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USAID/Nepal Supported Women’s Football League Tournament Comes to a Glorious End

By: Stuti Basnyet, USAID/Nepal

On January 12, Jed Meline, USAID’s Acting Mission Director in Nepal, and I flew down to Dhangadi, a district in Nepal’s far-western region, to attend the championship of an eight-day women’s football (soccer) league tournament. This was a unique outreach opportunity. Most field trips we embark on are meant to either monitor the programs or to showcase the impact of our programs. This time we were going to attend a USAID-supported football tournament – an exciting rarity – with Jed scheduled to speak and present awards to the winning teams.

Designed to build the confidence, leadership, team building and networking skills of local, rural women, the sports activity was part of USAID program’s youth leadership efforts to expand the participation of youth and vulnerable populations in the development process of their communities. With the large youth bulge, almost 50% of Nepali population under the age of 35, USAID encourages all partners to find innovative ways to positively engage youth.

The winning team with their trophy. Photo Credit: USAID/Nepal

When we reached Mahendranagar, the venue, it was late in the afternoon, cold and foggy, but more than 10,000 people were present at the tournament. The women in the two final teams had been playing for an hour plus and were a little tired but enthusiastic and dedicated. For most this was their first experience with football and also first opportunity to display a skill in public. Tulsi Gurung, the captain of the winning team told me, “This has been such an amazing experience. It’s built my confidence so much. I really believe, we, the young people, are the potential energy of the country. When we come together, we can do something special. This tournament has been a proof of that.”

“After playing in the tournament I have gained confidence to pursue my effort to be a national football player, just like the boys,” shared Basanti Rana another player from the winning team.

To me, what made the tournament so remarkable – other than seeing young, rural women with no prior football experience, confidently display their newly learned skill in front of thousands – was the partnerships forged to organize the league. While USAID designed the program, trained the women, funded the tournament, and purchased equipment and gear, the effort and support that came from the local public and private sectors was inspiring.

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“Helping Babies Breathe” Global Development Alliance Results in New Innovative Company

Sixty seconds – that is all it takes to breathe life into a newborn that is gasping for air.  This is the golden minute that can mean the difference between life and death for a newborn who is not breathing.  Jubaida, the community midwife, from Bangladesh was trained and equipped to act rapidly and appropriately when she heard no cry and felt no breathing when Baby Shifa was born.  Jubaida gently dried and rubbed the baby and, as the family looked on, she used a bag and mask and helped Baby Shifa breathe as the hands of the clock ticked by.

Helping baby Shifa breathe in Bangladesh. Photo Credit: Tore Laerdal

Every year, 10 million babies require help to breathe immediately after birth. Simple means to stimulate breathing, including drying and rubbing, and ventilation with bag and mask, could save the majority of these babies. Such lifesaving care is currently only available for less than one out of four newborns.  Scaling up newborn resuscitation is challenging because it requires provider skills, appropriate equipment, and systems strengthening.  In order to meet the Millennium Development Goal 4, birth attendants in large numbers must acquire the basic skills and equipment to help newborns breathe.

Challenged by this, USAID searched for a feasible and effective approach to scale up newborn resuscitation and found the answer in the Global Development Alliance model.  On June 16, 2010, USAID launched a Global Development Alliance (GDA).  The objective of the GDA is to reduce newborn mortality by expanding access to high-quality, affordable newborn resuscitation training materials and devices, improving the competence of birth attendants to resuscitate newborns, strengthening health systems and promoting global commitment and resources for life-saving newborn care.  A seemingly impossible task of scaling up newborn resuscitation became programmatically possible by bringing together diverse partners in an alliance.

This partnership is ground-breaking in many ways. The GDA model is a new way of doing business in the field of newborn health and has now become a key USAID strategy to roll out newborn resuscitation globally.  The approach is not without risks since, except for the long-standing partnership between USAID and Save the Children, it has forged a partnership between other organizations who had not previously worked together.  The GDA has also brought two USG Agencies – NICHD and USAID – together in a concrete and actionable way that took advantage of each Agency’s comparative advantage, i.e., NICHD’s research capacity and USAID’s program implementation capacity.  The individual partners of the GDA are themselves creators of innovative solutions: Laerdal developed a very low cost, life-like manikin (NeoNatalie) and a transparent suction bulb in response to the global need for a low-cost, resuscitation training simulator and an easy-to-clean and boilable device to clear the newborn’s airway; these life-saving technologies are available on a not-for profit basis to all 68 Millennium Development Goal countries.   AAP developed the “Helping Babies Breathe” curriculum that simplified the resuscitation action algorithm so that it can be implemented even in peripheral health facilities and communities.

Within six months of launching the GDA, 17 countries are planning to integrate “Helping Babies Breathe” within their newborn programs, AAP has pledged to train one million health providers by 2015, and Laerdal decided to spin off a new company called Laerdal Global Health to focus on developing new technologies at the base of the pyramid to address maternal and child health.

Picture of the Week: Agricultural Boost in Vietnam

vietnamAgricultural research helps farmers in Vietnam grow more rice and counteract the impacts of climate change on food security. Photo is from Philippe Berry/USAID.

When Lights Come Back on, New Asia Training Center Glows Green

Thirty-one floors up on the Bangkok skyline, on December 14, aid veteran Jim Bednar was in the middle of a touching reflection on his decades of Foreign Service when the lights went out. It was exactly 7:00pm, and Bednar had just been sworn in as Mission Director to Sri Lanka, his ceremony taking place at a USAID-veteran-studded side event during the Asia Region Mission Directors’ Conference.

But it was not a power outage that plunged the group into darkness, though rolling blackouts may be commonplace in many of the countries where USAID works.  It was, instead, the automatic “lights out” system kicking in at the new joint USAID-State Asia Regional Training Center, or ARTC, the state-of-the-art facility that was receiving its first outside guests for a soft introduction to the premises.

USAID Assistant Administrator for Asia Nisha Desai Biswal and RDMA Mission Director Olivier Carduner cut the ribbon at the introduction ceremony for the new joint USAID-State Asia Regional Training Center, or ARTC, in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo Credit: Nipattra Sanguannuan/USAID

The roughly 50 invitees, among them Assistant Administrator for Asia Nisha Desai Biswal, and Embassy/Bangkok Charge d’Affaires Judith Cefkin, had just received a presentation on the ARTC’s unique features and the painstaking design process the building went through in order to secure recognition as a minimal-carbon-footprint premises. Knowing the drill, they began waving their arms in delight to trip the sensors so the ceremony could continue.

It was, in a sense, the most apt anecdote for an evening dedicated to USAID’s effort in Asia to “walk the walk” as a green leader, not only as the Agency works to encourage fast growing and high-polluting countries such as China towards environmental awareness and eco-friendly policies, but also in how it approaches its own facilities and operations.

“Very importantly,” said Regional Development Mission for Asia (or RDMA’s) Supervisory Executive Officer Mike Trott, “we wanted to play our part, but also serve as an example in the hope of spurring more use of green technologies in the fast-growing Asia region.” Trott was critical in pushing for both the training center and RDMA’s main office installation– located a few floors down in the new Athenee Tower– to adhere to the strictest green standards.

In fact, just a few months earlier, RDMA’s offices became the Agency’s first overseas facility to be awarded the prestigious Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for its commercial interior. Trott, and others familiar with the design process, expect the new ARTC center to fare no worse when it its own intense certification process is completed in the coming months.

The strenuous requirements put on a contractor to receive LEED certification are reflected in the fact that only four buildings in Thailand can currently claim the accolade, with USAID being the only one to achieve certification for its interior design.

In the RDMA mission, which received its silver certification in October, and in the upstairs training center, sunlight floods nearly every corner of available space, reaching even the low cubicles in the interior; and energy-minimizing lights are hooked into sensors, which dim considerably during daytime hours. The urinals are waterless, the water fixtures are low-flow, combining to reducing water consumption by 20 percent.

Building use and construction, as it turns out, account for 30-to-40 percent of global energy use, and generate around the same percentage of greenhouse gases. Those towers where we work, shop and live have tremendous potential to achieve dramatic reductions in energy use and emissions.

But Trott and others are quick to point out that LEED is not just about energy savings, it’s also about environmental and human health. All the building’s furniture, fixtures and carpet are made mostly from local recycled materials and its wood products from harvested Forest Stewardship Council certified wood, “which is tracked from birth to final sale,” according to Trott.   Furniture as well as products used in the construction must use only environmentally safe compounds.  Additionally, in a region where air quality is a rising concern, the air circulation system brings in higher rates of fresh air than most offices, and even the construction process had to adhere to strict standards, resulting in far fewer sick days for construction workers.

Perhaps the most interesting feature is that LEED requires that 75 percent of construction waste, materials typically thrown into a landfill during most refurbishments, must be recycled.

At the ARTC event, RDMA Mission Director Olivier Carduner said that conceptually, the new training center embodied the Agency’s new reform agenda, USAID Forward, particularly regarding efforts to make better use of Agency talent.

The idea for the center, Carduner said, came when a brainstorming session with Washington identified the need to have a regional hub to train the growing numbers of DLIs, or new foreign services officers entering the Development Leadership Initiative program, as well as other USAID staff being hired en masse over the past few years, against a backdrop of falling training budgets that had limited training in the past.

“Washington asked RDMA for its ideas and participation in determining how best to meet the challenges of training up the USAID staff, recognizing that Bangkok had some unique advantages,” Carduner said. After studying the ARTC option, it was determined that training for the region could be conducted at nearly half the cost in Bangkok compared to Washington, a savings of some $21 million over four years.

Carduner also pointed out that the ARTC, a joint USAID-State project, was in line with the whole-of-government development approach championed by the Obama Administration. “The idea is not just to share the space [with the Embassy], but to coordinate training to the benefit of all concerned and at effective costs,” he said.

Soft operations are set to begin at the training center in January, with a more ambitious “Phase II” proposed to follow.  “This would involve on-site instructors (for example, USAID staff on Sabbatical) to teach the basic USAID courses […] for the many new staff in the same time zone, and a staff to assist with curriculum development,” said Carduner.

As fate would have it, both Carduner and Trott will miss out on seeing the facility in full swing; both AID veterans are departing post in the imminent future. But Bangkok has, in a sense, completed the circle for the old friends, who started their Foreign Service careers on the same day three decades ago in the predecessor to the DLI program and, after crisscrossing continents and posts, were reunited in the Thai capital.  Their legacy, among other things, will undoubtedly be this beautiful eco-friend building that will serve as a model both for USAID’s partner countries struggling under the weight of human pollution and its effects, and for the Agency, which is making real efforts to practice what it preaches– to really “walk the walk,” as folks around RDMA, with their sun-filled rooms, clean air and picturesque city views, are fond of saying.

 

In Honor of International Human Rights Day

Today, in honor of International Human Rights Day and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, U.S. Embassies and USAID missions around the world are opening their doors to civil society; to the Russian journalists who bravely report on corruption and abuse in the face of grave danger; to the Egyptian human rights activists who fight every day for justice; to the Kenyan political activists who recently helped shepherd a peaceful vote on a Constitutional referendum.

In 1994, USAID became the world’s first donor agency to establish democracy, human rights, and governance as core development objectives.  Since then, USAID has become the leading development agency on these issues.  With over 400 experts worldwide, USAID manages and programs the vast majority of the U.S. Government’s total budget—over three billion dollars this year alone—devoted to these issues.

These investments are critical to our national security and to reflect our national character, making the word safer and more equitable. That’s why the Obama Administration has laid out an ambitious democracy, human rights, and governance agenda for USAID.  We are engaged in a renewed focus to help our partners deliver for their citizens.

In Colombia, USAID created an early warning system to help prevent human rights violations by illegal armed actors, paramilitaries, leftist guerrillas, and drug mafias.

In Indonesia, USAID worked across 9 provinces with nearly 600 local nongovernmental organizations to increase citizen participation in local governance and social service provision.

Across Asia, USAID helped uphold rights to access for at-risk populations, including transgender communities and men who have sex with men, to HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and treatment, as well as building regional and in-country capacities to respond.

In Egypt, USAID is supporting disability advocates to organize and lead the development of policies and programs targeting the inclusion of people with disabilities, impacting over 15,000 Egyptians with disabilities at both the local and national levels.

And in the Democratic Republic of Congo, USAID and its partners helped provide medical services, fight impunity, and promote community awareness of and response to sexual and gender-based violence for more than 100,000 survivors of rape.

At USAID, we cherish the fundamental liberties contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and we promote democratic institutions to fulfill these rights for every global citizen.

Every day, we are dedicated to making USAID the leader on advancing democracy, human rights, and governance globally.  Today on this day, with our friends, with our allies, and especially with human rights activists around the world, we support and honor the global efforts to expand human rights for all.

Pic of the Week: U.S. Congratulates Winner of Charming Plus Pageant

winner hivU.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Michael W. Michalak congratulates Ms. Tran Thi Hue, winner of Charming Plus 2010 — the first pageant for HIV positive women in Vietnam. Tran Thi Hue, a 27-year-old HIV outreach worker from Ha Nam province, was crowned on November 14.  Photo is from Richard Nyberg/USAID.

From the Field

In Lebanon, in order to improve student achievement in Lebanese Public Schools, we will improve learning environments through physical repairs and provision of equipment, increase learning opportunities through in-service teacher training and extra-curricular activities, and raise stakeholder engagement in public schools.  This effort is expected to benefit thousands of students and teachers in over 1,300 public schools. Ambassador Maura Connelly, USAID Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Middle East Christopher Crowley and USAID/Lebanon Mission Director Dr. Jim Barnhart will announce the program with the Lebanese Minister of Education & Higher Education; Dr. Hassan Mneimneh.

In Afghanistan, we will hold our second Water Conference. In this Forum, key water sector stakeholders can develop a shared understanding of the opportunities and challenges of sustainable development and management of water resources in Afghanistan and set a road map for addressing the challenges.

In Cambodia, on December 10th in Phnom Penh, we will celebrate the 62nd Anniversary of International Human Rights Day.

Women Leaders Combating Violence Against Women in India

During President Obama’s visit to India earlier this month, Ms. Valerie Jarrett, Assistant to President Obama for Intergovernmental and Public Engagement, along with USAID’s Assistant Administrator for Asia, Nisha Desai Biswal, led a roundtable discussion with leading women activists and experts in India’s development sector who focus on women’s empowerment issues.

India has a history of strong women leaders in this area and several of the notable participants, and their organizations, have been working on gender issues for over 30 years, some with USAID support. Great examples of women’s empowerment activities coming out of the discussion were SEWA’s program that is empowering women workers in 11 Indian states and countries across the region and the USAID-funded Garima Project which focuses on communities holistically, including men and boys, and specifically on Muslim women and gender-based violence from the human rights perspective.  As a sub-grant under the the Garima Project, the Indian NGO, Independent Commission for People’s Rights and Development (ICPRD), provides training, mentoring, mass campaigns, street theater, and other activities targeting gender-based violence.

Watch here as Dr. Nandini Azad, the President of ICPRD, explains how young men, some of whom used to commit acts of gender discrimination and violence themselves but have since been rehabilitated, perform their street theater.  The boys are from low-income communities who are spearheading a movement to end gender-based violence in the Indian states of Rajasthan and Karnataka. Here, they role play the life of women and girls in a typical rural household and engage the audience in a dicussion that focuses on female empowerment.  They perform these plays at public gathering places in rural areas and draw large crowds.

But many challenges do remain.  For example, in India a crime against a woman occurs every 3 minutes; a woman is raped every 29 minutes; a dowry death occurs every 77 minutes; and a case of cruelty by a husband or relative occurs every 9 minutes. USAID is responding to these grim statistics by empowering women through advocacy and policy efforts that focus on preventing violence against women, affronts to the dignity of the girl child, and child marriage.

Over the last seven years, USAID has been committed to advancing the rights of women by:

  • Providing training to over 1,100 doctors and prosecutors to handle cases of violence against women;
  • Facilitating a national coalition of 900 NGOs and individuals who lobby the government on women’s issues; and
  • Forming of over 120 Youth Forums Against Gender-Based Violence that create awareness in villages through debates, discussions, essay competitions, and street theater performances.

On November 29, Ms. Biswal and Dr. Azad continued the discussion on a panel session at the U.S. State Department entitled, “Changing Attitudes: What Men and Boys Can Do to Address and Prevent Violence against Women,” where a USAID-funded video of ICPRD’s work was also shown. The event was hosted by Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, as an activity under the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.

HIV Prevalence Triples in Eastern Europe and Central Asia Over Past Decade

I believe tough news has to be faced squarely and challenges need to be met head on. It is alarming that the recent UNAIDS Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic found that the number of people living with HIV in Eastern Europe and Central Asia has nearly tripled since 2000 reaching an estimated total of 1.4 million people in 2009. This report should be a renewed call to action.

In contrast to the encouraging reports from other regions of the world, Eastern Europe and Central Asia have experienced the largest regional increase in HIV prevalence, with the Russian Federation and Ukraine accounting for nearly 90 percent of the newly reported infections in the region. The report also found a more than four-fold increase in the number of AIDS-related deaths from 2001 to 2009 in the region. In comparison, globally there has been a 20% decrease in new HIV infections over the past decade, and fewer AIDS-related deaths over the past few years due to anti-retroviral therapy.

HIV testing at Ukrainian clinic Photo Credit: USAID/Ukraine

The epidemic in Eastern Europe and Central Asia is concentrated among marginalized groups such as people who inject drugs, sex workers, their sexual partners, and men who have sex with men (MSM). There are many reasons that HIV infections continue to grow in Europe and Eurasia, from drug addiction to social or cultural stigma about sexual orientation. None of these should be insurmountable obstacles to working to prevent HIV infections.

USAID and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) directly support HIV/AIDS prevention programs in Russia, Ukraine, and Georgia. In Russia, activities focus on providing technical assistance to local counterparts to design and implement effective prevention and care programs for those most at risk of HIV infection. In Ukraine, through the Sunrise Project, USAID funds a pilot program of methadone-based Medication Assisted Treatment to provide 300 HIV-infected male and female injecting drug users with access to a package of services that includes MAT and related medical, legal, social and psychological care. The SHIP Project in Georgia supported HIV prevention among high risk groups; through this intervention, the use of shared injecting drug equipment was reported to decrease from 79% in 2002 to below 43% in 2005.

Regionally, USAID and PEPFAR work to address the concentrated epidemic through a variety of activities, including the development of the Medication Assisted Therapy (MAT) Policy Toolkit. The toolkit will help to prevent HIV by providing information for advocates and policy makers working to support MAT implementation for injection drug users. Another regional activity supported a situational assessment of MSM and HIV in the region that reviewed data, information, and programs for MSM and identified gaps and potential activities to address some of these gaps.

As we celebrate the success of global efforts to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS, we cannot forget about the most-at-risk populations in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region. While USAID, PEPFAR, and the governments and NGOs in the region have HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs in place, we all still have much work to do in order to control the epidemic. We need to face the tough news and work together even harder to save more lives.

Pic of the Week: Afghan Boy Sits in Sunshine

A Hazara Afghan boyA Hazara Afghan boy sits in the sunshine in Bamiyan. Bamiyan, some 124 miles northwest of Kabul, stands in a deep green and lush valley stretching 100 kilometers through central Afghanistan, on the former Silk Road which once linked China with Central Asia and beyond. The town was home to nearly 2,000-year-old Buddha statues before they were destroyed by the Taliban, months before their regime was toppled in a US-led invasion in late 2001. Photo is from AFP Photo/Shah Marai.

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