President Obama isn’t the only one turning 50 this year. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) was born out of a spirit of progress, innovation and a reflection of Americans’ values, character and fundamental belief in doing the right thing. Since 1961, USAID has been a quiet force, fostering a more peaceful and secure world.
You may have noticed that USAID headquarters at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, DC now features a 50th anniversary banner, and we wanted to take the opportunity to showcase some of the dedicated staff who are proud of the Agency’s work on behalf of the American people.
For the past few months we’ve highlighted key moments, major accomplishments, and the work of development professionals to illustrate some of USAID’s efforts over the past 50 years. Through interviews, Q&A, personal narratives, and posts penned by guest bloggers, we’ve shared stories about USAID’s history from nearly every perspective and point of view. Today, we’d like to share the story of a young Maya woman who has survived atrocities difficult to imagine.
The story represents the pain and struggle of many more who find hope and opportunity through USAID programs. Her measured optimism stems from a common challenge in the developing world: working to balance deeply rooted cultural traditions and modernity. We thank her for sharing her tale.
Flowers Bloom Slowly
K'iche' Maya kids in front of their adobe 'temascal' participants of USAID SavetheChildren Food Security program Sacapulas Quiche Guatemala. Photo credit: Wende Duflon, USAID
When we walked here did you notice that my mother walks paces behind my uncle? That is because he is the head of our family since my father disappeared in one of the massacres in 1984. Last year my father’s remains were recovered in a mass grave with the others during the exhumation that the Foundation did in our fields over there. Your government helped find my father. My mother had to identify his bones and his clothes. It was a time of many tears in our village. Now that his death is certain we registered him with the municipality. Now that my mother is legally his widow, she may marry or sell our property. She says the property rightfully belongs to my uncle who has watched over us all this time.
You say you have come to help us. There have been people who have come before you and they tell us what is good for us and how our life will improve if we do things differently. But, we know our land, we know our people. Perhaps when you understand us, then you can help us more. Would you like me to tell you how life is for us, how life was for our ancestors, and what we want for the children? Perhaps then you can see how to help us so that life will be better, as you promise.
My sisters and I are lucky that my mother bore my father no sons; this way we could go to school. My cousins were not so lucky. Our mother said that our only defense in life is to study. She refuses to go to the school because the teacher insults her when she cannot sign her name to collect the grades.
There is no work here for women like me. Many leave for the City or go to your country to find work—there is nothing here but the milpa agriculture or to wait for remittances from up North.
I am the oldest of my parents’ children and cannot leave my mother. If I could do anything I want I would become a legal secretary or translator to help a foundation like the one that found my father. There was such a person who came with the Foundation. He said that they help in many villages like ours where people are still too afraid to talk about what happened and especially the women who do not speak Spanish. I want to help them.
Diana Putman speaking at her swearing in ceremony. Photo credit: Vanessa Cheeves, USAID
Friday afternoon, Diana Putman vowed to protect the constitution of the United States against all enemies as she accepted her new assignment as the Mission Director for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Previously, Diana served as the Humanitarian and Health Activities Branch Chief at the U.S. Africa Command, where she has served since August 2008. Before that, Diana served in Tunisia (3 years), Tanzania (5 years), and at the regional mission in Kenya (6 years) as Director of the Office of Food Security which designed and managed regional programs in 23 countries with a focus on agriculture, trade and food security.
She conducted much of her doctoral research in Mali, Rwanda and Somalia and in Japan, Diana conducted post-doctoral research on women and gender differences with Fulbright and National Science Foundation Support in the 1990’s. In June 2010, she was awarded the American Foreign Service Association’s William R. Rivkin Award for Constructive Dissent for her efforts to provide counseling and rehabilitation for victims of sexual and gender-based violence.
With 3 degrees in Anthropology from Bryn Mawr College, a Masters in Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College, and studies at the Université de Grenoble in France, Diana has received multiple Superior and Meritorious Honor Awards from USAID, the Secretary of State’s Group Award for Heroism after the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania, and the Praxis Award from the Washington Association of Professional Anthropologists.
The long list of accomplishments, achievements and accolades goes on for a bit, but you get the picture.
What you missed from Friday’s ceremony: Diana’s family looking on with pride. Most notably, Warren Putman, Diana’s father, who was recognized during the ceremony for his own service with USAID as a livestock and agricultural specialist—starting in March of 1962! —only five months after USAID was created.
In the quiet basement of USAID’s headquarters, towards the end of a winding hallway, USAID’s image library sits among meeting rooms and storage space. Sturdy, tightly packed boxes line the walls of this secured space. The files within contain official portraits and snapshots that help illustrate the Agency’s history with focal points that vary by mission, time and place. The innocent faces of children, jubilant adults exiting cardboard voting booths, people of all ages, seated and astute, captivated by books, a lecture, learning. Sepia tones, vivid color, working, farming, thriving. While I could spend hours exploring these files, during yesterday’s library visit I had a very specific goal: find images of Brian Atwood.
As the much-revered administrator of USAID from 1992 to 1998, I am told Brian strolled through the halls of USAID’s many DC offices–at one time totaling more than 10 buildings across the DMV– greeting staff by name with a quiet but sincere warmth that won’t be soon forgotten.
Among hundreds of prints and slides that span eras and continents, I quickly found images of Brian engaged in intense conversation, several of him walking with Nelson Mandela, and a variety of snapshots chronicling mission visits and addressing large crowds. Photos that tell epic stories with concision. Far off landscapes, rugged terrain, USAID projects in various stages of construction and practice. Armed with a few of these images, my notebook, and a handheld digital recorder, I left the library to meet Brian for the first time.
Traveling to the U.S. from Paris to present an examination of the country’s development programs and policies to the U.S. Government and development community, Brian graciously accepted my interview request.
Brian Atwood delivers DAC peer review to USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah. Photo: Pat Adams USAID
As the head of the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD/DAC), Brian represents this peer review intended to identify what’s working—and what’s not—to improve development outcomes.
But I didn’t ask him about the outcomes of this year’s review, and I didn’t ask him about our progress since the last review. I wanted stories.
With pictures reflecting the significance of our work and the profound change development inspires spread across the table between us, he summarized the challenge.
“Our primary clients are the poor in the developing world—one of the most difficult places to work—and no other government agency has our challenges.”
Look for more about my discussion with Brian Atwood—his most memorable accomplishments, advice on how we can retain our seasoned mission directors in the field and harness the power of the next generation of development professionals—in future posts highlighting USAID’s 50 years of saving and improving lives.
Last September USAID staff members decided to put up a 50th anniversary banner outside the building. We talked excitedly about size, shape, colors, style, and placement. We were kids again, planning what we thought would be an easy deliverable to honor 50 years of service around the world. Ten months later we watched excitedly, emotionally, and perhaps a little hysterically from the sidelines as USAID’s 50th anniversary banner went up right before our eyes.
In 2003, I deployed with a battalion task force of nearly one-thousand soldiers to eastern Afghanistan. I had the fortune of leading a platoon of infantrymen and witnessed first-hand the enormity of the development deficit faced by Afghans in the wake of more than two decades of violence. It was also this point in my life I began to ask myself whether there was a way to pre-emptively address development challenges around the world so that there would be fewer instances in the future where we had to risk the use of military force. Ultimately that question led me to USAID.
The two clasped hands in USAID’s logo exemplify the motto “From the American People,” but I’ve learned that our assistance also derives benefits for the American people. Development assistance helps keep our country safe, helps to develop the markets of tomorrow, and demonstrates America’s moral leadership around the world.
For example, in 2010, six years after the devastating civil war, southern Sudan was preparing to vote for its independence. No one could guarantee the referendum would proceed peacefully, if it proceeded at all. In August 2010, five months before the referendum was slated to begin, many were still convinced it would not take place, but our development assistance made a crucial difference. USAID helped establish facilities for the referendum’s operations; secured voter registration cards; and helped to train Sudanese poll workers to register voters. USAID also provided lanterns so poll workers could count ballots into the night. The results of the referendum have since been officially counted and this week’s historic celebration of independence is a success-story USAID can take pride in helping to make happen.
USAID will mark its 50th anniversary in November and as part of the commemoration USAID’s news publication FrontLines will dedicate its next photo contest to a celebration of the Agency’s history.
School children in Anton, Province of Cocle’ Panama dash to their classrooms in the newly inaugurated school. Photo Credit: USAID
FrontLines is looking for photos that illustrate USAID’s development activities and the people who carried them out over the decades.
The contest is open to any FrontLines reader, including USAID employees and alumni; employees of NGOs and contractors; and representatives from universities, foundations and other organizations that have partnered with the Agency over the decades.
The deadline for photos is Aug. 15. More information and guidelines for submission available in Frontlines. The above photo is from Panama. The date is unknown.
Growing up in New England, the highlight of spring was always the Boston Marathon. Whether we cheered the runners on from alongside the road or if we watched the event live on television, the experience always had a distinct allure. Bonded together with a singular purpose, beating their feet along the pavement with a steady rhythm, the runners were simply captivating.
In recent years, the race has been dominated by African competitors; since the 1990s, both the male and female winners have almost exclusively hailed from Kenya and Ethiopia. Nearly 7,000 miles away—or, more than 250 marathon-lengths—a different race recently brought together Americans and Africans with a common goal.
In recognition of our 50th Anniversary, USAID co-sponsored the EVERY ONE half-marathon in Awassa, Ethiopia, along with Save the Children and the Great Ethiopian Run, a local NGO founded by world marathon record-holder Haile Gebreselassie. The event sought to raise awareness about efforts to reduce maternal, newborn, and child deaths.
Seven thousand Ethiopians and international participants congregated on the Rift Valley Lake of Awassa to run and to greet elite runners from Kenya and Ethiopia including the Ethiopian winner of the 2010 New York Marathon, Gebregziabher Gebremariam. Local musicians and theater groups used their artistic talents to educate attendees about how public health workers support maternal and child health.
Every year in Ethiopia, about 19,000 women die due to pregnancy and childbirth-related complications, and thousands of women suffer from birth injuries. Nearly half a million Ethiopian children under five die every year. Of these, 120,000 die before they are one month old. Many of these injuries and deaths could be prevented with interventions that are currently available, effective, and often low-cost.
USAID supports the goals of the EVERY ONE campaign by expanding the reach of health extension workers, increasing access to delivery and emergency obstetric care, improving neonatal care and nutrition, and expanding access to voluntary family planning methods that enable birth spacing which can help strengthen the health of mothers and children. Last year, in the region of Ethiopia where the race was held, with USAID support:
Health extension workers visited over one million households;
Over 500,000 pregnant women received pre-natal care by a skilled service provider, and more than 700,000 new clients received voluntary family planning services;
Over 80,000 pregnant women learned their HIV status, and nearly 300 received important medical therapy to prevent HIV transmission to their babies; and
More than 50,000 orphaned and vulnerable children received specialized care.
Running alongside—or behind—Ethiopians in the race were U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia Donald Booth, USAID/Ethiopia Mission Director Thomas Staal, and staff members from the U.S. Embassy, USAID, and the Peace Corps (which also celebrates its 50th anniversary this year). Thomas Staal said, “I am pleased that this year the EVERY ONE campaign has chosen to recognize the contribution of health workers to saving lives of mothers and children and to promoting the health of families and communities. However, success will depend on mutual respect, and the trust that comes from that mutual respect, between husbands and wives, neighbors and communities, and above all, between patients and health workers. It truly takes EVERY ONE to help mothers and children to survive and thrive.”
Fans from New England may protest, but this year, the EVERY ONE race in Ethiopia was the one that captivated me.
In celebration of our 50th anniversary, a number of senior USAID personnel were recently interviewed by PSI for their magazineImpact. We’ll be bringing you portions of these interviews over the next few weeks as a part of our 50th Anniversary blog series. This week’s installment is an interview with Susan Brems, USAID’s Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for Global Health.
IMPACT: What are some of the overarching issues that threaten progress on global health challenges like malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, reproductive health and child survival?
SUSAN BREMS: These challenges can be grouped into two categories. Some apply to all technical health areas and some are specific to each health area. Among the overarching challenges, resources are primary. By resources I mean financial, human and technical resources – all of the wherewithal to carry programs into the interior of countries and take them to scale. The other part would be the challenges that are specific to various health areas. For example, in HIV, we’ve been a little bit hamstrung by the lack of a tool kit for prevention; with recent breakthroughs, now that’s moving forward quite a bit.
IMPACT:Your Ph.D. dissertation focused on reproductive health of rural women in Brazil. As a leader in the Global Health Initiative – which takes a woman- and girl-centered approach – what are the key activities moving forward that will improve the health of females in developing countries?
SB: A common mistake that we make in the health field is that we presume a program is woman centered or girl centered by virtue of having females as our target group. To the extent that we can move from seeing women as beneficiaries of programs to employing them in a sincere way in program design, management, supervision, quality control and customer satisfaction, I think then we’ll really have a woman and girl-centered approach.
IMPACT:Using science and technology to develop transformative tools is a principle that defines USAID’s development work. What are other technologies that you are hopeful will provide similar advances?
SB: This past year was a banner year, with the success of the CAPRISA 004 clinical trials on a microbicide; this is an area where we’re working intensively. We are looking forward to confirmatory studies that can lead to speedy approval of [tenofovir gel] and then participate in the roll out. There also are new immunization technologies that have been proven for rotavirus and pneumonia, and there are the challenges of scale and financial resources to roll them out. In contraceptives, we have new generations of contraceptives coming online that we’ll continue to support. Double-purpose HIV and pregnancy prevention would be a really wonderful thing for women. So it varies, but I think we have on the horizon a number of successful technologies.
Last Tuesday, at almost 3500m above sea level; cold, wet and muddy from a light snow storm that had been a steady drizzle a half-hour earlier, and out of breath from walking uphill for three hours straight, I considered myself fortunate. I was trekking through one of the most beautiful alpine regions in the world, Nepal’s Langtang region, together with 19 other fellow men and women, all prominent personalities from disparate sectors of the Nepali society. Our team was on a four-day mission to observe the impact of climate change on the Himalayan Mountain range and to learn about the ongoing climate change adaptation initiatives supported by USAID and the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) and led by local communities. The trek, called the Green Hiker-Green Planet campaign, was organized by USAID in partnership with WWF to raise the awareness of global climate change among non-development or academic professionals—particularly the media and members of Nepali parliament and the private sector—and to encourage collaboration among these diverse groups.
Along the trek route, we passed through several areas affected by landslides and forest fires that had completely destroyed villages and ruined water sources for thousands of people. The landslides and fires are direct causes of changing weather patterns and deforestation in the Himalayas. Many of the people who lived in the region that we spoke to were gravely aware of the gradual, yet steady, change in the previously predictable climate of the region. The changes had been particularly drastic over the last ten years they said, from changing rainfall patterns to extended dry seasons, hitting their crops—and thus, their livelihoods, the hardest.
Those that took part in the Green Hiker-Green Planet campaign, was organized by USAID in partnership with WWF to raise the awareness of global climate change among non-development or academic professionals—particularly the media and members of Nepali parliament and the private sector—and to encourage collaboration among these diverse groups. Photo Credit: USAID/Nepal
Along the trail, a farmer we met at Jibjibe village recited a poem on climate change for us. Remarkably, her poetry was not about the sublime and dramatic snowcapped and jagged Himalayan peaks but about carbon credits, changing weather patterns, depleted water sources and the need for heightened attention and action on climate change. We were left in awe, somewhat shocked and surprised that a farmer in such a remote village of the Langtang region could so articulately talk about climate change and its impact. He summarized the purpose of our trek in plain, simple language – an often difficult feat for many of us, including those in the development profession.
The diversity of the group added greatly to the discussions during the trek allowing for different perspectives and exchange of ideas. We were not only learning from our interactions with the communities and from our site visits, but also from each other. Mr. Anil Chitrakar, a leading energy and environment activist in Nepal and chairperson of the Himalayan Climate Initiative, shared “climate change is so big and beyond us that it requires urgent action on the part of all. This trek brought together such a diverse group of passionate Nepalis committed to advancing the many social, development, and political issues of the country, stimulated excellent ideas, and helped create a strong partnership network. If we stay committed, this network can grow from 20 of us to thousands and spur stronger joint action on climate change and environment conservation. That’s our goal, and I know this team, together, can make that happen.”
The trek closed back in Kathmandu with an Earth Day press conference on April 22during which trek highlights and remarks by key experts on climate change were the major theme. Speaking at the press conference, Dr. Kevin A. Rushing, Mission Director of USAID/Nepal, remarked “it is especially imperative to address climate change in Nepal because of its largest glacier concentration outside the polar region. Nepal hosts eight of the world’s tallest peaks and around 3,200 glaciers and 1,466 glacial lakes—with approximately 1.3 billion people dependent on the water that comes out of the mountains’ many rivers. ”