USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Latin America and the Caribbean

FrontLines Feature: Community Members and Police Take Back Jamaica’s Streets

This originally appeared in FrontLines, November/December 2012 issue.

As a community-based policing project comes to a close after more than six years, the partnership between police and citizens offers a crime-crushing model for the Caribbean.

Paulette Simpson vividly remembers the days of terror. With a grimace, she recalls one of her darkest moments—when she was bombarded with the piercing sounds of gun shots, the shrieking of women and children, and the smell of blood filling the air in her small community of Gravel Heights, in Spanish Town, Jamaica.

“I was afraid,” she said. “Every day I lived in fear that my life would be taken away from me. I did not want to go out and work. I did not want to die.” In 2010, that fear drove Simpson to pack her bags, close her small grocery shop and seek refuge in a safer community.

After closing her shop and fleeing her community of Gravel Heights, Paulette Simpson was happy to return home and reopen her grocery shop, confident in the ability of the Jamaica Constabulary Force to keep her safe from gangs. Photo Credit: USAID

Two years later, the terrible violence has now relented. In July, total major crime decreased by 49 percent over the previous year in the St. Catherine North Police Division where Spanish Town is located. Anthony Castelle, the division’s senior police superintendent, attributes community-based policing for the reduction. Homicide rates have been reduced, gang activities have been disrupted, and law enforcement officers are regaining the trust and confidence of the people they are sworn to protect, rekindling a partnership that had been badly tarnished.

The newfound security can be partially attributed to the Jamaica Constabulary Force’s (JCF) fight against crime and violence, with support from the USAID-funded Community Empowerment and Transformation (COMET) project (PDF). COMET focuses efforts on bringing together members of the community and the police in a new community-based policing partnership.

An Island Battleground

Gravel Heights is just one of many communities in Jamaica where criminal gangs caused many to fear for their lives. Gang members would often compete violently for resources and turf in the weapons and drugs trade. They extorted local businesses, and ran neighborhoods as their own fiefdoms. The crime and violence became overwhelming from the mid-90s through 2010, and citizens lost faith in the police. During the most intense periods of violence, five murders a week were reported in Spanish Town. Like Simpson, many left their homes to save their lives.

In 2006, at the height of the violence, USAID began working with residents, the JCF, the Government of Jamaica and civil society groups to come up with solutions. USAID’s COMET project launched community-based policing (CBP) programs, which required intense interaction between community members and the police. Neighborhood watches were set up; youth clubs came together to stand up against the violence; advertisements went up on buses and bumper stickers encouraging people to work with the police; and community consultative boards met regularly to discuss issues and activities with the police.

One of the greatest challenges was the distrust that had built up between the police and community members after many years of violence. People didn’t feel like they could trust the police to protect them and the police did not feel that they could depend on members of the community to give them the information they needed on criminals in the area.

“Prior to the program, there was a time when we, the police, could not walk within a number of high-risk communities without being shot. We would have to venture in armored vehicles to protect ourselves, and today it is much different,” said Stephanie Lindsay, deputy superintendent of the JCF. “The key element is engaging community members, finding out what their issues are and how we can go about resolving them as they are the ones who know best.

“We started this by taking the time to regularly walk into the communities and speak with the citizens on the streets or within their homes in an informal manner as our friends, as our neighbors. This simple gesture spoke volumes and started the process of building our relationship. Yes, some members were reluctant at first to speak with us. However, we have a new generation of youngsters that decided enough is enough with the crime and violence.” [continued]

Read the rest of the article on FrontLines.

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FrontLines Feature: A USAID Legacy in Latin America: Smaller Families and Better Health

This originally appeared in FrontLines, November/December 2012 issue.

Trinidad Hernández lives in a wood-panel house with a zinc roof and a dirt floor in La Patriota, Nicaragua, a small rural village near the center of Nicaragua. The 39-year-old is a cattle farmer and volunteers as a health promoter. He enjoys the respect his community gives him as a person of authority who helps solve some of the health problems they face. He is part of a community-based family planning program that has been supported by USAID since 2003 and has been integrated into the Nicaraguan Government’s national health strategy.

Maryuri Arellano gives a health talk on adolescent pregnancy prevention. Photo Credit: Kimberly Cole, USAID

Today, more than 1,000 men and women like Hernández are involved in the country’s ambitious community-based efforts to improve health by helping parents decide the size of their families. These community health promoters educate and supply contraceptives to their neighbors who live in the most remote villages. Buttressing the approach is a USAID-sponsored 2011 study (PDF) indicating that, when men are involved as partners and community members, there are lasting improvements in reproductive health.

The number of male family planning promoters in Nicaragua has grown dramatically since 2006. Hernández reports that “the women in my community have confidence in me because I offer all of the [family planning] methods that are available and I give them enough information so that they can choose the method that is right for them. And then I make sure to always have their next supply ready.”

Programs like this, which are part of the USAID graduation strategy in countries like Nicaragua, gradually prepare them for the Agency’s departure. The goal is to maintain the successes achieved with assistance both during and after graduation. Nicaragua is an especially successful case in a region where improved education for women, greater economic opportunity and increased availability of family planning have reaped enormous benefits overall, say USAID/Nicaragua officials.

In Nicaragua, specifically, increased use of family planning has coincided with a reduction in maternal mortality by almost a third since 1980.

From Six to Two

In the 1960s, the average woman in Latin America had six children and many died in childbirth. Back then, most women in remote areas didn’t have access to family planning or know that they could space or limit their pregnancies.

Today, most women have between two and three healthy children.
Infant mortality has fallen faster in Latin America and the Caribbean than anywhere else in the world, declining by 70 percent since the 1960s. Child mortality has declined by 57 percent and the region’s maternal mortality ratio has dropped by 41 percent since 1990.

According to Marianela Corriols, USAID/Nicaragua’s project development specialist for health, this is not a coincidence. “There is strong evidence that the dramatic expansion of family planning services during this period was a major factor in saving these lives, by giving couples the ability to space their children’s births, and limit their family size, according to their own desires,” says Corriols.

While USAID has been the world leader in family planning funding since the 1960s, Corriols notes that the Agency was mostly an outside facilitator of country plans. “It is the leadership of host country governments and civil society that have led to these stunning results,” she says…[continued]

Read the rest of the article on FrontLines.

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Pounds of Prevention – Focus on Paraguay

Working to prevent wildfire in Paraguay. Photo Credit: USAID

In this next installment of the (PDF)USAID Pounds of Prevention series, we travel to Paraguay. Since 2001, USAID has partnered with Paraguay to improve the country’s approach to disaster management, with a concentrated effort on preventing and responding to wildfires. In recent years, USAID supported Paraguay’s development of its National Plan for Integrated Fire Management. Among other improvements, the new National Plan strengthened coordination mechanisms among government agencies, communities, and first responders. In January 2012, these entities were put to the test when wildfires broke out in the San Rafael Mountains Preserve. The well-organized response by Paraguayan authorities, firefighters, and community members in the affected area was a testament to the years invested in preparing for and mitigating the effects of wildfire.

 

Photo of the Week: Reaching out to Youth in Latin America

USAID Deputy Administrator Don Steinberg visits with Honduran youth from Movimiento Jovenes Contra la Violencia at a USAID outreach center. Photo Credit: USAID

Last week, Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg traveled with Assistant Administrator Mark Feierstein to Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico to visit USAID projects, announce new initiatives, and meet with government officials, civil society, and USAID partners. During December 12th-13th Deputy Administrator Steinberg met with President Porfirio Lobo to discuss USAID’s ongoing work in Honduras, including crime prevention and food security. He also announced a new public-private partnership with TIGO, a regional cell phone company, which will provide internet access, cable TV, and free fixed telephone lines to each of USAID outreach centers for at-risk youth. By 2013, there will be 40 centers in Honduras and 100 throughout Central America as part of the Central America Regional Security Initiative.

Photos: Secretary Clinton in Haiti


U.S. Secretary of State Visits USAID sites in Northern Haiti: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to northern Haiti on October 22. In addition to attending and making remarks at the inauguration of the Caracol Industrial Park, she visited the USAID-funded Caracol EKAM housing site and the USAID-constructed 10 megawatt power facility that will supply electricity to the Caracol Industrial Park and nearby areas. USAID officials in attendance included Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg, Latin America and Caribbean Assistant Administrator Mark Feierstein, and Latin American and Caribbean Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator Beth Hogan. During her trip, the Secretary also met with President Michel Martelly, Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, local and national elected officials, investors, and community members. Photos by Kendra Helmer, USAID.

Driving Economic & Social Change – Highlight Women Entrepreneurs in Peru

Luzmila Huarancca Gutiérrez began making textiles at home in Ayacucho, a region located in the Andean Highlands. The quality of her work quickly attracted buyers from across Peru and abroad, and today she is a leader in the artisanal textile industry, managing a network of 800 artisans in Ayacucho.

To meet the rapidly growing demand, Huarancca trained 16 women to work with her. She is also investing her earnings in her family and community. She is improving her family’s home, enhancing the local community center, and building a store and acquiring sewing machines.

Huarancca, along with other successful women entrepreneurs, was front and center at an event in Lima last week entitled Power: Women as Drivers of Growth and Social Inclusion where President Humala of Peru, Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and Executive Director of UN Women and former Chilean President, Michelle Bachelet all spoke passionately about how the success of women is key to increasing economic growth and improving lives throughout Peru and the world. The event was part of Social Inclusion week, highlighted as one of the fundamental guiding principles of President Humala’s administration.

At the conference, USAID showcased the work of Huarancca and three other Peruvian women who received USAID support to grow their businesses. The women entrepreneurs shared their stories with Peruvian national and international dignitaries, including Secretary Clinton. These women increased employment and prosperity in their communities and demonstrate the spirit, drive, and dedication needed to boost individual women into the formal economy, connect them with national and international markets, and lead their families and communities as agents of economic and social change.

In fact, two of the entrepreneurs, who had never met before, agreed to work to develop and market products together – chocolate and Brazil nuts. Listening to how these women overcame barriers and became successful business women who are giving back to their communities is inspirational and they demonstrate how these types of program interventions can inspire lasting and dramatic change for women, their families, their communities and their countries.

Read more of their stories below:

Moving USAID Forward in Haiti

Gary Juste is the Office Chief of USAID/Haiti’s Office of Acquisition and Assistance.

There is a myth that when USAID enters into an agreement with a U.S.-based non-governmental organization or contractor, most of the money stays in the United States.

The reality is much different.  A significant amount of resources is spent locally.

  • A case in point: one of our health partners in Haiti employs 963 people; 950 are national staff and only 14 are international staff; this means that Haitians represent 98.5 percent of the staff. Also, international staff contributes to Haiti’s economy through routine purchases from local markets for food, fuel, clothing and electricity.
  • U.S.-based organizations working in Haiti purchase items from the local economy. For example, a democracy and governance project spent nearly $500,000 on the local market for computer rentals, printers, Internet service, office rental, equipment and supplies during start-up.

At the same time, we understand the importance of partnering more directly with a variety of organizations, including local entities.  However, U.S. law demands that grantees meet strict U.S. Government criteria to be fully accountable and liable for spending U.S. taxpayer dollars. It would be irresponsible of me as a USAID employee—and also unfair to me as a U.S. taxpayer—to make awards to organizations unable to track funds.

Immediately after the January 2010 earthquake, we worked with existing partners to quickly provide life-saving assistance. Following the emergency phase, we have continued to increase contracting to local partners and build the capacity of Haitian organizations to receive direct funding—in line with USAID Forward procurement reforms.  Since the earthquake, we have worked directly or through sub-awards with over 400 Haitian non-governmental organizations and firms.

To increase the number of new firms who compete, we have reached out to local entities and made them aware of U.S. government contracting opportunities and requirements.

  • Since the earthquake, the U.S. government has hosted or participated in more than 30 Haitian diaspora-focused events.  I have personally participated in 10 or more of these events in areas with significant Haitian Diaspora populations, such as Miami, New York, Chicago, Houston, New Jersey and Washington, D.C.
  • In Haiti, we regularly conduct “How to Do Business with USAID” seminars. When we host pre-award conferences, on average more than 50 individuals from various organizations attend, including Government of Haiti representatives.

Many of our prime contractors use a variety of local sub-grantees.  Sub-recipients of contracts make great implementers and it affords the prime contractor the opportunity to build the financial tracking capacity of the sub-grantee.  We are making very deliberate efforts to build the capacity of these sub-awardees to receive U.S. funds directly in the future.

  • A solicitation for a new, large procurement recently closed; the awardee is required to identify five local organizations to qualify as primary implementers by the third year and be eligible to receive direct awards from USAID, or face financial consequences (making them “walk the talk”).
  • We have agreements in place with Haitian certified public accounting firms to provide financial services to our partners and work with local organizations to build their financial capacity to receive direct awards.

And we are making progress. Between March 2011 and April 2012, more than 40 percent of our funding went to non-traditional USAID partners—or partners which had never before received funding from USAID. Among them are two Haitian-American firms that were previous sub-awardees and which are now managing multi-million dollar contracts. One of the best ways to become a direct recipient of USAID funding is to begin as a sub-awardee.

Although this new way of doing business is much more time intensive, we also realize this is the best way to build local capacity and move USAID Forward.

Visit our FAQ Page for additional information on how we do business with local firms.

 

Empowerment, Not Pity: HIV Prevention Programs for People with Disabilities

Ed Scholl, of John Snow, Inc., is the AIDSTAR-One Project Director. AIDSTAR-One is funded by USAID’s Office of HIV/AIDS. The project provides technical assistance to USAID and U.S. Government country teams to build effective, well-managed, and sustainable HIV and AIDS programs.

The messages were familiar, but the delivery was not. The classroom was filled with high school students learning about HIV, sexually transmitted infections, and pregnancy prevention.  But instead of a teacher lecturing, or using a flipchart or video, a blind man spoke to the class, with a sign language interpreter communicating his words to deaf students who attend the Dominican Republic’s National School for the Deaf in Santo Domingo. I watched as the deaf students carefully followed the interpreter’s hand motions and quickly responded in sign language to the questions posed by the facilitator.

Students at the National School for the Deaf in the Dominican Republic respond to questions about HIV. Photo Credit: Ed Scholl,JSI

The blind facilitator is one of 30 persons living with disabilities trained by the Dominican PROBIEN Foundation to communicate HIV information to others living with disabilities. Two other PROBIEN facilitators, one who is also deaf and another whose leg was amputated, simultaneously led discussions about HIV and reproductive health in other classrooms at the school. These efforts to bring HIV information and education to persons living with disabilities and their families are supported under a grant provided by the AIDSTAR-One project, with funding made available by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)/Dominican Republic. Through AIDSTAR-One, USAID is providing financial support and technical assistance to build the capacity of twelve Dominican NGOs, including the PROBIEN Foundation, working in HIV prevention, care and treatment for most-at-risk and vulnerable populations.

Persons with disabilities make up an estimated 15 percent of the world’s population.

Wheelchair basketball players in the Dominican Republic are among the HIV promoters trained by the PROBIEN Foundation. Photo Credit: Ed Scholl,JSI

They are considered to be a population at risk of HIV, unintended pregnancy, and sexual abuse, yet they are often overlooked when it comes to programs and services. Why is this so? PROBIEN Director Magino Corporan explains that much of society doesn’t want to acknowledge the human rights of people living with disabilities. They may be objects of pity and charity, but they don’t enjoy the same opportunities for education, employment, health care, and rights that others enjoy. People living with disabilities are also often considered to be sexually inactive, so they rarely receive sexual and reproductive education, contraceptives, and access to services.

Recognizing the value of peer education, PROBIEN trains people with disabilities to provide education about HIV, sexually transmitted infections, and reproductive health to other people with disabilities, and to their families. One PROBIEN promoter, who lost both legs in a traffic accident, directs a community radio program and shares information about HIV with his listening audience once a week. Two other promoters play in a wheelchair basketball organization and share HIV messages with their teammates. When I interviewed them recently, they invited me to sit in a wheelchair and play a practice game with them. Needless to say, this one-time basketball player was humbled in the extreme!

PROBIEN also works at the policy level and, in 2008, played an instrumental role in getting the Dominican Government to include persons living with disabilities as beneficiaries of national health insurance (along with persons living with HIV).

Thanks to the work of PROBIEN and its volunteer promoters and the support of USAID,  many more people with disabilities and their families in the Dominican Republic are receiving messages about HIV and sexual and reproductive health and taking action to protect themselves and live healthy lives.  Efforts to protect this often neglected at-risk population not only empower people living with disabilities to take control of their own health but also serve as a powerful example of a truly inclusive and human rights approach to HIV programming.

 

Video of the Week: Reading in Peru

According to experts, in the first grade children must learn how to read and understand what they read. In the second  grade, they must improve their fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. With more fluency there is greater chance for children to understand what they have read. That’s why in countries that are are more advanced in education, there are set reading standards for children. In Latin America, children who finish second grade are supposed to read 60 words a minute. Watch this video to learn more about basic reading standards in Peru, and how young Peruvian children learn how to read.

Ask the Expert: Literacy in Latin America

We interviewed Karen Towers from our Latin America and Caribbean Bureau to discuss the state of education in the region.

1)     It seems that Latin America and the Caribbean is doing better in education – is that true?

Yes and no. While it is true that access has increased, education quality is still a serious issue.  In the early 1960s, one out of every five children in Latin America and the Caribbean was enrolled in the first grade, now 95% of nine years olds are enrolled in school.  The problem is that children are not learning.  UNESCO tests indicate that more than 1/3 of third graders cannot read at grade level.  By the time these students reach the 6th grade,  20% will still be functionally illiterate.

Girls reading in Peru. Photo Credit: USAID

1)     Why are these literacy rates so low?

Many factors contribute to the low literacy rates, but primarily disorganized schools and poorly trained teachers. Teachers often only receive the barest guidance on what to teach and little or no training on how to teach it.  In addition, there is almost a complete lack of accountability. Often there are no independent evaluations of schools and teachers have no clear standards against which to measure student’s performance.  This video from Peru demonstrates some of problems with school performance for an average student in a public school in the region.

2)     Why is early-grade literacy important to development in the region?

When children cannot read, it limits their ability to learn other subjects such as math or science and also impacts their ability to participate in society in the long run. Studies have shown a correlation between literacy and voter participation and citizen security.   In addition, learning outcomes have a directly impact a country’s economic growth. A 10% increase in the share of students reaching basic literacy translates into a 0.3 percentage point higher annual growth rate for that country.

3)     What is USAID doing to improve early-grade literacy rates?

USAID’s new Global Education Strategy has made literacy a top development priority. By 2015, USAID aims to improve reading outcomes for some 100 million children across the globe. USAID programs include helping to develop teacher skills, introducing new technologies that facilitate learning, and improving tools to measure and assess children’s reading skills.

Percentage of 3rd graders with the lowest reading achievement level on UNESCO Tests Source: Ganimian, Alejandro. How Much Are Latin American Children Learning? PREAL, 2009

4)     Where are USAID’s programs located in LAC?

USAID has education programs in 10 Latin American and Caribbean countries: Haiti, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Eastern Caribbean, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Peru.

5)     What are the focus of these programs?

USAID programs are focused on improving reading by improving the 5 T’s:

  1. Teacher Technique – teaching teachers how to teach reading.
  2. Time Use – maximizing instructional time in the classroom.
  3. Texts – put appropriate books in the hands of children.
  4. Tongue – implement appropriate language policies and provide mother-tongue based instruction.
  5. Test – measure reading skills against a common standard.

    Percentage of 6th graders with the lowest reading achievement level on UNESCO TestsSource: Ganimian, Alejandro. How Much Are Latin American Children Learning? PREAL, 2009

     

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