Remarks by Second Lady Jill Biden at the Bread for the World 8th Annual Gala in New York City

November 17, 2011

[As Prepared for Delivery]

Good evening. Thank you to my dear friend Terry for that warm introduction.

It is an honor to be here with you, Governor O'Malley, David Beckman, and all of you who are dedicated to the mission of Bread for the World.

For almost four decades Bread for the World has stood for the proposition that ending hunger here in the United States and around the globe is a moral imperative. Our faith tells us that we must give food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, and shelter to the poor. That commitment to the most vulnerable among us is grounded in our belief that every human being deserves to be treated with dignity.

The crucially important work of Bread for the World recognizes that dignity and strives to preserve it – especially in the most dire situations. Your leadership and advocacy are critical to the efforts to combat hunger and poverty not just in our country, but in all parts of the world.

I saw just how important efforts like these are when I traveled to Kenya in August with Senator Bill Frist and USAID Administrator Raj Shah.

Earlier in the summer I started to see news reports of the worst famine in 60 years in East Africa. I could not believe that I was seeing images like we saw two decades ago. The numbers were staggering: 13 million people at risk. 29,000 children dead in three months.

And it was clear that it was only getting worse.

The stories touched my heart and the images of the children haunted me. As a mother, I thought – we have to do more.

I asked my staff and those working on this issue at the White House what I could do to help – and several days later I found myself on the way to Kenya.

As you saw in the film, I traveled to the Dadaab refugee camp where hundreds of thousands of Somalis have fled. I met with families who had walked for days or weeks, often barefoot with no possessions, desperate to find food and medical care.

I spent time with a mother who had walked for 15 days with her four malnourished children. Her baby was sick with diarrhea, an ailment which seems minor to us but in this circumstance is often fatal. Like many of the women in the camps, this mother had walked day and night, through very dangerous conditions to try to save her children.

One young woman in Dadaab recounted stories of women being attacked and raped on their way to the camp – often right in front of their children.

Just stop for a moment and try to imagine what it would be like to desperately seek food and water for your starving children, to walk hundreds of miles, facing the very real possibility of violence all along the way.

We heard one story that I cannot put out of my mind…. a mother who was too weak to carry both of her children, had to choose, which she would try to save and which she would leave beside the road. How can any mother make this choice?

In the face of devastation and unimaginable challenges, these strong and resilient women are trying to make sure their families survive. They want what each of us wants: a safe and healthy future for themselves and their children.

While the international community has mobilized and we are helping millions of people in the region – the scope and the pace of this crisis is relentless. Without additional assistance, hundreds of thousands more could die. And most of those deaths will be children.

But there is hope.

On my visit I saw first-hand that even the smallest and simplest investments can save lives. Aid is working.

I am always struck by the fact that foreign aid represents less than one percent of our federal budget. And we know that building long-term solutions now can reduce the cost of massive relief efforts and instability later.

I saw just how great the impact of our aid is on the situation in East Africa. I saw two-dollar measles vaccines that literally mean the difference between life and death for children in these camps. I saw how ready-to-use therapeutic food treatments – the famous "plumpy nut" costing under a dollar each -- provide critical nutrition to malnourished children. And I saw how inexpensive oral rehydration packs can bring listless babies back to life.

I also saw some of the progress being made from investments in long-term food security –innovative and improved crops and irrigation methods and new ways for farmers to market and transport their products.

Our Feed the Future initiative is, in fact, feeding the future. We are investing in the men and women farmers who can turn the tide by sustainably improving their communities' economic and environmental security. And we are reaching millions more through the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program.

The goal of our aid is simple: to help create the conditions where such aid is no longer needed.

We all know these are tough times here at home and that doing what we can to improve the lives of families here in America is critically important. But we also know that Americans always respond to humanitarian crises --– especially when a small donation can literally save the life of a child.

Already we are seeing individuals, businesses and other organizations come together to make a difference in this crisis. As you know so well from the work that you do, faith community leaders all across the spectrum, from World Vision to Islamic Relief to the American Jewish World Service, have reached out to members in their churches, mosques, and synagogues to raise awareness of the situation in the Horn.

And through USAID, we have partnered with the Ad Council to produce a campaign called FORWARD – which is aimed at increasing public awareness. Through the advocacy work of Bread for the World, you know that public awareness is key -- because a public that is aware is a public that acts.

One of the mothers I met at the refugee camp took my hand and asked me to help save her children. Especially now, as we in America stop to give thanks for all the amazing blessings we have, I hope that everyone in this room will join me in answering her plea.

Thank you.

Jill Biden, Remarks by Second Lady Jill Biden at the Bread for the World 8th Annual Gala in New York City Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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