My First Trip to Africa, Really!

March 11, 2013 By Liz Schrayer

After nearly 20 years of advocating for international development assistance, I finally made my first trip to Africa in February. I joined CARE for a trip to South Sudan and Tanzania, where I had the privilege of seeing some of America’s food security and health programs firsthand. I met our amazing professional diplomats in the field and had the chance to witness the invaluable work our coalition members do every day.


Traveling to South Sudan – a nation less than two years old – was quite the eye-opener. Ninety-eight percent of the nation’s economy is based on oil production, so when agreements to transport the oil through Sudan broke down a year ago, you can only imagine the impact it had on the economy and people of South Sudan – where there is only a single paved highway in the entire country. Seeing this with my own eyes gave me a deeper understanding of what it means to be a “fragile state.”

 src=My first stop was the Primary Health Clinic in Juba, South Sudan run by USGLC member Jhpiego. One in seven women in South Sudan die in childbirth – the highest maternal mortality rate in the world. As we arrived, the head of the clinic greeted us and proudly showed us how they were addressing this health crisis. They provide health support that was previously non-existent in the country, including access to life-saving HIV/AIDS treatment, Tuberculosis tests, and prenatal care and birthing support.

After a ride in a tiny plane and a long, bumpy drive, we were greeted with song and smiles at the FARM project site of another USGLC member, Abt. In what seemed to be the middle of nowhere, we were shown an incredible project that helps small holder farmers increase their yield and improve market access for their cassava and maize crops. When I asked the women how their lives had changed, through a translator, one simple said “I now have the money to send my daughters to school.”

I was extremely impressed with the men and women in the American compound who were realistic yet highly committed to do everything they could to help South Sudan transition to a viable, stable society. Let us hope they, along with the inspiring health care workers and women farmers I met, succeed.


The flight to Tanzania provided an exquisite view of Mount Kilimanjaro and reminded me how far away I was from home. Yet like South Sudan, the spirit and warmth of the people I met was as welcoming as anywhere in the world I have traveled.

Tanzania is full of hope and challenges – 70% illiteracy with nearly half of the country’s children born into extreme poverty. With estimates the population will grow from 47 to 65 million in only 12 years, one can only imagine the “social tsunami” such a population explosion would have on this struggling country. The good news is that their leadership is committed to real reform and the country’s economy is growing 7% a year.

Once again, I was impressed by the professional leadership of our Embassy, USAID, MCC and other agencies on the ground. Over and over again I heard about the importance of results and saw firsthand the impact of our new development reforms, particularly with Feed the Future.

We visited a health care clinic in Dar es Salem, which sees more than 350 patients daily for comprehensive health services. I was given a phone upon my arrival and as I toured the clinic, I received sample text messages similar to what patients receive, with reminders to talk to my partner about HIV/AIDs, take my medication, serve my kids nutritious foods, and return to the clinic for my prenatal visit. The women, dressed beautifully in their colorful dresses, shared how their lives had improved with access to family planning, as well as prenatal health care.

 src=Once again, we boarded small planes (can you tell I don’t like these little planes) but it was worth it. In Morogoro, we were treated to a visit to one of the more innovative programs. Run by Africare, the program brings a women’s health care clinic and a model farming together to forge a life-changing impact on women and their families. When I asked how her life has changed, a beautiful woman told me her newborn, wrapped in her arms, was healthier than any of her other children due to the nutritional food she now grew. She then smiled and ran into her hut, and brought out a basket to show off bananas, beans, and herbs she could now afford, thanks to the farming skills she learned from the program. With the extra money she gets from the market she proudly told us she can now send all four of her older kids to school.


I visited a farm co-op run by ACDI/VOCA and a Village Savings & Loans Association run by CARE. I met Veronica, a mother of five and grandmother of 10. She told me that before she learned smart farming from USAID, she was could not feed her family. She thanked us, and said now, because of this knowledge, she owned a tractor and a used car, and could now afford to send all of her grandchildren to school. But she was most proud of teaching other women on how to farm productively. Veronica asked that I put her story on the Internet, so check it out below. That’s women empowerment!

At our last stop, we were once again greeted by song. I asked what the words meant and I was told “If you invest in me, yes I can!” Inspired, tired, and with more stories and more questions, I returned home ready to get on another little plane to see the USGLC and smart power in action. I can’t wait to go back.

More photos from the trip