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These mothers and daughters need your help.

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Bophu with her daughters Teuyu and Dupeu in their home in northern Laos. (Credit: Jeff Williams/CARE Australia.)

By DR. JULIA NEWTON-HOWES

Could you tell a mother like Bophu to wait a year before you can help her provide her daughters with healthy, nutritious food all year around?

No, nor could I. But we might have to.

Bophu and her husband Lojeuw live in the remote mountains of northern Laos with their two daughters – two-year-old Teuyu* and Dupeu* who is less than a month old.

Foreign aid is helping them and other families around the world to lift themselves out of poverty and to give their daughters a chance at a life that we take for granted for our children.

My work as CEO of CARE Australia has brought me into the homes of families living in developing countries like Malawi, Timor-Leste and Myanmar.

This week, I’m in Laos visiting families like Bophu and Lojeuw’s who only have rice soup to feed their little girls.

They spend every day harvesting rice and collecting food from the forest that surrounds their one-room home. For a period of up to four months every year however, they completely run out of rice and money and depend on relatives to share their food.

As the Government prepares for the 2013 budget on May 14, I’m asking both sides of the political divide to remember the millions of families like Bophu’s who are counting on us.

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CARE Australia has begun helping Bophu and Lojeuw to harvest and sell galangal (similar to ginger) and cardamom, grow vegetables close to home and to access livestock banks, which will help improve their nutrition and increase income.

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Bophu’s husband, Lojeuw, pictured with their two-year-old Teuyu. (Credit: Jeff Williams/CARE Australia.)

They have already received materials to build a fuel efficient stove to speed up cooking time and reduce the amount of wood needed to cook, which will save Bophu time collecting firewood. The stove will have a chimney to take smoke out of their home and allow them to boil water for drinking, which will improve their health.

Just a few months ago, the Government ripped $375 million from the foreign aid program to help meet asylum seeker costs here in Australia. These cuts are already having a negative impact on the lives of thousands of women, girls and their families in countries across the globe. For instance funding committed to projects that worked to eliminate violence against women in Cambodia and maternal health in the Philippines and Cambodia has been cut and deferred.

We know that Australia has the highest median wealth in the world and our economy is out-performing many in the OECD, which is why the Government must meet its election commitment to reach 0.5% of Gross National Income (GNI) to foreign aid by 2016.  This is already a year later than originally promised.

That will be an expenditure on aid of just 50 cents in every $100 of GNI.

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Bophu, Lojeuw, with their two daughters in their home in northern Laos. (Credit: Jeff Williams/CARE Australia.)

Overseas aid saves lives, provides healthcare, increases education opportunities and tackles hunger in some of the least developed countries in the world. CARE Australia and our colleagues in the development sector need the Government to keep its commitment to continue our work with families like Bophu’s. Too many lives will be at risk if they defer another year.

You can act by signing the Movement to End Poverty petition at www.care.org.au/endpoverty  which calls on the Government to keep its promise to increase aid to 50 cents in every $100 of national income by 2016 and the Opposition to match this commitment.

You can also write a letter to your local paper in support of Australia’s aid program or to your local Member of Parliament asking them to pledge their support for increasing aid to 0.5% of GNI.

Foreign aid is an effective investment in our future.

A safer, more secure world is good in itself, but it is also good for Australia. 18 of our 20 closest neighbours are developing nations like Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste and Laos and it is in our direct interest to ensure that they are prosperous and peaceful nations.

*CARE is committed to being a child safe organisation. Names of children have been changed. 

Dr Julia Newton-Howes is CEO of CARE Australia.

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