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Archives for Youth

The Urgency of Education in South Sudan

Young boys sit with their rifles at a Feb. 10 ceremony of the child soldiers disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration in Pibor overseen by UNICEF and partners. / Charles Lomodong, AFP

Young boys sit with their rifles at a Feb. 10 ceremony of the child soldiers disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration in Pibor overseen by UNICEF and partners. / Charles Lomodong, AFP

While South Sudan’s warring parties have failed to make necessary compromises for peace after nearly 15 months of conflict, the people of South Sudan continue to suffer, including millions of children.

In addition to the many hardships South Sudan’s children are facing since civil war erupted in December 2013, the re-emergence of forced recruitment of child soldiers threatens to rob another generation of their potential after decades of war and lost opportunities.

UNICEF’s announcement that dozens of South Sudanese boys—some as young as 13—were abducted by an armed group while taking school exams sparked outrage. Hundreds may have been forcibly recruited as soldiers, constituting one of the gravest examples of the tragic toll this man-made crisis has had on civilians.

The children in Pibor, Jonglei State, surrendered their weapons and uniforms in a Feb. 10 ceremony overseen by the South Sudan National Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission, and the Cobra Faction and supported by UNICEF. / Charles Lomodong, AFP

The children in Pibor, Jonglei State, surrendered their weapons and uniforms in a Feb. 10 ceremony overseen by the South Sudan National Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission, and the Cobra Faction and supported by UNICEF. / Charles Lomodong, AFP

Recruitment of child soldiers is a tragic legacy of conflict that has gripped South Sudan since before Sudan’s independence in 1956. As of 2009, only 27 percent of the population and 16 percent of girls and women ages 15 and older were literate—despite the aspirations South Sudanese have long expressed for education and opportunities for youth

When I visited South Sudan in January, citizens pointed to education as a critical investment in the country’s future, even in the midst of violence. A 2013 public opinion poll found 68 percent of those surveyed across South Sudan weren’t satisfied with their government’s performance in providing education.

Yet the South Sudanese people’s hopes for greater investment in and protection of their children’s education are undermined by poor investments and continuing crises.  Thirty-five percent of teachers in South Sudan have only a primary level of education. And while South Sudan’s Ministry of Education recently reopened five teacher training institutes, officially 42 percent of the national budget goes to military and security sector costs.

An unidentified South Sudan armed group has abducted at least 89 boys, some as young as 13, from their homes in the north of the country, a UNICEF statement said on Feb. 21. / Charles Lomodong, AFP

An unidentified South Sudan armed group has abducted at least 89 boys, some as young as 13, from their homes in the north of the country, a UNICEF statement said on Feb. 21. / Charles Lomodong, AFP

USAID began building schools in southern Sudan in the late 1950s, not long after Sudan’s independence. Our support for education services in South Sudan started in 2002—despite the ongoing 1983-2005 civil war. This early efforthelped make learning possible in southern Sudan after two decades of war and displacement. Since then, USAID has supported more than a dozen substantial education projects in an independent South Sudan. Our current support includes six multi-year education projects with a total budget of more than $165 million.

Our assistance has included building or rehabilitating 140 primary schools and four secondary schools; awarding more than 9,000 scholarships to girls and disadvantaged boys; and providing radio literacy programs that have reached more than half a million children and older students who had missed out on formal schooling. We’ve helped train teachers and created policies regarding long-term education planning and delivery. Our determined commitment to support the South Sudanese in providing education has resulted in major progress: school enrollment more than quadrupled between 2000 and 2010, from 300,000 pupils to more than 1.4 million.

Despite these efforts and measurable progress, less than half of school-aged children in South Sudan were enrolled in school before the conflict erupted in December 2013. Since then, more than 2 million South Sudanese have been displaced by conflict, and some 400,000 students have dropped out of school. An estimated 70 percent of schools in the most conflict-affected states (Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity) were closed as of November 2014, and some 89 schools are currently occupied by fighting forces or internally displaced persons.

Given these developments, we refocused our educational activities to assist people wherever they are—educating children who have been displaced  as well as communities receiving large numbers of displaced children, establishing community schools in remote areas lacking educational access, increasing school security and safety and helping children who live in cattle camps overseeing their family livestock become literate in their mother tongue.

South Sudan will not be able to reach its potential until the country’s leaders end the conflict and commit to ensuring that their nation’s children have the opportunity to learn, protected from this senseless violence.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Linda Etim is deputy assistant administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Africa

From Kenya to Kabul: Women as Decision-Makers, Entrepreneurs, and Leaders

My name is Joanne Lewa, and I am from Kenya. Six months ago, I came to Afghanistan on a temporary work assignment with USAID to assist in the Agency’s outreach to the Afghan public. Before arriving, much of what I had seen in the news about the country was negative.

But the Afghanistan from the news was not the one I experienced during my six-month tour; I found Afghanistan to be a country of breathtaking landscapes and kind people who are embracing positive change and helping their country grow.

My time in Kabul has helped me understand the expansive scope of USAID’s work in Afghanistan—from education, health, democracy and governance, to economic growth, agriculture and women’s empowerment.

But when I step on my Kenya-bound flight this week, the memories of the Afghan women and girls I met will endure—against tremendous odds, they are becoming influential, decisive actors in their country’s development. I think of my two daughters and hope that they will follow in the footsteps of my brave Afghan sisters. Their achievements and the support they receive from their brothers, sons, fathers and husbands have left the greatest impression on me.

USAID assistance to community-based education enabled nearly 105,000 students (more than 65 percent of them girls) in remote villages to attend school. / USAID/Afghanistan

USAID assistance to community-based education enabled nearly 105,000 students (more than 65 percent of them girls) in remote villages to attend school. / USAID/Afghanistan

Girls’ Education

I was particularly interested in how USAID is working to solve a fundamental barrier to girls’ access to education: a lack of school buildings near many villages. To prevent girls from having to travel precariously long distances to reach the nearest schoolhouse, USAID’s community-based education programs provide a way for Afghan students to attend classes near their homes.  USAID has supported the Ministry of Education’s efforts to build thousands of new schools and has also distributed millions of textbooks, trained thousands of teachers—many of them female—and carved out new opportunities for higher education.

USAID’s 14-year partnership with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health has ensured that more children have healthy, thriving mothers and more women survive their pregnancies. / USAID/Afghanistan

USAID’s 14-year partnership with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health has ensured that more children have healthy, thriving mothers and more women survive their pregnancies. / USAID/Afghanistan

The Health of Women and Children

Of course, children—girls and boys—will never make it to their first day of school if they and their mothers do not have access to basic health care. Since 2002, USAID has worked side by side with the Afghan Government and other international donors to rebuild Afghanistan’s health care system. USAID alone has trained thousands of community health workers and midwives across the country. More babies than ever are now delivered by skilled birth attendants, and thousands more are living to see their fifth birthday

Friba Hashimi is living proof of this drastic transition. I met Friba  when I recorded the names of  the women who attended a USAID-sponsored midwifery training. Once confined by the conservative views of her village, she is now a pillar of her community, helping to deliver a new generation of Afghans into the world.

Female participation in the 2014 Afghan elections was unprecedented in scale, with women voters accounting for 38 percent of total turnout according to government counts. / USAID/Afghanistan

Female participation in the 2014 Afghan elections was unprecedented in scale, with women voters accounting for 38 percent of total turnout according to government counts. / USAID/Afghanistan

Women in Politics

I landed in Kabul in the midst of one of the most exciting and important events in Afghanistan’s recent history: the 2014 elections. As I was settling in, women were playing a game-changing role in the election process. Voter participation reached a record high for both men and women. Women also served as election observers, ran for public office and were victorious on the campaign trail. Over the course of my assignment, I saw more and more women getting involved in the leadership of their nation.  Women made up 21 percent of winners from the 2014 Provincial Council Elections, 11 percent of judiciary seats, and 20 percent of judges in training.

USAID is working to increase job placements and wages for Afghan women through increased access to quality technical and business education and training, job placement support services, and facilitated access to credit and business development opportunities. / USAID/Afghanistan

USAID is working to increase job placements and wages for Afghan women through increased access to quality technical and business education and training, job placement support services, and facilitated access to credit and business development opportunities. / USAID/Afghanistan

Women in the Economy

While in Kabul, I also had the chance to speak with many Afghan women who have become business owners, workers and entrepreneurs. In response to the growing demand for the skills needed to participate in the increasingly advanced job market, USAID has provided job training for thousands of women and helped thousands more to find rewarding jobs. In Kenya, women’s contributions in the workplace have greatly improved the economy, and I have faith that USAID’s programs will continue to help women to do the same in Afghanistan.

Afghan women have more opportunities to receive job training and apply for loans to start or expand businesses. Much work remains to be done, and USAID is committed to building upon these critical gains. / Joanne Lewa, USAID/Afghanistan

Afghan women have more opportunities to receive job training and apply for loans to start or expand businesses. Much work remains to be done, and USAID is committed to building upon these critical gains. / Joanne Lewa, USAID/Afghanistan

Women’s Leadership

In November 2014, I was in Kabul when first lady Rula Ghani spoke at the launch of Promote, the largest women’s empowerment program in USAID’s history. Promote will serve as the missing stepping stone between education and careers for thousands of Afghan women driven to serve as political, civil society and private sector leaders.  These women will be pioneers for the rights of Afghan women and girls in every sector of society.

First lady Ghani emphasized the weight of this new opportunity, telling the women in the audience, “This is your world. Shape it or someone else will.”

At the launch, I met inspiring Afghan women who are already making an impact on their communities. They all shared the same refrain: “Afghanistan cannot fly with just one wing.” For the country to prosper, women must be empowered to play decisive roles in Afghanistan’s government, civil society and economy.

Manizha Wafeq, an Afghan business woman, says: “In Afghanistan, men were like birds flying with one wing. With economically empowered women, we shall be able to be the ‘other wing’ and together, we can fly stronger, building our country’s economy and have peace in Afghanistan.” / USAID/Afghanistan

Manizha Wafeq, an Afghan business woman, says: “In Afghanistan, men were like birds flying with one wing. With economically empowered women, we shall be able to be the ‘other wing’ and together, we can fly stronger, building our country’s economy and have peace in Afghanistan.” / USAID/Afghanistan

From Kabul to Kenya

Lately, I’ve been taking stock of the moments that will stay with me from my tour in Afghanistan. The first snow in Kabul and the taste of Afghan bread and rice will long endure in my memory. However, the warm welcome I received from the dedicated team of Americans and Afghans will be unforgettable.

These men and women are committed to one mission: improving the lives of all Afghans day by day, textbook by textbook, job by job, life by life. For those who come to Afghanistan after me, I promise you a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This is a great nation filled with amazing people who are working tirelessly to rebuild their country.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Joanne Lewa is a Public Outreach Officer for USAID’s mission in Kenya. She just returned from a six-month temporary assignment in Kabul, Afghanistan.

A Spotlight on the World’s ‘Invisible’ Workers

Haitian construction workers in the Dominican Republic include an estimated 900,000 to 1.2 million undocumented migrants. The USAID Global Labor Program is supporting research and advocacy for international standards to protect their rights. / Ricardo Rojas

Haitian construction workers in the Dominican Republic include an estimated 900,000 to 1.2 million undocumented migrants. The USAID Global Labor Program is supporting research and advocacy for international standards to protect their rights. / Ricardo Rojas

USAID invests in people and their communities. But the people who do the most to bring wealth, infrastructure and services to a globalizing world may be those who leave their communities behind. They are construction workers, nurses, dishwashers, farm workers and maids. They are not likely to vote, or be leaders in their communities, or even lead their own households. But they do provide nearly half of all financial flows to developing country economies. They are the world’s 232 million migrant workers.

“Than,” one of many Burmese migrant worker in Thailand’s fishing industry, who face some of the worst abuse in the world.  / Jeanne Marie Hallacy, Solidarity Center

“Than,” one of many Burmese migrant worker in Thailand’s fishing industry, who face some of the worst abuse in the world. / Jeanne Marie Hallacy, Solidarity Center

“Than,” whose full name is protected for his privacy,is a 16-year-old Burmese boy who came to Thailand with his parents to find work. He works on fishing boats, earning only a little over $200 for an entire one-month boat journey. His father was arrested for not having a work permit, so now Than must provide for his two younger sisters, and earn back the money his family paid for a labor broker to bring them across the Thai border. His sisters hope to attend a school for migrants. Than only completed a sixth grade education.

Than is one of the luckier ones. Many Burmese migrant workers in Thailand’s seafood industry are little more than forced laborers. A report by the Solidarity Center found many workers were forced to work 16 to 20 hours a day and went without pay for months. Employers told workers their wages were being used to repay the labor brokers who brought them to Thailand.

Unemployment and underemployment have forced over half of Dominican Republic workers, many domestic workers from Haiti, into the precarious informal economy.  USAID’s partner Solidarity Center is supporting these workers to organize for their rights. / Solidarity Center

Unemployment and underemployment have forced over half of Dominican Republic workers, many domestic workers from Haiti, into the precarious informal economy. USAID’s partner Solidarity Center is supporting these workers to organize for their rights. / Solidarity Center

Thanks to interventions supported by USAID, some of these workers have been able to win back wages and better working conditions.

Even when migration is voluntary, life can be very difficult. Domestic workers migrating from Asia to the Middle East often lose the ability to communicate with their families or even their children; yet they keep working for wages they hope will enable those children to have a better life.

Even though migrant workers’ contributions to global financial flows are stunning (in 2014, remittances from expatriate workers were estimated to be $436 billion up from $132 billion in 2000), these workers are almost never the beneficiaries of any development program. They are largely invisible, restricted by law from participating in political or civic life in their countries of destination, and cut off from family and community ties in their countries of origin. They fall outside of human rights norms, and therefore are often victims of exploitation.

Between 2 million and 4 million migrant workers toil in Thailand as dockworkers, in seafood and domestic work. / Jeanne Marie Hallacy, Solidarity Center

Between 2 million and 4 million migrant workers toil in Thailand as dockworkers, in seafood and domestic work. / Jeanne Marie Hallacy, Solidarity Center

However, human rights advocacy organizations are beginning to advocate for the rights of these workers in new and innovative ways, and USAID is supporting a range of activities in several countries with high numbers of migrating workers.

According to the national census data in Nepal, as of 2011 over 700,000 Nepalis were recorded as working in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with over a quarter of the country’s GDP coming from remittances. Unfortunately, too many Nepali workers are also exploited and trafficked as they migrate for work and in the destination country.

In Qatar, it’s been reported that more than 400 Nepali workers have already lost their lives working on World Cup construction sites. To help thwart the exploitation that may occur in the labor recruitment and migration process for foreign employment, USAID’s CTIP Project in Nepal has established 250 Safe Migration Networks to help educate community members on safe migration and monitor those who do migrate for employment. Much more needs to be done, such as ensuring ethical labor recruitment practices in countries of origin and decent working conditions in countries of destination.

The Thai fishing industry in Thailand has been described as being built on the slavery of migrant workers from Burma, Cambodia, and Laos. / Jeanne Marie Hallacy, Solidarity Center

The Thai fishing industry in Thailand has been described as being built on the slavery of migrant workers from Burma, Cambodia, and Laos. / Jeanne Marie Hallacy, Solidarity Center

USAID’s Global Labor Program has elevated the profile of some of the world’s most invisible workers: domestic workers around the world. A successful global campaign led by representatives of migrant domestic workers themselves succeeded in winning a new international convention on the rights of domestic workers, and bringing them from their homes into the world’s spotlight.

On this International Migrants Day, civil-society groups from around the world are presenting a framework for migration and development called the “Stockholm Agenda” to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. This initiative is a starting point for a broad and robust dialogue on how to ensure we spotlight and support the world’s migrant workers. It is our shared responsibility to ensure that “migration works for all.”

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Bama Athreya is a Labor and Employment Rights Specialist
Marina Colby is a Senior Counter-Trafficking in Persons Advisor
Both work in USAID’s Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance

Breaking Invisible Barriers in the West Bank and Gaza

USAID supports girls’ education in the West Bank. The Agency built the new Nahalin Secondary Girls' School in the Bethlehem Governorate  / Credit Alaa Badarneh

USAID supports girls’ education in the West Bank. The Agency built the new Nahalin Secondary Girls’ School in the Bethlehem Governorate / Alaa Badarneh

It’s nearly impossible to watch the news or read a newspaper without hearing about the West Bank and Gaza. It seems every week there’s a breaking story of violence and destruction. And yet when I visited USAID’s West Bank and Gaza Mission in November, the message I consistently heard was one of hope.

I went to see first-hand how USAID’s diverse programs are helping to ensure women and girls have the tools and capacity to realize their rights. From the justice system to small business, it was inspiring to witness the positive impact of USAID’s work.

The trip was also a powerful reminder that gender relations in the West Bank and Gaza are unique and complex but also obscured by the ongoing conflict. The main challenge Palestinians face is occupation, being both physically and socially restricted in everyday life that we take for granted.

Susan Markham meets with USAID staff, beneficiaries, and partners to promote the importance of gender equitable structures, institutions, and infrastructure in Palestinian society. USAID/West Bank/Gaza

Susan Markham meets with USAID staff, beneficiaries, and partners to promote the importance of gender equitable structures, institutions, and infrastructure in Palestinian society. / USAID/West Bank/Gaza

While the physical roadblocks inhibit movement, there are also invisible barriers that Palestinian women face. Despite a commitment to girl’s education, and a long tradition of women’s engagement in political life, separate social structures and a male dominated culture endure. However, instead of being demoralized, what really shone through was the enthusiasm and determination of both women and men to fully engage on equal terms.

I was energized to meet Maysa, a 26-year-old entrepreneur breaking ground within the tourism industry. By organizing photography tours throughout the West Bank, running her own YouTube channel, and designing original souvenirs, she is staying at the forefront of tourism and opening doors to women who wish to work in the industry.

I spoke with inspiring women entrepreneurs who are breaking barriers within their communities and launching successful businesses in information and communication technology (ICT), marketing, tourism and international training and certification. Thanks to assistance from USAID, many of these women are already planning to start a second business.

Through USAID’s Local Government and Infrastructure Program, I was able to hear from young women participating in and leading Youth Local Councils across the West Bank where women and men work together to advance community driven ideas around education, health, infrastructure and governance.

Perhaps nowhere was progress in gender equality so evident than at the Youth Development and Resource Center in Hebron. There I met Omar whose parents forbid him to go to the center as a boy because there would be girls there. Today, he runs the center, providing skills training, work experience, and a dynamic example of what’s possible when men and women work together.

From the teachers fighting for improved training for their students to the women working in cutting edge technology fields, there was optimism for a brighter future and a fierce resolve to get there.Vera Baboun, the mayor of Bethlehem, summed up the experience best when she quoted poet Mohja Kahf to me:

All women speak two languages:
the language of men
and the language of silent suffering.
Some women speak a third,
the language of queens.
They are marvelous
and they are my friends.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Susan Markham is the USAID Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality & Women’s Empowerment. Follow her @msmarkham

USAID and Special Olympics: Advancing Human Dignity Worldwide through Sport

The inclusive volleyball team from Krusevac, Serbia, formed as part of the USAID/Special Olympics "Inclusion for All" project. / Special Olympics

The inclusive volleyball team from Krusevac, Serbia, formed as part of the USAID/Special Olympics “Inclusion for All” project. / Special Olympics

It remains one of the most marginalized populations in the world. It is a disability subset that has consistently witnessed widespread discrimination and stigma, hindering its ability to advance. It is a group that has been largely misunderstood and misrepresented. This population — individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (ID) — still exists very much on the margins of both developed and developing nations. Through focused, country-level partnerships, Special Olympics is working together with USAID missions to create inclusive development strategies and programs to support individuals with ID.

The innovation that these partnerships offer to the development community, foreign governments and civil society alike is the methodology used: the unifying power of sport.

Despite significant gains made across the world in critical development areas like poverty eradication, gender equality, and global health, individuals with ID experience some of the lowest access rates, across sector, of any subset globally. Estimates from leading development agencies, such as the World Health Organization and UNICEF, demonstrate that individuals with ID experience a poverty of access to basic services that plunge them, and their extended families, into a repeated cycle of exclusion and isolation. This isolation can be felt in every aspect of life.

Special Olympics and USAID are working together to change that.

As part of the USAID-Special Olympics partnership initiative in Serbia and Montenegro, launched in September 2012, seminars increased public awareness of intellectual disability and what strategies could be employed to achieve greater social inclusion.

The seminars’ results speak to a strong response. From the 17 seminars organized throughout Serbia and Montenegro, 34 Unified Sports (inclusive) teams were created with over 350 participants and led to more than 200 local competitions. Special Olympics Serbia athletes reported that 81 percent felt more accepted by their peers since joining Unified Sports programs, and all participants were eager to continue the team trainings and competitions. The success of this program emphasizes the need for sustained access to sport to achieve key development indicators, and the important role sport.

Most recently, Special Olympics and USAID have joined forces to offer increased capacity in development-through-sports services in rural Cambodia. The project will increase participation of people with ID in rural Cambodia through the provision of local sports programming, coaches training, and orientation on public awareness on intellectual disability.

The project, initiated in 2014, will formally recruit over 1,000 new Special Olympics Cambodia athletes, 250 families and over 100 new coaches in various sports modules. This simple model of engaging individuals with and without disabilities through sport has underscored the viability of a key tool in the quest for inclusive and sustainable development.

As the world pauses today to recognize the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Special Olympics is proud of our joint efforts with USAID which hold increased promise that all individuals, including those with ID, will share in the benefits of a new round of development goals. This promise is not only a cause for celebration, but of increased action across all sectors to bring this vision of human dignity to all communities under the banner of perhaps the most active foreign aid agency in the world in support of marginalized groups.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Evangelista is Vice President, Global Development and Government Relations for Special Olympics. Follow Special Olympics @SpecialOlympics

5 Million Child Slaves, One Nobel Peace Laureate

It is not often that I am personally asked a favor by a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

In late September 2014, I ran into a much-esteemed colleague, Kailash Satyarthi, a human rights activist from India who has been at the forefront of the global movement to end child slavery and exploitative child labor since 1980, when he founded the Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement). Kailash asked me to do what I could to support a new campaign he would be launching.

On this Universal Children’s Day, Kailash and many of the world’s leading human rights organizations are launching a campaign—End Child Slavery—to target some of the world’s most vulnerable and exploited children, including the estimated 5.5 million child slaves around the world. The campaign is looking for 5.5 million signatures in five days—one for each of the estimated child slaves.

Why 5 million signatures in five days? The campaign organizers believe that many people are not aware of the extent of slavery in the world today. In fact, according to a recent report by the International Labour Organization (ILO), slave labor generates higher annual profits today than even some of the biggest legitimate global industries. It has recently been estimated that the total profit obtained from the use of forced labor in the private economy worldwide amounts to $150 billion per year.

Children carry bricks in Nepal. Credit: Navesh Chitrakar

Children carry bricks in Nepal. / Navesh Chitrakar

In addition to the enslaved children, an estimated 115 million children, aged 5-17, work in hazardous child labor—dangerous conditions in sectors as diverse as agriculture, mining, construction, manufacturing, service industries, hotels, bars, restaurants and domestic service. Worldwide, the ILO estimates that some 22,000 children are killed at work every year. The numbers of those injured or made ill because of their work are not known.

The figure of 5.5 million children in forced labor is a conservative estimate, with governments identifying only a small fraction of all victims and bringing few perpetrators to justice.

Child worker in India. / Global March Against Child Labor

Child worker in India. / Global March Against Child Labor

Still, the child labor movement is a development success story. 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 benefited girls as total child labor among girls has fallen by 40 percent since 2000, compared to a drop of 25 percent for boys.

However, millions of the hardest-to-reach children still remain in slavery.

USAID is working to address this problem. Through our Counter-Trafficking in Persons programming, we have supported grassroots organizations working to prevent all forms of human trafficking in over 68 countries and regional missions during the past decade. For example, in Albania, USAID is partnering with the Government of Albania and NetHope on a new app that will target at-risk youth to prevent human trafficking.

Two weeks after I ran into Kailash, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize—along with Malala Youssef—for his 34-year career as a child labor activist, during which he has freed tens of thousands of young Indians. As a grassroots activist, he has led the rescue of over 78,500 child slaves and developed a successful model for their education and rehabilitation.

I first met Kailash in 1998 when I joined the ambitious social movement he launched to eradicate child labor globally, the Global March Against Child Labor. With support from USAID and the U.S. Department of Labor, we worked together to document child labor around the world in photos and a film titled Stolen Childhoods, which shared child laborers’ stories in their own words.

In Kenya, where we filmed USAID programs with the Solidarity Center to educate former child coffee pickers, Kailash and our team also had the privilege of working with another passionate activist, Wangari Maathai. She helped our film team document the stories of street children in Kenya in 2002 and 2003. She subsequently became the first African woman awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.

During the next five days, there is something each of us individually can do to express our concern for the children who remain victims of slavery today. The End Child Slavery campaign site provides resources and suggested actions. The U.S. Child Labor Coalition also provides important links and resources, and serves as a convening point for U.S. Government agencies and civil society organizations to share information. We can also be proud of our work at USAID, which will continue, in collaboration with other governments and stakeholders, to protect children’s rights around the world.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bama Athreya is a Labor and Employment Rights Specialist at the USAID Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance

An Opportunity of 300,000 Lifetimes

“Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.” The Greek physician Hippocrates wrote this in about 400 BC. Of course, when Hippocrates practiced medicine, opportunities to heal were scarce as he and his peers understood relatively little about anatomy and physiology, much less biomolecular science. In Hippocrates’ era, some percentage of young children were expected to succumb to illness. Over the last 2,000 years, however, developments in medical science have allowed for the previously unthinkable. The collective brilliance and hard work of scientists and healers have ensured that many of the maladies that afflicted Hippocrates’ patients took a one-way trip to the history books.  Children, for the most part, can be expected to reach adulthood.

Alas, some exceptions stubbornly remain.

There is no clearer example than pediatric HIV. A single generation has seen the rise of a devastating epidemic and, though there have been breakthroughs in the fight against the virus, 3.2 million children currently live with the virus and an estimated 700 children are infected daily. The recent, sudden viral rebound in the “Mississippi baby,” the first child believed to be functionally cured, was the latest punch to the gut in the long, drawn out brawl to protect children from the virus. In low-resourced regions, children living with HIV are often among the last to be tested and treated. Initiating children on treatment early, which allowed the Mississippi baby to remain virally suppressed for years, is exceptionally rare.

A baby receives life-saving drugs. / Anna Zeminski, AFP / Getty Images

A baby receives life-saving drugs. / Anna Zeminski, AFP / Getty Images

Now for some good news. Earlier this month, as part of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR),in partnership with the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), launched Accelerating Children’s HIV/AIDS Treatment (ACT). ACT is an ambitious $200 million initiative to double the total number of children receiving life-saving antiretroviral therapy (ART) across 10 priority African countries over the next two years. This investment will enable 300,000 more children living with HIV to receive life-saving ART.

At the onset of the HIV epidemic in the early 1980′s, an HIV diagnosis was equivalent to a death sentence. Failing to treat a child remains just that, as half die by 2 years of age. Up to three people die of AIDS every minute and an estimated 190,000 children died of AIDS in 2013 alone.

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An HIV-positive mother holds her child after visiting an HIV clinic. For children who are born HIV-positive, life-saving antiretroviral therapy is critical to protecting their health. / AFP

Hippocrates was right: Healing is indeed both a matter of time and opportunity. Time does not heal HIV, however, and deaths continue to mount, a disproportionate number of them among children.

So, now is the time to act. Thanks to PEPFAR and CIFF, we have an unprecedented opportunity to do just that.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Benjamin Ryan Phelps is a Medical Officer who focuses on Preventing Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV (PMTCT) and Pediatric AIDS. Follow him at @BRPhelpsMD.
Joella Adams is a Global Health Fellows Program intern working with PMTCT programs.

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

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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)

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