21 May 2002

Laura Bush: Americans Committed to Helping Afghanistan Rebuild, May 21, 2002

(First Lady Laura Bush's radio address to the Afghan people)

U.S. First Lady Laura Bush told the Afghan people in a radio address May 21 that the American public strongly supports Afghanistan's reconstruction.

Speaking at the Prague headquarters of Radio Free Afghanistan, the wife of President George W. Bush said America will stand with the Afghan people as they seek to rebuild from more than two decades of war.

As one sign of popular support, she said, American children have raised more than $4 million to help pay for food and medicine for Afghanistan. This assistance is in addition to hundreds of millions of dollars in other aid from the U.S. government.

Mrs. Bush said she hopes Afghan women will again participate fully in Afghan society: "I understand the lives of women in America and the lives of women in Afghanistan are very different, and I respect our differences and your decisions. Yet I want you to know that the isolation the Taliban forced on you is not normal, not by international standards, not by Islamic standards, and not by Afghanistan's own standards," she said.

The U.S. first lady is due to leave Prague May 22 to join her husband in Berlin as the American president starts a European tour that will include official visits to Germany, Russia, France, and Italy.

More information on her visit to the headquarters of Radio Free Afghanistan is available on the Internet at http://www.rferl.org/specials/lbush/.

Radio Free Afghanistan is associated with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a private, international communications service to Eastern and Southeastern Europe, Russia, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Middle East, funded by the United States Congress.

Following is the full text of First Lady Laura Bush's address, broadcast on Radio Free Afghanistan in English, Dari and Pashtu:
(begin transcript)

First Lady Laura Bush's Address On Radio Free Afghanistan To The Afghan People
21 May 2002
-- Prague, Czech Republic

Hello, I'm Laura Bush, and I am speaking to you from the headquarters of Radio Free Europe in Prague.

I'm delighted to say hello to the men and women, boys and girls of Afghanistan on behalf of the people of America. We want you to know: America ba shooma ahst (America is with you).

I am thrilled to be able to speak with you directly, to let you know that the people of America are committed to the people of Afghanistan. We care about you, and we will be your partners in the reconstruction of your country.

We know that life in Afghanistan is extremely hard. Years of war have devastated your beautiful land. Poverty and malnutrition are widespread. Many of your citizens cannot find jobs or the health care they need. Many of your public institutions and much of your infrastructure, including roads, buildings, water supply and schools, have been destroyed.

Yet despite these great difficulties, these are times of hope and even times of joy in Afghanistan. The world has watched with a smile as we see pictures of boys and girls going back to school, of women moving freely outside their homes, of farmers beginning to replant fields with food crops.

We will never forget the images of Afghan men, women and children smiling, and singing and laughing out loud as America, our coalition partners and your own fellow countrymen helped liberate you from the brutal oppression of the Taliban regime.

America is working along with our partners throughout the world to help meet your immediate needs for food, water, shelter and medicine. With the help of the United Nations World Food Program, record amounts of food have been delivered in record time to more than 6 million men, women, and children.

As we work to help your nation rebuild, the United States Agency for International Development is funding three immediate priorities: agriculture, education, and health care.

Agriculture is the largest and most important part of your economy, and a way of life for 70 percent of Afghanistan's people. America has provided 7,000 metric tons of wheat seed and technical assistance to more than 40,000 farmers to help increase grain production.

We are also distributing fertilizer and helping rebuild crop irrigation systems. And more help is on the way: we will double the number of seeds for fall planting to 14,000 metric tons.

By helping farmers begin producing again, they have the opportunity to earn their own living, improve the nation's economy and feed the people of Afghanistan.

Many of the schools are once again open in Afghanistan, and America has delivered five million textbooks written in the Afghan languages of Pashto and Dari. The curriculum for the textbooks was developed by Afghans; they were edited and printed at an American university, the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

The textbooks cover math, algebra, geometry, language/reading/writing, science and health, social studies, civics, geography, physics, chemistry, geology and biology.

The American Red Cross is also collecting school supplies for Afghan children. As the school year started, my husband, President Bush, asked Americans to help fill 3,000 trunks with pencils, notebooks, rulers, paper, and crayons. And more help is on the way: school supply chests are still being assembled, another five million textbooks are being printed, and teams of educators are conducting training sessions with thousands of teachers.

We are also encouraging reading by hosting reading classes and supplying books for public libraries. By giving children books and supplies, we give them hope to build a better future.

Health care is an urgent priority in Afghanistan, which has one of the highest child mortality rates in the world.

One of the greatest tragedies in your country is that one of every four Afghan children dies before the age of five. And for every 1,000 live births, 17 mothers die, a statistic that makes Afghanistan second only to Sierra Leone in maternal mortality.

America has committed millions of dollars to expand the number of community health workers, bring basic health services to many communities, improve water and sanitation, provide immunizations, and help care for pregnant mothers and newborns.

More than 2 million children are being vaccinated against measles and women's resource centers are being developed to provide training and access to information on women's health issues.

The children of my country are especially concerned for the children of yours. Although you live half a world away, American children are learning about you in their schools and in their homes.

President Bush asked each boy and girl in America to raise or earn a dollar and send it to help pay for food and medicine for the children of Afghanistan. And American children have responded eagerly, sending more than $4 million so far to help pay for food, shelter, clothing, health care, and toys.

And when the envelopes came in the mail, they contained more than money. They were filled with messages of hope from the children of America to the children of Afghanistan.

A 10-year-old named Giovanni wrote, 'I earned this dollar from my teacher by cleaning our class. I hope that this will help the children and give them what they need to survive.'

A little girl named Grace said, 'I'm sending a dollar to help the innocent children of Afghanistan...I wish to help one life of a child.'

Another letter said, 'Dear children of Afghanistan, We care about you. We want you to have food, clothes, water, and medicine. Sincerely, Gary Coppernell, a U.S.A. kid.'

Another child wrote, 'I hope every dollar we send will help the children of Afghanistan grow up to be healthy and live a good life.'

These are the voices of America. All of us want all the citizens of Afghanistan to be healthy and to live a good life.

We know that will require a great deal of work, and we have only just begun. This morning I met with a group of people who represent nongovernment organizations working to improve lives in Afghanistan. More than 25 such organizations from America are already at work in your country; many others from around the world are joining them.

These groups are helping to rebuild the education system, provide training to farmers, teachers, and health-care workers, and help start small businesses by paying for services that benefit the entire community.

One such project helps Afghan women earn money for their families by sewing school uniforms for Afghan girls. This project began when the Afghan minister for women's affairs, Sima Simar, asked the United States for help to send women back to work and girls back to school.

Dr. Simar requested sewing machines and fabric. Two-hundred sewing machines and the first 50,000 yards of fabric are being delivered; another 550,000 yards of fabric, 144 million buttons, 30,000 pairs of shoes, 10,000 socks, and other goods are on their way from corporations and private citizens around the world.

These are still hard times, but also hopeful times, for Afghanistan. As a former teacher and librarian, I am especially excited that the schools of Afghanistan are now open -- and that boys and girls are now allowed to attend them.

Education is so important. One of the most important things the mothers and fathers of Afghanistan can do to improve the future of your country is to send your children to school so they will learn to read and learn skills that will help them live productive lives.

Another important thing every citizen can do is participate in the upcoming regional meetings as Afghanistan continues to implement the Bonn accords and selects new leaders.

I am speaking to you from the headquarters of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which is dedicated to providing the information you need to make informed decisions for your family and your country.

I hope the women of Afghanistan will not stand on the sidelines as these decisions are made. You have a big opportunity, and a lot at stake.

I understand the lives of women in America and the lives of women in Afghanistan are very different, and I respect our differences and your decisions.

Yet I want you to know that the isolation the Taliban regime forced on you is not normal -- not by international standards, not by Islamic standards, and not by Afghanistan's own standards.

Before the Taliban, women were elected representatives in Afghanistan's parliament; women worked as teachers, doctors, and professionals; women were educated and women were a vital part of Afghanistan's life. I hope you will be again because a society can only achieve its full potential when all of its members participate.

War has been a way of life in Afghanistan for far too many years.

Many people are dedicated to helping you build a lasting peace -- and you yourselves must seize this opportunity.

I hope you will support the work of schools and send your children to be educated. I hope you will take advantage of the training that many organizations are offering to help you start a business or learn a profession.

I hope you will participate in selecting a government that can lead your country to a future of peace and prosperity.

I know at times these may seem like distant dreams. But I have spent much of the last week in two Central European countries -- Hungary and the Czech Republic -- which only gained their freedom from oppression little more than a decade ago. Today they are free, vibrant nations.

I am confident Afghanistan can build a future of peace and freedom, and America will be your friend and partner in achieving it. Ma ba shooma ahstem (We are with you).

Thank you for listening and thanks to Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, Radio Free Afghanistan and Voice of America for hosting me today.

(end transcript)