Tomorrow is my youngest daughter’s birthday. She turns eight this year. Though I know she dearly loves her dolls, dreams of becoming a lawyer, and her favorite color is yellow, I have never actually met this precious little girl. Maria (not her real name) is my sponsored daughter. My birthday gift to her is a fighting chance against poverty.
Maria lives in one of the poorest nations on earth, in a mud home with dirt floors and few luxuries. Crime and poverty define her town. But Maria is lucky. Each day her belly is full and she has clean water to drink. Medicine keeps her healthy. She wears suitable clothes, and she has a place to go to school. Others are not so fortunate.
Many neighboring families cannot adequately feed their children, provide for them, or keep them safe from harm. Around the world, famine, disease, and violence claim the lives of thousands of Marias each day.
Consider a few sobering statistics:
- Globally, some 736 million people live in extreme poverty conditions; 44% are under the age of 14
- More than 30 million people were displaced from their homes in 2017 alone due to conflict and disasters
- Children make up almost one-third of all human trafficking victims worldwide
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) leads the US government’s international development and humanitarian efforts to change these statistics and fight poverty around the globe. Its mission: save lives, reduce poverty, strengthen democratic governance, and help people progress beyond assistance.
On behalf of the American people, USAID saves more than 3 million lives each year through immunization programs. It brings education opportunities to 15 million children trapped in conflict environments. And it helps countries develop energy sectors through private investment. In the past decade, USAID delivered safe water and sanitation to more than 50 million people.
Through efforts like these, USAID aims to end extreme poverty (defined as a daily wage of less than $1.25) by the year 2030. The agency has the advantage of scalability in terms of its programs and the networks it brings to bear. The important work of USAID is reaping benefits, with more than 700 million people lifted out of extreme poverty in the past 15 years. Clearly, more can be done.
The worst thing about poverty is what it does to the heart of a little child. —Wess Stafford, Compassion International
Individually, we each have an opportunity (a responsibility?) to help the world’s most vulnerable. Sponsoring a child in need provides a way to add your voice to the fight. Tap into one of the many child advocacy organizations, such as Compassion International, World Help, World Vision, or Lifewater International. Each works tirelessly to provide children around the world with a safe environment, education opportunities, good nutrition, and spiritual growth.
Wess Stafford, President Emeritus of Compassion International, says the worst thing about poverty is what it does to the heart of a little child — when he or she comes to the conclusion that they do not matter and nobody cares about them. “What we try to do is get to that precious little child before they come to that worldview,” says Stafford, who has paired more than two million children with global sponsors over the past four decades.
Compassion and similar groups nurture children in the confidence that they do matter and what they think matters. Stafford believes it is possible (and imperative) to move children away from a mindset of, “I’m a victim, and I can do nothing about my circumstances.” If we can shift that belief to one of “I can make my world a better place,” he says, “you have just won the war on poverty.” And eased more than a few broken hearts along the way.
Safe water, healthy food, and a chance to study and learn may not seem like much of a birthday present for an eight-year-old. For Maria, it is her fighting chance against poverty. And that is the best gift of all.