The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
May 8, 2003

Mrs. Bush's Remarks at Reach Out and Read Event at Kayenta Indian Health Services
Kayenta Indian Health Services
Kayenta, Arizona

Ya'at'eeh. Thank you, Dana, Principal Baker, Superintendent Allsbrook, and all of the students for welcoming me to the home of the Mustangs. Thank you, First Lady Shirley, Vice President and Mrs. Dayish for welcoming me to Tohdenasshai. This is a beautiful and blessed land which the Navajo proudly call home. My name is Laura Bush and I'm from the small town of Midland, Texas.

I am so glad to be here to visit with all of you and with my good friend, Linda White, who is the CEO of the Kayenta Service Unit of the Navajo Indian Health Services. Thank you, Linda, and all of the men and women who work at the Kayenta Indian Health Services for your dedication to the good health of Kayenta's families and children. I applaud IHS for their continued accreditation and for the work doctors and nurses are doing here through Reach Out and Read.

Through Reach Out and Read, doctors and nurses encourage parents and caregivers to read aloud to their babies from their earliest days. Doctors and nurses know that just as the human touch is necessary for babies' physical and emotional growth, reading to them is necessary for language development. During clinic visits, doctors talk with parents and caregivers about the importance of reading and they give every child a new book to take home. I am happy that Kayenta's Reach Out and Read clinic provides children with books about Navajo poetry and language.

Educating and nurturing children is one of the strongest traditions of the Navajo people. Another strong tradition is serving in our military. The world recognizes the Navajo Code Talkers who provided a critical service to the United States during World War II.

Thank you, Samuel Holiday, who is here with us today, for your service and your courage. We continue to pray for all who serve in our military and those in Iraq. We also pray for their families and for those who have lost loved ones. We pray especially for the family of Lori Piestewa.

I know that the family is the core of the Navajo culture, and I've learned that the four seasons reflect on the importance of family, tradition and education. As a five-fingered people, children are the center of a family, where they are surrounded and nurtured by parents and grandparents. One of the best ways we can help nurture our children is through education - and their education should begin before they are even born.

The first sound a child hears is her mother's heart beat. This sound carries a child through her entire life and is repeated in the rhythm of traditional drum songs. When a parent reads to a baby, the baby will grow to love the sound of her parent's voice and of hearing stories. Reading to children not only helps them to develop, but it comforts them as well. Children who are read to learn that reading and stories are important - and that they are important.

We are entering the spring season, which is the direction of the East. Spring is a time to focus on young babies and the beginning of new life. As we wait each year for the first thunder and for mother earth to wake the world, parents can read to their children to wake them to words, stories and learning. If we talk to and listen to children, read with them, and surround them with books - then we can help them establish the skills and knowledge they need for school and for life. And we keep alive the traditions of storytelling and oral teachings, which are so precious in every culture.

Many parents know the joy of reading to their children, whether during cozy moments at bedtime or breaks in a long day. Some of my happiest memories from childhood are of the times my mother read to me. And some of my favorite memories as a mother are of reading to my own daughters. This is why Reach Out and Read is so great. Pediatricians who prescribe reading are not just helping children learn to read, but they are helping parents as well.

I want to share a story with you about my friend, Dr. Donna Bacchi, a pediatrician in Texas. She started a reading program in her practice and gave her very first reading prescription to a young boy with asthma. She talked with the boy's mother about the importance of reading and showed her how to hold her baby and a book while reading. After a few minutes, the mom leaned over and whispered in Dr. Bacchi's ear, "Doctor, I do not know how to read." Fortunately, Dr. Bacchi was prepared.

She connected the mother with a local family literacy provider so she could learn how to read - so she could read stories to her child, and maybe even more important, the labels on her son's asthma medicine. What an extraordinary opportunity to break the cycle of illiteracy for one family and to enrich their lives with reading and books. This is what Reach Out and Read does for millions of children and their families. And it is what education does for America.

I understand soon you will be entering the direction of the South. With summer comes preparing children for the future. The children here are in school right now. But soon, as you grow and learn, you will go out into the world to work or to college. Remember the words of Chief Manuelito who said, "My grandchild, education is the ladder." He encouraged his people to go to school and to use their skills and education in their communities.

There are ways you can give to the Navajo community. Consider becoming a teacher here so Navajo children will learn their language and culture in school. The Kayenta Health Clinic needs Navajo doctors and nurses. I understand that a new hospital will open here in a few years. What a wonderful time to think about a career in science or health care. Perhaps someday you will talk to parents about the importance of reading with their babies.

Whether you work here or go off to college, remember that you are ambassadors of the Navajo nation. Wherever you go, you can teach others about the history and tradition of your people. That is what Navajo poet Lucy Tapahonso does. Lucy visited the White House last year during the second National Book Festival. During this festival, we celebrate authors, stories, and reading. Lucy spoke about the importance of tradition and of sharing stories and language with children.

Her words inspired everyone there, and today I hope they will inspire all of us to continue to share the joy of books, reading and education with children. Lucy said, "To honor our children we must first honor our ancestors. Let us walk then into the future, bound by the hopeful words of all our grandparents. Let us honor their wisdom and love of language which sustains us all."

Education, reading and stories sustain us all and will lead children home to Tohdenasshai - this land at the end of the rainbow. Thank you and walk in beauty.


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