ONE’s new video series illustrates just how little every day Americans know about foreign assistance and the life-saving effects it has on millions of people. Read ONE member Kristen Swanson’s story about how US aid has transformed her and her loved ones’ lives.
Amounts in billions and even trillions are spinning through the media as legislators make decisions about where to distribute our American tax dollars. Most Americans have very little knowledge of how much we spend on foreign assistance and what is done with the money. ONE has made this so very clear: the small amount of aid that we spread around the world fights poverty and disease in a big way. I can tell you how it has changed life for people I know and love.
From 1990 to 2000, my family and I lived and worked in Tanzania, where we watched the AIDS epidemic sweep through families, wiping out moms and dads, tiny infants, and everyone in between. When we moved back to the United States, patients could only expect to live an average of two years from the time of their first symptoms. One neighbor grew thin and listless in weeks, suffering from sores in her mouth and throat that made it too painful to swallow food. On my last visit with her at the local hospital, she coughed and shivered from cold as we spoke. Her roommate on the ward was in a more advanced stage: frail, semi-conscious, folded like a tiny envelope of bones.
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When pneumonia finally took her life, we adopted Margaret’s 12-year-old son, William, who was our son Matthew’s best friend. We were proud to make Will ours after watching him care tenderly for his mother during her illness. It seemed in 2000 that all of Africa might slip away, crushed under the unbeatable force of AIDS.
I returned to Africa in 2007, and a miracle had occurred. Thanks to ARV drugs that PEPFAR and the Global Fund provided to so many, the battle against AIDS had drastically reversed. Our friend, Beda, was alive and strong, able to support his wife and three children in spite of AIDS. As I walked the dusty path past the Montessori school to Beda’s house, I realized that I could no longer identify those who had the virus by their terribly thin appearance. ARV drugs had restored life, normal life, to so many.
When I took gifts to William’s grandmother, I was shocked to learn that Will’s little brother, Rama, had been infected with the HIV virus at birth. Although that had been 13 years before, Rama was thriving, thanks to the watchful care of their grandmother, who took him to a clinic for his life-sustaining medications. Rama was going to school and playing soccer! But my heart sank to hear that he had just been diagnosed with tuberculosis. I didn’t think that anything could help an AIDS infected patient who developed TB. I am amazed and delighted that Rama even beat that disease, thanks to American foreign aid.
Less than one percent of our budget is devoted to foreign aid, but the difference it has made for Beda, Rama, and 8 million others is the difference between death and life. And that miraculous difference represents not just what we do, but even more, who we are as Americans. We value life, and when we can save lives, we do it.