USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Latin America and the Caribbean

Full Circle in Panama

When leaders from Panama’s Ella Drua community, Carlos Gil and Isabel Carpio Chami, came all the way to the USAID office in Panama City, we could hardly contain our surprise. They had traveled here to thank us for a project we had recently completed in their community. In tow, they carried a giant hand-woven basket that took five women nearly a year to finish. The fact that they had left their quiet secluded village in the jungle to come into the bustling city truly moved us. Yet ultimately it made us realize there was something remarkably appropriate about the occasion.

Amidst the daily routines that we at USAID have all grown accustomed to, from our desks behind the mountains of work, we sometimes fail to keep in mind the most important results of our work: the benefits that the men, women, and children receive as a result of our long hours. By losing sight of this, it’s also possible to lose the driving inspiration necessary to keep doing what we do.

Community women of Ella Drua. Photo Credit: Fernando Alvarez/USAID

So what we found so striking about this unexpected visit was how it managed to bring everything back full circle. While at one time we at USAID/Panama had reached out to lend a hand to the men, women, and children of Ella Drua, they had now come here to lend a hand to us. To remind us why we do what we do. And whether or not they had intended to do so, by bringing this gift of thanks they put a strong gust of wind into our sails.

As part of a long-term program in Panama Canal Watershed— which not only ensures the wellbeing and smooth operation of the Panama Canal, but also provides the water supply for half of the country’s population— USAID/Panama administered a small grant to the people of Ella Drua to support activities to benefit the area.

The community of Ella Drua, home to an indigenous group called the Emberá-Wounnan, used the grant to support an eco/ethno-tourism project that will give enterprises an alternative to activities such as slash-and-burn agriculture that inflict harm on the watershed.

“Before, the community really didn’t have many sources of income other than small agriculture,” Emberá regional leader Carlos Gil explained in Spanish, a language he speaks in addition to his mother tongue, Emberá. “Now we can care for our local environment and at the same time provide a sustainable future for our children.”

The project also had other positive effects. We saw community women empowered by their new entrepreneurial roles, and we saw youth begin to take pride in their traditional culture. Ella Drua leaders are now planning on sharing their experiences with other communities in the Darién region, which borders Columbia, especially those in which youth are at risk of drug-trafficking.

When we were invited to come to the inauguration of the eco-lodge they had built using the USAID grant money, of course we gladly accepted.

Although it’s only a ten minute boat ride from the main road, the community of Ella Drua is a world away. We arrived at the dock and were greeted by several women wearing vibrant floral skirts, traditional tops fashioned of hundreds of threaded tiny dried seeds called Lágrimas de San Pedro (Tears of Saint Peter), and headbands adorned with hibiscus flowers.

They led us to the Tambo (central pavilion) where they performed traditional music and dances, and gave ceremonial speeches detailing historical accounts of the events that led up to this day. After several more songs, and with music still playing, they led us in a procession from the pavilion to the eco-lodge, where the inauguration ceremony began.

The ceremony is performed for all new structures to ensure that it remains sturdy and will never fall. The men play music with flutes and drums, while the women dance in single file from post to post and bless it as they circle around it.

Through the day, and over a delicious lunch of chicken and patacones (fried platanos) served in rolled up banana leaves, community members continued to thank us for our support. However, it was clear that on this particular day, it was we who were truly thankful.

Resources:

  • Watch a short clip of the inauguration of the USAID-sponsored eco/ethno-tourism project
  • Read more about this project in USAID’s FrontLines magazine

USAID Eases Hardships of Haiti’s Earthquake Survivors

After the January 12 earthquake in Haiti, an estimated 1.5 million people were displaced from their homes. Approximately 100,000 earthquake survivors fled Port-au-Prince to Haiti’s Central Plateau.

While the area was one of the country’s poorest regions even before the earthquake, it’s seen an influx of survivors who’ve come to live with family and friends, straining already limited resources.

To ease the hardships in the Central Plateau, USAID partner Mercy Corps is providing immediate financial assistance through cash-for-work programs for both the displaced earthquake survivors and the families who took them in.

With USAID/OFDA support, Mercy Corps is providing livelihood opportunities to 2,000 people per week in the Central Plateau. An additional 20,000 people are on track to benefit from the cash-for-work program.

These projects give a member of each household 30 days of employment on a community-selected project geared at improving infrastructure or agricultural production, such as rehabilitating roads, farmland or irrigation systems. Some have used their salary and tools from the programs to start more sustainable small businesses.

Under USAID’s Food Security Program in Haiti, Mercy Corps will also provide food vouchers to 100,000 in the Central Plateau and Lower Artibonite region. This new initiative provides grants, cash or vouchers to buy desperately needed food.

In the town of Mirebalais, Mercy Corps employs Haitians to clear debris from canals and other public spaces to mitigate flooding during hurricane season. Watch a video on this important program.

View photos of Mercy Corps’ work in Mirebalais on Facebook and Flickr.

USAID Provides New Schools to Earthquake Affected Communities in Haiti

School children at the Leogane School Opening.

School children at the Leogane School opening. Photo credit: Janice Laurente

In Léogâne, the town that was the epicenter of the January 12 earthquake in Haiti, you see signs of recovery and life resuming.  People have returned to markets to sell their crops and wares, rubble is being removed from key thorough fares, and schools are being rebuilt.

On August 25, USAID and the Digicel Foundation inaugurated École Louis de Borno, the first school built under a new public-private partnership to construct new schools for people affected by the earthquake.  Approximately 50 schools are planned that benefit up to 30,000 children.

“Immediately after the earthquake, 4,800 schools were damaged or destroyed.  USAID is proud to play a role in helping children return to school through a number of our projects,” said USAID Haiti Mission Director Carleene Dei.  “This new partnership with Digicel illustrates USAID’s commitment of exploring new and innovative approaches meet the educational, economic development and job-training needs of Haitian communities.”

Under the USAID partnership, some of the schools will be constructed with U.S. military shipping containers which are being converted into school campuses.  USAID procured about 100 shipping containers that had been used as part of the Joint Task Force-Haiti’s humanitarian mission in the aftermath of the earthquake.

The project is also employing youth for the construction of the schools through the USAID-funded IDEJEN livelihood initiative.  IDEJEN provides out-of-school youth ages 15-24 with basic, non-formal education and vocational training.  This effort, which will employ up to 100 people at a pre-fabrication plan in addition to those on site assembly will serve to get money to Haitian families in need, stimulate the economy and help develop a workforce able to participate in upcoming reconstruction efforts.

U.S. Government brings Sanitation Technology to Families in the Amazon

Submitted by Lisa Hibbert-Simpson

The United States Mission in Brazil, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and in partnership with the Cargill Foundation and the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), celebrates the completion of the implementation of a social technology for sewage treatment in the rural area of Porto Velho, in Rondonia state. Seventeen families from a rural community, which had biodigester toilets installed in their residences, attended a breakfast with all project partners.

The technology used is cheap and, besides treating the domestic sewage, it prevents the contamination of soil and groundwater and generates compost that can be used for organic production.

Sewage treatment system for rural areas improves public health and the environment in Rondonia state capital, Porto Velho. Photo Credit: USAID / Mark Mitchell

“We saw an excellent opportunity in this project, because it combines environment conservation with the improvement of people’s lives in the Amazon region, which is part of the scope of environmental programs that the U.S. government supports in Brazil,” said Lisa Kubiske, Deputy Chief of Mission for the United States Embassy in Brazil.

This project is one of a number of joint efforts between the United States and Brazil to strengthen environmental protection and support local development.

How it works

The technology, known as a septic biodigester tank, was developed by Embrapa and works by transporting sewage from home toilets into a cement tank that transforms the material into an organic fertilizer via anaerobic biodigestion.

The first tank was built in March and installed at the residence of Luciano Alves do Prado’s. Five months after its installation, Mr. Prado is already using the compost for his açaí plantation. “The implantation of these tanks was an improvement, mainly because it prevents the pollution of water. This is new for Porto Velho,” said Mr. Prado.

The project was funded by USAID, coordinated by the Cargill Foundation and Cargill Porto Velho, and received technical support from Embrapa. The initiative is an alternative solution to the issue of sanitation in rural areas of the Amazon.

“The success of this project is due to the commitment of everyone involved in the process, particularly beneficiary families, who were willing to acquire new skills and knowledge to take care of their sanitation systems”, said Denise Cantarelli, manager of the Cargill Foundation.

“The septic biodigester tank is a cheap and environmentally friendly basic sanitation system that benefits both the environment and public health. The technology is already used in other regions of Brazil and presents itself as a successful alternative for the treatment of sewage,” explains Wilson Tadeu Lopes da Silva, technician for Embrapa.

Helping Shelter Haiti

The humanitarian community in Haiti has funds for the construction of more than 118,000 transitional shelters over the coming months for those who lost their homes in the country’s devastating earthquake earlier this year. Medair, an international NGO, is one of many partners receiving funding from USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance to build such shelters.

Last week, Medair unloaded construction materials for 800 transitional shelters — a fraction of the total they plan to build — in Jacmel, south of Port-au-Prince. Medair is planning to build 4,500 t-shelters in the Jacmel area, benefiting 27,000 people. Here’s a dispatch from Emma Le Beau, Field Communications Officer for Medair Haiti, about the excitement that this delivery brought to Jacmel and the direct impact of our work on the lives of Haitians affected by the earthquake:

“As our cargo ship approached Jacmel at dawn, local fishing boats rowed ahead of the boat to steer it clear of a treacherous sandbar. When the ship berthed, we began unloading the cargo with the aid of two 35-ton cranes, four forklifts, seven flatbed trucks, and the logistical support of shipping agent Kuehne and Nagel and Haitian partner Hogarth. The flatbed trucks made it over the mountains from Port-au-Prince with only one flat tire among them.

“The cranes operated throughout the night to unload 1,331 tons of cargo from the ship, including timber and galvanized iron sheeting. Because of widespread deforestation in Haiti, we chose to import the pre-treated timber to keep local trees in place.

“From the port, trucks loaded with the ship’s materials made nearly 200 runs to the Medair warehouse. When they arrived, Medair teams of technical officers, carpenters, logisticians, and community mobilizers, who have been in place since January, were there to greet them. Now that more materials are in place, they’ll be able to scale up the speed of their construction and build more shelters for Haitian families in need in hard-to-reach mountain villages near Jacmel.

“The shelters, designed to resist hurricane force winds, seismic risks and heavy rainfall, are solid structures with foundations of reinforced concrete. They take about three days to build and are finished with a wrapping of plastic sheeting and solid windows and doors. Many families will likely choose to upgrade this type of shelter into a permanent home by replacing the plastic sheeting with stone walls.

The Rossamund family, whose home was made dangerously unsafe by the earthquake, has already received a new shelter and is enjoying living in safer and dry housing. Monsieur Rossamund told Medair staff: “If I had not received this help, I would need to sell all my animals to pay for the materials to rebuild my home.” By keeping his animals, his family can continue to have a livelihood, food, and insurance for the future.”

World Humanitarian Day: Response Coordinator Reflects on Progress Made in Haiti

Yesterday was World Humanitarian Day, a day when we remember the millions of people experiencing conflict, natural disasters, sickness and extreme poverty and the people committed to saving their lives, relieving suffering and empowering those who are struggling make a better life.

At USAID, we have a long history of extending a helping hand to people overseas recovering from disaster and are continuing to respond to humanitarian needs. We support Pakistanis affected by the epic flooding in the country’s south and west. And since January 12, our aid workers and partners have worked hard to help the people of Haiti build back better after the earthquake.

Watch a video featuring Response Coordinator Skip Waskin and learn about humanitarian aid efforts in Haiti.

Apparel Training Center in Haiti Educates Textile Factory Workforce

Forming a Better-Trained Workforce in Haiti
Written By Joanna Stavropoulos, CHF Haiti communications manager

Graduate of USAID-funded garment training center in Haiti

Steve Jean, a graduate of the new USAID-funded Haiti Apparel Center, trains sewing machine operators in Port-au-Prince. Photo by Joanna Stavropoulos/CHF

Steve Jean, 37, grew up in a family of tailors – his mother, father, even his grandfather and before him. When he was a child, more than 100,000 textile workers had jobs in Haiti. Now there are fewer than 20,000.

But USAID is working to change this statistic and bring vitally needed economic development, jobs and investment to Haiti.  On Wednesday, USAID led the inauguration with CHF International for the Haiti Apparel Center (HAC), which will train 2,000 Haitians a year on a wide variety of jobs needed for Haiti to develop its textile manufacturing sector.

Even before HAC’s official opening, Steve graduated from the Center as a trainer for sewing machine operators and has been overseeing workers in apparel factories next door.

Steve’s face shone with pride as he walked me through the 30,000-square-foot freshly refurbished HAC building with its many rows of shiny new sewing machines where he will soon train other Haitians eager to join the textile industry.

“I believe in this, I know it will be a success,” he says with emotion. “There is a future here because Haitians like to work; young people want to work. So if they have the opportunity they will learn and they will prove what they can do.”

Steve explains that it’s difficult to find a family in Haiti without a tailor among its members. “Even if we have 10 or 20 centers like this,” he said, “you will have a lot of people waiting for this opportunity.”

Steve also points out that the sewing machine operators from HAC will learn all the varieties of stitching (single-needle, cover-stitch, lock-stitch and over-lock), which will increase their appeal to a wide variety of potential employers.

The Center will teach virtually the entire spectrum of skills needed by textile manufacturing workers. There will be instruction for sewing machine mechanics, quality control specialists, industrial engineers, supervisors and plant managers. There will even be seminars for top executives and factory owners who wish to further educate themselves about the latest innovations and techniques in the field.

Steve is excited about his job as a trainer. “The main thing that I learned is how to teach,” he says about the three-month long instruction at HAC. “How to explain and when you explain and they don’t understand – how to figure out what you did wrong and become better in the explanation.”

“I very much enjoy teaching,” says Steve, smiling as we stop outside the building. “When you try to figure out what to do to help someone learn and understand, I like that.”

You can see more photos from the HAC inauguration on the USAID Flickr feed.

USAID – From the Field

In Egypt USAID is supporting the Ministry of Health (MOH) by providing full, two-year scholarships for a total of 25 ministry employees to attend U.S. – based MBA programs. This program targets a small number of employees who have leadership potential to be change agents to implement Egypt’s health sector reform program; and it responds to the country’s need to develop a cadre of business-minded professionals. In addition to their academic studies, the students are expected to participate in an internship activity during their two years to practically apply the skills they are learning.  Past participants returned to Egypt and are now serving in critical positions in the Ministry of Health, contributing new knowledge and experiences to improve health programs, policies and procedures.  Through this successful partnership USAID is significantly contributing towards improving health coverage of underserved populations and strengthening the technical and managerial capacity of the Egyptian health sector.

In Lebanon the Opening of the “Live Akkar” trade fair that will increase awareness, visibility, and sales of local products and services of Akkar.  This four-day trade fair will open its doors again to visitors from Akkar, the North and all of Lebanon.  This trade fair will increase awareness, visibility, and sales of local products and services of Akkar.  It will also stimulate local enterprises, agriculture, and tourism.  “Live Akkar” will feature around seventy enterprises from Akkar exhibiting agricultural products, local foods, handicrafts, garments, and other items.   Presentations on local production of commodities such as dairy, olive oil and mushrooms will be provided  by experts on a daily basis.  In addition, the trade fair will have cultural and family attractions including  daily performances by popular local artists, puppet shows and traditional music concerts.

In Dominican Republic a press trip to The Salto de Jimenoa, which was recently declared as National Protected Area. The Ministry of Environment and the USAID Environment Protection Program will lead a discussion with media attending the importance of this area and the benefits it provides to surrounding communities. The main highlight is protecting the environment and biodiversity of the area and the importance of hydraulic resources that the Salto de Jimenoa provides.

Helping to Communicate Life-Saving Information to Haitians

Credit: Janice Laurente/USAID

If you visit USAID-funded Internews in Port-au-Prince, you’ll see a newsroom full of busy Haitian journalists. There’s a pile of empty cardboard boxes in the corner organized neatly in rows that almost reach the ceiling. After examining it more closely, you’ll notice that the boxes form a temporary radio studio where a young woman is recording part of Enfomasyon Nou Dwe Konnen (News You Can Use), a daily radio program that provides humanitarian relief and assistance information to victims of the January 12 earthquake in Haiti. 

Internews increases the quality and amount of news and information on relief and recovery efforts. It also helps strengthen journalism in Haiti through a training program for both journalists and radio station business managers.  

 “After a crisis, people need information just as much as any other basic need like shelter and water,” said Jennifer Mandell, research, monitoring and assessment director at Internews. “Through News You Can Use, we help people affected by the earthquake find solutions to everyday problems they encounter.”

Haitian surveyors go into camps and surrounding communities to ask people what information they need to make their lives better. The data is then shared with members of the news team who report on key topics of concern. “Mailbox,” a popular segment of the show answers questions sent by listeners via SMS. News You Can Use is disseminated in and around Port-au-Prince to nearly 30 radio stations, reaching approximately 3 million listeners. About 98 percent of Haitians get their news through the radio.     

“I know we’re helping people,” said Alain Draye, senior journalist advisor at Internews. “One listener that comes to mind is a man who submitted a question to “Mailbox.” He lost his leg in the earthquake and needed a prosthetic so we contacted different groups to get information. This helped him, and many others like him, get what he needed to walk again.”

This Week at USAID – July 26, 2010

Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for Management Drew Luten will testify before the Commission on Wartime Contracting on Subcontracting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Administrator Shah and Ambassador Richard Holbrooke will appear before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations for an oversight hearing on corruption in Afghanistan.

Chief Innovation Officer Maura O’Neill will participate in a briefing entitled: Innovation to Catalyze Development: Leveraging Research in Foreign Assistance, which is organized by the Global Health Technologies Coalition and the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network.

Administrator Shah will testify before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere about: The Crisis in Haiti: Are We Moving Fast Enough?  He will also brief the Congressional Black Caucus about efforts in Haiti.

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