June 22nd, 2006 07:00 EST
U.S.-Africa Partnership Aims To Help Poorest of The Poor
Washington -- The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Africare, working in close cooperation with Africans in 26 countries, has made significant progress in combating some of the continent’s most urgent problems, such as poverty, famine and disease, said Julius E. Coles, Africare president, at a talk June 20 at the Woman's National Democratic Club in Washington.
Africare is a nonprofit organization that has provided aid to Africa for more than 35 years. Its late co-founder, Diori Hamani, as quoted on the group's Web site, describes its task as "immense -- as immense as the continent of Africa itself."
Africare's budget has grown significantly, from $39,550 in 1971 to $50 million per year now. The operation, which spans 26 countries, has disbursed $540 million in aid, and the organization continues to pursue growth and improvement of their services, according to its Web site.
Africare seeks to help "the poorest of the poor" in Africa, said Coles. This means establishing many projects far from the capital cities. "Where the pavement ends is where [our work] begins," he said.
The organization distinguishes itself by focusing on partnerships with local communities. This philosophy stems in part from its founders, many of whom came from the Peace Corps. Ninety percent of Africare's employees are from the continent, with the remaining 10 percent coming from the United States, said Coles.
The United States contributes to African development through the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, established in 2002, as well PEPFAR, the $15 billion President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, announced by President Bush in 2003, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), which the president called for in 2002 and the U.S. Congress established in 2004. President Bush has requested $3 billion in MCC funding for the fiscal year that ends October 1 and has pledged to increase annual funding to $5 billion in the future.
American citizens contribute privately as well. "The American people are very generous people, and they have given generously around the world," said Coles.
The U.S.-Africa partnership realized through Africare's projects allows funding to reach those who best understand local needs, thus empowering the local community. At a refugee camp in Chad for refugees from Sudan’s Darfur region, for example, Africare ensures proper food distribution, hygiene and sanitation, and provides safe water. To help create self-sufficiency among the refugees, the organization also teaches income-generating activities. (See related article.)
Health is a pressing concern in sub-Saharan Africa, home to 64 percent all people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS, said Coles. Children are among those who suffer the most -- many live with HIV/AIDS, and 12 million children under the age of 17 in sub-Saharan Africa have lost at least one parent to AIDS, he said.
Taking care of these children is one of the missions of Africare. A program under way in four countries -- Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda -- will help 2 million children by providing health care, education and legal services.
Africare also strives to make agriculture possible, said Coles. A project in Niger has helped farmers grow vegetables and cereals in arid regions -- even wheat, which previously was considered impossible, he said. The change was due to good agricultural practices and access to water. Africare's assistance helped boost production 35 percent in this region from 2001 to 2002, and the region suffered less than others during a recent drought, he added.
Despite Africa's many problems, Coles said he sees several reasons for hope. In 2005, he said, gross domestic product grew 4.9 percent on the continent as a whole. Some of this came from oil export profits and other natural resources, but also from growth in tourism and investment in telecommunications, manufacturing and textiles.
Coles described what he termed a "renaissance" in the African economy: meaningful reforms, deregulation and new leaders. He cited Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as one of the promising new leaders who can help Africans take charge of their own development.
Although he still sees many of the same problems that he noticed on his first visit to Africa 45 years ago, Coles said, "I'm still an optimist when I look at the African continent."
For information on how U.S. foreign assistance is affecting lives, see Partnership for a Better Life and U.S. Aid to Africa.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)