As soon as the heels hit in the ground in D.C., Project Hope for Ugandan Women’s President and CEO, Sharon Royl, was learning ways to advocate for the support and protection of domestic and international funding programs under the training and guidance of Save the Children Action Network (SCAN). Domestically she would be fighting to protect funding for Early Childcare Education (ECE) programs such as Head Start and Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG). ECE is facing a 30% cut in the president's recently released “skinny” budget. Internationally she would be fighting to protect the budget for Maternal and Newborn Health (MNH) and Nutrition programs. Believe it or not, less than 1% of the United States budget goes to International Affairs, meaning only $800 Million dollars is being spent on maternal and newborn health internationally. Save the Children is not asking for an increase, but a promise of protection of what is already being allocated. Now $800 million dollars sounds like a lot, but thinking in terms that the overall federal budget is approximately $4 trillion dollars, it really is a small amount to ask.
Before heading to Capitol Hill for the rare chance to sit down with several members of the Senate and The House of Representatives on Tuesday, she was able to attend training classes at the Kellogg Convention Center lead by Save the Children Action Network district leaders. The training included social media classes, tips in organizing advocacy strategies, and advice on contacting your representative. She attended many panels held by former and current esteemed members of government as well as SCAN corporate staff and state leaders. In her own words, Sharon describes her trip to Washington, D.C. and her experience working with Save the Children Action Network.
Day one in DC consisted of planes, training, and meeting my fellow 225 advocators. I was up at the crack of dawn (beautiful sun rise by the way) to catch my plane, landed a little over an hour later, and had one hour to get to the Kellogg Convention Center to check in, grab my badge, and roam around smiling at everyone. The summit opened with Mark Shriver, President of SCAN, giving an inspirational speech about what advocacy is and, equally as important, what it is not.
As advocates we are relentless, but we are polite. We are strong in our beliefs, but respectful to those who oppose. From the immediate start we were reminded that we are advocating for non-partisan issues and that our political beliefs had no relevance on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, but instead it was our stories that would push us to the top of the priority list. They provided us with a fantastic dinner and we had the opportunity to socialize. For me, bedtime came early (8pm to be exact). I had a lot of work to do for Project Hope and a lot of new information to digest. I met my roommate, Jennifer from Mississippi, and we instantly bonded. She was already in her PJ's and ready to watch some Steve Harvey. I stayed up later than I should have but managed to get about 5 hours sleep total. Tomorrow would consist of panels and classes and then a social dinner.
My favorite panel by far was, “Being a voice for kids: Stories from the Field” because of one woman - Victoria Lwesha. Lwesha works as Senior Maternal and Newborn Health Advisor for Save the Children Malawi, which is located in southeastern Africa. Lwesha started as a medically trained midwife, but after working with under qualified medical personnel she went back to school so she could become the facility trainer. She shared her heartbreaking stories from the field; followed by inspirational thoughts on what we do to change how the stories are ending. At the end of the panel all the panelists were asked the same question, “what motivates you to advocate?” The entire panel gave great answers but Lwesha’s stuck with me; “We don’t give up when things aren’t working. That first cry of a baby makes me keep pushing forward.”
Day three - Meet me on the hill, it’s going down!
Today I sat next to Victoria Lwesha on our bus ride to the Capitol. She showed me pictures of her beautiful children, a boy and two girls. The youngest is 18 months a full of happiness. We spoke again about our work, but mostly about our families. We wished each other luck and headed off towards Capitol Hill. There is a certain rush you get from Washington, D.C. There is a sense of power and history, but also of change. I ate breakfast in the room JKF announced his run for presidency. I walked by John McCain in the tunnel that leads from the Senate Russell Office Building to the Longworth Office Building. My leader for the day, Alissa and I walked up and down stairs to all both Georgia and Kentucky representatives offices. To give you an idea most teams were at least 4 or 5 people. Today it was me and Alissa from Kentucky. Armed with passion, knowledge, and neat little folder that contained evidence that supported our cause and along with two “Dear Collogue” letters. One was for Head Start and Child Care and Development Budget Grant (CCDBG) led by Senator Casey (D-PA); the second was to support current funding for Maternal Child Health and Nutrition led by Senators Collins (R-ME) and Coons (D-DE). We walked confidently into each office. First stop, Senator Mitch McConnell’s office then on to Senator David Perdue, followed by Senator Johnny Isakson and Senator Rand Paul.
Unfortunately because of President Trump’s budget release combined with the Healthcare Bill upset crisis you can imagine all the Republican Representatives were very busy in emergency meetings. However, we made very good head way with the staff. Everyone up to this point was very nice and understood the importance of ECE, Head Start programs and Maternal and Newborn Health and Nutrition. They all were very supportive of us being there and very friendly.
Next I found myself outside the door of my very own district 3 State Representative, Drew Ferguson. Pause. I have A LOT to say about this visit, but it will be written another time because I want to stay on subject. Let me just say, I am very disappointed in Representative Ferguson's views. Ok, move on. We ended the day with a trip to Representative Andy Barr of Kentucky's office. His legislative assistant was very prepared. She was on board with Head Start and already knew of the budget cut hits it would take. I didn’t even have to speak about maternal health because she already agreed with the Reach Act. So that was easy.