Tanya Plibersek: When Australia cuts foreign aid, these are the children who suffer.

It’s rainy season in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Our truck ambles over a rocky dirt road that’s turned to mud in places.  It’s about 5 o’clock in the afternoon.  Like clockwork at this time of year, storm clouds roll across the plains stretched out around us. We’re on our way to Feche, a small village on the outskirts of the city.

As we approach, children look at our strange convoy, wide-eyed.  There are donkeys and chickens criss-crossing the streets.  There is laughter.  Girls and boys play. Parents share a joke.  But there was no escaping the grinding poverty in which they lived.  In Ethiopia, about one in every three people live on less than $US1.25 a day.

Tanya Plibersek in Ethiopia. (Image: Supplied.)

I was visiting Feche to see a project run by aid organisation Plan, and funded by the Australian Government.  By the vegetable garden, as we arrive, there were rows of children sitting reading books.  Eager to share their favourite stories, they answer questions from their teacher and me.  The books they are reading arrived by the ‘donkey library’ – a mobile library cart pulled, as the name suggests, by two donkeys.  Most of these children don’t own a single book of their own; these are the only books they see, and they can’t wait for the library to arrive.

In a small classroom next door, pre-school children are singing with their teacher, drawing, and playing with toys.  And in the corner of the field, new mothers have gathered for a talk about child and maternal health from a community expert.

Yes, the communities I visited in Ethiopia were vastly different from anywhere in Australia.  But there are some things we share.  For example, all pregnant women and new mums have a hunger for advice on nutrition, child health, and education for their kids.  In Australia, talk to anyone who is going to be a mother for the first time and they’ll tell you about the stack of parenting books on the bedside table: birth, pregnancy nutrition, brain development, education, and parenting.  In the village of Feche, it means searching out community health workers, and a tiny one room preschool to give their kids the best start in life.  These mothers and their children are making the most of every opportunity.

Tanya spending time with the children. (Image: Supplied.)

Recently, Plan received the sad news that the Australian Government was cutting its funding for the project in Feche.  It means thousands of mothers and children will miss out on the important  health and education services it provides.  Embarrassingly for Australia, Plan has been forced to approach the governments of other countries in an attempt to save the project.

The cuts to this project are part of $11.3 billion the Abbott Government has ripped out of foreign aid.  That includes a $200 million cut from some of the poorest countries in Africa, a staggering 70% drop in the last Budget alone. Australia’s aid budget is now the weakest in history.

Aid is important because it creates a safer, more prosperous world.

But it’s the individual human cost of these cuts that’s most devastating.  It’s the missed opportunities and the lost potential that hits the hardest.  Because of the Abbott Government’s cuts, it looks like that’s what we’ll see in the village of Feche.  It’s heartbreaking.

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