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Archives for Youth

Unlocking the Potential of Moroccan Youth

I recently returned from a week-long trip to Morocco where USAID brought together the heads of our offices from across the Arab world to reflect on how we can and should adjust our work in response to the Arab Spring.

Among the many themes we discussed was the central role of youth in the recent demonstrations.  USAID has a strong record of engaging youth throughout the region, but we are always looking to doing more, and in creative ways.

Deputy Assistant Administrator, Hady Amr, discusses the future of Morocco with participants of the Morocco Civil Society and Advocacy project. Photo Credit: USAID/Morocco

While I was in Morocco, I took the opportunity to visit several USAID projects.  One of the most memorable visits was to the Morocco Civil Society and Advocacy project – also known as “SANAD” (meaning “support” in Arabic).  The purpose of this project is to help young Moroccans feel engaged with their government.  This is more important than ever because of political transformations that are under way in the country and throughout the Arab world.

Seeing the wave of protest spreading across the Arab world, on March 9th the King of Morocco announced the creation of a new commission called the Consultative Commission on Constitutional Reform (CCRC).  The CCRC has been tasked with proposing constitutional reforms to strengthen political participation and transparency by June.  A constitutional referendum is scheduled in early July and an elections in October.

USAID is supporting several youth groups by organizing regional and national debates with over 1000 participants from eight regions in Morocco.  The youth groups are also helping to produce two memorandums on reforms that will be officially submitted to the CCRC.

The Moroccan youth I met with talked about specific articles in the Moroccan constitution that they wanted to see changed, and how they wanted to see them changed. They spoke about the need for economic growth and had their own ideas about that. And they spoke about the future character of their nation.
What was clear to me through these meetings was that Moroccan youth, like their counterparts across the Arab world, can be tremendous resources to their own societies, if only their potential is unlocked.

Hady Amr is the Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Middle East at USAID. Follow him on Twitter.

U.S. State Department and USAID Support Journalism Training in Southern Sudan

In southern Sudan, Voice of America (VOA) journalist Shaka Ssali hosted training sessions from May 13 to 16 for journalism students and practicing journalists through the U.S. Department of State International Information Program (IIP) speaker program. More than 60 participants attended the training sessions coordinated by the U.S. Consulate in Juba and USAID.

In southern Sudan, journalists, students, and staff from USAID and the U.S. Department of State attended a journalism training workshop in May, 2011 as part of the Dialogue with Young African Leaders. Photo credit: USAID

Shaka Ssali, an American journalist born in Uganda and host of VOA’s “Straight Talk Africa,” was the first IIP speaker to visit southern Sudan. His visit was part of the Dialogue with Young African Leaders—a series of events held throughout Africa during the month of May to showcase the efforts of young African leaders, to engage with them in discussions about current challenges on the continent, and to help them discover ways to bring about positive change.

During the trainings, Ssali stressed the importance of accurate reporting, professionalism in journalism, and the critical role of free media in southern Sudan, which will become an independent nation July 9.

Television Show Energizes Malagasy Youth

By: Natasha Burley, Development Outreach and Communications Specialist for USAID/Madagascar

During the month of May, the United States Government, led by the State Department, will host youth engagement programs throughout Africa to showcase the efforts of young African leaders, to engage with them in discussions about current challenges on the continent, and to help them discover ways to bring about positive change.

Youth debate during the taping of the show. Photo Credit: USAID/Madagascar

The month of Dialogue is part of an ongoing engagement with young Africans stemming from the August 2010 President’s Forum with Young African Leaders and follow-on events, with future high-level youth engagement activities and programs on the continent planned.

To learn more about the dialogue, visit the State Department of African Affairs’ Facebook page, Twitter, and other social media platforms that allow young Africans and Americans, entrepreneurs and business leaders, to exchange ideas on an array of topics.

The following is a blog post that highlights USAID’s work with youth in Madagascar.

“Kozy Liberty” (which means to “talk liberty” in Malagasy) is a monthly TV show aimed at encouraging youth civic engagement and open dialogue. It is produced by RTA, one of Madagascar’s largest private television channels and the most popular amongst youth. The show, aired on a monthly basis, has a subject that impacts youth and that encourages them to debate.

This month’s debate was on volunteering and what it means to be a volunteer and to give of your time in today’s society. Peace Corps Volunteers came to speak in Malagasy about their work, and why they have volunteered to come for two years to Madagascar. In addition, community health volunteers from USAID-funded PSI health program came to discuss the importance of volunteering. PSI sent six experienced peer educators youth to participate in the debate. The filming was a huge success, with vibrant, animated debates.

Young people take a side to the argument and then debate the issue on the show, using creative methods to make their points:  incorporating music, dance, interviewing experts or people on the streets, etc. The show has a SMS component for youth to participate in the debate by texting in their opinions/arguments with the most impressive argument sent in via text winning a prize.

The debate highlighted what involved, committed and energetic Malagasy youth are doing through USAID programs. It was a great opportunity for Malagasy youth to discuss the issue of volunteerism – a concept quite foreign for most.

This is the first youth debate program to air on Malagasy television and the production costs are being entirely covered by the station.  Underlining the importance the station gave to the program, it was slotted into the most popular time slot on Malagasy TV, Saturday evenings.

Watch Kozy Liberty on YouTube.

Development, Diaspora and the Universal Language of Sports

For diaspora communities across the globe, sport continues to be an integral connection to their native countries.  Sport is tightly woven into the lives and cultures of people globally and has an inherent and unique ability to connect people and provides the ability to transform some of the world’s least developed countries. While sport has historically played an important role in virtually every society globally, sport is still seen as an emerging, yet powerful tool to advance development globally.

Mori Taheripour is senior advisor for Sports for Development at USAID with Minnesota Vikings player Madieu Williams.

At this week’s Global Diaspora Forum, I had the privilege to lead a panel of notable players in the field of sport for development to discuss how sport plays an integral role in diaspora communities as a platform to better the lives of youth, families and communities.

The panelists included:

Madieu Williams, Safety with the Minnesota Vikings, who immigrated to the United States from Sierra Leone at the age of 9.  While he had never heard of American football until he came to the US, the sense of community and belonging to a team that it provided him proved a winning path that led him to his career in the NFL.  But never forgetting where he came from, Madieu created his own foundation as an vehicle to give back to Sierra Leone, providing teacher training, uniforms and school supplies for the kids,  He has also partnered with Healing Hands, a US-based NGO, to travel to Sierra Leone and perform surgeries free of charge for many of the children, men and women too poor to have those services.  His efforts earned him the prestigious Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 2011, recognizing his contributions both on and off the field.

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Mark Feierstein Visits School in Rio de Janeiro

During his trip to Rio de Janeiro to participate in the World Economic Forum, USAID’s Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean, Mark Feierstein, visited a school participating in the Enter Jovem Plus Program. Feierstein went to State School Tim Lopes, to closely observe the youth employability project. The school is located in Complexo do Alemão, one of the slum areas in Rio recently pacified by the police. USAID/Brazil‘s Mission Director, Lawrence Hardy, and HIV/AIDS Program Coordinator, Nena Lentini, also participated in the visit.

Mark Feierstein surrounded by students in Rio de Janeiro Photo Credit: Instituto Empreender

The Enter Jovem Plus program is conducted in Rio de Janeiro by Instituto Empreender, in partnership with Chevron, Rio’s State Government, and USAID. In his conversation with the students participating in the program, Feierstein stressed the importance of offering young people finishing high school professional training with a focus on employability, information technology, and English language. “We work in various parts of the world to foster development. You are very lucky to be here at this school. Enjoy every moment, work hard and have fun,” he said.

The goal of Enter Jovem Plus for Rio de Janeiro in 2011 is to provide professional training for 1,000 students. So far, approximately 700 students from 23 schools are enrolled. In Rio de Janeiro, the program started in 2010 in 16 public schools, and certified 310 students with ages between 16 and 29 years. This year, the priority is the inclusion of schools located in pacified areas. Students receive training to develop social and professional skills, including notions of tourism, quality of service and entrepreneurship. The program also helps students finding job opportunities.

Chevron’s manager for institutional relations, Lia Blower, U.S. Consulate in Rio de Janeiro’s Public Affairs Officer, Mark Pannell, and representatives of State Government accompanied Mark Feierstein’s visit.

To find out more about our programs in Brazil.

Youth Academy Empowers Tomorrow’s Political Leaders in Rwanda

Appeared in The National Democratic Institute

By: Andrew Farrand, Program Officer, Central and West Africa, NDI

While young people under 25 comprise approximately two-thirds of Rwanda’s population, historically they have lacked meaningful opportunities to engage in politics. An older elite has traditionally made the country’s political decisions, and during the 1994 genocide, political leaders mobilized disaffected youth for violent ends. But today, many young Rwandans hope to channel their untapped power into productive and peaceful political expression.

U.S. Ambassador W. Stuart Symington greets a YPLA student at a reception following the Kigali academy's launch. Photo Credit: NDI

Since September 2008, NDI has helped Rwandan political parties organize and communicate with supporters. This includes training young activists who are joining parties in increasing numbers and who are often receptive to new ideas about party organizing, democracy and technology that can help parties reach new voters and win more support.

To provide Rwandan youth with practical political skills, NDI partnered with the Rwandan Consultative Forum of Political Organisations to create the Youth Party Leadership Academy (YPLA) in Kigali last year. Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the academy included three months of intensive political training, as well as a study mission to Accra, Ghana, for the top-performing students. There participants learned firsthand from their Ghanaian counterparts how young people can participate actively in political parties — and support peaceful, democratic politics in the process.

This month, the Institute launched an expanded academy in two locations: the capital, Kigali, and the southern city of Butare. The academy brought together 80 under-35 activists from all 10 of Rwanda’s registered political parties for three seminars a week over 10 weeks. Sessions are led by international and local practitioners and academics, and address political party organizing, political communication, good governance, building a political career, ethical leadership, negotiation and conflict prevention, and using technology for political organizing, among numerous other topics.

NDI Resident Director Amy Pritchard has high hopes for the students. “They’re an incredibly dynamic and engaged group,” she said. “We are focusing on the role political parties play in Rwanda’s government, elections and civic life, and are working on teaching skills that will improve the students’ and their parties’ leadership abilities.”

Meanwhile, the 34 graduates from the first academy are putting their new skills to good use. Last year, the Social Democratic Party nominated YPLA graduate Theodomir Niyonsenga to serve as its second deputy general secretary. During last year’s presidential elections, graduates Claudette Mukabaseyba, Pie Nizeyimana, Telesphore Hakorimana and Sada Uwase were invited to join the forum’s national election observation mission, while others served as political party agents at polling stations, trained fellow party members in campaign skills, or helped to organize campaign rallies and get-out-the-vote efforts. Two YPLA graduates ran in last month’s local elections and one, Angélique Mukunde, was elected vice mayor for economic affairs in the capital’s Kicukiro district.

Presidential Trip to El Salvador Highlights Youth

On his trip to Latin America, President Obama highlighted the theme of partnership and echoed President Kennedy’s challenge “to build a hemisphere where all people can hope for a sustainable, suitable standard of living, and all can live out their lives in dignity and in freedom.”

Students from a US public school in San Salvador, wait for the arrival of US President Barack Obama at the airport in the Salvadorean capital on March 22, 2011. US President Barack Obama arrived in El Salvador Tuesday on the last leg of a three-nation tour of Latin America. Photo Credit: Salvador Melendez

One of the modern challenges for Latin American countries like El Salvador is addressing the grip of gangs and criminal organization on local communities, especially on young people.  One of the ways that USAID works to address youth issues in Central America is by partnering with local organizations and governments to invest in crime and drug prevention programs.

To highlight the need to engage youth and harness their potential for positive development, First Lady Michelle Obama visited the site of a USAID project called ¡Supérate! in San Salvador.

Accompanied by USAID Administrator Raj Shah, the first lady helped 30 enthusiastic ¡Supérate! students complete their community service project by painting a mural to decorate the center’s health clinic, which is scheduled to open next month.

¡Supérate! (which means improve yourself!) is a three-year after-school program that provides English, computer and life skills training to underprivileged youth-at risk (ages 13-18) who have demonstrated high academic performance and a desire for self-improvement.  Students train two hours, six days a week before or after their regular school day.

Students involved in this enriching program develop the skills necessary for a successful transition to higher education and or future jobs. With the help of Microsoft, youth involved in iSupérate! have access to computers and other technologies that allow them to further their education and compete in the modern job market.  More than 300 ¡Supérate! graduates have obtained university scholarships and/or permanent employment.

The program was launched in 2004 by the Sagrera Palomo Family Foundation, a local organization. Encouraged by the earlier success of ¡Supérate!, USAID teamed up with the foundation and Microsoft to open six new education centers in El Salvador. The partnership expects to benefit an additional 1,000 youths through the next 3 years.

At the event today, the first lady congratulated the students and the community of teachers and mentors who support them for their achievements and emphasized how important it is for students to give back to their communities through action.

Vivian’s Story—Breaking the Cycle of Poverty by Educating and Empowering Girls

Vivian O. was born in the outskirts of Kisumu, Kenya, and is said to have entered the world smiling.  Life for Vivian and others in her rural fishing village was challenging, requiring families to rely on ingenuity and perseverance in the face of little resources.  With the support of her family and her local community, the opportunities created by U.S. assistance programs, and the force of her determination, Vivian would achieve more than she’d ever imagined.

By the time Vivian finished fourth grade, her mother had a stable job selling used clothes in the open-air market in Kisumu.  Girls in rural communities like Vivian’s typically receive a low level of schooling.  However, having completed high school herself, Vivian’s mother prized education and overcame obstacles to enroll Vivian in a proper primary school.  Vivian was one of the top students in her province and eventually secured a place at Starehe Girls’ Centre, a highly competitive secondary school for gifted girls.

While in high school, Vivian became a member of the Global Give Back Circle, a circle of empowerment designed to transition a girl from poverty to prosperity.  The program mentors and supports girls so they can successfully transition from high school to college to a career and to global citizenship.  As the girls graduate, they commit to mentoring the next generation of girls in the circle.

In 2011, USAID announced a $3.5 million award for the education and empowerment of girls through the Global Give Back Circle.  The award is matched by an additional $3.5 million in private sector funds through a Clinton Global Initiative Commitment, so that the program can help over 500 Kenyan girls progress to higher levels of education and employment.  The process is implemented by the Kenya Community Development Foundation—a program by Kenyans for Kenyans.

Vivian has had many opportunities through the Global Give Back Circle.  She completed a nine-month Microsoft IT course, which allowed her to access educational resources online, research colleges, and obtain a full scholarship to a U.S. college.  She is studying pre-med and IT, aspiring to give back by helping millions through the connection of technology and medicine.  Vivian met the U.S. Ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger, and pledged to actively participate in improving investments in people in Kenya.  As a result, she made presentations to private sector CEOs in Kenya and invited them to invest in girls.  Vivian says, “I feel privileged and honored to be able to be a voice for the empowerment of girls in my country.”

On March 8, 2011, Vivian joined two other young women of excellence—Maryam from Afghanistan and Terhas from Ethiopia—as special guests to the State Department’s International Women of Courage Awards, followed by a private meeting with Secretary Clinton.  Vivian then visited the White House as a guest of First Lady Michelle Obama for a celebration of International Women’s Day.  Two sixth-grade girls, who have benefited from a girls education program in Burkina Faso administered by the Millennium Challenge Corporation in partnership with USAID, also attended.

At the event, Mrs. Obama said, “We as a nation benefit from every girl whose potential is fulfilled, from every woman whose talent is tapped,” adding that countries worldwide are more prosperous and peaceful “when women are equal and have the rights and opportunities they deserve.”

Read Maryam’s Story

Measuring the Impact of Sports on Youth Development

USAID’s Office of Development Partners (ODP) and the Bureau for Economic Growth, Agriculture, and Trade (EGAT) sponsored a panel discussion on “Measuring the Impact of Sports on Youth Development” on Tuesday, March 1st.   Over 125 guests and staff heard from NGO leadership who work with sports as a platform for youth development and spoke on the evaluation techniques for measuring the impact of these programs.

“This was a great opportunity for USAID staff and our external stakeholders to discuss how sports impacts the work we do in development,” said Mori Taheripour, Senior Alliance Officer in PSA/ODP, who organized the event. “Our panelists offered perspectives that show not only the impact of the work on the communities that they serve but also helped bridge the gap between observed impact and evidence-based outcomes that continue to challenge this industry.”

The panelists included Paul Teeple from Partners of the Americas: A Ganar Alliance; Maria Bobenreith, of Women Win; Kirk Friederich of Grassroot Soccer; and Brendan Tuohey of Peace Players International. PeacePlayers International and A Ganar are both USAID-funded programs.

Moderated by Kenneth Shropshire, of the Wharton Sports Business Initiative, the panel highlighted the ability for sports to serve as a powerful platform for youth development.  USAID currently operates youth programs in over forty countries around the world and over 280 sports-based programs.

Sports-based youth programs have been used to address a variety of development issues, and the diversity of panelists highlighted represented the unique ability of sport, as a platform for development, to address a broad range of sectors including peace and conflict, gender inequality, health, education and economic development.

Panelists discussed how they use evaluation tools and the challenges that they face in seeking data-driven and rigorous evaluation methodology.  They shared a variety of anecdotal examples that truly capture the essence and “magic” of their work, but continue in many ways to struggle with balancing anecdotal and hard data, not wanting to lose the intangible, less obvious impact of their work.  The discussion explored several issues related to evaluating the impact of sports activities including: how to measure impact over the long-term; how to measure return on investment; and several methods, including the use of interviews to obtain meaningful, unbiased responses. Panelists identified the need to develop better tools for capturing the impact of sports on youth development and noted that USAID could play an important, convening role in this area.

USAID’s Youth Advisor, Erin Mazursky mentioned that the event was the kick-off of a series of youth-focused activities and events that will roll out over the next couple of months. “Focusing on youth is a priority for the agency,” she said.  “The recent events in the Middle East have shown that youth have proven that they are not just the next generation of change-makers, but a generation that is right now very much affecting the course of history.”

Inspired and Humbled by Nepal’s Female Health Workers in the Rural Villages of Salyan

After a one-hour prop plane ride from Kathmandu, followed by an 11-hour rocky drive through the stunning hills and valleys of Mid-Western Nepal’s upper hilly region, our team reached Salyan District’s remote and rural villages. We were there to video the successes of the USAID-supported, 50,000-strong Female Community Health Volunteer project.  Working in every district of Nepal, these volunteers are often the only health care providers in such remote and isolated villages.

Female Community Health Volunteers of Marke District, Nepal, work to enhance health awareness, improve health standards, and save lives throughout their communities by utilizing the training they’ve received through the USAID-supported Nepal Family Health Program. Photo Credit: Gregg Rappaport/USAID

I’ve spent the last several days traveling with our group comprised of health specialists, program managers, and communicators (Gregg Rapaport, Senior Communications Manager, and Stuti Basnyet, USAID/Nepal) videoing, interviewing, listening and learning.  The stories are nothing short of amazing, and the volunteers’ passion to fulfill what they consider a calling to serve their communities has been inspiring.

It’s been humbling to hear the stories of these dedicated volunteers giving care under arduous circumstances and to meet the many villagers seeking care – a health volunteer who recently saved a newborn baby’s life minutes after delivery; another who has committed more than 22 years to serving her community through this project; a group of women who, in the last six months, have counseled more than 85 couples on family planning; a man seeking care for severe knee problems who arrived in the village on a stretcher after traveling nearly two hours, carried high above the heads of his four nephews. These volunteers are changing the behavior of their villages, increasing awareness to improve health standards, and most importantly, saving lives.  Of the 500 local children checked for pneumonia in the last six months, 73 were treated with antibiotics, 13 were referred to higher level health care at the district level, and all have made a full recovery.

One woman I spoke with, Laxmi Sharma, a volunteer in Salyan’s Ward 4, said that it’s not a matter of money, but rather a matter of helping her community. “We do this as volunteers,” she explained, “because we can improve the health of our communities.”  The women play a crucial role in providing vitamin A supplementation, immunizations, family planning education, safe motherhood interventions, and community-based integrated management of childhood illnesses, particularly in the detection and treatment of pneumonia and diarrhea – Nepal’s top two childhood killers.

With support from USAID and other donors, Nepal is also one of only a handful of countries poised to meet more than one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in health by reducing the number of maternal and child deaths by nearly half in only 10 years! A remarkable achievement alone, that it was realized at the end of the nation’s prolonged 10-year internal conflict makes it even more profound.

Our return trip back through the town of Dang this afternoon was marked by a rather serendipitous event – hundreds of women, men, and children marched in solidarity to celebrate the global 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.  One woman I spoke with explained, “Through this (march) forum  … we can work to ensure women have equity, empowerment, and are at the center of mainstream politics. If all the women come together, this is something that is achievable, we just need to work at it.”

Check out this video on USAID/Nepal and their work on family health.

Around the world today, millions of people will flood the streets in their hometowns to voice their enduring support for the advancement of women and girls as key leaders in the creation of a better world.  As new ideas and innovative ways are introduced, USAID/Nepal continues to incorporate these pioneering initiatives in its program design, placing women and girls at the forefront of building the country’s peace and prosperity.

But USAID/Nepal is not only working in the health sector – it is also leading the way in partnership with the Nepalese people to finding solutions to the toughest challenges to driving economic progress, promoting educational opportunities, promoting political stability, sustaining the environment, and feeding the population.

The Education for Income Generation Activity has trained more than 65,000 disadvantaged youth from the Midwestern region—the most conflict affected and one of the poorest regions of Nepal—in basic and business literacy, vocational training and agriculture productivity and enterprise development in the last three years. Of these, 7,900 youth received vocational training with 80% gainfully employed as a result of the training.

Through the Women’s Leadership Academy program, USAID has provided training on the fundamentals of democratic politics and constitution drafting to over 200 elected women parliamentarians and civil servants, providing them with the tools needed to draft the constitution and participate fully in party and parliamentary proceedings.

We know that supporting investment in women and girls can be compelling force multiplier for development and innovation. At the heart of Nepal’s advancement, women will continue to advocate on behalf of their communities, and promote advancements in education, economic growth, politics, climate change, and initiatives to improve access to food.  USAID/Nepal will continue to move this agenda forward, and advance this priority by standing in solidarity with by the women and girls of Nepal.

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