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In Congo, Helping Children Catch Up in the Classroom

This originally appeared on The IRC Blog.

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

For Fatuma Kitete, a 40-year-old mother of seven, every day comes with a heavy burden. From dawn to dusk, she relentlessly carries plastic canisters filled with sand balanced on her head from the shores of Lake Tanganyika to the town of Kalemie. For her grueling efforts, the construction company, which hires her by the day, pays her roughly $2. That sum buys just one nutrient-poor manioc meal for her large family.

A widow for several years, Fatuma has no help raising her children. She did everything she could to care for them and tried several times to send the elder ones to school, but she could not keep up the monthly educational fee of $2.50 per child, and besides, she needed them to help her carry sand. Her eldest son, now aged 15, was registered only for a couple of semesters eight years ago; her next two daughters, Leontina and Ester, aged 12 and 11 respectively, have been out-of-school for more than four years.

“I saw them often looking at other kids go to school and crying that they could not go as well,” Fatuma recalls. “But what could I do? Luckily we have some old textbooks at home, and they kept reading through them time and again.”

Leontina and Ester during their first week of school in more than four years. Photo credit: Sinziana Demian, IRC

It was this fall and the beginning of the new school year that Fatuma was finally presented with a long-lasting solution: Her children could attend a three-year accelerated learning program, for free, in order to make up for the lost time and eventually be reintegrated in the regular school system. The program, run by the International Rescue Committee with USAID funding, is helping 1,100 boys and girls catch up on their studies at the primary level and work toward the standardized national exam that admits them to secondary school.

Fatuma didn’t think twice: Leontina and Ester would start right away. She borrowed money to buy them new blue-and-white uniforms and proudly walked them the eight kilometers to the learning center on the first morning.

“It was a like a holiday in my family,” Fatuma says. “My girls were finally going to school!”

In Congo today, an estimated 7.6 million children do not attend school. Dropout rates have reached 50%, with girls much more likely than boys to leave primary school. Most families opt to register their sons and keep the girls at home.

For Fatuma, the choice was different. Her eldest son earns a living working odd jobs. “He would have been ashamed to come back to school at his age, with much younger classmates,” she admits. Instead, Leontina and Ester, who with their matching hairstyles share a striking resemblance, now study with several dozen other “accelerated beginners,” practicing simple computations and learning French, the official language of Congo (a country with as many as 250 ethnic groups and more than 240 languages).

“We also drew the human body,” says Ester, timidly, after class. “School is so interesting.”

The center, located on the main road to downtown Kalemie, consists of several reed-walled classrooms arranged around a large, sandy courtyard. Last year, of the 550 students accepted into the program, 99 took and successfully passed the national exams in math, French and general culture. It was by far the best result of any school in the district, and one of the best in the entire Katanga province. Building on this successful experience, the center has doubled the number of students, who will study in two daily shifts.

“This program is a blessing for our children,” says Rebeca Putu, a mother who is also a member of the parents committee. “Most families in Kalemie and surrounding villages would never send their children to school otherwise.”

The IRC is supporting the accelerated learning program as part of a major education effort in three provinces in eastern Congo. In a comprehensive approach aimed at improving access to quality education for 500,000 children and youngsters people, the IRC trains primary school teachers in new methods, runs vocational trainings and literacy classes for youth, and builds, renovates and equips schools and classrooms.

Tracking Tigers for Conservation

The days of tiger hunting from the backs of elephants in the shadow of the Himalayas are thankfully over, but after years of overhunting and loss of habitat, the tiger hunt has taken on a new meaning in Nepal. Today, tourists can still head out on elephant back to spot tigers and the endangered rhinoceros in Chitwan National Park, but the only shooting done is by camera. And now Nepali scientists, with assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development, are using genetic research to track, identify and protect the remaining 125 tigers in this region.

A large adult male tiger seen in the Terai Arc Landscape. Tiger conservation is a top priority in Nepal, a source and transit point of poaching and the illegal trade of wildlife. Photo credit: Christy Williams, WWF

Over the last two years, the USAID-funded “Nepal Tiger Genome Project” has used an innovative genetic technology to build a comprehensive national DNA database of the endangered Bengal tigers living in Nepal’s Terai Arc Landscape—one of the few remaining tiger habitats on the earth—by collecting and recording a unique genetic fingerprint from each adult tiger’s scat.  This closely held information is used to identify every tiger and its territory.  The data is used to protect habitat, as well as inform law enforcement and protect the animals from poachers.

The project extracts each animal’s unique genetic code from non-invasively collected scat samples. To date, the project has collected over 1,100 samples from Nepal’s four major national parks. Findings of this research are expected to facilitate a better understanding of the genetic and population dynamics of Bengal tigers in Nepal. With valuable data of this nature, conservation policies and strategies at local, national, and international levels can be greater informed, and therefore, all the more effective.

“This is the first time systematic sampling was used to collect and build a comprehensive genetic database of Bengal tigers in Nepal. Although tiger genetic work has been going on in India and other countries, such elaborate data collection and archiving has not been tried with Bengal tigers,” stated Mr. Karmacharya who is the principal investigator for the project and also heads the Center for Molecular Dynamics Nepal, a wholly Nepali-owned and managed by a non-profit private sector institute.

The project is a concerted effort between the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation and the Center for Molecular Dynamics Nepal, with both Nepali and U.S. scientists involved in collecting samples and conducting genetic analysis. Dibesh Karmacharya and Kanchan Thapa are heading the project in close collaboration with Dr. Lisette Waits of the University of Idaho and Dr. Marcella Kelly from Virginia Tech.

Already, the technology is being replicated and expanded to gather genetic information of other species such as the one horned Asian rhinoceros, elephants and snow leopards, allowing conservation professionals to track, and better conserve, these fragile and endangered species not only in Nepal but in other parts of the world too.

#AskUSAID @RajShah Twitter Chat on the Future of #FoodAid

 

On Monday, April 15, USAID Administrator @RajShah participated in a Twitter chat to answer YOUR questions on the proposed Food Aid Reform in President Obama’s 2014 Proposed Budget. People asked questions using #AskUSAID @RajShah on everything from the nutritional value of  #FoodAid to how to better engage with @USAID. From 2:30-3:30 p.m., we received over 20 questions and reached over 700,000 users on Twitter! @RajShah responds to your questions with lightning speed!

Learn more about Food Aid Reform through our fact sheet, Raj Shah’s Speech & Transcript, as well as recent articles from the Washington Post, AP, The Hill, Wall Street Journal, and Huffington Post.

Increasing Access to Education in Northern Nigeria

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

Fourteen year-old Ammar Muhammed, born to nomadic parents in Northern Nigeria, is going to school. Not just any school, but a school for gifted children owing to his participation in a USAID-funded basic literacy program at his non-formal school in Nigeria’s northern Bauchi State two years ago.

Ammar in front of his school. Photo Credit: USAID

Forty-two percent of primary-age children in this country, about 10.5 million, are out of school. Less than a third of primary school children proceed to junior secondary school and even fewer go on to complete secondary school. The situation is worse in predominantly Muslim Northern Nigeria where primary school attendance and academic achievement are far below national averages. A recent USAID-funded assessment of reading skills in Hausa, the local language, in the Northern States of Bauchi and Sokoto found that about 70 percent of  P3 (third grade) pupils could not read a single word of a simple narrative text. In this region many students attend non-formal religious schools where the focus is on learning the Quran and Islamic values with no training in basic reading and math skills. In some schools male children (referred to as “Almajiri”) often leave very poor families to attend school and are encouraged to beg on the streets to pay for their care and instruction.

Through its Northern Education Initiative (NEI), USAID is working in the Nigerian States of Bauchi and Sokoto to strengthen state and local governments’ capacity to deliver basic education services by addressing key management, sustainability and oversight issues. To demonstrate to state governments that basic education systems can be strengthened through improvements in teacher training and instructional delivery, the NEI developed new activity-based training manuals, trained about 3,500 teachers, and monitored the delivery of reading and math instruction. Two hundred pilot schools were selected to participate in the program, 80 of which were non-formal Amajiri schools—40 from each state.

Children outside of school in Nigeria. Photo Credit: USAID/Nigeria

Ammar’s school was selected to participate in the pilot. He diligently applied himself to his studies and was one of 200 students from NEI’s 40 demonstration schools in Bauchi State to pass exams for entry to formal schools in 2011. Once admitted to Central Primary School, Gwaram, he was reassessed and placed in Class Five. His teachers were surprised to learn he was a student from an Almajiri school.  “He performed better than other pupils that had spent six years in school and took first position in his class examination,” said Malam Usman Khalifa, head teacher at Central Primary School.

In 2012 Ammar took the Bauchi State Special Secondary School Examination for entry into one of the state’s three schools for gifted children. He passed with flying colors and is now a student at the Special Science Secondary School in Toro. He has now set a new target: to earn university admission. “I want to be a doctor, to help my people,” said Ammar.

 

 

 

Mozambique Turns Potential into Progress through Leadership and Partnership

This originally appeared on Feed the Future.

You’ve heard me say it before: African nations have great potential, particularly for food security. And Mozambique is no exception. Through leadership and partnership, it’s turning that potential into real progress and opportunity.

Last week, I was honored to witness history when Mozambican leaders came together with more than 150 representatives from donor countries, civil society and the private sector to chart a bold path forward to achieve sustainable food security and nutrition.

This boy from rural Senegal isn’t old enough to go to class yet, but he can still enjoy a healthy meal of daharine, a nutritious porridge of rice, chickpeas, and peanut sauce, at a USAID-supported Community Meals program based at the local school. Photo credit: USAID

This two-day official launch of Mozambique’s  New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in Maputo provided an important opportunity for participants to have an open dialogue and outline concrete next steps for ensuring mutual accountability and tracking progress at the country level over time. It also enabled discussions around reforming policies that have stifled agricultural innovation, development and growth in Mozambique. Such reforms are the key to unlocking private investment, which is critical to sustainable development.

In his opening remarks, Minister of Agriculture Jose Pacheco quoted a conversation he once had with Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norman Borlaug, who said, “Sure, Mozambique has huge potential, but you can’t eat potential.” Pacheco went on to say that Mozambicans need to transform that potential into something useful. While the country’s poverty and undernutrition rates remain high, Mozambique has the potential to grow into a breadbasket for the region. In addition to its vast amounts of fertile land and ideal location along major trade corridors and ports, Mozambique has some of the best records of economic growth in Africa, averaging eight percent per year over the last decade.

Recognizing that donor funding is ultimately finite, the Government of Mozambique has committed to take the necessary steps to create a policy environment that fosters private sector investment in agriculture, which will help ensure the economic, social and environmental sustainability of public sector efforts. Development partners within the G8 and other countries stand ready to assist and support this policy transformation, knowing that if we want our collective efforts to truly reach scale, ensure farmers (especially women) have improved access to markets, and encourage creativity that drives innovation, we need the private sector as a full partner —not just an investor—to contribute energy and expertise to help build and extend value chains and markets across Mozambique.

The second day of the event drew strong participation from the private sector.  One local Mozambican company shared how they provided nearly $1 million in credit for inputs to smallholder farmers who saw their production increase by $10 million as a result. Through the company’s efforts, almost 43,000 smallholder farmers now receive inputs such as improved seeds and fertilizers; have access to improved production technologies; and are selling to a guaranteed market, providing the company with a constant supply of high-quality products for its processing unit.

This was just one example of the positive impact the private sector is having by collaborating with smallholder farmers in Mozambique. In 2012 alone, the private sector invested $7 million worth of agricultural inputs in smallholder farmers. As a result, these farmers received $60 million from purchases of their products, providing them with opportunity, access and incomes that will transform their lives.

In addition to bringing together representatives from diverse sectors and perspectives, the New Alliance launch event illustrated the dynamic transformation that can happen with Mozambique’s demonstrated leadership modeled on the type of country ownership envisioned in the Rome Principles for Sustainable Global Food Security and carried forth through platforms like the African Union’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP). In fact, Mozambique officially launched its CAADP agricultural development investment plan last Friday.

Through Feed the Future, the United States looks forward to continuing our close collaboration with the many partners who attended the meeting as we grow and develop together through the New Alliance.

Read more about Africa’s potential in a blog about my previous trip to Ethiopia for the annual CAADP Partnership Platform meeting last month.

1,000 Days to Reach the Millennium Development Goals

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

Increasing access to primary education in developing countries. Reaching the nearly 61 million still out-of-school children and getting as many of them as we can into safe learning environments. Improving the quality of education by making sure that children are not only in school, but also that they are learning. And just 1,000 days to get it done.

It’s a daunting task but just the kind of challenge I love. After 38 years as a teacher, 8 years advocating for education, literacy and libraries as Iowa’s first lady, 12 years as president of my own literacy foundation, a few years working to assure young women have access to reproductive health, and two years running for Congress, I have found the perfect capstone to my career in the USAID Education Strategy (PDF) and Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 2.  Friday, April 6 started the countdown of 1,000 days to reach MDG2, by 2015:

Schoolchildren in Aqaba, Jordan, who are beneficiaries of the Jordan Schools Program and Education Reform Support Program, both funded by USAID to improve the quality of education in the country. Photo credit: Jill Meeks, Creative Associates International

“Ensure that by 2015 children everywhere, boys and girls alike will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.”

The best part of this challenge is that I join a committed team of experienced and passionate USAID education and foreign-service professionals who have already spent the past two years creating a focused strategy which includes access to education but also quality and accountability. We are led by a visionary, Administrator Rajiv Shah, who is determined to produce results we can measure. Thus, the big numbers. The numbers, while hard to compile in countries subject to coups, civil wars, earthquakes, drought and corruption, are important in creating a report card for Americans who want to help but who also want quantifiable results. The numbers are important because they will help us to do “good” well. Even more important, I recognize that USAID is just one organization in the global community committed to literacy and learning.  What an opportunity to join this growing collection of education champions!

Last weekend someone asked what I’d learned from two weeks of briefings that I found most valuable. First, I am convinced of the commitment of my colleagues and I learned that we are not without partners worldwide who are also resolute about literacy. More surprising and not without irony, this language arts and journalism teacher learned that reaching our millennium goals is partly about getting the numbers right.

Sixty-one million children still don’t have access to basic primary education. I talk with folks on Main Street who wonder why it matters if a child in Africa knows how to read. For every child or youth who has room to learn—a safe place to learn and a trained teacher—the world will be a safer, more productive place for all of us.

I’m going to do everything in my power to tell the USAID education story to anyone who will listen—elected officials, other public servants, business leaders, those supporting non-profits, civic organizations, and faith-based organizations, the wider education community at home and abroad, my family, my hairdresser, the person sitting next to me at dinner and on the Metro. I’m going to ask all of them and you, to help us, or at least, to support our efforts.

The children who learn to read in Afghanistan, the teachers who learn to teach reading in South Sudan, the ministers of education who have data to show results in Pakistan, Haiti and Nigeria, the parents who will learn to demand quality as well as access in the Democratic Republic of Congo, over time will help knit the fabric of an education system that underpins every strong democracy. Those children will become teachers, start businesses, engage in trade, heal the sick, build roads, write novels and make scientific discoveries.  One thousand days to reach MDG2. There’s no time to lose. Let’s get busy.

Here’s how you can help :

Video of the Week: Education in Kenya

Education is an important component of reducing poverty, promoting peace, and empowering individuals to participate in democratic institutions. Since 2003, primary school enrollment has increased more than 50 percent in Kenya. In recognition of USAID’s 50th anniversary working in partnership with Kenya, this video provides an overview of USAID’s education programs and particularly focuses on efforts to reach vulnerable, marginalized children.

USAID in the News

President Obama’s 2014 Budget Proposal and Proposed Food Aid Reform

This week President Obama released his 2014 Budget Proposal, which introduced major reform in the delivery of food assistance. The Washington Post reports the White House has proposed “the first major change in three decades to the way the United States supplies food aid to impoverished nations, significantly scaling back the program that buys commodities from US farmers and ships them to the needy overseas.” Under a budget proposal released Wednesday, “nearly half of $1.4 billion in requested funds for the aid could instead be spent to purchase local bulk food in countries in need or to distribute individual vouchers for local purchases.” USAID administrator Rajiv Shah said in an interview, “We’ve made a strong commitment to provide more flexibility,” noting that “local purchase of food allows for a response time nearly 14 weeks faster” than shipping from the US, and also is “30 percent cheaper for certain types of commodities.” Shah added, “We recognize that any transition has to be done in a careful, thoughtful manner,” but argued that over the long term “spending money to build and modernize agricultural systems in current food-recipient countries ‘is ultimately what creates tens of thousands more jobs here in our country.’”

Oxfam’s Paul O’Brien welcomed the proposals, telling the Wall Street Journal: “The Obama administration has taken an important step towards long overdue reforms to bring food aid into the 21st century…This president’s proposal will get food to more hungry people faster, cheaper and more efficiently. Congress should pass them expeditiously.”

Read more about the Proposal in these publications: The HillNPRWashington Post and Huffington Post

LGBT Global Development Partners spoke on advancing LGBT equality in developing and emerging market countries on April 8 in Washington. Photo credit: USAID

USAID Announces Initiative to Promote LGBT Rights Abroad

The four-year public-private partnership between USAID and Olivia Cruises, UCLA’s Williams Institute, the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, the Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency “will work with local LGBT groups to provide leadership training, research and other help, lending the imprimatur of the U.S. government to people who in many countries are outcast and vulnerable, ” The San Francisco Chronicle reports. “This partnership leverages the financial resources and skills of each partner to further inclusive development and increase respect for the human rights of LGBT people around the world,” noted Claire Lucas, senior advisor of the USAID Office of Innovation and Development Alliances. “It can be a real game-changer in the advancement of LGBT human rights.”

Facilitating Economic Growth through Infrastructure and Trade

Eric Postel is assistant administrator for the Bureau of Economic Growth, Education and Environment

Sub-Saharan Africa is now home to 11 of the world’s 20 fastest growing economies. Economic growth in the entire region is expected to be strong – between five and six percent – in the next few years, and it will be led by the private sector; foreign direct investment now dwarfs foreign aid in Africa.

Yet, a recent World Bank report noted that regional trade barriers are cost African countries billions of dollars in potential revenue every year. Trade among African countries makes up only 10 percent of the region’s total trade volume. In East Africa, it costs 50 percent more to move freight one kilometer than it does in the United States or Europe, and in landlocked countries transport costs can be as high as 75 percent of the value of the goods they are trying to export.

On March 29, I participated in an economic growth roundtable with the Presidents of Malawi, Senegal, and Sierra Leone and the Prime Minister of Cape Verde to discuss these challenges and to examine ways to strengthen trade and investment, enhance regional integration, and improve the four countries’ business environments.

The four African leaders called attention to a major impediment to trade and investment in Africa: poor infrastructure, which inhibits both regional and global trade.  That is why USAID is working with governments to assess and prioritize critical infrastructure needs.  For example, in South Sudan, USAID helped build a 192-kilometer-long Juba-Nimule Road, the largest infrastructure project ever built in South Sudan, and the young nation’s first paved highway. The road has reduced travel time between Nimule and Juba from eight hours to less than three, linking Juba with Uganda and providing the shortest, most efficient route to the Port of Mombasa in Kenya. The road has generated economic activities along the route, and created employment and training opportunities for South Sudanese communities, thereby enhancing stability.

Meeting with the four leaders allowed me to reaffirm USAID’s commitment to work with both the governments and private sector in all four countries to improve export readiness, and reduce the time and cost to trade.  In Cape Verde, Senegal, and Sierra Leone, USAID has helped establish Resource Centers to assist local businesses take advantage of the provisions of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which offers duty free entry for 6,400 products from qualifying African countries into the United States.

We are also supporting three regional Trade Hubs designed to help sub-Saharan African governments and businesses reduce the time and cost of trade, harmonize trade and regulatory requirements, and work directly with African firms to identify export opportunities. In Malawi, our Southern Africa Trade Hub has helped to streamline customs procedures and develop a national single window system, which allows traders to submit all required data into a single electronic system accessible to all border agencies. Systems like this one significantly reduce the time and cost of moving goods across borders and increase customs revenue.

We have also helped Malawi and Sierra Leone develop export strategies and stand ready to support strategy implementation and the crafting of similar strategies in Senegal and Cape Verde. When developed and implemented in consultation with the private sector, the strategies serve as an invaluable tool to facilitate trade and improve economic growth.

By working to reduce barriers to trade in African markets, USAID supports sustained growth in the region and improves bilateral trade and investment opportunities for both African and U.S. firms.

Learning Law Through Practice

On April 8, lawyers from USAID’s Office of General Counsel led a roundtable dialogue with two Iraqi and two Palestinian teams that participated in the annual Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition, which took place in Washington, DC, from March 31 to April 6. The competition was an opportunity for the four teams to highlight their litigation skills that are being developed through programs supported by USAID.

Iraqi and Palestinian teams in front of the USAID seal. Photo credit: USAID

The Jessup competition brings together students from 550 law schools that represent more than 80 countries and simulates a fictional dispute between countries before the International Court of Justice, the judicial organ of the United Nations. This year’s participants addressed the factual and legal consequences of climate change on statehood, migration and sovereign lending. Teaching methodology has historically been lecture based in both Iraqi and Palestinian universities so the practical experience that students gain from the Jessup competition process, including competing against other teams and receiving feedback from distinguished judges, is extremely valuable.

The two Iraqi teams from Baghdad and Anbar Universities earned the right to represent Iraq after competing against over 100 law students and professors from 17 Iraqi universities. All of the teams were trained on courtroom etiquette and advocacy skills by USAID’s Access to Justice program in Iraq prior to their participation. The program promotes a practical approach to improving both legal services for vulnerable groups and the knowledge and skills of those who assist them.

The two Palestinian teams, from Bir Zeit and An Najah Universities, came in first and second in the Palestinian Jessup qualifying round. Palestinian partner universities received training as part of USAID’s Palestinian Justice Enhancement Project, which is designed to strengthen public confidence and respect for justice sector institutions and the rule of law in the West Bank.

The teams received guidance from competition judges, established new friendships with law students from around the world, and learned more about the United States while gaining important courtroom experience.  The Bir Zeit team had the honor of being elected by fellow competitors to receive the Spirit of Jessup Award for the team that “best exemplifies the Jessup spirit of comradeship, academic excellence, competitiveness, and appreciation of fellow competitors.”

Both the Iraqi and Palestinian students told the USAID lawyers that when they get home, they plan to gain practical experience in providing legal assistance through legal clinics supported by USAID in their law schools.

Palestinian competitor Obaida observed, “Jessup taught me to see international law from other perspectives. I now can argue and fully express myself before expert judges and I will bring back with me knowledge, success and memories.”

The students also toured the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and met with one of the court’s legal advisers.

“Competing in Jessup has helped to increase our experience and build our confidence as young lawyers,” remarked Baghdad competitor Ahmad. “We are so excited to represent our country and learn about the legal system in America.”

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