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Finnish Embassy Celebrates Poverty-Fighting CARE Amid Fears of Budget Cuts

By Nicole Schaller 

Diplomacy and advocacy came together on an unusually warm February evening at the Embassy of Finland, where Ambassador Kirsti Kauppi welcomed supporters of CARE to celebrate and emphasize the importance of the relief work provided by the humanitarian organization, which fights global poverty.

The Feb. 9 event was part of a series of quarterly embassy-based receptions and was presented by the CARE Global Leaders Network, a strategic initiative aimed at supporting humanitarian and development aid through an active network of national security, business and military veteran leaders.

“CARE, and what it represents, is very close to my heart and that is because Finland has actually benefitted from CARE,” said Kauppi. “Today, Finland is known as one of the most affluent countries in the world, the most stable country in the world, but that was not always so.”

CARE Chief Operating Officer Heather Higginbottom, who was former U.S. deputy secretary of state for management and resources, left, joins Finnish Ambassador Kirsti Kauppi for a reception at the Finnish Embassy honoring the humanitarian and development work of CARE. (Photo: Neshan H. Naltchayan)

A century ago, Finland declared its independence from Russia and fell into civil war, which led to widespread poverty. After World War II, Finland continued to struggle with poverty, famine and reparations to the Soviet Union. In 1945, CARE began its first relief efforts, sending CARE packages full of food and essential supplies throughout recovering Europe, including Finland. Thousands of Americans, including President Harry S. Truman, contributed to the effort, and on May 11, 1946, the first 15,000 packages reached the battered port of Le Havre, France.

“During the Second World War, we benefited from CARE, so now we are in the position where we want to give back,” said Kauppi.

Over the years, CARE broadened its relief efforts from packages to providing aid to people in crisis through various programs. These include working to fight the root causes of poverty and inequality; responding to humanitarian emergencies; fighting hunger; improving health; advocating for policy changes in communities; and empowering women and girls. Last year, CARE worked on 1,044 projects in 94 countries. Their efforts directly affected the lives of 80 million people and indirectly affected an estimated 256 million more people.

The event at the Finnish Embassy, titled “From the Arctic to Africa: Her Harvest - Our Future,” focused on global hunger, specifically the current epidemic of chronic malnutrition of children in 40 percent of African countries. Celebrity chef Spike Mendelsohn was among the 100 guests in attendance, along with Finnish chef Jyrki Jääskeläinen, who showcased his country’s emphasis on sustainable, environmentally friendly foods.

“The fact that hunger persists and is worsening in a fertile region is just wrong,” said CARE Chief Operating Officer Heather Higginbottom, former U.S. deputy secretary of state for management and resources. “So CARE and our partners have proven solutions to meet the need of millions more people, and through ‘Her Harvest Our Future,’ CARE will help 10 million people across southern Africa become more food and nutrition secure and resilient to climate change by 2020.”

CARE Managing Director of External Affairs and Development Beth Solomon, chef Spike Mendelsohn and Lynly Boor of Splyss attend a reception at the Finnish Embassy titled “From the Arctic to Africa: Her Harvest - Our Future,” focusing on the work of CARE and the fight against global hunger. (Photo: Neshan H. Naltchayan)

The proven solutions Higginbottom referred to include CARE’s efforts to create structural change in communities — and not just Band-Aid support — by putting in place effective programs centered on women and girls.

“Gender inequality is a major driver of food insecurity,” said Higginbottom. “We know for example that if women farmers had access to the same resources as men, we could feed another 100 to 150 million people. So we work with families and community leaders to change the culture around what is women’s work and men’s work, and that’s fundamental to transforming power dynamics and enables more women to participate in farming and to make financial decisions.”

Former Ambassador of Trinidad and Tobago Neil Parsan, interior designer Barbara Hawthorn and Michelle Cross Fenty attend a reception at the Finnish Embassy celebrating CARE, which is dedicated to eradicating global poverty. (Photo: Neshan H. Naltchayan)

To accomplish its goals, CARE works with a variety of NGOs and government agencies including the State Department and USAID. For over 50 years, in fact, USAID has worked with CARE and has implemented programs with them in over 80 countries. Yet President Trump’s proposed fiscal 2019 budget includes deep cuts to the State Department and USAID.

While the recently passed two-year federal spending bill passed by Congress avoids Trump’s call to slash the international affairs budget, it still would cut foreign assistance by about $9 billion, threatening many humanitarian and development programs.

“With so many global impairments that we are facing right now,” Higginbottom said, “it’s not the time for the United States to [abandon] the global leadership role it has played for generations, and that’s why we formed the Global Leaders Network. It’s to remind our nation’s elected officials that humanitarian and development aid are a critical component of U.S. national security and global stability.”

Brett Greene and Tiffani Greene of American Management Corp., Finnish Ambassador Kirsti Kauppi and Toni Ford attend a reception at the Finnish Embassy celebrating CARE, which is dedicated to eradicating global poverty. (Photo: Neshan H. Naltchayan)

Former U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who served from 2009 to 2017, echoed widespread concerns that shortchanging diplomacy could jeopardize national security.

“The Navy Marine Corps are America’s first responders when there is conflict, said Mabus. “Once you get to conflict, you have lost. Regardless of the outcome, you’ve lost financially, you’ve lost so much in human terms and you’ve lost so much of the future. What CARE does, CARE can resist that slide into conflict…. They not only feed people, but get them to feed themselves.”

Mabus, along with other former veterans at the event, spoke about the benefit of CARE and other NGOs to proactively prevent conflict by helping people help themselves.

“CARE is the thing that breaks the cycle,” said Mabus. “And doesn’t it make a whole lot of sense to do it early? When you can win. It’s so much cheaper to do it early when it’s so much less cost in every possible way — financially, human and future. The U.S. military is very good at what it does. Don’t put it in the position of having to deal with things that could be and should be prevented. That’s what CARE can do.”

Nicole Schaller is an editorial intern at The Washington Diplomat.



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