Archives for 50th Anniversary
The phrase “like mother, like daughter” can refer to common physical traits or hobbies, but in the case of Paula and Caroline Bertolin, it is their shared passion for development work that best applies.
March is National Women’s History Month, a time to reflect on the countless women who are making a difference in the world. For Paula, it is through her work at USAID. She believes in the Agency’s mission of humanitarian assistance. “USAID does what needs to be done for countries that need it,” she explains. Paula is an officer in the Office of Food for Peace, working on issues of food security for Ethiopia for the U.S. Government’s longest-running and largest food assistance program. These initiatives respond to short-term relief and long-term development. Before working at USAID, she served over five years in the Peace Corps in Cameroon, and has worked for Catholic Relief Services in Burkina Faso and in Kenya.
Caroline, 30 years old, followed her mother down the development career track. She recently became a member of the Foreign Service where she is a Contracts and Agreements Officer, overseeing the execution of contracts and assistance awards. She works on the business side of USAID, in partnership with recipient governments and organizations to make USAID assistance as effective and efficient as possible.
“My parents were very proud and excited,” she says of their reaction when she decided to work for USAID. In the career choice, she has also emulated her father, a 30-year Foreign Service veteran. For Caroline, it’s not just a career, but a lifestyle. She believes kids who spend a part of their childhood surrounded by different cultures, languages and people develop excellent skills of observation and adaption. She acknowledges that when growing up, her best answer to the “where’s home” question was: “wherever my family happens to be at the moment!”
Although Paula has spent most of her career working in the Africa region, Caroline is ready for assignments in any region of the globe. She explains: “Part of the beauty of being a Contracting Officer is that you are a true generalist. You get to work with a variety of programs from any and all technical sectors at USAID and you are always wanted—and needed – everywhere!”
Reflecting on National Women’s History Month, Paula believes that women in the work force still have “a long way to go, particularly if you choose to take time out for childrearing.” She cites that women, especially with interrupted careers, are victims of the pay gap, which was recently cited in a White House report.
The younger Bertolin gives her mother’s generation credit for breaking into USAID’s male-dominated Foreign Service Corps. However, she states, “the women of my generation need to produce more representation at the top levels of USAID — we need more women in high-level leadership roles. This will affect how girls at home and abroad think about women and their role in development.”
Like mother, like daughter.
By: Anne Ralte, USAID Senior Advisor
I was born in Mizoram (“land of the Mizo people”), a remote, mountainous part of north-eastern India, with our own language and culture. During my early childhood in the 1950’s, we were a marginalized tribal group with most families, like mine, making a living by farming. We lived in simple one-room wooden houses built on stilts along the hill slopes – with no running water or electricity. Our everyday life centered on work in our family rice farm. My mother, older sister and I had the additional burden of fetching water from mountain springs, washing the family laundry in rivers, gathering firewood and cooking. Since there was no public transportation, we walked everywhere – up and down hills and valleys. When I was able to make the four-mile trek, I sometimes joined my older siblings in attending a small missionary school. With no television or radio, our universe revolved around our close-knit community, with occasional stories by those adventurous enough to walk across the border into Myanmar (then known as Burma).
After my father died, when I was five years old, my mother struggled to take care of the farm and the small home bakery that my father had started. Although illiterate, she intuitively knew that for us to do better in life, we would have to be placed in an English-speaking boarding school in Calcutta, West Bengal. In those days, widows automatically lost their social standing in the community, with their role relegated to the upbringing of children and menial duties assigned by in-laws. Traveling outside the community (or having an independent life) was frowned upon by the elders, so her decision led to her being ostracized. Now, forty plus years later, my mother’s vision has become widely accepted.
This is how I ended up in a small school that served the poor with a Title II food aid and a children sponsorship program. The Welland Gouldsmith School, connected to the Old Mission Church, was a charitable institution founded in 1870 to impart European education. My mother was able to get my older sister and myself enrolled by paying a small amount of monthly fees. However, she died about a year after we were enrolled as boarders. My older brother, who stepped in to take care of us at age 16, also died within a year. Fortunately, a family from New York participating in the Christian Children’s Fund sponsorship program took a special interest in me as they were school teachers pursuing doctoral degrees and just like them, I loved to learn. Besides excelling in my studies, I learned to play the piano and violin, and also tried learning the sitar. My early years of trekking up and down the hills of Mizoram prepared me well for competitive track races, basketball and other sports — so my life, while there was deep sadness, was full.
In the 1970′s, there was an international effort that sought to provide relief and development assistance to the victims of the savage drought that has brought distress to the Sub-Sahara countries of Africa. The United States, through USAID participated in a Recovery and Rehabilitation program aimed at providing the basis for social and economic development of the area, known as Sahel. AID’s assistance included health and nutrition projects; agriculture and livestock production; water management; transportation and reforestation activities, as well as emergency relief.
By: Abby Sugrue and Laura Rodriguez, USAID
We were rummaging through historic USAID materials in the basement of the Ronald Reagan Building and found this photo of a young nurse and a baby. We couldn’t find a project name, date, title, or country – just “USAID” scrawled in pencil on the back. Still, the image stayed with us, especially as we were preparing to commemorate the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.
This week USAID, along with the Government of Norway, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, and The World Bank launched Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development, to seek innovative prevention and treatment approaches for pregnant women and newborns in rural, low-resource settings. Saving lives at birth is one of the most critical challenges we face in developing countries. Finding new technologies, such as low-cost infant resuscitation devices or incubators, and new approaches to improve birth outcomes for mothers and newborns would not only alleviate suffering, but would also have a significant impact on public health and economic productivity.
In honor of maternal and child health workers around the world who are saving lives, we hope you enjoy this photo.
by Diman Simanjuntak
Today I work at USAID/Indonesia as a development specialist in the Office of Democratic Governance. But during the popular uprising that led to the downfall of Suharto and the return of democratic government to Indonesia I was a student activist.
After the popular, student led uprising in Indonesia – similar to what recently occurred in Cairo, Egypt — the government agreed to early elections in 1999. I joined the Indonesian Rectors Forum (Forum Rektor), an NGO that was formed in support of democratic elections, and organized a group of individuals to develop manuals and forms for election monitoring. I was subsequently trained as a national trainer for voter education by the American Center for Labor Solidarity (funded by USAID) and as a national trainer for elections monitoring. I was also the head of division for election monitoring training in the Bandung office of Forum Rektor. This led to a position at the national office in which I managed about 300,000 volunteers for voter education, vote monitoring, and parallel vote tabulation, and eventually to a position in the Executive Office.
I knew USAID/Indonesia FSN Mimi Santika (who continues to work at the Mission today) as the Forum Rektor contact at USAID and met her several times in 1999. My first contact with the American Embassy was actually in 1998 with Ining Nurani. Today she is a colleague in the Democratic Governance Office at USAID, but then she was with the Political Section of the Embassy. I met with Ining because the Embassy wanted to know more about the student movement in Indonesia. We talked about the Forum Rektor Task Force strategy on fighting the New Order regime of President Sukharto. We, in turn, were curious about the US perspective.
Tiana Razafimahatratra, a Foreign Service National working at USAID’s Madagascar misson, tells the story of her first days working with USAID.
When I told my former colleagues from CARE that I had been recruited by USAID to join the mission in Madagascar as a Foreign Service National (FSN), their first reaction surprised me. It was to talk of stars.
“Stars?” I asked.
Yes, answered my friend Malala. She then went on to detail the US flag: “It’s full of bright stars. And now you are going to become one of them!”
My response was that I was proud to join this strong development agency and that I was impatient to contribute to the brightness of USAID by leaving invaluable legacies for my country, Madagascar.
My first day at the Mission was chock-full of surprises, and I have carried the memories with me for the past seven years. November 29, 2004 was the day for a presentation of the “Managing for Excellence Report” – MER for the Environment and Rural Development (ERD) program, during which the ERD team had to present achievements, results and challenges. Despite my recent arrival, I was put right in the thick of things and asked to participate in a major presentation to share our achievements. This was also going to be my first introduction to the Mission Senior Staff.
Emotions were swirling: excited and proud, but also anxious about being publicly exposed to those I considered as USAID veterans. The portfolio presentation was planned for the afternoon so that I had time to prepare with the team during the morning. My responsibility was to present the evolution of Madagascar’s forest cover as a result of USAID’s ERD program. I flashed back to what my friends had said upon learning of my new job: bright stars. This gave me the strength and willingness to face challenges.
I have to keep shining, I thought. Be bright for USAID, be bright with your new team, be bright for your country, and be bright for yourself. Don’t see stars due to dizziness and nervousness, but be clever and deliver the best.
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By Winston J. Allen, PhD
Senior Evaluation Specialist, USAID Bureau for Policy, Planning, and Learning
USAID entered my life in 1963, when I participated in the school lunch program at my elementary school, the Congo Town Municipal Primary School in the outskirts of Freetown, Sierra Leone. The school lunch, supported by USAID, was a high point in our school day, and was the only thing that stood between us and our regular lunch time soccer game. The lunch menu was usually fish stew served with bulgur, cornmeal, or rice, accompanied by a glass of milk. Although the lunch program was sponsored by USAID, back then, we associated it with President Kennedy. To this day, I can safely say that, President Kennedy has been the most popular American president in Sierra Leone. Local folk songs were composed in his honor, while streets and buildings were named after him. As kids, we felt that he provided lots of goodies for us, and was an inspiration to my generation on the virtues and values of the United States.
As the years unfolded, USAID continued to play a significant role in the development of Sierra Leone, and my life. As an undergraduate student majoring in geography at the University of Sierra Leone, in the late 1970’s, we made regular field trips to the USAID funded Adaptive Crop Research and Extension (ACRE) Project, as part of an agricultural geography class. Through these visits I saw the development needs of the country, and I became interested in pursuing a career in international development.
In 1985, I arrived in the United States to pursue graduate studies in international development planning at the University of Pennsylvania, and my journey with USAID continued. The agency and its partners were primary sources of data for my dissertation research on the transformation of United States Private Voluntary Organizations (PVOs), from philanthropic to development agents in Africa. A significant finding of my research was that program activities implemented by PVOs with USAID funds were rarely evaluated. This finding eventually became the basis of my international development career. Upon completion of my doctorate in 1992, my journey continued with working on evaluations of reproductive health, child survival, and HIV/AIDS programs supported by USAID.
In 2010, my journey with USAID brought me to the Bureau of Policy, Planning and Learning, where I now work as a Senior Evaluation Specialist, at the office of Learning Evaluation and Research. My arrival coincided with what I consider a very unique and exciting period in the history of USAID – the elevation of Development as one of the pillars of US foreign Policy, the others being Diplomacy and Defense. More exciting was the recognition of evaluation as the vehicle through which learning can take place to maximize the impact of USAID programs. As a result, my work has focused on the impact evaluation of the Feed-the-Future initiative, using evaluation methods that include experimental and quasi-experimental designs. Even though my career is dedicated to the scientific rigor of evaluation methods, I always remember that there are people around the world with individual stories of the impact of USAID’s work, including me.
Submitted by Kimberly Ocheltree, Community Health Educator in Peace Corps Cameroon. Before joining the Peace Corps, Ms. Ocheltree worked as a Policy Fellow in USAID’s Office of Population and Reproductive Health.
I used to work at USAID and answer mission’s questions surrounding 13 various policies and statutes related to family planning assistance. My life has drastically changed and now I sit in mud huts educating men and women on the importance of pre-natal consultations using hand-drawn pictures and feeling like quite a bit of information gets lost in translation.
The transition from USAID’s Office of Population and Reproductive Health to Peace Corps Cameroon has been challenging and engaging…but most of all it’s been an adventure. I currently work as a community health educator in Tourningal, a small, rural and predominantly Muslim village in the Adamaoua province of Cameroon.
My experiences at USAID prepared me in an incredible way to become Peace Corps volunteer, because it taught me how to think about public health interventions and development programming.
As a result, I conducted a DHS-style survey my first three months at post to assess my community’s maternal and child health needs. Over the last 13 months, I have tried to focus my service on educating men and women on the importance of maternal health for women and families. I have worked to integrate the knowledge of maternal and reproductive health I gained at USAID into my service in an attempt to provide my host community with comprehensible and appropriate health information, which they can utilize to improve their behavior.
Development inherently has its pitfalls and moments of frustration; prime examples for me here in Cameroon have been when close friends in village choose to deliver their babies at home despite my education on the dangers and girls receiving scholarships for their school fees being forced to abandon their studies to get married as young as 16. Despite these challenges, I seek to remember what I’m working for and why I’m trying so hard. Development is a slow process–even though it feels even slower in Cameroon–if no one tries it would never happen. The small successes I have experienced in village make the struggle worth it: mothers adopting soy to enhance their children’s nutrition, villagers actually showing up for free HIV testing on World AIDS Day, and kids being able to ask questions surrounding sexual and reproductive health during a summer camp hosted by Peace Corps volunteers.