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July, 2013 Archives

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.

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First Lady Michelle Obama Participates in a Google + Hangout in Johannesburg

First Lady Michelle Obama participates in a Google + Hangout on education at the Sci Bono Discovery Center in Johannesburg, South Africa, June 29, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

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 

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Happy Independence Day! To celebrate, more than 1,200 military heroes and their families will join the President and the First Lady at the White House for an Independence Day celebration, which includes a performance by the Grammy Award Winning band, fun..

You don't need to be on the South Lawn to enjoy the show! Check out the "Salute to the Military" USO Concert and the fireworks over the National Mall on WhiteHouse.gov/live or on your iPhone with the White House App.

Here's the schedule for Thursday, July 4:

  • 6:00 PM EDT: President Obama delivers remarks from the South Lawn
  • 8:10 PM EDT: USO show featuring fun.
  • 9:10 PM EDT: National capital fireworks display

But first – check out some of our favorite Fourth of July moments from the last few years.

1. President Obama and Babies

Holding a baby on July 4th

President Barack Obama holds a baby while greeting guests during an Independence Day celebration on the South Lawn of the White House, July 4, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

2. Fun, Fireworks and Games

3. Visiting the Troops in Iraq

Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden congratulate soldiers on becoming U.S. citizens

Vice President Joe Biden, center, congratulates a soldier on becoming a U.S. citizen during a naturalization ceremony in Al Faw Palace on Camp Victory, Iraq. Biden's wife, Dr. Jill Biden, and Army Gen. Raymond Odierno, left, commander of U.S. Forces Iraq, also attended the event during which more than 150 U.S. servicemembers became U.S. citizens. July 4, 2010. (by Elaine Wilson)

4. President Obama and First Lady Obama Dancing

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama pretend to march to music in the Blue Room

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama pretend to march to music in the Blue Room of the White House, July 4, 2010, before delivering remarks to military families during a Fourth of July celebration. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

5. Honoring Our Troops

6. Military Families on the South Lawn

July 4, 2011-Young Salute

July 4, 2011
"I'm always trying to capture how people react to the President especially when he works a rope line. On the Fourth of July, the President was greeting members of the military and their families on the South Lawn when a young girl struck a salute as the President approached."
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, along with Leslie Robinson, daughters Malia and Sasha, and Marian Robinson, tour the Lime Quarry on Robben Island in Cape Town, South Africa, June 30, 2013. Ahmed Kathrada, a former prisoner in Robben Island Prison, leads their tour.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, along with Leslie Robinson, daughters Malia and Sasha, and Marian Robinson, tour the Lime Quarry on Robben Island in Cape Town, South Africa, June 30, 2013. Ahmed Kathrada, a former prisoner in Robben Island Prison, leads their tour.

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.

During our visit, we toured the rock quarry where they spent their days doing backbreaking labor, crushing and lifting heavy rocks in the blinding sun. We also saw the tiny cells – including Mr. Kathrada’s cell – where they spent their nights. It was amazing to see Mandela’s cell, a tiny room – about 6 feet wide – where he spent 18 of the 27 years he was in prison. He slept on a thin mat on the floor, and when he stretched out to sleep at night, his toes touched one wall, while his head grazed the other. The walls were two feet thick with no decorations, and he was given a bucket to use as a toilet.

In his first few years on the island, Mandela wasn’t allowed to read the newspaper, listen to the radio, or even have a clock to keep the time. Meals consisted of small rations of porridge – and every other day, he received a tiny piece of meat, but it was mainly gristle. When his mother and son passed away, he couldn’t attend their funerals. And at one point, a prison guard left a news clipping in Mandela’s cell – an article about the government’s mistreatment of his wife – just to taunt him.

Yet despite these conditions, Mandela and his fellow prisoners never lost hope. As Mandela once said, “Prison – far from breaking our spirits – made us more determined to continue with this battle until victory was won.” They did their best to get an education while in prison – they read as many books as they could, and some prisoners even got university degrees through correspondence courses. They vigorously debated philosophy, politics, and the direction of the anti-Apartheid movement. They stood up to mistreatment by the prison guards. And they found ways to communicate in secret, such as stuffing notes inside tennis balls that they would pass along during recreation periods.

So when these prisoners were finally released, their spirits were far from broken. Mandela went on to lead the movement to end Apartheid and set up a new democratic government. He won a Nobel Peace Prize and became South Africa’s first black President. And for me, one of the most amazing parts of his story is this: when he was inaugurated as President, his invited three of his prison guards from Robben Island to join in his inaugural celebration.

So instead of becoming cynical or despondent, or allowing himself to be consumed by bitterness and hatred, Mandela found it in his heart to forgive. And even during all those years imprisoned on Robben Island, he never stopped believing that his country could move forward together as one nation in that same spirit of forgiveness.

While very few of us will ever encounter the kind of discrimination and brutality that Nelson Mandela endured, all of us can learn important lessons from his struggle. We can learn about the importance of standing up for what you believe in, no matter what the cost. We can learn about how, with self-discipline and courage, we can overcome the most unthinkable hardships. And we can learn about the power of forgiveness to turn enemies into friends and help us move forward from a troubled past to a more hopeful future. So I hope that you will read more about President Mandela’s extraordinary life and seek to live up to his example in your own life.

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The First Family Visits the Lime Quarry on Robben Island in South Africa:
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama shake hands as they arrive at the State House in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama shake hands as they arrive at the State House in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, July 1, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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. 

First Lady Michelle Obama and Salma Kikwete pause for a moment of silence

First Lady Michelle Obama and Salma Kikwete pause for a moment of silence while visiting the U.S. Embassy Bombing Memorial at the National Museum in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, July 1, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

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First Lady Michelle Obama and Salma Kikwete, along with daughters Malia and Sasha, watch the Baba Watoto performance

First Lady Michelle Obama and Salma Kikwete, along with daughters Malia and Sasha, watch the Baba Watoto performance at the National Museum in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, July 1, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

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.

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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama wave to President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania and First Lady Salma Kikwete from Air Force One before leaving Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, July 2, 2013.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama wave to President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania and First Lady Salma Kikwete from Air Force One before leaving Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, July 2, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama wave to President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania and First Lady Salma Kikwete from Air Force One before leaving Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, July 2, 2013.:

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama host a concert honoring singer-songwriter Carole King in the East Room of the White House, May 22, 2013. President Obama presented King with the 2013 Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song during the event, which was part of the "In Performance at the White House" series. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama host a concert honoring singer-songwr

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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama host a concert honoring singer-songwr:

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. 

First Lady Michelle Obama delivers remarks during a Google + Hangout on education at the Sci Bono Discovery Center

First Lady Michelle Obama delivers remarks during a Google + Hangout on education at the Sci Bono Discovery Center in Johannesburg, South Africa, June 29, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

First Lady Michelle Obama participates in a Google+ Hangout on educatio

First Lady Michelle Obama participates in a Google+ Hangout on education at the Sci Bono Discovery Center in in Johannesburg, South Africa, June 29, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

I kicked off this event by talking about how, in both the U.S. and South Africa, young people have always played such a vital role in shaping our history.  I then gave two examples – the Soweto Uprising here in South Africa, and the plight of the Little Rock Nine here in the U.S. – to illustrate that point.  In both cases, young people risked their lives to get a better education for themselves and for kids all across our two countries.  I also talked about President Mandela and how, if he could endure being confined to a tiny prison cell for nearly three decades, but still hold tight to his vision for his country’s future, then surely, we can all work hard to make the most of the opportunities he fought for. 

After I spoke, I turned things over to our moderator, South African MTV  Base VJ Sizwe Dholomo, who opened up the floor to the students – and let me tell you, they blew me away!  We heard from students in South Africa including:

  • A young man named Aubrey who said that while he comes from a humble background, it’s not your background that determines where you’ll go in life, “It’s your dreams that will take you to a better future.” 
  • A young woman named Kamo who’s volunteering at, and raising money for, a shelter for girls who’ve been sexually exploited.  She is being raised by a single mother and expressed her gratitude for all the sacrifices her mother has made so that she can get a good education.
  • A young man named Tebogo who, inspired by President Mandela’s life of service, is determined to serve his country as a teacher – as he put it, “Teachers are there first and foremost to inspire us.”
  • A young woman named Mirriam who dreams of becoming an Emergency Room doctor and is part of an organization called Cloud Dog which identifies problems in her community and works to solve them.

We also heard from kids in the U.S., including kids at the YMCA in New York City who travel around the world as part of a Global Teen Program; girls in Houston who are part of Girl Up; and kids in Kansas City and Los Angeles as well. 

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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama shake hands with the crowd gathered for their arrival at the State House in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, July 1, 2013. President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania and First Lady Salma Kikwete join them on the red carpet.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama shake hands with the crowd gathered for their arrival at the State House in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, July 1, 2013. President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania and First Lady Salma Kikwete join them on the red carpet. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama shake hands with the crowd gathered for their arrival at the State House in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, July 1, 2013. President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania and First Lady Salma Kikwete join them on the red carpet.: