By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Vulnerable children around the world have a greater opportunity to reach their “God-given potential” because of the Global Child Thrive Act, which Congress passed Jan. 1 as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act.
Global Child Thrive Act proponents say grassroots advocacy by Catholics throughout the U.S., including Bishop Thomas Zinkula of Davenport, inspired Congress to act.
“The many letters, meetings, and phone calls from Catholic supporters and Catholic leaders like Bishop Zinkula were critical for building visibility for the bill,” said Jessica Howell, field director of the Midwest Office for Catholic Relief Services (CRS). “That was so crucial for its continued movement through Congress and ultimate passage.” The people of the diocese need to know “the impact constituents can have. It’s such a great story of persistence.”
CRS, which worked diligently to bring the law to fruition, is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the U.S. The nonprofit agency alleviates suffering and assists people in need in more than 100 countries, without regard to race, religion or nationality.
The Global Child Thrive Act mandates integration of early childhood development activities into relevant U.S. foreign aid programs. These activities include teaching parents the importance of pairing proper nutrition with mental stimulation such as singing and reading, for example.
“The law’s passage comes at an especially critical time, with experts warning that children in marginalized countries could be hardest hit by secondary impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” CRS said in a news release. “By passing this bill into law, we’re saying to children everywhere, ‘You matter,’” said Bill O’Keefe, CRS’ executive vice president of Mission, Mobilization and Advocacy.
In April 2019, after returning from India where he observed U.S. international assistance funds in action, Bishop Zinkula spoke about the impact with legislative aides to U.S. Senators Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst and U.S. Representative Dave Loebsack.
The bishop explained that he visited a USAID-funded polio eradication project in India, which is part of a collaborative effort with governmental and nongovernmental agencies, including CRS, to ensure that young children get vaccinated. He asked the legislative aids to impress upon their bosses the importance of protecting international poverty-reducing humanitarian and development assistance.
Bishop Zinkula asked that Grassley, Ernst and Loebsack also support legislation recognizing the vital role of healthy, early childhood development in reducing violence, boosting incomes and improving the immediate and longer-term health and wellbeing of communities and countries.
“Each Congress, approximately 10,000 bills are introduced, yet only 6% of those make it to the floor and half of those ever pass. One of the Global Child Thrive Act’s lead sponsors, Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, told CRS supporters that if not for their advocacy, this bill would never have seen the light of day. It’s really inspiring what’s been accomplished — and you’ve been a huge part of that from the very beginning, Bishop Zinkula,” Howell wrote in an email.
Kent Ferris, the Davenport Diocese’s director of Social Action and Catholic Charities, arranged the legislative visit for Bishop Zinkula. “I think your testimony given by way of your legislative visit upon your return from India and your visit to the CRS site made a significant contribution to helping Senator Ernst become a co-sponsor (of the bill),” Ferris told the bishop. “The impact this will have on our country’s mindfulness of the needs of children in developing countries could be profound.”
Bishop Zinkula also participated in a gathering at diocesan headquarters in March 2020 with CRS representatives, including Howell and Alyssa Riutta, congressional staffers and Catholics from various parishes to encourage support for the Global Child Thrive Act.
“I am a huge supporter of CRS. The staff and volunteers go to the margins to work in solidarity with the people; they preach the Gospel as St. Francis did, through their actions,” Bishop Zinkula said. “I had the privilege of witnessing some of that work in India, which spoke to the value of the Global Child Thrive Act.”
“As an authorization bill, the Global Child Thrive Act directs U.S. government policy to utilize existing foreign aid funding more strategically to make programs more effective for children,” Howell said. “Now that the Global Child Thrive Act has been passed into law, CRS will work over the coming five years to oversee that its implementation reflects the vision of the bill: ensuring that vulnerable children reach their God-given potential.”