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Archives for Asia

Helping the First Elections to Succeed

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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.

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Moving Forward: Development in Conflict-Affected Mindanao

I recently returned from a 10-day trip to the Philippines where I had the opportunity to visit a number of USAID-assisted projects in Mindanao.  The second largest island in the Philippines, Mindanao is graced with stunning natural beauty—towering mountains and verdant plateaus—but is also the location of a protracted conflict that has held back the region’s development.  As a result, Mindanao is a central focus of our peace, stability, and economic growth programs in the Philippines.

Along with USAID/Philippines Mission Director Gloria Steele, Asia Bureau economist Dany Khy, and the outstanding technical staff of USAID/Philippines, I visited Cagayan de Oro in Mindanao to gain a better understanding of our programs’ history, successes, and challenges—and to explore new opportunities for accelerating broad-based economic growth.  We viewed a variety of projects that are supported by USAID, including the Misamis Oriental State College of Agriculture and Technology, the Northern Mindanao Vegetable Producers Association, the Opol Emergency Clinic and Birthing Home, and a branch of the First Valley Bank that participates in USAID’s Microenterprise Access to Banking Services Program.

During my time on the island I also had the unique opportunity to meet with a number of local government representatives, civil society groups, and private sector officials at an event that was organized by the Cagayan de Oro Chamber of Commerce.  We engaged in a dynamic and fruitful debate about the key constraints to economic growth in Mindanao and brainstormed on strategies to unlock the primary choke points.  I was deeply impressed by the visionary leadership of the local government and the strong working relationship they had established with so many different components of the community.  I was fortunate to have Secretary Luwalhati Antonino, the Chairperson of the Mindanao Development Authority, accompany me throughout the visit, and gained the benefit of her insights and plans to accelerate economic growth in close coordination with USAID.

I left the island with a clearer vision of the many opportunities ahead for USAID and the people of Philippines to build peace, promote good governance, increase economic opportunities, protect the environment, strengthen health services, and improve basic education.  I also look forward to returning soon to work with the incredibly skilled and committed staff of USAID/Philippines and our partners.

Real Results in Afghanistan

By: Louisa Bargeron and Lars Anderson

During the USAID delegation to Afghanistan, Administrator Rajiv Shah, Mission Director Earl Gast, and Alex Their, head of the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan,  visited the Hesa Awal Community Development Council (CDC)—an initiative made possible through Afghanistan’s National Solidarity Programme (NSP)—located in Dakoy Payan Village, Kabul.  Also present was Deputy Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak for Programmes, Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

Dr. Rajiv Shah, Administrator for the United States Agency for International Development, visited a Community Development Council Health Clinic in Mirbacha Kot, north of Kabul, Afghanistan. Dr. Shah was accompanied by USAID Mission Director Earl Gast and Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development Jarullah Mansoori. Photo Credit: Lars Anderson/USAID

Created in 2003, the solidarity program develops the ability of Afghan communities to identify, plan, manage and monitor their own development projects.  NSP empowers communities to manage resources transparently during all stages of the project-cycle and make decisions affecting their own lives and livelihoods.  In Hesa Awal, the CDC serves 482 families totaling 2,802 people.  Sometimes the men and women of this village come together, at the same time, to discuss what matters to them most and on this day the villagers agreed that their clinic was a top-priority.  The clinic serves an average of 70 patients a day, most of them children and soon-to-be mothers.  For parents, the biggest impact has been the enhanced quality of maternal health care, as well as the improved health of their children as a result of vaccinations.

Administrator Shah was enthusiastic with the development council’s capacity to come together on a weekly basis and connect with the people to address local issues.  Shah noted how much of a huge difference and positive impact this program has had on the community, most notably the CDC’s work in establishing a well-stocked  and run clinic and completion of a local road project, which combined, cost less than sixty thousand dollars.

Click here to see video from the Administrator's trip to Afghanistan.

Minister Barmak reinforced the NSP’s goal of fostering a sense of local ownership and leadership and was grateful for USAID‘s support.

Both Earl Gast and Alex Thier recognized the programs proven results in connecting the local government to the provincial level.

The CDC, supported by USAID, is the largest component of Afghanistan’s National Solidarity Program.

Midwives and Roses

By Amie Batson, Deputy Assistant Administrator for USAID’s Global Health Bureau

I’ve just returned from my first ever week in Pakistan and what a week it was.  Working with my colleagues in the US embassy and USAID offices, and with their Pakistani counterparts, I came to appreciate that development work in Pakistan is exceptionally hard but also very rewarding.

On Monday, I visited to Peshawar, a 2 ½ hour drive from Islamabad, to meet with the health authorities and to visit a public health school for Lady Health Visitors, Community Midwives and other paramedical staff.  You might know Peshawar from the news as one of the areas close to the Afghan border where lots of refugees have settled in camps to escape the violence in Afghanistan.

Although I’ve worked in global health for 20 years, this is the first time I’ve ever needed an armored vehicle to visit a field site.   Once we arrived in Peshawar we changed cars, picked up both US and armed Pakistani security escorts –– and continued driving ahead through the confused traffic of cars, bicycles, donkey carts and people. After a hair-raising journey through downtown Peshawar, we finally arrived at our destination – the school of public health that trains women to be deliver babies and health care in the most remote areas of Pakistan – and I was given the all clear to open the car door.

Re-arranging the head scarf and long coat that I wore to show respect for local customs, I cautiously went to meet the school’s director.  She was already waiting on the front step with a big smile and bouquet of roses in her hand.  After introductions to her all-female teaching staff of doctors and midwives, she gave me a tour of the school.

First we visited two classrooms with 60 young women, each of whom had been selected from over 600 applicants from around the country.   These women were in their 2nd year of the two-year Lady Health Visitors program, and would soon be accredited as midwives and medical personnel.  After they complete their training, these women will return and work in health clinics that provide the only medical care that many in their community will ever receive.  Most clinics serve up to 10,000 people – and the Lady Health Visitors provide services ranging from vaccinating infants and children to protecting them from diseases like measles, whooping cough, polio and hepatitis, to providing care for pregnant women to delivering babies and educating families about the importance of nutrition and spacing of pregnancies.

The women were excited to meet someone from the US and to thank our country for supporting their school.   For only about $24 each month, our US government supports a range of small upgrades to the school to help improve the learning environment and the quality of education provided.  These items included training materials, models for anatomy class, and structural upgrades to the classrooms and students hostels. For the Community Midwives that were trained there, basic equipment was provided for the girls to take to their health post once they graduated – equipment like a birthing table, safe delivery equipment, sheets, a sterilizer, a stethoscope and small stipends for the women to live on.  The Director showed us the “anatomy room” with plastic models of the human body, the delivery room and labor room – a room with 5 beds, the immunization and consultation rooms and the dormitories.  The tour finished in the kitchen – where the delicious smells of lunch (which couldn’t be eaten until we left) came from an enormous pot sitting on a fire.   As we said our goodbyes in the courtyard we spotted an old Dodge school bus, a gift from decades ago that was carefully cajoled into starting every now and then.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the work our government is doing to improve health around the world and for the opportunity to witness first-hand the impact U.S. assistance has in Pakistan.  I’m confident that the lives and impact of the Pakistani health workers I met have been forever changed by our assistance.  In 20 years of development work – I’ve never had the armed escort  – but I’ve also never been greeted with a bouquet of roses.

To read more, go to http://www.usaid.gov/pk/newsroom/news/disaster/101220.html

Providing Safe Water to Cities in India

By: USAID/India

For many Indian cities and towns facing the challenges of growing populations and urban expansion, providing direct access to clean, affordable, and reliable drinking water is a significant challenge. Currently, only a fraction of the urban population has direct access to clean piped water, often because of inadequate and inefficient supply systems. The delivery of water and sanitation services in cities is particularly important because of the direct impact on human health and productivity. To help address the urgent need for investment in water and sanitation infrastructure across the country, the USAID Financial Institutions Reform and Expansion (FIRE-D) project tested two sustainable models for providing affordable and equitable access to safe drinking water and sanitation in the Indian states of Orissa and Madhya Pradesh.

Children collect water from a hand pump in an urban slum in Agra, Uttar Pradesh. Most slums in India lack clean water, electricity, sanitation and other basic services. Photo Credit: Sukhminder Dosanj

In the state of Orissa, FIRE-D provided technical assistance, training, and capacity building to the state government’s water utility to help restructure operations, institute operating and financing reforms, and move toward full cost recovery to allow it to expand services to all urban residents, including the poor. The Japan International Cooperation Agency offered to continue the institutional strengthening process after the FIRE-D project ends in January 2011.

In addition, FIRE-D brokered a public-private partnership agreement between a Bhubaneswar, Orissa NGO; a microfinance institution; the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation; and the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC) for the provision of water and sanitary toilets in seven slums of Bhubaneswar which benefited approximately 3,500 residents. As part of the project, FIRE-D also provided technical assistance to the BMC to formulate a comprehensive strategy for all of Bhubaneswar’s 377 low-income settlements, with a focus on how water and sanitation are linked to improved health and hygiene.

FIRE-D helped the Madhya Pradesh Urban Infrastructure Fund plan and prepare bankable water and sanitation projects, which will be financed through municipal bonds and other sources of private sector capital.  FIRE-D also partnered with the UK Department for International Development to design and construct improved water and sanitation infrastructure in 12 slums in Dewas, an ancient town in Madhya Pradesh. The slums will be connected to a new city-wide water project that is currently under construction.  The lessons from this initiative were used to develop a citywide sanitation plan, which provides a comprehensive roadmap for a cleaner and healthier city.

Afghanistan and Pakistan – The Year in Photos

January

USAID sponsors Afghan participation in Domotex—the premier international carpet trade show, featuring some of the best internationally produced hand-made carpets and kilims. For three years, USAID’s role in promoting Afghan carpet dealers has generated millions of dollars in exports. Photo: USAID/ASMED

February

More than 32 million Pakistani children under the age of 5 are immunized against polio during February’s National Immunization Days. Since 2003, USAID has contributed $1 million per year to both the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF to fund their participation in National Immunization Days. Photo: USAID

February

The U.S. and Afghan governments sign a memorandum of understanding to train Afghan civil servants to improve the delivery of government services. The one-year, $84 million program will train up to 4,000 civil servants in Kabul and 12,000 more over the next two years in all 34 provinces. Training focuses on five core public administration functions: financial and project management, human resources, strategic planning, and procurement. Photo USAID/Afghanistan

March

Administrator Rajiv Shah meets with Pakistan government officials on the best role for USAID and development during a Pakistan development roundtable. At the event, Shah and Shahid Rafi, secretary of Pakistan’s Ministry of Water and Power, sign implementation letters confirming joint efforts to upgrade three Pakistani thermal power stations in Guddu, Jamshoro, and Muzaffargarh. Refurbishing the power stations will increase power to Pakistan by 315 megawatts, enough to power nearly 400,000 homes. Photo: USAID

Salam Watandar, a USAID-funded Internews media service, launches a new Pashtu-language television channel targeting audiences in south and east Afghanistan. The service offers news, current affairs, and cultural programming in two 90-minute peak-hour blocks. In addition, the first 22 Kabul Education University students receive master’s degrees in education.

April

During his first official visit to Pakistan from April 11 to 15, Shah emphasizes “a commitment that USAID, and on behalf of our entire portfolio of foreign assistance here, that we would do things differently going forward in order to be better partners, deeper partners, and more respectful partners of the government of Pakistan and the people of Pakistan and Pakistani institutions.” Among the trip’s highlights are a meeting with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, and a press conference that draws more than 80 Pakistani and international media outlets. Photo: USAID

April

USAID hands over the National Women’s Dormitory at Kabul University to the Ministry of Higher Education. The dormitory will provide safe and secure living space for 1,100 women and girls. Around the same time, another 40 midwives graduate from the Hirat Institute of Health Sciences. USAID trained midwives to help the country address what is estimated to be the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world. Photo: U.S. Mission, Kabul

May

After their shops and inventory were destroyed by insurgents earlier in the year, 81 shopkeepers at the Foroshgah-e-Borzorg Shopping Center in Kabul receive USAID grants ranging from $2,000 to $4,000.

June

Responsibility for the 105-megawatt Tarakhil Power Plant is officially transferred to the Afghan government. Completed on May 31 by USAID, Tarakhil has the capacity to provide electricity for up to 600,000 residents in Kabul whose houses are connected to the North East Power System. Photo USAID/AIRP

Late July

U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W. Patterson issues a disaster declaration in response to extraordinarily heavy rainfall and flooding that begins in northern Pakistan in late July. The flooding drifts south to Sindh province, affecting an estimated 18 million people in every province. More than 75 percent of affected families are located in Sindh and Punjab provinces, and 1.7 million homes are destroyed. Widespread flooding is reported in 82 of Pakistan’s 122 districts.

In coordination with the Pakistan government and other relief agencies, USAID responds quickly to the devastation wrought by the floods. USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) immediately sends water treatment units and Zodiac boats to help rescue stranded people. A Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) soon arrives to assess conditions, transport relief supplies, and help meet the immediate needs of millions of people affected by the floods in Pakistan. Photo: AFP

July

The Agricultural Development Fund is established through a $100 million USAID grant to the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock to lend to financial and non-financial intermediaries, who in turn will lend the funds to farmers for agricultural inputs to expand production. Kabul University officially opens a herbarium, providing Afghanistan a new research tool for studying the country’s vulnerable botanical heritage. Photo: Texas A&M University PEACE Project

August

Shah visits flood-ravaged Pakistan to assess the situation on the ground and determine the next steps for USAID. The first high-level U.S. government official to visit Pakistan, he travels on a C-130 airplane packed with plastic sheeting and other humanitarian commodities from OFDA, observes the USAID-supported World Food Program distributing meals, meets with donors, and consoles flood victims, including women and children who tell Shah that they have “lost everything.” Photo: Farooq Naeem/AFP

August

The Kabul Women’s Farm Service Center opens as one of seven centers in Afghanistan, the only one tailored for women farmers. More than 10,000 Afghan women will benefit, and the center will offer high-quality seed, fertilizer, animal feed, tools, machinery, greenhouse supplies, and other products. Photo: USAID

September

The U.S. government signs an agreement with the government of Pakistan to begin using the first tranche of funds under the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act, which pledged a $7.5 billion, five-year assistance package for Pakistan. The agreement also launches USAID’s new business model to increase the role of local organizations in carrying out U.S. assistance programs. Over the lifespan of the Act, USAID expects to increase the share of programs implemented by local organizations to approximately 70 percent. Photo: USAID/Pakistan

September

On Sept. 18, Afghanistan holds the first Wolesi Jirga (parliamentary) polls since 2005. At stake are 249 seats in parliament in the country’s first Afghan-led parliamentary polls since the fall of the Taliban. Over 6,000 Afghan observers are mobilized to monitor all provinces. Photo: USAID

October

October marks the 5th anniversary of a devastating 7.6 magnitude earthquake that struck Pakistan’s Azad Jammu and Kashmir region in 2005. USAID’s Earthquake Reconstruction Program has been critical in helping the region recover. USAID rebuilt 21 schools and 15 health-care facilities that provide basic health care to approximately 200,000 people in Bagh District. Photo: USAID

October

The 2010 national wheat seed distribution begins for the first of 260,000 farmers in 31 provinces, funded through USAID’s Afghanistan Vouchers for Increased Production in Agriculture project. Local farmers receive vouchers entitling them to significant discounts on and access to certified wheat seed and fertilizer in an effort to improve the quality and production of Afghanistan’s wheat. Photo: USAID/ASAP

November

USAID and the U.S. government have delivered more than $579 million in emergency relief to the flood-affected communities. Assistance includes materials for shelter, food, medical care, potable water, rescue operations, and basic commodities. As the flood waters begin to recede and communities start returning to their areas, USAID focuses on restoring livelihoods. Flood-affected people receive seeds and fertilizer for the planting season, cattle, cash for work, and a variety of other assistance to restore jobs, businesses, key services, and homes. Photo: USAID/Pakistan

November

On Nov. 24, the IEC announces parliamentary election results for 34 out of 35 constituencies (33 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces plus the Kuchi constituency). Certification for one constituency (Ghazni) is deferred by the IEC. USAID continues its support to both the IEC and the ECC throughout the process. Photo: USAID/Afghanistan

December

USAID completes its six-year maternal and child health program that reduced neonatal mortality in Pakistan by 23 percent. The $93 million Pakistan Initiative for Mothers and Children (PAIMAN) improved the health of more than 5.7 million Pakistani women and children from 2004 to 2010. The program trained more than 18,000 health specialists and upgraded 103 health facilities as well as 57 training facilities. Photo: USAID/Pakistan

December

The Obama administration publishes an annual review of its military strategies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Afghanistan, the administration references an “urgent need for political and economic progress” to match what is described as significant military success in offensives to clear Taliban strongholds in the southern part of the country. Photo: White House

Learn more about our work in Afghanistan and Pakistan in this month’s issue of Frontlines.

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.

 

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