Michelle Obama was greeted by traditional dancers wearing red, white and blue as she arrived Monday in Liberia — the first stop of a three-nation tour promoting girls’ education around the world, the cause she plans to carry on after she leaves the White House in January.
Her mother, Marian Robinson, and daughters Sasha and Malia came along for her latest foreign trip — Morocco and Spain are also on the five-day itinerary — during which she will meet with officials and organizations that support Let Girls Learn, an initiative aimed at improving living conditions for the millions of girls worldwide who are not enrolled in school.
She arrived at the airport near the capital city of Monrovia and met with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman elected to lead an African nation, then traveled to city of Kakata to visit a Peace Corps facility — and hail the full return of the U.S. volunteer service to Liberia following the end of the recent Ebola crisis.
She also announced that USAID will begin training teachers and policymakers to prevent violence against women and girls, and she highlighted other federal programs — a $6.2 million project to reduce child labor in Liberia’s rubber-growing areas, and a $20 million child-nutrition program that gives grade-school girls a monthly take-home ratio of food if they maintain a good school attendance record. Obama also planned to spotlight “second-chance” schools supported by the U.S. government that allow girls who were raped or impregnated to finish their educations.
“I am thrilled that we are making these new investments in adolescent girls’ education and deepening our partnership with the Government of Liberia,” Obama said in a statement. “These girls are so bright and so eager to learn, and these investments will help them build the knowledge and skills they need to provide for themselves and their families and contribute fully to their communities and their country.”
Also in Liberia, Obama will participate in a panel discussion, moderated by actress Freida Pinto, with girls who have faced obstacles enrolling in school.
The second and third day of Obama’s visit will be spent in Morocco, where she will participate in a televised conversation about girls’ education with Meryl Streep and Pinto.
On the final leg of her trip, the first lady will deliver a speech about girls’ education in Madrid and meet with the queen of Spain, Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano.
It will be Obama’s second visit to Spain. (The president will make his first official trip there next month, to discuss national security and the NATO alliance.) The first lady’s 2010 vacation trip to Madrid drew criticism because of an economic downturn back home.
This trip, though, is not a vacation, emphasized Tina Tchen, the first lady’s chief of staff. Obama is stopping in Spain to encourage “young people. . . to understand the importance of focusing on the 62 million girls and . . . [ask] them to take action and use their voices to support them.”
It is also her first official trip since she joined the social network Snapchat last week. She plans to post videos there in an effort to engage young Americans with the issues she’s advocating for overseas.
Wire services contributed some details to this report.