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LGBT Families at USAID: Integration and Solidarity in Nicaragua

In 2009, Secretary Clinton announced that the U.S. State Department would extend benefits to the same-sex partners of Foreign Service officers. Although I didn’t officially begin working for USAID until September 2012, I had applied to the agency’s Development Leadership Initiative program that summer and had little idea just how much this and other policy advancements towards LGBT equality would impact me, my family and my work just a few years later.

USAID Democracy, Human Rights and Governance officer Jessica Morrison with her wife and newborn daughter. Photo credit: Jessica Morrison/USAID

My wife and I departed for Nicaragua for my first assignment as a Democracy, Human Rights and Governance Officer in August 2012, having just learned that I was pregnant with our daughter. I had the good fortune of being assigned to a Mission with a long legacy of work with the LGBT community through its HIV/AIDS programming, and an incredibly supportive Ambassador, supervisor and Mission Director (who caught me more than once sleeping under my desk at lunch during those exhausting days of the first trimester). My wife, now considered an “eligible family member” under the new policy, was able to apply for and obtain employment at the Embassy, providing a source of income during my maternity leave.

In December 2012, the Mission leadership passed a Mission Order to provide guidance on further integrating LGBT persons and priorities into its programs, which has served as a model in the region. In February 2013, the interagency LGBT Working Group collaborated to host a half-day workshop at the U.S. Embassy for leaders from the LGBT community in order to better understand their needs and priorities and to inform them of policy changes and upcoming opportunities for U.S. Government support of their work.

Unfortunately, despite advances throughout Latin America towards LGBT equality, the LGBT community in Nicaragua still suffers widespread societal discrimination and gender-based violence, issues that USAID will continue to address through its health and democracy, human rights and governance programming. However, our experience here in the capital of Managua – first as a same-sex couple and now as two proud new mothers – has been nothing but positive, giving me hope that the tides are turning in Nicaragua. While we were likely the first same-sex couple to give birth at the main hospital here in Managua, which caused some confusion at City Hall when picking up our daughter’s birth certificate, our Nicaraguan caregivers, colleagues and friends have greatly enriched our experience, and we are delighted with our decision to remain here for her delivery.

As I write this from Managua with my wife, mother, parents-in-law, and newborn baby girl by my side, the theme of this year’s International Day of Families, “Advancing Social Integration and Intergeneration Solidarity,” feels especially appropriate. Not only am I privileged to work for an agency that recognizes the value and importance of advancing the integration of LGBT families both within the agency and in its programming, but I am blessed that our little one has three grandparents and two great-grandparents who embrace and celebrate the diversity of our family almost as much as they celebrate her arrival.

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.

 

Photo of the Week: Celebrating Mothers Everywhere

During the month of May, we have been highlighting USAID’s work in Global Health. Global health plays a critical role in ending extreme poverty — with a particular focus on ending preventable child and maternal deaths, and creating an AIDS-free generation. The first part of the month, from May 1-10, we focused on the role that science, technology and innovation plays in global health. In celebration of mothers everywhere, we will be featuring the important role of mothers and partnerships in Global Health during May 11-17. Future highlights include AIDS-Free Generation (May 18-27), Family Planning (May 27-June 2), Nutrition (June 3-8). Photo is from PATH/Satvir Malhotra.

Follow USAID for Global Health (@USAIDGH) on Twitter and use #GHMatters to join in the conversation.

The Best Mother’s Day Gift of All

During the month of May, IMPACT will be highlighting USAID’s work in Global Health. From May 11-17, we will be featuring the important role of mothers and partnerships in Global Health.

B. Ryan Phelps serves as Medical Officer for PMTCT and Pediatric HIV, Office of HIV/AIDS. Photo credit: B.R. Phelps

By far, the best Mother’s Day gift I’ve ever seen was given to another child’s mom. It was in Swaziland and I was working in an HIV clinic as a consulting pediatrician. The mom’s name was Nomcebo. What she received was a simple bit of news: “Your baby is not infected with HIV.” She was told that her baby was protected by the HIV medicines she had taken during her pregnancy and during breastfeeding. She was told that her baby was HIV-free because she had come to clinic for her refills, and taken the drugs religiously. The mother’s eyes, wet with tears, were set on the sleeping baby in her arms. She was smiling, and whispering softly, over and over, the words “thank you.” Then she paused, looked up, and said: “Tell them thank you.”

Every day, around 1,000 babies are born with HIV, and there is a growing recognition that we can decrease that number to near zero. In other words, we can virtually eliminate pediatric AIDS. We can give children like Nomcebo’s a healthy start.

The implementation toolkit to assist countries as they scale up universal treatment strategies. Photo credit: Interagency Task Team

USAID, through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief
(PEPFAR), is working closely with the World Health Organization, the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other international
partners to do just that. Through more progressive policies that help
ensure that all pregnant mothers get access to lifelong HIV therapy,
countries throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America are increasing
mothers’ access to once-daily, lifelong antiretroviral drugs that will protect
their babies from infection. Such treatment decreases the risk of HIV
transmission to the child from ~40 percent to less than one percent. These
drugs also protect against the spread of HIV to other adults, as well as
keep mothers healthy so that they can care for their children.

Over a dozen countries are in the process of developing and rolling out universal treatment strategies for pregnant women, and USAID continues to work side-by-side with ministries of health toward the goal of an AIDS-free generation. To further bolster this technical support, USAID recently helped in the creation of an Interagency Task Team implementation toolkit to assist countries as they scale up these strategies.

In Swaziland, when Nomcebo said, “Tell them thank you,” she was looking directly at me. Besides Nomcebo and her baby, there was nobody else in the exam room.

I said that I would.

So…if you are reading this, there is a mother in Swaziland who thanks you. By supporting USAID and PEPFAR, you have helped give Nomcebo (and hundreds of thousands more) one of the best Mother’s Day gifts imaginable.

Follow USAID for Global Health (@USAIDGH) on Twitter and use #GHMatters to join in the conversation.

Harnessing the Commitment & Energy of Diaspora Communities to Transform Development

Rajiv Shah serves as Administrator at USAID

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to meet a Syrian-American trauma surgeon who told me about the multiple trips he had taken to Syria with other doctors to help remove shrapnel from the bodies of children.

As I listened to him share these devastating experiences, I knew that his story reflected the tremendous contributions of Syrian-Americans to the humanitarian response. Every day, at great risk to their own lives, they were caring for the injured, training doctors in triage and medicine, and helping deliver lifesaving medical supplies throughout Syria.

Whether we’re talking about the struggle for freedom in Syria or the fragile–but remarkable–transition happening in Burma, we know the diaspora community has a uniquely important role to play in addressing the challenges of today and shaping a brighter future for tomorrow.

Last year, global remittances topped $534 billion—more than 5 times U.S. official development assistance. So often the result of long hours and sacrifices, these contributions mean so much more than their monetary value. They mean the chance for a child to afford her school uniform. The chance for a young man to take out a loan and open a business. And sometimes, they make the difference between life and death – when they allow a family to buy food in tough times.

We are determined to work together to ensure the each dollar saved and each dollar transferred can make a lasting impact. Through our Development Innovations Fund, we’re partnering with a major Filipino bank, a Filipino education NGO, and a group of researchers from the University of Michigan to pilot a financial innovation called EduPay. The tool allows overseas individuals to pay school fees directly to educational institutions in the Philippines, instead of channeling the funds through an informal trustee. The tool also goes one step further by enabling you to monitor the student’s attendance and performance so you can be sure you’re supporting a quality education.

Whether saving money to send home, building a business from the ground up, or partnering with us in response to a crisis, the commitment and energy of diaspora communities holds the potential of transforming developing countries around the world. Through a partnership with Western Union, we’re helping support diaspora leaders who have a great idea to start a business, but need the resources to get it off the ground. Since 2009, the African Diaspora Marketplace has provided grants to 31 companies, totaling more than $2.2 million.

At USAID, we’re increasingly focusing on providing a platform to connect problem-solvers everywhere to the greatest challenges of our time. We call it “open-source development,” and it reflects our desire to harness the creativity and expertise of a much broader development community. Through our new model of development, we aren’t focused on our solutions. We’re focused on yours.

To learn more about the Global Diaspora Forum or to learn how to partner with USAID, the State Department, and the private sector, please visit: http://diasporaalliance.org/.

Join conversation on Twitter (@USAID) using #2013GDF.

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

Video of the Week: Maura O’Neill Previews the 2013 Global Diaspora Forum

Starting today, USAID and the State Department will co-host the third annual 2013 Global Diaspora Forum. The world’s largest gathering of diasporans, this year’s forum “Where Ideas Meet Action” aims to recognize, celebrate and inspire the work of American diaspora communities with roots from around the globe to contribute to the development of and diplomatic relations with their countries of origin.

Learn how USAID continues to expand and strengthen its engagement with diaspora communities in order to achieve development outcomes. Visit the website to watch online.

Throughout the forum, content will be live tweeted from @DiasporaIdea and @USAID. Join the conversation on Twitter using #2013GDF.

Malian Midwife Champions Respectful Care for Pregnant Women and their Families

During the month of May, IMPACT will be highlighting USAID’s work in Global Health. From May 11-17, we will be featuring the important role of mothers and partnerships in Global Health.

The man brings his pregnant wife into the health center and is confronted by the irritated midwife who raises her voice: “I’m too busy, what do you want? Go outside, this is no place for a man!” Later, the man returns for news about his wife’s condition and is promptly told to “go back and sit there.”

This role play session about abuse and disrespect in maternity care was part of a training in Burkina Faso sponsored by MCHIP. Through role play, MCHIP trainers demonstrated to doctors and midwives what not to do when attending to their patients, as disrespectful treatment of pregnant women and their families is all too common in health facilities around the world. This is especially true in developing countries, where doctors and midwives often lack basic infrastructure, supplies, manpower, or even awareness about patients’ rights to be treated with dignity during birth.

Pregnant woman with companion at the renovated maternity ward in Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina Faso. Photo credit: USAID

Training participant Haoua Ba had never heard about respectful care until this MCHIP training, even after 22 years as a midwife in Mali. Haoua and about 30 other midwives, pediatricians and obstetricians are known as Africa “Champions” (or advocates) for improving maternal and newborn health by promoting up-to-date knowledge, practices and attitudes in their countries and region. Mali is one of 10 key African countries—along with Benin, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Senegal, South Sudan, Uganda and Zambia—where the MCHIP Africa Champions Program is being implemented over two years (2011-2013).

MCHIP maternal and newborn health trainings have always emphasized “women friendly care,” for example by introducing skills checklists with which providers are evaluated on their ability to provide respectful care. However, given the prevalence of disrespect and abuse—in Africa in particular—and the lack of knowledge about this issue, Africa Champion trainers developed an entire training module devoted to this topic. In this 1.5 hour session, a facilitator helps training participants understand during group discussion that there is evidence that key components of respectful care, such as involving a woman in her care, will make the birth experience go more smoothly for both the woman and the health care provider.

Haoua described how this training session taught her to respect pregnant women and their families by greeting them politely and continually informing them in a soothing voice about everything she is doing. And since the training last year, Haoua has seen a big difference after putting into practice these new skills.

“When you show respect, it really facilitates things,” she said. “If you calmly tell the woman what to do and explain things her, it comforts her. And word gets around so women know who is going to treat them well and they request that midwife when they come into the hospital.”

After participating in three Africa Champions maternal and newborn health trainings on innovative, lifesaving practices, Haoua is uniquely positioned to transfer these lessons learned. She plans to do so with both staff and student interns at the busy Referral Health Center in Bamako, Mali, where she also works as a midwife with 22 other midwives and three gynecologists. In fact, one of her primary goals as a Champion is to help strengthen the health center team by promoting evidence-based care. She described how she and one of the doctors will organize trainings about twice a month on a particular theme and have attendees practice on mannequins under their supervision to ensure they are correctly using their newly acquired skills and knowledge.

Importantly, Haoua has taught her colleagues that a woman should be allowed to have a companion by her side during the birth, which is a central tenant of respectful care. Having a loved one present provides women with essential comfort and support during the birth process, especially when the health center staff are busy or overworked. Evidence supports this practice as one that can help to shorten labor and increase normal outcomes.

A pregnant woman who must give birth without the company of a loved one or who must lie on the floor because there are not enough tables, without the privacy of a curtain, is not receiving respectful care. But even in the worst conditions, said Haoua, “if you have the will to do things well, you can help women.”

She is a perfect example of how the USAID-funded Africa Champions program is helping to prevent the untold suffering of women during one of the most vulnerable but extraordinary times in their lives.

Follow USAID for Global Health (@USAIDGH) on Twitter and use #GHMatters to join in the conversation.

USAID in the News

Food Aid Reform

In an op-ed published in the Chicago Tribune, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Secretary of the Department of Agriculture Tom Vilsack explain “our hallmark food assistance program has not evolved with the times.” President Obama has proposed a number of reforms that could help the U.S.  “feed up to 4 million more hungry people every year” while reducing costs. From purchasing locally-sourced food to using electronic payments, the officials say such strategies can help the U.S. “carry out its development mission more effectively and efficiently – not to perpetuate dependency, but to advance human dignity.”

In an editorial, the Chicago Tribune says it considers the current Food for Peace program a “terribly expensive and inefficient system. We’re pleased to see the Obama administration make a run at changing that… the administration has proposed a modest reform that can save money and feed more people.” The editorial continues,  “Food aid can help to lift developing nations out of poverty, promote political stability and economic growth. It must be structured efficiently to achieve its objective. Reforming food aid would enable America to do justice to a large taxpayer outlay – and to save lives.”

USAID, Swedish Ministry for International Development, and African Development Bank launch Agriculture Fast Track at World Economic Forum

Business Day Live reports, the “fund – called Agriculture Fast Track – is the first of its kind and marks a new approach to development aid by western donors, that aims to promote economic growth through commercial agriculture.” In short, “Agriculture Fast Track’s purpose will be to fund some of the front-end costs of developing agricultural infrastructure, such as scoping, project design and feasibility studies, with the aim of leveraging private funding to commit to the projects.”

Harvest, Meet Market: How a New Fund Will Accelerate Agricultural Infrastructure in Africa

Since 1964, the African Development Bank (AfDB) has worked with African countries to develop their economies and progress socially.

This week, with AfDB and the Government of Sweden, we launched a first-of-its-kind effort to expand this progress and growth. The Agriculture Fast Track will encourage private sector investment in agricultural infrastructure projects to advance food security in Sub-Saharan Africa. In doing so, it supports Africa’s agriculture transformation agenda.

Incentivizing investment in agriculture

Historically, the private sector hesitated to invest in agriculture in Africa—and for good business reasons. Investing in agriculture has inherent risks, including drought, crop and livestock diseases and fluctuating crop prices. Agriculture projects can have high start-up costs because systems and facilities must be developed before they can begin making a profit. Given these challenges, it can be difficult for African countries and their development partners to create lasting improvements in food security.

That’s why we are so excited about renewed efforts to tackle these challenges in order to catalyze private investment that can spur economic growth while reducing hunger and undernutrition. Following the lead of African nations, efforts like the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition have coupled tough regulatory policy reforms with private investment commitments in agriculture. African leadership has driven these efforts forward, with governments undertaking transparent market-oriented reforms that encourage private investment and reduce barriers to agriculture-led economic growth.

USAID, the African Development Bank, and the Government of Sweden launch Agriculture Fast Track Fund for infrastructure projects in Africa. Photo credit: USAID

Bridging the last mile

But the last mile linking farms to markets still needs to be strengthened.

Smallholder farmers in Africa are some of the poorest and hungriest people in the world. And while the world has worked to reach them with the tools, skills and knowledge they need to increase their crops, farmers also need infrastructure.

Agriculture infrastructure reduces the risks farmers face—for instance by providing irrigation so farmers don’t rely solely on erratic rainfall to water their crops. It also provides ways for farmers to get their harvests to markets (and buyers, and ultimately to tables) quicker, like on nicely paved roads, and helps preserve harvests longer, using electricity and modern preservation and processing facilities.

The Agriculture Fast Track addresses this challenge head on. It is the first and only fund exclusively focused on infrastructure for agriculture and food security. As a New Alliance deliverable aimed at addressing barriers to agricultural development, it defrays front-end development costs and risks the private sector is unwilling to shoulder alone.

Operationally, the Agriculture Fast Track will fund technical assistance for public and private sector organizations seeking to create agricultural infrastructure projects. By providing grants for activities like scoping assessments, feasibility studies, market analyses, and social impact investments, the Agriculture Fast Track will help create a pipeline of projects able to garner the private capital needed to start and complete them.

Learn more

Along with our colleagues at AfDB and the Government of Sweden, we’ve developed a variety of materials for you to learn more about Agriculture Fast Track and the vision we have for it.

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