Barbara Bush comes to January Series in sister’s place

Photo courtesy

Barbara Pierce Bush, a guest at the this year’s January Series, filled in for her twin sister, Jenna Bush Hager who had to withdraw from the event at the last moment due to scheduling conflicts with NBC. The two are twin daughters of former US President George W. Bush, and granddaughters of President George H.W. Bush.

“I learned right before Christmas that I would be filling in for my sister at the January Series,” Barbara Bush told a group of West Michigan reporters. “The stars aligned because I’m usually in East Africa at this time of year.”

During her time at Calvin on Thurs., Jan. 10, Bush met with the “Inside the January Series” class and local reporters. At the January Series, she participated in a moderated conversation on stage in front of a packed auditorium.

Bush, who is the co-founder of Global Health Corps, talked about her work with the nonprofit. She said that she first got interested in global health issues while traveling to Africa with her parents during her dad’s presidency.

“It seems cliche to say that travel opened my eyes, but it did,” Bush explained.

Her organization sends young people in teams of two into areas in East Africa and several American cities to tackle health challenges. Bush described her organization as culturally diverse: “We think that’s our strength. Very different viewpoints produce better solutions.”

Bush also discussed the difficulties of working in global health, stating that “you have to look for the small wins.” She shared a story of one such difficulty: whether or not to evacuate Global Health Corps workers from Burundi, a country that needed help but was becoming very dangerous for employees of international Non-governmental organizations (NGOs). She eventually decided to evacuate them, calling it “one of the hardest decisions I’ve made.”

Onstage at the January Series, Bush also told stories of her life as a first daughter. “I might have been the only person at Yale to vote for my dad,” Bush told the “Inside the January Series” class with a laugh. As a first daughter, Bush was assigned Secret Service protection, something she describes being “prickly” about at first, because of her independent nature. That changed on 9/11, an experience that Bush recounted in detail:

“I was getting dressed for school when I heard on the radio that the first tower had been hit… we had to get out of there. I went to a nondescript office building in New Haven, Connecticut. My Secret Service detachment was based out of New York, and their office was in 7 World Trade Center. I was crying and they were crying, desperately trying to get in contact with family and co-workers. We were sitting in the unknown together.” Later that night, her father called her just before he gave his live address to the nation.

Regarding any current media attention towards her, Bush says, “I honestly don’t even pay attention.” Speaking about her late grandfather, President George H.W. Bush, Barbara Bush said: “My grandfather was an incredible leader in many ways, and I think his version of leadership looks different than what we see now. He very much led with love. He really saw strength in softness.”