The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
July 15, 2005

Press Briefing by First Lady Laura Bush
Aboard Mrs. Bush's Plane
En route Andrews Air Force Base

9:22 A.M. (L)

MRS. BUSH: Well, I think we had a really very, very interesting trip. It was an emotional trip - especially the last day, I think, was very emotional. But each site that we visited was moving and emotional. I think we got a glimpse of the scope of the need in Africa for aid, for development.

Last night, Mrs. Kagame had a dinner party for me that had traditional dance, but it also had a skit done by girls from the FAWE School, the school we visited earlier. It was the girls, done sort of with dance and poetry, asking for development; they were trying to find development. And then when they did finally in this skit, they realized that they had within themselves what they really needed - and, of course, they needed help, they mentioned all the things, the genocide and AIDS, girls' education and all of the things they wanted from development. But in the end they realized they had those characteristics that they could get those things for themselves, of course.

But we also, I think, got a good view of what the United States government, through PEPFAR and through African Education Initiative, as well as what private individuals from the United States and NGOs are doing in Africa.

So all in all, I was very encouraged, although the problems and the challenges are many, as we all saw. But I think there's a - I think governments, African governments -- at least the ones we visited - are addressing AIDS, they're doing what they can. And then I know the whole world, the rest of the world also wants to be involved and wants to help in whatever way they can.

Q We were just talking amongst ourselves that you're in a unique position because you get to do these kind of trips -- you can go to Africa, spend a lot of time visiting these schools, interacting with the people; it's something that probably the President, given his role, can't do as easily, you know, he's usually in different diplomatic meetings and has a much tighter schedule.

What do you think your ability to see these things and do these kind of solo trips does for you, but also for him? And what kind of feedback can you provide for him and the administration?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I'll tell him about everything we've seen. I called him several times during the trip to tell him about different things we've gone to. All of these leaders, he's met. The Tanzanian President sat between the United States and the United Kingdom. The Republic of Tanzania was right by them during the G8 meeting with the African leaders in Scotland. So he is very aware of and knows personally nearly all of the leaders that we have been with, has met with them, has had working meetings with them.

The United States government is very involved in each one of them. Obviously, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, as well as the African Education Initiative. He knows about all of those. He knows a lot more about all of those than I do. I mean, he knows about them from the White House side and from the NSC side, from the State Department side, what their goals are and what they've accomplished so far.

I got to see the specific programs where the money is being put to use in one way or another and got to hear the individual stories of each one of these programs and how they are directly impacting individual lives. And he doesn't get to hear that as much, but that's what I can tell him about.

One of the most moving parts of yesterday was an orphan-headed family that I don't think you all - I don't know who got to come in, if anybody did - but it was a 12-year-old girl with her three little brothers. Her dad had died in the genocide, her mother had died of AIDS. And she had stayed at the hospital and nursed her mother for the last three months of her mother's life. And she had an older brother, but he sort of became a street person. And her aunt and her older brother sold the mother's house, so, literally, the four of them - the 12-year-old and her three little brothers - were homeless. And they have found help with this World Relief, with the big church group where we were, which also includes a school.

And that group does get some money from the United States government, as well as a lot of private money from churches around the United States. And it works with the Rwandan government. And the Rwandan government is working to - especially for these orphan, child-headed households, doing what they can to find housing for them and help for them. And this little girl could continue to go to school - she had dropped out of school, obviously, when she went to the hospital to nurse her mother for those months. And her little brothers ended up not being able to go to school just because it was too hard to get them there. They just didn't have the wherewithal to go there.

But now, because of the big World Relief, the evangelical churches that are starting there, the programs that they have, she actually lives where we were yesterday, where the church is. But, then, the church is negotiating now to get a house for her in the neighborhood. And she goes to school there.

And because she had dropped out in primary school, they are looking to - the minister that was with me was telling me that they were looking for a vocational school for her now, because she missed all those years of primary school.

Q Going back to the G8, you know, there is some skepticism amongst some of the people in Africa about whether the G8 will actually fulfill the promises that they make, because it is basically only a promise. Is there anything that you can do in your role as First Lady, you know, to see that -

MRS. BUSH: To nudge the G8? I don't know. (Laughter.)

Q You've got to, you know - somebody -

MRS. BUSH: One of the reasons I invited Cherie Blair to join me on this trip and that we were together yesterday is because both of us want the commitment, of course, of our two governments to what happened at the G8. In a lot of cases with international aid, as you all well know, the pledges are made but they're never really carried through. And that just happens.

As you know, the President's proposals require an appropriation from Congress. And I think Congress will, no doubt, probably appropriate what he asked for, for Africa and what he talked about at the Smithsonian. But you don't know that until the actual appropriations.

I noticed yesterday, I saw a full-page ad in one of the local newspapers, English newspapers that I was reading, and it was about how they were sort of - a different group of NGOs were disappointed with the outcome of the G8. But every step is difficult. But I also think that there is a very strong willingness of most developed nations to do what they can, especially for Africa, on the continent of Africa, to help African countries build their economies and to do what they can to fight AIDS.

Q Will you do what you can to - after this trip, excuse me, after this trip because of all that you've seen and all the suffering, will you do - having spoken to your husband several times on this trip, do you see yourself as trying to influence him to do more?

MRS. BUSH: Well, sure. I mean, I actually know that the United States is doing a lot, and that his proposal for aid relief is huge and it's the largest amount of aid ever - for AIDS, for HIV/AIDS, from the United States, for sure, but really from any other country, as well.

So, of course, I'll talk about specific instances of things that I think the United States could more on. But I'm also really proud. I'm proud of what the United States has done. I'm proud of individual people, individual Americans who give their time who are in Africa or working there. Ad I think we've done a lot - but that doesn't man there isn't still a lot more to do. But I really do believe we have done a lot.

Q Let me go back to some of the moments, some of the really compelling moments of the trip. And you were talking about the orphan family that you met with, which Susan described for us; and the genocide museum and seeing some of these children who have no families. And certainly there's hope, but how do you keep your composure? A lot of us really weren't so successful at doing that. How do you keep your composure at times like that?

MRS. BUSH: This was a very emotional trip. There were many very, very emotional moments. I don't know if I kept my composure, but I tried to keep my composure.

We had studied a lot, really, about Rwanda and about the genocide - besides watching movies, I'd read a number of books about Rwanda and the genocide. I had met with Mrs. Kagame before, at the White House -- I talked about that yesterday in the women's roundtable, having this discussion with them about what countries can do to live with their past, to deal with things that are shameful in their past, or that are brutal or horrible, like the genocide. And in a lot of ways it's a philosophical and political question, because you - especially as you move on, you try to do what you think is the best to put it behind you. But for something so fresh as this, just 11 years old, where there's so many people who are survivors, who lost their whole family, or parts of their family, or the people they loved the best in the genocide, it's still very tender - like I said before - like a bruise that I think you can really feel when you're in the country.

I think we also in our country have something like that, that was a lot longer ago, of course - the idea that we had slavery, when we pride ourselves on our "all men are created equal" line in our Constitution. And I think that's like a national shame or sin that I think they also feel because of what's there. And no doubt every country has something like that. But at the same time, I think you learn to deal with it. I'm not always sure you ever learn to accept it. And that's where they are. It's still so new, and they're still vulnerable. I mean, they're so very vulnerable to a change.

Q On that topic, you know, you were asked this question earlier, about what we can learn from the tragedy in Rwanda. You're going to meet with Kagame and his wife, and you were saying that you were hope to talk to them about things can be done to prevent something like this in the future. You know, I think that there is a consensus in the world that the world failed to save the people of Rwanda. And we saw in that museum and we saw in those people such suffering - and also the tragedy of our not acting - in fact, our helping to convince the U.N. not to act.

So what is the - is it our responsibility? Do we have a moral responsibility as a country to move in and say, this will not happen again? What's you're feeling after what you've seen?

MRS. BUSH: I mean, of course you can blame everyone. Everyone is to blame. It's not just a specific group. I mean, you can blame Hutu power, to start with, for the genocide. But we did see in this one instance how ineffective the U.N. ended up being and how other governments, our own government, I think - and it was, remember, shortly after Somalia when our soldiers had been dragged through the streets. And so you can see hesitancy on the part of our government to commit troops, for instance.

But, Ann, then, there is always the responsibility of the government of the country, itself. I mean, for instance, in the Sudan, they have a government that - that government has a responsibility. Not that we don't, also. And I know that in the Sudan the United States is doing airlifts, and the African Union troops are the troops that are there on the ground. And you know I think we can do more to help with infrastructure, with that sort of -

Q Mrs. Bush, you -

MRS. BUSH: -- is practical that we can do in the United States.

Q -- did a lot of studying and reading background briefs before you went. What did you see on this trip that surprised you or captivated you or sort of startled you?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I think even though I had done a lot of background reading on Rwanda, I still think the whole idea of the genocide is - it's almost like you can't - that you have to imagine it, because you can't imagine how it would have been or what it would have been like. And the most affecting part of the museum were the stories that the children - I don't know if you all had a chance to read about each one, what their favorite thing was, like chocolate, or chocolate milk, and who their best friend was, their sister, their brother; then how they died. It was brutal.

Q But I meant, sort of, the programs that you saw.

MRS. BUSH: Then of the programs, I mean, each one of them were excellent in a different way. The Mothers to Mothers-to-be Program, the very first program I went to in Cape Town I thought was a very moving, great program. It's a great way, it's a great model, really, worldwide for - in this case it's HIV transmission to babies from pregnant mothers. But it's really the peer work of the mothers working who just had a baby, working with the mothers who are pregnant. And I think it's a terrific model to show to people.

The other thing that I was struck with were the girls at the FAWE School yesterday that I talked to, with the mothers at the Mothers-to-be Program, is how everyone who has been helped wants to help, that they want to help other people. The girls, the FAWE girls, three different ones, when they were telling me what their goals were, wanted to have an orphanage or start a special house for orphans because that was just so important to them. And then the mothers in the Mothers-to-be Program who really wanted to help other mothers. And it didn't just help the other mothers, but it changed their lives. And I think that is a really moving part of it.

And it's also, like in the FAWE girl's skit last night at Mrs. Kagame's dinner party, it is that we actually all have it. we have in ourselves what we need, if we'll just use it, if we'll use it in the right way. And I think that's what these girls are learning at the FAWE School. I mean, not that they don't need help from the world, but they're seeing that they have that, themselves, also.

Q What did you read?

MRS. BUSH: "We Regret To Inform You That We Will Be Killed With Our Families Tomorrow," by a journalist, Philip Gourevitch. Let's see, what else?

Q Did you read "Machete Season?"

MRS. BUSH: No. "Sometimes in April." I can't think of what other ones I've read.

Q -- with President Kagame and also going to the museum and sort of being confronted with all those pictures in the children's room, which sort of undid most of us, too. Do you come back to the states and the President with any new advice or ideas about what we should be doing in Darfur, specifically?

MRS. BUSH: I don't know that I would say - no. I mean, I'll have to say no, probably not. I mean, I'm not going to give him advice on that. But I certainly will tell him about - I mean, I'm not an expert, there isn't any advice that I could give him about a specific plan. That would be really great if I could come up with that. (Laughter.)

But I will tell him what I saw here in Rwanda about genocide. And I'm interested to know more about the Sudan. There are a lot of people in the United States who are working specifically in different parts of the Sudan, people of faith, who have worked there. And right now there is supposedly an agreement they're getting ready to sign. So it'll be interesting to follow up on, really learn more about that situation, for me.

Q Do you think a trip to the Sudan would be too rigorous for the First Lady?

MRS. BUSH: I have no idea. (Laughter.) I don't know. I don't know that much about it, really, about whether or not we could travel there.

Q Mrs. Bush, on the last trip to Africa, Barbara was inspired through that experience. And I wonder with Jenna on this trip, and how involved she became and she seemed to really be getting in touch with what was going on around her. What did she talk to you about, in terms of her experience? And has she been inspired to perhaps volunteer or do something?

MRS. BUSH: They both really have been inspired by their time in Africa, first when Barbara went with us earlier. And then Barbara took the AIDS, the big AIDS course at Yale, so she was particularly interested in that. But Jenna is teaching school and she loves children, she really does. She was moved by the children here in Africa and I'm sure she would really like to do some sort of volunteering if she possibly can - maybe here, maybe somewhere else.

They both think that they have a lot of friends and a lot of young people, recent college graduate age people in the United States would like to volunteer around the world if they knew about it, if they knew how they could do it. Obviously, the Peace Corps is one way, but the Peace Corps is a longer commitment than a lot of people have or would want to take to be overseas.

Q There are some in the world who think the United States isn't doing enough, the United States government, given the level of its wealth and its economy. You and the President both talk often and stress the amount of private donations and what private people are doing, and foundations.

Is that a difference in philosophy in the world, I mean, in terms of the level of public versus private? Is it just a disagreement, there are some who think that the U.S. government should be doing more, but you and the President feel that there's a certain level that the government can do and then, you know, there are Americans out there who can do a lot on their own for the continent.

MRS. BUSH: I don't know that it's a philosophy difference, but I will say that philanthropy in the United States is very, very strong. Partly because we're affluent and there are a lot of people who have people to give, but also because it's just an American characteristic, and a lot of countries don't have it - especially, I think, countries that were oppressed, that were under very serious or authoritarian rule where the government did everything - speaking mainly about the central European countries that are new democracies. They look at the United States, they philanthropy of the United States and they really wish - and a lot of them are trying to get things started like that in their countries because when you have an authoritarian, oppressive government, then people don't do anything - the government does it all. Other than the freedom fighters, obviously, who are in those central European countries, who are role models for all of us.

But I do think it's an especially American characteristic and I think there's a lot that - there are things that individuals can do or individual foundations can do that government really can't do, and I think that's important. You know, we can hand out money, as George loves to say, but there is definitely a role for individuals and foundations. It doesn't all have to come from the government.

Q Has this trip been life-changing for you? And, if so, how? Do you think it might make you more of an activist in these last few years as the First Lady?

MRS. BUSH: Well, it has been life-changing. I mean, I think it's - for all of us, especially for Americans who think we have problems and talk about our problems and then go somewhere else and see the challenges of AIDS, so many people suffering from AIDS or poverty. We realize how much we have to offer, I think. It gives us an idea of how much we have to offer to other countries and to each other and to other peoples.

So in that way it's life-changing for me to see the real scope of what the problems are. But not only that, to be inspired by people who are dealing with these problems, who live here. All the ministers that I was with yesterday - at the dinner last night and in the roundtable - who are doing whatever they can to help their country move on from something as horrible as a genocide is really inspiring. And in every case, wherever we went, I was inspired by the individual stories of the individuals who are making such a huge difference.

And also, I said before, it's making a difference in their own lives, a major difference in their own lives. And that's great to see, too.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 9:46 A.M. (L)

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