As we approach Mother's Day next month, many mothers in the United States and around the world will be recognized for their contributions in caring for and supporting their families. In our work, we see every day how these women are transforming their communities and the world for the better — whether it be through launching a small business, planting a nutrient-rich family garden, counseling other women on improved water and sanitation practices, or volunteering as a community health worker.
We recently had the opportunity to meet with some of these mothers in Kenya and Zimbabwe, and while we traveled on separate trips, we were surprised by the similar messages we received in speaking with these global mothers and their families.
Overwhelmingly, these women expressed gratitude to the American people. The majority of the projects we visited were supported by the U.S. government, U.S. private donors and other U.S.-based philanthropic organizations. These U.S. investments in development are being leveraged by contributions from host governments and other donors, including faith organizations and churches as well as the private sector. As a result, these resources are empowering women and men with the means and tools to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.
In Kenya, we visited the household of Anna Awino, a 52-year-old grandmother who is taking care of three children and three grandchildren. When Anna was widowed, the family lost their income and Anna didn't have the knowledge of how to care for the children. Farmland was left fallow; the children were malnourished and sick. A U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-supported APHIA-Plus (AIDS, population and health-integrated assistance) community health volunteer began working with Anna, getting nutrition supplements for the children and getting them vaccinated in the short-term, and working with Anna on improving her farming techniques both to feed the family and to have some food to sell at market. We were able to walk around Anna's homestead and see her latrine and tippy tap for handwashing, the kitchen garden and crops she had planted and the cows she is raising. Anna now has health insurance and participates in a village savings and loans program. She is proud that she can provide for her children and grandchildren. She was so grateful to the citizens of the United States for giving her the knowledge and tools to help her family.
Through the ENSURE (Enhancing Nutrition, Stepping Up Resilience and Enterprise) Food for Peace program in Zimbabwe, supported by USAID, and implemented by World Vision, CARE, SAFIRE (Southern Alliance for Indigenous Resources) and other partners, we met a community working on an irrigation scheme that, once completed, will provide the vital water necessary to cultivate crops. With more reliable irrigation, these families will be better suited to grow and sell their produce in local markets, improving their food security as well as bolstering economic opportunities. In exchange for their labor, they receive compensation in the form of sorghum. As we exited our vehicles to visit the project, we were greeted by the following words exuberantly sung by the female participants of the program: "We thank you ENSURE, Enhancing Nutrition, Stepping up Resilience, and Enterprise. We thank you, USAID and World Vision."
These mothers (and fathers too) are leading the way in efforts to improve their communities, transforming them into places of increased opportunity for their children, resulting in healthier, more educated and happy families.
During this time of federal budget and funding negotiations, Congress will need to make important decisions that will have a lasting impact on the families and communities we met. We urge members of Congress to acknowledge the powerful message of "thank you" we heard on our recent trips by robustly supporting and funding these life-saving and critical international development programs in fiscal year 2017.
Additionally, two related bills are also currently being considered by Congress. Combined together, the Reach Every Mother and Child Act (REACH Act) and the Global Food Security Act (GFSA) would support efforts to end preventable deaths of moms and babies and address chronic food insecurity and malnutrition. We have learned from our time in Kenya and Zimbabwe that when a woman is empowered, the entire family and community is strengthened. What better way to honor women like Anna than by equipping other global moms with the same ability to transform their lives for the better, impacting the future of generations of children and families to come.
Bos is the director of government relations at World Vision U.S., where Saracco is a policy adviser for food security and livelihoods.