate in the upcoming regional meetings as Afghanistan continues to implement the Bonn accords and select new leaders.
I'm speaking to you from the headquarters of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which is dedicated to providing the information you need to make informed decisions for your family and your country. I hope the women of Afghanistan will not stand on the sidelines as these decisions are made. You have a big opportunity, and a lot at stake.
I understand the lives of women in America and the lives of women in Afghanistan are very different, and I respect our differences and your decisions. Yet I want you to know that the isolation the Taliban regime forced on you is not normal -- not by international standards, not by Islamic standards, and not by Afghanistan's own standards. Before the Taliban, women were elected representatives in Afghanistan's parliament. Women worked as teachers, doctors and professionals. Women were educated and women were a vital part of Afghanistan's life. I hope you will be again because a society can only achieve its full potential when all of its members participate.
War has been a way of life in Afghanistan for far too many years. Many people are dedicated to helping you build a lasting peace -- and you yourselves must seize this opportunity. I hope you'll support the work of schools and send your children to be educated. I hope you'll take advantage of the training that many organizations are offering to help you start a business or learn a profession. I hope you'll participate in selecting a government that can lead your country to it future of peace and prosperity. I know that at times these may seem like distant dreams, but I've spent much of the last week in two Central European countries, Hungary and the Czech Republic, which only gained their freedom from oppression little more than a decade ago. Today, they are free, vibrant nations.
I'm confident Afghanistan can build a future of peace and freedom, and America will be your friend and partner in achieving it. Ma ba shooma ahstem.
Thank you for listening, and thanks to Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, Radio Free Afghanistan and Voice of America for hosting today.
END 11:32 P.M. (L)
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