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Archives for Democracy and Governance

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.

From the Dust of Darfur to the Green Shoots of Democracy

Welcome to my debut in the brave new world of blogging at USAID.

We’ve made the most of our time during Dr. Shah’s first Africa trip as the head of this amazing agency; only in the home stretch have I found a few minutes to share an observation or two.

With impressions still intense from a day and a night in Darfur – most notably, visiting under a scorching sun a vast and desert-dusty camp for internally displaced people that thousands of victims of violence, mostly women and children, now know as home – we rose at dawn to head to Juba in the far south of Sudan.  Here the climate is different in every sense.

Right off the bat we met with our civil society partners in the effort to improve governance and confidence in democracy.  The Sudanese Group for Democratic Elections and the Sudanese Network for Democratic Elections provide voter education and poll-watching in the country’s north and south, respectively.  They face very different political situations but similar challenges in trying to protect the integrity of the electoral process.  USAID facilitates this grassroots work with technical guidance and

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Making Every Vote Count

Facial recognition software and thumbprint scanners are used to issue voter IDs.

Kenya is using cutting-edge technology to help increase confidence in democracy -- facial recognition software and thumbprint scanners are used to issue voter IDs that help guarantee each citizen a voice in the electoral process. USAID coordinates support for this pilot project with 11 other donors.

Today we visited an innovative, biometric voter registration site designed to strengthen the electoral system ahead of the August constitutional referendum.

With support from USAID, Kenya’s Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC) is using the latest technology — webcams, thumbprint scanners and light-weight printers, all solar-powered so they’re not reliant on the grid — to protect the integrity of the registration process.

Of Kenya’s 210 constituencies, 18 are piloting this electronic registration system. So far, 1.5 million Kenyans have electronically registered and received their voter ID cards at pilot sites throughout the country.

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