First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama appeared at this week’s U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) town hall meeting to recognize and give thanks to agency employees and the work they do on behalf of millions around the world.
Mrs. Obama enumerated the many difficult challenges facing our country and the world as a whole, including global hunger, climate change, natural disasters, and the fast-rising youth population. But in doing so, she spoke of the dedication and commitment demonstrated by USAID employees, from risking their safety working in dangerous environments, to spending long stretches of time away from family. She also referenced the two decades’ worth of development work in Indonesia her mother-in-law, President Obama’s mother, took part in while with USAID. “And you do it all,” she told the audience, “because you believe in the power of development to make America stronger in the world and improve the lives of those less fortunate.”
She listed improved basic health, sustainable agriculture, and democracy and human rights as major advances over the years as a result of USAID’s efforts. She highlighted ongoing work in Haiti as a shining example, saying “…wherever I went, I was amazed and incredibly touched to hear the stories of your sacrifice and your compassion and your amazing partnership with the Haitian people and folks around the world in the aftermath of that disaster. It was clear from my visit that people valued the work and saw this country in a different way because of the work that you were doing.”
However, she was quick to point out that the goal should be to help developing countries stand on their own: “…as my husband, the President, and Raj have said, the ultimate job, the ultimate objective here is to create the condition that you are no longer needed… That’s why you have always represented what is truly best about America –- the idea that we have an obligation not just to help those in need, but to also help folks beyond our borders build capacity to help themselves.”
Mrs. Obama also reiterated the strong support from President Obama and Secretary Clinton for USAID’s mission, how “together, they have made development an important part of foreign policy once again… USAID will play a central role in our mission going forward. The President and Secretary Clinton are committed to making development an essential part of our efforts to ensure peace, security and progress in the world.”
She closed by recognizing that so often the work of development professionals goes unnoticed and perhaps underappreciated, though not by her: “And I know that many of you here and around the world are making a difference in ways that will never show up on the TV. It’ll never land on the front page of the newspaper. Much of the work that you do is quiet. Many people don’t know it’s happening. But I do think that events of the last few months have given the American people just a glimpse of the kind of people who work here – the sacrifices you make; the exhaustion; the tragedy and the risk that you endure – all because you believe that it’s your duty to help people in their greatest time of need.”