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Archives for Youth

If You ‘Let Girls Learn,’ You Save Lives Too

letgirlslearn_rev2

Oppression and prejudice toil in a cage of ignorance and cruelty.  Before the U.S. Civil Rights movement altered the course of history, Jim Crow laws and terror imposed segregation and licensed discrimination, casting a pall of shame over America.

Today, the inhumane degradation and culturally sanctioned abuse of girls in many parts of the world is a shockingly similar shame. Denied the most basic universal human rights, girls have limited access to health care, nutrition, education and job skills training, as well as productive resources, such as water, land and credit.

The kidnapping of 300 Nigerian girls by the extremist group Boko Haram focused global attention, issuing a clarion call that girls’ education and health are civil rights worth fighting for, leading to benefits, not only for girls, but for entire communities and nations. In low income countries, mothers who have completed primary school are more likely to seek appropriate health care for their children. A child born to a literate mother is 50 percent more likely to survive past the age of 5.

  • In low income countries, mothers who have completed primary school are more likely to seek appropriate health care for their children.
  • A child born to a literate mother is 50 percent more likely to survive past the age of 5.
  • Women with some formal education are more likely to seek medical care and ensure their children are immunized.
  • Women with some formal education are more likely to be better informed about their children’s nutritional requirements, and practice better sanitation.
  • An educated girl is three times less likely to contract HIV.

Segenet Wendawork was 5 years old when her mother died. After her father moved away, she bounced around, living with her grandmother for a while, then an aunt who kept her home from school to help with chores.  Thanks to a USAID scholarship program, Segenet was able to return to school in Ethiopia and complete her education. “Before the scholarship, I was unable to dream about the future,” she said.

Sixty-two million girls are not in school, and are also unable to dream about their future. And millions more are fighting to stay in school. The U.S. Government invests $1 billion each year through USAID in low-income countries to ensure equitable treatment of boys and girls, to create safe school environments, and to engage communities in support for girls’ education.

According to the Working Group on Girls (WGG), a coalition of over 80 national and international non-governmental organizations, schoolgirls of all ages report sexual harassment and assault, ranging from gender discrimination to rape, exploitation and physical and psychological intimidation in school.

Last week, a new effort was launched by the U.S. Government, and led by USAID, to provide the public with meaningful ways to help all girls get a quality education. Let Girls Learn aims to elevate a conversation about the need to support all girls in their pursuit of a quality education. In support of the effort, USAID also announced over $230 million for new programs to support education around the world.

Thomas Staal, a senior leader with USAID, said education is essential to fight poverty and all its corollaries: hunger, disease, resource degradation, exploitation and despair. “Women are the caretakers and economic catalysts in our communities. No country can afford to ignore their potential.”

Since education level has the greatest effect on the age at which a woman has her first birth, and adolescent mothers are more likely to die in childbirth, education both empowers young people directly and affects family planning choices and labor force participation.

 “Education is essential to fight poverty and all its corollaries.” In this photo, school children in Haiti. / Devon McLorg, USAID

“Education is essential to fight poverty and all its corollaries.” In this photo, school children in Haiti. / Devon McLorg, USAID

Conversely, a healthy start in life and good nutrition are essential for children to thrive, develop and spend more time in school. Last month, USAID launched a new global nutrition strategy  aimed at reducing the number of chronically malnourished or stunted children by at least 2 million over the next five years. Every year, under-nutrition contributes to 3.1 million child deaths—45 percent of the worldwide total.

In the strategy, USAID is prioritizing the prevention of malnutrition given the irreversible consequences of chronic under-nutrition early in life. Under-nutrition inhibits the body’s immune system from fighting disease and impedes cognitive, social-emotional and motor development.

In addition to focusing on good nutrition in the first 1,000 days for mother and child, USAID is also saving newborns from severe infections, protecting young children from the risks of diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria, and helping women space the births of their children to protect their health and that of their children.

This week, USAID, the governments of Ethiopia and India, in collaboration with UNICEF, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and others will hold a high level forum to take stock of recent efforts aimed at reducing child and maternal deaths and plot a new course that will ensure progress continues.

USAID will refocus the majority of our maternal and child health resources toward specific, life-saving tools in 24 countries where the need is greatest and empower our partner countries to lead with robust action plans and evidence-based report cards to save an unprecedented number of lives by 2020.

USAID Assistant Administrator Ariel Pablos-Mendez said by coupling family planning investments with policies supporting child survival, girls’ education and job creation – especially those targeting women – countries can be positioned to realize substantial economic growth that lifts everyone out of poverty.

Doing so will allow girls and boys to follow their wildest hopes and dreams and live productive lives.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Thomas is a communications advisor in the Bureau for Global Health. Read more from the author in the latest FrontLines, which features articles about the Agency’s work in maternal and child health: In Health Research Fueled by USAID Is Fielding Innovative Solutions, he writes about innovative, cost-effective and life-saving health care solutions whose research and development were aided by USAID; and in Your Voice: Frontline Health Workers are the Unsung Heroes of Global Health Progress, he describes just how essential community health workers are to rural and other underserved communities in developing nations.

Ending Child Labor

Global social movements have proven we can end child labor. An ambitious social movement to eradicate child labor globally came together two decades ago – and has enjoyed unprecedented success. Civil-society organizations in over 100 countries on every continent launched a Global March Against Child Labour in 1998. The march crossed 103 countries and culminated in a conference at the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva in June 1998 where activists called on governments, international organizations, companies and civil society to come together to end child labor.

A young girl is forced to work at an unlicensed loom in the Bhaktapur district, Kathmandu, Nepal. This exploitation is a form of modern slavery. / © U. Roberto Romano

A young girl is forced to work at an unlicensed loom in the Bhaktapur district, Kathmandu, Nepal. This exploitation is a form of modern slavery. / © U. Roberto Romano

The ILO launched the World Day Against Child Labour in 2002. Each year on June 12, the day brings together governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations, civil society and millions of people from around the world to highlight the plight of child laborers and what can be done to help them.

The movement is succeeding in its ambitious goals. In the late 1990s, the estimated number of children in various forms of child labor was nearly 250 million. Today, that figure has dropped to 168 million. The decline has particularly benefitted girls; total child labor among girls has fallen by 40 percent since 2000, compared to a drop of 25 percent for boys.

Child labor is defined as work that is hazardous to a child’s health, education, or physical or mental development. Too often, it traps children in a cycle of poverty. Too many children in the world still work instead of going to school. For example, an estimated 98 million children worldwide work in agriculture. Children harvest tobacco, cocoa, rubber and other global commodities. Children also work in dangerous industries like shipbreaking in Pakistan and Bangladesh, and in services such as construction and restaurant work. However, the U.S. Government has made a substantial contribution to ending this vicious cycle for tens of millions of children.

Kiran, age 10, stares through a carpet knife while weaving in Jaipur. Despite laws prohibiting it, child labor is rampant in India’s rug industry. “Carpet kids” suffer a tragic array of physical trauma, including respiratory illness from inhaling wool fibers, cuts and bruises from sharp tools, and spinal deformities from sitting in cramped positions. / © U. Roberto Romano

Kiran, age 10, stares through a carpet knife while weaving in Jaipur. Despite laws prohibiting it, child labor is rampant in India’s rug industry. “Carpet kids” suffer a tragic array of physical trauma, including respiratory illness from inhaling wool fibers, cuts and bruises from sharp tools, and spinal deformities from sitting in cramped positions. / © U. Roberto Romano

What have we learned about what works?

Social mobilization and awareness-raising: Like so many of the world’s ‘wicked’ problems, addressing child labor requires a concerted effort by multiple stakeholders acting together. Work to promote awareness of child labor among citizens and consumers in developed countries, and among families and communities in developing countries where children are at risk, has proven to be an important part of the solution. U.S. Government agencies, in particular the U.S. Department of Labor, have produced important reports documenting the issues thoroughly. Recognizing that raising public awareness also requires compelling photo and video documentation, in the mid-2000s USAID supported the creation of a photo and video repository, in particular to document conditions faced by girls. This material was ultimately turned into a film, Stolen Childhoods. The film documented not only the problem but examples of what interventions could help working children – such as a new USAID-supported schoolhouse in communities of coffee pickers in Kenya, creating opportunities for children who had been working on coffee farms to attend school for the first time.

Another very important part of the solution is mobilizing communities and empowering them to work at a grassroots level on practical solutions to address root causes of child labor. For example, through our Global Labor Program, USAID has helped workers in the rubber sector in Liberia to organize, mobilize and negotiate with their employer to end exploitative wage practices that compelled rubber tappers to bring their children to work. In the early 2000s, the problem of child labor on the world’s largest rubber plantation in Liberia came to light. Adult tappers were compelled to bring their entire families to work with them just to meet their daily quotas. Following the exposure of this problem, a transnational campaign emerged, linking civil-society organizations and trade unions in Liberia with consumer, labor and human rights groups in the United States. Through USAID’s Global Labor Program, the Solidarity Center was able to work directly with rubber workers in Liberia and assist them to organize, join unions and negotiate better wages and working conditions for themselves and their families. Today, thanks to the combination of effective awareness-raising, campaigning in the United States and the work of trade unions in Liberia to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement, there is a school on the rubber plantation where all children attend school while their parents, the adult workers, are paid a living wage.

Ruben Barwon, 13, walks around his campus at the Firestone Junior High School system.  / Solidarity Center, Bill E. Diggs

Ruben Barwon, 13, walks around his campus at the Firestone Junior High School system. / Solidarity Center, Bill E. Diggs

Businesses are also an important part of the solution to the child labor problem. Awareness-raising campaigns have succeeded in flagging this as a business issue for many companies worldwide in many industries, and those companies and industries are working on innovative new approaches to ensuring their supply chains do not exploit workers. Goodweave is one of the best-known examples of a program effectively addressing child labor in a sector where it was endemic, the carpet-weaving sector in India. Goodweave is a certification system that works with retailers, rug importers and exporters, and looms to ensure that child labor is not used in carpet production. The program is active in the ‘carpet belt’ of India and Nepal, and recently extended into Afghanistan. The program provides educational transition programs and works with schools to ensure that children that are found working receive the assistance and support they need to go to school. By building awareness about the widespread use of child labor in the rug industry and creating an effective market-based solution, GoodWeave is ending child labor one rug at a time. Since 1995, 11 million child labor free carpets bearing the GoodWeave label have been sold worldwide, and the number of ‘carpet kids’ has dropped from 1 million to 250,000. GoodWeave’s work in Afghanistan is supported by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Finally, governments also have a very critical role to play in addressing child labor, through their role in establishing laws and policies to protect children, and equally important, their role in ensuring that all children have access to basic education. USAID’s Education Strategy is working to increase access to education for all children worldwide, and in particular for children in crisis and conflict environments. To achieve these goals, USAID is committed to working closely with host country governments and civil society to contribute to shared goals. For example, we are supporting a multi-million dollar initiative in Haiti, Room to Learn, that is working to provide universal, compulsory access to education in Haiti. USAID works closely with the Government of Haiti to build up the education system and provide safe, equitable education to children. USAID and the Government of Haiti are planning to work together to offer schooling to working children. Last March, USAID Assistant Administrator Eric Postel visited Haiti to set priorities for the design of the program. Postel visited an evening school for working children with former Minister of Education Vanneur Pierre. A study commissioned by the USAID/Haiti’s education office estimated more than 24,000 children work as domestic servants. Most of them are teenage girls whose education level is low. The Room to Learn project will work with the Haitian Ministry to offer improved services for these girls.

Sorbor S. Tarnue, 17, Student at the Firestone Junior High School sits to read over her notes after taking an exam. / Solidarity Center, Bill E. Diggs

Sorbor S. Tarnue, 17, Student at the Firestone Junior High School sits to read over her notes after taking an exam. / Solidarity Center, Bill E. Diggs

This year’s theme for World Day is Social Protection: Keeping Children Out of Work. This theme builds on last year’s World Report on Child Labour [PDF]. As we learn more and more about the root causes of child labor, we also are moving further back toward addressing those causes and preventing child labor from taking place at all. We now know that poverty and shocks play a significant role in driving children into work, and also in driving adults into forced and trafficked labor. Development assistance will have a very significant role to play in addressing these issues. With more support for social protection programs that have been proven to play an effective role in helping poor families cope with various types of shocks, we can keep even more children in school and continue to ensure children receive other basic protections.

Support for the World Day grows every year and today we look forward to even wider support from governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations, NGOs and civil society, international and regional organizations and active citizens worldwide. You can add your voice to the millions worldwide that will celebrate our continued progress toward ending child labor.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bama Athreya is the Senior Specialist for Labor and Employment Rights, USAID/DCHA/DRG

Tomorrow’s Leaders Empowered Today

High unemployment. Crime. Environmental degradation. Social and political unrest.

These are real issues facing millions of young people across the world. But more often than not, youth are meeting these challenges head on.

Many of our USAID missions around the world, often in post-conflict arenas, are working diligently to empower youth so they can serve as leaders in their communities.

Young Palestinian Youth Local Shadow Councils install traffic signals, paint sidewalks and organize a local tourism bike tour.

Young Palestinian Youth Local Shadow Councils install traffic signals, paint sidewalks and organize a local tourism bike tour. / USAID

For example, our mission in West Bank/Gaza supports a project that aims to provide leadership opportunities to 19 youth councils through mirroring their municipalities’ local elected governments. Youth Shadow Local Councils are comprised of young people between the ages of 15 and 22. Each group is composed of about 15 young people, a number that mirrors the number of local elected municipal leaders in individual jurisdictions. This allows the youth councils to shadow their town counterparts one-on-one as the elected officials go about their official duties and to learn lessons in good governance.

The young people also get opportunities to take on leadership roles in their communities through this project, engaging with not only local officials but also heads of NGOs and religious leaders. The councils have, in fact, implemented hundreds of local initiatives and activities impacting local communities, including beautifying parks and roads, hosting career fairs, conducting safety and traffic campaigns, and fundraising for local organizations.

In Kenya, our Yes Youth Can! project also supports democratic youth groups, called bunges, a Swahili word for parliament. Youth elect their own leaders within their villages as well as individuals to represent them at county and national levels.

Bunge members contribute to their communities by providing income-generating activities such as garbage collection that also serve to revitalize their neighborhoods. In one community, bunge members started a small private school providing scholarships for orphaned kids.  School fees are funneled into paying the teacher and renting space. The school is tackling illiteracy head on and providing opportunities for a new generation.

Another bunge has lobbied regionally to use biogas and other biodegradable materials as sources of energy rather than charcoal and firewood. These communal activities are building a culture of peace and professionalism for youth and helping to dispel negative perceptions that associate them with drugs and illegal activities.

In Kosovo, youth are becoming active citizens through USAID’s Basic Education Program, a five-year initiative benefiting all Kosovo public primary and lower secondary schools. The program is empowering Kosovo youth to create a shift in mindset and become future leaders. Youth are raising environmental awareness through student-driven environment education activities that encourage understanding of sustainability concepts and strengthens their leadership skills. To mark Global Youth Service Day and Earth Day last month, students created artwork with recycled materials, led a community class on environmental issues, and promoted recycling as well as the use of lowering one’s carbon footprint by riding bikes. In the spirit of promoting voluntarism, a group of students sold cookies donated by a bakery to raise money for purchasing books on the environment that were to be donated to a school library.

USAID projects supporting youth are creating a new paradigm of community engagement, helping to rebuild post-conflict communities and creating hope in increasingly challenging situations.

These courageous youth are embodying the wisdom behind Gandhi’s words “Be the change you want to see in this world” through bringing their countries into a new era – ushering in service as a new way of life.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Stephanie Hilborn is a Democracy Officer in USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. Special contributions from Genora Reed (USAID/Washington), Micheline Sleibi (USAID/WBG), Antigona Mustafa (USAID/Kosovo) and Roger Steinkamp (USAID/Kenya)

Reuniting Families Separated during Conflict in South Sudan

Violence and insecurity in South Sudan have forced more than 1 million people from their homes since mid-December. / Jacob Zocherman for Mercy Corps

Violence and insecurity in South Sudan have forced more than 1 million people from their homes since mid-December. / Jacob Zocherman for Mercy Corps

Violence and insecurity in South Sudan have forced more than 1 million people from their homes since mid-December.

Among those fleeing are thousands of children lost from their families — heaping tragedy upon tragedy. Some were sent to safety by parents who could not afford a journey to safety themselves. Others became separated from their parents during the recent violence that has ravaged their country and left them traumatized.

Tracing the families and reunifying these separated children is challenging due to the constant movement of people searching for safe havens in and out of the country. Unaccompanied children face being trafficked, abused, illegally adopted or forcibly recruited by armed forces.

Since the onset of violence December 15, USAID through its Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) has helped launch five programs dedicated to identifying and supporting boys and girls who have become separated from their families and reuniting them with surviving caregivers, when possible. One of the programs USAID is supporting established a group of community outreach workers working within the displaced community to identify lost children. Another is training and supporting social workers who are on the ground addressing the needs of children who become separated from their families. Working alongside the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other partners, USAID has helped identify more than 3,000 unaccompanied, separated, and missing boys and girls–and have helped reunite more than 400 with their families so far.

Nyawal Ruach, a young mother from Bor, is just one of the people USAID has helped. Ruach lost track of her two sons amid the chaos of a big tank shooting. She was gathering clothing from their home so they could flee the violence when her two boys – who Ruach had tied together to ensure they would not get lost from each other – went missing. They had followed a group of people running to escape. Ruach was able to find her sons through a center USAID is helping support to trace families and rescue lost children.

Thousands of South Sudanese children are separated from their families or unaccompanied by an adult and at risk of being trafficked, abused, illegally adopted or forcibly recruited by armed forces. Photo Credit: Phil Moore / AFP

Thousands of South Sudanese children are separated from their families and at risk of being trafficked, abused, illegally adopted or forcibly recruited by armed forces. / Phil Moore, AFP

USAID is also providing safe and nurturing spaces for displaced children to learn, play and engage in psychosocial support activities—helping South Sudanese children cope with the traumas of war while reducing their exposure to risks for exploitation and abuse.

The people of South Sudan face a steady stream of challenges as violence and insecurity continue to mount. And in a twist on tragedy, the outbreak of famine is becoming a real possibility for up to 1 million people over the coming months if there is not increased fast and sustained aid to the world’s newest country.

No child should be forced to uproot. In South Sudan, more than 380,000 children have already faced violence and displacement when they should be playing in the safety of their own communities. Helping these devastated families reunite may be one of the few bright spots in the midst of this horrible conflict.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eileen Simoes is the Response Manager for the South Sudan Response Management Team

Investing in Africa’s Future

Note: this article was adapted from a version originally published in “Ventures Africa.”

With 200 million people aged between 15 and 24, Africa maintains the youngest population in the world. The current trend indicates that this population will double by 2050, according to an African Economic Outlook report, which aggregates data from several multilateral organizations including the African Development Bank and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

Gaining professional skills helps the West African business community engage in more trade and encourages economic growth for the region. (Photo Credit West Africa Trade Hub)

Gaining professional skills helps the West African business community engage in more trade and encourages economic growth for the region. (Photo Credit West Africa Trade Hub)

Sub-Saharan Africa’s workforce is also becoming larger and better educated, indicating that there is an overwhelming potential for economic growth and development. But even with this progress, youth unemployment and underemployment still remains a major constraint.

Youth in Africa are full of innovative ideas that seek to address a variety of societal challenges. With upwards of 10 million young people entering into the job markets each year on the continent, vastly outnumbering the jobs available in both public and private sectors, many of these youth have turned to entrepreneurship. Yet the fact remains that without an established credit history, significant assets, or business experience required by traditional investment models, young entrepreneurs are constrained by access to affordable capital to start or expand a business.

Investing in young people requires a unique set of skills, and an appetite for a different kind of portfolio. Some youth may require long term patient capital with a long tenor, as well as mentoring and training to manage risk. Others may require seed funding, or funding to develop a new technology, which requires shorter term financing. With web-based enterprise on the rise, investment in youth has become as easy as a funds transfer or mobile payment, and runs the same risk as any impact or venture capital investment. While many investments can be captured within traditional investment classes (such as debt, equity, venture capital), it’s clear that young people in Africa and other emerging markets present a tremendous market opportunity.

The United States Government recognizes the need to invest in young people on the continent, and the Obama Administration has already undertaken a tremendous effort to invest in Africa’s future. The President’s Young African Leaders Initiative, more commonly known as YALI-, empowers and bolsters young African leaders through academic coursework, leadership training, mentoring, networking, and ongoing support.  Starting in June 2014, the YALI Washington Fellowship will bring 500 young Africans (between the ages of 25 to 35) to the United States to participate in a comprehensive six week “Institute” in one of three areas: public management, civic leadership, or business and entrepreneurship.

All of these sessions will culminate in a YALI Summit, to be hosted in July 2014 in Washington, DC. Not only will the Washington Fellows have the opportunity to interact with President Obama and senior staff, but they will be able to meet with private sector leaders, and interact with one another, allowing for a truly diverse mix of representatives from all countries, regions, and sectors.

Upon completion of the program in the United States, the investment in young leaders will continue upon their return to the continent, where USAID and the State Department in partnership with the private sector, host governments, and civil society, will offer growth opportunities in four key areas: networking, professional development, access to seed capital for entrepreneurs, and opportunities to give back to their communities. This will significantly increase opportunities for employment and accelerate professional development for leaders. The United States African Development Foundation is also supporting this program with a $5 million entrepreneurship grants program that will include competitively awarded grants for the Fellows with innovative business ideas.

For example, Fellows who have completed the business and entrepreneurship institutes will have built technical and leadership capacity in areas such as strategy, supply chain management, business ethics, social entreprenership, microfinance, management, and risk analysis. Though these skills are invaluable, paired with YALI’s provision of small grants, networks, coaching, and mentoring, the Fellows will be well equipped to build a viable enterprise.

The Washington Fellowship received thousands of applications for just 500 slots, demonstrating that young people are all too aware, and appreciate having an opportunity to substantively engage with senior leaders.

Though applications are closed for this year, its not too late to engage! The State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs  will continue to interact with a growing email list of over 38,000 self-identified young African leaders interested in the United States, known as the Young African Leaders Network (YALN). YALN is open for registration, and will transmit updates on future opportunities available for young Africans to engage the U.S. Government.

For a truly sustainable impact, governments can’t go it alone. As investors across Africa seek to diversify their portfolios, they may increasingly look to young people for high growth opportunities. A commitment to Africa’s future can be best demonstrated by investing in its young people, who will continue to be engaged in shaping their own futures.

Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting

February 6th marks the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting.

While in Senegal, I had the opportunity to meet “village godmothers” who had endured Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) as young girls. Each described the raw pain of the excisor cutting her as the worst she’s ever experienced. Today, these women are standing in solidarity to prevent their daughters from being cut and advocating for reproductive health for girls in their village. With them are other activists and the government, who are working together to eliminate FGM/C in Senegal. Since the first Senegalese village publicly rejected FGM/C in 1998, more than 5,500 communities in Senegal have stopped cutting women’s genitals.

Every year, more than three million girls in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and among diaspora communities in the West are at risk of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting. According to the World Health Organization, as many as 100 to 140 million girls and women worldwide currently live with the consequences of this dangerous practice.

The procedure, which involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia, is largely performed on infants to girls as old as age 15. As the women I talked to in Senegal testified, it is extremely painful and generally carried out without anesthetics and  using implements ranging from kitchen knives and razor blades to cut glass and sharp rocks. The health risks are great: in the short term, death from blood loss is not uncommon, nor is serious infection that can cause long-term problems. FGM/C may result in infertility, incontinence, pregnancy complications and increased risk of obstetrical problems like fistula and infant death.

Genet, Tsiyon and their friends are the first generation in Kembata, Durame Woreda, Ethiopia, who do not have to undergo FGM/C at their young age. Their mothers are not willing to let them be cut because they have realized the consequences of that practice during their own lifetimes.

Genet, Tsiyon and their friends are the first generation in Kembata, Durame Woreda, Ethiopia, who do not have to undergo FGM/C at their young age. Their mothers are not willing to let them be cut because they have realized the consequences of that practice during their own lifetimes.

FGM/C has no basis in any religion, nor is it done for health benefits. Instead, the practice has been perpetuated for centuries through socio-cultural, psychosexual, chastity, religious and aesthetic or hygienic arguments. Almost all of these are linked to girls’ social status and marriageability and the practice is often seen as a necessary step towards womanhood. In many cultures, girls and women who are not cut are stigmatized and their families can be ostracized. The Sengalese, largely because of work done by the USAID funded non-governmental organization Tostan, created a community education program that has changed social norms. The program, the women tell me, has shown them that despite common perception that FGM/C is a good thing, it is in reality very harmful to their daughters.

USAID has supported FGM/C abandonment efforts since the 1990s, after being approached by many African women who asked why we were doing nothing about this issue. The Agency began programming and introduced an official policy that states the practice is not only a public health issue, but a violation of a woman’s right to bodily integrity. USAID assistance on this area has been a multi-faceted approach, focusing on surveillance, research, and program implementation.

The Agency has collected important information about the distribution and practice of FGM/C at the community level in 16 countries. This information is shared with all partner and donor organizations and used for decision making about program priorities and implementation approaches. A recent USAID-sponsored comparative analysis of data on FGM/C shows that although FGM/C prevalence is decreasing in many countries and among numerous communities, many girls are being cut at earlier ages and the service is increasingly performed in medical settings. To validate and improve interventions, USAID has supported important evaluations of existing programs.

When communities as a whole understand the physical and psychological trauma FGM/C causes, social transformation takes place – and this has proven to be the best way to ensure lasting support and an eventual end to the practice.

A Moment For Hope in the DRC?

The Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, eastern Congo (DRC)

The Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, eastern Congo (DRC)

A clean, well-ordered oasis in this bustling provincial capital – Dr. Mukwege, his staff, and his patients reek of the triumph of reliant humanity over the unspeakable brutality of the last 18 years of conflict. The particular mutation here – an almost unimaginably vast campaign of sexual violence – has devastated the lives and bodies of tens of thousands of young women.

But a visit to Panzi, which is supported by USAID and several other donors, inspires more admiration and hope than despair. In the hospital, Dr. Mukwege didn’t catalogue the horrors of the war or the problems his hospital faces in this, perhaps the poorest country in the world. Instead he spoke about a rare moment that has arrived in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the prospect of real peace. They are already seeing the signs that Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) may be declining, albeit gradually. He wants to extend his efforts into the recently stabilized areas to the North, where he believes thousands of young abused women may never have had access to the types of health and psychological services Panzi and USAIDs large USHINDI project support.

And economic activity is picking up, including efforts that provide skills training and employment to young women and men. In Bukavu we also visited the Annunciata Accelerated Learning Center, which offers a three year accelerated elementary education program and skills training to older girls who missed the opportunity to go to school. Getting these girls into school and jobs is a top priority of the government and donors alike. I spoke to the DRC Minister for Gender, Genevieve Kassongo., and she sees educating girls as the key to addressing so many of the challenges facing the DRC – high infant and maternal mortality, extremely low education rates, and the highest rate of extreme poverty in the world.

USAID has persevered with the Congolese through years of strife, our partnership could be even better in peace.

In Morocco, Perseverance and Good Luck Ensure Three Young Boys a Quality Education

By Dr. Helen Boyle, Associate Professor in Educational Leadership and Policy at Florida State University

In early December education leaders, donors and partners met to discuss and plan for the future of early grade education in the Middle East and North Africa at the All Children Learning Workshop in Rabat, Morocco.

Youssef, Moustafa and Redouan were lucky boys.  In the late 1970s, school was not a given for all children in Chefchaouen, Morocco. Their five older siblings never attended school. The advocacy of their mother and older siblings ensured that these younger boys would get a formal education. It was a privilege to go to school in this world, not a right, and they had to do very well indeed to maintain that privilege.

Every evening, when they came back from the kuttab (Quranic school) and later from elementary school, they would all sit down with their older sisters and review everything they did at school. They would review all the letters—the sounds, the letter shape and the letter name—with their sisters. They reviewed and read the verses of the Qur’an that they learned that day and would take their booklets and read aloud anything they wrote down.

Youssef reflected, “I remember we spent countless hours doing that. For example, we would open the book and look at the letters that we wrote that day and say ‘lam, l + a = la, l + o = lo,’ or, we would explain the vowel markings to them—‘the line on top of the letter makes an “a” sound and the one below makes an “e” sound and the one above with the curl makes a “u” sound.’ “  In turn and as the boys grew older, the girls would quiz them, asking them questions after they read a passage aloud.  Redouan said, “The thought was that they were doing this to help us succeed, but we were also teaching them indirectly.” Indeed, the sisters are literate and “read better than some who have been to school,” said Moustafa.

This story is inspiring for many reasons as it demonstrates family love and loyalty and the power of perseverance.  However, one of its most critical messages is less obvious and needs to be brought to light. These were indeed lucky boys as they had a teacher in primary school, Umm Kalthoum, who knew how to teach reading.  It is almost certain, in those days, that she received minimal training, but she understood the importance of teaching reading skills.  Under her guidance, the boys—and their sisters—developed phonological awareness, knew the name of each letter, understood that each letter made a sound; understood what the vowel markings (diacritics) were for and did segmenting and blending activities in class and at home. They developed vocabulary in Modern Standard Arabic and then listening and eventually reading comprehension skills in a language which was in many ways different from the dialect they spoke in their home and in everyday life.

Thanks to Umm Kalthoum, with whom they all studied in the early grades, these boys learned the foundational skills of reading and were able to pass them on to their sisters; these boys all went on to professional careers and great success.

USAID is working with Morocco’s Ministry of Education to leave behind a teacher training program that will support the continuous professional development of teachers.

USAID is working with Morocco’s Ministry of Education to leave behind a teacher training program that will support the continuous professional development of teachers.

Today, despite higher rates of school enrollment than ever, many Moroccan children are not as lucky as these three boys were over 30 years ago. Educational quality has not kept pace with the growing number of children seeking an education in Morocco. Indeed, Morocco’s PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) and EGRA (Early Grade Reading Assessment) scores indicate that there is significant room to improve reading instruction and reading levels in Morocco.

In early December USAID co-funded a workshop in Rabat, Morocco to mobilize education leaders and advocates to improve early grade learning in the Middle East and North Africa. Other donors included the Global Partnership for Education, German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), the Islamic Development Bank, and the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO). Country teams, including representatives from Ministries of Education, civil society and local donor organizations, gathered to discuss innovative solutions to give all children a chance to learn. At the All Children Reading workshop, delegations created action plans that will provide clear and concise goals for initiating or scaling up existing early grade learning programs at the country level. Opportunities were provided for country teams to network and to build mechanisms for support and accountability to push planning into practice. Global literacy leaders’ and advocates’ discussions during this workshop focused on key thematic areas in early grade learning, including large scale learning assessments, teacher training and supervision, curriculum and lesson plans, assessment tools  and impact evaluations, and reading materials.

On the PIRLS test, a score of 500 corresponds to the mean of the overall reading achievement distribution across the 45 countries. Morocco scored a 310, which was the lowest score of the 45 countries that took the PIRLS in 2011.Indeed, in 2011, all of the Arabic-speaking countries that took the test were below the 500 average with scores ranging from 439 to 310 for 4th graders (Mullis, Martin, Foy, & Drucker 2012). This points to an issue with how reading is taught in a rich and complex language like Arabic, a language with many spoken variations, not just in Morocco but across Arabic-speaking countries.

Good teaching focused on the foundational skills of reading can make an enormous difference, as we see in the example of the three boys and their sisters. Supporting teachers to develop skills and strategies to teach reading will ensure that the success that these children experienced in learning to read can be replicated in every early-grade classroom in Morocco.

Helping Bright Ideas Shine Through Spotlight: Brian Gitta, Makerere University, Uganda, ResilientAfrica Network

USAID’s Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) – a multidisciplinary research and development effort led by seven universities working to evaluate and strengthen real-world innovations in development – recently spotlighted young academics and their creative approaches to development challenges during TechCon 2013, the first annual HESN meeting in Williamsburg, Virginia. As part of a contest, more than 40 students and researchers presented innovations designed to help communities in developing countries.  

Winner Brian Gitta, from Makarere University in Uganda, invented  a tool that can diagnose malaria without the need for blood samples and a laboratory. This is the story of that innovation.

Brian Gitta wasn’t in the mood to get stuck by another needle – he was already getting injections three times a day to fight off a foodborne illness. But as his fever spiked and the pain in his joints worsened, he suspected he was suffering yet another occurrence of malaria, the disease he’d contracted as a child and currently kills one child every minute in the developing world.

A nurse at a local clinic confirmed his suspicion by drawing blood using a needle and syringe. “I hated the needles and kept thinking of ways people could be diagnosed without pain,” Gitta recalled.

Brian Gitta, from Makerere University in Uganda pitches his winning idea that uses cell phones and light – not needles and blood samples to test for malaria. Photo Credit: Cynthia Kao-Johnson/USAID

Brian Gitta, from Makerere University in Uganda pitches his winning idea that uses cell phones and light – not needles and blood samples to test for malaria. Photo Credit: Cynthia Kao-Johnson/USAID

That puzzle was still on Gitta’s mind weeks later as he began his studies in Computer Science at Makerere University and started thinking about ways technology could be used to improve malaria detection. The standard method of determining whether someone has malaria is drawing blood and viewing it under a microscope, which requires health workers and facilities that are scarce in many low-income communities.  For Brian, the goal wasn’t just to alleviate momentary pain; eliminating needles and the need for a lab would not only limit the risk of infection but allow for diagnosis in communities that had no medical centers.

Gitta shared the idea with his friend Joshua Businge and they began researching new ways to detect malaria.  They learned that for years, light sensors have been used to read the blood’s oxygen content through the skin. This seemed like a promising avenue to explore, so the pair recruited Josiah Kavuma and Simon Lubambo, students skilled in engineering hardware.  Together, the team designed a prototype that plugs into a smartphone and can detect malaria using only light. Results are available in seconds and the smartphone can email them and map them for epidemiological purposes.  They named the device Matibabu, Swahili for medical center.

By coincidence, Makerere University was launching an initiative called the ResilientAfrica Network (RAN) as part of HESN and an upcoming launch event in Uganda would give local innovators an opportunity to demonstrate concepts for solving public problems.  The team demonstrated their prototype to Alex Dehgan, director of USAID’s Office of Science and Technology, RAN director William Bazeyo, and Deborah Elzie from RAN partner Tulane University.  “I was very impressed,” Elzie said. “When we talk about innovation, people are often just improving on something that’s already out there…These guys really found a whole new way of looking at how to determine if someone has malaria.”

RAN searches for creative minds like Gitta’s and helps them overcome obstacles that often keep bright ideas from making it to the marketplace.  RAN gave Gitta’s team a workspace, training on writing business proposals, mentoring, and the resources needed to make a better prototype.

They teams hopes to a commercially viable product and plans to partner with an established organization working against malaria.

Reflecting on his innovation, Gitta noted, “as long as you put your mind and hard work to it, you can accomplish anything at any age.”

Transforming Gender Norms and Ending Child Marriage: The Role of Boys

From November 25th (International End Violence Against Women Day) through December 10th (International Human Rights Day), USAID joins the international community for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. During this time IMPACT will highlight USAID’s work to combat gender-based violence.

Child marriage has recently gained heightened attention by donors, researchers, activists, program implementers, and policymakers. The international community has increasingly recognized child marriage as a violation of girls’ rights, health, and well-being, and efforts to prevent and respond to child marriage have prioritized critical “hot spots” where the practice is particularly grave and widespread. Yet, it is also crucial to shed light on a current “blind spot” in these efforts: the role of boys in ending child marriage.

When males are included in strategies and interventions to address child marriage, the focus is mostly on the key role that men play as powerful gatekeepers: fathers and religious and community leaders, whose support must be galvanized to intervene on behalf of girls. The forward-looking USAID Vision for Action on Child Marriage, for example, includes engaging men as an important part of mobilizing communities to shift norms that perpetuate child marriage. But the Vision does not stop there; it further states that, “equally important is reaching out to boys at a young age to encourage equitable gender attitudes and norms so that they can be allies in preventing child marriage and change agents within their communities.” This aspect of male engagement is usually not highlighted in child marriage discussions, yet raises a vital question: What needs to happen to create a generation of boys that resists and rejects child marriage for themselves in the future?

A young girl.  Photo Credit: Kendra Helmer/USAID

The international community has increasingly recognized child marriage as a violation of girls’ rights, health, and well-being, and efforts to prevent and respond to child marriage have prioritized critical “hot spots” where the practice is particularly grave and widespread. Yet, it is also crucial to shed light on a current “blind spot” in these efforts: the role of boys in ending child marriage. Photo Credit: Kendra Helmer/USAID

This “demand-side” orientation requires long-term investments aimed at changing the social and behavioral gender norms that drive child marriage. What if all future men refused to marry a child bride? Though directly addressing this side of the equation is seldom mentioned, there are promising interventions with young girls and boys that seek to transform gender attitudes and behaviors with the goal of promoting gender equality more broadly. One example is the USAID-funded Gender Roles, Equality, and Transformation (GREAT) project.

Although GREAT does not directly address child marriage, it works with adolescents (ages 10-19) and their communities to reduce gender-based violence and improve reproductive health in Uganda. Building on the CHOICES project in Nepal, GREAT recognizes early adolescence as a window of opportunity—a time when the formation of gender norms and identities is taking place. The project utilizes participatory activities to engage young girls and boys in gender equality discussions. For example, project staff ask young girls and boys to pile-sort cards representing various household and community tasks, to show who is responsible for them. Girls and boys (including sisters and brothers) see the pile of tasks assigned to girls steadily grow larger than the boys’ pile. The activity prompts conversations about fairness, as boys remark on the larger burden carried by their sisters.

These types of “a-ha” moments are crucial entryways to deeper critical reflections that can begin a journey towards gender equality. By tapping into young boys’ sense of justice at a very young age, interventions such as these, which seek to transform gender norms early in the process of childhood development, hold the promise of shaping a future generation of men as allies in wiping out child marriage globally.

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