USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Latin America and the Caribbean

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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World Summit Celebrates People of African Descent in the Americas

Originally posted on DipNote, the U.S. Department of State official blog.

A warm “Buiti achuluruni” was the Garifuna welcome for the more than 1,000 participants who traveled to La Ceiba, Honduras, to attend the first World Summit of African Descendants. The World Summit of African Descendants: Integral and Sustainable Development with Identity was organized by Organizacion de Desarrollo Etnico Comunitario and the International Civil Society Committee to commemorate the United Nations (UN) and Organization of American States (OAS) International Year for People of African Descent.

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Memories of Schooldays in Panama…

USAID will mark its 50th anniversary in November and as part of the commemoration USAID’s news publication FrontLines will dedicate its next photo contest to a celebration of the Agency’s history.

School children in Anton, Province of Cocle’ Panama dash to their classrooms in the newly inaugurated school. Photo Credit: USAID

FrontLines is looking for photos that illustrate USAID’s development activities and the people who carried them out over the decades.

The contest is open to any FrontLines reader, including USAID employees and alumni; employees of NGOs and contractors; and representatives from universities, foundations and other organizations that have partnered with the Agency over the decades.

The deadline for photos is Aug. 15. More information and guidelines for submission available in Frontlines. The above photo is from Panama. The date is unknown.

Mark Feierstein Visits School in Rio de Janeiro

During his trip to Rio de Janeiro to participate in the World Economic Forum, USAID’s Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean, Mark Feierstein, visited a school participating in the Enter Jovem Plus Program. Feierstein went to State School Tim Lopes, to closely observe the youth employability project. The school is located in Complexo do Alemão, one of the slum areas in Rio recently pacified by the police. USAID/Brazil‘s Mission Director, Lawrence Hardy, and HIV/AIDS Program Coordinator, Nena Lentini, also participated in the visit.

Mark Feierstein surrounded by students in Rio de Janeiro Photo Credit: Instituto Empreender

The Enter Jovem Plus program is conducted in Rio de Janeiro by Instituto Empreender, in partnership with Chevron, Rio’s State Government, and USAID. In his conversation with the students participating in the program, Feierstein stressed the importance of offering young people finishing high school professional training with a focus on employability, information technology, and English language. “We work in various parts of the world to foster development. You are very lucky to be here at this school. Enjoy every moment, work hard and have fun,” he said.

The goal of Enter Jovem Plus for Rio de Janeiro in 2011 is to provide professional training for 1,000 students. So far, approximately 700 students from 23 schools are enrolled. In Rio de Janeiro, the program started in 2010 in 16 public schools, and certified 310 students with ages between 16 and 29 years. This year, the priority is the inclusion of schools located in pacified areas. Students receive training to develop social and professional skills, including notions of tourism, quality of service and entrepreneurship. The program also helps students finding job opportunities.

Chevron’s manager for institutional relations, Lia Blower, U.S. Consulate in Rio de Janeiro’s Public Affairs Officer, Mark Pannell, and representatives of State Government accompanied Mark Feierstein’s visit.

To find out more about our programs in Brazil.

Project in Haiti fights deforestation, commemorates earthquake victims

In the mountains south of Port-au-Prince, there is little evidence of the earthquake that devastated the capital city last year.  The mountains suffer from a different kind of damage: decades of deforestation.

Haitian schoolchildren participating in a USAID project recently hiked into Parc National La Visite on a dual-purpose mission.  About 40 kids, who live in quake-devastated neighborhoods, trekked into one of the country’s last natural habitats to fight deforestation while also commemorating those killed.

USAID is partnering with a non-governmental organization, Fondation Seguin, to plant 300,000 pine and cedar seedlings in the national park.

“This tree-planting project gives the students an opportunity to pay tribute to the more than 300,000 killed in the earthquake while also focusing on the future of Haiti and improving the environment for all,” said Nicole Widdersheim of USAID’S Office of Transition Initiatives, which implemented the project with its partner Chemonics.

The excited students clamored up the dusty mountain road, leaving some of us less-fit adults struggling to reach our destination before rain poured from the clouds which rolled down the hillsides.

The hike ended at a nearly 6,000-foot altitude in La Visite, a crucial watershed for the Cul de Sac and Port-au-Prince areas. Its towering trees were a welcome sight from the barren hillsides that were our vista for the five-hour hike. Haiti’s once-extensive forests have been destroyed by human encroachment, including the cutting down of trees to use as cooking fuel.

Student Esaie Joseph, 15, is dismayed that forests cover less than 2 percent of Haiti.

“I have always noticed that there are no trees around us,” Joseph said. “Therefore I have decided to … support this project because I believe that this is a personal choice one has to make.”

Over the weekend, the students camped out near a mountain lodge. Many were enamored with the lodge’s two dogs, while others screeched as the good-natured mastiffs lumbered up. The kids earnestly discussed reforestation, explored the woods and played games, relishing an escape from the dusty, traffic-clogged city.

Joseph, who has lived in a tent with his mother and siblings since the earthquake destroyed their home, delighted in the mountain air.

“Before sleeping, my friends and I were talking about this place which feels like paradise, because when you live the way we do, a place like this is paradise even though we know that paradise is more beautiful,” he said. “We couldn’t wait for the next morning to plant trees for those who died.”

The children rose early, singing as they carried seedlings to a ceremony in the forest. A large crowd attended, including the Ministry of the Environment, Haitian National Police, U.S. government representatives, some of the 350 workers temporarily employed for the project, and Fondation Seguin, which has a mission to protect the forest.

The non-governmental organization’s ongoing program, Ecole Verte (“Green School”), brings disadvantaged kids into the park to learn about the environment. This was USAID’s first time supporting their initiative.

Richard Cantave, the foundation’s co-founder, emphasized the significance of the 6,000-hectare park, which provides water for about 3 million people.

“We are taking about a lot of importance as a watershed is involved, besides all the biodiversity and all the rare birds and rare plants that exist only here,” he said.

The project includes protective fencing to surround the new trees. In addition, USAID’s WINNER program is funding forest wardens and providing equipment to the Ministry of the Environment to deter arsons and illegal logging.

Joseph, who threw his arms up in victory as he planted his seedlings, hopes others find similar ways to help the environment.

“There are so many other places that could also benefit from this type of activity so that one day Haiti could be filled with trees.”

A photo album is on Flickr.

Haiti: First Impressions on the Runoff Election

Submitted by Ben Edwards, USAID/Haiti

Like most days in Port-au-Prince, Haitians began to fill the streets at sunrise.  On this Sunday, however, they were headed to the polls, eager to exercise their democratic right in the presidential runoff and parliamentary elections.

Voters at many polling stations waited calmly in line for their turn to vote.   At a few other polling stations that opened late, long lines of would-be voters seemed anxious about the missing their chance to vote.

I was part of a small U.S. Government team that traveled to several polling stations around the city.  As we roved from polling station to polling station, we identified those that were running smoothly and those that were experiencing problems.

It was my first time as an election monitor, so I was lucky that my two team members were experienced experts.  Our team leader, Denise Dauphinais, also heads USAID’s elections support program in Haiti.  She shares her first impressions of the polling stations she visited in the video embedded in this blog post.  Among her impressions, she notes:

  • There appeared to be more people in and around polling stations than there were during the first round of elections last November.
  • There were logistical problems early in the morning that caused some polling stations in Port-au-Prince to open late, but the Provisional Electoral Council and United Nations seemed to address them.
  • The mood appeared more comfortable and calm than it did during the first round of elections in November.

Dauphinais and the rest of our small team were part of a much larger effort to support the elections on Sunday.  The U.S. Government disbursed a number teams – more than 40 people all told – across the country to monitor election-day activities.  The international community, led by the Organization of American States and the United Nations, and a cadre of domestic partners also provided important services throughout the day: election observation to vote counting to name a few.

Support for elections in Haiti may have been most visible on Sunday, but it was only the latest crescendo in an effort that took millions of dollars and months of planning by Haitian institutions and the international community.  The U.S. Government alone invested more than $15 million in support of both rounds of elections, including:

  • A public information campaign using SMS messages, radio, television, billboards, and a call-center to inform people about the location of their polling station;
  • Training for poll workers and election observers; and,
  • Equipping poll stations with supplies such as ballots, ballot boxes, and tamper-evident transport bags.

As we wait for the preliminary results to be announced by March 31, and final results by April 16, both Haitians and the international community are no doubt hoping that the relative calm on Sunday is a sign of what’s to come.

Presidential Trip to El Salvador Highlights Youth

On his trip to Latin America, President Obama highlighted the theme of partnership and echoed President Kennedy’s challenge “to build a hemisphere where all people can hope for a sustainable, suitable standard of living, and all can live out their lives in dignity and in freedom.”

Students from a US public school in San Salvador, wait for the arrival of US President Barack Obama at the airport in the Salvadorean capital on March 22, 2011. US President Barack Obama arrived in El Salvador Tuesday on the last leg of a three-nation tour of Latin America. Photo Credit: Salvador Melendez

One of the modern challenges for Latin American countries like El Salvador is addressing the grip of gangs and criminal organization on local communities, especially on young people.  One of the ways that USAID works to address youth issues in Central America is by partnering with local organizations and governments to invest in crime and drug prevention programs.

To highlight the need to engage youth and harness their potential for positive development, First Lady Michelle Obama visited the site of a USAID project called ¡Supérate! in San Salvador.

Accompanied by USAID Administrator Raj Shah, the first lady helped 30 enthusiastic ¡Supérate! students complete their community service project by painting a mural to decorate the center’s health clinic, which is scheduled to open next month.

¡Supérate! (which means improve yourself!) is a three-year after-school program that provides English, computer and life skills training to underprivileged youth-at risk (ages 13-18) who have demonstrated high academic performance and a desire for self-improvement.  Students train two hours, six days a week before or after their regular school day.

Students involved in this enriching program develop the skills necessary for a successful transition to higher education and or future jobs. With the help of Microsoft, youth involved in iSupérate! have access to computers and other technologies that allow them to further their education and compete in the modern job market.  More than 300 ¡Supérate! graduates have obtained university scholarships and/or permanent employment.

The program was launched in 2004 by the Sagrera Palomo Family Foundation, a local organization. Encouraged by the earlier success of ¡Supérate!, USAID teamed up with the foundation and Microsoft to open six new education centers in El Salvador. The partnership expects to benefit an additional 1,000 youths through the next 3 years.

At the event today, the first lady congratulated the students and the community of teachers and mentors who support them for their achievements and emphasized how important it is for students to give back to their communities through action.

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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