Her name is Gize. It means “time.” When she became a participant several years ago in Food for the Hungry’s (FH’s) USAID-funded program in Alaba, Ethiopia, Gize was unfortunately running out time. Another year of bad rains had combined with astronomical food prices, forcing her to sell the family ox, rent out her land to share croppers, and eat all the crop seed left in the house. As the next farming season approached, she was left without any means to plant her fields. In the biblical book of Ecclesiastes, it says that there is a time for everything under heaven—including death. Maybe this was Gize’s time to die.
At FH, our audacious goal is to inspire hope that leads to the end of poverty. In the case of Gize and tens of thousands like her, U.S. government funds allowed us to engage them in a successful agricultural production and marketing intervention. After only two years in the program, Gize’s family had been transformed.
“When we sold our ox and rented out our land to share croppers, we had no means to farm,” she said. “But FH provided us with an ox, and seeds and tools for planting, which allowed us to work our land again.”
She went on to proudly tell us about a rapid and virtuous cycle of events that took place in her life. That same year, she harvested 800 kilograms of haricot beans and solid 500 kilograms in the market. She used the money from the sale to buy a milk cow, which gave birth to two calves. She sold the calves and opened a savings account in the local bank and is now accumulating savings with interest. She was even able to send one of her children to school, a first in her household.
Recently, I was privileged to return to this same area of Ethiopia—fully four years after it began. It was amazing to see all the transformational development that has taken place. Huge water catchments that provide drinking water for cattle, sheep and goats. Large irrigated fields where agricultural cooperatives are growing fruits and vegetables. Newly built shops selling honey and cowpeas harvested from the irrigated land. People who, four years earlier, did not have two pennies to rub together now joyfully showing off their “plump” savings books from the local agricultural bank. And although I was not able to meet with her, I heard from the FH staff that Gize and her family have gone from good to even better in the two years since I last saw her. She is an active member in the agricultural cooperative and has fully re-established her family on solid footing. Most importantly, she and her entire family are full of hope for the future.
Seeing the pride and joy in these Ethiopians’ faces, I was reminded of the amazing blessing that we have in FH to partner with others in making transformational change like this possible. One of those partners is the U.S. government. Without their funding, this project would not have taken place, and Gize would most likely not have produced cowpeas, had a cow that had two calves, opened a bank account, or sent a child to school.
Unfortunately, there is a sad part to this story. This is all now in jeopardy due to “sequester” cuts that are working their way through the federal system at this very moment. U.S. foreign assistance that is focused on poverty alleviation comprises only one half of one percent (0.5 percent) of the federal budget. If the sequester proceeds over the next decade, that amount will be reduced by half to a measly 0.25 percent. If that happens, tens or even hundreds of millions of poor people around the world will not get the “hand up” out of poverty that was given to Gize and her fellow Ethiopians.
Last week, I attended a briefing on Capitol Hill that was focused on key issues of interest to the faith community. At that briefing, I was asked to pray for Senator Lindsey Graham, who is a man that strongly supports a robust foreign affairs budget—especially for programs like this one in Ethiopia. I prayed that God would use him to convince others in Congress to save this critical funding for the world’s poor beyond our shores. Later that day, I heard that Senator Graham attended an important dinner with President Obama and other key members of the GOP caucuses in the House and Senate as they talked about ways to end the sequester and agree on a budget that makes sense for America and for the world.
Could it be that my prayer inspired hope to end poverty? I hope so.