The White House Blog: The First Lady
- Posted byon July 5, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
This week, the First Family traveled to Africa, for a three country, four stop visit that started in Dakar, Senegal and ended in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania with stops in Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa sandwiched in between. There were drums and dancing, crowds and ceremonial pomp and circumstance, meetings, forums, summits and town halls, and moving trips to both Goree and Robben Islands.
- Posted byon July 3, 2013 at 1:18 PM EDT
After seven amazing days, we’re finally back home. I hope you enjoyed following our journey, and I hope that you’ll be inspired to continue learning about Africa.
We visited only three of this continent’s countries on our trip, but there are so many more, each with its own rich history and culture. In each of these countries, there are young people just like you who are working hard to get an education and dreaming about their futures just like you are. And I have to tell you, after meeting so many of these young people this past week, and seeing how passionate, determined and talented they are, I feel more confident than ever before about our future.
As these young people -- along with young people in the U.S. and around the world – step up to become the next generation of leaders, I’m convinced that you all will rise to the many challenges we face and move our countries and our world forward for generations to come.
Thank you again for joining me on this journey!
Michelle Obama is First Lady of the United States
The First Lady's Travel Journal from Africa
Kicking Off Our Trip to Africa
June 26, 2013 - Washington, D.C.
An Example to Follow
June 27, 2013 - Dakar, Senegal
Visiting Goree Island
June 27, 2013 - Goree Island, Senegal
- Posted byon July 2, 2013 at 2:05 PM EDT
Today, I had the pleasure and honor of ending our trip by attending an African First Ladies Summit entitled “Investing in Women: Strengthening Africa” which was co-sponsored by our former First Lady, Mrs. Laura Bush. There are so few people in the world who know what it feels like to be married to the President of the United States, and Mrs. Bush has been so incredibly kind and welcoming to me and my family over the years. So I was thrilled to have the chance to see her and her husband, President Bush, and to attend this very important event.
Upon arrival, I got to meet First Ladies from countries all across Africa who came here to Tanzania for this summit. These women are doing extraordinary work in their home countries – from raising awareness about HIV/AIDS, to fighting violence against women, to working to end child hunger – and it was inspiring to learn about the difference they are making across this continent.
I then had a lively discussion with Mrs. Bush about the impact that First Ladies can have on the important issues this conference is focused on: women’s health, women’s economic empowerment, and education for women and girls. This last issue is particularly near and dear to my heart and has been part of my focus throughout this trip.
The fact is that too often, in developing countries, girls simply don’t get the chance to attend school. In some parts of Africa, fewer than 20% of girls ever attend high school.
There are many reasons for this education gender gap. Sometimes, girls’ families simply can’t afford the costs of sending them to school (for things like school fees, uniforms, or school supplies). Or if parents don’t have enough money to send all their children to school, they’ll send their sons instead of their daughters. In some parts of the world, girls are expected to get married when they’re very young – when they’re teenagers or even younger – or they have to work to help support their families, so they can’t go to school. And in some places, a girl may have to walk many miles to attend the nearest school, and it may not be safe for her to do that by herself.
- Posted byon July 1, 2013 at 5:52 PM EDT
I just watched the most extraordinary group of young people sing, dance and perform gravity-defying acrobatic feats – and they did it all with rhythm, style and grace!
These kids are part of the Baba wa Watoto (which is Swahili for “father of children”) Center, an amazing community organization that gives kids the opportunities they need to succeed in school and in life. Many of you might participate in programs like this – such as Girl Scouts or 4H or the Boys and Girls Club – in your own communities, so you know what a difference they can make. Like these programs, Babawatoto teaches kids about the power of hard work, discipline and leadership, skills they can apply to every part of their lives. And seeing the talent, energy and passion these kids brought to that stage today, I’m confident that they’ll be successful wherever their journeys take them.
- Posted byon July 1, 2013 at 5:38 PM EDT
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 4:16 PM EDT
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 2:05 PM EDT
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 5:39 PM EDT
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 6:27 PM EDT
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 5:06 PM EDT
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.