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Archives for Middle East

On the Road Again: USAID’s Mobile Medical Teams Resume Serving Yemen’s Marginalized People

During my recent visit to Yemen I had the opportunity to view many of the ways in which USAID is supporting development in the country. I was particularly impressed by USAID’s successful effort to provide local communities with basic medical services.

Assistant Administrator Rudman inaugurates an MMT van, marking the resumption of the MMT program. Photo Credit: USAID

Yemen faces many challenges, but few are as daunting as providing medical care to its displaced and marginalized populations. Currently, just a quarter of rural Yemenis have access to medical care.

One way in which USAID has assisted Yemen in responding to this challenge is by developing mobile medical teams (MMTs), clinics on wheels that travel regularly to marginalized communities. USAID launched the first of its 15 MMTs in the remote governorate of Marib in February 2011.

The MMTs struggled to operate during the civil disturbances of the past year and had limited opportunities to visit local communities. But now they are back on the road. I had the pleasure of joining one such team on a sunny February morning.

It did not take long for a huge crowd to form around the MMT van when it rolled into a gray and dusty Sana’a neighborhood in the district of Sawan. A flurry of excited activity accompanied the arrival of the USAID MMT van. It was clear that these MMTs constitute a critical lifeline for many already at-risk Yemenis. The fully equipped MMT offers basic primary care, maternal and child care, diagnosis, immunization, and medications—all for free—to needy and marginalized people. On this day, however, I was told that the reappearance of the MMT vehicles after weeks without them created even more of a stir.

After a short ceremony marking the resumption of the MMT program, local men, women, and children lined up to receive basic medical services, including blood pressure readings, vaccinations for the young, and medication for the sick. I was impressed both by the warm welcome the community offered and the efficiency and effectiveness the medical team displayed.

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Standing with the Egyptian People at an Historical Moment

I recently returned from a trip to Cairo and Sohag, a town in rural “Upper Egypt” along the Nile. I have traveled to Egypt before, but this time my visit fell during the lead-up to the first-round of Egypt’s historic parliamentary elections and fresh tensions and unrest in Tahrir Square. The air was electric, and the mood on the street seemed both eager and anxious. And I was handed a special opportunity to hear and witness first-hand how USAID’s assistance is making an impact in two very different parts of the country – the sprawling, urban capital and the rural, agricultural region around Sohag.

The elections on November 28 drew the attention of the world. We all saw images of voters lined up in the rain, waiting to cast their ballots, seizing the promise of freedom to choose future leadership that a democratically run process offers. While in Cairo, I met with some of USAID’s partner organizations, who are working to support voter education, election monitoring and training of interested political parties to run transparent, effective campaigns.

Like elections at home, the campaign season in Egypt has involved much discussion about the need for more and better jobs. Greater economic opportunities have been a common refrain from those protesting in Tahrir Square and the many more beyond. I met with representatives from the Egyptian business community, including members of the Egyptian National Competitiveness Council, to talk about the increasingly challenging economic situation, the importance of more effective education and training for young Egyptians entering the workforce, and the ways that the U.S. can be most helpful in this arena.

In speaking with representatives of some women’s groups, including UN Women and the USAID-funded project Combating Violence against Women and Children, I learned of additional concerns facing Egyptian women even as they advocated with their brethren for economic and political reform in the new post January 25th era. For example, some who are barely managing with work outside the home now, worry that in a faltering economy, they will lose their positions, and be relegated to subsistence existence and the dependencies that ensue. Among other activities, these groups work to increase public awareness and improve services that protect and assist women and children who suffer from domestic abuse.

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USAID Peace Scholar Speaks in the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting

I have just returned to Cairo after a life-changing week I spent in New York City. During which I participated in the Clinton Global Initiative as a youth guest speaker. I spoke in a panel with President Clinton and other renowned world leaders, met with Dr. Rajiv Shah –I have to admit that his age combined with his extraordinary profile reinforced my belief that age should not be considered as a qualifying factor in any context,– engaged in inspiring conversations with global business leaders and social entrepreneurs, conducted a press interview, updated my knowledge throughout world-class thematic sessions that brought global pioneers to share ideas that are worth replication. Moreover, two days later I, along with other youth leaders from India, Australia, and the U.S. spoke in a panel moderated by Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero at the U.S. Mission to the UN.

I keep hearing 3 bells ringing inside myself since I was back to Cairo; bells that produce moving and hopeful sounds. The first bell is for commitment; a commitment to bring about a radical change to the lives of marginalized youth in Egypt. No matter how much hardiness the journey may reveal.  I will continue believing in young potentials, and expose underserved youth to enabling opportunities, that increase their access to livelihood, and their access to a life of dignity. I will continue to believe that it is their very basic right as it is my fair duty.

I believe if social entrepreneurs were able to make the case for channeling youth energies into community development, political participation, and economic development, then Egypt will pass its interim phase smoothly towards a promising future. I envision youth embracing entrepreneurial attitude, starting small businesses and mobilizing unused resources and creating jobs. I also envision youth engaged in the political life and lobbying for legislation that increases their representation at the different levels and promotes good governance. This can be achieved through sustained collaboration of a strong civil society, responsible private sector, and a transparent inclusive government.

The second bell is for capitalizing on what I have gained from the Clinton Global Initiative. First, I was able to connect with a number of heads of organizations, who represent a huge prospect for technical and financial support for the youth work I have been doing. Second, the boost of self-confidence and inspiration I gained has sharpened my aggressiveness to broaden the network of supporters, and manage a more diversified roundtable for youth development.

The third bell is for my regional role. As a USAID Peace Scholar, who have studied for one year and involved in community service in the U.S. along with other 46 youth leaders from 7 countries in the MENA region, I believe the Peace Scholarships Program should not be considered ended as the funding stopped. I will be organizing to start the Peace Scholarships Alumni Association, so we—as peace scholars—can engage in collaborative developmental efforts, and influence policy making across the region.

I believe it is just the beginning, and I see my dreams possible more than ever before.

Young People in Benghazi Prepare to Take the Lead on Human Rights in a Democratic Libya

Youth participants and workshop trainers from the Helsinki Foundation show “V” signs for Victory. Photo Credit: USAID

“When I was four, the government took my father,” said nineteen-year-old Aliya El-Sharif. Speaking for the first time in public about how her father was killed along with more than 1,200 other detainees, according to Human Rights Watch, during the 1996 Abu Salim prison massacre in Tripoli. The massacre stands as one of the more egregious human rights violations perpetrated by the Gadhafi regime.

This month, exactly six months after the forces of Muammsr Gadhafi forces arrived at the doorstep of her city, Benghazi, threatening to fill the streets with the blood of its people, Aliya spoke at the closing ceremony of a six-day, USAID-funded training workshop on human rights.

Led by human rights experts from the Warsaw-based Helsinki Foundation, the workshop provided participants with tactics for identifying and reporting human rights abuses, seeking justice for those abuses, and advocating for human rights protections. The course was implemented in cooperation with two local civil society groups – Human Rights Solidarity and the Libyan Center for Development and Human Rights – that helped select the twenty-five students and young professionals who aspire to become civil society leaders and advocates for the rights of fellow citizens. The Libyan groups are now providing these aspiring leaders with opportunities for further engagement and advocacy within their respective organizations.

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The Role of Honor Related Violence in Sex Trafficking

In many societies, maintaining family and personal honor is integral to upholding cultural norms.  The burden of upholding such honor codes weighs more heavily on women and girls.  In countries such as Iraq, programs designed to combat human trafficking must address severe cultural stigmas about honor in conjunction with protection and prosecution efforts.

Female victims of sex trafficking are often detained and charged with prostitution. They generally spend six months incarcerated before their cases are heard. Photo Credit: Kamaran Najm/ Metrography

Vian* was 14-years old when her neighbor Ahmed, an 18-year old police officer, persuaded her to have a relationship with him by promising to marry her.  Their relationship only lasted a short period before Ahmed ended things, threatening Vian that he would kill her if she told anyone about them.  When Vian’s father became suspicious, he beat her and demanded to know if she was in a relationship.  Fearing for her safety, because the relationship, if discovered, would damage her family’s honor, Vian asked for Ahmed’s help in running away.   Ahmed tried to take Vian to Iran, but she escaped by taxi to another city to look for her friend’s house.  The taxi driver drove her to a brothel where Vian was forced into prostitution.  Several months later the police arrested and detained her and charged her with engaging in prostitution. Once in jail, Vian learned she was pregnant.

Iraqi women and girls are expected to uphold the honor of the family and tribe by adhering to rigid sexual and social norms.  Though not an exhaustive list of reasons, common breaches of these norms include perceived or real actions such as premarital sex, adultery, divorce or exercising freedom of choice in selecting a marriage partner.  Honor related violence is widely viewed by Iraqi society and the law as justified when it’s in response to what is deemed immoral behavior.  Retribution takes the form of ‘honor’ killings, forced marriage – including to rapists, – and severe restrictions on the mobility of women and girls.

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Inspiring Youth in Jordan

Like so many young people in Jordan and around the world, Murad Al Zaghal was in need of opportunities to express his creative voice in a positive, meaningful way that contributed to his personal growth. Through his participation in the USAID-sponsored International Youth Day 2011, 19-year-old Murad got a much-needed boost to his confidence in his abilities and the pursuit of his passion for design.

Murad standing beside the International Youth Day poster. Photo Credit: USAID/Jordan

As a young designer studying architecture at Hashemite University, Murad says that he had been feeling a little uncertain about his major and his design abilities. That changed earlier this summer. In keeping with this year’s theme of “Partnership and Participation,” USAID organized a design competition for the IYD 2011 theme with its local partner, educational and vocational training center, the Interclub House. Murad was encouraged to participate in the contest, and his modern, sophisticated poster went on to win.

“When I walked in and saw my design all over the place, on the backs of everyone’s t-shirts, and people taking pictures next to the posters I designed, it was really an amazing feeling,” Murad says about attending International Youth Day.  “I never saw my work displayed on such a large scale. It made me feel it was a good choice to pursue design, and I thought, ‘what if I had designed the whole building?’”

Along with the invaluable exposure he received, and the boost in his creative esteem, USAID awarded Murad with a graphics tablet that allows him to hand draw images and graphics on his computer. He is now far better equipped to continue pursuing his passion for design and architecture.

In order to support the youth of Jordan and encourage their talents and creativity, USAID sponsored International Youth Day 2011 for 400 youth representing 10 universities and youth organizations. Projects funded by USAID were on hand at IYD to teach participants about the ways USAID is providing support to millions of Jordanians in the sectors of health, economic development, job creation, and sustainable natural resource management, among others, and to encourage participation of youth in issues affecting their future.

Facebook Activism Inspires West Bank Youth

Youth in the West Bank town of Burqa are using Facebook to motivate a new generation of civic activism for the health of the community.

Ameena Abu Odeh, a 17-year-old from the West Bank town of Burqa, is a typical teenager. An avid ‘Facebooker,’ she was surprised to see a flurry of health activism related to her village on the social network. “I was diagnosed with diabetes when I was 14 years old. When I saw a Burqa Facebook page posting chronic disease awareness activities, I knew I could help,” she explained.

Through USAID’s Palestinian Heath Sector Reform and Development Project, villages like Burqa are participating in the Champion Community Approach to improving health care quality and access. The goal is to establish dynamic and continuous interaction between Ministry of Health primary health-care clinics and the communities they serve through empowered Community-Based Organizations (CBOs).

The Burqa community health clinic serves a population of 4,000, but most people living in Burqa viewed the clinic in a less than positive light. “There was a lack of civic participation, people did not trust the health care services, and would instead spend money on private doctors,” explained community coordinator Hanna Masoud, a 25-year-old sociology graduate. Hanna is one of two coordinators for the clinic’s partner CBO. They initially faced uphill battles convincing the local village council to become involved.

Hanna recognized that a fresh approach was necessary. Utilizing the IT talents of other young people in Burqa, she reached out to other young people online. The youth responded. To date, the Burqa clinic has more than 100 volunteers, many still in their teens. “We now have 300 fans on Facebook and receive as many as 1,500 views per day with excited responses from Palestinians living abroad…there have even been financial donations to our clinic,” explained 17-year-old volunteer and Facebook administrator Adi. This initiative is bridging community relations across generations, explained volunteer and mother of five Rania. “Watching from my window, I saw three of my children participating in a first-aid workshop. They even began leaving the house early on weekends to participate in clean-up activities,” she said. “After watching their dedication, how could I not become involved?”

By providing on-the-job coaching and mentoring of health professionals, procuring essential equipment, and establishing community-clinic boards, the Champion Community Approach is taking root in these communities. People are seeing positive results and are renewing their faith in their local clinics. To date, more than 500,000 participants from these communities have engaged in health promotion activities throughout the West Bank.

Ameena and other young people like her are making a difference in their communities. “I want to become a social worker…helping people is what I want to do with my life.”

To see a video about USAID’s Champion Community initiative, please visit USAID West Bank/Gaza’s Youtube page.

From the Field

In Lebanon, USAID will inaugurate a new youth soccer facility created through its Municipal Capacity Building and Service Delivery Program.  The inauguration ceremony for the new youth mini-soccer court will be held in Jdeydet Al-Aytaa in Akkar, North Lebanon.  Funded by USAID, this initiative created several local jobs and is expected to generate over $9,500 profit for the municipality, which they will then use for additional development work in the village.  The municipality provided the land and built a retaining wall on the border of the plot as their contribution to the effort.

Also in Lebanon this week, USAID will hold workshops in Tripoli, Beirut, and Zahle on improving the regulatory environment in Lebanon by building private sector capacity for regulatory impact assessments (RIAs). These workshops, held under the program to support Lebanon’s accession to the World Trade Organization are part of an overall private sector capacity building effort to support Lebanon’s accession. The aim of an RIA is to assess the impact of newly developed laws in order to improve them and achieve better regulations.

In Georgia, we will open up a new Agriculture Mechanization Service Center.  As part of the U.S. Government’s pledge to assist the people of Georgia following their war, the Access to Mechanization Project is funding the development of up to 25 privately-owned machinery service centers throughout Georgia which will increase access to machinery services for small farmers, leading to  increased agricultural sector productivity, competitiveness, and profitability.  The service centers are expected to create up to 225 new jobs, provide services to 14,000 small farmers, and increase agricultural revenues by $10 million.

Celebrating America with Muslim Americans

Last weekend, we celebrated the Nation’s independence in Chicago, where we represented USAID at the annual convention for the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). ISNA is the largest gathering of Muslims in North America, with nearly 40,000 Muslims in attendance.

We staffed USAID’s outreach and information booth, which was nestled among the hundreds of exhibition booths showcasing Islamic artwork, fashion, and literature.  While we had each attended the convention previously on our own, this was our first time attending with USAID.

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Rosie the Riveter Would be Proud

USAID Helping Young Palestinian Women Make Inroads into Male Dominated Fields
Submitted by David Kahrman, USAID Mission to the West Bank and Gaza

Like other students in the West Bank, Heba (23) and Nagham (17) saw the courses supported by USAID’s Technical and Vocational Education and Training Program as excellent opportunities to prepare for careers in their chosen fields. What makes Heba and Nagham unique are the fields they decided to pursue: Heba chose cellular phone servicing, while Nagham chose auto repair. Two professions which see precious few female faces the world over—even less so in traditional Palestinian culture.

Nagham pulls the plug on gender stereotypes. Photo: Save the Children

Heba, from a small and underdeveloped village northwest of Ramallah, finished her courses at  the Lutheran World Federation School in Jerusalem, a partner institution of  USAID’s Program and went on to become the West Bank’s first female cellular phone technician. After working for a few smaller companies, Heba was quickly recruited by Vodaphone where she is now the Head of the Department of Maintenance and Sales at the company’s local headquarters in Ramallah.

Meanwhile, Nagham is pursuing her studies in auto repair at another USAID supported school, the Hisham Hijjawi College of Technology in the West Bank city of Nablus.  At only 17 years of age, Nagham became the first woman to enroll in the “Autotronics” course where she is learning how to service and repair the complicated wiring that keeps cars running smoothly. Thanks to USAID support, Nagham is getting plenty of hands-on experience that she’ll be able to apply in the real world of auto repair.

As pioneers in their fields, both are confident that even though they are testing new waters, they will succeed.  At first, customers were wary, says Heba, “condescending looks and judgments continued for some time, but eventually, once people discovered my abilities, they would return and refer even more clients to me.” Heba says that her female customers hold her in especially high esteem—as they are proud to see a young woman like themselves working in a traditionally male-dominated field. With the same drive and entrepreneurial spirit that saw her pursuing a career in a field usually dominated by men, Heba has set her sights on becoming her own boss by opening a cellular phone repair center in her home town.

As for Nagham, she is still studying but is convinced that with the growing number of women drivers in the West Bank, she will have plenty of future customers. Nagham is pretty sure that many women will feel more comfortable going to a woman when their cars are in need of service.

So, if you happen to be in the West Bank and your phone stops working or your car breaks down, get in touch with USAID—we can point you to two women who should be able to help you out!

The Technical and Vocational Education and Training Program is being implemented in partnership with Save the Children.

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