Thursday, October 27, 2011

The First 1,000 Days: What you can do!

This is the final post in a four-part series from Stephen M. Colecchi, director of USCCB’s Office of International Justice and Peace, about his travels to Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania as part of an ecumenical delegation of Christian leaders sponsored by Bread for the World.

I saw my daughters’ faces in the faces of the children I met during my travel to Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania. I witnessed my hopes for my own children in the proud, determined faces of mothers and fathers working hard to improve the nutrition of their families. We are indeed members of the one family of God.

In each country, we met with staff of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), with local national officials in charge of improving nutrition, and with Catholic Relief Services and other local non-governmental and faith-based agencies which partner with USAID. It became clear that the good work that we saw in the local village in Malawi and in the other places was the result of national and international collaboration.

Children in the first 1,000 days of life, from conception to age two, are like the proverbial “canary in the mine.” Their health is an important indicator of the health of the whole society. Children of other ages and communities as a whole also benefit as parents adopt better nutrition and sanitation practices. But they cannot do it alone.

These African communities are literally dirt poor. They need to adopt different eating, planting and sanitation practices. This requires knowledge, training and modest investments in better seeds and basic equipment, like foot pumps for irrigation. Ultimately, Africans are the ones who teach one another, irrigate their fields, and diversify their crops. They can do it. They just need the training and tools.

My trip made me proud to be an American and a Catholic. Our taxes support the effective international assistance programs of USAID and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Our contributions support Catholic Relief Services (CRS). CRS partners with the U.S. government, leverages private support, and works with the local Church to build sustainable programs.

So what can you do? As Congress debates deficit reduction, encourage policy makers to resist making further disproportionate cuts in the 1 percent of the federal budget that goes to lifesaving, poverty-focused international assistance. And contribute directly to the work of CRS. Also check out USCCB's site about global poverty here.

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