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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
June 8, 2008

Mrs. Bush's Remarks at the Construction Site of Ayenda Learning Center
Ayenda Learning Center
Bamiyan, Afghanistan

June 8, 2008

11:25 A.M. (Local)

MRS. BUSH: For the U.S. press that's here, I don't know if you've had a chance to meet the Governor of Bamiyan province, the only female governor in Afghanistan. We've had the chance to meet before. And I'm really happy to have this opportunity to be in her province.

This building that you see behind us, this Ayenda Children's Center, is a project of the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council, and it's been supported by a lot of private individuals from the United States. And one of the messages I want to get out as we travel across Afghanistan is, it's really important what governments do at the donors conference this week, what the United States government commits, and what other international governments -- the other governments commit.

But it's also important to remember that private citizens can be involved in the rebuilding of Afghanistan; that private citizens can give to these sorts of community schools that are being built across Afghanistan.

Bamiyan had a couple of very serious massacres, and that's why there -- the Governor was just telling me -- that's why there are so many children who are orphans here. And so this will be a place for children to live, who are orphans, or for children who have parents here to be able to go to school.

And this is one of the projects of the U.S.-Afghan women's group. A number of American women and men, including Tim McBride, Anita's husband, have been very active in raising the money to build this. This is only one of many projects of Ayenda in Afghanistan. But it's the one that's being built here in Bamiyan.

So thank you so much, Governor, for welcoming me here.

GOVERNOR SARABI: It's a pleasure, a great pleasure to have you here.

MRS. BUSH: Thank you very much.

Q Mrs. Bush, can we ask you a question, you and the Governor?

MRS. BUSH: Sure.

Q Are you and the Governor satisfied with the level of progress for women (inaudible) school girls getting an education?

MRS. BUSH: Well, of course, we want more girls in school, and I think that's really key to the success of Afghanistan, and that's to make sure that all boys and girls get educated. There's a huge increase in the number of kids in school. There are over -- about -- almost 6 million kids in school now, compared to 2001 when there were maybe a million, but no girls. But about a third of that number are girls, and of course we want that to be 50-50. We want girls to be going to school as well.

We know that societies can prosper when both men and women can contribute to their societies. And as we look around the world, many times the countries that are having the most problems are the ones where women are left out, because you're leaving out 50 percent of your workforce, of your brainpower, you know, of everything else.

But we also understand that because of cultural reasons and religious reasons, Afghanistan will be slower to include women in the more public sort of jobs, like the policewomen that we just met. But -- so I'm proud of the first steps that people are taking. It requires a lot of courage on the part of these women because they know that there are a lot of people still who don't think that those are jobs for women.

And so I want to congratulate the Governor. I know she's a role model to the girls all over this province. And I don't know if you could hear in the roundtable with the policewomen, but they said when they saw that their province could have a female governor, then they thought they could be policewomen, too. And so I want to congratulate them for their courage as well.

Q How did you like that war dance from the Kiwis?

MRS. BUSH: That was a haka. That was very interesting from the Kiwis.

Q Looked menacing, didn't it?

MRS. BUSH: It did look menacing. It was fun, interesting to see -- very interesting. I guess this is what happens when you have a big international group in a country, is you all of a sudden get to see all these different traditions from each one of these countries. That's a very interesting way to be welcomed to Afghanistan.

GOVERNOR SARABI: You can see the multiculture here.

MRS. BUSH: That's right.

GOVERNOR SARABI: (Inaudible) different culture altogether.

MRS. BUSH: And this has been a very -- this New Zealand PRT has been a very, very active one. And they're very happy that they get to spend a lot of their time building schools or other sort of infrastructure rather than having to do so much police (inaudible) and other less secure posts.

Q What's the hardest thing about being a woman --

GOVERNOR SARABI: (Inaudible) the region to implement all the projects, to talk with the men (inaudible).

MRS. BUSH: She's doing great. She was the minister of women's issues -- of women's. And one of the things she's very proud of, and these are things that we just don't think of -- when you're thinking of having to build a whole country whose infrastructure has been basically demolished, one of the things she's very happy about here is a midwifery school for midwives to be able to go to school. And the midwives, and being able to have better health care with midwives, really does mitigate the high infant and maternal mortality rate, and makes it lower.

And when you think about all the things that are necessary, it does really sound overwhelming, which is one of the reasons I'm so proud to know the Governor, and to know the other Afghans who are working so hard to build their country, because it's not easy, and there's a lot, and it will take a long time. But I know they have the courage, and I know how strong Afghans are, and I know they have the strength to keep going.

GOVERNOR SARABI: (Inaudible) all of them is because of your support and the community support and the U.S. government -- U.S. people.

Thank you very much.

MRS. BUSH: Thanks a lot. Thank you.

Okay, we'll see you all at the next stop.

END 11:31 A.M. (Local)

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