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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.

A Personal Thanks to Filipino Americans from USAID/Philippines

To the more than 80 Filipino Americans from the metro Washington, D.C., area and beyond who came to speak with me on Friday, August 19, thank you for doing so much to help our kababayan (our fellow Filipinos).  It was a pleasure to hear about your efforts as dedicated Filipino American leaders and activists from prominent charitable, social, and cultural organizations.

USAID/Philippines Mission Director Gloria Steele met with Filipino American leaders and activists to discuss how USAID could complement their development projects in the Philippines. Photo Credit: Hope Bryer/USAID

Our projects span several areas, such as education, economic growth, and health. But one of our biggest efforts is working together with the Government of the Philippines to tackle the overarching challenges to improving social and economic conditions here, including corruption and governance.  We are also focusing on a new initiative, the Partnership for Growth , a joint effort with the Government of the Philippines and the U.S. Government to promote broad-based economic growth in emerging markets such as the Philippines.

What was especially heartwarming was seeing community members connect directly with each other, and with USAID, on finding solutions.  One participant, a pediatrician working locally, apologized to us that she had to rush back to the hospital for her evening rounds.  But in the short time she was there, she told me about her efforts to stop tuberculosis in the Philippines, which sadly remains a critical health issue here, and exchanged contact information with me and several other participants also working on TB.

Let’s see how our efforts can complement each other to improve the lives of the people of the Philippines.

Saving Lives Across Nepal: Female Community Health Volunteers

Taking a health sector initiative “to scale” and making it sustainable is a challenging development goal. Ambitious, but achievable. In Nepal, the Ministry of Health and Population has succeeded in bringing maternal and child health information and health services to every community in the country. This, in spite of the fact that the majority of Nepal’s 29 million people live in rural and often remote areas, far from any health service facility.

The Female Community Health Volunteer program, with the support of USAID and other partners, has built upon existing country resources to organize, train and supply a powerful “workforce” of approximately 50,000 women—each elected by her community, who contributes her time and effort to care for those in her village.

Doctors at the central/federal level drive a cascading series of trainings which pass vital knowledge to ever larger groups of health services workers at the various organizational and geographical levels of the Department of Health Services. At the final tiers, Health Post and Sub-Health Post staff train the volunteers from the surrounding areas. It is sort of like what would happen if a snowball was rolled off the summit of Nepal’s Mt. Everest… it would grow in size as it rolled downward, resulting in something extraordinarily large by the time it reached the base.

At “Ama Samuha” mothers’ group meetings which volunteers hold each month, they act as health promoters covering topics such as the benefits of proper diet during pregnancy and how certain traditional beliefs can result in life-threatening situations during and after delivery. They also serve as health providers who, at their home or during house-calls, treat among other things the primary causes of childhood mortality (diarrhea and pneumonia) and administer vitamin A, which by itself saves the lives of an average of 15,000 children annually.

During the filming of the video embedded in this post, Director of International Communications Margy Bailey, Chief of Party of the Nepal Family Health Program Ashoke Shrestha, Health Program Officer Deepak Paudel, USAID Nepal Development Outreach and Communications Specialist Stuti Basnyet and I met truly selfless heroes like Laxmi Sharma from Damachaur village and Amrica KC from Marke ward in Salyan district. In no small part due to their commitment and that of the rest of the cadre of Female Community Health Volunteers, Nepal’s maternal and child mortality rates have dropped significantly. Under President Obama’s Global Health Initiative (GHI)—the next chapter in the way the U.S. Government conducts global health activities—Nepal, which is one of eight GHI focus countries, is expected to achieve its national 2015 health indicator targets.

A Trafficker Behind Bars: A Counter Trafficking Success Story

By: Niyama Rai, CTIP Monitoring and Evaluation Officer for The Asia Foundation

Eighteen year-old Sita[1] met Prakash in Banke, a district in the far west of Nepal, where she lived with her parents. Prakash came to her village during a festival celebration, and Sita’s uncle introduced them. The two quickly fell in love and decided to elope. Prakash told Sita that he had a job waiting for him in Delhi, and the two of them traveled to the border to cross into India.

Upon Prakash’s suggestion, they took different rickshaws to cross the border. They traveled to Delhi by bus, and Prakash set Sita up in a private house. He told her that he had to travel to another city for work, but that he would return in two weeks. He never returned, and instead, Sita was sold into a brothel a few weeks later by the landlady of the house where she was staying. In the brothel, Sita was beaten, tortured, and coerced into serving 20 to 25 male clients a day.

Women gather at a CTIP-supported community orientation meeting in Kanchanpur, a remote district in the far west of Nepal. Photo Credit: The Asia Foundation

After a year in the brothel, Sita fell ill and was taken to receive treatment at a nearby medical center. She managed to escape from the hospital, and with the assistance of a Nepali whom she met during her escape, returned to Nepal and was reunited with her family. A month later, Sita was approached by the Center for Legal Research and Resource Development (CeLRRd), a paralegal committee organized by a local NGO, which encouraged her to go to the local police and file a report against Prakash. Unfortunately, Sita was too traumatized to tell her story and couldn’t garner enough evidence to file a case.

Sita was then referred to CeLRRd’s Victim Legal Aid Lawyer in Nepalgunj. Under The Asia Foundation’s USAID-funded Counter Trafficking in Persons (CTIP) program, a lawyer worked closely with Sita to ensure she understood her legal rights and the victim protection provisions of the Human Trafficking and Transportation (Control) Act 2007 of Nepal. Equipped with an increased understanding of her rights and of victim protection strategies, Sita filed a First-Incident-Report with the Nepal Police. On the basis of this report, the police carried out an investigation and eventually arrested Prakash.

Sita’s case was filed in the district court and CeLRRd’s CTIP-funded Victim Legal Aid Lawyer represented her. She bravely testified against Prakash, which strengthened the case. During the court hearing, Prakash admitted to having trafficked three other women on the pretense of marriage. With Sita’s testimony and the persistence of the legal counsel, Prakash was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

USAID is currently supporting a five-year project with The Asia Foundation to combat human trafficking in Nepal. Trafficking is a serious problem in Nepal, with as many as 15,000 Nepali women and girls trafficked annually to India and over 30,000 trafficked domestically for involuntary labor and sexual exploitation. To combat these trends, The Asia Foundation and its partners are increasing awareness of the risks of trafficking in six key districts, while working to improve the ability of the judicial system and law enforcement to prosecute traffickers. The program also provides legal aid to trafficking victims like Sita, one of the many beneficiaries of the project’s counseling and court representation for survivors.

Check out USAID’s IMPACT blog this week for more stories about USAID TIP programs around in the world in support of the Department of State’s eleventh annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report release.

Click here for further information on USAID’s work on Trafficking in Persons.


[1] Names have been changed to maintain confidentiality.

The Korean Peninsula at Night

If you look at a map of the Korean Peninsula at night, you can immediately understand the impact of global development. Darkness covers nearly the entire North, masking a child malnutrition rate of nearly 50 percent and untold stories of individual suffering and poverty.  But over South Korea, you see a country shining with lights, energy and economic activity. Behind that brightness, there is a story of remarkable progress and partnership.

Satellite picture displaying the Korean peninsula at night. Photo Credit: NASA

Fifty years ago, South Korea was poorer than two-thirds of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and its people had an average life expectancy of 54 years. But South Korea also had effective development partnerships with nations around the world.  In the decades of engagement since, we supported South Korea’s agriculture and industrial sectors, helping the country focus intently on an aggressive growth strategy.

Once a major recipient of aid, South Korea today provides assistance to the world’s developing countries.  Now a vibrant trade partner with the United States, South Korea is currently the eighth largest market for American goods and services, ahead of France and Australia.

Here at home, we are having an ongoing debate about whether America can still afford to be a superpower. Simply put, we can’t afford not to be.  We know that we are safer, more secure and far better off with more South Koreas than North Koreas in the world.

For that reason, I was pleased to join Secretary Clinton today in deepening the valuable partnership between the U.S. and South Korea with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on development cooperation.  We have committed to working together through policy coordination to increase the impact, efficiency, and focus of our development programs.  Secretary Clinton and I also had an opportunity to thank South Korea for hosting the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness that will take place in Busan later this year.

South Korea’s emergence demonstrates the ability of effective, meaningful development to help improve lives, expand opportunities and, ultimately, transform nations.

Worth a Thousand Words: Photo Contest Captures USAID Environment Projects

Never heard of a dugong? This photo took top-10 honors in the most recent FrontLines photo contest. Dugongs, a type of large marine mammal caught by the residents of Maliangin, Malaysia, are now released within the Maliangin marine sanctuary as a result of the USAID and World Wildlife Fund Coral Triangle Support Partnership. The collaboration helped support community education and awareness. Members of this community now understand the importance of protecting endangered species and the benefits of marine sanctuaries, and their efforts will help increase biodiversity and conserve the marine environment.

Dugong being released into the Maliangin marine sanctuary.  Photo credit: Robecca Jumin/ WWF-Malaysia

Check out winners from the FrontLines environment photo contest to find out ways USAID, its partners and local communities are working to conserve the environment and mitigate climate change – including helping protecting the habitat of dugongs. This year, to celebrate Earth Day on April 22 and World Environment Day on June 5, FrontLines and USAID’s Bureau for Economic Growth, Agriculture and Trade teamed up for a photo contest focused on the environment. The winning images depict wildlife and their habitats, conservation efforts and activities that aim to address climate change. The contest attracted nearly 150 photos from all areas of the globe and from a wide range of USAID projects.

See the winning photos.

Partnering with Diaspora Groups for Asia’s Development

Asia is a dynamic region experiencing impressive but uneven growth while still grappling with the challenges of improved governance and sustainability.  It is a region of opportunity and innovation where governments, civil society, and the private sector are increasingly partnering with international donors to tackle development challenges.

And no one is better aware of the development challenges facing Asia, nor the opportunities and innovations that can help address these challenges, than the diaspora community in the United States and around the world.   Diaspora communities are becoming an increasingly important factor in helping their countries of origin, whether it be through remittances, through technical assistance, or through trade and investments via small and medium businesses.

As an Indian American, I know firsthand the important role that diaspora communities play in development.  Asian countries are prominent on the Migration Policy Institute’s list of the top 15 diaspora groups.  Remittances sent back home to these countries are a powerful force for development.  I have seen this throughout the world, including in the town I was born in, in Gujarat, India, where much of the investment in public and private infrastructure was financed through remittances.

Asian diaspora communities tend to be close-knit, and they maintain strong ties to family and friends in their countries of origin.  Their robust networks, familiarity with the culture and language, and strong interest in seeing the impact of assistance makes them especially valuable partners for us at USAID.

In USAID’s Asia Bureau, we have organized events to facilitate dialogue between the U. S. Government and Asian diaspora groups.  Last year, we held events with members of the Indian and Vietnamese diasporas in the United States. The goals of these events were to listen and hear these groups’ ideas, thoughts, and concerns, and to give them information about how their tax dollars are being spent to assist their countries of origin.  The events also detailed ways diaspora groups could partner with USAID, generating possible future partnerships with the U.S. Government.

We are exploring new and exciting ways to partner with Asian diaspora groups to support development efforts on the continent.  For example, in Nepal, we’ve begun consultations on a Diaspora Collective Fund.  The Fund will operate like a mutual fund and will direct contributions from the Nepalese diaspora into investments that will benefit the country’s development.

Moving forward, we would like to increase our work with diaspora groups and systemize this contact.

By working together, we can build on each other’s strengths and help ensure that our assistance is focused and coordinated, accelerating development and increasing the impact obtained with each taxpayer dollar.

From the Field

In Indonesia, in collaboration with AusAID we designed and implemented a school reconstruction project for 34 West Sumatra primary schools using a “build back better” principle, which underscored that schools were to be reconstructed after earthquake damage to meet Indonesian seismic standards.  USAID reconstructed 20 primary schools, including procurement of furniture and books.  Project construction was completed in early April.  This week, we will handover these Padang Schools to the West Sumatra people.

Also in Indonesia, we will hold a TechCamp.  TechCamp Jakarta is a hands-on, two-day event that brings together civil society leaders, technologists and local officials in Jakarta to identify technologies that can make a positive impact in local communities.  It focuses on providing a unique interactive opportunity for technologists, civil society groups, and officials from across Indonesia and the United States to collaborate and discuss ways in which new technology can be used for social good. The aim is for TechCamp to become a self-organizing, self-replicating event that can be organized by communities all over the world. This event will be interactive, with a participant-driven agenda tentatively focused on disaster relief and climate change.

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