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Quiet Heroes Save Lives Daily in Syria

An Arabic translation is available.

The U.S. government is providing nearly $815 million in humanitarian assistance for the people of Syria. This aid is not a pledge; our aid is at work on the ground every day in some of the most affected areas, including Aleppo, Dar’a and Al Qusayr. As part of this assistance, USAID is supporting more than 144 field hospitals, medical clinics, and medical points across Syria. The doctors, nurses, and other medical staff working in these facilities are on the front lines of the brutal conflict in Syria, and every day they are risking their lives to save lives.

Last week alone, a doctor and 2 medical staff were killed and a nurse and 3 medical staff were injured when mortars were dropped near their clinics in Homs and Rif Damascus. The week before, the medical staff who survived the clashes in Al Qusayr – which killed one nurse, injured 2 staff, and left several others unaccounted for – had divided up supplies from their destroyed clinics and were already treating patients in nearby towns.

Doctors remove a bullet from the leg of an injured man. The injury required major surgery, which the makeshift field clinic was not equipped to handle. With ongoing fighting nearby and limited options, the surgeon proceeded with a minor surgery and was able to save the patient’s leg. Today, he can walk freely on it. Photo credit: USAID Partner

Along with widespread destruction and violence in Syria, health facilities are being destroyed, and medical staff are being targeted. And yet doctors, nurses, and medical staff—tireless heroes in this conflict—have been quietly working at USAID-funded health facilities across Syria since February 2012. To date, USAID-supported medical teams have performed over 85,000 surgeries, treated hundreds of thousands of patients, and saved countless lives.

The teams who help provide medical supplies to health facilities continue their heroic efforts as well. In the midst of some of the heaviest fighting in Al Qusayr, an international NGO working with USAID had to wait nearby for a week before they were able to deliver of life-saving medical supplies to a clinic on the
front lines of the battle. USAID medical programs in Syria provide medical supplies and equipment, pay doctors’ salaries, and train additional first responders and medical staff. Every day, U.S. humanitarian aid saves lives in Syria.

Learn more about USAID’s commitment to help the innocent children, women, and men affected by the ongoing conflict in Syria.

USAID Boosts Agricultural Production in Yemen

During my recent visit to Yemen, I had the opportunity to see the many ways that USAID is supporting development in the country at this crucial time. I was particularly impressed by USAID’s successful effort to demonstrate to Yemeni farmers how they can boost agricultural production and conserve water use at the same time by introducing new technologies in the fields.

Yemen faces many challenges, and one of the greatest is critical water shortages. Water is a precious commodity, and nowhere is it more so than in Yemen today. Recently, a school rehabilitation that USAID is supporting in the central highlands of Taizz has been stalled by a local conflict over scarce water resources.

Acting AA Romanowski meets with a Yemeni farmer to discuss how USAID’s Community Livelihoods Project is helping Yemen’s agricultural sector. Photo credit: Dorelyn Jose, USAID/Yemen CLP

This scarcity of water is also having a serious impact on agricultural productivity. Yemen’s agricultural sector needs to adapt green technologies to improve efficiency and raise productivity. USAID’s agricultural demonstration site in eastern Sana’a is showing the way.

In early 2012, as the country was embarking on a post-Arab Spring transition, USAID’s Community Livelihoods Project supported the construction of a solar-powered greenhouse with a highly efficient drip irrigation system at the farm owned by the Sawan Agricultural Cooperative Union in Sana’a. USAID’s support did not end there. USAID also recently completed the construction of a rainwater harvesting system on the site, which will give it a fully sustainable water supply going forward. This is another step further in demonstrating sustainable water solutions where they are most needed.

The greenhouse has since successfully demonstrated that it is possible to grow ten times more vegetables compared to traditional methods while saving water irrigation use by as much as 70 percent. Not only that, the produce from the Sawan greenhouse is of a superior quality, with farmers using just a fraction of pesticides – less than ten percent – normally used in other greenhouses. This is really impressive, I know, because my husband is a “city farmer” and perhaps he should take a look at the Sawan Demonstration Site to boost his crop yields.

When I visited the cooperative, it was expecting to harvest 12 times more than they could reasonably expect from a traditional field of a similar size. The farmers I met filled me with hope for the future of Yemen. I met the sharecropper at the farm, who is now making exponentially more money than he did before the greenhouse was built. I also met some of the farmers who have been inspired by what they saw to replicate these technologies on their own farms. Not far from the demonstration site, six new greenhouses are now up and running. There are now at least 25 new greenhouses farther south of Sana’a, in Damar governorate, initiated by intrepid Yemeni farmers who have been trained at the Sawan Demonstration Site.

I am encouraged to hear that the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation and the nationwide Agricultural Cooperative Union are now looking at ways of joining forces to support more Yemeni farmers in adapting these green technologies.

In Washington, we talk about our vision of economic resiliency for vulnerable countries and of “feeding the future,” or helping countries transform their own agriculture sectors to forge long-term solutions to chronic food insecurity and malnutrition. Our vision involves increasing the agricultural production and the incomes of both men and women in rural areas. My visit to Yemen confirmed to me how these concepts are translated into reality in places where they can promote much-needed stability. The happy and hopeful faces of Yemeni farmers and their children that I have seen must be a sign that we are doing something right.

Supporting Syrian Refugees in Turkey

This originally appeared on Dipnote

I am in Nizip 2, a refugee camp in southeastern Turkey. Rows of pre-fabricated containers house 4,000 Syrian refugees who fled the destruction of civil war. Nearby is Nizip 1, where 10,000 refugees live in tents. Both are tucked into a small piece of land on the banks of the Euphrates River.

It smells like fresh rain; I can hear a muezzin’s calls to prayer. Groups of children look at me curiously, shuffling by and as I reach out my hand, the little fingers of a smiling, dusty girl find mine. Her hand is replaced by another little hand, then another. For the next ten minutes, dozens of little boys and girls, unkempt and smiling, come to me. “Marhaba (welcome),” they say.

Syrian Refugees at a Camp in Kilis, Turkey. Photo credit: AP

This was my first week as Humanitarian Advisor to the U.S. Mission to Turkey, and I am struck all at once by the depth of the humanitarian crisis and honored to be welcomed so warmly by Turks and Syrians alike. There are 17 refugee camps in Turkey, soon to grow to 24. If I were to map the refugees’ paths with pushpins and strings, all of Syria and half of Turkey would be an intricate web.  Turkey has already welcomed hundreds of thousands of refugees, who have settled from Hatay province, just across Syria’s northern border, to Istanbul in the far northeast, the bridge to Europe.

Many of the most vulnerable have been sent to container camps like Nizip 2, as these dwellings provide solid protection from the elements. Some of the women’s husbands are fighting in the Free Syrian Army. They return from war to visit their spouses and children; sometimes they have been injured in battle. The container homes were built by the Government of Turkey, setting a high standard as an exemplary humanitarian actor. Camps like Nizip provide schools, playgrounds, fields and recreational facilities for kids; vocational training rooms, computer and television rooms for youths. The Turkish Red Crescent (TRC) fabricates and distributes fire-resistant tents; the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees provides kitchen burners and sets containing utensils. The World Food Program, through the TRC, provides electronic cards with money that refugees can use to purchase essential food at the camp market. UNICEF provides educational support. The United States is the largest funder of many of these international efforts.

My task is to monitor the humanitarian situation, identify protection needs, and coordinate international assistance programs. I visit refugees in camps and urban areas, and liaise with the U.S. government, international and non-governmental organizations, and Government of Turkey officials to coordinate assistance. Here on temporary assignment from the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration in the Department of State, I am one piece of a vast international effort that brings together the hospitality of the Turks, the generosity of UN member states, and the refugees themselves, who courageously face an uncertain future.

The children whose hands squeeze mine have no way of understanding the complex effort that supports them here, but I think they appreciate our presence. It is a sign that, despite what they have been through, they are not forgotten. I hope they are able to leave the camp, return to their homes, and become normal kids again. In the meantime, they will be taken care of here, thanks to unwavering support by the Government of Turkey and the international community.

About the Author: Heather Fabrikant serves as a Humanitarian Advisor at the U.S. Mission in Turkey.

Having the Right Tools at the Right Time to Meet Food Assistance Needs

Imagine there is a major crisis unfolding. While one region in the affected country is in crisis, there are available food supplies and resources in another. In situations like this, USAID disaster response professionals have several key decisions to make — all with the goal of helping as many people as possible in the most rapid, efficient and effective way possible. Does it make sense to bring in food from the United States? Should we purchase food locally to distribute to those in need? Should we provide people the means to buy the food themselves? Using all the resources available under its Emergency Food Security Program, USAID strives to respond to crises with the most appropriate tools to best meet the needs of vulnerable populations. Here are some recent highlights:

Flour made from Turkish wheat purchased for the Syria response. Photo credit: State Department

In Syria, humanitarian needs grow more pressing every day, but the conflict means importing large quantities of food aid can be impractical and downright dangerous in certain areas. Without the flexible resources provided through the International Disaster Assistance account, USAID would not have been able to respond initially to the Syria conflict. The flexibility to use emergency food assistance tools like vouchers and local and regional purchase has provided much needed help to those fleeing the conflict. In Kilis refugee camp on the Turkey-Syria border, we’re supporting a program that gives debit cards to families so they can shop for their own meals at local stores. And wheat purchased regionally in Turkey is now being milled to stock bakeries in Aleppo with much needed bread.

Last year in Rwanda, USAID and the UN World Food Program fed more than 72,000 people, including 61,000 refugees fleeing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, while supporting smallholder farmers within the country. By purchasing the food locally, USAID and WFP were able to save considerable time and money: saving $243 per metric ton on corn and $899 per metric ton on beans and getting food to refugees in just two months versus three to six months for U.S. food aid.

At the height of the 2011 drought in the Horn of Africa, in the hardest hit areas of southern Somalia where militants ruled and blocked traditional in-kind food distribution, food aid couldn’t reach everyone in need. But through cash transfers and vouchers, we were able to help more than 90,000 families (PDF) in inaccessible and insecure areas buy readily available food from markets in their communities.

In Haiti, a pioneering food assistance program provided 20,000 earthquake-affected households with electronic vouchers to buy rice, corn flour, cooking oil and beans from participating local vendors. This not only helped Haitians in need, but also developed local private enterprise, by bolstering functioning markets and partnering with three Haitian companies – two banks and a cell phone company.

USAID was able to help those in need when providing U.S.-grown food assistance was either not possible or less appropriate due to market conditions or timeliness issues. We did so by drawing from the International Disaster Assistance account, which provides the Food for Peace program with resources to buy food locally or regionally, or provide support directly to beneficiaries to buy food in their local markets.  In FY 2013, much of these flexible funds will go towards the large-scale response for the Syria crisis, leaving too little in flexible resources left for emergencies in the rest of the world.

Through the President’s Food Aid Reform Proposal, USAID is seeking to expand the flexibility of these resources so we can meet the needs of hungry people around the world in as efficient and effective a way as possible. Recently, the Senate passed the Coons-Johanns Amendment to expand USDA’s flexibility for local and regional purchase in a non-Food for Peace food assistance program.

Senate approval of the amendment is a recognition of the program’s demonstrated success (PDF) and the value of LRP in providing food assistance around the world — and is consistent with the flexibilities sought in the President’s reform proposal for USAID to administer the Food for Peace program.

USDA and USAID’s proven track record with local and regional procurement food assistance programs demonstrate the efficiencies to be gained by using the most appropriate tools at our disposal.

SMART Training Enables Egyptian Woman to Educate Community on Nutrition, Healthy Behaviors

Gaz Mohamed Mohamed Hussein Al Masarah comes from Masrah, a small village on the Nile about 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of the governorate capital of Asyut, Upper Egypt. She is 25-years-old and delighted to be included in a group of 20 young women selected by the SMART Project (Community-based Initiatives for a Better Life, funded by USAID) to work as Community Health Workers (CHWs) in their own communities. This class of 20 future CHWs is part of a total cadre of 1,200 women who have been trained.

The SMART project—a USAID-funded MCHIP project that focuses on improving maternal and neonatal health and nutrition—works through community development associations in Upper and Lower Egypt to train physicians and CHWs to improve newborn care, nutrition, and the use of modern family planning methods. Providers and CHWs are trained to focus on the nutritional habits of pregnant and lactating women, implement perinatal practices (such as intensive care for preterm or low birth weight babies), and encourage exclusive breastfeeding for six months.

Gaz Mohamed, third from the left (in red scarf), attending the CHW training. Photo credit: MCHIP.

During a break in the training on infant nutrition, Gaz recounts how, as one of six children, her family was never able to afford to send her to school. Her older sister married young and her brothers attended primary school, but Gaz was kept at home to help her mother. However, when she was 10-years-old, a relative started a literacy class in the village, and persuaded Gaz’s father to allow her to attend.

Gaz laughs when she tells how happy she was to carry her books around like the other students she had seen. She worked hard at the literacy classes and was soon able to join Year 5 in Primary School. She finished with good results and, with the support of her father, went on to secondary school, where at graduation her marks were good enough for her to have entered the faculty of agriculture, education, or commerce. However, her father did not want her to move into Asyut to continue her studies.

Not wanting to stay in the house all day, Gaz began to look for something she could do in her village. At the beginning of 2012, she was nominated by a local community development association to participate in the SMART training course for CHWs. The Smart Project selects CHWs in every community in the targeted governorates to visit pregnant and breastfeeding women in order to disseminate messages about healthy nutritional habits and infant care. Gaz’s best friend from school, Manal, was also nominated, and they were very excited to join the training together.

Gaz excitedly shares her knowledge from the training. She says she has learned about the benefits of breastfeeding and is convinced it will help mothers who traditionally start feeding their children different drinks and soup after only 40 days. She speaks confidently and enthusiastically about her new role in the community, saying how happy she is to be able to help her neighbors and friends in the village. Thankfully, her father has also accepted the idea that his daughter is working.

Gaz’s mother is proud of her daughter, too, especially for choosing to help other women. As the first woman in the family to have received an education and worked outside the home, Gaz contributes some of her monthly salary toward the family food bill. The rest she is saving for her marriage expenses. Although she is engaged, she is in no hurry to marry and insists she will continue working after she marries. She recognizes that the knowledge she has gained during the CHW training will be very useful for her when she has children of her own.

And reflecting back on her childhood desire to go to school, Gaz says she never would have imagined that she would one day have the information and confidence to go into women’s homes to discuss health and nutrition issues. “I just wanted to be educated like my brothers,” she says. “And that gave me the chance to be working and helping people. I wish that all the girls in Masrah could have an education. With education we could chase the ghost of malnutrition from Asyut!”

Learn more about USAID’s work on improving nutrition

Follow @USAID@USAIDGH and @FeedtheFuture on Twitter and use #GHMatters to join in the conversation about global health issues including #nutrition.

Food Voucher Program Gives Palestinian Families Choices and Supports the Local Economy

Recently, while visiting the West Bank, I had the pleasure to meet Palestinian shop owner Abu Shadi at his store in the community of Dura in the Hebron governorate. His Al Awawdeh Shop is one of 130 West Bank shops participating in an innovative USAID/World Food Programme (WFP) food assistance voucher program that channels aid through the local market.

Introduced in the West Bank in 2009, the voucher program now covers 86,000 West Bank beneficiaries, including 63,000 who are covered through USAID support.

As Abu Shadi explained, his customers, fellow shop owners and local farmers, all benefit from this relatively new way of delivering food assistance. The voucher program allows families to choose from a selection of staple foods, including bread, milk, yogurts, cheese, eggs, beans, lentils, vegetable oil and salt with an electronic card, similar to a debit card. They have more choice in what they can buy, the food is fresh, and they are injecting money directly into the Palestinian economy by supporting more local producers, farmers and shopkeepers.

Thanks to the USAID/WFP voucher card system, families can purchase the basic foods they need most. Photo credit: WFP/Quique Kierszenbaum

One voucher card user told our WFP colleagues that, “For a very long period we could not afford to buy eggs, milk and other dairy products. Thanks to the voucher program, my children now eat eggs and cheese regularly. They have become so much more active and full of energy now.”

To the extent possible, all of these goods come from local producers and are delivered through the normal private sector supply chain to the shops – giving the private sector a role in delivering the food assistance and also saving the donors the high costs of shipping and delivering the food commodities. Abu Shadi’s shop currently redeems vouchers for 113 households, or about 874 people. With the increased business he has seen thanks to this program, he has hired an additional worker for the store.

Abu Shadi proudly told us, “I am very happy being part of this project. I hope we can reach and include other stores in the community, so they can get the same benefits I have received. I doubled my income and now have a steady income for myself and my married son. It also gave me the opportunity to expand my store.”

Like all stores participating in the program, Abu Shadi’s store is registered with the Palestinian Authority (PA) tax authorities, which strengthens the PA’s ability to collect taxes. The stores also meet a set of standards required from all stores in the program. These stores must maintain refrigeration to keep the foods fresh and safe for consumers, maintaining Internet connectivity so that WFP can instantly track voucher redemptions, and guaranteeing a constant stock of all food products included in the program.

A voucher user explains to AAA Romanowski which products she buys using the USAID/WFP voucher system. Photo credit: WFP/Quique Kierszenbaum

“It was really fantastic to see how adjusting our way of delivering assistance has made such a difference for the local community,” one mother explained. “My daughter suffers from rickets and our doctor has been advising us for a long time to give her milk and yogurt daily. We couldn’t afford to do that. Thanks to the voucher program, we can now provide our daughter with the food she needs.”

Overall, USAID helps WFP and its implementing partner CHF to provide food and voucher assistance to vulnerable, non-refugee families in the West Bank and Gaza. Currently the USAID-funded caseload includes 203,000 individuals in the West Bank and Gaza. The United States also is the largest bilateral donor to UNRWA, which provides food assistance to nearly 750,000 Palestinian refugees and supplemental school feeding to more than 223,000 children in Gaza; aid to 52,000 food insecure persons in the West Bank; and food relief to 290,000 other vulnerable Palestinian refugees across the Middle East.

As President Obama noted in his recent proposal to reform U.S. food assistance, voucher programs are a cost effective way to provide many vulnerable families with the food assistance they most need while simultaneously creating much-needed employment opportunities for local economies.

 

U.S. Provides Wheat to Fill Urgent Food Gaps in Syria

An Arabic translation is available.

As part of our nearly $510 million in humanitarian aid to help those affected by the crisis in Syria, wheat recently provided by the United States will feed more than one million people in Syria for four months.

The 25,000 metric tons of wheat donated to the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) will be milled into flour and distributed to vulnerable families across Syria’s 14 Governorates through WFP as part of a monthly food ration. In addition to the 25 kilogram bag of flour that is being provided in these monthly food kits, families receive vegetable oil, pasta, bulgur, canned pulses and sugar.

An American ship arrives in Beirut, Lebanon with enough wheat to feed more than one million people affected by Syria’s ongoing crisis. Photo credit: WFP/Laure Chadraoui

The U.S. remains the largest donor of food assistance to Syria through WFP, contributing nearly $125.5 million in emergency food assistance since the conflict began more than two years ago. This most recent wheat contribution—worth more than $19 million—will provide much-needed bread for families in areas of Syria where access to humanitarian aid has been most constrained by the conflict and where there are severe shortages of bread.

“We are very grateful for this timely contribution from the United States which will allow us to supplement our food rations with wheat flour especially in the areas where families are struggling to get their hands on bread, a staple part of their diet,” said Muhannad Hadi, WFP’s Emergency Coordinator for the Syria crisis.

WFP, with support from the U.S., is working to reach 2.5 million people across Syria and approximately 300,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.

Visit our website for more information about USAID efforts in Syria

Free Press: The Cornerstone of Democracy

Today marks two decades since the United Nations General Assembly designated May 3 as World Press Freedom Day to celebrate press freedom and raise awareness about threats to media independence around the world.  A free press plays a vital role in democratic societies, enabling the open exchange of information and opinions among ordinary citizens, businesses, citizen associations, political parties, and governments. Free and open media systems give voice to citizens, truth test candidates and political parties during elections, inform policy debates in legislatures, investigate corruption, hold public officials accountable, enable democratic governance and facilitate more effective development.

Yet the global struggle for press freedoms remains a work in progress. According to the latest Freedom House reports, the sobering reality is that more than one-third of all global citizens live under highly state-controlled media and information environments classified as “not free”.

In Mozambique, USAID supports the five-year, $10 million Media Strengthening Program to promote a free, open, diverse, and self-sustaining media sector. Photo Credit: IREX

In nearly 35 countries, USAID provides media development assistance, tailoring initiatives to local conditions and prevalent challenges. Using a multi-pronged strategy, USAID aims to strengthen journalists’ skills, build economic self-sustainability of media outlets, and legally protect press independence.

Since 2002, USAID has been instrumental in building a freer, more professional media in Afghanistan. Once very isolated, the Afghan people now enjoy unprecedented access to quality local newscasts (such as the national radio news program Salam Watandar) and international education and entertainment media. With USAID support, a national network of nearly 50 Afghan-owned and operated radio stations has emerged, reaching virtually all corners of the country. USAID also provided the initial seed capital for the highly successful independent television network Tolo TV, which now reaches over two-thirds of the population.

In Burma, USAID has worked for over a decade with more than 1,000 Burmese journalists, starting with support on the Thai-Burmese border in 2001 and extending inside Burma since 2003. Journalists trained in the program’s early years have now gone on to become leaders of the media industry, as part of both the local print media and the media in exile. USAID’s media program responded to almost every major development in the country: it equipped Burmese journalists with training and key support to cover the Saffron Revolution in 2007, Cyclone Nargis in 2008, the constitutional referendum in 2008, and the elections of 2010-2012.

In Eastern Europe, the USAID-funded Regional Investigative Journalism Network helps connect practicing investigative journalists across borders who seek to uncover corruption, organized crime, and others engaged in the criminal services industry.

In eight countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa, the “Building a Digital Gateway to Better Lives“ program empowers professional and citizen journalists, giving them hands-on experience with digital tools to design and implement multimedia projects that report on public service issues affecting citizens’ everyday lives. Almost 300 journalists have participated in the program so far, with results felt throughout the region. Gripping stories of the abuse of children with disabilities in Jordan, human rights violations in Lebanese prisons, corruption in the West Bank/Gaza, polluted drinking water in Iraq, and detecting unexploded landmines in Morocco have attracted significant public interest and response.

Today and every day, USAID applauds the brave work of journalists, editors, and the increasing millions of “citizen reporters” throughout the world in their common pursuit to freely gather, report, analyze, and share news. We also commend the media activists who advocate for media development and freedom despite challenging and sometimes dangerous conditions. We salute you.

Light Above Darkness – The Global Struggle for Democracy & Human Rights

Sarah Mendelson serves as deputy assistant administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance

Two years ago at the Community of Democracies (CD) in Vilnius, Aung San Suu Kyi appeared via video message, addressing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, foreign ministers, presidents, and human rights activists from under house arrest in Burma. While she wasn’t physically present, her grace and strength were felt even from thousands of miles away. I remember she said she was “full of hope and full of anticipation for what the not too distant future will bring us.”

Those were telling words. This week, in Ulaanbaatar, at the seventh ministerial of the CD, Aung San Suu Kyi once again addressed the audience – this time in person. Back straight, regal, and elegant with flowers adorning her hair, Dau Suu said she never lost faith that humans “desire light above darkness.” She walked among the other dignitaries and yet always stood apart. As one official noted, she seemed like “the next Mandela.” Her moral force reminded all of us that we have a duty to remember those who do not live free and to work tirelessly to ensure that one day they can.

Dau Suu’s remarks were followed by Tawakkol Karman, a brave young Yemeni woman who won the Nobel Prize for her non-violent struggle for the safety of women and women’s rights in peacebuilding work in Yemen. Her emotional appeal to “stop the killing in Syria and the killing of Muslims in Burma” was blunt, forceful, and a sharp contrast to the more diplomatic speeches that such gatherings inevitably generate.

Deputy Secretary Burns delivered a powerful message from President Obama about generating the “new technologies and tools for activism.” It is our hope that the information technology revolution means we will continue to open governments and transform the global struggle for democracy and human rights. For innovation not only makes hiding corruption even harder, it can help governments listen and respond to their citizens.

And we are already seeing results. One of the most interesting and informative presentations was from an Indonesian leader proudly showing how her government is using technology to empower citizens to hold governments accountable in ways that even the world’s oldest, most established, democracies would do well to replicate. Mongolian officials, our hosts, were talking of transparency, open societies, shared lessons on democratic transition and cooperation with emerging democracies.

At USAID, we are embracing this virtuous cycle through Making All Voices Count, the Open Government Partnership, and by supporting game-changing innovations from governments, partners, organizations, and change agents around the world. We believe these efforts will help new democracies deliver to their citizens, empower civil society activists, and challenge authoritarians everywhere. We have seen a lot of progress since the last CD in 2011 but we have also seen a backlash in many places. Governments attempt to rule by laws designed to close space around civil society and activists. While many of us have hope that such efforts do not have a bright future in the hyper-connected 21st century, we met many activists that live daily with security services trailing and jailing them. I must remind myself that change is possible and hope that when I see them at the next CD, their lives are transformed by freedom.

New Learn-to-Read Method in Yemen Shows Early Promise

This blog is part of a series focused on USAID’s innovative approach to reaching Millennium Development Goal #2: Achieve universal primary education. The theme “Room to Learn” highlights programs and priority countries where access to education is now a reality.

A teacher points to clearly-drawn Arabic characters on a blackboard and the third-grade girls at Aisha School gleefully make the corresponding sounds. A few minutes later the room grows quieter as the girls focus to simultaneously pronounce and write the letter corresponding to its sound. At a nearby school, first-grade boys stumble over themselves to get to the blackboard in time to point at the character that matches the sound their teacher just pronounced.

The students in schools in the Amran govenorate, just outside Yemen’s capital city of Sana’a, are learning to read using a phonics method developed by the Yemeni Ministry of Education with USAID support.  In less than one year, students, parents and teachers alike have embraced the Yemen Early Grade Reading Approach, or YEGRA. “It’s a miracle, the teaching of reading is suddently demystified,” said the principal of a school.

Students at the Aisha School. Photo credit: Emily Walker, USAID

YEGRA focuses on intensive teacher training in a method that teaches first- through third-graders to read using phonics. Each lesson is 70 minutes long, and follows a set procedure, which includes reviewing a familiar story, reading stories aloud, focusing on the sounds that make up words, and writing. The program has also produced brand-new grade-appropriate teaching materials, including readers that children can take home to practice with their parents, and handbooks that help both literate and illiterate parents to support their children’s learning.

Until last year, Yemeni children were taught to read using word recognition and corresponding pictures, but the technique was clearly not effective; when USAID tested young students in 2011, it found that fewer than one-third of third-graders were able to read.

After just eight weeks of the YEGRA method, which has been implemented in 380 of Yemen’s schools, first graders could decipher 10 words per minute – the goal in first grade is to identify 30 words per minute. And, an informal analysis in the governorate of Taizz found that first-grade students could read just six words per minute prior to YEGRA, but after nearly three months of YEGRA lessons, 97 percent of the first-grade students were able to read 20 words a minute.

Ministry of Education and USAID teams visited three Amran schools in March and saw YEGRA’s dynamism firsthand – students were eagerly answering questions and following along in the lessons. They also attended a teacher training, where teachers for grades one through three throughout the region learned interactive teaching techniques and methods for futher engaging students in reading. By next school year, at least an additional 3,000 to 5,000 teachers will be using the YEGRA method.

USAID, in partnership with Yemen’s Ministry of Education and local governments, is also making education more accessible to Yemeni children, and especially girls, by rehabilitating schools to  improve sanitary conditions and make it safer to go to school. USAID has rehabiliated more than 200 schools throughout the country since November 2011, with a particular focus on those in conflict-affected areas. An estimated 280,000 students were unable to go to school during the recent conflict in the southern governorate of Abyan and its aftermath. Together with the Ministry of Education and the Governor of Abyan, USAID completed a major rehabilitation of 10 schools in Abyan, and will rehabilitate and furnish a total of eighteen over the coming months. Next school year, students in Abyan will not only be back in school but they will for the first time learn how to read and write at grade level with YEGRA.

One-third of out-of-school girls in the entire Middle East and North Africa region reside in Yemen and only 53 percent of girls who begin primary school complete basic schooling. Our early education programs in Yemen target both boys and girls, and the Ministry of Education is convinced  that these educational improvements will not only ensure that students can read with comprehension and go on to learn other subjects, but will also increase enrollment and lower dropout rates, especially for girls.

After the success of the first year of YEGRA, the Ministry has initiated reforms to its educational curriculum and is committed to taking the program nationwide with the continued support of USAID and other donors. As this generation of boys and girls learns to read and goes on to master other subjects, the increase in girls’ enrollment should continue to grow. Better access to schools and higher literacy rates will provide greater opportunities for Yemen’s girls. Read more about our work to improve girls’ enrollment and educational opportunities in Yemen.

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