First Lady Visits School in Malawi, Promotes ‘Be Best’ Campaign

October 4, 2018 Updated: October 4, 2018

First Lady Melania Trump headed to a primary school in Lilongwe, Malawi, an area locals call the “warm heart of Africa” as part of the third day of her week-long solo trip to the continent.

The White House said Malawi was chosen because of the high poverty rate and the difficulties children—especially girls—have in accessing education. Trump is advocating for children’s welfare as part of her “Be Best” campaign during her first international solo tour as first lady.

Flying from Ghana, Trump arrived at Kamuzu International Airport on Oct. 4 where she was greeted by Gertrude Maseko, the first lady of Malawi, in a ceremony that featured drummers, dancers, and students waving the flags of both countries.

During the 20-minute drive from the airport to Chipola Primary School in Lilongwe, locals gathered to try and catch a glimpse of Trump. At one intersection, hundreds of people lined up smiling and waving.

First Lady Visits School in Malawi
First Lady Melania Trump (R) receives flowers from a young girl alongside the first lady of Malawi, Gertrude Maseko (L), as she arrives at Lilongwe International Airport Oct. 4. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

The school is struggling with only 75 teachers looking after around 8,000 enrolled children. According to the White House, the average class has 110 students.

Trump greeted two administrators as she arrived at the school with Virginia Palmer, the U.S. ambassador to Malawi. She approached a crowd of children in royal-blue-and-orange school uniforms who sang in English, “Welcome, welcome, welcome, welcome all of you. We are happy today, we are happy today, we are happy to see you.”

What followed next was a whirlwind visit of both inside and outside classrooms of second and third graders. Trump first observed two outside lessons conducted in their native language, Chichewa. More girls than boys were in the first outside lesson, which totaled 275 students.

The first lady then ducked inside to observe an English classroom with 186 children in attendance. The teacher managed to impressively command the children, who wore name tags around their necks, to sound out the letters “L” and “U.” At the front of the room, the first lady sat next to a student called Miliam and helped her find the correct page in her textbook.

First Lady Visits School in Malawi
First Lady Melania Trump visits the Chipala Primary School in Lilongwe on Oct. 4, 2018. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

As Miliam sat sounding out letters and words, Trump sat with her hands clasped and smiled as she watched the group. Later she visited another Chichewa classroom and laughed when a little boy stood up and, in English, proclaimed, “I am the best.”

At one point, a teacher led the students in a song in English: “We say goodbye but not forever. We know that one day we shall meet again.”

“Thank you,” Trump said. “Beautiful.”

Trump also signed a guestbook under a group of signs that read “Be Best” and its local translation, “Ndine Opambana,” before heading to the school’s library. “Takulandirani [Welcome] First Lady Melania Trump” was spelled out in red, white, and blue letters on the chalkboard.

Books in English, such as “Big Bird Can Share,” and “The Long Winter” by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Judy Blume’s “Just as Long As We’re Together,” were neatly stacked on the shelves. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has several active reading programs and retention-focused initiatives at schools in Malawi.

First Lady greets students at Malawi school
First Lady Melania Trump waves to children at the Chipala Primary School in Lilongwe on Oct. 4, 2018. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

School educators also explained to the first lady how important the USAID textbook donations, which help power the country’s National Reading Program, are to children at the school. The agency is donating 1.4 million textbooks on the day of Trump’s visit, according to the White House.

Ambassador Palmer then spoke, telling the group that the agency’s donation of 1.2 million books last year was the first time the school had received books in English. She praised the first lady for making the trip and presented her with a ceremonial textbook.

“Thank you for having me here and thank you for a beautiful warm welcome,” Trump told her hosts, adding that she wanted to be in Malawi to see the success of American programs here. “Thank you for educating them to ‘be best’ and to grow up into educated adults for generations to come.”

The White House is donating “Be Best”-themed school supplies, including totes, chalk for teachers, and soccer balls.

Private Tea

Following the school visit, Trump arrived at the statehouse, home to Peter Mutharika, the President of Malawi, at 4:17 pm.

The American and Malawian first ladies posed for a photo in front of their country flags and joined in a private tea together at the statehouse.

Trump walks with Malawi First Lady
First Lady Melania Trump (L) and the first lady of Malawi Gertrude Maseko walk at the State House in Lilongwe, on Oct. 4. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

After about 20 minutes of tea, the first ladies strolled onto the terrace to applause. They then watched dancers perform three traditional dances, with Malawi’s first lady appearing to explain some of the words and movements to Trump.

The event was meant to “highlight friendly U.S.–Malawi relations” and the pair’s “shared interest in helping children and, in particular, helping girls in school,” according to the White House.

Malawi is the second nation stop on Trump’s four-nation tour of the continent that includes Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, and Egypt.

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