We can’t turn from countries that turn to us

Lindsay Saunders with her friends in Zambia.
Lindsay Saunders with her friends in Zambia.

U.S. foreign aid programs make a difference for communities living in poverty; the impact is more far-reaching than most of us can imagine. From October 2017 until October 2018, I served as a Development, Outreach, and Communications Specialist with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) at the U.S. Embassy in Lusaka, Zambia. With my job being a one-year tour, I was without diplomatic privileges, but was committed to service and leveraging partnerships that would empower and change lives of Zambians and those living in the African community.

Many at home and abroad have watched with horror as President Trump would sling insults at immigrants and other countries. I think what many Americans don’t appreciate is that people would not travel far from their homes to start anew, were they not in peril or struggling, believing it will be better elsewhere. When you start over somewhere else, you have to quickly learn the culture, infrastructure, and social norms. It’s not easy. So, when I see headlines criminalizing immigrants before we’ve even met them, it’s mystifying. We need to ask, “why?” so we can address the root problems.

For an everyday Zambian, all they have is uncertainty and a high price on things our tax dollars easily provide for us. Raising the funds for school fees and finding reliable health care is an everyday struggle. My taxi driver, Mr. Mwale, barely had a ninth grade education because of the cost. Everything has a fee attached to it — tuition, books, uniforms, exams, and transportation. As a secondary school student, he would attend the afternoon classes so he could trade uniforms with his friend who attended morning classes. I asked Mr. Mwale why education was so important. “For the future,” he said quietly. He prioritized all four of his children’s education, whether they were boys or girls, for we must all be granted access to the same opportunities.

Turning our back on people in poor countries would be ignorant and insensitive. For President Trump to cut foreign aid to countries, where so-called “migrant caravan” travelers were coming from, is counterproductive. When you reduce the support systems that people rely on to enhance their quality of life and improve their communities, they turn elsewhere. For people in developing countries, that often means turning to the U.S.

In Zambia, I struggled to navigate cultural divides to negotiate securing an affordable, safe, quality place to live; went weeks without running water and days without electricity; and managed a year without a car. In each instance, I would be shocked and then realize, for me, this was temporary. My family asked what luxuries I missed. When the water stopped coming out of the faucet, my skin color or nationality didn’t elevate my status to be any more deserving of clean, running water, which I will never take for granted again. I would pause, take a deep breath, and tell myself I must accept this situation. We may judge people in developing countries with fear, but I learned that there’s so much resilience and joy, living with so little.

I know people have concerns about foreign aid getting to the right people. However, I have seen firsthand that the 1 percent our government appropriates for foreign aid is truly making an impact, improving our security by enhancing the world abroad and saving lives for others to have a better future too. They are also citizens of this world. When Trump and his allies shut down our government, while arguing over reckless border security policy, we are not protecting our national security; we are destabilizing our relationships abroad, which protect us at home.

I implore my fellow citizens to continue speaking out about what is important. That freedom is not available everywhere and the knowledge shared between us, through the media, must be protected as if our lives depend upon it. Because it does. And I hope that our policymakers — Senator Thom Tillis, Senator Richard Burr, Representative George Holding, and Representative David Price — continue to listen.

Lindsay K. Saunders is a North Carolina Native dedicated to continuing her mission-driven communications and outreach work. She can be reached via email at lindsayksaunders@gmail.com. Learn more about her work on her website at www.lindsayksaunders.com and on social media @LindsayKelleyS.