Obamas encourage world to Let girls learn
Saying every girl "has value," President Barack Obama has announced a more focused government effort to help tens of millions of girls around the world. The effort would focus on girls attending and staying in school. Michelle Obama said she will go to Japan and Cambodia to promote it.
The president said that, as the father of "two fabulous, extraordinary, awesome young women," he wants to help make sure that "no girl out there is denied her chance to be a strong, capable woman." Yet more than 60 million girls are being denied schooling for a variety of reasons, he said.
Obama said the U.S. works quietly to support educating girls. But its many programs must become a single, coordinated strategy.
"We're making it clear to any country ... that they need to get serious about increasing the number of girls in school," Obama said. He announced the "Let Girls Learn" initiative. He was at the White House with the first lady standing beside him.
Mrs. Obama said the issue is personal for her.
"I see myself in these girls. I see our daughters in these girls."
The Obamas are parents of teenagers Malia, 16, and Sasha, 13. The Obamas say their own success would have been impossible without education. During their travels, they encourage young people to focus on education. In the U.S., Mrs. Obama urges students to pursue education after high school.
As part of the effort, Mrs. Obama said her office and the Peace Corps will work jointly. They want to highlight community-based solutions.
The Peace Corps already has thousands of volunteers at work. They are stationed in more than 60 developing countries. Its "Let Girls Learn" program will begin in Albania, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Georgia, Ghana, Moldova, Mongolia, Mozambique, Togo and Uganda.
Mrs. Obama will travel to Tokyo and Kyoto, Japan, from March 18-20. Then she will go to Siem Reap in northwestern Cambodia from March 21-22.
The first lady said she will visit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife, Akie. The Japanese first lady "shares our passion for girls' education and is eager to partner with us in this work."
In Cambodia, Mrs. Obama said she will meet with Peace Corps volunteers. She will visit a school where "community-driven solutions are changing girls' lives."
Cambodia is an interesting choice for the first lady.
In late 2012, Barack Obama became the first U.S. president to visit Cambodia. Cambodia has been led since 1985 by Prime Minister Hun Sen. He has a reputation for ruthlessness. There is low tolerance for opposition.
Mrs. Obama said the new initiative is as much about students in the U.S. as it is about educating girls abroad. She said she wants to help youngsters in America learn about the sacrifices girls around the world make to get their education.
"I want our young people to be awed by these girls. But more importantly I want them to be inspired and motivated by these girls," Mrs. Obama said.
Critical thinking challenge: Why do the President and First Lady think it is important to focus on this issue?