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CRS representative discusses federal budget

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CRS representative Jack Byrne is shown speaking to an ECG class about how miniscule the budget for international relief is compared to other overseas budgets. (Submitted by Dr. Jerry Zurek)

UPDATED on Thursday, Nov. 15 at 2:06 p.m.: Misquote corrected.

The budget for international aid, relief and development work is so minuscule compared to the United States military budget and other money spent overseas.

The United States allocates less than one percent of the federal budget to help raise poor countries out of poverty. This was the message of the CRS country director of Pakistan, Jack Bryne.

“Yet we spend so much more money on other interventions around the globe,” Byrne said.

Byrne came to Cabrini to talk to an ECG class entitled “Working for Global Justice” in preparation and inspiration before the class travels to Washington, D.C to lobby in December.

Catholic Relief Services, better known as CRS, is the third largest humanitarian assistance organization behind organizations such as CARE.  Byrne has worked for CRS for 13 years.  His epiphany of devoting his life to service happened in Manhattan, N.Y., where he worked as a producer for television commercials.

“I realized I didn’t want to work there anymore and joined the Peace Corps” Byrne said. “I didn’t know anything about anything.  I knew how to get a table in Manhattan but nothing about the work I would be doing as an agriculturalist in Paraguay.”

After coming back to the United States Byrne was hired by CRS where he worked on the ground all over the world.

“The biggest culture shock was Pakistan,” Byrne said.  “It is like being on the other side of the moon.”

In Pakistan, Byrne not only had to adapt to the Islamic extremists such as the Taliban but to the women he worked side by side with.

“I’ve worked with these women for three years,” Byrne said.  “And I still have no idea what they look like.”

Since 2010 Byrne has been working in Pakistan where he assisted 20 million people who were affected by floods.  His most challenging dilemma is gaining the trust of civilians while the military is using unmanned missiles known as drones to take out the Taliban.

“The government believes Pakistan is not doing their part to take out the Taliban,” Byrne said.  “Therefore you have Pakistanis growing up in fear of drones that can literally see what color eyes you have and always come in quiet.”  The problem with drones is it causes collateral damage.

Drones make it close to impossible for organizations such as CRS and CARE to do humanitarian work on the ground such as keeping women in school, feeding the hungry and providing medicines because local governments blame the United States for killing their people.

Still efforts continue to prevent hunger, gender violence, protect women and children and provide short-term humanitarian assistance despite vast challenges from the United States and extremist.

“The conservative brand of Islamism holds people back from a productive future,” Byrne explained.  “It is so heavy and a part of everyone’s life where people are ruled by fear rather than growth.”

In order to get to the root cause of injustices of poverty and oppression, especially in countries such as Pakistan where graduating sixth grade is equivalent to an American getting their Masters, all starts with individuals speaking out and devoting their lives to service like Byrne.

“I’m not a politician but my value at these issues is that I’ve been there,” Byrne said.  “I have seen kids die.”

The ECG class that will be lobbying in Washington D.C may not have been to suffering third world countries but their voice matters as informed and concerned constituents.

“Your voice matters,” Byrne said. “Just make your message clear and you will be heard.”

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