Americans believe we spend around 26% of our national budget on foreign aid. Here's the truth.

"I think the U.S. spends too much money helping out other countries when we clearly have a sh*t ton of problems being ignored in our own," said a dear friend of mine.

I was asking for her thoughts on how the United States goes about helping other countries through foreign assistance. It can be a confusing and controversial topic.

As it turns out, her response is a common one.


So if the general sentiment is that we're spending too much helping other countries on things like health, economic development, and humanitarian assistance ... just how much are we actually spending?

Americans believe we spend an average of 26% of our entire U.S. budget on foreign aid.

I'm not going to go all math class on you, but to put it into perspective, our entire fiscal year 2016 budget (as it stands) is around $4 trillion. So the thinking is that over a fourth of that is being used toward other countries — or is it?

The reality is America spends less than 1% on foreign aid.

According to ForeignAssistance.gov, America spends approximately 0.8% of its entire budget on foreign aid.

Considering foreign aid is such a tiny, tiny, tinyyyyy fraction of our spending, America is really making huge strides.

Think about these five ways the U.S. has been able to improve other countries while spending less than 1% of its budget:

1. 8 million people have received life-saving HIV treatment, and 56.7 million people have received HIV counseling and testing.

Just to put that into perspective there are about 8.4 million people living in New York City. A whole New York City got saved. Cool.

And that's not all. According to USAID, more than 14.2 million pregnant women have been supported with HIV testing and counseling and provided prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission to more than 749,000 HIV-positive women. 95% of those babies were born HIV-free, which is great news for future generations.

2. Agricultural programs have helped 1 billion people in 20 years.

What's cooler than helping a million people? Helping A BILLION PEOPLE.

Malnutrition contributes up to 45% of all childhood deaths. Oof. Agricultural programs like Feed the Future are working to cut that in various, sustainable ways.

In just 2014, Feed the Future reached more than 12 million children with nutrition interventions and helped nearly 7 million farmers gain access to new tools or technologies such as high-yielding seeds, fertilizer application, soil conservation, and water management. It's teaching them how to help themselves.

3. Deaths caused by malaria in African children have dropped by 51%.

THAT IS HALF!

Foreign aid programs have helped bring malaria rates down in a historic way. A 51% drop between the years of 2000-2012 has meant that 500,000 African kids under the age of 5 have been saved each year and otherwise wouldn't have, Foreign Policy and a 2013 report from the World Health Organization explain.

4. More moms and babies are staying alive. Millions more of them.

Moms used to die in childbirth. That number has been halved. HALF! We halved it with 1% of the budget.

Deaths of children under 5 worldwide have declined from 10.8 million in 2000 to 6.3 million in 2013. That's a huge drop! And there's more reason to celebrate too. Between 1990 and 2013, maternal mortality has dropped by almost 50% worldwide.

Many of these deaths can be easily prevented or treated with simple and affordable interventions, which makes me very hopeful we can help decrease these numbers even more.

5. Mobile banking is GIVING people a future ... and it is the future. And it's happening now!

No bank? No problem. We're putting banks in cell phones! Next thing you know, women are taking out loans and opening up businesses.

There are 1.8 billion people in the world with access to a phone but not to a bank. That's beginning to change. A big shift in foreign assistance is to focus on effective ways to expand poor people's access to formal financial services, and phones are proving a great way to do it.

A great example lies in Nepal. According to USAID, over 300 mobile financial services agents in 30 of 75 districts are now operating in Nepal. In 2013, banks serving Nepalese clients were expected to reach more than 19,000 new clients, with more than $2.3 million in rural loans disbursed to almost 8,000 borrowers — most of them women. That's how businesses are started and people become able to contribute to the economy. Bam! Progress.

We do have problems in our own country that need addressing. But we're also not exactly using up all our resources on other countries either!

How do you feel knowing how effective America has been with it's 1% of the budget?

If you're like these folks, you start seeing things a little differently.

Some even start to think that maybe we should could even do more.

I'm happy to know that America's budget is getting used in this way. It's a tiny sliver of money, prioritizing helpfulness, and the result is billions of safer earthlings. Oh, the possibilities!

ONE set out to ask for various thoughts about our contributions overseas. How would you answer?

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On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

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Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

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Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

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Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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