For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 20, 2002
President, First Lady Announce Partnership to Help Afghan Children Prepare for School
Remarks by the President to the Children and Faculty at Samuel W. Tucker Elementary School
Samuel W. Tucker Elementary School
Policy in Focus: New School Year for Afghan Children
1:54 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Laura, for that warm introduction. I appreciate what a fine job she's doing as the First Lady. She's a pretty calm voice in a time -- in turbulent times for our country. And I'm lucky to be married to her.
I want to thank all the Tucker Tigers for letting me come by to say, hello. Gosh, it's good to see you all. I want to thank the fact that you understand that you can make a big difference in somebody's life, that you can help a boy and girl who needs help. And you've done a darn good job. I understand you raised $2,500. That's a lot of money to raise. But you did it by reading books.
So you accomplished two things: one, you helped somebody in Afghanistan who needs your help; and secondly, you practiced reading, which is one of the most important things you can do. I hope you read more than you watch TV. That's really important. How many of you are going to go to college? Can you raise your hands if you're thinking about going to college? Boy, that's great. (Applause.) Guess what? That means you've set an important goal. That's what that means, you've set a good, important goal. It also means you'd better learn how to read. So by reading all those books, it's really a good step toward meeting your goal.
I want to thank the principal, as well, and thank the Superintendent of schools. I want to thank you all. Gosh, it's such a pleasure to come. I'm accompanied by some people who I admire a lot. Our Secretary of Education, Rod Paige has come with us today. Rod, thank you for being here. (Applause.) Our Secretary of Labor, Elaine Chau. Good to see you again, Elaine. (Applause.)
You probably know this already, I don't need to tell you this, but each state has got two United States senators. And here in the state of Virginia, you've got two senators that represent your state at the Capitol. And you've got two really fine United States senators, both of whom have come today to say hello to us. And both of them have come today to show their support for this important project. And here they are: Senator John Warner, Senator George Allen. (Applause.) Thank you all for coming. And from Miami, Florida, there's a Congresswoman here, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is here, as well. Ileana, thank you for coming. (Applause.)
I want to thank Harold Decker and all those who work for the Red Cross for participating in this important project. I want to thank all of you who helped on the uniform project, as well. You know, I oftentimes talk about the need to be a responsible society. In order to have a responsible society, there's such a thing as corporate responsibility. So it warmed our hearts to know that many of you in corporate America heard the call to help. And thank you so much for coming. I appreciate your efforts.
Today, as well, we're joined by a special young lady from Texas. That's where Laura and I are from. She flew up here for a reason, and it's because I wanted to single her out as someone who has done a little extra -- not a little extra; a lot extra -- for the fund to help Afghan boys and girls. Her name is Olivia Bennett. Olivia, would you please stand up over here? (Applause.) Olivia is from South Lake, Texas, and she's got a unique talent. At the age of 12 years old, she is a really good artist. And you know what Olivia did? She painted a lot of pictures, and sold them, and thus far has raised $33,000 for the fund to help Afghan children. But you know what? She's only a third of the way toward her goal. She told me she is going to raise $100,000. And that is so wonderful. Thank you, Olivia, very much for being here. (Applause.)
I want to thank Haroun Amin for being here, as well, the Afghan Charge d'affaire. Thank you so much for coming, sir. (Applause.) And, Madam President, fine job. There will be a Madam President one of these days, and if you keep talking the way you talk, you may be her. (Laughter and applause.) Very good job.
I know you all know that we're fighting a war. We're fighting against people who really don't like freedom, people who want to hurt us. And I want to assure you that we'll do everything we can to make sure they don't. We'll do everything we can. But we're fighting for more than just a war; we're fighting to help people, too. We want the world not only to be peaceful, we want the world to be a better place. We want boys and girls to grow up in a world that is free, and where they can go to school.
And we're making some good progress. I want to tell you all that we've helped people get food. A lot of times on TV, all you see is about the bombs. But we've prevented mass starvation because we've moved a lot of food into the region. We're helping build roads. We're helping build schools. We're helping make sure boys and girls or others have got health care and health clinics. And we're also doing a lot to help children get a good education.
Laura talked a lot about education, and she's right -- if you're educated, you've got a much better chance to have a hopeful future and a happy future. And that's what we want. We want that for every boy and girl, whether they live in America or anywhere else in the world.
And the amazing thing about this -- and a lot of Americans have trouble understanding this -- that for the first time young girls are going to be going to school in Afghanistan. See, that's hard for us to believe, isn't it? Most of you, after summer, dread going back to school. Not all of you -- some of you. But there are boys and girls -- there's girls in Afghanistan who dream about getting to go at all. And as a result of what our country and many of our friends have done, girls get to go to school, too. Starting this week.
And when they go to school, we want to make sure they've got supplies. We want to make sure they've got tablets to write on and crayolas to color with, and even jump ropes to jump with. And so one of the things that's happened is we've put a coalition -- that means a group of people together to send textbooks to Afghanistan. We've sent 4 million textbooks thus far, and there's another 6 million to go in Afghanistan, so the boys and girls will have something to read. (Applause.)
And as you heard earlier, we're putting basic school supply kits together, so that 120,000 Afghan children will have some school supplies by June. And they're called school chests, and today I had a chance to see some of your classmates putting the chests together. Matter of fact, I got to load a couple of notebooks myself. Forty notebooks per chest -- that's a lot of notebooks. But that's how many children there are in a class.
And there's a lot of other things in there, as well. There's pencils, and rulers; as I mentioned, crayons, jump ropes, a soccer ball, so the kids can play soccer, get a little exercise while you're doing your studies. And so far, I just want you all to know -- it's kind of a report here -- that 1,000 of these kits have been put together, a thousand chests have been assembled.
But that's not enough. We need 2,000 more chests. And so I'm asking our fellow Americans to rally for this good cause; to donate and participate in the creation of 2,000 more school supply chests to go to Afghanistan. And if you want to help, contact your local Red Cross chapter.
You know, I'm asked all the time, what can I do to help in the war against terror? You can help by helping build one of these school chests. It doesn't matter how you do it, how you raise the money. Just get it done.
And the good news is we're a can-do country. We're a country who responds in a compassionate way. There's no doubt in my mind, Harold, that the American people will respond. And when they do, Laura and I will thank them from the bottom of my heart -- our hearts.
But there's a lot to do. And so for those of you out in America who wonder what you can do to help, call the Red Cross office. And they will give you an assignment, and when you fulfill the assignment you'll know you're making a huge difference, a significant difference in the life of a boy or a girl in Afghanistan.
Our dream is a world that's peaceful, and our dream is a world that is hopeful. And the best way to make sure the world is hopeful is to help people get a good education. And that's what we're here today to honor.
I want to thank you all for helping somebody. I want to thank you all for understanding that when you help somebody it really helps your own life; that when you help somebody in need, that it makes you a better person. I hope that's a lesson you keep with you for a long time.
Thanks for letting us come by to say, hello. God bless you all. (Applause.)
END 2:10 P.M. EST