First Lady Michelle Obama visits with students at a high school in Siem Reap, Cambodia on recent trip to Asia. Image: Amanda Lucidon/

First Lady Promotes Girl’s Education during Asia Trip

ASEAN Japan The Mekong

First Lady Michelle Obama recently returned from a two-country tour of Asia, where she visited both Japan and Cambodia, promoting education for girls. Much of the trip focused on the newly launched ‘Let Girls Learn’ international initiative, which seeks to provide education opportunities to girls around the world and to ultimately reduce the number of girls who are not in school.

Mrs. Obama first stopped in Japan where she met with Japanese First Lady Mrs. Akie Abe. Both vowed to continue working together on education issues in communities around the globe. Japan, which is a major aid donor, pledged $340 million over three years to help with the project as well as other initiatives. In addition to financial support, the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers, which is the Japanese equivalent of the Peace Corps, will help with the project.

The First Lady’s trip concluded in Cambodia where she became the first sitting first lady of the US to visit the Southeast Asian nation. Mrs. Obama met with counterpart Mrs. Bun Rany, and continued promoting education and the Let Girls Learn initiative throughout her visit. Cambodia is among the first countries where the project is being rolled out, as education in the country has long been a concern. Data from the Education Ministry illustrates the issue, as 95% of children enter primary school but only 20% finish secondary school. In addition, the first lady visited a Room to Reads Girls Education Program in Cambodia, which gives women education opportunities in nine countries across the Asia-Pacific and Africa. In Cambodia alone, the project to date has benefitted over 6,100 girls.

The Let Girls Learn program is a community-focused project to help girls go to school and to ultimately stay in school. The program is being rolled out in 11 countries and will be run by the nearly 7,000 Peace Corps volunteers who are working in developing countries around the world. The US has earmarked an estimated $250 million to support the project and the estimated 62 million girls and women that lack appropriate educational opportunities. Last year, more than 2,000 Peace Corps volunteers led girl’s education activities across 60 countries.

Nate Schlabach is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a graduate student at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University.