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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
March 20, 2002

Mrs. Bush's Remarks to Back-to-School Project for Afghan Girls
As Delivered
Samuel W. Tucker Elementary School

Mrs. Bush displays a sample of the school uniforms that will be made for girls in Afghanistan -- many of whom will attend school for the first time on March 23 when the new school year begins. Mrs. Bush announced a new global partnership of government agencies, private organizations, individuals and corporations to help provide school uniforms and jobs for the women and girls of Afghanistan.

Thank you, Kamila (Benzina) for that wonderful introduction. You deserve a round of applause.

Since September 11th, Americans and our allies have united to support the children of Afghanistan, especially now, as Afghan children prepare for the new school year.

One extraordinary global effort is a back-to-school project - that will help Afghan women earn money for their families by sewing school uniforms for Afghan girls.

This back-to-school project began last month when Afghan Minister for Women's Affairs Sima Simar asked for help to send girls back to school and to send women back to work. She requested:

  • 200 manual sewing machines;
  • 450,000 yards of fabric for 150,000 uniforms;
  • shoes,
  • socks, and
  • a way to help Afghan women go back to workwhile contributing to society and schools by sewing the uniforms.

I am proud that a global partnership united to exceed Sima's request. By working together, a partnership of government agencies, individuals, and corporations will help more women support their families and send more children to school in uniforms.

This uniform is considered a luxury that few Afghan families can afford.

Children who don't have uniforms like this one must attend school in their house clothes, they feel the shame of being different from their more fortunate classmates who have uniforms to wear to school.

When you give a child a uniform, you're giving her family another incentive to send her to school. These uniforms are gifts that represent one less financial burden for families.

The goal is to make uniforms for more than 3 million girls and boys. By sewing these uniforms, Afghan seamstresses - many of whom are widows - will be providing for their families…some for the first time in years. These women are contributing to the re-organization of Afghan schools that are rebuilding literally from the ground up.

Every stitch contributes to the great patchwork of support and stabilization for the people of Afghanistan.

An Afghan woman I met named Farida said that when she was a child living in a refugee camp in Pakistan, she and her five sisters received uniforms through a relief organization. She said:

"We were so joyous and so happy to receive the clothes; we wore one dress for 4 to 5 years. We didn't feel like we were poor; we felt like we were seen in an equal light, and we knew our family would not have to worry about paying for our uniforms."

She thanked me for helping support this back-to-school project, and I am proud to share her thanks with:

  • Vital Voices, for organizing this project at Sima's request and soliciting all the partners. This is a global partnership that has truly been a vital voice for Afghan women and children.
  • Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, for the Labor Department's "jobs creation" role in this project;
  • Liz Claiborne, for providing a half-million yards of fabric - gathered throughout Asia;
  • Spring Industries, for providing fabric;
  • LL Bean, Inc., for providing shoes, jackets and blankets;
  • Bass and Company, New Balance, Sabago, and Timberland, for providing shoes;
  • Sarah Lee Corporation for providing socks;
  • General Motors and Wal-Mart for their financial support; and
  • J.R. United of Miami, for providing sewing machines and fabrics through their commercial partners in Pakistan.

Would the representatives from these organizations please stand so we can recognize you?

These people are giving children thousands of miles away something greater than uniforms; they're giving them hope for a brighter day…and hope for a better life.

Students, thank you for contributing to a project that has only just begun. You are part of an ongoing effort that deserves our support.

There is much to do, and Americans will be watching as the Back-to-School Project for Afghan Girls continues to help women and children throughout the year.

When we educate children, we give them the ability to imagine a future of opportunity, equality and justice. Education is the single most important long-term investment we can make in the future of any nation.

In his State of the Union address to the United States Congress, President Bush said:

"All fathers and mothers, in all societies, want their children to be educated, and live free from poverty and violence… No nation owns these aspirations, and no nation is exempt from them."

When President Bush speaks of education, he speaks passionately, from his heart. Ladies and gentlemen -- and students -- I am proud to introduce President George W. Bush.

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