President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush visited Samuel W. Tucker Elementary School Wednesday to highlight the Back to School Project for Afghan Women and Children.
Maryam Rasool, a first-grader at Tucker began the program by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Maryam was born in Afghanistan where her father built homes. The family now lives in Alexandria.
Fifth-grader Kamila Benzina had the honor of introducing the First Lady and was praised by the president.
"Some day there will be a Madam President," he said. "And if you continue talking the way you did today, perhaps that will be you."
Kamila is the president of Tucker's Student Council Association.
Before the president spoke to students, he helped to assemble a chest of school supplies that will be shipped to Afghanistan. The America Red Cross has worked with communities throughout the country to assemble 1,000 chests so far. The goal is to fill a total of 3,000 chests by May 31.
Each chest contains supplies for 40 children. There are notebooks, pencils, crayons, erasers, jump ropes and a soccer ball among other items. Textbooks are being sent through another effort. Several corporate sponsors have donated fabric and sewing machines so that Afghan seamstresses can make uniforms for school children. The first set of supplies will be distributed to children in Kabul on March 23 and 24, the first days of school.
"I know you all know that we are fighting a war," the president said to the children. "We're fighting against people who don't really like freedom, against people who want to hurt us. I want to assure you that we'll do everything we can to make sure they don't. But we're fighting more than just a war — we're fighting to help people, too.
"We want boys and girls to grow up in a world that is free and where they can go to school. A lot of times on TV all you see is about the bombs, but we've prevented mass starvation because we've moved a lot of food into the region; we're helping to build roads; we're helping to build schools; we're helping make sure that the boys and girls and others have healthcare and health clinics and we're also doing a lot to help children get a good education.
"If you're educated you've got a much better chance and have a hopeful future. We want that for every boy and girl whether they live in America or anywhere else in the world."
The president added, "If you want to do something to help, fill one of these chests with supplies. Call your local Red Cross and they will tell you what to do."
Laura Bush, too, thanked the Tucker students for their participation in raising money for the Fund for Afghan Children. Students raised more than $2,500 last fall by holding a read-a-thon and collecting pledges.
"I want to thank you all for participating in a project that has just begun," she said. "When we educate children, we give them the ability to imagine a future of opportunity, of quality and justice. Education is the single most important long-term investment we can make in the future of any nation."
For information about how to get involved in the Back to School Project, call the Alexandria Chapter of the American Red Cross at 703-549-8300.