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Archives for Youth

Unleashing the Power of Women and Girls

Women and girls are an extremely powerful force for development. A woman’s economic wellbeing is fundamental to her family, her community, her children, and her children’s children. Women are vital to economic growth, income generation, and security and stability. More than 70 percent of the farmers in Africa are women, often toiling on small plots to grow fruits, vegetables and grains for their families.

They are central to the household economy — they not only grow most of the food, they prepare it and serve it, and keep the house clean and take care of the children. Young girls are responsible for much of the labor families need to survive: tending livestock, carrying water, harvesting crops, watching younger children, and doing chores.

Increasing family incomes, fighting poverty, improving nutrition, and building the skill base needed to sustain development – teachers, doctors, nurses, accountants, engineers – all depend on investing in and providing opportunities for women and girls. When women do earn income, they are more likely than men to spend it on food, education, and health care for their families. They are a huge and growing part of the population in many developing countries: in Nigeria, girls and young woman under 30 years of age account for 35% of the population; in the United States they account for just 20%. And gender equality matters for development: evidence shows that the incidence of poverty tends to be lower and the rate of economic growth higher in countries with greater gender equality.

A woman voting in the 2005  Liberian elections. Photo Credit:©2010 Benjamin Spatz

And yet women and girls face huge systematic disadvantages and hurdles that undermine their own progress, and the progress of their families, communities, and countries. According to the path-breaking report Girls Count, girls and women are less educated, less healthy, and less free than their male counterparts. Many are forced to marry at a young age and are extraordinarily vulnerable to HIV, sexual violence, and physical exploitation. They typically cannot own land, get credit, or even apply for many jobs. Between one-quarter and one-half of girls become mothers before age 18, and 70% of the people in the world living in poverty are women and girls.

I’ve seen first-hand the power of creating opportunities for girls and women. As a Peace Corps teacher in an all-girls school in the tiny village of Leulumoega in Samoa, I saw how girls with a basic high school education could get good jobs, help provide for their families, and become leaders in their communities.

I’ve met young women working in garment factories in Indonesia and data-entry centers in Ghana that speak about the empowerment that comes from earning their own incomes, and how they are able to wait longer to be married, have fewer children, and take better care of their families. And I’ve seen close up how, when given the opportunity, a woman president – Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia – can lead her country from the brink of ruin at the end of a terrible civil war and regain peace, stability, credibility, and the beginnings of economic growth and vibrant democracy.

We can and must do better to support women and girls. That’s why through President Obama’s Feed the Future Initiative we are focusing on investments that provide new opportunities for women farmers and help improve nutrition for their families. That’s why our microfinance and SME programs emphasize creating new opportunities for women to earn incomes to support their families. That’s why the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review and USAID Forward puts a huge emphasis on investing in women and girls, and incorporates gender equality into our core aid effectiveness principles. We know that to accelerate development and build strong, stable and well-governed societies, we must unleash the power of girls and women.

USAID supports Ministry of Education in Haiti

When the Ministry of Education building collapsed in last year’s earthquake, people scrambled to pull colleagues from the rubble.

Employees quickly returned to work in donated shelters, with little time to mourn the loss of their friends, family and colleagues. Among those killed around Haiti were 38,000 students, 1,347 teachers and 180 education personnel. More than 4,200 schools were destroyed.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) faced a monumental challenge in getting the education system back online. Its gradual progress has been impeded by the loss of office equipment.

Last week, employees, who have shared the few working computers, happily welcomed new supplies provided by USAID project PHARE (Programme Haitien d’Appui à la Réforme de l’Education). The donation included 60 laptops, 20 desktop computers, 80 desks and chairs, and 20 printers.

“This will help us accelerate our work,” said Pierre-Michele Laguerre, MOE director general.

Laguerre described the scene when the three-story building crumbled Jan. 12, killing 11 employees.

“We heard a lot of crying and screaming,” he said. “We spent many days trying to save those under the rubble.”

Those trapped included Jacqueline Jasmin and Marie Lourdes Borno.

A mass of concrete collapsed on Jasmin, whose son leapt from an opening on the first floor as the building pancaked.

“I heard my son crying, ‘My mother is dead!’” she recalled. “I yelled out, ‘I am alive!’”

Jasmin’s son frantically ran for help as colleagues worked by hand to rescue her. Ten hours later, they pulled her out.

When the earthquake struck, Borno had just walked away from Jasmin. Borno lost consciousness and said that upon waking, “I found myself with my arms on me, but they were crushed. I tried to be brave, and prayed to God to have given me life even without arms.”

Her colleagues freed her within 10 minutes, but her arms had to be amputated at the elbow. Jasmin had a metal rod inserted in her broken right arm, which, along with her head, bears multiple scars.

The two share a strong bond, along with a nickname for each other.

“Whenever I see Madame Borno, I hug her and say, “My rubble companion!’” Jasmin said.

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Empowering Youth in India

By: Laura Rodriguez, USAID

At the age of 17, Ishita Chaudhry recalls watching violent riots in her home country of India and being struck by the lack of political will and voice that her fellow peers had in decision making.  It was 2002.  Ishita was a senior in high school and suddenly became motivated to do something. She founded The YP Foundation (TYPF),  now the biggest youth-led organization in India, a country in which 315 million people or 31 percent of the population is under the age of 24.

Youth empowerment is a key message for all of the YP Foundation's programs. Photo Credit: Shiv Ahuja/YP Foundation

The YP Foundation’s mission is to empower young people to address health and rights, gender and sexuality, HIV/AIDS, human rights and peace building, life skills, governance and pro-active citizenship.

Over the years Chaudhry and her staff of 16 young people have worked with over 5,000 individuals to set up over 200 projects in India, training youth at international, regional and local levels as well as networks such as Students for the Promotion of International Law, the Global MDG Summit India 2008 and the Indian Youth Climate Network.

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USAID/Nepal Supported Women’s Football League Tournament Comes to a Glorious End

By: Stuti Basnyet, USAID/Nepal

On January 12, Jed Meline, USAID’s Acting Mission Director in Nepal, and I flew down to Dhangadi, a district in Nepal’s far-western region, to attend the championship of an eight-day women’s football (soccer) league tournament. This was a unique outreach opportunity. Most field trips we embark on are meant to either monitor the programs or to showcase the impact of our programs. This time we were going to attend a USAID-supported football tournament – an exciting rarity – with Jed scheduled to speak and present awards to the winning teams.

Designed to build the confidence, leadership, team building and networking skills of local, rural women, the sports activity was part of USAID program’s youth leadership efforts to expand the participation of youth and vulnerable populations in the development process of their communities. With the large youth bulge, almost 50% of Nepali population under the age of 35, USAID encourages all partners to find innovative ways to positively engage youth.

The winning team with their trophy. Photo Credit: USAID/Nepal

When we reached Mahendranagar, the venue, it was late in the afternoon, cold and foggy, but more than 10,000 people were present at the tournament. The women in the two final teams had been playing for an hour plus and were a little tired but enthusiastic and dedicated. For most this was their first experience with football and also first opportunity to display a skill in public. Tulsi Gurung, the captain of the winning team told me, “This has been such an amazing experience. It’s built my confidence so much. I really believe, we, the young people, are the potential energy of the country. When we come together, we can do something special. This tournament has been a proof of that.”

“After playing in the tournament I have gained confidence to pursue my effort to be a national football player, just like the boys,” shared Basanti Rana another player from the winning team.

To me, what made the tournament so remarkable – other than seeing young, rural women with no prior football experience, confidently display their newly learned skill in front of thousands – was the partnerships forged to organize the league. While USAID designed the program, trained the women, funded the tournament, and purchased equipment and gear, the effort and support that came from the local public and private sectors was inspiring.

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How You’re About to Help Save the Lives of 4 million Children

You may not know that the leading killers of children in the poorest countries are diarrhea and pneumonia.  You almost certainly don’t know that your contributions can help save the lives of 4 million children – many because of the introduction of two new vaccines to protect against those diseases.

Last week, I was in Rwanda, helping the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization plan the introduction of vaccines for rotavirus and pneumococcal diseases, major causes of diarrhea and pneumonia.  With your support as well as corporations, foundations, and countries rich and poor, GAVI, will save the lives of 4 million children in the next five years.

That sounds ambitious, but it’s very doable – and you’re a big part of the reason. With your help, GAVI supported childhood immunization in poor countries over the last 10 years, saving the lives of 5.4 million children, and shielding millions more from the long-term effects of illness on growth and development.

The U.S. has been a leader in immunization, but we can’t do it alone. Working with and through groups like GAVI helps ensure that other donor countries, companies and foundations, as well as developing countries themselves, all contribute their share: a global solution to a global problem. In addition to the U.S., fourteen other countries and the European Union are donors, and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is also a generous supporter.

People have been a big part of that success as well. GAVI has had strong, high-level leadership – the Rwanda meeting marked the last for Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland who served as chair of GAVI’s board, who deserves thanks for her advocacy. Norway has been a global leader in the fight to immunize children in the poorest countries, and its former health minister, Dagfinn Hoybraten, took over as chair – underlining Norway’s continuing commitment.

U.S. leadership isn’t just a matter of money.  The expertise of people at USAID has been crucial as well.  Since the ‘70s, USAID professionals have worked with partners across the globe to confront the challenge of vaccine-preventable diseases and help immunize children in remote parts of the world.  Working with an efficient partner like GAVI that mobilizes resources from other countries, foundations and companies multiplies the impact of U.S. expertise, as well as dollars.

GAVI is a model for the new approach the U.S. is taking through the Global Health Initiative: an innovation approach, a public-private partnership seeking innovative sources of finance for vaccines for poor countries, investing in children, with a clear focus on measurable results.  GAVI is a true partnership, accomplishing more than any nation could do on its own, and doing it efficiently, with a small staff.

As the U.S. expands the life-saving impact of our global health assistance through the Global Health Initiative announced by President Obama, our support for immunization will continue, because it is one of the most cost-effective ways to save lives and promote health.  Reaching children with this simple, affordable intervention is one of the smartest investments in global health – and the right thing to do.  And we can do it in a way that builds national systems, so they won’t need help forever.

These times demand that we provide more health for the money we invest in global health. Despite the success of immunization programs, vaccine-preventable diseases are still estimated to cause more than 2 million deaths every year.

We will help because compassion is a fundamental American value — and so is efficiency in using the resources we have, innovation to make those resources go further, and realism to know we can’t do it all by ourselves.  Working with and through GAVI, we have changed the future of millions of children and families. That’s effective, efficient realistic compassion, and it’s worth doing more.

Saving Seca – Protecting Victims of Trafficking

Human trafficking is an abuse of human rights and a form of modern slavery that transcends societal borders without regard to race, gender or age. It affects men, women and children all over the world but most especially in developing countries.

Individuals and families are entrapped in through forced labor and complicated schemes of debt bondage that often continue from one generation to the next. Countless victims are forced to become child soldiers or sexual slaves, coerced into prostitution and humiliating, often brutal situations that result in physical and psychological trauma.

The global community has condemned human trafficking and is committed to finding ways to stop traffickers and better assist victims. Today, USAID Chief Counselor, Bambi Arellano spoke at the Washington D.C. premiere of the anti-trafficking film, Saving Seca, at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.  The screening was a joint collaboration between USAID and The Asia Foundation for  the “16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence,” campaign which runs each year from the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women through International Human Rights Day.

The film is intended as a police training tool that demonstrates best practices for ensuring the protection of trafficking victims during brothel raids and rescues. It is a dramatization presented in Cambodian with English subtitles; it follows Seca, a young trafficking victim who has been sold to a brothel and the Cambodian’s police efforts to free her and other victims. The film has been endorsed by the Royal Government of Cambodia and is now included in the official training for police in that country.

Gender violence is a global epidemic – a human rights abuse that encompasses a broad range of issues including human trafficking. USAID is committed to working with our partners and the NGO community to continue to combat gender based violence and human trafficking around the world.

U.S. Responds to Cholera Outbreak in Haiti

Nancy Lindborg is the Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. Photo Credit: USAID

Nancy Lindborg is the Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. Photo Credit: USAID

Responding to disasters is never easy, and the cholera outbreak in Haiti is no exception.  The six-week-old outbreak has claimed the lives of more than 2,000 Haitians and infected 80,000 others.  Sadly, this illness will likely continue to spread for many months to come, and cholera will be present in Haiti for years.

Six weeks after joining USAID, I traveled to Haiti as part of the U.S. response to the cholera outbreak.  I saw the worst of it:  sick women and children, massive dehydration, and widespread fear.

I also saw signs of hope and reasons for the American people to be proud of our response to the outbreak.  The Haitian Government is leading the charge against cholera, and the U.S. Government is coordinating with the international community to deliver life-saving supplies, train Haitian medical staff, and monitor the outbreak.

United States government assistance to the cholera outbreak has been a swift, coordinated multi-agency effort.  We have collectively provided more than $21.5 million in assistance for the cholera outbreak in Haiti to date.  As cholera continues to spread, the U.S. Government is focusing on both the prevention of and treatment for the disease.

On the prevention side, USAID is supporting a nationwide messaging campaign to promote better hygiene practices and increase public awareness of prevention and treatment of the disease.  We are also training almost 7,500 community health workers and hygiene promoters across all 10 departments in Haiti.

Slideshow provided by Flickr. Click here for captions and high-resolution images

To further assist the Government of Haiti’s cholera prevention programs, USAID has already delivered or scheduled the delivery of much-needed cholera prevention supplies.  These include:

  • 30 metric tons of chlorine, which will provide nationwide treatment of Haiti’s  water utilities for three months
  • 15 million aquatabs, enough to help 750,000 people
  • Nearly 63,000 family hygiene kits, to benefit 345,000 people

As the numbers of cholera patients increases, we are also increasing our cholera treatment activities. U.S. government funding has established 27 cholera treatment facilities, and we are working to bring an additional 37 facilities online as soon as possible.

To further increase treatment capacity, USAID delivered 25 cholera treatment kits to Port-au-Prince last week.  These kits include items such as medical supplies, gloves, soap, and intravenous fluid, and the kits will help treat 10,000 moderate and severe cholera patients.  These cholera kits are being placed at critical sites in underserved and remote, rural areas in each of Haiti’s 10 departments.

USAID is also providing supplies to aid in the treatment of cholera.  The following supplies are already in country or planned for staggered arrival through the month of January:

  • 5.3 million ORS sachets, which will benefit an estimated 530,000 people
  • 600,000 liters of ringer’s lactate, which will benefit 75,000 patients
  • 2,000 cholera beds

NGOs, donors, and other members of the international community are also mobilizing to help curb the spread of this epidemic.  Tragically, it will be nearly impossible to fully stop the course of this epidemic.  The earthquake exacerbated Haiti’s weak sanitation systems and health infrastructure, making it particularly susceptible to disease outbreaks.  Cholera is also a new disease for Haitians, so their immune system is more vulnerable than those populations where cholera is endemic.

Our goal is first to ensure every Haitian receives information about how to prevent infection and how to recognize the early symptoms of cholera. Secondly, we are determined to reduce both fatalities and the number of severe cases that require hospitalization.  We’re already seeing progress.  Early in the outbreak, about 9 percent of hospitalized cholera cases were fatal.  In the latest reports from Haiti’s Ministry of Health, that figure is down to 3.5 percent.

To say 2010 was a challenging year for Haiti would be a brash understatement.   An earthquake, hurricane, and disease outbreak would test the mettle of any population, but Haitians are confronting these challenges head on, and they’re doing it with unprecedented resolve and tenacity.

Micro Entrepreneurs, Big Dreams

In most ways, Khanum Bibi is an ordinary Punjabi wife in Lahore, Pakistan—the country’s second largest metropolitan area. Married 25 years, she and her husband Nisar have raised a son and five daughters in a small village on the outskirts of the city relying on his income as a day laborer and her work making and embellishing ladies garments with beads at home.

One of Bibi’s daughters at work embellishing a shalwar. Photo Credit: USAID/Pakistan

The family squeaked by until hard times struck last year. In the heart of an economic downturn, Nisar was injured in a street accident and could no longer work. Trapped economically, the couple agreed that Bibi should take the unusual step of venturing out of the house and proposed to her neighbors to sell the garments together to get better deals from market vendors.

At just the right moment a USAID program offered to train her on product design and development, use of raw materials, market demand, and pricing arrangements. The next month, Bibi left her daughters to work at home and became a sales agent – an entrepreneur.

“I have had a difficult life,” Bibi said, wiping a tear with her headscarf. “But I feel a tremendous responsibility for my family since my husband’s injury. My becoming a sales agent has improved our condition, and also my confidence. Now that I have this opportunity, I want to maximize it.”

This USAID program will increase the incomes of at least 120,000 micro entrepreneurs like Bibi by developing the capabilities of indigenous organizations and local private and public sector partners working with micro entrepreneurs and small enterprises to significantly build their businesses.

As for Bibi, she consults with her husband Nihar on all important business decisions, and maintains her established role in the family setting as she breaks down some of Pakistan’s social barriers and rigid social traditions.

“My husband didn’t give me the right to work,” Bibi said. “I earned it. Today we make joint decisions, and the people in our village understand. USAID has given me new ideas and approaches I never would have considered.”

The 16 Days Campaign to End Violence Against Women: From 25 November to 10 December, USAID will post a blog each day that aims to prove a single point: The human race cannot progress when half of the world population lives without the same rights and respect afforded to its male counterpart. If you are moved by what you read and want to share, we’ve made it easy for you. Click here to find out how.

Europe and Eurasia Celebrates Progress on Disability Rights and Addresses Continuing Challenges

Nver Mirzoyan, an 8-year old child in Hobartsi, Armenia, suffers from congenital cerebral palsy and was able to attend school for only a few months a year.  During winter he stopped going entirely because his mother—the sole breadwinner of the family—was busy earning money through odd jobs and Nver could not reach the school in his home-made wheelchair.  Through a USAID-funded program, Stepanavan ADP and their partner DPO, “Full Life” intervened on Nver’s behalf, and obtained the agreement of the Hobartsi school Principal to accept Nver in his school beginning in September 2009.  The school was also targeted for modifications to improve accessibility as part of the USAID program.  A ramp was constructed for the school which made the school entrance accessible for Nver.  “Full Life” is working with his school and providing them with an inclusive education toolkit, helping the staff and children to better integrate Nver and children like him into the school community.

Armenian researcher conducting street poll on disability issues. Photo Credit: World Vision

Unfortunately, the stories of most people with disabilities (PWD) in Europe and Eurasia do not end as happily as Nver’s. In most countries in the region it is estimated that somewhere between 3% and 10% of the population is living with some form of disability.  Children with disabilities are typically relegated to “special schools” where they obtain an inferior education or they may be kept out of school altogether by parents who fear the stigma attached to their child’s disability. Very few schools in the region are able to offer inclusive education, although there are some efforts to improve this situation, including several funded by USAID. Also, adults with disabilities are very rarely employed. For example, estimates are that less than 10% of the adults with disabilities in Armenia have jobs. Due to the combination of high levels of unemployment and the meager disability benefits that are offered across the region, individuals with disabilities are at great risk of living in poverty. Given that social services for PWDs are also largely absent, the conditions under which they live are often dire.

USAID Missions in many countries in the region are funding programs designed to address the many barriers that keep PWDs from realizing their human rights and that make it difficult for them to be included in the social and economic life of their communities. For example, in Montenegro, USAID is helping to build a lodge in Durmitor National Park that is specially adapted to the needs of young people with disabilities so that by next summer as many as 160 disabled youth will be able to take advantage of outdoor activities available. Through the Equal Access for Equal Opportunities project in Macedonia, all 334 central primary schools were assessed to gauge the capacity of schools to be inclusive and to provide services to children with disabilities, especially through the use of assistive technology. The resulting statistics are able to quantify for the first time the needs of children and what must be done in the school system to meet these needs. USAID/Russia, USAID/Albania, and USAID/Serbia are all working on activities designed to increase the likelihood that PWDs will be able to obtain jobs by helping to amend laws and policies, providing vocational and skills building opportunities, organizing job fairs, and other innovative services.  While in Russia earlier this year, I met Denise Roza the Director of the Russian disability rights NGO, Perspektiva. She has amazing positive energy, and through Perspektiva, has been working to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities in Russia. Rosa pointed out that over the last decade they have been able to partner with disability organizations through 15 regions in Russia!

On Friday, our Missions joined the international community in celebrating the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.  In Georgia, in collaboration with the Ministry of Labor, Health and Social Affairs (MoLHSA), USAID and its implementing partners held a conference designed to highlight the existing state policies related to PWDs, present the state programs that have been implemented in line with Georgia’s three-year national disability action plan, and describe government strategies/programs for 2011.

Having marked the 2010 International Day of Persons with Disabilities last week, we will now keep working every day to advance fundamental rights for people with disabilities so that they may live a more equitable life with greater opportunity.

Taking a Stand Against Violence Now

“Girls have been made to believe that they need someone to survive.”

These powerful words came from one of the commentators in the short documentary, SASA!, a film about women, violence and HIV/AIDS.

Sasa is Kiswahili for “now.” As in now is the time to take a stand against women’s violence. And we need to make this change now.

SASA! tells the powerful story of Josephine and Mama Joyce, two women from different countries, but in similar situations. Beaten, abused, pushed down, and left HIV positive by the men they married.

As young women, they were made to feel powerless and told they wouldn’t be happy unless they were with a man—even a man who abuses them.

Their situations are not isolated cases; globally, at least one out of every four women is beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused during her lifetime.

One out of four.

Gender based violence (GBV), is a pervasive public health and human rights issue throughout the world. GBV consists of sexual, physical, emotional and/or financial abuse and is manifested throughout the life cycle.

Furthermore, this type of violence against another human being has negative health consequences.

In Mama Joyce and Josephine’s situations, they were both left HIV positive. Josephine’s husband slept with other women, and when she brought up the use of a condom, he beat her. And even though she protested, he forced sex on her. Adding salt to the wound, her in-laws blamed their son’s death on her. Mama Joyce’s husband left her and his second wife, leaving Mama Joyce to take care of her ailing “co-wife.”

But these women remained strong. They became leaders in their communities, hold support groups, and encourage other women who are in similar situations.End Violence Against Women Graphic

USAID, through the Global Health Initiative, is fully committed to preventing and responding to gender-based violence. Interventions work with both men and women to address the multiple factors at various levels that fuel the issue, and we are looking to help make a change in these women’s lives now.

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