Everyone wants to stand on their own two feet.
That’s the message Trumbull native Nancy Gardiner is championing after her recent visit to Washington, D.C., where she attended the 35th annual RESULTS International Conference with the hope of impacting policymaking at the highest level to build support for effective solutions to end poverty.
“People in the poorest areas of the world want the same thing as we do right here in Connecticut,” said Gardiner, who volunteered to take part in her sixth international conference from July 18 to July 21.
“Parents in the Congo want the same thing as parents in Trumbull,” she added. “Everyone wants to be able to live on their own and provide for their family without assistance — our goal is to give them what they need to make that reality possible.”
Gardiner, who made the trek to the nation’s capital with the four other members of RESULT’s Coastal Connecticut chapter, focuses her time on providing solutions toward global poverty but said that the non-profit organization also has a very active domestic arm that includes chapters in 47 different states.
The Connecticut-based chapter, which is five years old, meets in Stamford biweekly Wednesday mornings.
Gardiner said the three big areas RESULTS focuses on is access to healthcare, access to education and developing economic opportunity.
“Over a billion people live at the extreme poverty level — on a dollar and a quarter or less a day,” she said. “There are 58 million children on this planet without any access to education.”
And compounding those two statistics, 16,000 children die per day from preventable health causes, Gardiner adds.
“People like to be cynical and say what we give to these countries doesn’t make a difference, but it really does,” she said. “In 2010, there were 21,000 children dying everyday from various diseases. Five years later, that number is down 16,000.
“It’s a decrease — it’s still not great, but we’re making a difference and improving the situation,” Gardiner said. “There’s a possibility we can get that number down to zero.”
The international conference, which included a three-day intensive training seminar and workshops as well as a “day on the hill” visiting state representatives, gives RESULTS members like Gardiner hope every year.
She said that global assistance is a hard sell to both citizens and politicans in the United States but that doesn’t need to be the case.
“Yes, Congress is divided but we have to be able to make them see this as a non-partisan issue,” the Trumbull mom said. “We have to be able to get the conversation going across the aisle, and back at home with members in our communities.
“What we’re doing here in the United States really does work but we need more of it,” she added.
“We need to reduce that cynicism — that ‘it doesn’t matter’ mindset, because it does matter and we can make a difference.”
One example Gardiner cited was a woman from Kenya who attended the conference and told the volunteers about how she had to walk miles to get vaccines for her and her children.
“The only thing she wanted to say to us was how grateful she was that our money helped make the vaccines available where she lived,” Gardiner said. “She told us, ‘I would not be alive without the money from America.’
“The generosity of American taxpayers saves lives — when you pay taxes and help get that money allotted to help poverty around the world, you are helping people,” she added. “It’s an important message to remember.”
Gardiner said hearing stories like that one make the experience worthwhile, even as frustrating as it can be fighting an uphill battle.
“She’s living in the world we’re trying to change and we are making a difference,” she said.
“We aren't the heroes of the story of reducing poverty — the heroes are the poor who live incredibly difficult lives everyday,” she added. “But we get to play a part in giving those who live in the poorest places of the world a hand up so they can can develop their full potential.”
Of all the numbers, Gardiner said the stat about 58 million children being unable to access education is what inspired her the most to get involved.
Coming from a blue-collar background where both her parents weren’t college educated, she believes strongly in the value education and says she’s very passionate about helping children around the globe access it.
“My passion for education drew me into this work,” she said.
“RESULTS trains you and inspires you to be an advocate for every issue,” she added. “I’ve been taking courses about global poverty and global economics — it helps to have that knowledge and bring it to the table.”
A graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Gardiner is an advocate for data helping bring forth solutions.
“Politicans love to see and hear stats — the numbers really justify it to them,” she said. “It shows the changes being made.”
Day on the hill
On the final day of the conference, the RESULT’s Coastal Connecticut chapter completed its day on the hill tour which featured seven meetings with different Connecticut legislators where the group asked members of Congress to support legislation that will help put an end to preventable maternal and child deaths in developing countries once and for all.
The volunteer group also pushed for tax policies that create economic opportunity for millions of low-income American families.
The journey included stops at the offices of senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy and representatives Rosa DeLauro, Jim Himes, John Larson, Joe Courtney, and Elizabeth Esty.
“We met with a wide variety of legislative aides, including tax and agricultural aides on the domestic side of things,” Gardiner said. “On the global side, we met with several foreign policy aides....
“Rosa is a great partner to have in fighting against these issues — she’s a big champion of global assistance and all issues surrounding poverty...
“We’re fortunate that all seven of these leaders are supporters of these issues and can see them as non-partisan causes.”
Gardiner said that although RESULT’s has only one Connecticut chapter, in Fairfield County, each district representative was very welcoming to the group.
“Our goal is to be in every district — to build another district,” she said.
‘We couldn’t see them’
Gardiner said her favorite moment of the conference came a few days earlier though when she attended a presentation from Sister Simone Campbell of Nuns on the Bus.
The poverty expert used a physical demonstration to depict the income growth difference in the United States from 1980 to 2010.
“She had one person represent each income bracket and put them in order and then had them space out based on how much their income has grown over the last three decades,” Gardiner explained. “In the top 20%, the income rate has increased 49.7% since 1980, while the bottom 20% the average rate of income has decreased 7% over the same 30 year period.
“To make matters worse, the top 5% have seen an income growth of 73% since 1980 and the top 1% has seen a growth of 224%,” Gardiner said.
The example provided quite the visual as the 540 conference volunteers, representing more than 20 countries around the globe, began to spread out.
“The people representing the top 1% or top 5% of income growth had to walk out of the ballroom we were in — we couldn’t see them anymore,” she said. “When you see that physically it really hits you...
“These people in the bottom 20% are working two to three jobs and have the same goals as all of us yet they’re so far from the top,” Gardiner added.
“You hear the numbers but sometimes you have to see it to really understand how bad it’s gotten,” she said. “It was a really powerful presentation.”
Gardiner said that evening the playing field at home is a good first step to solving the poverty crisis.
“Everyone wants the American Dream; everyone wants to stand on their feet without assistance,” she said.
She said working with lots of young people at the conference, as well as all the international volunteers, helped further inspire her to carry the message home to Connecticut.
“How do you help people rise out of poverty? You give them a fair chance,” she said. “These people have the same goals as us; the only difference is we were born into a more fortunate situation in life.
“We have to remember that not everyone gets the same start, and that we are all connected.”
Gardiner said the most important lesson to remember is that every voice can make a difference — something she takes away every year at the international conference.
“Your voice does work,” she said. “If you care about the issues, we can make the changes to end poverty.”
For more information about RESULTS, visit results.org or email Gardiner at firstname.lastname@example.org