ACCRA, Ghana – In a muggy college auditorium, first lady Laura Bush on Tuesday announced a U.S.-backed program to provide 15 million textbooks for students in sub-Saharan Africa where more than one-third of primary school aged children are not enrolled in school.
"It's not uncommon in rural areas to see just one textbook for a whole classroom," Mrs. Bush said at Accra Teacher Training College.
"Girls, especially girls in rural villages, are much less likely than boys to attend school. And students who live in poverty have few opportunities for schooling because their parents cannot afford the school fees or buy uniforms and books."
Mrs. Bush was joined by representatives of six U.S. colleges and universities that are receiving USAID funds to produce and distribute textbooks in Ghana, Senegal, Zambia, Tanzania, South Africa and Ethiopia. The colleges are: Chicago State University, Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina, Tougaloo College in Mississippi, South Carolina State University, the University of Texas-San Antonio and Alabama A&M University.
"These textbooks will be created in Africa so they will represent the unique experiences of African students," Mrs. Bush told about 500 students, all dressed navy pants or skirts, white shirts and navy ties stamped with the school emblem.
The president of Ghana, John Kufuor, wiping sweat from his brow, thanked the first lady for visiting Ghana to underscore U.S. commitment to education in Africa, especially for girls.
"Madam, we know how you feel about educating the girl child," he said. "We share this passion of yours."
The program is part of President Bush's Africa Education Initiative, a $600 million commitment to provide books, scholarships, school uniforms and teacher training so that more children in Africa can attend school. Mrs. Bush said the initiative already has helped ship more than 2 million books to African schools and libraries.
Later, Mrs. Bush visited the Korle-Bu clinic, which treats 150 to 220 AIDS patients three times a week. She met a woman who cares for children who have lost their parents to AIDS, HIV-positive women taking antiviral drugs and children with the disease who are struggling to maintain normal lives.
"A big problem here is stigma and discrimination," Dr. Nii Addo, program director for national AIDS control in Ghana, said, adding that people still fear shaking hands with AIDS sufferers.
"It's really important to reach out to people who are HIV positive or who have AIDS and also to reach out to people around the world who don't — to get the word out and get the education out so that people can avoid ever getting AIDS," Mrs. Bush said. "When somebody who has AIDS speaks, then you put a real face on the disease."