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16 Day Challenge: Let’s Eliminate Gender Violence

Carla Koppell serves as Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment at USAID

Today we launch our 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.

One young rape survivor in a camp for the internally displaced in Goma, a city in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is one of the strongest people I have met since joining USAID as Senior Coordinator. She survived a vicious gang rape while collecting fuelwood in the surrounding forest. She only saw a doctor after receiving contributions to pay for treatment from fellow impoverished camp residents. She survives by selling dung briquettes—though she earns less than she did from fuelwood— because she is too afraid for her safety to go back to the forest for wood. She is still recovering.

Yet, she came to tell her painful story to me and other strangers. Why? Because she hopes that by talking with us, others might be kept safe. She is a victim and leader at the same time; she represents and speaks for millions of women and girls around the world who face abuse, discrimination and violence when they are beaten, married as children, circumcised, attacked with acid, or sold like cattle.

This week we launch the 16 Days of Activism for the Elimination of Gender Violence, which runs from November 25 to December 10. We must use this time to recognize the magnitude of the challenge. In the DRC, for example, a 2011 study in the American Journal of Public Health estimates that some 1,150 women are raped every day. And one USAID-supported study found that Bangladesh sacrifices over 2 percent of GDP annually as a result of gender-based violence (GBV). The health care and legal costs, lost income and lost productivity are enormous. Yet even as we contemplate the numbers, we must not forget the individuals, the victims of violence, as well as the incredible male and female leaders—some of whom are survivors—that lead the campaign to end the epidemic.

USAID has greatly increased our focus to combating gender-based violence. This need is front and center in the Agency’s new Gender Equality and Female Empowerment policy (PDF). Additionally this past summer, the United States released its first ever Strategy for Preventing and Responding to Gender-Based Violence Globally (PDF), which incorporates action plans for our Agency as well as the State Department. USAID followed-up with a vision for ending child marriage and meeting the needs of married youth. At the same time, the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security and accompanying USAID implementation plan include a more extensive focus on sexual violence in situations of state fragility triggered by conflict, humanitarian disaster, or political transition. USAID now truly has a comprehensive strategic vision and frame for addressing the many forms of GBV around the world.

While I am proud of the commitment implicit in the new policy frame, I am even more gratified to see expanded efforts on the ground. For example, a new commitment to combat child marriage was announced by our mission in Bangladesh in October; our mission in Pakistan incorporates GBV prevention efforts into education programs; our programs in the Democratic Republic of Congo have ramped up their focus on GBV prevention as part of several sector efforts; and in Afghanistan, USAID is focused on consolidating gains for women’s rights and opportunity. These efforts are emblematic of how our commitment to end gender violence is translating into action.

As our policies and strategies gain traction and implementation gains speed, we recognize a collective responsibility to ensure our mission translates into results around the world. I recognize a personal obligation to make sure that one woman’s story in the DRC was not told in vain.

Leading the Way in Enterprise Development

Eric Postel is the Assistant Administrator for Economic Growth, Education and Environment.

Small Business Saturday, a day dedicated to supporting U.S. small businesses, is a great opportunity to highlight the importance of women-owned and managed small businesses around the world. According to the Center for Women’s Business Research, women-owned businesses in the United States contribute nearly $3 trillion to the economy annually, and have been growing at more than twice the rate of businesses owned by men. According to the International Financial Corporation, in emerging markets, women own or co-own about one-third of formal small and medium enterprises (SMEs), but most of these tend to be smaller than men-owned businesses.

At USAID, we are committed to supporting women’s entrepreneurship in developing countries, where it can raise incomes while reducing poverty and inequality, for the women, their families, their employees, and their employees’ families. Women tend to spend more of their earned income than men on the health and education of their families. National economies can’t afford to waste the talents of half the population.

Acknowledging this, USAID recently launched the Women’s Leadership in Small and Medium Enterprises (WLSME) initiative in partnership with the World Bank, and the non-governmental organizations ACDI/VOCA, CARE, and Grupo de Análisis para el Desarrollo (GRADE). The aim of USAID’s $8.5-million investment in these and related partnerships is to find innovative ways to remove some of the barriers to women owning and managing small and medium enterprises.

Svetkul Akmatova (center, in the traditional blue Kyrgyz jacket) and members of her organization, Altyn Kol Women's Handicraft Cooperative, busily prepare wool for their handmade carpets. Photo Credit: B. Jakypova, American Council for International Education

What are some of these barriers that stop women in the developing world from getting beyond a one-woman enterprise? They include: access to finance; legal and regulatory constraints; cultural practices; and women’s tolerance for risk in managing their businesses. Two important constraints that WLSME will focus on are: women’s access to and role in business information and knowledge networks; and women’s business and technical skills, education and experience.

ACDI/VOCA will use technical assistance and support for business associations to improve women’s access to larger loans in Kyrgyzstan. CARE will support the growth of women’s enterprises within the cashew value chain in India through training, networking and building family support. GRADE will compare the effectiveness of mentoring and peer networks for women looking to grow their businesses into SMEs.

In keeping with USAID’s learning agenda, these partnerships will be evaluated to tell us what worked and why, helping to improve future efforts to place women in leadership roles in enterprise development, economic growth and poverty reduction around the world.

Visit WLSME‘s website to learn more about the initiative, our partnerships in India, Kyrgyzstan and Peru, or to share your organization’s lessons learned.

Celebrating Communities of Cooperative Building

As we come to the end of the Year of the Cooperatives, we celebrate our very own USAID Cooperative Development Program (CDP). By helping to solve governance, management and technical challenges, USAID and our partners aid cooperatives in their efforts to create lasting impacts for their members, their communities and their nation.

So what exactly is a cooperative? Believe it or not, you may know about more cooperatives than you think. Cooperatives are businesses with a difference: they are user-owned businesses that aim to satisfy members’ needs, generate profit and increase development within communities. They are a part of everyday life in the U.S. and abroad. We save at credit unions, buy hardware at Ace and True Value, purchase our camping gear from REI, spread Land O’Lakes butter on our potatoes from Maine Potato Growers, drink Welches or Ocean Spray juice, enjoy a Sunkist orange while we snack on Blue Diamond almonds or Sun Maid raisins while reading an Associated Press article.

But more importantly, Cooperatives directly benefit the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people around the world with millions of jobs, 20 percent of them being international businesses. To support enduring cooperatives, USAID, between 1998 and 2010, funded 184 agricultural projects to strengthen agricultural value networks that included cooperatives, associations, groups and collective action organizations.

Cooperatives impact and improve lives at every socio-economic level, and promote gender equality. In Paraguay, where it is common for women to be economically exploited and not receive pay for their labor and where male family members routinely are credited with the actual labor a woman expends, ultimately marginalizing the impact of support for their families. However, Claudina Portillo rose above these challenges and initiated her own woman-owned cooperative. The Guaaiibi Poty Cooperative exports bananas and pineapple to Argentina. To assist Claudina and the women in the cooperative, USAID’s Cooperative Development Program (CDP) partnered with ACDI/VOCA and trained members of 15 cooperatives, including Portillo’s, on how to overcome gender issues and fight poverty. Session after session, with interest in her cooperative membership growing, Portillo established a youth subcommittee cooperative addressing the need for future farmers. With USAID’s CDP program, gender barriers were eroded; the cooperatives’ membership increased and Portillo’s dream of establishing a family-oriented cooperative to support the community became a reality.

However, cooperative development doesn’t end here. As we come to an end to the Year of Cooperatives, we will continue to increase awareness about the various cooperative development projects being implemented nationwide . We look forward to having many more years of developing and implementing sustainable cooperative programs across the world. View more stories about cooperatives or watch the video.

Devex Impact: Where the Conversation Is

When Paul Polman, the CEO of Unilever, accepted the C.K. Prahalad Global Sustainability Leadership Award it was a warning shot to businesses everywhere.  He pointed to the swift government change in Egpyt as a result of collective social action. Polman said a similar fate could fall to businesses that did not operate responsibly. Not only has Unilever committed to a Sustainable Living Plan, but as part of the Consumer Goods Forum the largest retailers and manufacturers in the world have made ground breaking commitments to reduce their environmental footprint and improve social conditions in the countries they operate in, including a recent commitment to help achieve zero net deforestation by 2020.

Customers increasingly want to buy products and services from companies they are proud to patronize. To build shareholder value and “do good” as part of one’s core business operations is no longer a false dichotomy.

So how does a company do well and do good as part of their core business operations? The best solutions often are forged by combinations of businesses, their suppliers and distributors, governments, donors, local organizations and non-profits with deep social and environment expertise. It is through dialougue, deep listening and problem-solving that partnerships are formed and development challenges are tackled.

USAID has a long history of working with businesses around the world. In the past decade, we have done over 1,600 partnerships. These partnerships often began as social responsibility for business. Centered in the philanthropic or community affairs part of companies, they weren’t always connected to the profit and loss part of the business. Improvements for the world’s poor were real but they didn’t always provide lasting infrastructure to help eradicate poverty.

Lately, we’ve begun to see a change and, with that, an opportunity.  With so much growth of new markets in the developing world, companies are seeking ways to partner more strategically. They are coming to government agencies like USAID seeking partnerships that create win-wins for communities, governments and businesses alike; profitable business growth that steps more lightly on the earth. They want to know how to create solutions that leverage more than money, how could to use their expertise to help drive development outcomes, and how to put in place good stewardship and governance policies to create a level playing field.

With all this demand for information, we decided to use technology to learn together in real-time. We are partnering with Devex, which operates the world’s largest development industry network, connecting 500,000 professionals and thousands of donors, companies and NGOs, to create a new platform to start and share this conversation. Called Devex Impact, this platform will connect professionals at the intersection of business and global development with the practical information they need to make an impact. Together, USAID and Devex hope to transform global development through market-based activities from public-private partnerships to supply chain sustainability to strategic corporate philanthropy.

There’s a big opportunity in emerging market countries – a chance to do business successfully and improve lives. Companies get it. Development organizations get it. But neither of us will accomplish everything that needs to be done if we don’t work together. At USAID, we realized we needed to go where the conversation is so we could talk and listen. Only then will we find new and creative solutions to make sustainable development work. We hope you’ll join us and I look forward to a great dialogue at Devex Impact.

Applying New and Existing Technologies to Atrocity Prevention

Over the past year, I’ve had the honor to be part of the team at USAID implementing the President’s vision of preventing and responding to mass atrocities, including through my service on the White House’s Atrocity Prevention Board.  I have deep personal connections to the issue of atrocity prevention, having worked throughout my career on countries in the midst of conflict where such atrocities have occurred, from Rwanda to Angola to Libya.

Knowing all too well the challenges – internal and external – that a government faces as it attempts to prevent or disrupt these horrific events, I have steered our team at USAID toward expanding the tools available to us and training and equipping our staff to improve our vigilance and response.  In this regard, much more can be done to take advantage of developments in technology.  So many more technologies are available to us today than existed during the Rwanda genocide, and we must harness them to build new capabilities in early warning, remote sensing, safe evidence collection, and elsewhere.

This awareness prompted a conversation that culminates with the contest launch of the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention on October 31.  This exciting effort, co-sponsored by USAID and Humanity United, builds on our new commitment to open source development.  Instead of just drawing on the skill and imagination of our staff, we are engaging a broader community and posing fundamental questions and challenges to new problem-solvers, including students, coders, tech firms, and other innovative thinkers.

The challenges we seek to address through the Tech Challenges are at the heart of barriers we face in ending the cycle of violence in fragile countries.  What new tools or mobile apps can help activists safely document the physical evidence needed to hold abusers accountable and/or support transitional justice processes long after the violence abates?  How can new social media platforms and other tools build pressure on governments to respond, and on the private sector to address the enabling role served by resources generated from conflict minerals and other products?  How can we better monitor hate speech that is often a precursor and instigator of violence?  These are tough questions, but we need answers, fresh perspectives and new ideas.

Please visit the site, share the trailer via social media and forward this to friends, colleagues, or classmates who might help.  Our partner Humanity United will be hosting a Twitter Q&A on Thursday, November 1st at 2 p.m. EST via @HUTweets and #genprevtech to answer your questions about the Tech Challenge.

We look forward to seeing the new ideas you identify in this Tech Challenge, and we’re excited about the broader range of possibilities that open source development will yield.

 

*Updated to reflect change in event date*

USAID Hack for Hunger Winners Showcase Open Data on World Food Day

On Friday, September 14 across seven time zones,  technicians, designers, storytellers and development experts poured into USAID’s Innovation lab with one shared purpose: food.  They joined an online gathering of advocates across five countries for the chance to help tackle critical food security challenges in developing countries by participating in USAID’s Hack for Hunger.

Working throughout the weekend teams applied open data to build products that addressed key challenges outlined by USAID, USDA, and food security stakeholders months prior. On Sunday afternoon a panel of judges expert in food security, open data, entrepreneurship, and open government evaluated the teams based on incorporation of open data, how easy their project was to use, and its relevance to food security.

Winning teams include established organizations like Grameen Bank and Palantir Technologies, small startups including Digital Green, Sonjara, and GeoWiki; and proof-of-concept upstarts like PineApple project and Grower’s Nation.  Visit PineApple’s website and input your location to be provided with suggestions of optimal crops to plant based on known, elevation, soil PH and annual rainfall data. Grameen data on crop blights generate a heat map that Ari Gesher of Palantir labs describes “gives some sense of where maggots and soy beans are colliding, and where the maggots are winning” With this data a text-message can be sent to farmers to warn them of outbreaks of diseases that can affect their crops. The Geo-Wiki Project combines Google Earth data with crowdsourced information to identify land grabs and offers a platform for non-technical volunteers to help combat illegal actions that affect food security.

But, the hacking doesn’t stop.  Teams continue refining their applications, adding in monitoring & evaluation tools like SMS-based Q&A plugins, incorporating still more detailed data, and partnering with similar organizations to bring products to scale. Tomorrow is October 16, World Food Day, and Assistant to the Administrator Paul Weisenfeld and Chief Innovation Officer Maura O’Neill will join winning teams onstage at the Iowa Hunger Summit, the kick-off to the week-long World Food Prize events, and showcase products built at Hack for Hunger.

USAID has a long history of working with frontier technologies.  Hackathons, crowdsourcing cleanups, and other events are just the latest in engaging tech advocates. USAID Administrator Raj Shah has issued a call to action: “Our Agency must serve as a platform that connects the world’s biggest development challenges to development problem-solvers – all around the world.”

We’re looking ahead to a “Development Datapalooza” that the White House plans to host in early December to announce new datasets and showcase products and organizations that use USAID and development data and build innovative products for greater development impact.  As with any tech and hackathon event, anyone is welcome to get involved.

Visit http://idea.usaid.gov/opendata to learn more about Hack for Hunger.

Disaster Risk Reduction for a More Resilient World

I’m just back from Sendai, the largest city in Japan’s tsunami-devastated Tohoku region, where I participated in the World Bank and Government of Japan’s Sendai Dialogue. People gathered from around the world to highlight the need for countries to understand, prevent, and prepare for the inevitable risks of natural disasters. Few nations could have withstood the fierceness of the 9.0 earthquake followed by a towering tsunami as well as Japan with its culture of preparedness. In countries where development gains are still fragile and precious, the ability to manage disasters is especially crucial for sustaining development.

On the International Day for Disaster Reduction, it is vital to remember that around the world, millions of people continue to suffer from earthquakes, storms, tsunamis and prolonged droughts that result in a tragic loss of life and slowed economic growth. Today we also celebrate the important progress of the last decade, with improved early warning systems, better community preparedness and the improved ability of countries to manage an effective response when disaster hits.

USAID has been a leader in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) programming for decades, pioneering approaches to help countries and regions confront a range of these threats. But even as national response capabilities have improved in many areas, disasters and the shocks that catalyze them are coming more frequently and intensely as a result of climate change.

Moreover, in areas with chronic poverty and persistent vulnerabilities, recurring shocks continue to drive the same populations into crisis year after year. So now, even as we save lives, USAID is working to build resilience to recurrent crisis by better connecting our humanitarian assistance with our development programs and more closely coordinating with international development partners in support of country-led plans. By limiting the impacts of hazards, DRR efforts are a vital part of building resilience and helping families and communities bounce back.

This year, together with the international community, we are particularly mindful of the key role women and girls play in disaster risk reduction. In many parts of the world, it is women who most often feed their families, make sure they have water to drink, and make fast decisions when crisis strikes that can make the difference between life and death for their children.

Last week in Japan, one of the hard-learned lessons shared by the Japanese was the importance of including women and girls in planning and preparedness efforts. Two high school girls, Rina and Risa, shared with us their experiences after the earthquake and tsunami, as they helped their families escape and then to rebuild. Above all, they noted, it was a close-knit community of friends and neighbors that sustained them in a difficult time of chaos.

Today and every day, these are the lessons the international community must continue to heed and apply as part of our continued commitment to a more secure world. When it comes to disasters and development, the stakes are just too great.

USAID Book Club: A Farewell to Alms

Fall semester @USAID banner image

As part of USAID’s Fall Semester, we will host an online book club for our readers this fall. The Impact Blog will post suggestions from our senior experts at USAID to suggest a book on important issues in international development.  We’ll provide you and your book club with the reading suggestions and discussion questions, and you tell us what you think! Our fall reading list will  explore solutions to the most pressing global challenges in international development—mobile solutions, poverty, hunger, health, economic growth, and agriculture.

This week’s choice comes from: USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah

Dr. Rajiv Shah serves as the 16th Administrator of USAID and leads the efforts of more than 8,000 professionals in 80 missions around the world.

Dr. Rajiv Shah serves as the 16th Administrator of USAID and leads the efforts of more than 8,000 professionals in 80 missions around the world.

Book: A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World, by Gregory Clark

Synopsis: The source of human progress has long been a subject of debate. What makes rich countries rich, and poor countries poor? In the this book,  University of California, Davis, Economist Gregory Clark offers a provocative take on the age-old question, arguing that it was culture—rather than geography, natural resources or centuries of exploitation—that left some parts of the globe behind.

According to Clark, relative stability and effective workforces enabled certain societies to take better advantage of the Industrial Revolution’s new technologies and opportunities. Those countries with lax systems or undisciplined workers lost ground, and stayed there.

Clark’s book is skeptical of whether the poorest parts of the world will ever achieve real progress. For development professionals, it offers up a challenge to the belief that outside intervention can help bridge the vast economic divide between rich and poor.

Review:  This book impacted me because it shows how for hundreds, or even thousands, of years basic economic progress was largely stagnant. You didn’t have rapid compound increases in living standards until the Industrial Revolution when some countries and some societies got on a pathway towards growth – towards better health, longer life expectancy, higher income per person and more investment in education. Others remained on a slower-moving pathway.

That great divergence, and the study of it, is at the core of development. It is that divergence that we try to learn from and correct for. We define success in development as helping communities and countries get on that pathway towards improved health and education, and greater wealth creation.

I didn’t choose this book because I think it is the definitive story on development, but rather because I share its focus on core economic growth as the driver of divergence.

I disagree where Clark concludes that some societies failed to take advantage of the availability of modern technology because their cultures were antagonistic to development. With the right conditions in place, you can unlock a formidable work ethic from a range of different cultures and communities. The last 50 years have shown us that. By investing in local capacity and local institutions, we can leave a legacy of economic infrastructure, strong and capable leadership, and transparent, effective public and private sector institutions.

USAID’s partnerships in Latin America helped country after country develop strong institutions. The same can be said for South Korea. Unfortunately, there have been examples where aid and assistance have been provided in a manner that was not as sensitive to building lasting local capacity and institutions. This is true for all partners, not just our Agency. That’s why we’ve launched a program called USAID Forward, to refocus on working in a way that will create durable and sustained progress.

Administrator Shah is on Twitter at @rajshah. You  can also “Ask the Administrator” your questions on Crowdhall

Discussion Questions

1. Do you agree with Clark that some societies failed to take advantage of the availability of modern technology because their cultures were antagonistic to development?

2. The Nobel prize-winning economist Robert Solow has said Clark does not take into account how institutional factors, such as cronyism, inequitable taxation and ineffectual government cripple development. What role do you think these institutional factors play?

3. Clark challenges how effective outside intervention can be in helping poor nations progress. Do you agree?

4. Regardless of why some nations have fallen behind, how do you think they can bridge that gap today?

5. Has your world view changed after reading this book and how?

Get Involved: Use the comments section of this blog post to share your answers, or tweet them to us at #fallsemester

What’s Better than Cash?

“We are excited to be joining our partners in announcing the Better than Cash Alliance today. Committed to moving the global community onto electronic payments in place of physical cash, the Alliance will help the world’s poorest families join the modern economy and realize the benefits of a more transparent, inclusive, cash-light world. I’m optimistic that this Alliance will help usher in a new era of opportunity for some of the most vulnerable people on earth.”

– USAID Administrator Raj Shah, September 19, 2012

As surprising as it may sound, physical cash can undercut many development objectives. From improving aid effectiveness to promoting transparency, cash gets in the way. That is why I am excited about the launch of the Better than Cash Alliance, a global public-private partnership dedicated to accelerating the use of electronic payments in place of physical cash. I am proud to have USAID stand alongside forward-thinking partners like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Citi, the Ford Foundation, Omidyar Network, Visa Inc., and the U.N Capital Development Fund to move the world toward a more transparent, efficient, inclusive, cash-light society.

This Alliance wouldn’t have been possible five or ten years ago.  But with the rapid rise of new technologies in the developing world, we can now leverage growing payment systems powered by electronic cards and mobile phones to reduce the presence of cash.

With electronic payments, people can store money safely and securely, a game-changer for the 2.5 billion people around the world without access to basic financial services.  With electronic payments, companies and governments alike can improve transparency in their operations.  You cannot track cash or see the hands it moves through, but it is possible to track how money flows when it is transferred electronically.

With electronic payments, organizations making payments or collecting fees can save money. Paying teachers their salaries or issuing social transfers is expensive. In some of the most distant areas of the world it requires couriers to lug big bags of cash around, and leakages are inevitable.  For example, a World Economic Forum says that developing country governments can realize more than a US$ 100 billion in economic benefits by 2015 by making major payment streams digital.

The benefits of electronic payments are widespread and underpin so many of our development objectives.  I’m not suggesting that it will be easy to realize a cash-light world. It won’t. Over the last year, USAID has worked tirelessly to use our payments and presence as a force for good by promoting the use of safe, accessible, affordable electronic payments systems in place of physical cash.

But we know that we cannot do it by ourselves.  This is a movement that should matter to all of us.  It should matter to any company or NGO trying to save money or protect their employees.  It should matter to any donor organization or government trying to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of development programs.  It should matter to anyone who cares about the plight of the poor.

This vision will take time.  But I’m excited about the steps we’ve taken and I wholeheartedly believe that we must do better than cash. We coined the term “Better Than Cash” because that’s actually what we believe – electronic payments, when introduced in a secure, equitable way, can offer enormous benefits for hundreds of millions of poor families trapped in a cash world.

To learn more about Better Than Cash Alliance, visit www.betterthancash.org, and follow @betterthan_cash. #epayments #progress.

For more about USAID Mobile Solutions efforts, visit www.usaid.gov and follow us @msolutionsUSAID.

Major League Soccer Envoys Bring Olympic-size Excitement to Camp in Eastern Ethiopia

Aug. 12 is International Youth Day, and this year’s theme is “Building a Better World by Partnering with Youth.” As an intern with USAID’s Outreach Program in Ethiopia, I recently spent a week working with 560 young people between ages 13 and 20 doing just that. I helped the U.S. Embassy’s Cultural Affairs Team run a weeklong soccer camp co-sponsored by Sports United and featuring two sports envoys from Major League Soccer: Tony Sanneh and Kate Markgraf.

The State Department’s sports diplomacy program sends American athletes around the world to transcend differences by engaging people with a shared passion for a sport. Forty-four percent of Ethiopia’s population is under the age of 15, so youth development is an integral part of Ethiopia’s development. When asked why he does sports diplomacy, Sanneh, a retired Los Angeles Galaxy player, said, “If kids can learn to stand in line, learn the rules of the game, it translates to the classroom and society.”

Growing up in the United States, I went to summer camp with that American notion of “roughing it.” At this camp however, the participants, coaches and volunteers came from Harar, Dire Dawa and Jijiga, areas of eastern Ethiopia that are susceptible to ethnic and religious tensions. Three hundred and fifty campers were Muslim, and 210 were Christian.

As world attention turns to the London 2012 Summer Olympics, Ethiopian girls were coached and inspired on a daily basis by Markgraf, a three-time Olympian with two gold medals and one silver.  Markgraf remarked on her experience at the camp, saying, “The great thing about soccer is that it doesn’t matter where you come from, what color you are, what gender you are, it brings us all together.”

After the soccer clinics, the Embassy’s cultural attaché, Jason Martin, and staff led daily discussions on social values, peer pressure, American history and good environmental practices. At night the kids would compete as much as they did on the field during the day, dancing to popular Ethiopian music.

On the last day, I asked a girl from Harar named Leyman Jirb Mume if she had had fun, and she said: “I am so happy that I was able to come to this camp and make friends from Jijiga and Dire Dawa. I would never have been able to do that without this program; it makes me so happy.”

For my part, I learned what “roughing it” really means. In addition to braving the scorching heat, many at this camp were very poor, but that didn’t dampen their enthusiastic participation: Some boys and girls even played in flip-flops or barefoot. Markgraf marveled at the level of excitement over soccer balls donated by USAID, saying:  “I think my most memorable experience has been seeing the excitement of the kids when they come off the bus and they each have a soccer ball to play with. We take that for granted in the U.S., but [here] it is something to have an inflated ball that is brand new; that excitement is something I have never seen.”

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