Today, Speaker Pelosi, Congresswoman Nita Lowey and Senator Patrick Leahy (House and Senate Chairs of the Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations), met with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia:
President Sirleaf is the first woman elected to lead an African nation, and as Speaker Pelosi said, “an inspiration to women everywhere, men too–a woman revered by her people and determined to make progress.” Watch Speaker Pelosi, Rep. Lowey, Sen. Leahy and President Sirleaf give remarks prior to their meeting:
Four years ago, President Sirleaf addressed a Joint Session of Congress, sharing her vision for Liberia and the “enormity of the challenges”:
In the campaign months, I traveled to every corner of our country. I trudged through mud in high boots, where roads did not exist or had deteriorated past repair. I surveyed ruined hospitals and collapsed clinics. I held meetings by candlelight, because there is no electricity anywhere – including the capital – except from private generators. I was forced to drink water from creeks and un-sanitized wells all of which made me vulnerable to the diseases from which so many of our people die daily.
I came face to face with the human devastation of war, which killed a quarter of a million of our three million people and displaced most of the rest. Hundreds of thousands escaped across borders. More – who could not – fled into the bush, constantly running from one militia or another, often surviving by eating rodents and wild plants that made them sick and even killed them. Our precious children died of malaria, parasites and mal-nourishments. Our boys, full of potential, were forced to be child soldiers, to kill or be killed. Our girls, capable of being anything they could imagine, were made into sex slaves, gang-raped by men with guns, made mothers while they were still children themselves.
But listening to the hopes and dreams of our people, I recall the words of a Mozambican poet who said, “Our dream has the size of freedom.” My people, like your people, believe deeply in freedom – and, in their dreams, they reach for the heavens. I represent those dreams. I represent their hope and their aspirations. I ran for president because I am determined to see good governance in Liberia in my lifetime. But I also ran because I am the mother of four, and I wanted to see our children smile again.
Already, I am seeing those smiles. For even after everything they have endured, the people of Liberia have faith in new beginnings. They are counting on me and my administration to create the conditions that will guarantee the realization of their dreams. We must not betray their trust. All the children I meet – when I ask what they want most – say, “I want to learn.” “I want to go to school.” “I want an education.” We must not betray their trust.
Under President Sirleaf’s leadership during a difficult post-war peace and reconciliation process, Liberia's security situation is currently stable, the economy and the humanitarian conditions on the ground have significantly improved, and Liberia is scheduled to hold a second free and fair election in 2011. President Sirleaf has made great progress.