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

For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
September 18, 2006

Interview of Mrs. Bush by Hannah Storm, CBS Early Show
New York Public Library
New York, New York

8:30 A.M. EDT

Q Good morning again, everybody. First Lady Laura Bush has been traveling the world over for nearly six years to promote the idea of literacy among the world's poor and needy. And today, here in New York City, she hosts the first ever White House Conference on Global Literacy.

MRS. BUSH: That's right.

Q Mrs. Bush, good morning.

MRS. BUSH: Good morning. Thanks, Hannah.

Q This has been such a passionate cause for you --

MRS. BUSH: It has been.

Q -- particularly as it pertains to women and girls around the world. Why is it so important?

MRS. BUSH: Well, it's very important for women to be educated because if women are educated, they're much more likely to be advocates for their children's education. And we know that if we educate women, there will be a cycle -- a spiral of making sure, then, children are educated. So that's important.

Q This will help through the generations.

MRS. BUSH: And then, in fact, there are over 800 million people in the world who are illiterate, and about two-thirds of that number are women, because women are denied education in some countries, but also women are the ones at home looking for water and -- clean water in very poor countries, or food for their families, and so they're less likely to have the opportunity to go to school or be educated.

Q As everybody knows, you were a librarian --

MRS. BUSH: That's right.

Q -- and also a grade school teacher.

MRS. BUSH: That's right.

Q So this has always been something close to your heart. But to be in a position now to bring all these people here -- you have First Ladies and First Spouses --

MRS. BUSH: That's right.

Q -- from around the world, and ministers of education and major decision-makers. How gratifying is that?

MRS. BUSH: Well, that -- it is really gratifying. Three years ago, UNESCO, which is the U.N. agency that's charged with education, announced their "Decade of Literacy," and they announced it right here at New York Public Library, and asked me to be the honorary ambassador. So in those three years, UNESCO has tried to develop a program so they can specifically target the countries that have the highest illiteracy rates.

About 85 percent of those 800 million illiterate people live in just 34 countries in the world. So UNESCO is trying to focus on those countries to bring literacy rates up in those countries. But this global conference actually gives me the chance to make the charge to every country that every single country needs to invest in their citizens' education, and that, if we do, we'll all be healthier, for one thing -- we know that, for instance, the higher education rates correlate with lower HIV-AIDS rates -- and that there are just a lot of ways we can improve our world if people are educated.

Q You're going to be speaking about global health also --

MRS. BUSH: That's right.

Q -- at the Clinton Global Initiative.

MRS. BUSH: That's right. Exactly.

Q So former President Clinton has brought you into the fold. And of course, he's very friendly with your father-in-law, lunches occasionally with your husband. How did you come to work with him?

MRS. BUSH: Well, actually, I asked him last year to speak at the Texas Book Festival, which I started in Texas 11 years ago. And he opened the Texas Book Festival last year in the House chamber in the Texas capitol, which is where the Texas Book Festival is. So I think since I invited him to do that, he felt like he could invite me to come to his conference. (Laughter.)

He has a very smart way of doing a conference. He wants everyone that comes to speak at his conference to bring some sort of commitment. So on Wednesday, I'll bring a commitment from the United States government and from a foundation, a U.S. foundation, that has to do with clean water. And so I'm excited about that. And one of the issues that relates back to literacy is that in many, many villages around the world where there's high poverty, women are literally carrying water from the well, or looking for clean water. And there are many deaths in the poorest countries because of unsanitary, clean water -- not clean water. So this will be fun and interesting to be able to make the announcement I'll get to make there.

Q And with your commitment to global literacy and world health and fighting diseases like AIDS, do you hope that this can help in terms of the U.S. image which has suffered so badly internationally?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I do hope that certainly it will help, but that's not really the point. The point is to try to make a difference in each one of these fields, each one of these issues or challenges to people worldwide. But also I want the American people to know what they do. The American taxpayers do many, many wonderful things that have to do with treating people with antiretrovirals who have AIDS all over the world, to clean water initiatives so that people will have clean drinking water; education initiatives. There's an African Education Initiative right now that pairs six U.S. universities with six African countries to produce textbooks for each of those countries. So there are many things that the American people are doing with their tax dollars worldwide that help people everywhere, as well as, of course, with their churches or with other foundations and charities that Americans have started.

Q Well, good luck with everything today.

MRS. BUSH: Thanks --

Q And I know your husband is speaking, and I'm assuming that you have approved his speech.

MRS. BUSH: I actually have not approved his speech.

Q Oh -- (laughter.)

MRS. BUSH: I've just been working on my speech.

Q There you go. It's great to have you on our program --

MRS. BUSH: Thanks.

Q -- again this morning, Mrs. Bush.

MRS. BUSH: Thanks so much, Hannah.

END 8:35 A.M. EDT

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