USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Latin America and the Caribbean

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

     

Pounds of Prevention – Focus on Brazil

Residents of Ceará State employ many techniques to protect their livelihoods from the negative effects of drought. Here community members work to construct cylindrical wells and underground reservoirs that collect and conserve water. Photo Credit: Cáritas Brasileira

In this next installment in the Pounds of Prevention  series, we travel to Ceará State in northeastern Brazil, which is in the midst of a severe drought.

Over the past few years, the area has faced increasingly frequent drought conditions and rural residents face difficult choices.They include whether to abandon their farms and move to urban centers or to rely on water trucked in by the government.

More recently, however, community organizations have worked with experts from USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance on strategies to minimize the negative impacts from droughts and adapt their livelihoods in such a way that makes families more resilient.

Using a variety of techniques to conserve water, enhance agricultural practices, and diversify income sources, residents have mitigated the risk of drought. They are now are reenergized about the future of their communities.

Pounds of Prevention: Colombia

In this next installment in the Pounds of Prevention series, we travel to South America, to Colombia, a country with several active volcanoes that USAID and the U.S. Geological Survey help monitor. The article tells what happened on June 30, 2012, when the Nevado del Ruiz Volcano erupted briefly.

Marta Calvache, the head of the volcano hazards program in Colombia, explains the impacts of the 1985 eruption of Nevado del Ruiz Volcano. Photo: Wendy McCausland, VDAP

In contrast to the tragic result of the 1985 eruption that destroyed an entire village, on this day, the people and government took immediate preparedness measures and executed timely evacuations. The article also gives insight into how USAID and interagency partners like the U.S. Geological Survey provide support to countries to reduce their disaster risk and lessen the damage from natural hazards like volcanoes.

Video: Working for Equality for People with Disabilities in Haiti

The January 2010 earthquake in Haiti increased the challenge of supporting people with disabilities.  Not only were there more people with disabilities, many local disabled peoples organizations were severely impacted.  However, the earthquake also brought increased international awareness to the many barriers to inclusion that existed prior to the earthquake.

Immediately following the earthquake, USAID funded a spinal cord injury center. Recognizing the earthquake as an opportunity to make long-term change for people with disabilities during the reconstruction process, we recently made four new awards to address four different aspects of inclusion and provision of better and more accessible care.

 

Prevention & Youth are the Solution

The word of the day in Central America is prevención. A wide range of actors in the region—particularly in the “Northern Triangle” (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador)— design and implement strategies and programs that focus on the prevention of crime, mainly aimed at youth.

The premise behind prevention is that rising criminal activity and violence linked to the drug trade is creating conditions for young people to be attracted to the flashy—but dangerous—world of drug trafficking.

The fast money and flashy lifestyles of drug traffickers glorified in the popular telenovelas are luring young people to become pawns in the bloody turf wars of organized crime and drug cartels. The economic downturn that hit the region, with its related high levels of unemployment and underemployment, has also pushed young people into a life of crime and drug consumption.

In Guatemala, its youth face a difficult situation. There are several risk factors on the road to their development. Generally, Guatemalans take pride in claiming that this is a “young country.” With a population of almost 15 million people, 2 out of 3 Guatemalans are 24 years old or less.

But these figures also represent an immense challenge for this Central American nation, particularly within the context of low rates of economic growth and traditionally low quality in health and education. The country’s inability to generate enough opportunities to absorb thousands of young people entering the labor market annually plus historical institutional weaknesses in justice and security paint a complicated scenario. In addition, Mexico and the isthmus have become both, the main transit route for narcotics heading North, and the main theater of operations for the bloody turf wars over control of the drug trade.

These factors have made the “Northern Triangle” one of the deadliest regions in the world. In Guatemala, the vast majority of victims are younger than 25 years of age. Similarly, 89% of aggressors are aged between 18 and 35 years.

The fact that youth are the main protagonists in the daily violence, both as victims and perpetrators, has led some researchers to refer to this phenomenon as the “criminalization of youth.”

To that end, the Guatemalan government has begun an unprecedented consultation process in order to enact a public policy on youth crime and violence prevention. This exercise in citizen participation seems promising. And, the government’s commitment on prevention is being matched by the donor community in Guatemala. International cooperation in this country also views prevention as a big part in the solution in the fight against public insecurity.

As Vinicio Gamarro, a sixth grade teacher in the village of Naxombal, asserted, young people need “to do good things so they won’t think about violence.”

Vetha Quej, a 20 year-old concurs with Gamarro. At a meeting of community leaders, civil society organizations, youth, and international donors working on violence prevention among youth at the local level, Vetha said that young people like her need “work instead of violence.”

To address these needs, USAID helps provide Guatemalan youth with productive options to turn away from gangs and other criminal organizations. Programs focus on youth employability, technical training for at-risk youth, internship programs, and a range of activities that teach young men and women values and life skill through sports and arts. It is precisely this type of pursuits that will give youth hope for a better future.

Q & A: Youth Movement to Fight Violence in Honduras

Members of Jovenes Contra la Violencia. Photo: MJCV

We interviewed Jorge Santiago Avila Corrales, a 25-yr old honor roll student at the National University of Honduras, about security concerns and the role of youth in Honduras.  He is the country coordinator of the Movimiento Jovenes Contra la Violencia (the Youth Movement Against Violence).

Jorge Santiago Avila Corrales is the country coordinator of the Movimiento Jovenes Contra la Violencia. Photo: MJCV

1.     Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world. How has it affected you?

I am saddened by the fact that my brother is one of these statistics, since I lost him due to violence, and to know that the situation in Honduras is as it is. On the one hand, it makes me worry that future generations will have a very short life expectancy; on the other hand, I know that we young people are talented and have lots of good ideas, so we can effect change and highlight the good things about our country.

2.     You have chosen not to become a perpetrator of violence. Who or what helped you make good decisions as a youth?

My parents have played a fundamental role; with their examples and guidance I have moved forward. Although we had scarce economic resources, they always instilled in me good values and principles.  As the oldest of five siblings, I always had to be an example. Even living in the “hot spot” of Comayagüela, my desire for self-improvementkept me away from troubled groups and towards making decisions that brought me to where I am today.

3.     What led you to get involved in the Movimiento Jovenes Contra la Violencia?

I joined the Movement in order to implement a methodology to develop youth dialogues. I really liked the Movement’s inclusion of young people from different social strata, religions, and ideologies, and I liked that I, a simple youth from a marginal neighborhood, could coordinate an activity like that.  This shows that a youth fighting against violence can be anyone who wants to change his or her life and country, regardless of his or her background.

4.     With approximately half of Honduras’ population under 25 years old, how does the Movimiento make a difference in Honduras?

A young person makes the difference when he or she begins to dream and to fight to bring those dreams to reality. As young people, we have a lot of things to propose and we are intelligent.  In the Youth Movement against Violence, different talents come together and we channel them toward a common objective; our differences are secondary when the problem of violence is the main concern.

5.     The Movimiento has had many accomplishments. What are one or two of your favorites?

Bringing together Honduran youth to show that we are capable of great things when we fight together; we can reach

Screenshot of video. Click to view on YouTube

Jovenes Contra la Violencia recently held a video contest to help spread their message. In this winning video, Ewin raps about how peace can be transformative for Honduran youth.

great achievements. But definitely the greatest success is being able to give a voice to Honduran youth, bringing their proposals in front of decision makers and having credibility in society as a youth organization that is truly achieving a change in peoples’ attitudes nationwide. However, each of the activities that we have realized has been my “favorite”: the television program; the human chain in which hundreds of youth participated; our recent participation in the SICA [Central American Integration System] Presidents’ Summit this past June; and the concert “Singing No to Violence”; in sum, all of our activities are very appealing in that they have been planned by us, ourselves, with concrete goals and objectives.

6.     Honduras has a lot of challenges, especially in economic growth, democracy, and security. With the help of the Movimiento, what do you hope to see change in the next few years?

First, I would like to see a personal change in the lives of all Hondurans, where they accept that changing from a negative direction to a positive one is the responsibility of all and that youth are not the problem, we are a part of the solution. I also hope that more and better opportunities arise for work, education, health, living conditions, social and human security, and occupation of free time for youth, and that in this way we will focus on the prevention of violence. With prevention, economic improvement for Honduran families, and true democracy, violence will diminish considerably.

Promoting Peace and Growth in Colombia by Addressing Land Issues

Last week I had a chance to spend a day in Cartagena, Colombia with Assistant Administrator Mark Feierstein, USAID Colombia Mission staff, host government personnel and implementing partners. Together, we looked at USAID’s technical assistance programs which support the Government of Colombia’s efforts to restitute land, formalize property and implement rural development.

Colombia is slowly emerging from decades of violent internal conflict and instability, which exacerbated existing social and economic disparities. Over the course of the conflict, armed groups, including the FARC guerillas, right-wing paramilitary forces, and private militias of drug lords used violence and intimidation extensively to force people from their lands and homes. As a result, there are 3.9 million officially registered Internally Displaced Persons in Colombia and over 9.8 million acres of land were abandoned due to forced displacement.

The current administration of President Juan Manuel Santos believes that an integrated program of securing access to rural land combined with comprehensive rural development will create the conditions necessary for lasting peace. In the next ten years, the Government of Colombia intends to resolve 360,000 restitution cases, restoring rightful ownership of land to those who were violently displaced or who abandoned their land due to the conflict. During my visit, I met with villagers who were forced from their homes 12 years ago on 12 hours’ notice—women like Aura who was forced to flee Las Brisas in Toro County with her three small children.

To help families like Aura’s, President Santos signed the Victims’ Law and Land Restitution Law to settle the country’s outstanding historical debts and establish a legal framework to support the process of land restitution and address root causes of the conflict. The law provides comprehensive assistance and reparations for over 3.6 million victims and includes an ambitious program of land restitution for those whose land was violently seized by illegal armed groups or who had to abandon their land due to the conflict. Simultaneous to the restitution efforts, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is implementing an ambitious project to strengthen the land rights of smallholder farmers, indigenous, and Afro-Colombian communities by issuing formal titles guaranteeing individual and collective rights.

As a result of these reforms, Aura’s community filed a legal case and she will soon receive financial compensation for herself and each of her children. She also will receive a rural plot of land and plans to rebuild a home and raise cattle in the area she once lived in.

Stories like Aura’s illustrate how USAID plays a role in keeping America’s long tradition of helping those who are less fortunate than us. Even modest amounts of assistance from the U.S. to the Colombian Government to support of land tenure programs help build peace and security in the country.

Video of the Week

In this short video, Diego Bustamante talks about his experience working as a counterpart with USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI). Diego highlights the innovative approach OTI used in Colombia from 2007 through 2011 that led to the Colombian government adopting OTI’s strategy, which helped to reduce conflict and improve government legitimacy in former guerilla controlled areas.

The video was made to showcase OTI’s work at the Frontiers in Development Conference in Washington, D.C. on June 11, 2012. The video was shown before a panel titled, “Helping Democracies Deliver.”

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