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First Lady on Mission to Promote Girls' Education in Africa

  • VOA News

FILE - First lady Michelle Obama reacts to cheers from the class of 2016 during commencement for City College of New York, June 3, 2016.

FILE - First lady Michelle Obama reacts to cheers from the class of 2016 during commencement for City College of New York, June 3, 2016.

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama is scheduled leave Sunday for Africa and Europe to advocate for girls' education.

The six-day trip – to Liberia and Morocco, with a final stop in Spain – will highlight Let Girls Learn, one of Obama's core initiatives. The first lady will be joined in her travels by daughters Sasha and Malia, and the girls’ grandmother, Marian Robinson.

Let Girls Learn is a global initiative launched by the president and first lady in 2015. The program addresses obstacles – such as forced marriage, poverty and violence – that keep more than 62 million girls globally out of school.

“We believe very strongly that education and the empowerment of young people is going to be critical to a region that has known so much turmoil, particularly given the enormous youth population in those countries,” Ben Rhodes, the White House deputy national security adviser, said Friday.

The first destination is Liberia, where the first lady will attend a meeting with the first elected woman head of state in Africa, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Obama then will visit the Peace Corps training facility in the Liberian city of Kakata to speak with women participating at the Girls Leading Our World Program. The entourage also will meet with Peace Corps volunteers and trainees.

The first lady will speak to adolescent girls at Unification Town, also in Liberia, about the educational obstacles they face. Moderating the meeting will be Indian actress Freida Pinto, who starred in the film "Slumdog Millionaire."

“The conversation will highlight both educational barriers girls face as Liberia moves beyond the Ebola epidemic, and the U.S. government’s efforts to continue to address those barriers and provide adolescent girls with equitable access to safe and quality education,” said Tina Tchen, the first lady's chief of staff.

Global initiative

Some 250 million girls live in poverty, according to White House data. In developing countries, one in nine girls marries by age 15; one in three by age 18. Early marriage and early motherhood is associated with poor health and educational outcomes for both mother and children.

Actress Meryl Streep is scheduled to join Obama and daughters in Morocco Tuesday and Wednesday for another conversation on helping girls go to school. About 85 percent of the north African country's girls are enrolled in primary school, but only 14 percent attend high school.

The final destination abroad is Spain, a longtime U.S. ally that, the White House noted, has dealt with "significant" economic challenges in recent years.

By visiting the three countries, Michelle Obama "is able to speak not just to government [officials] but to speak to people and to make clear that … a key part of our leadership is what we can do to lift up the lives of young people, particularly girls," Rhodes said.

The White House said travel costs for Pinto and Streep will be covered by CNN Films, which is collecting documentary footage in Liberia and Morocco.

Obama, who recently joined Snapchat, will document her travels in a daily diary at as well as on social media.

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