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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Remarks at the Bibi Mariam School, Nasir Bagh Refugee Camp
Peshawar, Pakistan, November 18, 1997
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
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Distinguished guests, thank you very much for welcoming me to your school. I wanted to visit because of the very important work that is being done here to build a new future for Afghanistan and for all its people.

As the Secretary of State of the United States, it is part of my job to care about issues of war and peace, about whether refugees from war receive food and shelter, about development and about human rights.

I have some very personal reasons for wanting to visit here, as well, because it so happens that when I was a young girl, I, too, was a refugee.

I was born in the country of Czechoslovakia just before World War II. When the Nazis invaded, my family fled to England. Again, when another time I left my country because the Soviets invaded, took over as communists in Czechoslovakia, I came to the United States.

I know that there are great differences between my experiences and all those of yours more recently. But I also know that war is very cruel, and that life is harder when you aren't able to live in the place you have called home.

Another reason I especially wanted to visit your school is that I am, as you can see, a woman.

In fact, I am honored to be the first and only woman in the more than 200-year history of the United States to serve as Secretary of State. I consider myself very lucky to have this opportunity. And I also think it is important to help other women and girls and boys to have the opportunity that I had to attend school and to fulfill one's dreams.

I have several other reasons for coming here, as well.

First, I want to congratulate the International Rescue Committee for the wonderful job it has done in establishing and supporting this school. In the past, the United States has helped out by giving money to the IRC for this purpose. And I am pleased to announce today that we are renewing our grant of assistance to the Bibi Mariam School.

I also want to salute the representatives of the many other NGO's and international organizations who are here today. They have shown, through their hard work and dedication, that they are true friends of Afghanistan.

Second, I believe that the education you are receiving here is vital to the future of your country. Afghanistan very much needs to have men and women who have the knowledge and the skills required to build strong communities and make their economy grow. And I am sure that you will make that kind of contribution when you are able return to Afghanistan.

Third, it is especially important that this camp includes so many women as teachers and so many girls as students. No society can prosper and do well if it does not modernize, and it is impossible to modernize if half the population or more is left behind.

If a society is to move forward, women and girls must have access to schools and health care. They should be able to participate in the economy. And they should be protected from physical exploitation and abuse.

One of the big problems in Afghanistan has been that those fighting for power often have not respected human rights.

One faction, the Taliban, has been especially backward and harsh in denying women adequate health care. And they deny them the opportunity to work and girls the opportunity to attend school. Other factions have also been guilty of serious abuses. The United States strongly urges the leaders of all factions to respect the dignity and rights of the Afghan people, including women and girls.

The United States also supports the effort being led by the United Nations and by Pakistan and other governments in the region to bring peace to Afghanistan. It is not our role to say exactly the kind of a solution there should be, but we believe it is essential that the fighting stop, and that a stable arrangement for governing Afghanistan be created.

In closing, I want to thank you once again for your kindness in letting me visit your school and showing me around.

I wish you all the very best, and hope that all of your fondest hopes and dreams come true. And I will always think about you.

[End of Document]

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