'America Is With You,' First Lady Tells Afghan People
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 21, 2002 The people of America are committed to the people of Afghanistan, first lady Laura Bush said today.
"America ba shooma ahst (America is with you)," she said during an address from Radio Free Europe headquarters in Prague, Czech Republic. "We care about you, and we will be your partners in the reconstruction of your country. … Many people are dedicated to helping you build a lasting peace, and you yourselves must seize this opportunity."
The U.S. Agency for International Development has made helping Afghan agriculture, education and healthcare funding priorities, Bush said. The United States has sent 7,000 tons of wheat seed and another 14,000 tons is on the way. U.S. AID officials are distributing fertilizer and helping to rebuild irrigation systems.
"By helping farmers begin producing again," the first lady said, "they have the opportunity to earn their own living, improve the nation's economy and feed the people of Afghanistan."
The United States has delivered five million textbooks, written in Pashto and Dari with curriculum developed by Afghans, she noted, and another five million are being printed. The American Red Cross is collecting school supplies and President Bush has asked Americans to help fill 3,000 trunks with pencils, notebooks, rulers, paper and crayons. School supply chests are being assembled and teams of educators are conducting training sessions with thousands of teachers.
"By giving children books and supplies," Bush said, "we give them hope to build a better future."
With one of the highest child mortality rates in the world, health care is an urgent priority for Afghanistan, she said. One of every four Afghan children dies before the age of five. For every 1,000 live births, 17 mothers die, making Afghanistan second only to Sierra Leone in maternal mortality.
The United States has committed millions of dollars to improve health services, 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 set up to provide training and information on health issues.
More than 25 nongovernmental organizations are working to improve Afghan lives, Bush said. One project involves providing sewing machines and fabric so Afghan women could sew school uniforms for Afghan girls. "As a former teacher and librarian," Bush said, "I am especially excited that the schools of Afghanistan are now open – and that boys and girls are now allowed to attend them."
America's first lady called on Afghan women to participate in decisions affecting their families and their countries. "I hope the women of Afghanistan will not stand on the sidelines as these decisions are made," she said. "You have a big opportunity, and a lot at stake."
The isolation the Taliban regime forced on Afghan women "is not normal – not by international standards, not by Islamic standards, and not by Afghanistan's own standards," she stressed.
Before the Taliban regime, Afghan women were educated. They worked as teachers, doctors and professionals. "I hope you will be again because a society can only achieve its full potential when all of its members participate," Bush concluded.