Nothing brings a trip to Cambodia to an eventful end better than a national soccer game between Cambodia and Timor Leste. Not only was this game the biggest event of the week here in Cambodia, it was the perfect representation of this country, their camaraderie, and their never-ending joy. This futball game was more than two teams playing against each other for a win. It was a representation of the ability of this country to join together, to fight for joy and for the well-being of one another. Hearing thousands of Cambodians pridefully sing out their national anthem is unforgettable.
An education is a valued resource for these students, and it is an opportunity that many Cambodians do not get because of poverty. It was an honor to take a small part in this life changing opportunity for these people.

(The Hill, October 2016)

In 2010, the world watched in horror as more than 200,000 people lost their lives to a devastating earthquake in Haiti. And we shuddered again earlier this month when Hurricane Matthew – the most powerful storm to hit Haiti in more than 60 years – killed hundreds of people and impacted more than 2.1 million.

As the country continues to respond and rebuild, and as the world mobilizes much needed relief and assistance, it’s instructive to understand how Haitians are making themselves more resilient to natural disasters. And it is important to believe that there are strategies for long-term answers for Haiti.

One way might surprise you: better family planning.

That might seem like a lower priority amid disasters such as Hurricane Matthew. But it is exactly in these situations that women and girls are often subjected to an increased risk of sexual violence, unwanted pregnancies due to a lack of access to contraceptives and an overall lack of control over their situation.

And the time for women and couples to really strengthen their family planning strategies is between disasters, something that was clear just a week prior to Hurricane Matthew’s landfall, when CARE and Hope Through Healing Hands hosted a Learning Tour to Haiti. During the visit, the group visited successful U.S. foreign assistance programs focused on supporting healthier mothers and families.

There, the group met a woman named Ermicile Joseph, a 49-year-old mother of twelve. Ermicile welcomed the group into her home and shared her life story. She explained how hard it was to feed and provide for her large family and her wish that she had been able to time and space her pregnancies.

Ermicile lives in rural Haiti in the Central Plateau region where access to quality health care and family planning services is practically non-existent. Haitian women are often marginalized and have unequal access to everything from education and land to health care. They often experience health challenges due to serious obstacles in accessing pre- and post-natal care and family planning services.

However, this all changed for Ermicile when a community health agent made a visit to her home as part of a new effort to give mothers the services they desperately need to live healthier lives. Until recently, her options were limited. But now, Ermicile has taken control over her life and has used this newfound knowledge to educate her 31-year-old daughter Raphael about her options to choose when to have a family. Given the struggles Raphael witnessed growing up, she has decided to delay her first pregnancy until she is more financially prepared.

The benefits of this decision will have a long-term ripple effect for Raphael, her family and her community. Family planning is a powerful tool to combat poverty, particularly for those women who are able to avoid adolescent pregnancy, finish their education and enter the labor force.

When another disaster strikes the poorest country in our hemisphere, Raphael and her husband will have more capacity to provide for themselves. She will be more resilient in the face of danger. And if she does become a mother, she will know how to space a future pregnancy to avoid falling further into poverty.

We know that if women had the means to time and space the births of their children, it could prevent one in three maternal and child deaths in the developing world. Family planning is literally a life-saving intervention.

Thanks to U.S. foreign assistance, maternal and child mortality rates have dropped drastically in the past decade, as more mothers time and space their pregnancies. At a time of budget constraints, we must ensure that all of our federal programs are effective and this is an investment that pays off in the short and long-term. We must continue to ensure mothers and their families have access to the tools they so desperately need and deserve. This is particularly important during times of crisis and disaster.

We applaud the Senate for passing international family planning at the level of $622.5 million in FY17, and we call on leaders in Congress to protect these funding levels when they finalize their appropriations work after the upcoming November election. We also urge the incoming presidential Administration and the next Congress to prioritize international family planning programs within their FY18 budget requests and appropriations bills next year.

The foreign assistance budget supports families around the globe through low-cost interventions – such as family planning – that generate high-impact results. Through investments in women and girls, these programs will help women fulfill their potential and build a more sustainable future for their families and communities. And in the face of danger, they will be able to better control their family’s destiny and face the future with strength and resiliency. As Haiti currently responds to Hurricane Matthew – including CARE’s efforts to provide clean meals, water and supplies to those in immediate need throughout the country – we must stand behind mothers like Ermicile and Josephine who are the promise of a more hopeful future for Haiti.

We heard their stories full of unimaginable hardships, including tragic deaths of family members and even near-death experiences for themselves. Through all the oppression that these people have faced they have pushed forward; they continue to work hard everyday to provide for themselves and their families.
More than anything else during my time in Haiti, I saw firsthand that women and girls are the pillars of their communities.
On Tuesday we toured Sihanouk Hospital Center of HOPE and were able to shadow/work with some of the nurses in the different wards. Sihanouk Hospital Center of HOPE consists of a non-profit, educational hospital, which is funded by a for profit, income-based clinic and donors. This hospital not only provides much needed care for the poor, but it is also known for its education and training of Cambodian health care professionals. Sihanouk has created sustainability because of the quality care that the hospital provides and because the hospital has been able to expand by developing educated health care professionals.
The temples at Angkor Wat were a reminder of the strength of Cambodia. Even though there has been destruction of the temples, they have survived. The temples represent the marvel in Cambodia that Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge could not destroy. The temples were also a reminder that there is restoration in store for the people of Cambodia.
As a group we visited the World Mate Emergency Hospital in Battambang. This hospital is doing incredible things, with a quarter of the resources that we have in the United States. The patient population of this hospital consists of men, women, and children that have been victims of severe, and some times life threatening injuries. The most common injury that our group observed at this hospital was motor vehicle accidents, including motos. This is no surprise since Cambodia does not have any traffic laws, or helmet laws.

Just days before Hurricane Matthew ripped through Haiti, Steve Taylor, Lipscomb’s filmmaker-in-residence in the College of Entertainment & the Arts, was among 12 state leaders including former U.S. Senate Majority leader Bill Frist, MD; founder and president of Thistle Farms Becca Stevens; and actor and author Kimberly Williams-Paisley; to tour Haiti focusing on humanitarian efforts supported by U.S. governmental funding.

Steve Taylor

Beginning Sept. 25 and ending Sept. 27, Hope Through Healing Hands, a Nashville-based global health organization, teamed up with CARE, a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty, to provide a learning tour to Haiti with faith-based influencers to see how vital U.S. investments and partnerships are in improving health outcomes for women as well as their families and communities.  

Within the three-day trip, delegates saw firsthand the role that U.S. investments play in building healthier, stronger and more resilient communities through health care services. These crucial health care services include pre- and post-natal care, nutrition counseling, healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies through family planning, and access to a variety of other health interventions, such as community health worker counseling and low-cost health insurance.

Since 1954, Haiti has worked to rebuild its country from Hurricane Hazel, as well as a massive 7.0 magnitude earthquake in 2010, which together killed over 300,000 people.

“Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and the country can’t seem to catch a break,” said Taylor. “Barely a week had passed since we left before Hurricane Matthew struck Haiti with deadly force. As bad as things are, they would be so much worse if it wasn’t for assistance and partnerships with organizations like CARE, USAID and many others, including a lot of faith-based NGOs.”

During the trip, Taylor says the team visited a number of health clinics and hospitals throughout Port-au-Prince and the Central Plateau regions of Haiti. They also met with partner organizations from the U.S., such as Project Medishare and J/P HRO, as well as Haitian women and community health agents to learn more about the successes and challenges they may encounter.

“We toured everything from health clinics and hospitals to microfinance co-ops,” said Taylor. “It’s hard not to be overwhelmed with the needs in Haiti, but I like the fact that Senator Frist’s organization starts with the word Hope.”

They also spent time with CARE’s Village Savings and Loan Association program, which helps women save and generate money in hopes that they will one day use the funds to generate small businesses and critical health services for their families.

Taylor said he has enjoyed sharing his experience with his students at Lipscomb, especially his visit to a microfinance co-op.

“One of the most impactful visits was to a microfinance co-op made up of about a dozen poor women who pool their resources, loan each other small amounts of money at a low interest rate, then work as a group to help each other become self-sufficient and insure the loans get repaid,” said Taylor. “CARE has created over 40,000 of these Village Savings and Loans Associations throughout the developing world with over 1 million total members, and it’s having proven success.”

Taylor, who is a filmmaker, writer, producer and recording artist, was asked to be part of this trip because of his long activism and sustained interest in global health including HIV/AIDS, extreme poverty, and maternal and child health. He also had the opportunity to photograph and film the tour for public pieces that will be released within the coming months. 

“As a prominent thought leader in the Christian community, his voice and credibility on the issues provide a gravitas to inform and educate people of faith the critical importance of funding for vulnerable populations around the world,” said Jenny Dyer, executive director for Hope Through Healing Hands.

“This learning tour to Haiti provided the opportunity for the delegation to trace USAID funding to specific women and children who were beneficiaries of healthcare and vaccinations because of our tax dollars. These are critical, life-saving investments, which provide a foundation of care for millions. These investments are crucial to provide sustained efforts to mitigate the affects of disasters, like Hurricane Matthew.”

Other participants of CARE’s September 2016 Learning Tour to Haiti include: Jenny Dyer, executive director, Hope Through Healing Hands; Cathleen Falsani, religion journalist, columnist and author; Tracy Frist, wwner, Sinking Creek Farm; Jennifer Grant, writer; Rachael Leman, senior director of citizen advocacy, CARE USA; Jo Saxton, director, 3DM; Meredith Walker, producer/executive director of Amy Poehler's Smart Girls; Tom Walsh, Senior program officer, Global Policy and advocacy, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Corinne Williams-Anderson, education management Professional/CARE USA Advocate; and Rita Wray, vice president, E3 Vanguard/CARE USA Advocate.

About CARE

Founded in 1945 with the creation of the CARE Package®, CARE is a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty. CARE places special focus on working alongside poor girls and women because, equipped with the proper resources, they have the power to lift whole families and entire communities out of poverty. Last year CARE worked in 90 countries and reached more than 72 million people around the world. For more information visit: www.care.org/.

About Hope Through Healing Hands

Hope Through Healing Hands is a nonprofit 501(c) 3 whose mission is to promote improved quality of life for citizens and communities around the world using health as a currency for peace. Through the prism of health diplomacy, Hope Through Healing Hands seeks sustainability through health care service and training. This includes efforts for maternal, newborn & child health; healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies; clean water; extreme poverty; emergency relief; and global disease such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. For more information visit: www.hopethroughhealinghands.org

This article originally appeared on Lipscomb.edu.

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