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Archives for Latin America and the Caribbean

Indigenous Internship Program Trains Peru’s Young Adults

Darwin Mori Barbaran was born one of 10 to a school teacher and a jewelry artisan deep in the Peruvian jungle. When he was a child, both of his parents died in tragic accidents.  He was forced to confront the grim realities of the hinterlands at a young age –the tough physical labor life there would require as well as  the paltry opportunities for those who stay in the campo. As a result, he decided to do all he could to break out of the recurring cycle of poverty.

A life as a farmer, logger, weaver or a carpenter was really not interesting to him. Unlike many of his peers, he was grappling with profound questions, such as how societies develop, how governments can be more efficient with lesser resources, and how to create and sustainably run environmentally-friendly, legal businesses.

One bright, sunny afternoon, Mori’s life was forever changed by an announcement on the radio. Listening to his favorite station that broadcasts in the Shipibo indigenous language, he heard that the Peruvian government created a scholarship program for indigenous students from the Amazon to attend public universities in the capital city.

Initially, he was nervous. He would have to speak Spanish and dress in a different fashion. He would live in the chaotic city of Lima. But ultimately, he decided to pursue the scholarship. After a rigorous application process and a tense waiting period, the good news arrived: he had been accepted.

As predicted, Mori faced serious obstacles upon arriving in Lima. He was forced to share a room with four roommates, often times having to schedule sleeping in shifts, so the two mattresses would suffice for all. He picked up two jobs: one at the university library working as the bag check clerk, and the other making necklaces and another popular kind of jewelry called shakiras – a skill he learned from his mother. While some were able to take summer classes and get ahead in their studies, Mori could not, as the S/. 250 (approximately $85) per class was simply out of his budget. After nine years of struggling against the odds, and after many academic ups-and-downs, Mori graduated with a B.A. in Economics.

Recently, he began working at USAID/Peru under the mission’s Afro-Peruvian and Indigenous Internship Program. This program, founded in 2009, works to increase the number of quality professional and educational opportunities available to Peru’s Afro-Peruvian and indigenous populations. The effort aims to train recent graduates who could become their country’s next generation of leaders by providing hands-on development experience and an understanding of the U.S. Government.

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International Education Week: Early Education Sets Young Nicaraguans on the Path the Academic Success

Identifying problems in early-grade reading is crucial for development in parts of the world where the stakes are high for kids that get behind the learning curve at a young age.

Nicaragua is one country that has identified early-reading as a major area for improvement and made widespread efforts to address it. The ministry of education there has incorporated EGRA into its national assessment system, and has begun training all first-grade teachers in its implementation, and is developing tools for assisting teachers in the provision of remedial programs for students that fall behind.

Despite gender equality in access to schooling in Nicaragua, boys have higher drop-out rates than girls. Because of economic reasons, especially in rural areas, the chances of a dropout returning to school are minimal. Photo Credit: USAID

Identifying problems in reading and promoting early grade reading is crucial for development in parts of the world where the stakes are high for kids that get behind the learning curve early. While reading is one of many skills that young students must master to thrive today, it is the foundation of all other learning activities in the classroom. It also is increasingly understood as a science, not something that kids simply learn “naturally,” particularly if their homes are devoid of reading opportunities. USAID has made this one of its central concerns through its new Global Education Strategy (2011 – 2015), and is building on prior work that has aimed to set the standards for learning as well as useful measures for assessing it.

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New Mission Director Sworn in for Jamaica

Denise A. Herbol was sworn in on Friday, November 4, 2011 as the Mission Director for USAID’s mission in Kingston, Jamaica.  Herbol, a career Senior Foreign Service Officer, leaves her post as Senior Deputy Mission Director for USAID’s mission in Islamabad, Pakistan.  Ms. Herbol has been with the Agency since 1987 and has served in Lebanon, Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Ghana, Belize, Albania, Uganda, Colombia, and Ukraine.

The programs she will oversee in Jamaica will impact economic growth, education, democracy, and anti-corruption; including programs to empower at risk youth, stimulate economic development, improve education and skills development; and fight corruption.

Herbol is looking forward to working to working in Jamaica, despite a lean budget.  She says, “ I know that Jamaica has strong effective institutions with good leadership and I expect we will be able to more quickly move to expand the amount of resources through host country systems as well as local NGOS.”

Fundación Saraki Helping Advance Labor Rights and Inclusion for People with Disabilities in Paraguay

Worldwide, it is estimated that 15% of men and women have some kind of disability. The worldwide unemployment rate for people with disabilities is estimated to be close to 80%.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and during my recent trip to Paraguay I wanted to highlight a group that I met with, called Fundación Saraki. The non-profit specializes in helping advance the labor rights of those with disabilities and strives for inclusion in Paraguayan society.

Members of Fundacion Saraki, a non-profit that is dedicated to laboral inclusion for those with disabilities. Photo Credit: Laura Rodríguez/USAID

Although Congress in Paraguay passed a law in 2004, which provides mandatory labor inclusion of People with Disabilities (PwD) in public institutions, there has been little compliance with the law up to 2009. Also, there is no legal requirement for private companies in Paraguay to hire PwD.

In May 2009, Fundación Saraki was granted a Cooperative Agreement for the “Effective Labor Inclusion” of People with Disabilities within the public and private sectors. With this agreement, Fundacion Saraki has started working with many private companies including McDonald’s and Supermercados España (a local supermarket chain in Paraguay).

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Public Private Partnership Week: Passion Fruit, Opening the Path for a Brighter Future

Rural farmers in Paraguay are having great success selling their passion fruit through farming associations to a leading corporate juice brand. This is thanks to USAID’s support through Paraguay Productivo, a program that connects small farmers with private sector buyers.

Lucia Santos and her grandson who have benefited from the cooperative with Frutika. Photo Credit: Laura Rodriguez/USAID

Last week, I had the chance to visit some farmers in Paraguay’s Itapúa province and learn about their experiences with Paraguay Productivo and especially the leading local buyer, Frutika. I was thrilled to see the benefits of the program for myself and hear the testimony of small-scale farmer, Lucia Santos, whose life has been transformed through her production work. In the following video she says that she now has enough money to buy necessary items for her family.

USAID/Paraguay Productivo has GDA (Global Development Alliances) agreements with 20 organizations, mainly small farmer cooperatives & private firms and has generated $9.8 million U.S. dollars  in local sales and exports. Paraguay Productivo is working with Cooperatives and associations that have over 100,000 members some of them in production and many others in savings and credits cooperatives.

The program also provides technical support to farmers, including advising them on how to best produce crops. And it has helped them find buyers like Frutika, one of Paraguay’s most successful food processing and distribution companies, which buys passion fruit and other products from small farmers.

This is a win-win arrangement. The company can count on a reliable source of passion fruit and rural producers now have a reliable buyer. Since the initial agreement in 2009, approximately 300 small farmers have joined the program and started producing passion fruit and another 250 farmers are preparing to cultivate more passion fruit.

Some municipalities are joining the effort because they are investing in nursery production for passion fruit. In rural Paraguay where the poverty rate is as high as 48 %, this assistance is really helping to transform people’s lives.

Beneficiary Norma Riveros, credits her passion fruit sales to her participation in Paraguay Productivo, which ensures her and her family a regular income. They can now afford to buy a machine that helps them clear the field and improve crop yield. I also had a chance to speak to 19 year old passion fruit farmer and business student, Rolando Fretes, one of the cooperatives’ young leaders. In this video he talks about his work and explains why Paraguay Productivo is important to his community:

At the end of the day, I visited the production plant at Frutika and saw first-hand the results of the farmers’ hard labor. Frutika is one of the best-selling companies in Paraguay, and the leading provider of juices such as orange juice, passion fruit, and peach. Here, Engineer Celso Cubilla discusses the importance the company’s partnership with Paraguay Productivo to its business goals.

In short, there is no denying that this public private partnership is beneficial to Paraguay’s economy and all the parties involved: USAID, the rural farmers and Frutika.

Picture of the Week: A Social Pharmacy in Paraguay

A woman in Paraguay at a social pharmacy. Photo Credit: Laura Alvarez, USAID/Paraguay.

A woman in Carmen del Paraná, a small town in rural Paraguay works at a social pharmacy program at the local hospital. This program implemented by local health councils with technical assistance from USAID/Paraguay helps pharmacies keep prices for medicine affordable for low-income communities who do not normally have access to medical supplies and often cannot afford regular prices of basic medicines. Money for the pharmacies is channeled through a revolving fund managed by the local health councils in each community, in coordination with the municipal and departmental governments and the departmental health council.

Our Continuing Commitment to the People of Haiti

On Thursday, I had the opportunity to meet Emyl Mil, a rice farmer in Haiti, a focus country for President Obama’s Feed the Future initiative. When I spoke with Mr. Mil, he was excited about the use of a new, innovative approach called System of Rice Intensification.  This new technique has significantly increased rice yields using fewer seeds and less water and fertilizer.  Mr. Mil has even shared the technique with fellow farmers, who are seeing the same results.  This is exactly the kind of work we want to support: providing Haitians with the tools to help themselves and each other in the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake.

This type of results-oriented approach to food security addresses a particularly pressing and urgent need in Haiti. Before the earthquake, a lack of infrastructure and organization led to post-harvest losses of 35 percent or more.  We’re helping to change this narrative by supporting country-led plans to transform agriculture, broadening our engagement with local partners, and building capacity that will end the cycle of hunger and food aid.

Under the dedicated leadership of USAID/Haiti Mission Director Carleene Dei, our team in Haiti is implementing new ideas and technologies, selectively focusing its work where we can have the greatest impact.  We’re scaling up programs and innovations across key areas like infrastructure, health, governance and economic security.

Last year, in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we created the Haiti Mobile Money Initiative (HMMI). The HMMI has awarded millions of dollars in prizes to mobile money service providers for investing in mobile banking. The initiative encourages local wealth creation, enabling Haitians to save money and make transactions on cell phones.  We’re on the verge of 1 million mobile money transactions – a movement that is building momentum every day.

Helping rebuild Haiti remains a chief priority.  We know it’s a tough road ahead but together with the Government of Haiti, the international community and local NGOs, we’ve accomplished real gains on which we can build.  Since the earthquake, we’ve all worked together to move more than 4 million cubic meters of rubble (USAID removed 2 million of those cubic meters), clearing the way for redevelopment and enabling families to come home.  We’ve also provided integrated shelter solutions to help Haitians return to safe, sustainable housing. And we’ve helped to immunize more than 1 million Haitians against diseases like polio and diphtheria.

Although the way forward remains challenging, we are committed to finding the most creative, sustainable ways to help the people of Haiti achieve long-term, sustainable development.

See more photos from my visit.

Building Civil Society in Nicaragua

As the leader of an important development project in Latin America, I had the chance to document the experience through video, highlighting aid beneficiaries’ civic passion and pride that characterize the current challenges in Nicaragua.

The video, USAID: Building Civil Society in Nicaragua, captured the activities in Managua while showing scenic footage of the vibrant life of the country overall.

Along with the enormously dedicated project team, we were able to tell a complex story in a way that showed the real stars – the Nicaraguan leaders of several civil society organizations, their dedicated partners and the U.S. government supporters of real democracy in Nicaragua.

The success of the Institutional Strengthening Program’s (ISP) approach entailed meeting organizations where they were, and supporting their efforts to shape and construct a reality that met their institutional vision and mission.

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This Week at USAID – September 12, 2011

Administrator Raj Shah participates in a panel discussion about “Leveraging Malaria Platforms to Improve Family Health” during the The Summit to Save Lives, which is presented by the George W. Bush Institute.

Later in the week, Administrator Shah heads to Haiti to meet with USAID Mission staff and to visit an agricultural training center.

The World at 7 Billion People: Deputy Administrator Don Steinberg speaks at the National Geographic Society Headquarters to raise awareness around global population issues related to women and girls.

Assistant to the Administrator Susan Reichle talks about USAID’s progress towards implementing President Obama’s Policy Directive on Global Development at a town hall hosted by the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network.

World of Fashion Crosses Paths with Haiti’s Rebuilding Efforts

The fashion world and jobs in Haiti aren’t two things you’d normally associate with each other. But an event last week — in Las Vegas of all places — made that connection.

The MAGIC fashion trade event featured a USAID-sponsored “Made in Haiti” exhibit aimed at showcasing Haitian garment manufacturers and creating new business opportunities.

Gina Coles, representing Phenix2, one of the largest Haitian apparel companies, talks to a visitor to the Haiti booth at the MAGIC fashion industry trade show last week in Las Vegas. Photo Credit: Gregor Avril/ADIH

“Our exhibit on Haiti certainly created a lot of buzz as demonstrated by the level of attention our visitors expressed,” said Gregor Avril, executive director of the non-profit Association of Industries of Haiti (ADIH), who was present at MAGIC.

Also on hand to discuss Haiti’s apparel industry were delegates from the country’s largest manufacturing companies, along with representatives from the USAID-supported Haiti Apparel Center, which trains thousands of professionals a year to help meet the need for skilled workers in Haiti’s garment industry.  The Haiti booth showcased shirts, dresses, suits, winter coats, work uniforms, printed T-shirts, blue jeans and even tote bags. The exhibit was part of MAGIC’s AmericasPavilion, hosted by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

As the largest trade event for the textiles and apparel industry in the United States, MAGIC attracted attendees from well-known companies such as Columbia Sportswear, LL Bean, Jockey, Dickies and Harley-Davidson.

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