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The Foundation Stone Laying Ceremony for the AUW Campus

Cherie Blair, Chittagong, Bangladesh, 25 April 2011

Today we have gathered to celebrate the launch of the construction of the permanent campus of the Asian University for Women.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, my good friend Ngozi Okonjo-Eweala from the World Bank, the Hon’ble Education Minister, Dr. Diupu Moni, my friends from AUW and outside.

It is my first official duty on the University’s campus as Chancellor of the Asian University for Women to participate in today’s celebratory proceedings. I could not be more thrilled to see all of you. I am so pleased that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has chosen to come to Chittagong and ceremonially lay the foundation stone for the new campus. I am so glad that other colleagues from the government could join us as well. And, I am of course absolutely delighted that Ngozi Okonjo-Eweala, having just arrived from Washington this morning is with us and is wholly awake! It is always a special pleasure for me to see the students of AUW. One conversation with any of them will tell you what makes this place so special.

Today we have gathered to celebrate the launch of the construction of the permanent campus of the Asian University for Women. It has been long in the making but it could not have come thus far without the contributions of many people. I want to particularly acknowledge the enormous contribution of the Government of Bangladesh in hosting this university here. Land, as we know, is extremely scarce. A piece of land as beautiful as this one is even rarer. The Government of Bangladesh has not only made a gift of this land to the University, now totally 130 acres, it has also done everything it could to make the land usable for the purpose of building this campus. We owe a special thanks to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for her vision and her wisdom and her unrelenting support for women’s education.

This University is of course not for Bangladesh alone. Already students from eleven other countries are studying here, making Bangladesh their home. At a time when in the name of competition, many countries have turned inward, Bangladesh in spite of the paucity of its resources have made a bold statement to the world by embracing the spirit of regional collaboration as exemplified through the work of the Asian University for Women, by inviting women from all across the region to study side by side with women from Bangladesh. In doing so, of course, it has turned to a most lever for everyone’s learning. We learn best from each other in the diversity of our views and experiences. The resulting synthesis of ideas and experiences are absolutely invaluable and probably provides the best preparation for life in this increasingly globalised world.

I know that early in the history of the AUW project there was a great deal of discussion on where this university should be situated. I cannot think of another place more suitable than Bangladesh for the expression of this idea. Bangladesh is at the crossroads of South and South East Asia. Its history of tolerance, its history of welcoming all religions and cultures, and its geographical location make it an ideal spot for such a bold initiative. The fact that there are already students from all across South Asia as well as South East Asian countries of Vietnam and Cambodia show how Bangladesh has already emerged in the work of AUW as a bridge between SAARC and ASEAN.

I have seen the buildings in downtown Chittagong where the business of this university now goes on. It is quite remarkable how in a series of converted apartment buildings, the full set of facilities have been developed - from libraries to laboratories to dining halls and student dorms. Yet, as the university grows, it will be essential for it to have a home of its own. The campus that is now underway will not only provide a permanent home for AUW but it will be a spectacular work on its own right. I have looked at the designs of the new campus, I have talked at length with the Canadian architect Moshe Safdie, I know that when this campus is built, it will make Bangladesh a destination in its own right. It will demonstrate also to the world how collaborative action between the private sector and the government and national and international partners can make a seemingly impossible possible so doable.

I have enthusiastically come to join these celebration for the new campus of the Asian University for Women because it signifies to me the possibility of a future we could all try to make: a future where our society and every society recognize the imperative to educate our girls as well as our boys; a future where the artificial boundaries that separate us on the basis of religion or ethnicity or class are banished in favour of our common humanity; a future where the best knowledge that humanity can develop is deployed to remove the scourges of poverty and disease; a future where every girl, whether from a village, town, refugee camp or city can grow up knowing that no mountain is too tall for her to move to make her society more just and her people more prosperous. As I look at the students of the Asian University for Women - Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Budhists - from twelve different countries from across the Asian continent, many of them first ever in their families to come to a university, being taught by a most dedicated band of teachers drawn from the world over, here in Chittagong, I see that future. I see that future and I rejoice in it because, to me, it offers the only real path for peace and prosperity in our countries. No peace, no prosperity, in fact, no future at all is possible when half the country’s population remains disempowered whether because of lack of education, or failure to provide adequate protection of rights or even grant the rights in the first place.

Let us continue with these celebrations.

To view the AUW website click here