The White House Blog: The First Lady
- Posted byon July 1, 2013 at 4:38 PM EST
When we stepped off the plane in Tanzania today, we received a welcome that warmed our hearts and made us feel right at home. We were greeted by the President of Tanzania, President Jakaya Kikwete and his wife, Tanzania's First Lady, Mrs. Salma Kikwete. We then took part in an official arrival ceremony which included a military honor guard, the playing of the Tanzanian and American national anthems, and a magnificent dance and drumming performance with hundreds of dancers. And people lined the streets waving American and Tanzanian flags as we drove away.
Arrival ceremonies like this one are a vital part of diplomacy – they’re how countries and their leaders welcome each other and show their respect for each other. Here in the U.S., we have our own arrival ceremony for visiting leaders where we play their country’s national anthem as well as our own; we give them either a 21 or 19 gun salute (where members of our military fire guns into the air either 21 or 19 times as a show of respect); and both my husband and the foreign leader give brief speeches.
Later that evening, we host a special dinner where we honor our guests and do our best to make them feel at home here in the U.S. For example, we knew that President Calderon of Mexico was born in a region where the monarch butterflies migrate each spring. So when we held our Mexico State dinner, we had a butterfly theme for our decorations.
- Posted byon June 30, 2013 at 3:16 PM EST
Today, our family visited Robben Island for an experience we will never forget. Robben Island is located off the coast of South Africa, and from the 1960s through the 1990s, this Island housed a maximum security prison. Many of the prisoners there – including the guide for our visit, a man named Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada – were activists who worked to bring down Apartheid, the South African government’s policies that discriminated against people of color. Under Apartheid, people of different races were separated in nearly every part of South African society. They were forced to attend separate schools, live in separate neighborhoods, even swim at separate beaches – and in nearly every case, the neighborhoods, schools and other facilities for black people were much worse than the ones for white people.
Among those imprisoned at Robben Island for fighting Apartheid were three men who went on to become President of South Africa: Nelson Mandela, Kgalema Motlanthe and the current president, Jacob Zuma.
So today, as we toured the island, I couldn’t help but think about how this place must have shaped these leaders. Put yourself in their shoes – all they were doing was fighting to ensure that people in South Africa would be treated equally, no matter what the color of their skin. And for that, they wound up confined on this remote island, far removed from the world they so desperately hoped to change.
- Posted byon June 29, 2013 at 1:05 PM EST
Today, through the wonders of technology, we brought together students here in South Africa with students across the U.S. who joined us through a Google+ Hangout for a lively town hall about the importance of education. Singer and songwriter John Legend – who’s passionate about improving education – joined us from Los Angeles. And singer and actress, Victoria Justice – who works with an organization called Girl Up that empowers girls around the world – beamed in from Houston.
- Posted byon June 28, 2013 at 4:39 PM EST
Today, we arrived in South Africa, and I couldn’t be more excited, because two years ago, I visited this country for the first time with my mother and daughters, and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
On that visit, I met with young women leaders from across the continent who were serving their countries and their communities – educating young people, providing job training for women, working to combat poverty and violence and disease – often in the face of impossible odds. I also had the chance to spend time with young people from here in South Africa: I danced with children at a daycare center, visited the University of Cape Town with local high school students, and took part in a children’s soccer clinic at one of the stadiums used in the 2010 World Cup.
I also had the chance to meet President Nelson Mandela at his home in Johannesburg, an experience that I will never forget. Mandela – or “Madiba” as he’s referred to in South Africa – is truly a giant in world history. As a young man, he led a movement against Apartheid – the South African government’s policies that discriminated against people of color, forcing them to live in separate neighborhoods and attend separate schools and prohibiting them from even voting in national elections. For his defiance, Mandela was jailed for 27 years, and his struggle became a source of inspiration for people all around the world.
First Lady Michelle Obama meets with former President Nelson Mandela of South Africa at his home in Houghton, South Africa, June 21, 2011. Mrs. Obama viewed items from President Mandela's archives earlier during a tour of the Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)
- Posted byon June 27, 2013 at 5:27 PM EST
After our visit to the Martin Luther King School, we boarded a ferry to Goree Island, a small island off Senegal’s coast. For roughly three hundred years until the mid-1840s, countless men, women and children from Africa were kidnapped from their homes and communities and brought to this island to be sold as slaves.
On our tour of the island, we saw the dark, cramped cells where dozens of people were packed together for months on end, with heavy chains around their necks and arms. We saw the courtyard where they were forced to stand naked while buyers examined them, negotiated a price, and bought them as if they were nothing but property. And we saw what is known as “The Door of No Return,” a small stone doorway through which these men, women and children passed on their way to massive wooden ships that carried them across the ocean to a life of slavery in the United States and elsewhere – a brutal journey known as the “Middle Passage”.
- Posted byon June 27, 2013 at 4:06 PM EST
After having a lovely tea with Mrs. Sall, the First Lady of Senegal, we headed to the Martin Luther King (MLK) school, an all-girls middle school in Dakar, which is Senegal’s capital city. I had a chance to speak to about 150 members of the ninth grade class and their teachers. The girls put on a wonderful dance performance and delivered presentations they had prepared – in excellent English (they normally speak French). One of them even performed Etta James' "At Last," and she absolutely blew me away – let me tell you, that young woman could sing.
The more time I spent with these extraordinary young women – girls living halfway across the world from where I was born in raised – the more I saw how similar their stories are to my own. Like my own parents, many of these girls’ parents never had the chance to get the kind of education they hoped for. And like the family I grew up in, many of their families don’t have much money.
But no matter what challenges these girls are facing in their lives, they come to school every day eager to learn, and they spend hours each night studying and doing their homework. They also work hard to develop themselves as leaders, running their own student government and meeting with distinguished women leaders, including a number of CEOs and high-ranking government officials. And their hard work is paying off – students from MLK perform very well on their exams, and girls who graduate from this school go on to become accomplished businesswomen, scientists, artists, athletes and more.
- Posted byon June 27, 2013 at 12:02 PM EST
This week, the First Lady is joining President Obama on an official visit to Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania. During the trip, Mrs. Obama will meet with young people across the continent and highlight the power of education.
On Saturday, June 29th, the First Lady is hosting a special event that will connect young people in South Africa with young people in the U.S. to discuss the importance of education and our shared future -- and you can be a part of it. Here's how:
- Watch the event live on June 29th at 9:30 a.m. ET on WhiteHouse.gov/FLOTUSinAfrica and the White House Google+ page
- Use the hashtag #FLOTUSinAfrica on Twitter and Google+ to join the discussion and ask questions
- Check out the Connecting Continents community on Google+ to continue the conversation
During this event, in conjunction with MTV Base, an African youth and music TV channel, and Google+, the First Lady and MTV Base VJ Sizwe Dhlomo will join students in South Africa for a virtual discussion with young people in cities around the U.S., including:
- Girl Up, a United Nations Foundation that unites girls to change the world, will join from Houston, Texas. In addition to the students joining the hangout, Girl Up is hosting dozens of watch parties around the country.
- John Legend and students involved in his Show Me Campaign, a global campaign fighting for equal access to quality education, will join from Los Angeles, California.
- Y Global Teens, a YMCA program that provides underprivileged youth with an international service learning experience, will join from New York City. Through the program, these students will visit the Cape Town YMCA.
- From Google Fiber Space in Kansas City, participants will join that are part of the KC STEM Alliance to promote and inspire interest in science, technology, engineering and math education
This Google+ Hangout with the First Lady kicks off a series of global virtual field trips on Google+ that will launch in the school year. Stay tuned for opportunities to participate in events with the State Department, Global Nomads Group, a nonprofit organization that facilitates cultural exchanges, and others. Check out the Global Nomads Google+ Community to connect with peers around the world right now and stay engaged.
- Posted byon June 27, 2013 at 10:30 AM EST
Yesterday, President Obama, his family, and the U.S. delegation began our trip to Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania, as part of our commitment to invest in Africa’s development and its people. It is my first trip to these countries, and I look forward to meeting new faces from each country.
In 2010, President Obama hosted a forum with 115 young leaders from more than 40 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. They traveled more than 4,000 miles to discuss the continent’s future and promise at the White House and State Department. The young leaders embraced the challenge of leading sub-Saharan Africa for the next generation, and this week, we are excited to meet more young people who are taking up the mantle.
We all know that Africa is a new center of global growth, and is creating more opportunities for its people than ever before. The challenge is to ensure these gains are expanded to benefit all Africans.
As such, during this trip, President Obama will highlight three major themes:
First, increasing U.S. trade and investment. We are redoubling our efforts to create an environment that enables greater trade, and investment, through encouraging regional integration, legal reforms that break down barriers to the free flow of goods, and services, greater transparency, and anti-corruption measures.
President Obama will also highlight the need to increase access to electricity, and expand trade, and investment. I will be participating in roundtables with United States Trade Representative Mike Froman to highlight business opportunities between the United States, and African countries. We will also discuss our effective partnerships on food security, and global health, which are delivering results by reducing hunger, and under-nutrition, improving child survival, and moving people out of poverty.
- Posted byon June 26, 2013 at 8:30 AM EST
Today, my husband, President Obama, and I, along with our daughters, are heading to Africa – to Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania – and we want young people all across America to join us!
This is such an important trip because Africa is such an important partner to the United States on so many of the issues facing our world today – from climate change and terrorism, to poverty and disease, to the challenge of creating jobs in our global economy. And more than ever before, our success here in the U.S. is tied to the success of other countries around the world – in so many ways, we will all rise or fall together. So it’s critical that young people like you develop a global perspective as citizens of the world – it’s critical that you follow not just what’s happening in the news here in the U.S., but what’s happening all around the world, including the international travels and policies of our President. Because when it comes to the issues our countries face, young people like you – both here in the United States and across Africa – will have to work together to lead the way. In the coming years, you all will be building the businesses, and making the scientific discoveries, and drafting the laws and policies that will move our countries – and our world – forward for decades to come.
That’s why, when I visited Africa back in 2011, I spent most of my time with passionate, dynamic, inspiring young people, listening to their stories and sharing my own. I also had the privilege of meeting one of the greatest heroes that Africa – and the world – has ever known: former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. President Mandela is in the hospital right now, and he is very much in our thoughts and prayers. I’ll be writing more about President Mandela’s extraordinary contributions to history – and what we can all do in our own lives to live up to his legacy – in future blog posts.
- Posted byon June 24, 2013 at 2:20 PM EST
Today, Goodwill Industries International announced that it is launching a new initiative that aims to assist 3,000 women veterans over the next two years.
By the year 2020, women will represent over 10 percent of our nation’s veteran population. The new and expanded “Goodwill Serving America’s Heroes” initiative will take a holistic approach to the success of women leaving the Armed Forces by providing assistance with childcare costs, housing, support for those with disabilities, and connections to employers, to name a few.
Juanita Williams, currently employed as an ophthalmologist assistant, is a Navy veteran who utilized the services offered by Goodwill. She shared her opinion on Goodwill’s efforts. “Coming out of the service, we need this," she said. "We need these services that help us get back on our feet. They’ve helped me with child care, résumé writing classes, interview techniques and, of course, finding my employer.”