Foreign Assistance: Why It Works and Why We Gotta Do More

Rev. Noel Andersen | February 24, 2015

Refugee girls enjoy a physical education class in a school operated by St. Andrew's Refugee Services in Cairo, Egypt. Located at St. Andrews United Church of Cairo, the program is supported by Church World Service. Photo: Paul Jeffrey

Refugee girls enjoy a physical education class in a school operated by St. Andrew’s Refugee Services in Cairo, Egypt. Located at St. Andrews United Church of Cairo, the program is supported by Church World Service. Photo: Paul Jeffrey

The average American believes we spend a whopping 26 percent of the U.S. budget on foreign aid – but the fact is that we actually spend less than one percent. On top of that, the amount actually dedicated to humanitarian response and alleviating poverty, disease and hunger is only 0.5 percent.

Yet the best kept secret about U.S. relief and development aid is that it works.

In 1980, one in two people in the world lived in extreme poverty, but by 2010 we collectively cut this number in half. This means that the world’s children are being protected from sickness and death at a rate unprecedented in history. Ordinary people around the world are now able feed their families, contribute to their developing societies and become self-sufficient.

Foreign assistance also protects the world’s refugees. The UN Refugee Agency estimates that the number of displaced people in the world is the highest in nearly two decades totaling 45.2 million people, including 15.4 million refugees. Our nation’s refugee assistance funding is critical in meeting the needs of the 10.3 million refugees living in protracted crisis situations. This also provides fundsto support refugees for the first few months of transition after being resettled. American foreign assistance has helped lead the way with faith communities’ support and advocacy playing an integral role in this success.

But we still have more work to do. Currently, 1.2 billion people still live in extreme poverty. As people of faith we are in a unique position to persuade our nation to do more. The voice of the faith community is important to members of Congress, especially on this issue. We bring moral weight and credibility when we call for our government to increase funding for our vulnerable and impoverished sisters and brothers around the world.

The U.S. is one of the largest supporters to foreign aid in the world, yet we give one of the smallest percentages of our budget compared to other nations. All faith traditions share a common call to respond to suffering, sickness and poverty, and we know that if we are going to eradicate extreme poverty, we must do more.

We can educate our congregations and communities. We can meet with our Representative and Senators about the importance of poverty-focused development and humanitarian assistance. We can be advocates for our nation to live up to the best of its values. These programs have been hugely successful, so why not do more?

CWS is doing more by committing more resources and time to mobilizing our grassroots energy to advocate for policies that can end world hunger and provide critical assistance to those in dire need. When the U.S. government also increases its efforts, the lives of countless millions of people can be transformed.

Along with partners in the Interfaith Working Group on Foreign Assistance, CWS played a critical role in organizing a Humanitarian and Development Assistance Prayer Breakfast with Representative Ander Crenshaw, who is on the House Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee. Fifty-five faith leaders attended the prayer breakfast in Jacksonville, Florida, to share testimonies of why our world needs our help and to hear Rep. Crenshaw speak.

Rev. Dr. Russell Meyer, Executive Director of the Florida Council of Churches, helped to organize the prayer breakfast and served as moderator of the event saying, “The prayer breakfast in Jacksonville showed the power of the faith community to shore up champion decision makers on foreign assistance like Rep. Crenshaw. The testimony that interfaith leaders offered was inspirational. They spoke of ending HIV infections in Africa and resettling refugees who had raised children in refugee camps. Rep. Crenshaw spoke of his ongoing commitment to provide necessary funding for humanitarian and development assistance that saves lives, eradicates extreme poverty, creates new markets and prevents military conflict. Foreign assistance is the best half-penny spent in the federal budget. Every dollar generates six fold, even tenfold more from faith groups and the private sector.”

If we want to save lives, help more people to become self-sufficient and provide humanitarian protection to migrants and refugees, we need to step up our efforts for the 2016 budget. Be prepared to educate your community on why we should increase the ½ percent – and be ready to tell your members of Congress that increasing our nation’s foreign assistance is a moral imperative and that it works!

Rev. Noel Andersen is the National Grassroots Coordinator at CWS.