Humanitarian assistance and national security are two sides of the same coin
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Amidst the partisan debates on Capitol Hill, a small but important part of the federal budget always receives bipartisan cooperation with admirable results. The last Congress passed eight key pieces of legislation to make U.S. foreign assistance more effective, more efficient and more accountable. Legislation includes the African Growth and Opportunity Act; Water for the World Act; Electrify Africa Act; Global Food Security Act; Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act.
 
Congress should be lauded for this life-saving work. It’s just one percent of the federal budget, but U.S. foreign assistance funding, leadership and influence go a long way in demonstrating the best of American humanitarian values and compassion, while helping to stabilize fragile regions of the world, and promote U.S. economic interests abroad.
 
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Food for the Hungry’s work in northern Kenya, is one such example. Livelihoods are improving, thousands of lives are being saved, and good will be being built in a region Al-Shabaab is competing for hearts and minds. It is also an example of how public-private partnerships can optimize our impacts.
 
 
In this pastoralist region, the people there live and die by livestock. It’s not difficult to understand why. Communities there have long-suffered marginalization in an unforgiving desert climate. The arid expanse of northern Kenya has few roads,schools or hospitals, and food insecurity and hunger-related deaths are pervasive.

Food for the Hungry took on the challenge in collaboration with the U.S. Agency for International Development, and its British equivalent, the Department for International Development, local banks and churches. Essential to the economy, we started our work with USAID to improve the livestock markets in this area, including adding a much-needed water system to facilitate animal care, which increased buying and selling, employment opportunities and livestock value.

We then worked with DfID to target women who, left out of the livestock trade, were buried in debt. These women often had little choice other than to borrow from high-priced moneylenders to care for their children.

The delicate challenge was to adapt a way-of-life in a male-predominated economy to generate opportunities for women, while respecting the region’s pastoralist way of life and culture.

With success in improving livestock markets , partnering with DiFID, we targeted  female-only headed households. We provided women the hand up they needed – training in business development and financial literacy. In two years, we trained 377 women and the number of female livestock traders, which had been zero jumped to 157 in our target area. 

In just two years, the results are impressive: the project is generating $2 million in trades and women are fully engaged traders, even moving from small animals to more lucrative large livestock like camels and cattle. The poverty level among beneficiaries has fallen dramatically, from 45.5 percent to 21.8 percent. Another complementary USAID-funded project contributes to managing grasslands, and improving veterinary care and training among traders, which increases livestock prices and long-term impact. 

This is foreign assistance coordination and success, and as we are committed to helping all God’s children thrive near and far, it is mission for the 21st Century.

U.S. foreign assistance is a consistent reminder that bipartisan cooperation is possible amidst the challenging debates of our day. Foreign assistance advances the best of our humanitarian values, develops emerging markets and advances our national security.

Lucas Koach is the director of Public Policy and Advocacy for Food for the Hungry, a Christian relief and development organization.


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