x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Ex-president joins campaign for equal access to education

Former US President Bill Clinton was named the honorary head of the Varkey GEMS Foundation last night.

Bill Clinton leaves after opening the Gems American Academy campus in Abu Dhabi.
Bill Clinton leaves after opening the Gems American Academy campus in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // Bill Clinton has been made the honorary chairman of the Varkey Gems Foundation, a charity that provides education to the poor.

He spoke of the appointment yesterday on visits to two schools owned by Sunny Varkey, the chairman of Gems education group.

"I have become good friends with the Varkeys and I have had the opportunity to visit a number of their schools," Mr Clinton said after unveiling a plaque at the new campus of Gems American Academy.

"And I have agreed to serve as the honorary chairman of their foundation because I want to raise money to make sure that children can come to school who otherwise cannot afford to do so."

Mr Clinton was accompanied on his trip to the school by several ministers of education and the former Irish prime minister Bertie Ahern, and was greeted by hundreds of parents and pupils.

He said the opportunity to provide a child with a good education was worth more than any of his past endeavours.

"There is one thing I have learnt: education is important because intelligence and the willingness to work are equally distributed across the globe, but opportunity is not," he said.

Constantin Sayegh, 10, presented a huge bouquet to Mr Clinton, as did his classmates Angie Wright, 10, and Ayuka Sinanoglu, 11.

The three staggered under the weight of their bouquets and Mr Clinton said: "When I look at them, it is hard to worry too much about the future of the world."

"He shook my hand," gushed Angie, after leaving the stage. But her classmate played it cooler.

"I was nervous at first," said Constantin. "But after I met him, it did not seem like a big deal. He was really nice."

Mr Clinton praised the UAE for its efforts to raise the standard of education.

"The most important thing the leadership has done is putting a priority on education and realising that, over the long run, wealth is not in the land or the natural resources but in the minds and hearts of the people," he said, before he and his entourage were whisked to the Dubai Modern High School.

Some parents said they were disappointed the 42nd US president did not stay longer.

"I thought he would stick around and interact with the students," said Jeong Tae Soo, a father of two girls at the academy.

But another parent, Allyson Smith, said she remained a big supporter.

"He was fabulous today, as always, and he made the right point about how educating children should be the utmost priority of a country," Ms Smith said.

aahmed@thenational.ae