giving back

Foreign Aid to Kenya: Taking Care of Our Global Family

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Foreign Aid—I am haunted by an image I saw in western Kenya. A little girl lying on a hospital bed, tummy distended like those I had previously only seen in National Geographic, gasping for air with her shallow breaths. I can’t stop thinking about whether she is still alive or not.

Breathing for me gets a little more difficult when I think of her.

Then I think of the school children I saw a few days later. Full of life. Laughing. Innocent. Eager to learn. And I smile at the signs of hope!

While this positive thought doesn’t entirely replace my sadness for all the desperate situations I experienced in Kenya, I try and focus on what these school children represent—hope, health, happiness and the possibility of a long lifetime of hugs for children in Africa.

Since returning from Kenya two weeks ago, I’ve been asked these two questions a lot:

  1. Why am I raising awareness to help people in sub-Saharan Africa instead of focusing all of my efforts on helping people in the United States?
  2. What is the benefit of spending my time, effort and energy on the US government’s investment in helping the Kenyan people?

I’m not going to lie. I’m struggling with the fact that anyone even broaches those topics. I could write an entire post on how the US benefits from assisting developing countries, but why? Aren’t we a global family? Shouldn’t foreign aid be about helping our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world instead of focusing on how we, here in the US, are going to be more economically stable or safe? Isn’t it about people with means helping those who can’t help themselves?

Why Helping Sub-Saharan Africa is Urgent

In our imperfect world, we often place hierarchy on people and things. But in a perfect world, in my opinion, every human being holds equal weight and is worthwhile and therefore, worth helping.

To me, whether I am helping my own child, the neighbor next door, a child in my community who is in need of diapers, or a child hoping to breathe another breath in Kenya, it is all the same. The only difference in my mind is that in some parts of the world, people seem to need more help and some needs are more life threatening. It shouldn’t be about where the person is from. It should be about whoever needs help the most and what needs are most urgent.

Here are some facts about urgent global needs from ONE’s website:

  • An estimated 12,000 people die every day from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. Two-thirds of these people are living in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • In the world’s poorest countries, mothers risk their lives giving birth and millions of children die each year from treatable, preventable causes like diarrhea.
  • Of the 67.5 million children out of school around the world, 95 percent live in developing countries.
  • Across the world, 884 million people do not have access to clean water and 2.6 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation.

The Benefits of Helping Kenya

Why do we feel the need to justify why we give, how we give, or to whom we give? A soul is a soul.

I hear global funding and volunteerism talked about in the same sentence as return on investment as if the African child whose life is forever altered by aid is a product, a campaign, or a number. But, she is not any of those. She’s a child, someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s future wife, someone’s future mother… or maybe the baby I hugged at the hospital two weeks ago or the one who hopefully is running around playing today instead of struggling to breathe. She could be a leader in her community. She could change the world if only she had her basic needs taken care of, starting with the opportunity to live to see adulthood.

Ways to Help

My recommendation for people who have something to give — whether it’s their voice, their time, their resources, their creative ideas, their leadership, their hands, their energy, etc. — is to find ways to balance your giving efforts. It’s not about judging whether watching your sister’s kids or giving to your local food bank is more valuable as signing a petition to help decrease the infant mortality rate in Kenya. It’s about doing what you can, where you can, with the talents you have. Here’s some ideas:

  • At home: Hug your children or call a family member you haven’t talked to in a while and say “I love you!”
  • In your neighborhood: Identify someone in need, and meet that need (e.g., take in a meal, include someone in your group, smile at someone who’s lonely).
  • In your community: Volunteer, raise awareness, make a difference for a need that you’d like to champion.
  • Abroad: Sign a petition, write your congressman/woman, and take steps to support foreign aid. Find a charitable organization to support.

What will you do today to make a difference?

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An active part of the Mom It Forward team, Jyl primarily writes about parenting, social good, and all things travel related. In a past life, Jyl was an award-winning copywriter and designer of corporate training programs for Fortune 100 companies. Offline, Jyl is married to @TroyPattee; a mom to two teen boys and a beagle named #Hashtag; loves large amounts of cheese, dancing, and traveling; and lives in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. Topping her bucket list is the goal to visit 50 countries by the time she's 50.


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