Remarks at Helmets For Kids Ceremony
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs
Thank you for that introduction.
I am thrilled to be here with you today on my first visit to Vietnam. I would like to recognize the honorable ministers of the Government of Vietnam, members of the press, members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hanoi, and the leadership and staff members of the Asia Injury Prevention – or AIP – Foundation.
Let me also extend greetings to the children and teachers from the 20 October kindergarten. When Secretary Kerry joined with former President Clinton to help launch AIP Foundation’s Helmets for Kids program 15 years ago, he visited this school.
He was a Senator then, and I was a businessman in California. Things have changed. He is now the Secretary of State (and my boss!). It is an honor to serve him, and to convey the abiding good wishes of our government, as we celebrate 20 years of extraordinary economic and diplomatic progress between our two countries.
What better way to kick off that celebration than showing how our two governments and businesses can work together to build our people-to-people ties and grow our shared prosperity?
If I may, I would like to relive a very decisive moment that occurred in the lives of three Vietnamese children, all living in different parts of the country: a boy named Hung; another boy named Trung, and a girl named Yen.
At this decisive moment, they did what approximately seven million other young schoolchildren do every day: they hopped on to the back of a motorbike, and draped their tiny hands around the back of a parent or loved one.
What they didn’t realize was – statistically – they were sitting in the most dangerous place a child could be. Every year, more people between the ages of 15 and 29 die on the road than from any other cause. It’s the second highest reason for a child’s death between 5 and 14.
About 22,000 Vietnamese of all ages die in road traffic crashes every single year, according to the World Health Organization. And more than 433,000 Vietnamese are injured.
On that particular day, Hung, Trung and Yen – three Vietnamese children who didn’t know each other – were hit by careless drivers on other motorbikes. All three would almost certainly have died if they weren’t wearing protective helmets.
Those helmets – made by Protec, an American non-profit social enterprise – were part of a program of public awareness that the AIP Foundation has created and maintained in Vietnam for the past 15 years. That program includes targeted education programs, public awareness campaigns, as well as global and legislative advocacy.
Today, I’m here to help launch a public-private partnership between the AIP Foundation and the Department of State that will build on the AIP Foundation’s example, through road safety training and many more child helmets.
This initiative highlights our recognition that our American companies have an ethical responsibility and, frankly, a profitable incentive, to support better lives for the communities where we do business.
American companies working in Vietnam will be helping to distribute up to 25,000 child helmets. Each helmet will carry the U.S. company name as well as a logo commemorating the 20th anniversary between our two countries. And they will be distributed at kindergartens and primary schools in 15 provinces throughout Vietnam.
Right now, most adults in Vietnam wear helmets, but only 38 percent of children in the cities do. Many parents believe – mistakenly – that helmets hurt children’s spines.
But as AIP Foundation President Greig Craft will tell you, it’s urban legend. It’s simply not true. The Vietnamese people deserve better information – and their children deserve better protection. By encouraging more child helmets and providing communities with education on road safety, we believe we can help turn those numbers around.
The late Nelson Mandela once said: “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”
As we commemorate 20 years of diplomatic and economic engagement, and hope for many years more, we believe we must look to the future’s most precious and growing asset: our children.
Helmets for Kids is one way that we can help do that, by addressing a problem that is damaging in many ways.
Each death on the road does more than steal children from their families and communities in personal ways. It also takes its toll on the economy. In 2010, Vietnam lost more than $3 billion due to traffic crashes – that’s more than ten times what the country receives in development assistance.
There is also the incalculable cost of a young life interrupted. Each of these children could have grown up to be a productive member of their communities and the economy at large.
By ushering in a growing generation of safer road users, we can give every Vietnamese boy and every Vietnamese girl the best chance possible to participate in their country’s future.
That, in turn, will help to grow our mutual prosperity and extend our ties so that we will see many more commemorative celebrations like the one we celebrate this year.