Americans believe we spend around 26% of our national budget on foreign aid. Here's the truth.
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"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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Shanda Lynn Poitra was born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. She lived there until she was 24 years old when she left for college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

"Unfortunately," she says, "I took my bad relationship with me. At the time, I didn't realize it was so bad, much less, abusive. Seeing and hearing about abusive relationships while growing up gave me the mentality that it was just a normal way of life."

Those college years away from home were difficult for a lot of reasons. She had three small children — two in diapers, one in elementary school — as well as a full-time University class schedule and a part-time job as a housekeeper.

"I wore many masks back then and clothing that would cover the bruises," she remembers. "Despite the darkness that I was living in, I was a great student; I knew that no matter what, I HAD to succeed. I knew there was more to my future than what I was living, so I kept working hard."

While searching for an elective class during this time, she came across a one-credit, 20-hour IMPACT self-defense class that could be done over a weekend. That single credit changed her life forever. It helped give her the confidence to leave her abusive relationship and inspired her to bring IMPACT classes to other Native women in her community.

I walked into class on a Friday thinking that I would simply learn how to handle a person trying to rob me, and I walked out on a Sunday evening with a voice so powerful that I could handle the most passive attacks to my being, along with physical attacks."

It didn't take long for her to notice the difference the class was making in her life.

"I was setting boundaries and people were either respecting them or not, but I was able to acknowledge who was worth keeping in my life and who wasn't," she says.

Following the class, she also joined a roller derby league where she met many other powerful women who inspired her — and during that summer, she found the courage to leave her abuser.

"As afraid as I was, I finally had the courage to report the abuse to legal authorities, and I had the support of friends and family who provided comfort for my children and I during this time," she says.

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