United States' First lady Laura Bush has referred to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as "an inspiration to everyone who believes in free societies" during a speech at an Africare dinner honoring Sirleaf on October 18.
Africare is a leading nonprofit organization specializing in development assistance for Africa.
In addition to saluting the Liberian head of state, the 2007 Africare Dinner celebrated "women's empowerment Africa-wide," according to the organization.
President Sirleaf received Africare's 2007 Bishop John T. Walker Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award.
"President Johnson Sirleaf is the first woman ever elected president in Africa, and women around the world are proud of her," the first lady said.
Calling her "one of the world's most distinguished leaders," Mrs. Bush went on to highlight Sirleaf's efforts to rebuild war-shattered Liberia.
"We commend the president's efforts to make Liberia's government more transparent, and to build up democratic institutions. As a former teacher," the first lady said, "I especially appreciate President Johnson Sirleaf's commitment to free and compulsory education."
Liberia is one of six fast-track countries that will benefit from the U.S. government's new US$425 million "Basic Education Initiative" to train teachers and improve literacy. Since the end of Liberia's civil war, the United States has provided more than US$650 million for humanitarian, development and security assistance.
Referring to the "special and close relationship" between Liberia and the United States, the first lady emphasized that, "The people of the United States stand with President Johnson Sirleaf and the people of Liberia as they rebuild their country."
The U.S. first lady also paid homage to Africare programs which provide emergency relief and safe drinking water to those in need. "They feed the hungry. They clean up the natural environment. Your organization supports literacy training, develops civic institutions, and promotes good government. Since 1970, Africare has delivered more than $675 million in aid to 36 different countries," the First Lady said.
Africare is one of several relief organizations that make up the RAPIDS consortium. RAPIDS is addressing one of the greatest humanitarian crises of all times, and that's the epidemic of HIV/AIDS. I've seen the benefits of this work first-hand in Zambia's Mututa Memorial Clinic. With support from RAPIDS and the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the clinic helps Zambians live positively with HIV.
The U.S. first lady also hailed the Liberian leader for working to get Liberia's education plan approved by the Education For All-Fast Track program. "Under the President's plan, more students will have basic school supplies like desks, chairs, and textbooks. Teachers will be trained to use up-to-date instructional materials. Currently, 26 percent of Liberia's schools have access to clean water -- and President Johnson-Sirleaf aims to increase that number to 60 percent by 2010," the first lady said.
Since the end of Liberia's civil war, the United States has provided more than $650 million for humanitarian, development, and security assistance. We're helping recruit and train and equip Liberian security forces. We're working with President Johnson-Sirleaf's government to build up a system of law and justice. Liberia's farmlands and forests support the livelihoods of 70 percent of that nation's people -- so the United States has joined with President Johnson-Sirleaf to promote responsible stewardship of Liberia's natural resources and to expand access to global markets for Liberian farmers.
The U.S. first lady also hailed Sirleaf's efforts in working to rebuild a health care infrastructure that suffers from years of neglect. "The United States is partnering with her government to support health clinics and to provide preventive care in rural communities.
Next year, Liberia will receive $1 million from the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Liberia is also a focus country under the President's Malaria Initiative, a $1.2 billion program that aims to reduce malaria deaths in 15 African nations by over half in the next five years.
The first lady said there are many American people also want to help Liberia through charities and faith-based congregations and organizations but said much more needs to be done.
Mrs. Bush: "Liberians need books and school supplies, medical equipment, clothing, food, and agricultural commodities. Americans can provide resources for all of these items through charities that invest in Liberian education, health care, and agriculture. Concerned citizens can support the humanitarian work of their faith congregations by providing donations, serving as volunteers, or going on mission trips."
The President said she wants Liberia to show the world that in the time of great uncertainty, with sustained support from the United States of America and its partners, a post-conflict country can live in peace within its own borders and amongst its neighbors and emerge as a nation that embraces constitutionally defined separation of powers, that respects civil rights, and the rule of law. "I want us to use the opportunity of this night to share in the excitement of a continent (Africa) on the move; a region virtually free of war and destruction, a nation after decades of conflict and near total destruction, on the mend, securing the peace, open for business, reclaiming a future of hope and promise."
In response, President Sirleaf hailed Africare for its contribution to the progress taking place in Liberia and for its work in food security, health services, HIV prevention, water supply and sanitation in over twenty-six countries in Africa.
The President also paid homage to all who have been there for Liberia and who have helped make a difference in their lives.
In the midst of the praise heaped on her, the Liberian leader appeared humbled by it all, but hopes that history will remember her for raising the bar on good governance in Liberia.
"I am often asked what I think my legacy will be, and I reply that this is for historians to decide. But it is my hope that when history passes judgment on me, it will not just remark that I was the first woman to be elected President in Africa. I would like to be remembered for raising the bar for accountable governance in Liberia and across the continent; for designing institutions that serve the pubic interest; for turning a failed state into a thriving democracy with a vibrant, diversified private-sector-driven economy; for sending children back to school; for returning basic services to the cities and bringing them to rural areas."
The President said she wants Liberia to show the world that in the time of great uncertainty, with sustained support from the United States of America and its partners, a post-conflict country can live in peace within its own borders and amongst its neighbors and emerge as a nation that embraces constitutionally defined separation of powers, that respects civil rights, and the rule of law.
"I want us to use the opportunity of this night to share in the excitement of a continent (Africa) on the move; a region virtually free of war and destruction, a nation after decades of conflict and near total destruction, on the mend, securing the peace, open for business, reclaiming a future of hope and promise."
The President also paid homage to all who have been there for Liberia and who have helped Liberia on to this path of progress, adding that it would never have started if African leaders had not taken the bold step to say 'enough is enough' in the suffering of a people, and if President Bush had not told the world that it was time for a dictator to step down.
President Sirleaf hailed Africare for its contribution to the progress taking place in Liberia and for its work in food security, health services, HIV prevention, water supply and sanitation in over twenty-six countries in Africa, adding "your work and commitment to Liberia is long standing.