Like many poor countries, Liberia and Haiti have struggled for years to meet the needs of their people. Both countries have faced the entrenched challenges of hunger and poverty, and more recent events—two long civil wars in Liberia and the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti—have further impoverished many people.
"Both Haiti and Liberia had a string of unsuccessful governments—governments that were pretty incompetent, that didn't invest in agriculture, that didn't invest in the people," said W. Gyude Moore, an advisor to Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and a Bread for the World board member. "Both countries have huge infrastructure needs, and both are very, very poor." Effective U.S. foreign assistance is critical to countries like these. Speaking of Liberia, Moore said, "Just imagine a country that for the last two decades has been disrupted by wars, coups, and different kinds of upheavals. This is where the help we get from U.S. foreign aid goes a long way."
As the following stories illustrate, Liberia and Haiti have great potential for progress. The program David Kpan, the Liberian farmer profiled in "The Sweet Taste of Cocoa," is participating in is a good example of U.S. aid that meets the needs of local people. He and other cocoa farmers have been able to rehabilitate their farms and provide for their families and communities. With continued U.S. assistance and the farmers' hard work, these kinds of results can be replicated throughout the country.
In Haiti, earthquake relief aid is still needed, but the country's long-term challenges require a different approach to aid—one that is better coordinated and involves all sectors of Haitian society. "The Power of the Purse" looks at how Fonkoze, a community microfinance organization that receives U.S. government assistance and support from U.S. churches, has helped women lift themselves and their families out of poverty. Small loans are the entry point into Fonkoze (which stands for Fondasyon Kole Zepòl, or Shoulder-to-Shoulder Foundation) for most women, but they soon experience multiple levels of support—including nutrition and literacy classes, and business skills development—that can help them rebuild their lives.
As the stories illustrate, effective U.S. foreign aid helps support the efforts of poor people themselves. Families can become self-sufficient—no longer just surviving but prospering. But how far Liberia, Haiti, and other developing countries can go will depend in large part on making foreign assistance more effective. Right now U.S. foreign assistance is scattered over 12 government departments, 25 different agencies, and nearly 60 offices. Aid programs are often redundant or working at cross-purposes with no coherent strategy to unite them—leading to one big tangle of inefficiency. U.S. aid could benefit millions more people once it is better coordinated.
Better coordination, more flexibility, greater accountability, and closer partnerships with local organizations and governments could mean faster help for the people who need it most.