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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

MOSAIC FOUNDATION GALA

WASHINGTON, DC

“EDUCATION:  A TWO-WAY STREET”

Thank you, Nermin, for those kind words – and, more importantly, for all you do as president of the Mosaic Foundation.  Over the past eight years, the Mosaic Foundation has played an inspiring role – not only in lifting the lives of women and children around the world… but in showing how much Arab women can do, individually and collectively.  Tonight’s magnificent gala is just the latest proof of your leadership.

I would also like to thank Laura Bush for honoring us with her support… and for her lifetime of service on behalf of children, literacy and education.  

Through the quiet grace of her efforts and example, she is helping children succeed… not only here in America, but all around the world.  

And to everyone here, thank you all for making tonight such a stunning success.  Over the years, the Mosaic Foundation has supported a range of extraordinary organizations.  But tonight’s grantee, the Sesame Workshop, is especially close to my heart.  

Like millions of children, my brother, sister and I were raised on Sesame Street.  Its joyful approach to learning and life made an unforgettable impression.  

And today, my four young children are leading me down that road again with Hikayat Simsim, as it is known in Jordan…a regular part of our day. 
 
It is amazing that one public television program has spanned more than 35 years.  But even more impressive is the way the show has stayed in tune with the times.  Last month I visited South Africa, where Takalani Sesame is home to a sweet Muppet named Kami, who is helping children and their caregivers overcome the stigma of HIV/AIDS.  I also traveled to India, where Galli Galli Sim Sim is due to premiere this year, launching Indian children towards learning, while celebrating their country’s rich diversity.   

Sesame programming in the Arab world also reflects our region’s culture and concerns:  In the words of one Jordanian, “it teaches children the alphabet of life by delivering messages of hope…respect and understanding.”  

These messages work, because the values behind them make sense in any language:  That all children deserve a chance to dream and discover… to understand the world and their place in it… and to reach their highest potential.

It seems so basic.  So why can we not make the whole world work like Sesame Street?  

After all, we know that education is a crucial human development goal.  And experts suggest the world community could put every child in primary school for between 7 and 17 billion dollars a year.  That may sound like a lot, but as a former president of Harvard  once said, if you think education is expensive, try ignorance.  Without educated people, it’s impossible for nations to get ahead in the global knowledge economy.

In Jordan, we have taken the education challenge to heart.  We are proud to have 99 percent of our children in primary school – with as many girls in our classrooms as boys.  Now, we are focused on reaching kids in the Sesame generation – by expanding and improving our kindergarten classes… training teachers … translating Early Childhood Development curricula into Arabic… and forging new partnerships in Jordan and elsewhere to help us keep our reforms on the cutting edge.      

We know that working with friends beyond our borders helps strengthen our development at home – because knowledge is that rare kind of resource that grows when it is shared.  And, in the process, we’ll enrich the “Three Rs” of reading, writing and arithmetic with a fourth and indispensable “R”:  Respect for different cultures.

The more we open our children’s minds, the more they will be able to absorb.  

And the better young people appreciate and accept the world beyond their windows, the better prospects we will all enjoy for a future of peace and shared progress.

That is why I am so excited about the Sesame Mosaic program – a wonderful passport to understanding, for Arab and American children alike.  As we saw in the film, this colorful project can serve as a cultural embassy -- communicating the vibrant heritage and diversity of the Arab world.  

In fact, I would like to take the notion of Sesame diplomacy one step further.   

It has been a real treat to have my friend Khokha here with us from Egypt – and now she and I would like to invite Grover, Elmo, and their friends to visit us in the Middle East.  There is so much I would love to show you in Jordan – and I can arrange the visas! Indeed, with Sesame programs reaching more than 120 countries, its envoys – whether human, muppet or monster – can be Ambassadors of global goodwill… helping young children and their parents learn more about the world we share.
 
So as we celebrate this wonderful evening, and the two-way street of education, let us renew our support for the values that pave the longest street in the world.  

We can each add a stone.  And while, separately, the little pieces may not be strong, together they will reinforce each other, in a great mosaic of hope and opportunity.

Thank you very much.