USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Asia

Stemming the Tide of Labor Migration in Nepal

On any given day, the departure terminal in Kathmandu’s Tribhuwan International Airport fills with crowds of young Nepalese leaving the country to find better economic opportunities elsewhere. There is little wonder why: in 2008, Nepal’s unemployment rate was estimated at 46 percent. Each year, approximately 300,000 youth leave the country to become migrant laborers abroad, draining the country of some its healthiest, most productive workers.

Lila Chaulaune repairs mobile phones after learning skills at EIG’s vocational training in Salyan District. Like others, Chaulaune shared her skills with her husband, and together they opened their mobile phone repair shop and are now in business together. Photo credit: Kashish Das Shrestha

Over the past five years, however, a USAID project has helped tens of thousands of youth not only find skills-based work at home but also become employers themselves. USAID’s Education for Income Generation (EIG) project, developed in close coordination with the Government of Nepal and many local partners, began in 2008 just as Nepal was emerging from the shadows of its longstanding political conflict. The program was designed to help marginalized communities, especially in western Nepal, fully participate in the country’s economy and society.

Today 74,000 disadvantaged youth who were trained in entrepreneurial literacy, vocational skills, and agricultural productivity and enterprises are reaping benefits, with higher incomes, raised living standards, and substantially increased food security.

Rina Chaudhary, a former Kamalari (bonded laborer), clutches her entrepreneurship literature text book outside the classroom. She is a graduate of two training programs under USAID’s EIG program—the Business Literacy Program and the Agriculture Productivity Training Program. Once entirely dependent on her husband’s income, she now earns enough that they can designate a portion of their income to savings. Photo credit: Kashish Das Shrestha

The EIG program ends this week, but its investment in furthering opportunities for disadvantaged communities will continue to pay off. Many of the successful approaches and lessons learned developed through this project are continuing under the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future (FtF) activities and other related programs, and most of EIG’s local partners are continuing with follow-on work under FtF.

In agriculture alone, 54,000 beneficiaries have been able to grow and earn more through diverse, high-value crops. All in all, these beneficiaries, of whom 82 percent are women, have seen their incomes grow by about 250 percent. In Karnali, a notoriously food-insecure district, an estimated 9,000 youth have directly benefited from improved food security.

The program, with the help of its partners, designed its vocational skills trainings after studying the market’s needs. As a result, more than 11,000 youth were trained in skills ranging from masonry to mechanics, carpentry to industrial wiring, mobile and air conditioner repair, and more. Within six months, about 80 percent of the beneficiaries were either employed or had managed to establish businesses in which they had employees of their own.

In the region’s disadvantaged Dalit community, EIG offered 421 scholarships for professional degree certificates in teaching and nursing, which empowered these beneficiaries to serve as role models in their communities. And in four districts across the mid-western region of Nepal, the program established 80 distillation units to process non-timber forest products like lemongrass and citronella into essential oils. The raw materials are largely grown and harvested by women’s groups and, with EIG’s help, these products are now sold in the export market.

None of these accomplishments will come to an end, even though EIG does this week. And although young workers continue to fill Nepal’s international airport terminals, the project’s tens of thousands of beneficiaries in western Nepal have shown that Nepalese youth who are willing to work hard can make a life in their own towns and villages, with their families and loved ones …and can contribute to their own country’s future.

 

More photos from EIG have been posted on the USAID/Nepal Facebook page, and a video about the project is available on YouTube.

Reflections on Burma

Reflective lakes, green mountains, golden pagodas, and friendly people.  These are some of the lasting images from my first visit to Burma, also known as Myanmar, this past month.  Clearly, Burma is a country on the move, making up for lost time when it was largely isolated from the rest of the world.  While there to determine how USAID could best work with the national government and the local partners on health priorities, people wanted to know about our “window to the world” at every stop.  Top requests—training and insights on how to improve the quality of information.  Despite Burma’s long isolation from the West, Rangoon was very developed much to my surprise, clearly showing its connection to the southeast “Tiger countries,” particularly their next door neighbor—Thailand.

Robert Clay and Ariel Pablos-Mendes, Assistant Administrator for Global Health, on their recent trip to Burma, also known as Myanmar Photo Credit: Leek Deng, USAID

But I had a nagging feeling this did not reflect the true Burma, so the next time I visit, I’d really like to see what is beyond the city.

With that said, it proved to be an incredibly productive trip.  I traveled with the Assistant Administrator for USAID’s Global Health Bureau, Dr. Ariel Pablos-Mendez, and we spent most of our time meeting with government officials, technical experts, local civil society organizations, and other donors to hear from them about their experiences and thoughts for continuing to move Burma forward.  It quickly became clear to me that there is a great need in health, but Burma also has the potential to use donor assistance to build their country programs.  Our visit to a local township hospital and private clinics pointed out the need to improve decentralization, especially decision-making and data quality.

A few highlights

A visit to the Shwedegon Pagoda after a long day of meetings ended being one of my favorite highlights of Rangoon.  Imagine a village of temples, crowded with people celebrating the Buddhist Festival of Lights holiday, and the amount of excitement filling the streets.  Truly an experience I will not soon forget.
We also spent a day in the new capital city, Naypyitaw, meeting with the Minister of Health and his staff.  They were very gracious with their time and it was clear that USAID already enjoyed a good partnership.  The capital is quite a contrast to Rangoon.  The government built it just 7 years ago for a much larger population than what exists today, for example 12 lane roads without many cars.  And the flight up and back from Rangoon gave us some idea of the lush landscape of the rural area.

Finally, my most impressionable moment came while looking out my hotel room window over a beautiful lake and political activist, Aung San Suu Kyi’s, house.  It is hard to believe she was held there under house arrest for almost 15 years.  The world must look quite different for her, as she works tirelessly to help shape democracy for her country.  My hope is that our assistance will help Burma have both a vibrant democracy and a healthy society.

Video of the Week “Opportunities Created, Lives Transformed in Nepal”

Check out this  incredible video on opportunities created, lives transformed in Nepal. Over the past five years, USAID’s Education for Income Generation program has helped tens of thousands of youth not only find skills-based work at home but also become employers themselves. Today, 74,000 disadvantaged youth are reaping benefits, with higher incomes, raised living standards, and substantially increased food security.

From the Field: Bangladesh Mission Celebrates International Day of the Girl

In honor of International Day of the Girl, USAID collaborated with the American Center of the U.S. Embassy in Dhaka, Bangladesh, to gather more than 40 students (girls and boys) from a USAID education program and a local school to spotlight the importance of gender equality and women’s empowerment.

The attendees, ages 6 to 14, engaged in a fun interactive game using a poster entitled “Promoting Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence in Girls.” The poster depicts “Tuktuki,” a girl character from the USAID-funded Sisimpur (Sesame Street) television show, working in different professions and participating in various activities. The poster also serves as a board game, and will be distributed in at least 1,500 schools across Bangladesh with the purpose of engaging students to raise awareness about girls’ empowerment and to learn the different roles that girls can play in society. The participants at the event were actively involved in the game and took pictures with Sisimpur characters Tuktuki and Halum.

In Bangladesh, girls are vulnerable to gender-based discrimination and violence, including domestic violence, rape, sexual harassment, acid throwing and dowry-related crime. However, there are also many success stories of women and girls in Bangladesh overcoming these challenges. One program that was highlighted during the event was USAID’s five-year long Protecting Human Rights (PHR) project, implemented by Plan Bangladesh in partnership with Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association, International Center for Research on Women and 18 local non-governmental organizations. The program aims to reduce the high prevalence of domestic violence in Bangladesh and to address other human rights violations, among them sexual harassment, child marriage and other root causes of domestic violence.

Pounds of Prevention – Focus on the Philippines

In this installment of Pounds of Prevention (PDF), we take a look at how one community in the Philippines-Mabitac-has reduced the negative impacts of floods, even in the midst of what occurred in August 2012.  Through timely, concerted efforts, the municipal authorities and residents have turned potentially life-altering disasters into manageable challenges for which they can prepare and move beyond more quickly.

We invite you to  read more about the specific waste management and emergency preparedness activities undertaken, and the important role USAID and partners have played in the process.

USAID Swears in First Mission Director to Burma in 24 Years

August 29, 2012, was a momentous occasion for USAID as Chris Milligan, amid an overflowing crowd of friends, supporters and high-level dignitaries, including Ambassador Than Swe and Special Representative and Policy Coordinator for Burma Patrick Murphy, was sworn in as the Agency’s first mission director to Burma since 1988.

USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah, right, administers the oath of office to Chris Milligan. Photo Credit: Patricia Adams/USAID

“The challenge before us—and before Chris—is not only to build a Mission from the ground up, but to help the Burmese people and government seize these opportunities and capture the potential of this moment in their history,” said USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah, who administered the oath of office.

Milligan will lead the newly re-established USAID mission at a critical time in the evolving relationship between the United States and Burma.  Murphy said, “We have today, I think, the culmination of the Obama Administration’s experiment when it comes to this country. Just a few short years ago, we decided to embark on a path of engagement to bring dialogue and diplomacy to several decades of isolation.”  Secretary Clinton announced the re-establishment of the USAID mission in Burma April 4, 2012, as part of the U.S. Government’s continuing commitment to support the Burmese people and governmental efforts toward reform and democracy.

Ambassador Swe thanked the American people and government for their support, which he said is “of vital importance for my country’s reform.”  Noting the challenges and the potential of his country, he expressed the Burmese people’s appreciation to USAID and the American people, and their eagerness to move forward, telling Milligan, “If you work together with our people, nothing is impossible.”

As Dr. Shah noted, the standing-room-only audience of colleagues, family, and Burma experts not only demonstrated the great interest in Burma and USAID’s new presence there, but it also highlighted the loyalty and friendships that Milligan has garnered in his career at USAID spanning more than two decades.

Assistant Administrator for Asia Nisha Biswal said that the United States is at a “new place” in its relationship with Burma, adding, “It is my privilege and delight to have Chris Milligan lead that effort on behalf of USAID.”

Chris Milligan delivers remarks following his swearing-in as mission director to Burma. Photo Credit: Patricia Adams/USAID

Milligan expressed gratitude for his appointment and stressed the value of American overseas assistance: “Development is about expanding opportunity—the opportunity to live a life free from fear, to have basic needs met, and to pursue a better future for ourselves our families and our communities.”

Milligan also reflected on the important historical moment of his appointment and the challenges facing the country, saying: “The country I’m going to is in the process of a remarkable transition.  The world wants to see this transition happen. […]  We will work in partnership and we will follow principles.  We think carefully about what we do. [..]  We will balance urgency and diligence.”

Led by Milligan, the new USAID mission will build up a team in country, including more technical experts, which will enable USAID to more effectively engage with partners, oversee programs, coordinate with other donors, and directly benefit the Burmese people.

A Relay Race to Save Lives During Bandhs

Bandhs, or general strikes, have become such recurrent events in Nepal that even as people complain about them, they are resigned to them.  During a bandh, markets and offices are closed and public transportation is halted, bringing life to a standstill.  Anyone venturing out in a vehicle during a bandh would risk broken windows, punctured tires, or even having their vehicle set on fire at the hands of bandh enforcers.

Because bandhs generally last only for a day or two, Nepalis usually take them in stride, but in April 2012, Nepal’s Far Western Region underwent a bandh that lasted for 32 days.  For the more than 5,000 people living with HIV in the region, this was a life-threatening situation—particularly as nearly half of them are dependent on anti-retroviral therapy (ART).

ART is a complex treatment involving multiple medications that need to be taken at the same time every day over the long term.  With local transportation halted, people in remote areas had no access to government-run ART centers.

That’s where the USAID-funded Saath-Saath Project stepped in.

The Saath-Saath Project, which has been providing support to people living with HIV through community and home-based care (CHBC) providers (PDF), was aware that these individuals would soon run out of their regular supply of medicine due to the prolonged bandh.

USAID's community and home-based care team travels to visit people living with HIV at their homes in the Far Western Region of Nepal. Photo: USAID

So the Saath-Saath Project, its local NGO partner Asha Kiran Pratisthan, CHBC team members, and Seti Zonal Hospital joined hands on an innovative solution: they would distribute supplies using a method similar to a relay race.

They started by mapping the location of all HIV-positive individuals needing ART.  Then they began delivering medicines to these individuals, carrying banners that read “Delivering Essential ARV Medicine to People Living with HIV.”  The CHBC team members traveled by bicycle, motorcycle, and even on foot—some travelling more than 35 kilometers through difficult terrain—to deliver the needed medicine.

“I was stopped a couple of times by bandh enforcers, but after seeing the medicine inside my bag, they even apologized and let me go,” said Chhabilal Khadka, one of the CHBC team members and an HIV patient himself.  “In the end, the relief I could see on the clients’ faces gave me a sense of pride and fulfillment at having saved lives.”

Workers trained through USAID's Community and Home-Based Care Program provide care and support services and replenish essential medicines for individuals with HIV in the Far Western Region of Nepal. Photo: USAID

“My medicine had run out.  I was sharing another HIV patient’s supply and when that started running out, we began to panic,” said an HIV patient in the Kailali district, who declined to provide his name due to privacy concerns.  “But the CHBC team came to my aid in the nick of time.  I am forever thankful to these dedicated people for going through such risk and trouble to ensure the well-being of people like us.”

 

USAID’s efforts to reduce HIV in Nepal began in 1993 and have since contributed extensively to the Government of Nepal’s national HIV response.  Today, Nepal is emerging as one of the few countries that have made remarkable progress in meeting the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, including combating HIV/AIDS.

Secretary Clinton Glimpses Legacy of Vietnam War-era Bombs in Laos

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a brief visit to Laos last month, making her the highest serving U.S. Government official to visit the country since 1955.  As part of her visit, she took a tour of a visitor center in the capital Vientiane established by the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE), an organization partially funded by USAID that is the only provider of prosthetic and orthotic devices in the country and assists survivors of cluster bombs left over from the Vietnam War.

COPE staff told Secretary Clinton about the on-going effects of the U.S.-made and deployed bombs during the Vietnam War that fell over Laos, where approximately 100 people a year continue to be injured or killed by those bombs and thousands more lives are disrupted by their presence, according to the organization. Secretary Clinton studied a map of U.S. Air Force bombing missions covering one third of the country with red dots, each signifying a bombing mission over a period of nine years.

COPE introduced her to the work it is doing to support cluster bomb survivors and people with physical disabilities with physical rehabilitation as the only provider of these services working with the Lao government. USAID’s Leahy Fund for War Victims supports a training program to develop the orthotic technology that helps COPE’s clients.

Secretary Clinton was introduced to Phongsavath, a 20-year old cluster bomb survivor who told her how he lost his hands and eyesight in an explosion four years ago.  During their conversation, Phongsavath said he was lucky to have COPE assist him, but many survivors are not as fortunate and have not received any assistance.  Secretary Clinton said the U.S. needs to work more with the Lao government to address this Vietnam War legacy and make sure that legacy comes to a safe end.

COPE supports the development of physical rehabilitation services through the five Lao government-owned rehabilitation centres across the country. A significant number of people assisted through COPE were injured by the unexploded ordinance that littered around one third of the country at the end of the Vietnam War. The COPE Visitor Centre hosts a permanent exhibition on the impact of unexploded ordinance on the Lao population.

Before leaving, the Secretary signed the center’s visitor book: “Thank you for all you do to help so many and I pledge the United States will support COPE and the Lao people and government to overcome the legacies of the past.”

 

Timor-Leste Administers Own Elections

On July 7, I went to the polls—along with my fellow citizens of Timor-Leste—to participate in a notable election:  not only did we elect a new parliament for the second time in our young country’s history, but we also voted in general elections that for the first time were managed and run entirely by Timorese institutions. As was widely anticipated, the elections were peaceful and the turnout was high, at about 75 percent.

My country’s independent conduct of free and fair elections demonstrated our government’s commitment to further consolidating our still-young, but vibrant democracy. I am proud that Timor-Leste was able to achieve this milestone just 10 years after the restoration of its independence.

As a Foreign Service National working with USAID, I am also proud about what this election demonstrates about USAID’s efforts to promote sustainability and local ownership in our programs. For the past 10 years, USAID has laid the groundwork for this day by supporting Timor-Leste in developing robust democratic institutions and processes. That work paid off on July 7.

Several Timorese institutions deserve credit for the successful Election Day—namely, the National Electoral Commission and the Technical Secretarial for Elections Administration, which administered the electoral processes. The National Police maintained security and tranquility not only on Election Day, but also during the periods before and after the election.

Although the elections were administered without international assistance, the Timorese government and public did welcome international observers. USAID funded a team of 20 international observers who covered every district throughout the country. Through the International Republican Institute (IRI), we also provided training to 1,700 domestic observers—members of a local non-governmental organization, the Observatorio da Igreja Para Os Assuntos Socials (OIPAS)—who were successfully deployed to every polling station across the country.

Before the election, USAID funded civic and voter education activities that familiarized voters with the elections procedures and processes and helped them to better understand the different platforms and programs proposed by the parties and coalitions competing in the election. And three weeks before the election, USAID deployed a separate team of observers to assess the pre-election atmosphere.

Timor-Leste’s successful elections are indeed a feather in the cap of my country. They are also a great example of what happens when USAID’s development programs work as they should, by strengthening the ability of local actors to carry out important work on their own for the long term.

Thinking Across Borders in Southeast Asia

Earlier this month, I traveled to Cambodia to join Secretary Clinton at the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI) Ministerial meetings where we launched “LMI 2020” – a deepening of the United States’ commitment to  Southeast Asia through a set of new activities aimed at strengthening regional coordination on development challenges facing the Lower Mekong region. 

“LMI 2020” seeks to advance knowledge and understanding of the environmental and health implications of economic and infrastructure development along the Mekong River, one of the most bio-diverse fresh-water ecosystems on the planet, as well as to strengthen the capacity and coordination of government, civil society and academic/research institutions in the region on these issues.  These new assistance programs support the LMI pillars of environment, education, health and connectivity which are co-chaired respectively by Viet Nam, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.  But one of the most exciting outcomes was the formal welcome of Burma as a full participant in the Lower Mekong Initiative and the adoption of a fifth pillar on Agriculture and Food Security that Burma will co-chair.

The Lower Mekong Initiative was launched in 2009 as a framework for addressing the transnational challenges posed by infrastructure development along the Mekong River and a way to share information and analysis and to improve coordination amongst the countries in the region as well as donors.  Hence a parallel effort, bringing together the “Friends of the Lower Mekong” (FLM) around the table with the Mekong countries, has also become a critical way of aligning programs and policies.  I was struck by how far our partnerships under the LMI framework have progressed in the three years since it was launched. LMI partners now regularly discuss challenges with each other, at the highest political levels as well as in technical working group meetings, on issues such as the impact of proposed hydropower projects on the main stem of the Mekong River, or the need to coordinate to fight emerging pandemic threats.

After several days of productive meetings in Phnom Penh surrounding the U.S.-ASEAN Ministerial meetings, I then traveled to Siem Reap  to participate in  the Lower Mekong Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy Dialogue, which USAID co-hosted along with the State Department and the Royal Government of Cambodia’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs to highlight the role of women in the fostering sustainable development in the Mekong region. Secretary Clinton gave an inspiring speech on women’s rights as workers and the need to ensure opportunities for all girls and women. USAID has committed to support women leaders in the region to build a network to address critical transnational issues, such as environmental resources management.  Listening to the dynamic and vibrant women participants at the conference, it was clear to me that the potential in the region to achieve inclusive and sustainable growth could not be achieved without the full and active participation of women.

For more information, see the fact sheets on LMIthe Asia Pacific Strategic Engagement Initiative (APSEI) and more at http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2012/index.htm

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