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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.”

Long-Term Investments to Bring Real-Life Improvements to People of Pakistan

A summary map on the activities announced or underway in Pakistan.

During Dr. Raj Shah’s whirlwind two-day visit to Pakistan with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the ongoing Strategic Dialogue between the two countries, the U.S. announced more than $500 million in new development assistance for Pakistan. 

The new projects include the completion of two hydroelectric dams in South Waziristan and Gilgit-Baltistan that will supply more than 34 megawatts of additional power to 280,000 residents in those areas, the renovation and construction of three medical facilities, economic growth programs and seven projects to improve water distribution and efficiency in the country. Much of the assistance will be delivered by USAID.

The United States shares with Pakistan a vision of a future in which all people can live safe, healthy, and productive lives. Dr. Shah spoke with press about USAID’s role in Pakistan, saying that “Our commitment is broad and deep,” and one that encompasses programs ranging from health and energy to economic growth and agriculture. 

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From the Field

In Lebanon Haigazian University will be presented with $450,081 to directly support its student financial aid program. 356 Haigazian University students with demonstrable financial need from all over Lebanon will be given scholarships with these U.S. funds, made available through USAID. Without this assistance, these students would not be able to study at Haigazian University. Lebanese American University (LAU) will be presented with $1,178,122 to support its Financial Aid & Scholarships Fund for both campuses in Jbeil and Beirut. 249 qualified Lebanese students benefit from this program.

In Albania USAID will open a Public Information Office in one of Albania’s District Courts. To tackle corruption in Albania’s judicial system, USAID’s Rule of Law program works with a set of pilot courts to improve their performance and accountability to citizens. One of several accountability measures introduced by USAID, public information offices serve as one-stop shops where citizens have quick and easy access to information on court proceedings and their legal rights.

In El Salvador a signing ceremony for the Global Development Alliance (GDA) with the Salvadoran Foundation for Health and Human Development (FUSAL). USAID will help expand FUSAL’s Libras de Amor program to two additional municipalities in Sonsonate to combat poor eating habits and malnutrition.

In Jakarta a forum will present eight finalists – that represent the finest – of more than 75 projects which entered a competition in Asia, organized by Climate Technology Initiative (CTI), and sponsored by USAID. Eight clean energy competition finalists, reps from more than 150 energy professionals, entrepreneurs, donors, banks, partners, project developers from Indonesia and Asia. The forum is a means to bridge the financial gap between creative innovators in clean energy with private investors who are willing to fund these opportunities.

USAID radio drama informs return in Uganda

Regaining its footing after a quarter century of conflict, northern Uganda is bustling with activity. Communities are working to restore local infrastructure and citizens are going about the business of rebuilding homes and lives. However the political reality is that the political leadership wanted to expedite the return process while also provide people with crucial information to returnees so they could make informed decisions about their lives.

Radio is not only the most reliable source of information for returning communities but also serves as the medium of choice to access the information people are seeking. However radio stations also have a limited ability to deliver the kind of content needed.

To encourage people to return and help them with their rebuilding efforts, the Lamele Theatre Artists, in collaboration with USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives, spearheaded the production of a radio drama. Ajing Conga, Bila Pa Ladwar (I Will Strengthen My Knees – The Song of a Hunter) focuses on three families that have returned to northern Uganda and are grappling to rebuild their lives. The show is providing returnees with crucial information on education, health, culture, security, and governance.

Three stations aired the 72 episodes of the radio drama three times a week. Once the production finished, the Lamele Theater Artists took the show on the road and performed skits live in villages. The shows, some of which were revised, were well received by northern Ugandans who were able to identify with the challenges and issues portrayed.

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