President Obama on Foreign Aid in Africa: “It can really make a huge difference”

July 3, 2013
by Michelle Cash, Global Legislative Intern

Returning from his Africa trip with the First Lady and his children, President Obama set the stage for a national conversation about foreign aid. He said, “If you look at the bang for the buck that we’re getting when it’s done right, when it’s well designed, and when it’s scaled at the local level with input from local folks, it can really make a huge difference.”

Throughout his trip, President Obama talked about investing in youth and building out trade partners in Africa. But how is foreign aid to countries like Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania and other developing countries seen as an investment? When I think investing in our future, I think about the education of a child.

First Lady Michelle Obama demonstrated her confidence in education for girls as having a major role in sustainable development by visiting the Martin Luther King Middle School, an all-girls school in Dakar, Senegal during the first leg of her trip. She acknowledged the trying circumstances that many adolescent girls face in accessing school, but also their strong desire to learn. In a speech at the school she said, “No matter what challenges these girls are facing in their lives, they come to school every day eager to learn, and they spend hours each night studying and doing their homework. They also work hard to develop themselves as leaders.”

But the reality is that 57 million children around the world still don’t have access to a basic primary school education, let alone access to middle school. When the United States invests in bilateral and multilateral forms of international education funding, more and more of these 57 million children are able to have the initial opportunity from entering school, which opens up the possibility of a secondary education. Studies have shown that when a young girl is educated, and her education is a priority within her family, she is less likely to be married off at a young age, become pregnant, contract HIV/AIDS, and is exponentially more likely to not fall back into the cycle of poverty.

This is why investing in education is so critical. As a small portion of less than one percent of our budget, our foreign aid investments, especially in developing countries can make a “huge difference” as President Obama noted. If foreign assistance is targeting the leading drivers of poverty and has reliable oversight, we can release millions from the chains of poverty.

Also, by investing in these children, we are not just supporting these countries’ economies and development, but are also promoting security at home and the enhancement of the world market. To the press corps on Air Force One during his travel President Obama said, “It’s not just a matter of alleviating hunger or reducing poverty, it’s creating the basis for the entire continent to get incorporated into world markets in a way that ultimately will benefit not just Africa but also the United States.”

I see so many similarities between those of us in the U.S. who are first generation college graduates and these children. I hope that children in these countries accessing education for the first time will embrace the opportunities allowed to them because it is a chance that their parents never got.

As hundreds of RESULTS volunteers come together in Washington, D.C., later this month for the International Conference, remember why we strive for increased foreign aid funding for development programs. Because when it is done correctly, it not only changes millions of lives abroad, but also has domestic benefits as well.

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