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A Dispatch from the Tunisian and Libyan Border

Nancy Lindborg is the Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance at USAID on the ground. Photo Credit: USAID

Ras Jdir, Tunisia: I heard boisterous singing as I walked through the transit camp on the border between Tunes and Libya. There, forming a human chain to pass boxes of supplies into a tent, was a group of Tunisian youth, volunteering to assist the tens of thousands of migrants fleeing the conflict in Libya. They provided a welcome counterpoint to the blowing sand and steady flow of Bangladesh, Somalia, Malian and other migrants struggling across the border and into the transit camp.

Only weeks after the Tunisians sparked a regional revolution on January 14th, toppling the corrupt regime of Ben Ali and inspiring the world with their aspirations for freedom and democracy, Tunisians have once again mobilized. The newly installed government of Tunisia quickly provided security and support for transit camps. Citizens across the country have spontaneously provided food, water and blankets, and driven to the border to volunteer. The energetic singers I encountered were part of a group of 40 Boy Scouts who came eager to help. There was a palpable sense of pride in their ability to organize and act in this new era of freedom.

Some 80,000 Tunisians worked inside Libya, alongside the more than a million guest workers from around the world — 200,000 have fled thus far. Already 30,000 Tunisians have returned, often to the poorer communities in the south, which means an influx of unemployed workers and loss of remittances. At the same time, the economy is reeling from loss of tourism in the wake of recent events and loss of important commerce with Libya. And yet, Tunisians, including those in these hardest hit communities, have generously reached out, determined to help.

I traveled with Eric Schwartz, Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugee and Migration at the U.S. Department of State to understand better the needs arising from the conflict now engulfing Libya. While there, we announced $17 million of urgent assistance, bringing the total U.S. Government aid to $47 million. Our assistance to-date has gone to UN organizations on the frontlines of managing the camps and transport, to international NGOs able to provide critical help to those still inside Libya, as well as to the Tunisian Red Crescent Society, now an important conduit for volunteers.

Our new funding will target urgent assistance to the Libyans who are still trapped inside a bloody conflict as well as enabling support for those communities in southern Tunisian hardest hit by this crisis. We are inspired by them and as Americans, we are proud to mobilize alongside them in this time of crisis.

I also stopped to talk with two migrants from Bangladesh. They had worked in Libya for a year, but had not received wages for several months. Their employer abruptly shut down the construction project where they had worked. Fearful of the rising violence they headed to the border and along the way were robbed of their remaining money and cellphones. When we met, they had joined the 40 Boy Scouts, inspired as well.

Nancy Lindborg is the Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance at USAID.

From the Field

In Zimbabwe, USAID is giving youth a voice in their communities. This month, the Young People Initiative was launched to empower youth and help them solve critical issues collaboratively. U.S. Ambassador Charles A. Ray spoke at the launch event, encouraging youth to “think outside the box” while at the same time learning from the successes and failures of their elders. The program will provide a national platform for youth to communicate their needs, concerns and opinions to stakeholders, legislators and policy makers. The initiative kicked off with the first of a series of 30-minute radio programs that will be broadcast regularly and feature special guests. In addition, a call-in center reachable by SMS will serve as a link to service providers and church youth support systems.

USAID supports Ministry of Education in Haiti

When the Ministry of Education building collapsed in last year’s earthquake, people scrambled to pull colleagues from the rubble.

Employees quickly returned to work in donated shelters, with little time to mourn the loss of their friends, family and colleagues. Among those killed around Haiti were 38,000 students, 1,347 teachers and 180 education personnel. More than 4,200 schools were destroyed.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) faced a monumental challenge in getting the education system back online. Its gradual progress has been impeded by the loss of office equipment.

Last week, employees, who have shared the few working computers, happily welcomed new supplies provided by USAID project PHARE (Programme Haitien d’Appui à la Réforme de l’Education). The donation included 60 laptops, 20 desktop computers, 80 desks and chairs, and 20 printers.

“This will help us accelerate our work,” said Pierre-Michele Laguerre, MOE director general.

Laguerre described the scene when the three-story building crumbled Jan. 12, killing 11 employees.

“We heard a lot of crying and screaming,” he said. “We spent many days trying to save those under the rubble.”

Those trapped included Jacqueline Jasmin and Marie Lourdes Borno.

A mass of concrete collapsed on Jasmin, whose son leapt from an opening on the first floor as the building pancaked.

“I heard my son crying, ‘My mother is dead!’” she recalled. “I yelled out, ‘I am alive!’”

Jasmin’s son frantically ran for help as colleagues worked by hand to rescue her. Ten hours later, they pulled her out.

When the earthquake struck, Borno had just walked away from Jasmin. Borno lost consciousness and said that upon waking, “I found myself with my arms on me, but they were crushed. I tried to be brave, and prayed to God to have given me life even without arms.”

Her colleagues freed her within 10 minutes, but her arms had to be amputated at the elbow. Jasmin had a metal rod inserted in her broken right arm, which, along with her head, bears multiple scars.

The two share a strong bond, along with a nickname for each other.

“Whenever I see Madame Borno, I hug her and say, “My rubble companion!’” Jasmin said.

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From the Field

In Kenya, partnering with Pact Kenya we will hold a Trauma Healing and Social Reconciliation Workshop to develop a team of trainers/experts in the region to enhance the sustainability of people to people/social reconciliation processes.  By helping individuals deal with trauma, we hope to improve relationships between communities in the area and create environments more receptive to peace-building interventions.

In Tanzania, along with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and DFID, we are procuring $10 million in contraceptives to avoid stock-outs.  The event will be used as a platform to advocate for adequate budgeting and disbursement to ensure contraceptive supply in public sector health facilities.  We will also use the event to highlight the positive outcomes from donor partnership and coordination.

In the West Bank, we will hold our biannual press round table to update the local West Bank media of USAID activities in the area.  We will do the same in Jerusalem with Gaza journalists.

From the Field

In Indonesia, we will hold the opening of the much anticipated IMULAI 3.0 innovation competition.  iMULAI is a national competition program for innovation in information technology (IT) software applications. The program seeks to promote the importance of IT innovation among businesses and the general public, achieve public awareness of USAID and Microsoft Indonesia’s social and economic goals and improve Indonesia’s IT competitiveness and the local software economy.

In Elbasan, Albania we will open a Tourism Information Office.  Joseph C. Williams, USAID/Albania Mission Director will join the Mayor of Elbasan and other local government officials along with local businesses to launch the site.  USAID will travel to Elbasan to participate in a series of site visits and events to highlight USAID assistance to the city and business community there.  Among the activities will be a ribbon-cutting for the city’s first Tourism Information Office, made possible through a public-private partnership with a local business, a visit to a major infrastructure investment project made possible with the support of USAID’s DCA for municipal borrowing, and a meeting with the Mayor and Small Business Association to raise awareness of a public information and sticker campaign to support tax payments by small businesses.

In Tajikistan, we will hold the USAID Safe Drinking Water Project opening to celebrate the completion of the water system renovation project. Opening speeches by the Ambassador and local government officials will be made, followed by a visit to a Safe Drinking Water Project site. There will be a total of eight launches in eight different villages.

From the Field

In Nepal, we supported a women’s football tournament in mid-western Nepal.  The eight-day young women’s football league tournament in Mahendranagar, Kanchanpur was attended by as many as 10,000 people.  The competition was designed to build the confidence, leadership, team building and networking skills of local, rural women.  The sports activity is part of the youth leadership component of USAID’s Flood Recovery Project that seeks to expand the participation of youth and vulnerable populations in the development process of their communities.

In Lebanon, we will hold a workshop in coordination with the Ministry of Tourism to introduce Lebanese tour operators and rural tourism stakeholders to local tourism opportunities in Akkar, upper Jbeil and Jezzine.  The session aims at strengthening marketing linkages for twenty rural tourism projects assisted by USAID, including improving hiking trails, rehabilitating lodges and camping areas, and creating tourism information centers. The workshop will highlight the importance of rural and eco-tourism as income generation opportunities for rural areas and introduce tour operators to several rural tourism projects implemented with USAID assistance.

In Vietnam, we will hold a graduation ceremony for students with disabilities who are taking IT courses at Van Lang University in Ho Chi Minh City. Hundreds of students in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi have benefited from training under the USAID program; 70 percent of graduates have found jobs.

From the Field

In the Philippines, we will hold an international conference on Mobile Money Transfer (MMT) in Asia.  The 2-day interactive workshop is designed to help  define the right MMT business model, while maintaining prudent financial sector regulatory practices. Particular focus will be given to the prevention of money laundering, the security of payment mechanisms and consumer protection in any given country.

In Zambia, in partnership with the Ministry of Health, we will hand over four supply trucks to local medical stores.  This is part of an ongoing USAID/Zambia initiative to improve health care services and commodity availability in rural areas.

From the Field

In Mozambique, as part of the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), we will launch the Malaria Communities Program (MCP).  This program will support the efforts of communities and indigenous organizations to combat malaria.  The primary beneficiary groups of the MCP are children under five and pregnant women.

In Zambia, a rural health center built with support from a USAID humanitarian assistance program will be handed over to the local community for its own management and use.

In Ghana, we will hold a Voucher Fair to distribute vouchers to those affected by recent flooding.  This one-day event will distribute vouchers to 700 households, an estimated 4,200 people that were affected by the recent floods in the Central Gonja District.  The vouchers can be used to purchase items such as blankets, clothes, plastic sheets, mattresses, kitchen supplies and school supplies from local

From the Field

In Albania, we will open a Taxpayer Service Center in Tirana. Based on a new client-centered model, Albania’s General Directorate of Taxation, with the support of USAID and the MCC Threshold Program, will open a new service center in Tirana. The project has supported the remodeling of the infrastructure, including key IT infrastructure that will allow for a customer queue system and 20 customer service windows for taxpayers. Tax administration reforms are important to increase transparency and reduce corruption in Albania’s business environment.

In Paraguay, we will celebrate the results of a seven year citizen’s initiatives program to improve democracy.

In Zimbabwe, Mission Director Karen Freeman joined Ambassador Charles Ray and Zimbabwean government officials to bestow the 10th annual Auxillia Chimusoro awards to Zimbabweans who have excelled in their involvement in the fight against HIV and AIDS in Zimbabwe. The awards are given to individuals and organizations that have made substantial contributions in communication, leadership, social investment and other areas to mitigate the effects and impact of HIV/AIDS. The awards are named after Auxillia Chimusoro, one of the first individuals to disclose their HIV positive status in Zimbabwe. This year, the awardees included Catherine Murombedzi, the first journalist in Zimbabwe to disclose her HIV positive status, Head of the HIV and Tuberculosis (TB) unit in the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare Dr. Owen Mugurundgi, and the late Dr. Monica Glenshaw, a former District Medical Officer for Manicaland.

In Iraq, we will join The Ministry of Health (MoH)for their  Annual National Conference.  This year the conference will focus on “Training Management in Health Institutions”. The MoH Human Resource and Development Center (HRTDC), International Medical Corps (IMC) and USAID/Tatweer are partners in this conference. Papers from each Directorate of Health from each province will be presented.  Several workshops will also take place, topics include: planning and implementing the training process and developing training curricula, the role of IT in improving health information systems, the impact of training on MoH service delivery, accreditation and quality assurance of training and budget preparation for training.  Additionally, as USAID/Tatweer comes to a close, the conference will highlight MoH and USAID/Tatweer successes in developing sustainable capacity and affecting system reform in the Ministry.

From the Field

In Lebanon, in order to improve student achievement in Lebanese Public Schools, we will improve learning environments through physical repairs and provision of equipment, increase learning opportunities through in-service teacher training and extra-curricular activities, and raise stakeholder engagement in public schools.  This effort is expected to benefit thousands of students and teachers in over 1,300 public schools. Ambassador Maura Connelly, USAID Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Middle East Christopher Crowley and USAID/Lebanon Mission Director Dr. Jim Barnhart will announce the program with the Lebanese Minister of Education & Higher Education; Dr. Hassan Mneimneh.

In Afghanistan, we will hold our second Water Conference. In this Forum, key water sector stakeholders can develop a shared understanding of the opportunities and challenges of sustainable development and management of water resources in Afghanistan and set a road map for addressing the challenges.

In Cambodia, on December 10th in Phnom Penh, we will celebrate the 62nd Anniversary of International Human Rights Day.

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