Whether we’re talking about feeding hungry families in Nashville, in other parts of America or in extremely poor communities around the globe, it’s hard to underestimate the value of giving just a little help to people who have a lot of determination. In fact, no matter where in the world an investment is made, we will see the benefits locally.
That was never clearer to me than in April, when I visited Sandy Xiquin, a 30-year old mother of two boys in Sacatepequez, Guatemala. Not too long ago, Sandy lived in abject poverty. She told me, with tears in her eyes, about her tattered clothes and the time her son was critically ill. Without money or access to health care, she and her neighbors had to nurse him back to health using a mix of local herbs. When he was old enough to go to school, Sandy couldn’t afford a school uniform – so she sewed one herself.
Sandy inherited a piece of land when her father passed away, but because no bank would give her loan, she couldn’t do much with it. They told her “women aren’t credit-worthy.” Eventually Sandy found an initiative run by global humanitarian and development organization CARE, through which she gained the tools, training, and loan necessary to succeed as a farmer. As she recounted this story to me, Sandy beamed with pride describing how her harvest and income have grown. With an incredible amount of hard work (and an investment in her potential from care), Sandy built a business that owns 12 plots of land, leases another 17, and exports huge amounts of squash, zucchini, and other produce to the united states and beyond. She’s helping feed families in her community—and in ours.
According to a US Government official, who works to promote local economic growth in Guatemala to help decrease the need for migration, the US spends tens of thousands of dollars to process and send a migrant back home to their native country. Conversely, it costs just $1500 to empower that person at home by investing in a program like this one, so that people like Sandy can create self-sufficient and happy lives where they are.
Yes, people face hardship in the US, and they should be supported. That’s why I’ve long been an advocate for Feeding America and why my husband Brad and I started The Store, a nonprofit, free, referral-based grocery for families struggling to put food on the table. But helping developing countries become stable and strong has benefits here, too: it is not only the most effective and humane way to secure our borders but also a smart investment in our economy. Consider that 43 of the top 50 importers of American agricultural products were once US foreign assistance recipients but are no longer. Many are now strong trade partners.
Investing in women farmers, in particular, brings tremendous gains, for families and for food systems nourishing everyone. Women account for nearly half of agricultural labor in developing countries and work 13 hours more per week than men, often without training, proper supplies, or the rights to their land. Research shows that if women farmers had the same access to resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20–30 percent, potentially reducing the number of hungry people in the world by up to 150 million.
The result will be more incredible stories from women like Sandy, whose impact is growing. Not satisfied with her own success, she became the president of the only women’s farming cooperative in Guatemala, which boasts nearly 500 members. I visited their spacious, modern, and spotless export processing facility, which ships $6 million of vegetables to the United States yearly. You can find her farm’s veggies at Costco, Sam’s and Trader Joe’s.
Sandy is a reminder that the battle against hunger—and for prosperity—isn’t local versus global. The two are often one in the same.