Seeing the fruits of US aid, fearing the toll of cuts

Lindsay Saunders of Raleigh with children she met at a community center in Zambia.
Lindsay Saunders of Raleigh with children she met at a community center in Zambia. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Saunders

I always knew there was a bigger world out there, so I wanted to meet new people and see how they live. In February, I found myself taking three connecting flights to Zambia to join a group of 12 RESULTS volunteer advocates from the United States. If you’ve never heard of it, RESULTS is a movement of passionate, committed everyday people who advocate to improve health, education, and economic opportunity in the United States and around the world.

The people of Zambia were the most generous and welcoming people I’d ever met, but there were tough things to see and hear. There was a woman whose sister walked two days before dying after giving birth in a bush alongside the road. Medication and health centers are elements we are accustomed to and often take for granted, but lives are lost in Zambia because healthcare is inaccessible.

In the early 2000’s, Zambia was under attack from disease. Through initiatives such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, founded in 2002, and President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), introduced in 2003, many Zambians have a second chance at life. President George W. Bush is admired for the part he played in the shift in U.S. foreign aid policies. Countries like Zambia are now thriving and investing in themselves, but people are genuinely fearful about how the reduction in aid proposed by the Trump administration might affect them. They don’t want to go backwards. Zambia looks up to the U.S. for not just aid, but leadership and other support.

While there, we visited with USAID and spoke with the PEPFAR Country Coordinator, who said that we are on our way to an AIDS-free generation in the next three to five years. We also went to a warehouse in Lusaka, constructed by the Global Fund in 2013, which hosts thousands of medical resources, from India, Kenya, and even Asheville, which are strategically distributed by Zambian medical experts to those who need them most. Zambian volunteers are now serving their communities as social workers, conducting home visits, educating their neighbors, and putting their own “skin in the game.” And for the first time ever, Zambia contributed to the Global Fund last year.

We met a Zambian named Carol who faced HIV and TB, along with being shunned by her father because of stigma. Because of her daughter’s unconditional love, hope to improve her life, and resources from the Global Fund, Carol survived and went on to found Citam Plus in 2005. Citam Plus, is an advocacy group committed to fighting health inequality. Saving one life, like Carol’s, is now not only keeping a family together, but empowering generations to come.

Now, there’s talk from the White House about slashing foreign aid in our national budget. Putting foreign assistance on the chopping block would be a serious mistake, by any definition of national interest. Many Americans may think we spend a large percent of the federal budget on foreign aid or that it makes other countries dependent and lazy, but that is not the case. As Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) recently said, “Foreign Aid is not charity. We must make sure it is well spent, but it is less than 1 percent of budget and critical to our national security.”

For decades, the United States has been a leader in fighting extreme poverty. And by working in partnership with developing nations, global poverty has been cut in half since 1990. Currently, millions of kids are able to go to school and get vital medical treatment because of anti-poverty programs supported by the U.S. government. Healthy, educated children become healthy, educated adults who contribute to their communities and economies in a myriad of ways. This benefits all of us.

We have more work to do as 16,000 kids under age five are still dying of preventable causes each day, and 263 million children and youth who should be in school are not. By investing in effective and efficient development programs, we can continue to make progress on poverty, and bolster country self-reliance. I strongly urge our Members of Congress to reject any cuts to global anti-poverty programs. We must keep our commitments to these development programs.

I believe our country is at its best when we make sure everyone has the foundation for a bright future.

Lindsay K. Saunders is the Leader of the RESULTS Raleigh Group, which advocates for policies to alleviate both U.S. and global poverty.