My Day on Capitol Hill
By Renee Lewis
Renee Lewis is Project Medishare’s Executive Director. She recently traveled to Washington DC to advocate for continued U.S. investment in global health funding. Here, she shares her experience and the importance of making your voice heard.
“What can I do to help?” As global citizens, this is often one of the first questions we ask ourselves when we learn of a humanitarian crisis. And in today’s world, there seems to be no shortage of crises from natural disasters to disease outbreaks to refugees and migrants fleeing dangerous conditions in their home country to famine and food insecurity.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless when we see heartbreaking images of people suffering, especially women and children. As a public health professional for more than 20 years, I’ve often found myself on the frontlines of a crisis in Haiti, witnessing it firsthand and directly helping people in need. Still, I often find myself asking: “What more can I do to help?” I recently had the opportunity to do more by taking a different approach to addressing global health issues, miles away from the frontlines.
In April, I traveled to Washington, DC with several other global health organizations to advocate for continued U.S. investment in the Global Health Fund. I, along with representatives from Hope Through Healing Hands and Friends of the Global Fight, encouraged congressional leaders like Senator Marco Rubio, Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, Congressman John Rutherford, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Congressman Ted Yoho and Congresswoman Val Demings to maintain the current budget that allows organizations like Project Medishare to improve the health of vulnerable people around the world, particularly with regards to HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.
Project Medishare’s public health initiatives in Haiti’s rural Central Plateau focus on all three of these health issues, so I was able to share how U.S. funding is directly helping to reduce diseases, improve access to treatment, and save lives. I was also able to provide specific details about Project Medishare’s program for orphans and vulnerable children (OVC), which focuses on children living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. Children like Milson.
In 2009 at seven years old, Milson was one of the first children enrolled in Project Medishare’s OVC program. The program was launched in Lahoye, a remote village near the border with the Dominican Republic, thanks to a three-year grant from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
Both of Milson’s parents died of AIDS – his dad in 2007 and his mom in 2015. Now at age 16, he is still in the program and a member of the youth club. He’s been able to continue his education thanks to the tuition assistance and school supplies he receives from our organization. He lives with his grandmother in a small home constructed by Project Medishare. Before she died Milson’s mother shared how thankful she was for PM’s support in keeping her son healthy and in school.
While I was able to share a lot of firsthand knowledge and information with our elected officials, I also learned a great deal from my day on Capitol Hill, most notably the value of advocating locally for global health.
Our Congressional representatives work to serve the needs and interests of their constituents – both at home and abroad. These needs and interests are so diverse that it is nearly impossible for them to have a clear understanding of all of them. And like us, there are some issues that hit closer to home than others. This is where coalitions, organizations and individuals like me and you can make a difference. Educating our representatives about the concerns of their constituents with facts, personal stories, and evidence of impact gives them a better understanding of local and global issues. Lending our voice to a cause we care about can be just as effective as making a donation or being on the frontlines.
During my day on the Hill, I made my voice heard. I shared information on an organization and cause I’m deeply passionate about, and I helped our elected officials see the importance of funding the Global Health Fund. The next time you find yourself asking “What can I do to help?”, remember that every voice can be heard and you never know when yours will be the one to make all the difference.
Is there an issue you’re passionate about and would like to make your voice heard? Visit this website for information on how to contact federal, state and local elected leaders.