When Worlds Collide


Meet Mihret.

One day last week this adorable little girl’s mom called me about buying feeder pigs. At the time, neither of us knew we had a reason to discuss Mihret. She’d seen an ad for the pigs, one not tied to our website, and I don’t make it a habit to screen potential pig owners for ties to Ethiopia.

A few days later I received an email, “Hi Diana,” it began, “My family and I are new to the adventures of raising feeder pigs. I was doing some research and ended up on your site. Ironically, I think we are coming to pick up 3 or 4 pigs at your farm on Wednesday morning.” Kelly had a few questions about feeder pigs, but my eyes were immediately drawn to the latter part of her email. ” I’m really enjoying your posts about Ethiopia. I spent a month there in 2010. Even though she is only three, my daughter will be excited to learn you have visited her home country.”

Her home country!

To say that I never expected my work with ONE and our little patch of rural Mid-Michigan to cross paths is an enormous understatement. You don’t find many people out here who are familiar with and passionate about the state of extreme poverty in Ethiopia. And yet, here I had a family with ties to just that coming to our little hog farm. I’ve been walking on cloud nine ever since and today all the excitement culminated with the wrangling of four pigs into the back of a truck as Mihret and her older sister Olivia looked on.


Afterwards, with their Mom and Dad’s permission I brought out my camera and both girls broke into gorgeous smiles as soon as the lens was pointed in their direction. Mihret is the size and weight you’d expect of a normal three year old, was dressed in warm and adequate clothing, her feet protected by boots so she could safely accompany us as I showed her parents our various fencing. She will sleep in a warm bed tonight, with a full belly, and her Mom and Dad won’t have to worry that she’ll be bitten by a mosquito and contract Malaria as she does. When she’s old enough she’ll get an education, there’s no question about it. But looking into Mihret’s beautiful brown eyes I was immediately transported back to Ethiopia where none of this is true for thousands of kids just like her.

Recently, by leveraging the voices of ONE’s membership we were able to protect some of the most important global health initiatives of our time; initiatives that, among other things, could virtually eliminate extreme poverty by 2030. Unfortunately, some other programs continue to come under fire as details of implementing budget cuts in Washington are worked out.

I’ve written extensively in the past about how these programs are not partisan, about why preserving funding behooves all of us, regardless of our political affiliation. If you’re not sure why the less than 1% of the federal budget that goes to funding global health initiatives are important for everyone, please click that link and find out. We’re winning many of the battles, but the war is far from over and one misstep could cost us the victory we all so desperately need.

As ONE continues to work to ensure transparency and efficacy from world governments and tracks the progress of programs on the ground in the poorest countries they’re going to need more voices to make the hardest battles well fought. They never ask for your money, only your voice. It may seem silly, but your voice really is most effective. The tweets, emails, Facebook messages, and letters you send to your legislators make a tremendous difference in their work on The Hill. They know who ONE members are and they listen when we speak up as a group. It’s how ONE gets things done.

So please, join the ONE Membership.

And consider signing their active petitions, including the one focused on the on going U.S. budget crisis.

Do it for Mihret. For me. For all the people who continue to live without even life’s most basic amenities; food, water, life-saving vaccinations. If nothing else, do it for you. Do it for national security, for saving our country the money it cannot afford to spend in the future.

Conservative Thoughts On The Fiscal Cliff & Foreign Aid

Last summer, in a last ditch attempt at spurring the budgetary super committee to action on the crushing federal deficit, an agreement was reached in Washington D.C.

That agreement — known officially as the Budget Control Act, and unofficially as The Sequester – combined with impending tax hikes as a result of congress’ inability to come to any other notable agreements since, are what is now collectively known as The Fiscal Cliff. So appropriately named, because — when the mandatory across-the-board budget cuts that make up The Sequester collide with the substantial tax hikes that will sucker punch virtually every American family — it will so drastically affect the political and economic landscape in the United States (and by extension the world) that it will look and feel as though we’ve fallen over a cliff. An event, I might add, that is coming directly to you in less than two months.

If our legislators don’t take action we will run full-tilt off The Fiscal Cliff on January 2, 2013. Less than eight very short weeks from now.

Since I’ve already written about the tax hikes that are awaiting us at the edge of the cliff*, today I’d like to talk more about the sequestration side of things. Specifically, the part of it that will affect our foreign aid expenditures. Similar cuts and their consequences will be felt domestically, and I plan to write about them in the coming days, but as most of you know I just returned from a trip to Ethiopia as a guest of the ONE Campaign and foreign aid is fresh in my mind.

The truth is, the irony of the precarious position in which I’ve found myself is not lost on me; a right-leaning writer advocating for the preservation of foreign aid in a time when even expenditures for domestic aid and entitlement programs are an especially embittered topic on my own side of the aisle. As I review the discussions we’re having about the cliff, our options for avoiding it, and what will happen if we don’t, I keep coming back to just one thing though: this is not a partisan issue and there are no partisan fixes.

Even if we take those programs that are traditionally thought of as pet programs of one party or the other, drastic cuts to them will have a marked effect on issues that are of cornerstone importance to us all. And this is, perhaps, no truer than when considering foreign aid.

Though foreign aid is often thought of as a left-leaning budget line item, its integral role in two of the right’s dearest priorities is undeniable. As much as we spend investing in both our national security and the viability of the private sector economy, the relatively paltry sum that is allotted to foreign aid is likely the single area in which we get the most bang for our buck in both of them.

Developing countries present enormous economic opportunities for the U.S. The Washington Post reports that between 2004 and 2008 our exports to major developing economies — Brazil, India, and China — increased at more then two and half times the rate of our exports overall; 121% for the former compared to just 46% for the latter. Aiding developing countries such as Ethiopia with longterm investments in their society through developments of infrastructure, education, and eradication of disease increases opportunities for our products on the global market.

And that’s exactly what our aid dollars are doing. Long gone are the days of giving a man a fish. On the ground in Ethiopia we repeatedly and consistently saw that U.S. funded programs are successfully fostering independence, not breeding dependence.

At health posts and clinics charts pepper the walls where health care workers comprehensively track the success of the initiatives they’ve implemented in their surrounding communities, and the numbers they’re coming up with on shoestring budgets are staggering. According to estimates from amFAR, the amount of foreign aid budget that would be cut under sequestration alone would otherwise prevent 21,000 babies from becoming HIV positive as a result of mother-child transmission, prevent some 63,000 AIDS related deaths, and keep 124,000 children from becoming AIDS orphans.

At a beekeeping co-op in the hills outside Bahir Dar we met women who collectively saved the tiny incomes they were previously able to scrape together in order to put up half of the initial investment it took to begin their honey farming business. They now guard their bee hives 24/7, often with babies strapped to their backs. They will work around the clock for nearly a full year before they are able to harvest their first batch of product. These are the very definition of hardworking people and these dollars are being utilized in such a way that they could not be farther from a handout, nor closer to a hand up.

Of course, we can’t ignore the other side of this coin either. Developing economies also present opportunities for other countries in a position to invest; those who may or may not approach the opportunities in such an ethical manner. During a dinner meeting with USAID while we were on the ground in Ethiopia one of the representatives that was briefing us on their initiatives mentioned the interest China has expressed in the region — especially the opportunities presented by the harvesting of natural resources. As a deep believer in capitalism I can’t say as though I could fault any country for seizing an opportunity for advancement of their own society, but I also understand how easy it is for the lesser of two parties to be easily taken advantage of in situations where deals are made between parties of widely different means. Without aid developing countries would be at greater risk of economic colonization; something that could reverse the social, political, and economic advances they’ve made by decades and halt any opportunities between those countries and the U.S. well into the future.

Unfortunately, the lost opportunities and benefits would not be limited to economics. Historically, we have seen that civil, political, and social instability arises out of extreme need — especially for food. Hunger has always been the world’s greatest catalyst for social uprising and it probably always will be. Today, perhaps more than ever before, our national security depends on a stable developing world and hunger is a direct threat to that.

In the past two years we have seen the immediate effects of hunger on developing nations as the Arab Spring swept across the middle east and skirted the edges of Sub-Saharan Africa. We’ve also seen the very real U.S. toll of the political instability that arises from hunger as recently as last month, when four Americans were killed in an attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya.

Aside from the direct health threats that sequestration would present, amFAR estimates that 1 million families would be plunged back into food insecurity and about 700,000 children would miss out on nutrition programs aimed at preventing permanent mental and physical stunting as a result of malnutrition. To allow hunger back into these regions at levels the world has not seen since the 1980s — especially in a time of already soaring food prices — would not only be a fiscally irresponsible forfeiture of the investments we’ve made so far, it would be a dangerous national security play.

Leaving developing countries in a position of civil uprising at the precise same time at which they would be most vulnerable to economic colonization would not just be a security threat to our countrymen serving in their regions of the world either. It would open up the door for alliances with our enemies whose means are much broader, potentially putting us at greater risk even here at home and possibly closing our door to opportunities in certain regions of the globe without expensive military engagement in the future.

If we’re going to avoid the Fiscal Cliff, we’re going to have to work together to make some difficult decisions in the coming weeks. Our deficit must be reduced and in order to do that we’re going to have to take a serious look at where we’re spending and where we can afford to cut back. Part of that will be examining our priorities and cross referencing those causes which are of vital importance to all of us. If I didn’t truly believe this was an area that is essential for achieving the ultimate goals on both sides of our political aisles I most certainly wouldn’t have spent the past fourteen hundred words telling you about it.

It’s also why I’m asking you to add your name to the ONE Petition, in order to urge congress to act now to avoid sequestration and the devastating effects of across-the-board budget cuts.

Please, if you should take just a few moments out of your day to affect change, make it this:

Sign The Petition.

And share this link — http://bit.ly/PZqhwK — on your social networks to spread the word.

On The 6.8 Million

Group Gathers for Nutrition Demo, Copyright Karen Walrond

Sitting among the women (and few curious men) who’d gathered around an old desk, under a tree, in the front yard of a rural health post outside Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, I felt strangely at home. We’d all come to learn — them about cooking, us about them — but in that place, in the minutes that would follow, we were all just women, mothers, friends. We didn’t speak the same language, and at the same time we did. My Amharic is rudimentary at best, their English seldom better, but if there’s anything I learned for sure on this trip it’s this: kindness, joy, and a genuine interest in one another are universal.

Cabbage at ENGINE Farmer Training Center, Rural Ethiopia

Cabbage Grows at ENGINE Farmer Training Center

Our group had just come from a USAID ENGINE farm training center in the same village, not a mile up the road. There, we’d learned about the new vegetables female farmers in the area are learning to grow — lettuce, swiss chard, beet root, carrot, and cabbage among them — and this stop was the next incarnation of that program.

Since visiting Ethiopia I’ve become increasingly aware that we, here in the U.S., sometimes fail to realize a few things of great importance to the effectiveness of social enrichment programs. Among them, that you can teach a man to fish, but if he has no idea how to cook a filet his children will still starve; something that is not at all lost on the people there. To grow beets and chard is one thing, but to use them effectively is another. And here again we were greeted by the incredibly holistic approach of the organizations on the ground in Africa.


Female Farmer, Member of the ENGINE Farmer Training Program.

At one point a member of our group enlisted the help of a translator to ask the women which of the new vegetables they were learning to use were their favorites. After a little chatter we couldn’t understand, but a lot of body language, smiles, and nodding we could, cabbage and carrots were the (seemingly unanimous) answer.

To be honest, I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around a life in which carrots and cabbages were exotic and new ever since. A life in which those vegetables we consider most basic and affordable are key to unlocking the future of a culture that is otherwise trapped in a cycle of hunger and poverty; a cycle that is, in and of itself, difficult to grasp.


Supplies at Nutrition Demo.

6.8 million Ethiopian children under the age of five are physically and mentally stunted as a result of malnutrition. That’s roughly equivalent to 82% of the population of New York City. It is almost twice the population of Los Angeles. Almost two cities of LA filled to the brim with malnourished children. And that statistic says nothing of their adult counterparts — many of which came to age during the famine of the 1980s.

6.8 million Ethiopian children are only now learning what carrots and cabbage taste like. The mothers of roughly 6.8 million Ethiopian children are only now learning how to cook with cabbage and carrots, what doing so can mean for their country’s future. I’ve been allowing that to sink in for the better part of a week and a half and I’m still not sure how well it’s settled.

Karakul Ewe in Home of Above Pictured Farmer, Copyright Karen Walrond

On the way home, on the flight from D.C. to Detroit, I was seated next to an English gentleman who — among other topics of conversation — asked me what I’d been doing in Ethiopia. When I told him I’d been there with ONE, as an agriculture and food writer trying to shed light on the programs on the ground there and what is still needed to combat the extreme poverty and hunger in Sub-Saharan Africa, he responded with a deep sigh. “I thought what I did was difficult, but that,” he shook his head, “is far beyond my ability.”

At the time I thought it an odd reaction. I’m just telling stories, after all. But the longer I allow what we’ve learned to settle in my mind, the more it all makes sense. It’s beyond my ability, too. And yours. We cannot nourish 6.8 million children today, or tomorrow, or next week, or even next year. It’s a daunting task at best, one that is well beyond the ability of even the greatest thinkers and doers of our time.

Porridge at Nutrition Demo, Copyright Karen Walrond

What we can do however, what is entirely within reach for each and every one of us, is to teach a woman to grow cabbage, and then, how to cook it. She will nourish a child. She will teach her friends how to do the same. Her daughters will grow up in a world in which cabbage and carrots are not exotic and new, in which cooking with them is not a barrier to being nourished by them.

What we can do is to teach a man not just how to fish, but how to eat fish. And that, I think, is making all the difference in the world.

:: :: ::

I just returned from traveling in Ethiopia as an expense-paid guest of the ONE Campaign to report on how American-supported programs are improving and saving lives. ONE is a non-partisan organization that fights extreme poverty and preventable disease by pressing political leaders to support smart programs that do just that. They’re also launching a new initiative to focus specifically on Agriculture, which is where I’m most excited to join in. ONE doesn’t ask for your money, just your voice. It’s something I can get behind and I hope you can, too.