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Archives for Sub-Saharan Africa

Witnessing History in Southern Sudan

Juba, Sudan—One of the most inspiring and humbling parts of observing the referendum on southern Sudan’s self-determination was being in the room at a referendum center as votes were counted the night polling ended.

At the center where I observed, Lologo Center in Juba, five Sudanese poll workers, five Sudanese domestic observers, and four USAID staff members gathered in one of the two rooms of a primary school where all week the poll workers were on duty from 8 a.m. until 5 or 6 p.m. as their fellow citizens came to vote.  After working all day on the last polling day, January 15, the poll workers continued directly to counting the vote, despite that they had little to eat or drink all day.

Once the 14 of us were assembled in the room, a policeman posted outside to guard the vote-counting process shut the heavy metal classroom door so that no one else could enter, screeching the sliding door lock into place.

First the chairman of the referendum center, a secondary school teacher named Primo Celerino Monai, announced the number of registered voters at that location—2,596—and the cumulative number of votes cast according to the daily log, 2,536—a 98 percent turnout.  A poll worker took out seven envelopes that contained spoiled ballots from each of the seven days of voting, and opened each envelope, emptying the spoiled ballots onto a table in the center of the room.  There were a total of 5.  One of the poll workers then retrieved a tarp from the USAID-funded polling kit that contains supplies needed at the referendum center, including scissors, tape, a calculator, and battery-operated lanterns that were necessary because as is common in southern Sudan, there was no electricity at this center, and it soon became dark.

Southern Sudanese poll workers at Lologo Center, Juba, with USAID staff Mickey Richer, Cliff Lubitz, and Maura McCormick stand in front of 2,483 votes for secession after ballots were counted. Photo Credit: Angela Stephens/USAID

The poll workers spread the tarp over a large table in the center of the room.  One poll worker placed the translucent box that contained the ballots on the table, cut the plastic ties that had locked the box all week, removed the lid, and emptied all the ballots onto the table.  The five poll workers then bundled all the ballots into stacks of 50 for ease of counting, and once that was complete, counted to make sure the bundled ballots equaled the number of ballots cast as recorded each day in the center’s journal.

Occasionally during the course of the vote count, Mr. Monai read through the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC) polling and counting manual provided to the more than 14,000 poll workers trained with the assistance of USAID partner the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), which explains step by step how to proceed with all the procedures of polling, including the vote count.

The poll workers wrote signs that read “Unity,” “Secession,” “Unmarked,” and “Invalid,” and taped them to the edge of the table nearest to us observers so they could pile the ballots into each category after opening and reading them.

One of the poll workers then stood in front of us and one by one, picked up a paper ballot, showed us whether or not the ballot had the required red stamp of the SSRC, the Sudanese body in charge of the referendum process, and then turning over the form, showed us the ink thumbprint that indicated whether the voter chose unity (written in Arabic and English, and indicated visually by two clasped hands) or secession (indicated visually by a single open palm).  A few ballots were unmarked, and a few were invalid, either because the voter’s thumbprint was apparent on both unity and secession, or because the ballot lacked the required red SSRC stamp.

As the reading out of votes began in the solemn room, lit only by three battery-operated lamps on the table, the poll worker announced as he held up each ballot one by one for us to see:  “The stamp is valid”—showing us the stamp and then turning the ballot over –“and the vote is secession.”  Five hours later, when the poll workers had opened all the ballots, the final count was 2,483 votes for secession, 19 votes for unity, 19 invalid, and 15 unmarked.

The transparency of the process and the sense of duty and professionalism the poll workers displayed was admirable.  Each of us in the room could see every ballot and every stage of the counting process.

The enormity of what those dedicated and exhausted poll workers were doing was lost on none of us—it was nothing short of transmitting the voice of the people of southern Sudan, after decades of war and hardship, through the ballot box as they decided their future course as a people.

For those of us USAID staff members in the room that night, and all of us throughout Sudan supporting the USAID Mission during this referendum period, it was an experience we were honored to witness and will never forget.

Microfinance Empowers Entrepreneurs in Tanzania

In a packed and conversation-filled room in northern Tanzania, the wheels of microfinance are spinning – quietly and efficiently, yet furiously. Every week, this group of people owning and running small businesses worth less than $700 comes together in Arusha to make payments on microloans received from Promotion of Rural Initiatives and Development Enterprises Limited (PRIDE), a Tanzanian microfinance institution. Each also deposits earnings into a savings account, in fulfillment of the requirement that borrowers incrementally strengthen their financial position. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), through a 75% bond guarantee, has helped PRIDE maintain and increase microcredit activities.

Microfinance Empowers Entrepreneurs in Tanzania Photo credit: Gregg Rapaport/USAID

When called to the front of the room, borrowers push a small pile of well-worn Tanzanian bills across a table toward three employees. The first counts the money, the second makes a notation or two on a printed spreadsheet, and the third slides change back across the table. These transactions, happening one after another, are banal to watch but breathtaking to consider. This is innovative thinking – applied to small lending – at work. Entrepreneurial but poor Tanzanians, who are shut out of traditional sources of credit, are being empowered (through microcredit loans up to $650) to realize all manner of small business dreams, and lift themselves and their families out of poverty.

In Tanzania, most land is untitled and there is no legal framework allowing “movable assets,” such as livestock, to be used as collateral for accessing loans. Typical bank loan models simply do not work here, but in microfinance…collateral is not necessary. PRIDE counts on good-faith and social cohesion for repayment by making group loans that involve 50 people. Group members work out the specific allocation of funds themselves and are responsible individually and jointly for paying the loan back.  This multi-borrower structure values each entrepreneur’s success, incentivizing more successful entrepreneurs to assist struggling peers, and the intra-group transparency promotes fiscal responsibility by each group member, ensuring high levels of repayment.

How well does it work? In Tanzania, 99% of all PRIDE microloans are repaid.

Martha Mpinga is a Tanzanian entrepreneur who purchases small amounts of African textiles from wholesalers and sells them to retail buyers for a profit. “I started with a loan of 50,000 Tanzanian shillings (approximately $35),” she explains. Once the original was repaid, she qualified for a higher microfinance loan. Martha has repeated this cycle several times as her business expanded. “My loans grew…and now I have a loan of 1 million shillings (approximately $650).” At this loan level, sufficient inventory is maintained and it drives a sustainable business. She pulls richly-patterned wax print cloths, used by local woman to make clothing, from her bag and delivers a convincing sales pitch about their high quality and other decorative uses for such beautiful fabric. The Arusha branch manager, who is standing nearby, ribs Martha that she could avoid next week’s trip to the branch by making a second microloan payment today, using the proceeds from this just completed sale. They laugh, both knowing that the regular repayment meetings which bring Martha together with 49 other entrepreneurs, is essential to the microfinance model.

In November 2010, USAID provided its first guarantee for a microfinance bond issued in sub-Saharan Africa. With USAID’s support, PRIDE secured 15.3-billion Tanzanian shillings ($10 million) from the Tanzanian capital markets.  As a result, access to credit will no longer be just a dream for an estimated 10,000 additional Tanzanian entrepreneurs.

USAID-Funded Center Tabulates Sudan Referendum Results

By Michael Eddy, Democracy and Governance Team Leader, USAID/Sudan

JUBA—Here at the Southern Sudan Referendum Bureau (SSRB) data center, staff are hard at work processing results forms of the votes cast in the referendum on southern Sudan’s self-determination, which concluded January 15 after seven days of voting.  Voters had two choices—unity with northern Sudan, or secession.

“All the truth will come out from this office, and we have made sure it is accessible to the observers,” SSRB Chairman Justice Chan Reec Madut said of the data center, which he called the most important part of the SSRB, the Juba-based bureau of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC).  “We made clear everything should be done in a very transparent way and we share it with the people,” he added.

The data center, which employs 47 Sudanese staff members, was established with support from USAID through the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES).  Technical experts from IFES and the  United Nations Integrated Referendum and Electoral Division (UNIRED) work in close collaboration with data center staff to support their work.

Data center Director Benedict Lagu—the son of Joseph Lagu, Sudan’s former Vice President and former Ambassador to the United Nations—returned to southern Sudan in 2009 from the United States, where he lived for 19 years.  He studied computer science in Iowa and was a professor of information technology at Elizabethtown Community College in Kentucky.  He is now director of management information systems at the Southern Sudan Electricity Corporation, but was released from his position for three months to run the SSRB data center.

Results forms from 2,638 referendum voting centers across southern Sudan began arriving at the data center January 18, two days after the polls had closed.  Staff enter the data into a database, which verifies voting center information such as the number of eligible voters, processes the forms, and aggregates the results.

After the results from all 2,638 referendum centers in southern Sudan are aggregated, the SSRB will announce provisional results of the ballots cast in southern Sudan—estimated at more than 3 million.  Those results will be transmitted to a Khartoum data center, which is currently processing results from voting centers in northern Sudan and the eight other countries where voting occurred (Australia, Canada, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, the United Kingdom, and the United States).  The SSRC is scheduled to announce preliminary results by January 31 and final results by February 14.

“It’s a very emotional thing for our people,” Justice Chan said.  “They never thought they’d have this opportunity.”  He added that the data center will create an archive of the results forms once they are entered.  “These are documents that have something to do with the destiny of the people of southern Sudan,” he said.  “We want to keep them for the people who will come after us.”

Support for the data center, including the database software and staff training, is just one aspect of USAID’s comprehensive assistance for the referendum, which is part of a broader assistance to help maintain peace and improve lives in Sudan.

You can follow results of the referendum vote as they are posted by the SSRC:  http://southernsudan2011.com/

Like USAID/Sudan on Facebook for regular updates.

Picture of the Week

Observers with the Carter Center confer as voting results forms from two locations arrive at the Southern Sudan Referendum Bureau Data Center in Juba January 19, 2011, and a policeman deployed to provide security looks on. USAID is among a community of donors supporting the Carter Center’s independent international observation of the southern Sudan self-determination referendum. Photo: Angela Stephens/USAID

Celebrating Southern Sudanese Freedom to Determine Their Future

It has been an uplifting and moving week in Sudan, as we have witnessed the joy and resolve of millions of southern Sudanese as they exercise their right to vote in the referendum on self-determination promised to them in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended more than 20 years of deadly and ruinous war between northern and southern Sudan.

U.S. government observers from USAID and the Department of State have witnessed voters stand for hours in long lines in the hot sun, patiently and cheerfully determined to vote, particularly on Sunday, the first of seven days of voting.  We have seen voters swim across a tributary of the Nile to reach their polling station after a local ferry broke down.  We have witnessed elderly and handicapped voters being assisted by poll workers who were trained, with USAID assistance, to help voters in need of assistance to cast their vote.  We have seen poll workers cheerfully cradling infants in their arms while the babies’ mothers voted.  Southern Sudanese have been singing in the streets to express the joy of being able to freely choose their own future.

Voting is scheduled to end on Saturday, but this will not be the end of USAID assistance to the referendum process.  USAID’s comprehensive assistance to the referendum process included the establishment of a data center at the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC) bureau in Juba, which will tabulate the total number of registered voters and polling results for the referendum.  We are also supporting domestic and international observation of the referendum, which is ongoing.  In partnership with other donors, including the United Nations, and the SSRC, the Sudanese body in charge of the process, we are extremely gratified that the referendum began on time, and has been peaceful and orderly, with a high level of participation.

Regardless of the outcome of the referendum—whether southern Sudanese choose continued unity with northern Sudan or secession and the launch of a new nation—USAID will continue to work in partnership with the people of Sudan, north and south, to reinforce peace and improve lives and livelihoods.

The Role of Teachers and Textbooks in a Democracy

Submitted by: Diana Harper

“Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.”

—James Madison, 1788

This month’s historic referendum will determine southern Sudan’s future, either as an independent country of part of a unified Sudan.  Voting ends on Saturday, January 15, and enormous efforts have been launched by U.S., Sudanese, and international agencies to support a credible process—that voters know how and where to vote, that the Sudanese referendum commission is equipped to carry out referendum logistics, that sufficient ballots and voting materials are available, and that poll workers and election observers are properly trained.

At the same time, the United States has continued to provide development assistance that strengthens democracy as well as demonstrates the benefits of peace.  These efforts include improving health care and access to clean water, building roads and transportation infrastructure, providing microcredit loans to spur economic growth,  and—of particular importance—increasing access to and the quality of education.

Formal education is not a prerequisite for wisdom, but it is a critical part of active participation in the democratic process.  Literacy is crucial for making informed voting decisions and lobbying representatives for change.  The public’s ability to effectively organize and work in groups provides protection against political abuses and dictatorships.  Research supports the intuition that investments in education pay returns in peace and democracy.  (See a related interactive graph.)

In 2005, when Sudan ended its 22-year civil war, only 37% of southern Sudanese men and 12% of women were literate.  Primary school enrollment was low, and girls in particular faced many obstacles to attending school.  These obstacles included high direct and indirect costs, discriminatory attitudes and school policies, and poor access to feminine hygiene products and lack of sanitation facilities.

USAID has worked closely with the Government of Southern Sudan Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology to improve its ability to plan and implement educational reforms, increase access to primary education especially among girls, train teachers, and foster community-wide support for education.

One example of USAID’s work is the opening of a school in the Blue Nile State—a region on the north-south border of Sudan that was a major site of conflict during the civil war.  The Granville-Abbas School serves 120 female students and serves as a model of girls’ education in the region, with three sets of classrooms, a library, theater, and a computer center with internet access.  Better education for girls leads to benefits for their families and communities including increased economic growth, reduced poverty, improved health and nutrition, and better HIV/AIDS control.

U.S. educational programs throughout Sudan helped to increase primary school enrollment from 1.1 million in 2007 to 1.4 million in 2009.  In addition, U.S. programs have trained over 2,300 teachers, including many female instructors who serve as critical role models to young girls.  Beyond bricks and mortar institutions, USAID has also supported radio education to help students study English, math, local languages, and life skills.  In 2009 alone, the radio programs reached over 350,000 youth and adults.

Saving Lives in Rural Malawi with Knowledge Management and Mobile Phones

“An informal, but very insightful, first-person account of how cell phones are rapidly changing the way USAID implements health programs in the field. With a bit more focus and targeted resources, USAID could dramatically accelerate the mainstreaming of mHealth interventions, helping us achieve our GHI targets more rapidly, and leaving behind a legacy with enduring returns.”- Adam Slote, USAID/Global Health

By: Natalie Campbell, Management Sciences for Health

The most important item in Amon Chimphepo’s medical kit is a small cell phone. This single piece of technology has proved to be a lifeline for people living in one of the most remote regions of Malawi. Its power to reach and initiate help immediately from the closest hospital is saving lives and improving health outcomes. In fact, I met a woman, alive today, because Mr. Chimphepo and his cell phone were there to make an emergency call to the district hospital and get an ambulance.

A group of Malawian community health workers. Photo Credit: K4Health

I traveled to Malawi in December to take a closer look at our pilot project — K4Health Malawi — we launched in February 2010. One of its main interventions equips community health workers with cell phones and solar chargers. In his capacity as a community health worker, Mr. Chimphepo makes regular door-to-door visits in his area delivering HIV tests, and health and hygiene counseling. We knew this kind of outreach provides important health support in remote areas but had no idea how the rapid response component of cell phone communication was transforming health outcomes across the area.

Fast changes in health status are rare in this line of work. My background is food security and nutrition programs, and my timer was set to long-term changes from poor nutrition into better health status and, with any luck, the slow parallel development of sustainable food sources. Timeframes run in years. That a knowledge management project could lead to fast, life-saving aid and an immediate improvement in health and well being across this hard-to-reach population was highly impressive.

21st Century Communication Saves Lives in Remote Areas

When you connect community health workers by cell phone to the people, information and resources of a hospital you open a conduit of immediate aid that can save lives. Time telescopes — what took days and weeks before wireless communication, now takes minutes and hours. Visiting with Mr. Chimphepo, we were able to meet the people and hear the stories of injuries and conditions and sicknesses treated quickly and correctly because Mr. Chimphepo has access to professional advice and direct health services through the district hospital.

Read the rest of this entry »

Voting Begins in the Southern Sudan Referendum

On Sunday, voting began in the historic southern Sudan referendum.  Through January 15, southern Sudanese will cast their ballots to determine whether the region will stay unified with the north or secede and become an independent country.  More than 3.9 million people are registered to vote in Sudan, and more than 60,000 are registered in eight countries that have large populations of southern Sudanese, including the United States.

Southern Sudanese wait to vote in Juba on the first of seven days of polling for the referendum that will decide whether southern Sudan will remain united with northern Sudan or will secede and form a new nation. The referendum is part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Credit: Angela Stephens/USAID

President Obama wrote in a New York Times op-ed on Saturday, “Not every generation is given the chance to turn the page on the past and write a new chapter in history. Yet today — after 50 years of civil wars that have killed two million people and turned millions more into refugees — this is the opportunity before the people of southern Sudan.”  The White House also released a written statement yesterday in praise of the referendum and its implications for the peace process.

On Saturday, Senator John Kerry and U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration held a press conference in Sudan.  On the importance of the vote, Senator Kerry said:

“What happens in Sudan – some people may be scratching their heads in some parts of the world and say, ‘Well how does this affect me?’  The truth is that the stability of Sudan is important to all of us.  In a world that has become increasingly more complicated, increasingly more volatile, increasingly more extreme in various places, we want to see Sudan — north and south — contribute to global stability, and become a partner for peace all around the world.  That’s the future that we can grab onto tomorrow, and we’re proud to be here today to help contribute to it.”

 

Supporting Sustainable Livelihoods and Nutritious Meals

Food and nutrition are important elements across all cultures. In America there is a renewed sense of instilling good nutritional habits in children through the First Lady’s campaign against childhood obesity and the newly signed Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. At USAID, we are concerned with not only feeding those in need around the world, but making sure they have access to healthy and nutritious meals on a regular basis, as well as a sustainable livelihood.

But for many people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) like Thabit Obed, a farmer from Uganda, managing one’s health is no easy task. The infection causes or aggravates malnutrition through reduced food intake, increased energy needs, and poor nutrient absorption. Malnutrition weakens the immune system, which can hasten the progression of HIV, increase susceptibility to opportunistic infections, and reduce the effectiveness of treatment. Since food and nutrition support is such a critical component of successful HIV/AIDS care and treatment, USAID has an invested program to help those in need.

Mr. Thabit Obed, has mobilized fellow PLWHA to produce groundnuts for therapeutic food to treat malnourished PLWHA. Photo Credit: Mary Nabisere/NuLife

Thabit is a recipient of support from the USAID-funded program, NuLife—Food and Nutrition Interventions for Uganda, a program managed by University Research Co., LLC (URC) that works to improve the health and nutritional status of people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS through integration of nutritional assessment, counseling, and support (NACS) into HIV/AIDS services.

In addition to producing and prescribing food, such as RUTAFA a ready-to-use therapeutic food, the program also works to provide opportunities for farmers in Uganda to expand their businesses.

Through a partnership with RECO Industries, Ltd, a local manufacturer which produces RUTAFA, Thabit was able to expand his small coffee bean farm and begin growing groundnuts.

Thabit, an active community volunteer, became one of more than 4,000 farmers to grow groundnuts as input for RUTAFA. He was trained to support other PLWHA and raise awareness about HIV testing, counseling and treatment.

Through this program and similar partnerships, USAID NuLife has been able to help ensure HIV positive individuals who have recovered from malnutrition through treatment with ready-to-use therapeutic food are being offered an opportunity to earn a living, support their families’ and maintain a healthy nutritional status.

USAID/Uganda designed a program that not only reaches HIV positive clients with critical services and supports local industry and individual farmers, but connects those clients to sustainable livelihood opportunities producing inputs for the very product, RUTAFA, which can support their health and that of their fellow PLWHA.

Snapshot from Sudan

USAID Assistant Administrator Nancy Lindborg with Darfuri childrenUSAID Assistant Administrator Nancy Lindborg with Darfuri children at the Otash camp for internally displaced persons outside Nyala, South Darfur. Photo is from Doug Arbuckle.

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