WASHINGTON (AP) — Saying every girl "has value," President Barack Obama announced a more focused government effort Tuesday to help tens of millions of girls around the world attend and stay in school. Michelle Obama said she's heading to Japan and Cambodia later this month to promote it.
Obama said that, as the father of "two fabulous, extraordinary, awesome young women," he wants to help make sure that "no girl out there is denied her chance to be a strong, capable woman." Yet more than 60 million girls are being denied schooling for a variety of reasons, he said.
Obama said the U.S. works quietly to support educating girls, but its many programs must become a single, coordinated strategy.
"We're making it clear to any country that's our partner or wants to be our partner that they need to get serious about increasing the number of girls in school," Obama said, announcing the "Let Girls Learn" initiative at the White House with the first lady standing beside him.
Mrs. Obama said the issue is personal for her because "I see myself in these girls. I see our daughters in these girls."
The Obamas are parents of teenagers Malia, 16, and Sasha, 13, and say their own success would have been impossible without education. During their travels, they encourage young people to focus on education; in the U.S., Mrs. Obama urges students to pursue education after high school.
As part of the effort, Mrs. Obama said her office and the Peace Corps will work jointly to highlight community-based solutions.
The Peace Corps already has thousands of volunteers at work in more than 60 developing countries. Its "Let Girls Learn" program will begin in Albania, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Georgia, Ghana, Moldova, Mongolia, Mozambique, Togo and Uganda.
Mrs. Obama will travel alone to Tokyo and Kyoto, Japan, from March 18-20 and Siem Reap in northwestern Cambodia from March 21-22, the White House said.
The first lady said she will visit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife, Akie, "who also shares our passion for girls' education and is eager to partner with us in this work." Obama traveled to the close U.S. ally on a state visit last April; a reciprocal visit by the prime minister is expected soon.
In Cambodia, Mrs. Obama said she will meet Peace Corps volunteers and visit a school where "community-driven solutions are changing girls' lives."
Cambodia is an interesting choice for the first lady.
Obama reluctantly became the first U.S. president to visit Cambodia in late 2012. At the time, White House officials insisted that Obama was only going to the southeast Asian nation because Cambodia was the host for two annual regional summits he has made a point of attending.
Cambodia has been led since 1985 by Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has a reputation for ruthlessness and a low tolerance for opposition.
Mrs. Obama said the new initiative is as much about students in the U.S. as it is about educating girls abroad. She said she wants to help youngsters in America learn about the sacrifices girls around the world make to get their education.
"I want our young people to be awed by these girls, but more importantly I want them to be inspired and motivated by these girls," Mrs. Obama said.
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(Photo: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)