USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Latin America and the Caribbean

Youth Win in Central America

“Miss Stefanie.” I turned around to see who had just called my name.  “Can I practice my English with you?” asked Eddie, one of the two Honduran youth moderators who would be leading the following day’s event to officially launch the USAID “A Ganar” (To Win) program in Central America.

Since 2005, the A Ganar program has reached over 11,000 youth between the ages of 16-24, 7,000 of which have graduated from the program. Photo Credit: USAID

Since 2005, the A Ganar program has reached over 11,000 youth between the ages of 16-24, 7,000 of which have graduated from the program. Photo Credit: USAID

Eddie explained that he had been practicing his English skills while participating in the A Ganar program, a youth workforce development program which teaches life and employability skills to at-risk youth through sports.  He was proud of his progress and motivated by the chance to speak in front of Honduran President Porfirio Lobo and United States Ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske (not to mention a few hundred of his fellow A Ganar participants).

I listened to him intently, impressed by his thoughtful and well-written remarks in English.  The next day, I watched him stand on stage, exuding confidence, as he addressed his country’s President and the U.S. Ambassador.

Eddie is from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, the most dangerous city in the most dangerous country in the world.  Those odds put him at-risk of falling victim to a life of crime, drugs, or gang violence.  The program provided Eddie with an alternate path; one that has helped lead him toward a positive and productive future.

A growing number of young people throughout Latin America and the Caribbean continue to leave school without basic literacy and life skills, contributing to alarming youth unemployment rates and rising gang violence. Oftentimes a lack of basic skills, combined with challenging and dangerous circumstances, makes it difficult for young people to break from this cycle of violence in their communities.

Through the A Ganar program, USAID targets at-risk youth like Eddie in fifteen countries across Latin America and the Caribbean, using soccer as a powerful motivator and tool to teach young people important values like respect and responsibility, as well as other vital skills that will help them achieve success as they enter the workforce, pursue their education further, or start their own business.

Sports-based activities, such as playing soccer while holding hands with a teammate, are used to facilitate lessons about teamwork and communication.  The field-based A Ganar curriculum is reinforced in the classroom where youth strengthen their basic reading, writing, math and technical skills, and gain the self-confidence and motivation they need to help them succeed.

Since 2005, the A Ganar program has reached over 11,000 youth between the ages of 16-24, 7,000 of which have graduated from the program.  Over 70% of graduates have gone on to find formal employment, start their own business, or return to school.

 

 

LGBT Families at USAID: Integration and Solidarity in Nicaragua

In 2009, Secretary Clinton announced that the U.S. State Department would extend benefits to the same-sex partners of Foreign Service officers. Although I didn’t officially begin working for USAID until September 2012, I had applied to the agency’s Development Leadership Initiative program that summer and had little idea just how much this and other policy advancements towards LGBT equality would impact me, my family and my work just a few years later.

USAID Democracy, Human Rights and Governance officer Jessica Morrison with her wife and newborn daughter. Photo credit: Jessica Morrison/USAID

My wife and I departed for Nicaragua for my first assignment as a Democracy, Human Rights and Governance Officer in August 2012, having just learned that I was pregnant with our daughter. I had the good fortune of being assigned to a Mission with a long legacy of work with the LGBT community through its HIV/AIDS programming, and an incredibly supportive Ambassador, supervisor and Mission Director (who caught me more than once sleeping under my desk at lunch during those exhausting days of the first trimester). My wife, now considered an “eligible family member” under the new policy, was able to apply for and obtain employment at the Embassy, providing a source of income during my maternity leave.

In December 2012, the Mission leadership passed a Mission Order to provide guidance on further integrating LGBT persons and priorities into its programs, which has served as a model in the region. In February 2013, the interagency LGBT Working Group collaborated to host a half-day workshop at the U.S. Embassy for leaders from the LGBT community in order to better understand their needs and priorities and to inform them of policy changes and upcoming opportunities for U.S. Government support of their work.

Unfortunately, despite advances throughout Latin America towards LGBT equality, the LGBT community in Nicaragua still suffers widespread societal discrimination and gender-based violence, issues that USAID will continue to address through its health and democracy, human rights and governance programming. However, our experience here in the capital of Managua – first as a same-sex couple and now as two proud new mothers – has been nothing but positive, giving me hope that the tides are turning in Nicaragua. While we were likely the first same-sex couple to give birth at the main hospital here in Managua, which caused some confusion at City Hall when picking up our daughter’s birth certificate, our Nicaraguan caregivers, colleagues and friends have greatly enriched our experience, and we are delighted with our decision to remain here for her delivery.

As I write this from Managua with my wife, mother, parents-in-law, and newborn baby girl by my side, the theme of this year’s International Day of Families, “Advancing Social Integration and Intergeneration Solidarity,” feels especially appropriate. Not only am I privileged to work for an agency that recognizes the value and importance of advancing the integration of LGBT families both within the agency and in its programming, but I am blessed that our little one has three grandparents and two great-grandparents who embrace and celebrate the diversity of our family almost as much as they celebrate her arrival.

From Haiti to Kenya – Honoring the Wisdom & Contributions of Moms

During the month of May, IMPACT will be highlighting USAID’s work in Global Health. From May 11-17, we will be featuring the important role of mothers and partnerships in Global Health.

While visiting Haiti last month, I met with a group of farmers to discuss how they were using micro-loans from a local cooperative association. During the conversation, a woman mango grower spoke about using credit to pay her kids’ school fees prior to harvest and then using profits from the sale of her fruit to pay off the loan. It reminded me of a conversation with Maasai women during a trip to Kenya where they recounted the use of proceeds from their cattle fattening business to pay school fees for kids in their community. Both exchanges brought to life the critical role that mothers—and women generally—play in promoting development around the world.

A woman and her baby. Photo Credit: Adriane Ohanesian

Mother’s Day provides a special opportunity for us to reflect on the role moms play in our lives and in the lives of people around the world. In the home, mothers are often the primary caregivers. They are important in ensuring that children receive the food, health care and education needed to grow into healthy, productive adults. They are educators, teaching children skills that will last a lifetime. The American Sociology Association estimates that moms spend 10 more hours a week multitasking than fathers, mainly doing housework and taking care of kids. At the same time, they are often also generating income for the family. That income is critical to kids’ well-being because girls and women have been found to spend 90 percent of their earned income on their families, while men only spend between 30-40 percent that way. Given their multiple, critical roles, we need to think about how we can support moms and leverage their contributions. Invest in mothers and we can grow economies, alleviate poverty and create the foundation for sustainable growth and development.

In the past twenty years, mothers have been instrumental in helping reduce the mortality rate for children under five years old by almost fifty percent. Unfortunately, today, every two minutes, a mother dies during childbirth. A staggering 80 percent of those deaths could be prevented by providing access to basic health services. Similarly, almost 19,000 children under five still die daily from preventable causes. Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia bear 75 percent of the global disease burden, and mothers and children continue to suffer disproportionately from these illnesses borne of poverty. USAID is working hard, in partnership with country governments and non-governmental organizations globally, to reduce these preventable deaths.

Through continuous improvements to monitoring and evaluation, we are  directing resources toward increasing services for underserved populations; concentrating on the primary causes of child deaths in the hardest hit countries.  We are being strategic with taxpayer dollars by investing in programs that yield the greatest results. Our development efforts are increasingly focused on educating girls, empowering women, and promoting inclusive economic growth. That’s because we know that educated mothers are less likely to die in childbirth, more likely to send their kids to school, and provide better nutrition and health care at home. In fact, data suggests that each additional year of schooling reduces the likelihood that a mother’s child will die as an infant by 10 percent.

At USAID, we are supporting mothers worldwide. Since June 2012, the agency has been helping lead the U.S. Government’s push to renew the global effort to end preventable child death. We are committed to utilizing resources, technology, and expertise to achieve the A Promise Renewed for Child Survival goal of reducing the under five-mortality rate to below 20 deaths per 1000 live births by the year 2035. Reaching this target is a team effort by governments, civil society, the private sector, innovators, and the global health and faith-based community. Workings together, the international community can help ensure a promising future for all women and their children.

We know the statistics and we know what we need to do. We know that investing in mothers pays dividends for children, families, communities and nations. The data is clear but it’s the stories from the women in Haiti, Kenya, and around the world that bring those numbers to life. This Mother’s Day, let’s honor their wisdom and their contributions.

Follow USAID for Global Health (@USAIDGH) on Twitter and use #GHMatters to join in the conversation.

 

Photo of the Week: Administrator Shah in North Colombia

Last week, Administrator Shah met with displaced families in Corozal, Sucre in Northern Colombia at a land titling event, and received a warm “thank you” from one of the community members. Photo is from USAID.

Young Communicators Promote Climate Change Awareness

In recognition of Earth Week last week, we explore the connections between climate change and the environment we depend on to sustain us. 

Climate change is already impacting life in the Dominican Republic. Hurricanes, flooding, and dramatic changes in weather are all becoming more prevalent and severe. Throughout the country, rainfall is highly variable—in some areas, rain is becoming increasingly more extreme, while in other areas lower rainfall and high temperatures are bringing more prolonged droughts. This is threatening the already shaky livelihoods of farming communities whose soil, crops, and livestock are highly sensitive to the changing climate. In coastal communities, like Samaná, coral reefs and mangrove forests are rapidly being degraded by both climate and non-climate stresses, leaving communities without their natural buffers to protect their precious beaches from erosion and their property from storm surges and flooding.

High schoolers in Samaná, Dominican Republic learn about climate change so they can help educate others in their community, in a USAID mission funded adaptation project. Photo credit: Nora Ferm, USAID

USAID is supporting programs in the Dominican Republic to help people of all ages not only understand the effects of climate change, but also communicate those changes to their fellow citizens, creating new leaders in this critical area.

As part of this effort, USAID and partners—The Nature Conservancy and the Center for the Conservation and Eco-Development of Samaná Bay and its Surroundings (CEBSE)—are holding workshops about climate change adaptation for local youth. Youth in Samaná are now fired up and eager to put into practice the knowhow they have picked up from their recent training. They are reaching out to other members of their community and teaching them about the dangers of climate change and ways to adapt to these changes locally.

Workshop participants Ulrich and Vanessa say that they want to hit the ground running: “We’re going to communicate in schools and colleges what we learned in the climate change workshops so that young people in our communities get to know the environmental problems that face us…and realize that part of the solution is that we have to adapt and that this in turn requires a change in our attitudes to our environment.”

The focus on youth is essential—more than 60 percent of the population of the province of Samaná is composed of young people. They have an important role to play in solving problems affecting their environment, and bringing this awareness of how to act in a climate-sensitive manner into the future.

Leani and Deliz, two other workshop participants, are eager to get started by using twitter and blogs to “communicate on the internet about climate change, not only with our peers but also with a view to exchange ideas with young people from other areas of the Dominican Republic as well as from neighboring islands facing the same threats.”

According to one participant, “I did not really understand what global warming and the greenhouse effect meant. Now I know how they relate to climate change…but more importantly, I learned about mangroves and coral reefs. Although we live so close to them we were not aware how they protect our coast and what an important role they play in our livelihoods.”

The youth benefitting from this workshop are already becoming leaders in their community by leading conservation efforts as volunteers with CEBSE, working in their local Mayors’ offices, and seeking learning opportunities on climate change outside of the program. Fifteen-year-old participant Daniel Aurelio Reyes Gomez has grand aspirations to keep his momentum going and eventually become a great political leader for his nation. The program will continue to support these future Dominican leaders by expanding to
education centers and fifteen high schools, training 20-50 students at each school.

USAID is also helping smallholder farmers in the Dominican Republic to access and use new methods to deal with climate risks, such as adjusting planting cycles, and better managing natural resource inputs. Farmers are being instructed in ways to take full advantage of climate and weather forecasts and market-based insurance products that complement risk reduction efforts. Such efforts help ensure that farm productivity is sustainable into the future.

This not only reduces the impacts of shocks that farmers themselves face, but also improves the environmental condition of resources downstream, such as the mangroves and coral reefs in coastal communities like Samaná, which are degraded by an onslaught of negative impacts, from upstream agricultural pollution to climate change-induced alterations in ocean chemistry.

By working with those whose livelihoods are currently impacted by the effects of climate change, and by engaging the youth in impacted communities, USAID is promoting multigenerational awareness of and engagement with climate change resiliency.

Rebuilding Haiti One Concrete Block at a Time

This originally appeared on the OPIC Blog.

“You can’t build a country without concrete.”

The statement has particular relevance in Haiti, where, more than three years since a 7.0 magnitude earthquake resulted in extensive death and destruction, the country is still working to repair and rebuild and assume a path of sustained economic vitality.

Luis Garcia (pictured), spoke about the importance of basic building materials like concrete when he described his work in Haiti to an OPIC delegation in February. As Vice President for Planning at Haiti 360, Garcia oversees  projects that not only produce badly-needed concrete, but also highlight the critical role of the private sector in addressing urgent developing world needs such as modern infrastructure.

Luis Garcia describes his work in Haiti to an OPIC delegation in February 2013. Photo credit: OPIC

Haiti 360 – one of multiple OPIC-supported projects that were initiated after the 2010 earthquake – has used a $6 million OPIC loan to support startup costs of two plants producing high-quality concrete used to rebuild homes, roads and even an airport runway. In 2012, more than 500 homes were built with concrete from the new plants. Some of the homes, like those pictured below at the Cabaret housing settlement, were built to tap into the country’s sunny climate. They have solar panels on the windows and come with ATM-like machines, where residents can swipe cards to keep track of the power they use. Haiti 360 is now one of Haiti’s largest concrete producers, and is establishing a series of micro-mixing sites around the country so it can better meet the demands of local builders in different regions. The company is also planning to donate a percentage of its profits to local charities.

My work in international development has led me to Haiti several times but when I visited the country in February with an OPIC delegation led by OPIC President and CEO Elizabeth Littlefield, it was my first visit since the earthquake three years earlier. Today there are about 300,000 Haitians living in tents, down from almost three million who were left homeless after the earthquake. Long a poor country facing multiple development challenges, Haiti today faces the immediate challenge of housing and feeding a large displaced population, and is hoping to do so in a sustainable manner.  Construction underway throughout the country is aimed not just at repairing damage, but extending roads, bolstering infrastructure and fostering new industrial development beyond the capital city of Port au Prince, which is overcrowded with displaced people and job seekers.

The work I witnessed during my visit in February also underscored how governments, private businesses and NGOs all have an important role in this country, which U.S. Ambassador Pamela White has described as “too rich to be poor.” Indeed, Haiti is rich in talent, youth, innovative spirit and land. All of these resources were on display when our delegation visited the Cabaret Housing Settlement, where about 156 houses will be built with the support of Development Innovation Group (DIG). A Maryland finance and development firm, DIG is using a $17 million OPIC loan, together with grants from USAID and the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund, to support lending in amounts as small as $1,000 for mortgages and home repairs for low-income borrowers. Builders at the Cabaret site are sensitive to the urgency to construct more housing and have organized a friendly-yet-fierce competition between two construction teams to see who can complete the most homes.

Development Innovations Group offers a good illustration of OPIC’s ability to form partnerships to achieve a greater developmental impact. As the U.S. Government’s development finance institution, OPIC helps private businesses invest in frontier markets and often collaborates with other agencies or NGOs to channel additional investment into projects addressing major social and environmental needs. As the builders’ contest illustrates, DIG and other OPIC-supported projects have responded quickly to the need in Haiti. [continued]

Read the rest of this post.

Pounds of Prevention – Focus on Money & Microfinance

What does having access to savings and credit have to do with disaster risk reduction? What does having access to savings and credit have to do with disaster risk reduction?In this next installment of the USAID Pounds of Prevention series (PDF), we discuss the important role that financial services play in reducing vulnerability to disasters and facilitating post-disaster recovery. We travel to Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean where USAID supports a number of efforts that increase people’s access to finance and also strengthens the preparedness capacity of the providers themselves. Photo by USAID.

Photo of the Week: Department of Choco in Colombia Celebrates 200 Years of Independence

On February 1, 2013, the Department of Chocó (Pacific Coast), one of the Colombian departments with the largest Afro-Colombian population, celebrated 200 years of independence (1813-2013).  The United States Agency for International Development supported this commemoration as well as the development of several initiatives aimed at improving the living conditions of the Afro-Colombian and Indigenous population in the region.

On April 29-30, Administrator Shah travels to Colombia with Mark Feierstein, Assistant Administrator for Latin American and the Caribbean to meet with President Juan Manuel Santos and other senior government officials to discuss economic and social development initiatives and aspects of the ongoing peace process.

Read more about the Administrator’s trip to Colombia.

Visit USAID Colombia for more information about USAID’s work in Colombia.

Follow @rajshah on Twitter for updates of his trip.

Who Stole My Cow? Open Data and Praedial Larceny

On December 23, 2012, thirty-two cows were stolen from a farm in Trelawny, Jamaica. By the time the story was picked up by a national newspaper three months later, the farm had been practically shut down, with only six of the original twenty-two workers still employed. Praedial larceny — the theft of agricultural produce and livestock — is widely acknowledged as a major threat to agricultural production and food security in developing countries. It robs legitimate producers, stifles incentives for farming entrepreneurs and adversely affects the poor. In Jamaica, this scourge deprives farmers of more than JA$5 billion (US$52 million) each year. The Rural Area Development Authority (RADA), an agency of Jamaica’s Ministry of Agriculture, has demonstrated a strong commitment to using open data to combat this economic drain and improve the resilience of the island’s agricultural industry.

Stanford Political science professor talking with farmer in Cornation Market in Kingston, Jamaica about praedial larceny. Photo credit: Matthew McNaughton

At its core, praedial larceny thrives on information asymmetries that limit coordination between stakeholders, such as farmers, law enforcement, and buyers of produce. The free flow and accessibility of information about registered farmers, their production, incidences of theft and linkages between production and market are all a part of the information ecosystem that is needed to combat this challenge.

It is within this context that I am excited by the G-8 International Open Agriculture Data Conference and the U.S. Government and USAID’s commitment to supporting agriculture open data. While the value of data is derived from its usage, the principle of ‘openness’ is founded on access and participation. Having more relevant and timely access to data for not only policy makers and data scientists, but also farmers, innovators and other intermediaries, will help to create the solutions needed to prevent threats to food security.

Over the last three years RADA has collaborated with universities, NGOs, and entrepreneurs, including the Mona School of Business & Management, the Caribbean Open Institute, and the SlashRoots Foundation, to publish agriculture open data through APIs and develop a number of proof of concept applications and visualizations to improve extension services and policy making. They partnered in Developing The Caribbean, a regional open data conference and code sprint that spanned six islands this year, where they released data and helped define problem statements to development challenges, along with government agencies from across the Caribbean. The event attracted over 200 volunteers software developers and domain experts in agriculture, tourism and data journalism, who generated over twenty-five prototypes in response to thirty problem statements.

Testing low tech prototypes in largest market in Jamaica after two day workshop to collaborative build solutions with users. Photo credit: Matthew McNaughton

Looking forward to further collaboration with RADA focused on specific development challenges, such as praedial larceny, one thing is clear: open government data in agriculture will be critical to breaking down the silos that typically create governance bottlenecks. This requires focusing not aggregate macro datasets, but instead opening small, service level indicators, originating from any development partner, that can provide “just in time” data to inform decision making. Early program prototypes include employment opportunities as data collectors for at-risk youth, and mobile farmer ID verification for law enforcement and buyers of produce.

To this end, we’re embracing open data that not only helps to catalyze innovation outside of government, but also lowers the barriers for RADA and the farmers they serve, to explore new ways of collaborate to solve the problems that impact them both.

Matthew McNaughton (@mamcnaughton) is an Open Innovation & Development Consultant at the World Bank, and Director of the SlashRoots Foundation, a Caribbean Civic tech non-profit, aiming to accelerate the evolution of the technology ecosystem in the region. SlashRoots is collaborating with the Caribbean Open Institute to launch the Code For The Caribbean Fellowship program. CftC is a member of the Code For All Network, Code For America’s International Program.

Why Women’s Leadership Matters in a Macho World

Gangs are often seen as a problem of boys and men. Historically, communities have focused on men as both perpetrators and victims of gang related crimes, which include assault, kidnapping, extortion, illicit substance and human trafficking, theft, and murder. And to date, the answer has also been a predominantly male approach – police and court systems that focus on penalizing individuals for these crimes.

However, gangs don’t only make boys and men vulnerable; they make communities insecure for girls and women, too. Although the majority of homicide victims and perpetrators are male, there is an alarming trend of girls joining gangs as well as becoming victims of sexual assaults and femicide.

Volunteers of the Youth Movement Against Violence in Guatemala. Photo credit: Creative Associates

Fed up with the violence and driven by a desire for positive change in their communities, women are taking leadership roles to tackle gang violence and crime. Through youth movements, such as Movimiento Jovenes Contra La Violencia (Youth Movement Against Violence)  in Central America, young women are leading efforts and bringing together communities, governments, and youth to form partnerships and find creative solutions.

“I am worried about the alarming situation and of the number of youths that are killed every day, and the impact that the violence has on my family. So I decided to take part in finding a solution,” says Vivien Rueda, one of the founders of Youth Alliance Association in Guatemala City.

The Youth Alliance Association project takes a whole-of-community prevention approach. Through USAID’s outreach centers in high-crime areas, the group helps to provide a safe space for recreational activities and job training for at-risk youth as well as ex-gang members. In order to strengthen a sense of community, the centers are called “Outreach Centers for My Neighborhood,” which is similar to a local, common catch phrase “for my neighbor, for my neighborhood.”

The visibility of youth activism was raised to the national stage in Honduras by Alejandra Hernandez, former head of Movimiento Jovenes Contra La Violencia in Honduras. In addressing the Honduran National Congress, she echoed the frustration of youth, of which 2.3 million are girls: “We are here to say that we are tired of being just observers of the violence in our country, now we want to be actors in the construction of solutions that allow us a safer Honduras.”

Women are unique actors and add value to these crucial conversations. They are instrumental to help achieve peace in their communities by bringing diverse perspectives, mobilize a variety of community actors, and ensure that all citizens have their security concerns heard.

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