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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.

How Free is Your Media? A USAID-Funded Tool Provides Insight

On May 3, the world celebrated World Press Freedom Day. Reflecting on the day’s events, a few important questions arise about what role the media plays in a community and in a democracy.

First, how does freedom of the press compare to freedom of speech? Not only do journalists need freedom to speak and write without fear of censorship, retribution, or violence, but also they need professional training and access to information in order to produce high-quality work. Furthermore, journalists need to work within an organization that is effectively managed, which preserves editorial independence. People need multiple news sources that offer reliable and objective news, and societies need legal and social norms that promote access to public information.

Second, why is the media important? We care about the media because it is a powerful and critical tool for ensuring that citizens understand the state of their community, country, and world. In this way, citizens are equipped to participate in the democratic process. Media gives a voice to the people and helps to hold governments and institutions accountable for their actions. Media is also the way to spread critical community messages, such as how to prevent HIV infection, where to vote in the next election, and how to address difficult issues with balanced, well-informed analysis so as to promote peace and tolerance.

Lastly, how do we measure how well (or poorly) the media sector is functioning, and how do we gauge progress? With great interest in this subject, USAID has supported comprehensive, multi-year assessments carried out by IREX, which are reported in the Media Sustainability Index (MSI). This tool analyzes challenges in the media sector by country and allows for tracking of progress from year-to-year.  In this way, it helps USAID to better identify media development gaps and possible areas for technical assistance. The 2009 edition of the MSI for Africa is now available, and editions are also available for the Europe & Eurasia and Middle East regions. With multiple years of surveys now completed, the tool spurs discussion and understanding of both the current status of the media in a given country and region as well as the trends over time.

The MSI is both a quantitative and qualitative tool. It draws on a set of panels composed of local media and civil society experts from each country, and the resulting index assesses five objectives important to a successful media system, which include the quality and professionalism of journalism as well as the management and independence of media businesses. The results also capture the rapidly changing new media landscape on the continent.

MSI’s data is used by a variety of advocacy and human rights groups, as well as USAID, other donors, and academics who are interested in tracking the role of the media in larger development processes. Findings from the MSI can inform how we channel our resources; for example, the latest edition of the MSI reveals that weak business management and professional journalism skills are some of the key factors challenging the media sector in African countries today.  In response, USAID programming in countries such as Liberia, Nigeria, and the DRC are better cultivating local skills and building the professional capacity of media.

New USAID Report Highlights Achievements in Egypt’s Health Sector

Yesterday I joined former USAID Administrator Peter McPherson, Egypt Embassy Counselor Motaz Zahran, and more than 100 members of the Egyptian diaspora and global health communities to launch USAID/Egypt’s Health and Population Legacy Review (pdf, 1.5mb).

The report demonstrates impressive long-term results of USAID health sector assistance in Egypt over 32 years.  For example, over the past three decades, there have been declines in maternal mortality by more than 50 percent and in infant mortality by more than 70 percent, as documented by Egypt’s regularly released Demographic and Health Surveys. Medically assisted deliveries increased from 35 percent in 1988 to almost 80 percent in 2008.

I served in USAID’s Egypt mission from 1976 to 1980 and again from 1984 to 1988, and I have seen with my own eyes the remarkable progress that has been achieved.  When I left Cairo in 1980 oral rehydration therapy was not part of Egypt’s health program.  When I returned in 1984 it appeared to me that there was an oral rehydration center in every neighborhood of Cairo and every village throughout the country.

The Egypt Health and Population Legacy Review attributes the success of programs like this to the duration of assistance and to robust funding and staffing levels.  Because USAID was a reliable partner with the Ministry of Health and Population over a 32-year period, it allowed not only for introducing new programs, but also for seeing them through various stages of program evolution. The substantial level of funding over the decades also helped ensure that programs were implemented on a large enough scale to achieve significant impact.

Despite the accomplishments, much work remains to be done.  And in many ways, the moment is ripe.  This has been a historic time for the people of Egypt and the Middle East.  And now, more than ever, it is vital that we use studies like these to learn from the past.

U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Margaret Scobey said it best:

The emergence of a new political order in Egypt sets the stage for even greater improvements in the lives of Egyptians. The accomplishments, the institutional strengthening, the data and policy analysis, and – most important – the many new Egyptian health professionals and leaders, are a solid platform from which to launch new initiatives and innovations of many kinds.  In the Egyptian health sector, the past can inform the future.

Video Immortalizes USAID’s Largest Iraq Project

Last fall, I worked in Baghdad to capture on digital video the achievements of the USAID/Iraq’s National Capacity Development Program – the Agency’s largest project in the country – as the five-year project winds down.

In this age of fast moving information, it’s more and more important that development projects are captured visually to help explain the impact of that work. In Iraq, that presents unique challenges given the weather, moving from government office to government office and even technical issues, such as inconsistent power supply throughout the day.

Working closely with 10 Iraqi ministries and the country’s executive offices, Tatweer – “development” in Arabic, and the informal name of the project – provided the support necessary for Iraq to update and sustain modern public administration practices and systems.

The hope is that ultimately these systems and practices will give Iraq the tools necessary to effectively use its natural resources and human capital towards a prosperous future.

After five years and 105,000 ministry officials provided with training, Iraqis began taking pride in their work, leading the trainings themselves and taking ownership of their departments and offices.

“How do you train 100,000 staff in a few years under these extreme conditions?” Tatweer’s Chief of Party Rick Huntington said. “Our students often have 15 years of experience, with bachelor’s and master’s degrees, but haven’t had the chance to modernize their skills in decades. The Iraqi people can’t wait for a gradual improvement in governance, so we have cascaded good skills to more and more staff, like ripples in a pond.”

The video, Iraq: A Partnership for the Future, captures and shares some of the palpable pride witnessed in Iraq. Filmed in various training locations and Iraqi ministries and centers, the video gives a glimpse at the strongest elements of the program, and what ultimately accounts for its success – its advisors, participants and the commitment of the U.S. government to make this worthwhile investment.

As the National Capacity Development Program comes to a close, we look to a peaceful and productive future and partnership with Iraq.

USAID’s Frontlines – April/May 2011

Frontlines Banner Graphic

Read the latest edition of FrontLines to learn about the Agency’s work in global health and in Iraq, including these stories:

This photo of a woman administering a polio vaccine took second place in the latest FrontLines photo contest. Photo credit: Alain Mukeba, USAID/Democratic Republic of Congo

  • An exclusive interview with U.S. Lt. Gen. John Allen on how the United States’ military and civilian arms found common ground in Iraq. Allen is President Obama’s new nominee to lead U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan
  • How the new Global Health Initiative is building on a foundation of partnerships as key to healthier families, communities and countries
  • How the historic Food for Peace program has proven to be an extremely versatile development tool in rural Mozambique. Listen to FrontLines’ first ever podcast.

Get these stories and more in the new issue of FrontLines. If you would like to receive a reminder about the latest FrontLines, you can subscribe here.

Women’s Month Profile: Improving Health Care in Afghanistan

Submitted by Sally Cooper,
Communications and Knowledge Exchange Officer at USAID Tech-Serve

Women gather outside a health clinic in the western city of Herat. Dr.Zareena’s work with USAID Tech-Serve supports the Ministry of Public Health in providing quality health care to women across Afghanistan. Photo: Sally Cooper, USAID Tech-Serve

Dr. Zareena sits quietly at her desk in the corner of a large office, her attention focused on the files open on the laptop screen in front of her. “We are very busy here today,” she said, adding with a smile, “actually we are very busy here most days.”

Zareena works at Tech-Serve, a USAID-funded project building capacity at the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH). She works with health professionals at MoPH offices in USAID-supported provinces throughout the country, building their capacity to enable them to deliver quality health services for all Afghans. As part of a team looking after 17 provinces, Zareena’s days are full.

As a child growing up in Kabul through the years of the Russian occupation and the bloody civil war that followed, she recalls her family moving from neighborhood to neighborhood, escaping the fighting and seeking occasional refuge with relatives living in the provinces when the capital became too chaotic.

The fall of the Taliban government in 2001 re-opened a world of opportunities for young women like Zareena. After finishing school, with her family’s permission, she enrolled in the prestigious Kabul Medical University to pursue a career in health care. She was the first girl in her family to study, a choice that brought with it a raft of social pressures. “It was different,” she said, “but it was not wrong.”

After graduation, Zareena said, “I wanted to work in health and learn more.” She worked for a number of health-focused organizations, gaining valuable experience in each before joining Tech-Serve.

One area in which she is particularly interested is Tech-Serve’s leadership and management program which works with public health managers around the country to enable them to lead their teams, face challenges and achieve results. “It encourages me to develop my career in management so I can work for better health of women and all patients,” said Zareena.

Afghanistan has rebuilt its public health system from scratch in the last decade. More women are accessing quality health care than ever before for both themselves and their families. Progress has been slow but, as Zareena notes, “progress has been made. The health of mother and child is better than it was even three years ago.” In 2010, seventy five percent of Afghans seeking health care services were women and children under the age of 5.

But in 2011, Afghanistan’s future remains uncertain. Political tensions and a revived insurgency eat away at many of the gains made in the past decade, particularly for the country’s women. Asked what she thinks Afghanistan will be like in three years, Zareena shrugs. “I wish a brighter situation than today. We see the reality but we shouldn’t lose our courage.” She turns once more to her computer screen, “this is our hope.”

Technical Support to the Central and Provincial Ministry of Public Health (Tech-Serve) is implemented by the Afghanistan Ministry of Public Health and Management Sciences for Health.  Dr. Zareena’s name has been changed to maintain her privacy.

A Dispatch from the Tunisian and Libyan Border

Nancy Lindborg is the Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance at USAID on the ground. Photo Credit: USAID

Ras Jdir, Tunisia: I heard boisterous singing as I walked through the transit camp on the border between Tunes and Libya. There, forming a human chain to pass boxes of supplies into a tent, was a group of Tunisian youth, volunteering to assist the tens of thousands of migrants fleeing the conflict in Libya. They provided a welcome counterpoint to the blowing sand and steady flow of Bangladesh, Somalia, Malian and other migrants struggling across the border and into the transit camp.

Only weeks after the Tunisians sparked a regional revolution on January 14th, toppling the corrupt regime of Ben Ali and inspiring the world with their aspirations for freedom and democracy, Tunisians have once again mobilized. The newly installed government of Tunisia quickly provided security and support for transit camps. Citizens across the country have spontaneously provided food, water and blankets, and driven to the border to volunteer. The energetic singers I encountered were part of a group of 40 Boy Scouts who came eager to help. There was a palpable sense of pride in their ability to organize and act in this new era of freedom.

Some 80,000 Tunisians worked inside Libya, alongside the more than a million guest workers from around the world — 200,000 have fled thus far. Already 30,000 Tunisians have returned, often to the poorer communities in the south, which means an influx of unemployed workers and loss of remittances. At the same time, the economy is reeling from loss of tourism in the wake of recent events and loss of important commerce with Libya. And yet, Tunisians, including those in these hardest hit communities, have generously reached out, determined to help.

I traveled with Eric Schwartz, Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugee and Migration at the U.S. Department of State to understand better the needs arising from the conflict now engulfing Libya. While there, we announced $17 million of urgent assistance, bringing the total U.S. Government aid to $47 million. Our assistance to-date has gone to UN organizations on the frontlines of managing the camps and transport, to international NGOs able to provide critical help to those still inside Libya, as well as to the Tunisian Red Crescent Society, now an important conduit for volunteers.

Our new funding will target urgent assistance to the Libyans who are still trapped inside a bloody conflict as well as enabling support for those communities in southern Tunisian hardest hit by this crisis. We are inspired by them and as Americans, we are proud to mobilize alongside them in this time of crisis.

I also stopped to talk with two migrants from Bangladesh. They had worked in Libya for a year, but had not received wages for several months. Their employer abruptly shut down the construction project where they had worked. Fearful of the rising violence they headed to the border and along the way were robbed of their remaining money and cellphones. When we met, they had joined the 40 Boy Scouts, inspired as well.

Nancy Lindborg is the Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance at USAID.

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