USAID: Our Country’s Best Kept Secret?


January 21, 2015

By Marian V. Liautaud, Beyond 5, a campaign of World Vision

What difference does it make if a mother on the other side of the globe lacks access to medical care during her pregnancy? And as sad as it is that children suffer from malnutrition, how can I, a Midwest mom, do anything to solve this problem?

These are some of the questions I secretly pondered as our group filed into the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) office in Harare, Zimbabwe, last November. World Vision arranged for our team, a band of U.S. citizens of different ages and life stages, to visit USAID Zimbabwe to learn about the impact of maternal, newborn, and child healthcare on the well being of an entire nation.

I was shocked at how little I knew about our government’s process for budgeting and distributing foreign aid in general and even more surprised to learn the benefits of supporting mothers as a means of promoting stability and economic growth in a country.

Here are some things I learned:

Healthy mothers, healthy nation.
In 2014, the U.S. allocated $23.4 billion to poverty-focused development assistance. Though significant, it’s only about .7% of the total US budget – less than 1%! Most of this money goes to global health—to provide treatment for, and prevention of, diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis, and to help make maternal, newborn, and child health care more accessible to families.

Addressing the health needs of mothers is not just a gesture of compassion; it’s a strategic move to ensure the health of the entire nation. Zimbabwe has discovered what many nations also know: A healthy mother is the foundation of a healthy nation.

Marian Liautaud

When a mother receives adequate nutrition and access to healthcare before and during her pregnancy, her chances of delivering a healthy, HIV-free baby go up considerably. And when a healthy baby has access to good nutrition and critical immunizations, she is much more likely to survive and thrive throughout her first 5 years of life. And a child who makes it beyond 5 has a much greater chance of remaining healthy, which means she’ll be more likely to go to school. Once a child is educated, the cycle of poverty is broken.

USAID has partnered with organizations like World Vision who can effectively serve the people most in need. Seeing the passion these USAID workers bring to their jobs to serve people who are less fortunate made me proud to be an American. In a rare moment, I felt glad to pay taxes—or at least to know they’re going in part to USAID’s budget. More than that, I was encouraged to know there are real people—compassionate, competent professionals commissioned by our government—who care about the under-resourced and make decisions about how to steward U.S. tax dollars for their good.

Moms like me.
Before visiting Zimbabwe, I didn’t realize how much I’d have in common with the moms I’d meet. As we visited with women and children throughout World Vision’s Lupane Area Development Program and heard their stories of struggle and loss, it hit me: Moms are moms everywhere. The same things that keep me up at night—the desire for healthy, happy children and the hope of being healthy enough to raise them into adulthood—keep these moms up too.

Their struggles are exponentially magnified by the political, economic, and environmental hardships they face. But there’s a role I can play in easing this burden so that these moms and I can both attain the same goals: I can advocate on their behalf.

As a US citizen, I can reach out to my congressperson, who has been elected to listen to and represent my concerns, and let him know about the struggles these mothers face. I can share what I have learned about the benefits (of USAID’s work) for the overall health and stability of a nation. I have the right—the responsibility—to advocate on behalf of those who are counting on USAID and World Vision to keep doing the good work they do. And I can ask my congressman to support poverty-focused development assistance that improves the well-being of mothers, newborns, and children.

Take Action Challenge
USAID may be our country’s best-kept secret. But it shouldn’t be. It’s a story everyone should hear—especially our representatives in Congress. Let’s tell it again and again until they know it by heart. You can find out who your elected officials are and how to contact them here.


This post is an extract from an essay that originally appeared on World Vision’s Beyond 5 site.

Photo: Marian speaks with expectant mothers at a ‘waiting shelter’ in Zimbabwe. Here, mothers come to wait during their final stages of pregnancy to avoid the complications of traveling long distances during labor. Used with permission © Amanda Mootz 2014/World Vision

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