Why Should You Care about U.S. Humanitarian Aid?

by Virginia Sowers, ChildFund Community Manager

ChildFund is among 29 organizations that co-signed a letter to U.S. House leaders expressing grave concerns about proposed reductions in U.S. humanitarian aid.

The bill (H.R.1) would cut global disaster aid by 67 percent, global refugee assistance by 45 percent and global food relief by 41 percent relative to FY10 enacted levels.

Already, less than 1 percent of the U.S. federal budget goes toward foreign assistance, a sum routinely overestimated by Americans.

“It is shocking to imagine that in the next major global humanitarian crisis – the next Haiti, tsunami, or Darfur – the United States might simply fail to show up,” the organizations wrote.

Liberia children ChildFund

Liberia children discuss home and school issues affecting their lives.

When such disasters strike, the absence of U.S. humanitarian aid likely would have a devastating impact on children who are by far the most vulnerable in chaotic situations.

In countries such as Liberia, where ChildFund has worked to help children recover from a violent civil war that ended in 2003, new worries abound with the recent influx of 70,000 refugees fleeing hostilities in neighboring Ivory Coast, notes Anne Lynam Goddard, ChildFund’s president and CEO.

Goddard, who traveled to Liberia in late February, met with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who expressed concern over USAID reductions and her country’s ability to manage the refugee situation. “She told me her worst fears were coming true,” Goddard says. “This is a country that is successfully reweaving its social fabric, but it’s still very tenuous.”

In their letter to congressional leaders, the humanitarian and development organizations implored reconsideration of budget cuts that would “imperil the longstanding U.S. commitment to provide lifesaving humanitarian assistance for those threatened by disaster and conflict.”

Humanitarian aid is saving hundreds of thousands of lives each year, including the lives of children who are eager to change the world. If you believe the U.S. should retain its leadership role in this compassionate effort, consider contacting your U.S. representative with regard to H.R. 1.

Update: The Senate is likely to consider a vote for the current FY11 budget on Friday, March 18, the day before their week-long recess.

International and national humanitarian, relief, and faith-based organizations will ask their members, donors, and supporters to contact their members of Congress to stop the budget cuts that affect the world’s poorest.

Liberian President Focuses on Youth, Economy and Security

by Virginia Sowers, ChildFund Community Manager

As the first woman head of state of an African nation, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, 72, is ever mindful of the obligations that accompany leadership – not just as president of Liberia but also as a role model in the world.

“I am aware of the tremendous responsibility,” she told a sold-out crowd at the Richmond Forum this past weekend in Richmond, Va. “I welcome the challenge with humility.”

Democratically elected in 2005, the Harvard-educated Sirleaf pledged national renewal after a long period of civil conflict and corrupt governance in her homeland. During the 14 years of turmoil, young children were recruited by the warring factions. ChildFund began work in Liberia in 2003 to help these children, families and communities reconnect and resume their daily lives.

Despite the country’s ongoing challenges to rebuild its infrastructure and economy, Sirleaf said she is “bullish” about Liberia’s future as well as that of the African continent as a whole.

“Africa is taking hold of its own destiny,” said Sirleaf, citing country-led poverty reduction programs as one of the centerpiece efforts. “Our civil society organizations are vigorous.”

As president, Sirleaf said her biggest accomplishment has been gaining international forgiveness for Liberia’s crippling national debt, thus freeing up still-scarce resources for education and innovation. “All of our little children are back in school,” she said.

Africa is a continent of young people and growing younger, Sirleaf noted. By 2050, the African youth population is projected to be 1.9 billion strong. On the positive side of that statistic, Africa is home to the world’s “fastest-growing labor force,” she said. But without investment in the critical basics of education, health, shelter, clean water and skills training for these young people, the risk remains high that they will be unemployed and apt to engage in violence. “The civil war, from which Liberia had recently emerged when my administration took over in 2006, was mainly fought by young men for whom the economy held no promise,” Sirleaf said.

Yet, Sirleaf is encouraged by the progress in her own country, including the rekindling of industry and commerce, and noted the harmonizing of economic policies across the continent. “The majority of African countries have created the environment for security and stability,” she said. “The majority are meeting the challenges of human security, jobs, education, health, sanitation clean water, all of those poverty-reducing measures that reduce conflict and instability.”

From Health Huts to Kola Nuts: A Visit to Liberia

Today, thanks to field reporting by ChildFund staff in Liberia, we’re providing an overview of several ongoing projects that have made a difference in the lives in children in this country in recent months. We think you’ll enjoy these village reports as our “31 in 31” series continues.

> ChildFund Liberia received funding to establish 15 community-based multipurpose health huts in rural Zorzor. Community health volunteers and traditional midwives were trained and assigned to these newly constructed huts. On a recent visit to communities in the area, some of our team members were introduced to a very new arrival. This is the first baby to be born in one of the huts, which are equipped to deal with emergency births as well as other major health issues for the area.

Community-based health huts are helping ensure safe child birth.

Community-based health huts are helping ensure safe child birth.

> Following training by ChildFund Liberia workers on the issues of environmental hygiene and community cooperation, the inhabitants of Keliwu community worked together to build a road. Villagers contributed local materials, such as sand and gravel, and labored together to build a highway, replacing the rutted track that had seriously hindered travel to and from the village. Now, villagers can access clean water and supplies, health workers are able to reach the people most in need and children from the surrounding areas can more easily attend school.

> On a recent visit to Gbarpolu County, ChildFund staff met the residents of Bambu-Tah. They learned that Community Welfare Courts have been formed to deal with issues in the local community peacefully, youth committees are conducting peer-to-peer education in combating gender-based violence and increasing knowledge of reproductive health. With ChildFund support, a number of local women received grants to start a business that

Kola nuts eaten and shared symbolize purity of heart.

Kola nuts eaten and shared symbolize purity of heart.

will help support their families and themselves. The village chief welcomed team members with a white kola nut. In Liberia, this nut is traditionally broken and shared with the guests to symbolize the purity of heart of the hosts. Visitors, in turn, return the symbolic gesture by partaking of the nut.

> In northern Liberia, ChildFund has worked in partnership with the Zealakpala community to build a water pump. This community of 500 people, more than half of whom are children, had previously used the local creek for all of their water needs, resulting in high levels of waterborne disease. Furthermore, children walking to and from the creek faced risk of violence and other dangers. The new pump frees the villagers from making this hazardous journey and provides them with safe, clean water.

For more information about our work in Liberia, click here.31 in 31

More on Liberia
Population: 3.4 million
ChildFund beneficiaries: More than 780,000 children and families
Did You Know?: Liberia means the “land of the free,” so named when the country was formed by freed slaves from the United States in 1847.

What’s next: Zambia turns 45.

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