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US Supplies 'School Chests' for Afghan Children - 2002-03-21

President Bush went to an elementary school, in the Virginia suburbs of Washington Wednesday, to draw attention to a group of students almost half a world away. He urged Americans to help the children of Afghanistan.

Afghanistan's children are preparing to begin a new school year in classrooms bearing the scars of conflict, poverty and neglect. Under the Taleban, boys got Islamic studies. Girls got no formal education at all.

The president said that is changing and a new generation of Afghans is getting a chance to learn. "Our dream is a world that is peaceful," he said. "And our dream is a world that is hopeful. And the best way to make sure the world is hopeful is to help people get a good education."

He said America's commitment to Afghanistan goes beyond fighting the Taleban and al-Qaida terrorists. He said the American people are determined to provide Afghan children with the tools they need - from books to pencils to paper.

The president urged the public to contribute to a program run by the American Red Cross, that provides Afghan classrooms with large cases packed with supplies. They are called "school chests."

"Forty notebooks per chest," Mr. Bush said. "That's a lot of notebooks. But that's how many children there are in a class. And there's a lot of other things in there, as well. There's pencils, and rulers; as I mentioned, crayons, jump ropes, a soccer ball, so the kids can play soccer, get a little exercise while you're doing your studies. And so far, I just want you all to know - it's kind of a report here - that 1,000 of these kits have been put together, a thousand chests have been assembled."

President Bush said the goal is to get 2,000 more "school chests" to Afghanistan by June. Meanwhile, a separate program is underway to see that Afghan girls get the school uniforms they need to attend classes.

First Lady Laura Bush accompanied her husband on his school visit, and said a partnership of U.S. government agencies, individuals and corporations is helping.

This aid coalition is providing sewing machines and cloth so Afghan women can make the clothes. Mrs. Bush said the goal is to provide uniforms for more than 3 million children. "Every stitch contributes to the great patchwork of support and stabilization for the people of Afghanistan," she said.

Mrs. Bush said the program will help the Afghan people in two ways - the children will get school clothes so they can attend classes, and the seamstresses, many of them widows, get a income with which to support their families.