USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Democracy and Governance

Saving Seca – Protecting Victims of Trafficking

Human trafficking is an abuse of human rights and a form of modern slavery that transcends societal borders without regard to race, gender or age. It affects men, women and children all over the world but most especially in developing countries.

Individuals and families are entrapped in through forced labor and complicated schemes of debt bondage that often continue from one generation to the next. Countless victims are forced to become child soldiers or sexual slaves, coerced into prostitution and humiliating, often brutal situations that result in physical and psychological trauma.

The global community has condemned human trafficking and is committed to finding ways to stop traffickers and better assist victims. Today, USAID Chief Counselor, Bambi Arellano spoke at the Washington D.C. premiere of the anti-trafficking film, Saving Seca, at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.  The screening was a joint collaboration between USAID and The Asia Foundation for  the “16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence,” campaign which runs each year from the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women through International Human Rights Day.

The film is intended as a police training tool that demonstrates best practices for ensuring the protection of trafficking victims during brothel raids and rescues. It is a dramatization presented in Cambodian with English subtitles; it follows Seca, a young trafficking victim who has been sold to a brothel and the Cambodian’s police efforts to free her and other victims. The film has been endorsed by the Royal Government of Cambodia and is now included in the official training for police in that country.

Gender violence is a global epidemic – a human rights abuse that encompasses a broad range of issues including human trafficking. USAID is committed to working with our partners and the NGO community to continue to combat gender based violence and human trafficking around the world.

USAID Commemorates International Day of Persons with Disabilities

To commemorate this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities, USAID is hosting a photo display, “USAID and Inclusive Development” in the lobby at the 14th Street entrance of the Ronald Reagan Building on December 3. Nancy Lindborg, Assistant Administrator for the Bureau of Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, will speak at the display opening at 4:00 P.M. The display consists of images from USAID’s programs worldwide and illustrates the progress USAID and our partners have made in integrating persons with disabilities into the political, social, economic, and cultural life in communities around the world. It demonstrates how USAID’s inclusive development programming aligns with the Millennium Development Goals.

A usual day in inclusive kindergarten, supported by the USAID-funded Children in Difficult Circumstances Project, implemented by World Vision. Photo courtesy USAID/Yerevan

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities, annually observed on December 3, aims to promote a better understanding of disability issues worldwide. Established by the U.N. in 1981, it focuses on the rights of persons with disabilities and the value of integrating persons with disabilities into every aspect of society.

This year’s theme for International Day of Persons with Disabilities is “Keeping the Promise: Mainstreaming Disability in the Millennium Development Goals Towards 2015 and Beyond.” It continues the connection between disability programming in the developing world and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It reminds us that although many commitments have been made by the international development community to include persons with disabilities in all aspects of development, much work remains to fulfill those commitments.

Last year’s theme, “Making the Millennium Development Goals Disability-Inclusive: Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities and Their Communities Around the World,” linked disability to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). USAID supports the MDGs and inclusive development in its own policies and programming in its missions around the world.

In 2008, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities acknowledged the development of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Convention provides a legally binding instrument to ensure that societies recognize that all people must be provided with the opportunities to live life to their fullest potential. The United States signed the U.N. Convention on July 30, 2009.

In September 1997, USAID adopted a groundbreaking policy which led to the creation of a detailed framework to guide USAID’s efforts in the area of disability and inclusive development. The policy states that USAID will not discriminate against persons with disabilities and will work to ensure the inclusion of these individuals in USAID-funded programs and activities. The policy also calls on USAID missions to enlist partners, host-country counterparts, and other donors in a collaborative effort to end discrimination against and promote equal opportunity for persons with disabilities.

In 2005, Congress provided USAID with a dedicated source of funding to complement their commitment to include persons with disabilities in development programs and to empower them to advocate for their own rights. To date, these initiatives have supported programs in more than 40 countries, primarily through financial and technical assistance to USAID missions to promote their own inclusive  development  activities.

USAID works to educate employees on disability issues through courses and workshops. USAID provides tools and technical assistance to field missions as they institutionalize the policy and it has developed self-reporting mechanisms to track progress in implementing the policy in Washington, D.C. and overseas.

Learn more about USAID’s Disability Policy and Inclusive Development programming.

Contact: Rob Horvath, rhorvath@usaid.gov

Voter Registration Begins for Sudan Referendum

Voter registration began today in Sudan for the landmark referendum on self-determination for southern Sudan, which is scheduled to begin January 9. The referendum—a key provision of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (PDF) that ended 22 years of war between northern and southern Sudan—will allow the people of southern Sudan to choose either to remain part of a unified Sudan or to secede and form an independent nation.

USAID is playing a key role in supporting this historic referendum process, including the purchase and delivery of voter registration books, cards, and training manuals that are now in use, conducting voter education to inform voters about the process, helping domestic organizations to observe the process, and supporting independent international observation of the process.


Slideshow of Voter Registration from Sudan

More than 5.4 million southern Sudanese are eligible to register, and there are nearly 3,000 registration centers in Sudan that will register voters through December 1. Registration of eligible voters is taking place in Sudan as well as eight other countries that have large populations of southern Sudanese—Australia, Canada, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Three American cities are hosting voter registration: Phoenix, Arizona; Omaha, Nebraska; and the Washington, DC, metro area.

USAID Delivers Materials for Southern Sudan Self-Determination Referendum

One of the highlights of my trip to Sudan last week was seeing all the work we at USAID have been doing to help southern Sudan prepare for its historic referendum on self-determination. Voting is due to start January 9, 2011.

Despite initial delays as the parties to Sudan’s 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement put in place the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC) in Khartoum and Southern Sudan Referendum Bureau (SSRB) in Juba and established their operating procedures, preparations for the referendum are now in full swing on an extremely compressed timeline.  Our dedicated team of electoral experts, including both USAID Mission staff and an experienced team from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, have been working day and night with the SSRC and SSRB (which are in charge of the referendum) to plan and assist in carrying out this historic event.  We have also been working closely with the international community, particularly the United Nations, to ensure timely and coordinated efforts to support the referendum process.

U.S. Government and United Nations representatives in Khartoum on October 30 hand over to the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC) materials for southern Sudan’s January 2011 self-determination referendum.  From left:  U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration; USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator for Africa Larry Garber; UN Development Program Resident Representative Claudio Caldarone; SSRC Chairman Professor Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil; UN Integrated Referendum and Electoral Division Director Denis K. Kadima; Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary General Jasbir Lidder.  Credit:  Jim Parys/USAID

Working with the Sudanese, we are playing a key role by providing technical and material assistance, and have provided significant funding to international and domestic groups to both educate voters and ensure credible observation of the referendum.

On October 30, I witnessed a key milestone in this effort—we and our UN partners handed over more than 3,000 registration kits and training materials necessary for voter registration, which is due to start November 15.   Along with me and our Sudan team was U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan General Scott Gration; Mr. Jasbir Lidder, Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary General; and SSRC Chairman Professor Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil.

From all the participants, I heard words of gratitude for our support.  Mr. Lidder characterized the delivery of referendum materials as the “first fruits of our cooperation,” recognizing that much more effort is still required to ensure a credible referendum process.  Most encouraging to me was the presence of Professor Khalil, who described the registration process as “this complex task for this important event to allow all eligible southern voters—even those living in the north—to participate in this decision on the future for all southern citizens.”

Picture of the Week: In the Spirit of Election Day

Iraq elections

Iraqis count votes at the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) headquarters in Baghdad on March 12, 2010, following the country’s second general elections since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. With assistance from the USAID Elections Support Program, the IHEC successfully administered five major electoral events between 2004 and the March elections in Iraq. Photo is from Ahmad Al-Rubaye / AFP.

USAID Seizes Development Opportunities in Ukraine

I arrived in Ukraine on Columbus Day to discuss challenges in Ukraine and how our programs are addressing those issues, as well as to visit our projects to see the real impact American aid has on the ground.

On Tuesday we met with the U.S. Embassy, USAID Mission, and implementing organizations in Kyiv to discuss our programs in Ukraine, the upcoming municipal elections, and financial reform programs. Since regional issues have long torn Ukraine’s regions apart, it was interesting to see those areas where Ukrainians had common perspectives – particularly on the devastating impact of the global economic crisis (which caused Ukraine’s GDP growth to fall from +8 percent in 2007 to -15 per cent in 2009).

Roberta Mahoney and others discuss the results of the USAID Municipal Heating Reform project with city and hospital officials. Photo Credit: USAID/Ukraine

I then traveled to Crimea accompanied by the USAID Mission Director, Janina Jaruzelski, State’s Coordinator of U.S. Assistance to Europe & Eurasia (ACE), Dan Rosenblum, and several other State, USAID, and Embassy staff.

On our first morning in Crimea, we visited a number of hospitals that have received some 2,800 pieces (filling 96 trucks!) of medical equipment from a project of ACE’s Humanitarian Affairs section.

In the afternoon, we met a cross-section of young leaders in Crimea’s NGO community working to address issues from minority and prisoner rights to the media and the rights of persons with disabilities.  The group, which received leadership training through the USAID Ukrainian Strengthening Civil Society Organizations (UNITER) project, was remarkably perceptive about their capacity to influence policy and politics, the need to represent and motivate their members, and the real need to focus in sustained and creative ways on financial sustainability.

Thursday took us to a different Crimean city, Yevpatoria, where we met with the dynamic mayor about his comprehensive plan for the revitalization of the city’s economy. We then visited another hospital, this time from the outside, and watched as Ukrainian workers retrofitted the exterior of the hospital’s walls and attics with insulation with assistance from the USAID Municipal Heating Reform (MHR) project, which is also working in four other towns in Crimea.

The hospital will be able to increase heat generating efficiency in this cold region from roughly 64 to 99 percent, which will save the hospital money and improve conservation of critical resources.  Such a dramatic reduction in energy waste is one example of the positive impact MHR can have on Global Climate Change.

The highlight of the day, however, still lay ahead: meeting with NGOs and businesses devoted to promoting Crimea to the rest of the world!  We discussed the opportunities and challenges of promoting Crimean tourism with a significant representation of Crimean tourism businesses.

During a tour of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, we learned that Yevpatoria’s last multi-domed mosque was designed by Sinan, the greatest architect of the Ottoman Empire, who took inspiration from the domes of Haghia Sophia in Istanbul in creating Yevpatoria’s impressive Turkish-style mosque.  Sinan had also designed many other Istanbul mosques.

Yevpatoria is home to the Qaraim, an ancient community closely linked to Judaism that is arguably the smallest ethnic group on earth, numbering some 2,000 individuals.  During the Russian Civil War, Mr. Duvan, the town’s mayor and one of the most illustrious members of the Qaraim community who had fled the Russian Revolution for exile in France, sent a shipload of wheat to the city to help his former citizens survive.

One last stop remained — the one stop business center. Hailed as a success by the business community, citizens, and the government, the office brings all the actors together under one roof to significantly reduce the time it takes to register a new business and limit opportunities for bribery and corruption during the process. It was a fitting end to a successful visit, as we came away assured of the capacity of Crimeans to establish businesses to share the beauty, history, and bounty of the peninsula with the world, while providing hope and jobs for its citizens.

In all we’ve had a very successful visit, gaining exposure and insight to the breadth of the USAID’s program and accomplishments and the challenges that remain in Ukraine, from democracy and governance to health, energy, and the economy.

University of Michigan and the Call to Action that Changed the World: USAID Congratulates Peace Corps

On October 14, 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy addressed students from the steps of the University of Michigan Union, challenging them to give two years of their lives to help people in countries of the developing world.

“How many of you who are going to be doctors, are willing to spend your days in Ghana?” the soon-to-be president said. “Technicians or engineers, how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world? On your willingness to do that, not merely to serve one year or two years in the service, but on your willingness to contribute part of your life to this country, I think will depend the answer whether a free society can compete. I think it can! And I think Americans are willing to contribute. But the effort must be far greater than we have ever made in the past.”

That call to action, 50 years ago today, inspired one of the most successful service projects in American history, the Peace Corps. Since its inception a year later, nearly 200,000 Americans have joined the Peace Corps, serving in 139 countries and making a difference every day, promoting shared understanding, peace and prosperity.

The pillars of the Peace Corps — using American expertise to help nations around the world, promoting a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served, and helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans — are noble goals that have impacted countless individuals, communities, and nations over the last half century, including our own.

Next year, both USAID and the Peace Corps will celebrate their 50th anniversaries thanks to President Kennedy’s vision to engage with the world and show American leadership though peace, friendship and compassion—the greatest assets anyone has to offer.

On behalf of all of us at USAID on this historic day, I would like to congratulate this great organization, which continues to inspire some of our country’s best and most dedicated volunteers to help people around the globe build better lives for themselves.

Picture of the Week: Afghan Women Participate in Elections

Afghan women in Kabul proudly show their blue fingers as evidence of their vote in the 2010 Parliamentary Elections. Photo is from Courtney Body, USAID/Afghanistan.

From the Field

In Albania, we are promoting World Contraception Day (September 26th). USAID’s two maternal and child health programs have partnered with Albania’s Institute of Public Health to raise awareness of using modern contraception to mark World Contraception Day. USAID will send out 20,000 text messages to Albanian adults 18-35 years old with the message, “It’s your life, it’s your choice – Use modern contraceptive methods to avoid unplanned pregnancies”. According to the 2009 Demographic Health Survey, Albania has one of the lowest levels of modern contraceptive use in the world; with only one in nine married women age 15–49 using a modern method of family planning. Modern contraceptives not only prevent unwanted pregnancies but are better for women’s reproductive health.

In Paraguay, we will recognize 90 municipalities improved performance under a local government assistance program. Since 2006, around 100 municipalities in Paraguay have been participating in a performance improvement process developed with local NGOs and the support of USAID. The project, called MIDAMOS (Let’s Measure in Spanish) aims at having municipalities open their institutions to to evaluate their performance and identify areas that must be improved in order to offer better services to citizens.

In West Sumatra, Indonesia, we will commemorate the Padang Earthquake Anniversary on September 28th. We will hold a brick laying event as part of the first anniversary of the West Sumatra Earthquake reconstruction efforts in which we have partnered with both the Australian and Indonesian Governments to support a large education program. The event will be located in a primary school in Kota Padang. USAID/ AusAID have committed to rebuild 34 primary schools in the area.

USAID/Zimbabwe Unveils Audio and Voting Equipment to Support Good Governance at Parliament

USAID/Zimbabwe has made a major donation of  audio equipment to the Parliament of Zimbabwe. In a ceremony at the Zimbabwe Parliament on September 22, Ambassador Charles Ray and USAID Director Karen Freeman formally handed over a new sound archiving and voting system worth about USD$500, 000. The equipment will improve audibility in both houses, allow for bilingual translation, allow for secret voting and, finally, enable the media to obtain audio recordings of any sitting of Parliament. The ceremony also included remarks by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, President of the Senate Edna Madzongwe and House Speaker Lovemore N.M. Moyo.

The equipment was made available under a Memorandum of Understanding with Parliament signed in May 2010. “USAID has had a long standing relationship with the Parliament of Zimbabwe and this donation is symbolic of our wishes to continue to work with Parliament to expand its capacity,” said USAID Director Karen Freeman.  “We are delighted to provide equipment to support and improve the daily function of this fundamental branch of government.”

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