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From Aid to Impact: Supporting U.S. Foreign Assistance | Commentary

What impact is U.S. investment in foreign aid having in far off, foreign countries? In D.C., we receive statistics about the impact of aid, but never get a face or a name of those affected by our help. Traveling to Cambodia, the largest single beneficiary of U.S. aid in maternal and neonatal health, changed that. That’s where we met Navy, a 30-year-old woman who lives with her 6-year-old daughter, Davin in Phnom Penh.

For the past five years, Navy has worked in the garment industry as an employee in a factory that makes apparel for Levi’s and other U.S. companies. Navy is the primary earner for her household because her husband’s construction work is seasonal. Earlier this year, she was repeatedly missing work due to her daughter constantly becoming ill, affecting her ability to do her job and feed her family. For too long, she didn’t understand what was causing Davin to become sickly, dehydrated and without an appetite almost every other week.

We met Navy and many women just like her when we traveled to Cambodia with the humanitarian organization CARE, whose staff on the ground educated us on some of the major developmental challenges facing Cambodia today. Many Cambodian women face obstacles to accessing health care because of the poor quality of services offered and the difficulty in accessing health care facilities. These problems are particularly prevalent among Cambodia’s predominantly young population and marginalized groups such as garment workers. Also, nearly 80 percent of the population lives in rural areas where health facilities are not easily accessible.

For the past six months, Navy has been attending CARE’s health and wellness sessions twice a month with peer educators during her lunch break. Because of this worker education program, Navy is empowered to make healthier lifestyle decisions for herself and her family. She shares what she learns about personal health and hygiene with her daughter, passing on knowledge to the next generation of Cambodian women, a perfect example of sustainable development.

In Navy’s own words, “Before, I didn’t have a complete understanding and my daughter got sick a lot. Now, she is healthy and not sick like before, because I know proper hygiene and sanitation.” Navy’s experience illustrates the importance of education in positive health outcomes. For many of us, something like washing your hands to avoid getting sick seems simple and almost innate, but it isn’t. However, once proper hygiene is taught, people’s overall health improves and they can live longer, more productive lives.

Organizations such as CARE have been able to bring together innovative tools and services, such as community health volunteers, micro-savings and popular media, to provide a holistic approach to overcoming poverty in some of Cambodia’s most destitute neighborhoods. They could not accomplish these significant achievements without U.S.-funded foreign assistance.

The U.S. government is the largest single donor in maternal and neonatal health in Cambodia, spending approximately $14 million each year. As legislators, it is our responsibility to ensure that every federal dollar is being used effectively and efficiently.

U.S. foreign assistance has saved the lives of millions of women by empowering them to raise healthy families, send their children to school and foster small businesses. Thanks to U.S. aid over the past 60 years, maternal and child mortality has dropped sharply, literacy rates have increased, and economic opportunity has expanded in the developing world. A strong global economy and an educated populace are directly in our nation’s best interest.

Even with significant strains on the federal budget, foreign assistance must remain strong. The international affairs budget supports programs with low-cost interventions that generate high-impact results, saving lives in the fight against disease, poverty and hunger. It also offers a small price for a big return, as the foreign aid budget only represents one percent of the federal budget.

We must continue to financially support the United States’ foreign assistance programs, for it is a smart investment for our global stability and one we look forward to championing together in the 114th Congress.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw is a Republican from Florida. Rep. Kay Granger is a Republican from Texas. Rep. Mike Quigley is a Democrat from Illinois.

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