USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Asia

Listening and Remembering: The Fight against HIV/AIDS in Kazakhstan

Recently, in commemoration with the 30th anniversary of the fight against HIV/AIDS, I had the opportunity to sit down with people who are on the front lines of this struggle in Kazakhstan.  Our informal press round table was a chance for people living with HIV to tell their story about discrimination and access to health care.  The discussion was lively, and each person had a different experience to share.  One thing everyone had in common was deep remorse for the lives lost to this disease.

A doctor, Gulzhan Akhmatova, shared the difficulties of getting patients to comply with their medication requirements and how this situation is improving dramatically.  Nurali Amanzholov, from the Kazakh Union of People Living with HIV, gave a strong overview of the many types of discrimination that HIV-positive and most-at-risk people face in Kazakhstani society.  Because infected individuals do not feel safe or free to disclose their status, they remain isolated and unknowingly continue behaviors that facilitate the transmission of HIV.  In this environment, the disease remains hidden and spreads.

I am sure there wasn’t a dry eye in the room when Vitaliy Vinogradov, an HIV outreach worker focused on the men who have sex with men population, shared his experience working with this at-risk population.  He spoke very personally about the loss of friends to HIV as well as the hate crimes that gay people face in Kazakhstan.  The official estimate of gay men living with HIV in Kazakhstan is 1 percent of the total infected population.  However, some NGOs estimate the rate is closer to 13 percent.

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton brought forth in her Remarks in Recognition of Human Rights Day, we must continue to be leaders in the fight for equal treatment of all people.  I was honored to share a morning with people in Kazakhstan who are bold advocates for HIV-positive groups in their country, and I look forward to a renewed partnership with them in the fight to end stigma and discrimination toward people living with HIV in Central Asia.

New Water Pump Brings Hope in Remote Timor-Leste

I was sitting in the still, hot, and humid air on the porch of a Franciscan nunnery in Natarbora, a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Dili.  In the quiet night, the only noise I could hear was the thump of a bass guitar coming through large speakers. I asked Godwin Kamtukule, an engineer from Malawi who is the deputy manager of USAID’s water and sanitation program in Timor-Leste, how long he expected the noise to persist.

“Oh, they just told me that they are going to play all night in celebration of the inauguration of the new water system tomorrow,” he said.

He was right. The band played until 6 a.m.  After a fully satisfactory breakfast, prepared by the nuns, who, incidentally, are all from Indonesia, we headed to the first inaugural ceremony for the new water system, designed and installed by USAID’s water and sanitation project. Led by U.S. Ambassador Judith Fergin, an enthusiastic supporter of the work of USAID, we went to the ceremony, where we met the Director General, representing the Minister for State Administration, and the new District Administrator, who had just been sworn in the day before in Dili.  The local Chefe de Suco (elected head of the local village) proudly showed us the newly installed generator that will power the submersible pump that will bring water to the surrounding population.

The Ambassador and the Director General cut the ribbon to the grand applause of local residents. We then went to see the bore hole.  It is drilled to a depth of 62 meters (203 feet), and Godwin says that the water supply is guaranteed even in the case of a prolonged drought.

Among the many fabulous attributes of this project is the fact that all families who will benefit from it have agreed to contribute 50 cents a month toward maintenance of the pump, generator, and the system in general.  The maintenance of the system is entrusted to the community facilities management committee, elected by the residents.  There are three such committees in this project area, and I was happy to see that two of the three committee leaders are women.  The local committees are also responsible for guarding the generator and borehole/pump.

This USAID project brings water to some 3,500 people in remote communities near the country’s southern coast.  Powered by the generator, the pump sends water up the borehole and through pipes to 17 new community tap stands that provide people with access, for the first time ever, to clean water for washing and cooking. Previously, available water sources were contaminated by livestock.  The project also includes training in hygiene, clean water usage, and best practices for toileting.

Our next stop was the town hall, where I saw the large speakers that had thumped through the night.  More than 100 people were gathered for a celebratory feast.  Speech after speech emphasized that the water project’s success was the result of close cooperation between the residents and the local and district governments.  We could see clearly the local communities’ seriousness about this project, their hard work in making it a success, the importance of the local facilities management committees, and the necessity of continuing the good work.

We left soon after the celebrations.  On the way out of town, we passed a mother bathing her daughter at one of the tap stands.  The grin on her face was probably even wider than ours.

Improving Teachers’ Pay, Investing in the Future

The end of 2010 was marked by teachers’ strikes in Kyrgyzstan, as the nation’s educators took to the streets to protest their miserable wages.  The average monthly salary was $75 despite the fact that, by Kyrgyz law, the minimum teacher’s salary should be no less than the average national salary of $144 per month. International assessments have shown that low teacher pay and low motivation correspond with poor student achievement. It became clear to the Kyrgyz government that drastic measures were needed to increase the status and salary of teachers in order to improve the quality of education.

The Ministry of Education and Science asked USAID for help. USAID had already been supporting the Ministry to improve teaching practices and reform how schools are financed and managed. Together, they devised a new model for paying teachers. The model increases teachers’ salaries to be in line with legislation, introduces performance incentives to attract young teachers and motivates all teachers to produce results. New salaries consist of three parts: a base salary for teaching and out-of-classroom work, which includes lesson preparation; pay adjustments for rural and mountainous regions; and bonuses of up to 10% to be paid based on performance. On average, monthly salaries now range from $150-$185.

The new remuneration system started in May 2011. It has already found broad support across the country and especially amongst teachers, who returned to their schools even before the system was formally launched. “Since the day the Government’s Decree on the new teacher remuneration was published, three young teachers have come to me asking to work at our school,” said the Aralsky school principal in Chui region with satisfaction. It is hoped that higher wages will bring back former teachers, many of whom are homemakers, work in the bazaars or have left Kyrgyzstan.  There remains a critical shortage of teachers – 3,160 more are needed this school year just to fill the current classrooms.

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In Turkmenistan, USAID Brings New Opportunities to Farmers and Students

In my 24 years with USAID, I have served around the world but somehow had never made it to the former Soviet Union – until last month.  So it was with great excitement that I anticipated my first visit to Central Asia, eager to learn more about the region and our programs there.

The most memorable part of the trip was visiting USAID projects in Turkmenistan during my first three days in the region.  I visited the historical city of Mary (Mar-ree), a caravan city in southeastern Turkmenistan on the original Silk Road about an hour’s flight from the capital, Ashgabat. In the Mary region, USAID is funding a well-received Agricultural Technology Project that works to increase the agricultural productivity of small greenhouse farmers, by providing technical assistance and training in new greenhouse technology.  I toured various greenhouses in the region, including some that USAID has helped rehabilitate.  From what I was told, the yield of various crops (mainly tomatoes, cucumbers, lemons, etc.) has doubled in the rehabilitated greenhouses.  Techniques used include raised roofs, improved heating systems, better irrigation techniques, and more appropriate fertilizer usage.

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Celebrating USAID’s Role in South Korea’s “Graduation”

In March, I accepted an award, on behalf of USAID, from South Korea’s Health Minister to honor the legacy of a remarkable partnership between USAID (and its predecessor, the International Cooperation Administration) and South Korea that facilitated the reconstruction of Korea’s medical education, research, and infrastructure in the wake of the Korean War.  At the award ceremony, I heard the inspiring personal stories of Korean medical practitioners who benefitted from U.S. assistance and went on to transform the medical field in their home country.  One that sticks in my mind in particular is Bo-Sung Sim, who received training in the United States from 1955 to 1957 through the U.S.-supported Minnesota Project and went on to pioneer modern neurosurgery in Korea.

But assistance in the medical field is just a piece of a much larger story – one of a productive U.S. and Korean partnership to transform a nation wracked by war into an economic powerhouse and donor partner that itself now provides aid to the world’s most vulnerable people.

Beginning in 1952, USAID supported South Korea’s aggressive growth strategy, helping the country build agriculture and industrial sectors that could fuel development.  Fast forward to today.   USAID no longer provides assistance to South Korea, which “graduated” from U.S. assistance in 1980.  Instead, South Korea has now become a vibrant source of trade for the United States.  It is currently the eighth largest market for American goods and services.  The development that has taken other nations centuries has been accomplished in just two generations.

And South Korea itself has become a net donor of foreign assistance and the newest member of the “advanced nations’ assistance club” known as the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC).  Later this month, Korea will host the Fourth High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, a major forum that will bring together 2,000 delegates to review progress enhancing the effectiveness of aid, and make commitments will transform the way bilateral aid for development is delivered.

A lot can happen in 50 years, and U.S. assistance to Korea is a prime example of the power of development aid to transform lives, create trading partners, and build a future of friendship and prosperity.

For more on USAID’s support for Korea’s extraordinary development, please see our case study “From Aid Recipient to Donor.”

New Teaching Methods and Resources Transform Indonesian School

The facilities were impeccable, the students were learning from enthusiastic teachers, and the school had the strong support of parents and its surrounding community.  This is not a school in the United States, but rather the school I’m describing is the Sedati Gede 2 primary school, located in Sidoarjo district in the Indonesian province of East Java, where the Indonesian government has partnered with USAID.  The school has 30 teachers and serves 746 students between the ages of 6 and 12.

Children interact with Assistant Administrator Biswal in a classroom at Sedati Gede 2 primary school. (Photo: USAID)

As part of its Decentralized Basic Education Program, USAID has partnered with the Indonesian government to help improve the school facilities, strengthen school management and accountability (for example, by bolstering parent committees), and enhance the teaching/learning process—all of which contribute to improved student learning.

Education has become a priority in the partnership between the U.S. and Indonesia governments.  USAID’s Decentralized Basic Education Program began in 2005, and since that time has benefitted approximately 1,500 schools, 57,400 educators, and 480,000 students.  Tools and approaches have been replicated by local government and donor agencies, greatly expanding the impact we have had with this program.  By the end of 2011, there will be 26,170 schools replicating best practices from the program.

My first stop on this visit was the kindergarten facility.  Principal Nur Abda’u and local education officials greeted me and led me to a cheerfully decorated classroom, where a USAID-supported Interactive Audio Instruction lesson was in progress. As part of their lesson, the children were excitedly playing an interactive game with a ball.  I remarked to the principal that this is just the kind of nurturing, stimulating school that I would love to send my own children to.

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Building Bridges to the Oecusse Exclave

Just weeks into my new assignment in Timor-Leste, I was thrilled to be traveling with a group of colleagues to the country’s remote exclave of Oecusse.  By catching a ride on a UN helicopter, our team was able to cut out nearly a day of travel, including clearing the four border checkpoints required to make the trip overland.  Located geographically within the borders of Indonesia, the district is separated from the rest of Timor-Leste not only spatially, but culturally and linguistically as well.  Throughout our visit we would often need two translators, one between the local language (Baikeno) and the national language (Tetum), and a second translator between Tetum and English.

After arriving in the district capital of Pante Makassar, our team immediately jumped into vehicles and set out on our mission to see several of USAID’s projects.  As we drove through the district, bouncing along dirt roads, winding through hills, and scuttling across dry river beds, it was plain to see how many of the already difficult-to-reach villages become completely inaccessible during the rainy season.  Contributing to the district’s isolation is its poor infrastructure, with few all-weather roads, underdeveloped networks for water and sewage, and an insufficient electrical grid.  Even the district capital receives only 12 hours of electricity per day, punctuated by frequent power outages.  As the Economic Growth Team Leader at USAID Timor-Leste seeing the district for the first time, my thoughts immediately turn to the enormous challenge of trying to link the people of these remote areas with the rest of their country, let alone the world economy. Yet USAID is helping to do just that.

In the town of Pune, our team met with several farmers who participate in USAID’s cattle fattening project.  Through a cooperative association, these small farmers are able to receive veterinary medicine from the Timorese government and husbandry advice for the cattle they raise.  Without the project these farmers would be unable to import their own medicines and would be vulnerable to price fluctuations in distant markets. Through the cooperative, these farmers are given a pre-negotiated price for their cattle so that they know in advance that they will be able to reap the benefits of their hard work.

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USAID Helps Timor-Leste Usher In a New Era in Land Rights

You can’t go too fast on the narrow and winding road to Manatutu, about two and a half hours east of Dili.  It is a magnificent road, at times taking you up the side of a hill, at times right by the beach.  The views all along the way are astounding:  the clear, azure waters of the Pacific, the miles of mangrove forest, and the small towns, one with a newly rebuilt school thanks to the U.S. Navy’s contingent of Seabees here.

Teams from USAID’s Ita Nia Rai (Our Land) project work with a local resident on his land claim in Ermera District. Across Timor-Leste, the teams have documented more than 50,000 claims covering almost all of the urban areas. Photo Credit: Charles S. Rice/USAID Timor-Leste

The town of Manatutu is nestled on the shore of the Pacific.  In a large administration building by the main church, we attended a ceremony celebrating Ita Nai Rai (“Our Land”).  This USAID-funded project has touched the lives of more than 50,000 families in the urban areas of all the country’s districts—and more 1,400 in Manatutu District. With an average family size of 5.8, that means that USAID funds have enabled nearly all of Timor-Leste’s 316,000 urban residents to stake a claim on their land.

Land issues in Timor-Leste are complex, as they are everywhere, and the government has yet to pass a comprehensive land law.  But with USAID’s help, Timor-Leste is now taking this first step—to validate a landowner’s uncontested claim with an official certificate.

As we pulled into the parking lot, people, as they are wont to do before big ceremonies in Timor-Leste, were milling about, sitting on chairs arranged in front of a dais, listening to music. (Bob Marley was on, “No Woman, No Cry.”)  The formal agenda said that the ceremony was to start at 9:30, and I was anxious that we shouldn’t be late.  But the relaxed atmosphere showed that it was more flexible than I anticipated.  (Gradually, I am learning that in Timor-Leste I have to be able to “feel” whether or not I am going to be late.  In this case, I should have known that the festivities would not begin exactly on time.)

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From the Field

In Batticaloa, Sri Lanka we held a friendly cricket tournament between youth from the East and South  to mark International Peace Day.

In Jaffna, Sri Lanka we opened a collection center and distributed “freezer trucks” to farmers as part of USAID’s public-private alliances program.  This hand over of equipment, tools and grants will improve productivity and profitability of fruit and vegetable cultivation in the conflict-affected Northern Province. These partnerships will not only provide employment to young men and women in the conflict-affected districts but also offer training and social integration among members of diverse ethnic groups.

In Vavuniya, Sri Lanka under our Office of Transition Initiatives program, we will hand over a large truck  to recently resettled farmers in the North in a bid to enhance their marketing potential and to foster relations between the North and the South. Farmers will also receive water pumps and sprinklers on a credit basis.

In Iraq, as part of an ongoing effort to improve local governance and build local capacity, we held a competition for the best District Council website.  The websites will evaluated based on their content quality and quantity, layout/ organization, update frequency, and objectivity/reliability.

In Jordan, as part of our water resources management program, we began work at a new wastewater treatment plant.  Jordan is one of the ten most water-deprived countries in the world. The treatment plant will help improve the health and environmental conditions of the surrounding areas.

In the Ukraine, we will hold a 10th Anniversary celebration of Telekritika, a key media watchdog in Ukraine and a long-standing USAID partner. The celebration includes award ceremony to honor TV producers and TV journalists whose activities represent the highest ethical reporting standards to strengthening independent media in Ukraine.

New Partnership with Islamic Bank Marks Step Forward for Indonesian Women and USAID

Eid Saeed! This week Muslims around the world have been celebrating Eid ul-Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. And low-income women in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, have another reason to celebrate.

U.S. Ambassador for Indonesia Scot Marciel (left) and Bank Mulamalat President Director Arviyan Arifin shake hands at the signing ceremony. Photo Credit: USAID/Indonesia

As a result of a new USAID loan guarantee signed on August 23, they can now apply for microfinance loans through Bank Muamalat, the country’s oldest Islamic bank.  This $1.15 million agreement is USAID’s first-ever finance guarantee program with a Islamic financial institution worldwide.

What is Islamic banking?  It means that the bank uses Islamic guidelines for approving financing for applicants with a goal to achieve social and economic justice.  For example, the charging of interest is prohibited by the Koran. So rather than charging profit-motivated interest as a typical bank would, Bank Muamalat’s microloans will be a funding type known as mudaraba, in which the microentrepreneurs and the bank share both the profit and risk.

The loans are available to applicants of any religious affiliation, but the fact that they are compatible with Islamic principles will help reach the low-income women who have been hardest to reach with traditional microfinance programs. Microloans will allow these women to start or expand businesses, helping to increase their incomes and improve living conditions for themselves and their families.

The finance guarantee agreement builds on President Obama’s speech in Cairo , which called for deeper engagement with the Muslim world. It is also a prime example of the type of how USAID partners with established in-country institutions to leverage existing resources and knowledge.

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