USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Youth

Ask the Expert: Enrique Roig, Coordinator for Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) at USAID

We interviewed Enrique Roig from our Latin America and Caribbean Bureau to discuss his work on citizen security in Central America.

Enrique Roig, Coordinator for CARSI at USAID Photo Credit: La Prensa

Can you describe the security situation in Central America? Violence levels in Central America are among the highest in the world – there are an estimated 900 gangs with a total of 70,000 members in the region. The region is marked by surges in murder rates, transnational gangs and narcotics traffickers, and rising levels of crime. Citizens are most concerned about security, even ahead of economic issues. Despite efforts to focus on social inclusion and anti-poverty programs, income inequalities remain some of the most extreme in the world. A great part of the region’s population lacks access to healthcare, social services, and educational opportunities. The burgeoning youth bulge is also of grave concern since unemployment is extremely high.

We often hear the term, CARSI. What is that? The  U.S. government’s Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), launched by President Obama, is the interagency approach to combat citizen insecurity and violence in the region. In particular, USAID supports community-based approaches to crime and violence prevention, as well as rule of law programs.

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Advancing Food and Nutrition Security – A Student Perspective

Written by Brendan Rice, Student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.  Originally posted at the Universities Fighting Global Hunger Blog

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ annual symposium, Advancing Food and Nutrition Security at the 2012 G8 Summit, brought together G8 and African leaders, international organizations, businesses, and civil society to emphasize the importance of agricultural development and nutrition security.

As a student and a member of the growing Universities Fighting World Hunger movement, this event was incredibly powerful and motivating. As students, we frame hunger as a structural issue. Food price volatility and under-investment in agricultural sectors of developing countries are structural issues that continue the crisis of hunger. These underlying causes of hunger can seem infinitely enormous and complex, but the symposium leading up to the G8 Summit at Camp David gives context and invigorates the work that we all do towards making hunger a distant memory. At the symposium, leaders including President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and the rock star, Bono, showed that advancing food security is a priority. The work that we do on our campuses is not done in isolation. Instead, we are tapping into an energy that is now emanating from the highest levels of power.

At the symposium, President Obama laid out the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which builds off of the commitments made at L’Aquila. The new phase of this shared initiative towards global food security focuses on empowering agricultural growth through country plans, private sector involvement, and G8 commitments.

Framing hunger as a solvable problem is central to the work that we do as students. As a human family, we have the tools, resources, and knowledge to end hunger in our world of plenty. This issue is not necessarily about coming up with a solution. Instead, it is about advancing the steps we already know work to end hunger through creating the public and political will to do so. The symposium and Obama’s announcement set up a framework of global imperatives.

Despite the diverse ideas and sectors represented, there were a number of themes that emerged throughout the symposium, many of which were clearly outlined in Secretary Clinton’s closing speech. These included a focus on smallholder farmers, nutrition with a focus on the first 1000 days of life, and the importance of women in food security. The heads of state of Ethiopia, Ghana, and Tanzania all made clear the importance of investing in the agricultural productivity of smallholder farmers, many of whom are women.

The framework is in place, and now it is time to move towards action. During his speech at the symposium, President Obama called for “all hands on deck.” Students and future leaders are central to maintaining the commitments made and continuing to demand a food-secure world. Secretary Clinton laid out the challenge succinctly in her speech at the symposium. By 2050, there will be 9 billion people on the planet, and agricultural productivity must increase by 70 percent in order to keep pace. Bono stated that this challenge can and will be met, but not without Africa. Bono reminded us that the issue of hunger sears our collective conscience, so as a collective soul, this challenge is one that we must confront.

Representing students from around the world, Universities Fighting World Hunger is moving through strong conviction and grounded motivation to end hunger. To borrow a thought from Secretary Clinton, what can hold us back can be as simple as “plain old inertia.” In this we find hope because as part of the next generation of leaders, the inertia of the morally outrageous status quo of 1 billion people going hungry will be replaced by the exhilarating possibility of a fair and just global food system.

USAID Acts for Global Youth Service Day

Imagine how much progress we could make in the world if the over 1 billion young people aged 15-24 got engaged in leading positive improvements in their country. From April 20-22, millions of youth and children, their families, schools, and communities around the globe came together to celebrate youth volunteerism and to take action as part of the world’s largest service event – Global Youth Service Day (GYSD). This year, in the spirit of youth power for positive change, USAID partnered with Youth Service America – the organization that convenes GYSD – to mobilize even more young people in even more places.

Numerous USAID Missions participated and many Washington-based staff volunteered in the DC area, below is a short spotlight on just some of the inspiring activities.

A youth day activity. Photo Credit: USAID

In Somalia for example, 50 Somali youth who had undergone a leadership training earlier this year participated in a community service action event to mobilze their colleagues and raise funds and other support for patients in the Hargesia Mental Hospital in Somaliland, and visited the hospital to distribute food to the patients. The event/ceremony was presided over by the Somaliland Minister for Youth, Sports and Culture and the Director General of the Ministry of Health and reported in one of the daily newspaper in Somaliland. In Kenya, GYSD was celebrated by the Yes Youth Can! project and marked with the announcement in local press (The Daily Nation) of the Kenya National Youth Bunge Association; and in Katutura, Namibia, USAID officers joined the Young Achievers Empowerment Project’s Day of Hope activities. Participants in USAID Liberia’s Advancing Youth Education project took their voices aloud for a national radio broadcast panel about service learning experiences and the importance of public/community service in the context of the GYSD.

USAID Mission Director Rick Scott presents to Ms. Zevonia Viera. Photo Credit: USAID

USAID Timor-Leste participated in the Global Youth Service Day on April 20 by hosting a ‘recognition ceremony’ and awarding certificates to youth volunteers who have dedicated their time, energy, skill and thought to promote youth participation in reconciliation and peace building process through innovative use of the media under a USAID supported, youth-led radio program project.

Youth leaders and volunteers across the West Bank and Gaza participated in clean up campaigns at the grounds of their local Ministry of Health Primary Health Care Clinics as part of the “Champion Community Approach” to enhance health awareness and to promote community engagement in health promotion and health services. In Nablus, staff and volunteers at the Ruwwad Youth Development Resource Center held an open day for children with special needs aged from 7 – 12 years, in cooperation with Care for Children with Special Needs Association; and at the Hebron Center, there was a workshop on volunteerism and life skills for youth leading to an landscaping and beautification activities so everyone had a chance to “get their hands dirty”.

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Youth Shine at 5th Annual Clinton Global Initiative University

This past weekend I joined over 1,000 college students from 80 countries, and over 75 youth organizations, at the 5th annual Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU) held this year at George Washington University. For many, the highlight might have been Usher summing up his sentiment about why his foundation focuses on youth empowerment by singing Whitney Houston’s “I believe the Children are our Future” (while sharing the stage with President Clinton and Secretary Albright); or the closing conversation between Jon Stewart and President Clinton.

Dr. Nicole Goldin of USAID with youth at George Washington University while attending the 5th Annual Clinton Global Initiative University this weekend. Photo Credit: USAID

For me however, it was connecting and interacting with the participants – some I learned already have a USAID connection.   Like the members of the CGI annual meeting in New York every September, all participants must make a commitment to action in order to attend – and many of these student personal stories and commitments are extraordinary.

During the opening plenary panel, along with President Clinton, Secretary Albright, and Usher, an amazing young Afghan woman named Sadiqa Saleem inspired the crowd with her personal journey from refugee camps, to the US and back  home to educate the girls and young women of Afghanistan.  “We need a coalition of fathers [like hers] to fight for the education of their daughters….”  Along with her follow-women founder, they went from educating 36 girls in an abandoned building, to creating and running  the Oruj Learning Center which teaches nearly 3400 girls in 6 primary schools, as well as executes other womens’ education and youth leadership programs.

After the panel, I spoke with Sadiqa and she told me she worked as Manager of the professional development center under the USAID Afghanistan Higher Education Program  – and that’s where she got the ideas and increased skills to enable her to establish her colleges.

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Game Changing Innovations through New Relationships with Universities

Applications Now Open in Unprecedented Opportunity to Collaborate and Push the Innovation Bar

USAID-related science programs assist in expanding training for women. Photo Credit: Zahur Ramji (AKDN)

We are proud to announce the Higher Education Solutions Network Request for Applications (RFA), which invites higher education institutions to compete to join USAID as new strategic, long-term partners to have a greater impact on development through creative partnerships. From USAID’s start 50 years ago, partnering with universities and research organizations has been part of the Agency’s vision.  Over the years we have worked with partners on sector-specific projects, but today we are pursuing an unprecedented relationship with academic institutions as part of our effort to open the field to a broader range of actors and leverage the assets available through science and technology. USAID’s Higher Education Solutions Network program aims to engage students and faculty and catalyze the enthusiasm on campuses for international development, making it easier to turn advocacy and ideas on campus into action and results in the field.

We are launching the Higher Education Solutions Network in order to reconnect over the long-term with universities and academic institutions for three reasons:

  • We aim to leverage their research assets to provide evidence and analysis that can feed into USAID policy
  • We want to test and scale new models for development which includes developing and creating new technologies.
  • We aim to foster an ecosystem where multi-disciplinary approaches are promoted.

We’d like to work with universities and higher education institutions to understand how students can be empowered to shift from saying, “What’s your major?” to “What’s the problem you want to solve?”

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Engaging Universities to Address the Global Food Security Challenge

The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) is a national association of 217 state university systems, land-grant universities, and related organizations across all 50 states. This week, USAID Administrator Raj Shah and several Agency representatives are attending APLU’s Annual Meeting, the premier annual summit for senior leaders of public research universities, land-grant institutions, and state universities.

USAID has enjoyed a long and productive history of partnerships with U.S. universities — partnerships that are critical to our success in many areas and dating back to our very founding 50 years ago. These institutions’ education, research, and engagement missions directly align with USAID’s charge to help people overseas struggling to make a better life. USAID partnerships with U.S. universities have focused on research and graduate training for promising young developing country scientists and on strengthening colleges and universities abroad to create the next generation of agricultural leaders. Together, we have made great progress. But there is still so much more to be done.

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USAID Peace Scholar Speaks in the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting

I have just returned to Cairo after a life-changing week I spent in New York City. During which I participated in the Clinton Global Initiative as a youth guest speaker. I spoke in a panel with President Clinton and other renowned world leaders, met with Dr. Rajiv Shah –I have to admit that his age combined with his extraordinary profile reinforced my belief that age should not be considered as a qualifying factor in any context,– engaged in inspiring conversations with global business leaders and social entrepreneurs, conducted a press interview, updated my knowledge throughout world-class thematic sessions that brought global pioneers to share ideas that are worth replication. Moreover, two days later I, along with other youth leaders from India, Australia, and the U.S. spoke in a panel moderated by Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero at the U.S. Mission to the UN.

I keep hearing 3 bells ringing inside myself since I was back to Cairo; bells that produce moving and hopeful sounds. The first bell is for commitment; a commitment to bring about a radical change to the lives of marginalized youth in Egypt. No matter how much hardiness the journey may reveal.  I will continue believing in young potentials, and expose underserved youth to enabling opportunities, that increase their access to livelihood, and their access to a life of dignity. I will continue to believe that it is their very basic right as it is my fair duty.

I believe if social entrepreneurs were able to make the case for channeling youth energies into community development, political participation, and economic development, then Egypt will pass its interim phase smoothly towards a promising future. I envision youth embracing entrepreneurial attitude, starting small businesses and mobilizing unused resources and creating jobs. I also envision youth engaged in the political life and lobbying for legislation that increases their representation at the different levels and promotes good governance. This can be achieved through sustained collaboration of a strong civil society, responsible private sector, and a transparent inclusive government.

The second bell is for capitalizing on what I have gained from the Clinton Global Initiative. First, I was able to connect with a number of heads of organizations, who represent a huge prospect for technical and financial support for the youth work I have been doing. Second, the boost of self-confidence and inspiration I gained has sharpened my aggressiveness to broaden the network of supporters, and manage a more diversified roundtable for youth development.

The third bell is for my regional role. As a USAID Peace Scholar, who have studied for one year and involved in community service in the U.S. along with other 46 youth leaders from 7 countries in the MENA region, I believe the Peace Scholarships Program should not be considered ended as the funding stopped. I will be organizing to start the Peace Scholarships Alumni Association, so we—as peace scholars—can engage in collaborative developmental efforts, and influence policy making across the region.

I believe it is just the beginning, and I see my dreams possible more than ever before.

Young People in Benghazi Prepare to Take the Lead on Human Rights in a Democratic Libya

Youth participants and workshop trainers from the Helsinki Foundation show “V” signs for Victory. Photo Credit: USAID

“When I was four, the government took my father,” said nineteen-year-old Aliya El-Sharif. Speaking for the first time in public about how her father was killed along with more than 1,200 other detainees, according to Human Rights Watch, during the 1996 Abu Salim prison massacre in Tripoli. The massacre stands as one of the more egregious human rights violations perpetrated by the Gadhafi regime.

This month, exactly six months after the forces of Muammsr Gadhafi forces arrived at the doorstep of her city, Benghazi, threatening to fill the streets with the blood of its people, Aliya spoke at the closing ceremony of a six-day, USAID-funded training workshop on human rights.

Led by human rights experts from the Warsaw-based Helsinki Foundation, the workshop provided participants with tactics for identifying and reporting human rights abuses, seeking justice for those abuses, and advocating for human rights protections. The course was implemented in cooperation with two local civil society groups – Human Rights Solidarity and the Libyan Center for Development and Human Rights – that helped select the twenty-five students and young professionals who aspire to become civil society leaders and advocates for the rights of fellow citizens. The Libyan groups are now providing these aspiring leaders with opportunities for further engagement and advocacy within their respective organizations.

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FWD the Facts

On Saturday, September 24, 2011, I had the privilege to help organize a panel discussion at the United States Mission to the United Nations in NYC, followed by a presentation on the new USAID FWD the Facts campaign that had just been released a few days prior.  The panel consisted of civically engaged youth both domestically and globally and was moderated by Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero.  There were well over fifty young people in the audience ranging from college students to professionals.

Ross Seidman is a member of Youth Service America’s National Youth Council and Board of Directors, and the Youth Working Group to the U.S. National Commission to UNESCO. Photo Credit:Nicole Goldin/USAID

After the panel ended, we regrouped for a presentation and workshop led by Nicole Goldin of USAID (with collaborating representatives from the Ad Council and RGA) to educate the audience on the new FWD the Facts campaign.  It is a new effort that hopes to educate and engage the American public on the crisis affecting over 13 million people in the Horn of Africa.  After being presented with the facts and goals of the campaign the audience split up into three groups to discuss both the strengths and opportunities we saw.

We loved that the website is so simple and that it is so easy to become engaged in the initiative through the “ACTION” tab, specifically the “FWD Knowledge” download.  Many people also brought up the campaign’s opportunity to build connections through personal experiences of those living in the Horn of Africa.  This would motivate people to get involved as we want to see both the macro and micro dynamics of the situation.  Much of the conversation also centered around what college students could do on campus to bring awareness and action to the cause.  Ideas that floated around ranged from creating a network of “interns” on different campuses that could work with preexisting campus groups and administrators to finding corporate sponsorship to create an online interactive platform that could include a direct action piece via the web.  People also suggested an App and serious gaming.

It was an empowering opportunity to be a focus group for such a large initiative and have the ability to provide direct input and ideas to representatives from USAID, RGA, and the Ad Council.  Programs like this are exactly the types of things that make us feel directly involved in the process in a meaningful way.  These occasions are the motivation that many young people need to become involved in initiatives and some of the ideas from those in attendance have the potential to empower even more young people in meaningful leadership experiences through service-learning.  I know this was the beginning of the conversation, not the end, and I look forward to continuing the dialogue.

Ross Seidman is a freshman at the University of Maryland, a member of Youth Service America’s National Youth Council and Board of Directors and the Youth Working Group to the U.S. National Commission to UNESCO.

Harnessing the Power of Sport and Play for Development and Peace

As a former Olympic athlete, I have experienced the incredible impact that sport can have firsthand. But, it wasn’t until 1993, during a trip to Eritrea, as an ambassador for Olympic aid, that I began to truly understand the influence that sport can have on a variety of developmental issues, including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Since then, I have become utterly convinced that participation in sport and play programs has the potential to significantly contribute to child and youth development, prevent the spread of non-communicable and communicable diseases and strengthen communities.

Former Olympic speedskater Johann Koss. Photo Credit: Johann Koss

The 2011 United Nations Summit’s focus on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) is timely as global deaths from NCDs are predicted to continue to rise over the next 10 years, particularly in developing countries. Because physical inactivity is a primary risk factor driving the global increase in NCDs, participation in sport plays a critical role in slowing the spread of chronic diseases. Regular physical activity effectively prevents non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, hypertension, obesity, depression, and osteoporosis.

Sport and play is a true catalyst for combating NCDs, as it generates benefits through direct participation. Research shows that children and youth who build physical activity into their daily lives will be more likely to grow into active adults with a lower risk for chronic illnesses. We also know that physical activity, including sport and play, can produce beneficial effects on mental health, including enhancing self esteem, alleviating depression and helping to manage stress and anxiety. When individuals suffering from various mental health issues integrate regular physical activity into their lives, research has shown that their clinical symptoms, particularly for depression, significantly diminish.

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