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

For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
November 21, 2008

Discussion with Mrs. Bush and First Lady of Panama Vivian Fernandez de Torrijos During Visit to the American Corner at Biblioteca Eusebio A. Morales
Biblioteca Eusebio A. Morales
Panama City, Panama

3:32 P.M. EST

MRS. BUSH: Thank you all for coming to tell us about the English for Life program, and especially in front of our friends that we've brought with us -- (laughter) -- the press.

MS. DE CARDOZE: We are honored to have you here, Mrs. Bush --

MRS. BUSH: Thank you, Marta.

MS. DE CARDOZE: -- for this miracle that -- this is only part of what we've been doing in Panama. We have over 20,000 students in the country, and we want to have over 30,000 next year. So this is a big miracle that we've seen in Panama.

These are some of the students and one of our teachers and training coordinators, academic coordinators.

MRS. TORRIJOS: How many teachers, Marta?

MS. DE CARDOZE: Nine hundred.

MRS. BUSH: Nine hundred, great. Good.

MS. DE CARDOZE: And 12,000 little ones, like the ones you just saw, and 8,000 --

MRS. TORRIJOS: Like Iran, this guy here. He's an example of someone who was in our program, but he's not in the program anymore; he's already working. So I don't know if you want to ask him --

MRS. BUSH: Good. So you can tell us what the benefits are, then, of the program.

Q Well, first, you get the knowledge, you get the language, and that's a key that opens many doors through your whole life. It's not just right here, it is through your whole life. It's an experience that never ends, you know. It's something that's so amazing once you get there, like the activities and the people that you meet, and the teachers. All the group from English for Life -- it's very kind to be working with them.

MS. DE CARDOZE: How long it took you to learn it? How long?

Q Well, I have -- three years.

MS. DE CARDOZE: Three years, start to finish.

Q I was three years of English between 2005 and 2007. I started from the basic level and I was -- I had a very low English knowledge. And then we were -- the training center were included in 2006. So then I got -- I was sent to ELF centers, and we had -- we were treated as a regular pay student, because the program is free and, you know, I had that opportunity I said I had to take.

MRS. BUSH: That's great.

Q And it was great. Right now I thank Mrs. Cardoze and Mr. Martin Torrijos and all the staff for giving me the privilege of a lifetime for being part of your dream --

MRS. BUSH: That's terrific.

Q -- in being part of this program.

MRS. BUSH: Great. Congratulations.

Q Thanks.

MRS. TORRIJOS: You started to work?

Q Yes, yes. ELF asked me to stay with them, working in international department. Now I'm able to talk to people from Canada, from the U.S., and from England, so that's very important. And everybody asks me, like, hey, did you pay for it? (Laughter.) You know, how much -- where did you get the fluency and everything, you know? And I tell them it was in a free program paid by the government, English for Life, and, you know, I just was in the right time at the right moment.

MRS. BUSH: That's great. Plus you took advantage of it by studying hard, I can tell.

Q Yes, definitely. I had to study all my afternoons, thinking about the assignments from school. I graduated from Instituto Nacional, a very popular school here in the city.

MS. DE CARDOZE: And public school.

Q Yes, and public school, where the English is not that high.

MRS. BUSH: Part of the curriculum.

Q So it was a great experience.

MRS. BUSH: Great, good. Well, thanks for telling us your story.

Q Thanks.

MRS. BUSH: Thank you.

MS. DE CARDOZE: Ivan, do you want to tell your story?

Q Okay. I wasn't really sure, but English changes people's lives. I have a friend which his father does not want to pay a university. He said that he had to work or -- (inaudible). And he entered English for Life years ago. Now that he speaks English very well, he can try for a scholarship and go to the United States. That's something that he wasn't able to do two or three years ago.

Plus, the main fact is that when we learn English, we are able to teach other people that maybe weren't able to get into course. For instance, I have two brothers that they are already 28 and 29 years old; they have no idea of English. But now, I know English very well and I could teach them. And, well, it's that kind of thing. I help others to develop themselves.

MS. DE CARDOZE: He's teaching 12th grade in high school.

MRS. BUSH: You're in high school still?

Q Yes, I am a senior still.

MRS. BUSH: And so is the English for Life program totally separate from your high school? Do you come to another place?

MS. DE CARDOZE: The high school program is an after-school program.

MRS. BUSH: After-school program, I see.

MS. DE CARDOZE: So they stay in their school three and a half hours after --

MRS. BUSH: After school.

MS. DE CARDOZE: After class.

Q -- with a training center, too.

MS. DE CARDOZE: After they are in 12th grade and when they graduate, they continue in the training center for language training for more strength in high-level English, so that helps a lot.

MRS. TORRIJOS: And it's a program that we've just started with this government --

MS. DE CARDOZE: Yes, it was a dream that was in Torrijos' heart; it started with him. But I think neither him nor I thought --

MRS. BUSH: That it would get this big. So it's successful.

MS. DE CARDOZE: So it has been blessed by God, definitely. It has been, and that's the reason why it's so big. It's changing Panama completely.

MRS. TORRIJOS: And since we had -- I mean, for you both, you know and you can share that with Mrs. Bush that this country is growing so much, and that we have so much many opportunities to work, that English is an asset that you have.

MS. DE CARDOZE: They are having a life that's better. They have seen that.

Q Well, having English as a second language gave me the opportunity to receive job offers. I was finished in the advanced level in 2007 last year, and I was -- well, I was called by a call center, I was called by a bank, and by ELF, and I decided to stay there, you know -- and just because of the English that I took. And, you know, it was just out of this world.

MRS. BUSH: That's great, really great. Well, thanks. Thank you both.

MRS. TORRIJOS: So you're finishing this year?

Q Yes, but I plan to continue with the training center.

MS. DE CARDOZE: What do you want to study? What do you want to be?

Q I want to study medicine.

MRS. BUSH: A doctor.

MS. DE CARDOZE: Doctor. You will, then.

Q I'd like to study neurology.

MRS. BUSH: That's great.

MRS. TORRIJOS: He picked up a hard one. (Laughter.)

Q Yes, for instance, in Herrera, the province where I'm from, you don't have a lot of doctors that are in that --

MRS. BUSH: Field.

Q -- in that field in neurology.

MRS. BUSH: That specialty.

Q So I would like to study that because of that reason, because we really need them, more and more doctors in that field.

MRS. TORRIJOS: She's coming from a little -- he's coming from a little town where it's -- that it's characteristic for the jokes. So you're taking jokes in English, too?

Q Oh, I've never tried that. (Laughter.)

MRS. TORRIJOS: Monagrillo. Monagrillo is the place for jokes. (Laughter.)

MRS. BUSH: So you need to learn some in English. (Laughter.)

Q Yes, I do. But not bad ones.

MRS. BUSH: Yes, no bad ones.

Q Not bad ones. (Laughter.)

MRS. TORRIJOS: That's true, that's true.

MS. DE CARDOZE: Xenia is from Chepo, from a province in the east of Panama City.

Q Chepo is a beautiful part of this country. And about my experience in this course, well, every day I can't believe that I am here right now, because after three year I was in my -- here in my house, and seemed to be -- (inaudible), and right now I am here with you. (Laughter.) Mrs. Bush, thank you for all the help, but really I think that -- (inaudible).

MRS. BUSH: Thanks.

Q And it's a good -- it's a part -- an important part of every one, for everyone, because with a book we learn, we learn things every day. And I want to say thank you to all my teachers for all that they learn me every day, and for all the classes. And well, I want to learn more. (Laughter.)

MRS. BUSH: Good, great.

MRS. TORRIJOS: Xenia is a beautiful singer.

MRS. BUSH: Oh, you are?

MRS. TORRIJOS: She sings beautiful -- in Spanish and English.

Q In Spanish and English. (Laughter.)

MRS. BUSH: Thank you.

MRS. TORRIJOS: Sofia is from the west part of the city, from Charrera.

Q I am -- I live here right now. (Inaudible.) In this year -- in the last year I get -- how do I say -- high position in the course -- but last year I got the second place in west Panama, and this year I got the first place.

MRS. BUSH: Great, congratulations. That's great.

Q My partners on the course in the school every time, especially in English, they look at me -- from me to help us in the work, the group work in the English, math. And this course is an opportunity for us. I say that they should take this opportunity because in life there isn't any opportunity like this that open windows, doors, all the part of the house -- (laughter) -- for our community. In this course, I want to make -- how can I say -- I can -- I want to get -- how can I say -- to -- how can I say --

MRS. TORRIJOS: To a higher level.

Q Yes, I want to get highest level to read best --and I can help many people, in my job, in my house, in my school. It's an opportunity, a big opportunity. And I try to continue that the next year because I have to move to a university, a good university.

MRS. BUSH: Good, great.

MS. DE CARDOZE: Do you have to go off --

Q I'm here until next here.

Q She's in 11th grade.

MS. DE CARDOZE: And they stay in the program until they reach a proficient level, which means we keep them in the program until they pass the last exam. That's when they are -- they finished English for Life.

MRS. BUSH: Good. Thank you.

Q Aleida, that's our teacher and coordinator.

MRS. BUSH: Good, tell us about that.

Q First of all, I can say that in God we trust, okay. And this course is not any other course. This is a special course, okay, because -- (inaudible) -- of two people: first, our national president, and after, our excellent executive coordinator that take the challenge to work with all of us people that at the beginning, they didn't have a use for the language, of the English language, like today.

And more in our country, we began with the construction of the Panama Canal where we have people that came from all over the world, and they spoke the English language. But years after, they left, okay, and everything decreased. But what the dream that our country has now of linking our lives with a language that is English, that has now opened us as professionals, students, teachers; everyone is using English language all around because of the needs that we have -- growing economically, culturally, and as the states, it involves all of us.

And I like what they're -- we have the -- (inaudible) English forever, and it's doing it in our country. I begin in a high school public school in the province of Veraguas, and normal school is preferring teachers.

But at the beginning, we have a traditional English system with only writing, but today you can walk all around the school, and you see more people speaking in English, and not only -- it's all around the classroom. It's all of those things that you are seeing, thanks for English for Life. It's a program that we should have in our hearts and have it grow more, because we are not doing this for anyone, we are doing it for Panama, we are doing it for each one of these kids.

And the teachers that we have now, they are working in small elementary schools outwards, helping other teachers make use of the language in order to help the small people -- bigger, and help our country grow, not only in economical field but in personal fields. And they're not only two words. We're not speaking for speaking; we're using a word that is the word of the word, that is the -- (inaudible). It's the linking that's unifying people, okay -- each one of us with different -- (inaudible) -- but using the language.

So it is a nice experience as a teacher to form part of this course, because my English wasn't the same at the beginning. But it is now, thanks for English for Life. And we think that we are going to continue doing it for Panama.

MRS. BUSH: That's great. Thank you. (Applause.)

MS. DE CARDOZE: We're having a graduation in Santiago de Varaguas in the normal school, and half of the graduates -- 200 kids -- were graduated today. But they're going to stay in the program for about, let's say two more years. When they graduate, they're going to be teachers. So they're going to be the teachers at the English for Life kids program, which is up to second grade now, but it will grow to third grade next year, fourth grade next year, and the high school will be going down from fourth -- from 10th grade down to ninth grade.

MRS. BUSH: So you have the whole -- every grade. And is English for Life a specific curriculum also that you have?

MS. DE CARDOZE: We're working on the curriculum right now, and we're putting together a design. And we were asking them -- asking for one of the experts who came a few months ago, and spoke and everything, so that's going to happen. We already spoke to the minister, and it's going to happen. I think that that's going to guarantee that this keeps on growing.

MRS. BUSH: Great. Well, we have our Ambassador here, because they were hoping for another fellow. (Laughter.)

MS. DE CARDOZE: That's right, the last fellow was great, was fantastic.

MRS. BUSH: Then you have another one. (Laughter.) And then one group of teachers are going to go to the immersion program in the -- right in the United States.

MS. DE CARDOZE: Yes. They're going to be able to -- 50 teachers. So I think that's going to improve their methodology. That's going to help them see different things in teaching, which is great.

MRS. BUSH: So you're a teacher.

Q yes.

MRS. BUSH: That's right. So did you do the English for Life program and then become a teacher? Or, how did you get involved? Did you study to be a teacher in the English for Life program?

Q Okay, we are being trained --

MRS. BUSH: Trained now.

Q -- in the English for Life program.

MRS. TORRIJOS: But you have been a teacher for 30 years.

Q Sure, I teach from small kids to university level. But now I'm thinking that you two ladies are important leaders. We have to make changes, and the changes don't have to be in the course only. They have to be a national change. So I think that we have to get together all those curriculum and try to pattern in order to make something solid for the whole country, and everyone works speaking the same language.

MRS. BUSH: That's good.

Q First Ladies, I want to say to you that English for Life don't just teach English for life, it's English changing life. The teachers teach us books or vocabularies and other things; they teach us to be a good citizen and good partner, and good person in life. This is very important, because --

MS. DE CARDOZE: We focus a lot on the culture and on the values, and we try, from the teachers, to really try to make the students become better citizens and better persons. And they know. They know they have to study and work hard, because sometimes it's very difficult for these kids. It's difficult because they have to go to school, they have to study, they are graduating, but they also go to the course. So it takes a lot of time and a lot of effort, but they know that it's going to change their lives.

MRS. TORRIJOS: And they choose to go, right?

MS. DE CARDOZE: They choose to go. They are chosen by the program, but then they decide if they want to go or not.

Q Let me tell you that -- well, at the beginning that I was, like, planning to go the course. My friends always told me things like, hey, you're crazy; do you think I'm going to stay from Monday through Friday until 4:00 p.m.? No way! Like, I have many things to do, I have to go to the shopping mall, I have to go to the theater, you know. There are many things, because we're kids, we are young, and we like to do those things. And I said, no, I'm going to stay here. It's free, the program is free, so I'm going to take it. Now, they realize that they should have prioritized.

MRS. BUSH: Should have done it themselves.

Q And it's something that you just have to think about. You have to look further in order to be -- and have a better future, a better person.

Q Just be organized. I have practiced in the music band before -- I'm sorry, after the course. I had to stay in the school for music band practice --

MRS. TORRIJOS: For November 3rd.

Q Actually, yes.

MRS. TORRIJOS: No, November 10th, excuse me.

Q And I left home in the morning at 7:00 a.m. to go to school. I had classes until Noon and I stayed for English for Life until 4:00 p.m., and they have music band practice until 8:00 p.m. So I lived in the school. (Laughter.) And for me, I believe that the greatest thing of the course is that they start with the -- with very young kids, and can you imagine Panama in the next 30 or 50 years? There is a big change that's supposed to be seen.

Q Is that true that we are -- many face -- (inaudible) -- but with that opportunities come just one time.

MRS. BUSH: That's a very good philosophy you have. Very good.

Q It is also changing because they already have a graduation and they were honor students, okay, taking a look was -- taken place, and now they send teachers next year.

MRS. TORRIJOS: That's nice, instead of beating the streets and instead of doing some things that are not right, wasting time.

MRS. BUSH: You're making wise choices for your life.

Q More students should take this course because English is the language about -- for marketing, for business. To work with a business, we should learn English to -- all can be owners of -- in a business enterprise, or in marketing in the work, because English is a language of business, or --

Q And tourism.

MRS. BUSH: Tourism, that's a very popular thing.

Q I'm studying tourism up in the Universidad de Panama and we need to have English as a second language to get graduated. Actually, the universidad is asking for you to present a test -- to take a test by the end of the career to prove that you have the English proficiency. So that's important for us, also, to have English for Life, in those universities, public universities, that we have, just in order to make our people more prepared for the future.

MRS. TORRIJOS: And Mrs. Bush, the good thing here is that you have a representation of the whole country. This is not a capital Panama City movement or project. We have Azuero, which is in the middle. We also have east and west. And the two kids, one was from Chiriqui, the other one was --

Q Very far away. (Laughter.)

MRS. TORRIJOS: I said, are you from Chiriqui? And he said, Boquete. (Laughter.) A specific town.

Q Well, we're working very hard on the training of the teachers, because that's the only the program keeps on growing.

MRS. BUSH: Yes, sure.

Q So I think that's the biggest challenge that we have right now, is --

MRS. BUSH: Training as many teachers --

Q -- working to help the teachers that we already have, and getting new teachers. So that's the biggest challenge.

MRS. BUSH: Thank you, all. That was just great. Your English is terrific, and it was really fun to hear about it. I really enjoyed hearing about it. So good luck, everyone.

MS. DE CARDOZE: Thank you for listening, and we're honored to be able to share this with you.

MRS. TORRIJOS: Especially here in the American Corner. (Laughter.)

Q Thank you.

END 4:01 P.M. EST

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