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Kazakh ambassador travels to Mobile

By By Jo Bonner
Last week, the ambassador of Kazakhstan, Erlan A. Idrissov, traveled to Mobile to personally express his gratitude to the students, teachers, and parents at Dodge Elementary School.
You may recall that in September, I had the honor of presenting Ambassador Idrissov with $2,400 raised by students at Mobile's Dodge Elementary School.
In an effort the students named "Coins for Cancer," students at Dodge Elementary School collected coins for three years to donate to the Semipalatinsk Oncology Center in Kazakhstan.
Students donated their snack money, parents sent in contributions, and a school-wide art contest was held with a $1 entry fee – all to help provide medical assistance to the people now suffering from radiation-related diseases from the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site.
Kazakhstan was one of the 15 new states to emerge from the fall of the Soviet empire in 1991. For 42 years, the Soviet Union tested 456 nuclear and thermonuclear weapons at Semipalatinsk.
Cancer rates in the region are now twice that of the world rate. Many suffer physical deformities, mental underdevelopment, and heart disease. The Kazakh government has estimated that a total of 1.2 million people have been affected by the nuclear testing.
I had the honor of accompanying the ambassador on his visit to Dodge elementary. Harold Dodge, Mobile County schools Superintendent; Dr. Suzanne Crist, Dodge Elementary School principal; Janet Leffard, teacher and Coins for Cancer coordinator, all of the teachers, parents and students provided such a warm welcome for the ambassador.
As the ambassador and I arrived, students lined the hallways waving Kazakh flags they each had made. Banners made by each grade welcoming the ambassador were on display throughout the school. Ambassador Idrissov and I also had the privilege of joining several students in one class in an art project correlated to their study of the rainforests.
Through these schoolchildren, we have formed the beginning of a lasting friendship between southwest Alabama and the country of Kazakhstan.
As the ambassador said in his visit, "One wouldn't imagine that a small group of kids on this side of that big distance would care about the kids affected by human made calamities…it gives you very much reason to be hopeful that the future is going to soon be in their hands. They already have hearts of gold."
While the ambassador was in Mobile, he paid a visit to the University of South Alabama Children's and Women's Hospital. We also introduced the ambassador to officials from the Mobile Chamber of Commerce and the Alabama State Docks.
As we continue to look for ways to expand international trade through our port, the ambassador used the opportunity of his visit to tour the new container terminal.
Senator Lott to Resign from Senate
After serving the people of Mississippi for 35 years in Congress, Senator Trent Lott announced last week that he will be resigning from his position at the end of the year.
His stalwart commitment to the people of Mississippi and the central Gulf Coast was never more apparent than in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Trent has worked tirelessly on behalf of our entire region as we continue to rebuild and recover.
As so many have noted in the last few days, Trent created the modern day whip organization in the House. Elected to the House at the age of 31, he rose to be its second-ranking Republican by the age of 39. He was elected to the same job in the Senate 14 years later, becoming the only senator to have served as whip in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Trent served for six years as one of the most effective Senate majority leaders in history. We in southwest Alabama have no doubt benefited from his leadership. He has been at the forefront of advancing Mississippi's shipbuilding industry, benefiting thousands of Alabama workers in the process.
He has been a staunch supporter of Alabama as we work with Northrop Grumman and EADS to win the contract to build the Air Force's new air refueling tankers.
Trent will no doubt enjoy the well deserved time he will now have to spend with his family and loved ones, and on behalf of a grateful state, I wish him the best of luck in all his future endeavors.
My staff and I work for you. If we can ever be of service, do not hesitate to call my office toll free at 1-800-288-8721 or visit my website at http://bonner.house.gov.
Jo Bonner is a U.S. congressman. His column appears weekly.