On this World Food Day, I am reminded of the more than 821 million people around the world experiencing severe food insecurity and malnutrition. As a father, I cannot help but think of the millions of children suffering from preventable yet irreversible physical and cognitive deficiencies, such as stunted growth and cognitive development, severe low weight and life-threatening anemia.
These are children who will never be able to reach their full, God-given potential due to inadequate nutrition in their first 1,000 days of life. Because of my faith in Christ and out of concern for the vulnerable people living around the world, I am devoted to championing this cause. And while we have a long way to go before achieving a poverty-free world, I am optimistic that progress is attainable.
On a recent trip hosted by the Interfaith Working Group on Foreign Assistance, I met with federal lawmakers to emphasize the importance of American leadership in ending extreme poverty and human suffering globally. I shared with members of the South Carolina delegation about the importance of investments in areas such as global food security and nutrition, making the moral and national security case for why foreign assistance is a vital component of American foreign policy. Malnutrition creates massive barriers to accomplishing global and economic progress and it is critical that our national leaders understand that. In fact, under-nutrition is the leading underlying cause of death in children age 5 and younger, and strategic investments in nutrition yield an average economic return of $45 up to $166.
I went on to share with lawmakers an experience I had on a trip to Haiti in 2016, a trip that forever changed my life. Haiti, a beautiful Caribbean nation that is home to a vibrant culture and even more vibrant people, remains one of the poorest countries in the Western hemisphere and the world. The sad reality is roughly 25% of Haiti’s population live in abject poverty, and live on the equivalent of $1.90 or less a day. I was especially looking forward to this trip so I could meet Dieuno, the child that I sponsor through Food for the Hungry. Unfortunately, mountainous terrain that requires a six-hour hike prevented me from meeting him, reminding me yet again about the difference between the lives of my own children and the children around the world living in extreme poverty. Families are trapped, not just by mountainous terrain, but by a lack of basic necessities and the daily need to focus on survival and their next meal.
As Americans, we have the immense opportunity to steward global goodwill through U.S. foreign assistance and help transform lives through the power of God. In South Carolina, we are blessed to have U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, an outspoken proponent of international poverty-focused assistance and chairman of the State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee, representing our great state. He understands that securing funding for the international affairs budget benefits our nation as it benefits the least of these.
As an athlete, I know proper nutrition is fundamental. As a father, I see its impact every day. This World Food Day, I encourage my fellow Americans to understand the importance of an international affairs budget that scales up lifesaving interventions to combat hunger and malnutrition. All God’s children are deserving of proper nutrition to become productive adults. The foreign assistance budget is tiny, but vital, to children everywhere. Please join me in reaching out to our federal representatives, asking them to prioritize the over 50 million children around the world whose lives depend on a budget that costs just pennies, but yields such important returns in the life of a child.
The scale of the problem is great, but through America’s commitment and determination, we can make significant and sustainable progress.
Jonathan Meeks is an ambassador for Food for the Hungry, a Christian international relief and development organization. The Clemson graduate is a husband and father of two, and was a safety for the Buffalo Bills from 2013-16.