Originally published on thehill.com
In the weeks following the election, when many of the divisions in our nation have come to the forefront, it has become clear that we need to find ways to bring Americans of diverse viewpoints together around issues we all care about. A divided America will not be made great again no matter how much we might wish it to be unless we focus on the foundation of our future: our children.
In my work for Save the Children over the last 18 years, I have visited children and families in more than 80 countries and across dozens of states. The desire of parents to give their children a healthy and safe childhood and an education that helps them gain the skills they need to find jobs and happiness is something I have seen in all corners of the world. Whether living in a wealthy suburb in America, a poor rural town, or in a refugee camp in the Middle East, the biggest sacrifices parents and communities often make are for our children.
We have a lot of work to do for kids here in America. Visiting a literacy program in rural Mississippi this October, I met children struggling with basic reading but who were making progress thanks to extra support for books and technology and caring teachers and specialists. Yet one in four children in the United States never learns to read. That’s 25 percent of our future parents, leaders, and workers. According to the Council for Advancement of Adult Literacy, as of 2011, America was the only free-market OECD country where the current generation was less educated than the previous one. Schools in poor neighborhoods of the United States are, and have been for decades, woefully under-resourced with too few books, no access to computers, and where parents are unemployed, or are working far from home. Kids in these communities are working against long odds and we need to put funding into these schools and provide parents with paths to real employment.
A brighter future for America must mean a better future for our poorest kids. In Mississippi, I met families – white and black – living in the toughest conditions you can imagine in a state that voted solidly for Donald Trump. These are the families that are truly disenfranchised and hoping that change in the White House will bring better opportunities for their children.
Last month, I also visited Jordan, a country that has taken on an enormous number of refugees from the Syrian crisis. More than 650,000 Syrian refugees, half of them under the age of 18, are living in Jordan – in refugee camps, or in poor communities where residents are often struggling, too. Jordan is working hard to meet its international obligations to refugees from neighboring countries, and the United States provides significant foreign aid for refugee programs there. Funding is used to feed young refugee children, to provide them with a chance to get back into school after years of being away from home, and on vocational training for Syrian youth to give them hope for a productive future.
This funding from the United States is critical for a country in the Middle East like Jordan, on the frontlines of a refugee crisis and doing its best to meet its responsibilities, and which exists in a complicated neighborhood. It is also essential if we are to avoid a lost generation of young people who eventually can help put their country on a better path to the future. The good news is that the cost is tiny in relation to the overall federal budget, with all foreign assistance to all countries of the world adding up to less than 1 percent of the U.S. federal budget. When I speak with Americans, they agree that programs for young Syrian refugees is one of the right things – and the smart things – on which to spend our small foreign assistance budget. They often donate to our work as private citizens, adding to the funding from the U.S. government to make those dollars go further.
There will always be people trying to divide humanity up into various formations of “us” and “them” – whether by race, nationality, class or geography. But in my work, I’ve seen people break down these barriers in the interests of children. We can help children both in the United States and around the world, and we must. A focus on making America – and the world – great again for every last child would be a lasting legacy for the new administration and something around which we could all support proudly. To make a safe and secure future for us all, we need not choose “our” children over “other” children. Many stand ready to help on this effort that unifies us rather than divides us, as parents and as humans.