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Riding the Growth Bubble in an Increasingly Urban World

Did you know that more than half the world now lives in urban areas? And that in the next several decades nearly all population growth will be in urban areas? That’s equal to about 1.4 billion additional urban residents in developing countries from 2010-2030 alone—equivalent to a city the size of Chicago emerging every two weeks for the next 20 years. It doesn’t just stop there, either: The growth bubble gets even bigger after 2030.

To make matters worse, more and more urban residents are living in squalid, hazard-prone, unhealthy and crime-riddled environments, leaving them highly vulnerable to the devastating impacts of natural disasters. The living conditions depicted in films such as Slumdog Millionaire and the image below are everyday life for nearly one in six human beings on the planet. By 2030, it will be reality for nearly one in four.

Shanties hug the water in Manila’s slums. / United Nations University in Bonn

Shanties hug the water in Manila’s slums. / United Nations University in Bonn

The recent earthquake in Nepal, and its impacts on the capital Kathmandu, has laid bare the challenges of governance in the rapidly growing cities of developing countries, particularly with regard to urban planning and management. The risks and vulnerabilities of living in urban conditions like these are only exacerbated during crises. Additionally, the fastest urbanization is taking place in developing countries, which are already disaster-prone. This is why now, more than ever, we must take into consideration the rapidly growing urban bubble before us.

In the past, most plans to manage urban growth and reduce poverty were aspirational–or even inspirational–but almost never operational in terms of actually helping urban communities affected by disasters and crises. Acknowledging this and looking forward, we must focus on creating resilient living conditions in urban areas that are capable of withstanding the subsequent shocks of a disaster.

In Ravine Pintade, USAID worked with partners to remove rubble and help rebuild the neighborhood using two-story shelters. / Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

In Ravine Pintade, USAID worked with partners to remove rubble and help rebuild the neighborhood using two-story shelters. / Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

Take for example Haiti, where in 2010 a magnitude 7.0 earthquake rocked the city of Port-au-Prince, killing over 200,000 people and displacing 1.5 million more. The Ravine Pintade neighborhood was one of the hardest hit areas—nearly two-thirds of the 1,000 families living in the area were instantly made homeless. In the wake of this tragedy, USAID worked with the local community and partners, Project Concern International and Global Communities, to build back safer shelters and neighborhoods.

Ravine Pintade now has a range of disaster-resistant shelters, including what is thought to be the humanitarian community’s first-ever two-story shelters, 8,000 feet of drainage pipes, and improved access to clean water through water kiosks and rainwater harvesting systems for bathing and washing. With these risk reduction measures, Ravine Pintade is serving as a model of how to “Build Back Safer.”

Our work in hazard-prone urban areas reflects the lessons learned in Ravine Pintade. In Mixco, Guatemala, USAID and partners worked to develop the “Barrio Mio” (My Barrio) project, featuring neighborhood-level pre-disaster planning to address natural hazards and socioeconomic vulnerabilities. Thanks to that project, Mixco ended up with reconfigured neighborhoods that created a safer living space

If both humanitarian and development actors engage now and continue to work together toward operational solutions like these, then we can improve resilient living conditions in urban areas that will better withstand the shocks of future crises. We must manage the rising humanitarian risks in areas with rapid, unplanned urbanization and ensure that our humanitarian responses account for the challenges of rapid urban growth. The next time a disaster hits a densely populated city, this will ultimately help us save lives and reduce suffering.

Now is the time to make effective change and get ahead of the expanding global urban growth bubble. It is critical that the places where more and more of our species choose to live – cities – become better able to withstand the shocks of disasters and crises — making them better, safer places to live.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Charles Setchell is the Senior Shelter, Settlements, and Hazard Mitigation Advisor with USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance.

U.S. Increases Funding to Nepal Earthquake Relief Effort

Military personnel unload USAID emergency supplies to be distributed to those in need in hard-hit areas following the magnitude 7.8 earthquake that devastated Nepal on April 25. / Kashish Das Shrestha for USAID

Military personnel unload USAID emergency supplies to be distributed to those in need in hard-hit areas following the magnitude 7.8 earthquake that devastated Nepal on April 25. / Kashish Das Shrestha for USAID

During my brief trip to Nepal, I witnessed firsthand the strength and courage of the Nepali people. From rescuing family and friends in the immediate aftermath of the April 25 earthquake, to sharing food and water with neighbors, the Nepali people are a model of how communities can work together in the face of tremendous loss and devastation.

The United States has stood by Nepal for more than 60 years, and USAID is working shoulder-to-shoulder with the Nepali people as part of an international relief effort.

On April 30, the USAID DART's urban search-and-rescue teams helped pull 15-year-old Pemba Tamang from the rubble, five days after the Nepal earthquake. / Chief Chris Schaff, Fairfax County Fire and Rescue

On April 30, the USAID DART’s urban search-and-rescue teams helped pull 15-year-old Pemba Tamang from the rubble, five days after the Nepal earthquake. / Chief Chris Schaff, Fairfax County Fire and Rescue

USAID deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) hours after the earthquake struck to help in the search for survivors and coordinate the U.S. response to the disaster. Last week, five days after the earthquake struck, we all saw the amazing footage of the DART team saving a 15-year-old boy trapped under the rubble of a collapsed building.

Families in hard to reach places are already receiving assistance, including those in the worst-hit areas like Sindhupalchowk — a district where the earthquake destroyed 90 percent of homes. When I visited, I saw teams distributing emergency shelter materials that USAID airlifted to the region. Thousands of additional rolls of plastic sheeting are expected to arrive this week.

From Nepal, USAID Acting Administrator Alfonso E. Lenhardt announces an additional $11 million for earthquake response efforts. / Suraj Shakya for USAID

From Nepal, USAID Acting Administrator Alfonso E. Lenhardt announces an additional $11 million for earthquake response efforts. / Suraj Shakya for USAID

Building on a rapid and effective disaster response, I announced an additional $11 million toward Nepal relief efforts, bringing total U.S. humanitarian assistance to nearly $26 million. This new funding will provide additional shelter materials, critical medical supplies, safe drinking water, hygiene kits, and improved sanitation to people affected by the earthquake.

With the monsoon season fast approaching, international aid groups must work quickly. In the coming days and weeks, USAID and partner organizations will ramp up assistance with a focus on providing emergency shelter to those in need.

We have a key partner in the U.S. military, which has deployed personnel and five aircraft that will support the delivery of critical commodities to remote villages. To date, the U.S. military has flown four missions to transport emergency shelter kits to a region 100 miles east of Kathmandu. USAID is also in the process of airlifting critical medical supplies to help 40,000 people for three months. Our DART will continue aerial assessments of remote, earthquake-affected areas to make sure supplies continue to reach those in need.

Amid earthquake rubble, USAID Acting Administrator Alfonso E. Lenhardt helps distribute emergency shelter materials to families in need. / Kashish Das Shrestha for USAID

Amid earthquake rubble, USAID Acting Administrator Alfonso E. Lenhardt helps distribute emergency shelter materials to families in need. / Kashish Das Shrestha for USAID

More than a week after the earthquake, the Nepal government is shifting response efforts from rescuing survivors to relief and recovery. International foreign rescue teams are starting to leave the country. The DART is demobilizing its urban search-and-rescue teams, preparing for their return to Virginia and California.

The road to recovery will be long, but rest assured, Nepal will not walk that road alone. The people of Nepal have a longstanding partner in the United States, and we will stand with them as they recover and rebuild from this disaster.
USAID-Nepal-Infographic-1200w

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alfonso E. Lenhardt is USAID’s Acting Administrator.

Media’s Multiple Roles in Democracy and Development

A reporter in Yerevan, Armenia scuffles with a police officer while covering a protest against the demolition of a historic building. / Photolur, IREX

A reporter in Yerevan, Armenia scuffles with a police officer while covering a protest against the demolition of a historic building. / Photolur, IREX

Reading the newspaper while sipping morning coffee and settling into an armchair to watch the evening news have long been iconic images — and for good reason. These sources of information are critical to promoting civil engagement and democracy

Today, in advance of the United Nations General Assembly’s World Press Freedom Day on Sunday, we take a moment to reflect on the vital role that journalists and media play in our daily lives and pay tribute to those who have sacrificed their lives for their profession. Operating around the clock, year-round, the media is expected to provide factual up-to-the minute reporting in addition to deeper analyses of societal issues ranging from democratic governance and free and fair elections to disaster reconstruction and reducing preventable diseases.

USAID Community Radio struggles to keep lines of communication open in a rural, isolated community in Haiti. / Nicole Widdersheim

USAID Community Radio struggles to keep lines of communication open in a rural, isolated community in Haiti. / Nicole Widdersheim

Over the last 15 years as senior media advisor for USAID’s Center of Excellence for Democracy, Human Rights and Governance, I have observed a recurrent theme of the media as a central hub of information exchange. This seems to be something almost everyone can agree on–ordinary citizens and elites alike, regardless of the issue.

This expectation was recently reiterated in Haiti, when a leading Haitian human rights activist told our USAID delegation that “everything is channeled through the media,” comparing media to a “traffic circle, where all issues must pass.” A former journalist, she understood how the media system in Haiti can be a double-edged sword. While some journalists provide accurate and professional media content, educating the public and promoting progress, others can spread misinformation, increase tensions and even undermine stability.

A man in Myanmar reads a newspaper on the street. / Kim Nguyen van Zoen, Internews

A man in Myanmar reads a newspaper on the street. / Kim Nguyen van Zoen, Internews

While in Haiti, we visited seven towns, where local focus groups talked about what they liked and disliked about the Haitian media. Individual opinions differed, but we found widespread appreciation for a few specific areas, such as the recent health information campaigns that helped reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, cholera and other illnesses.

However, Haitians across the board also expressed clear frustration with the lack of quality local news; they felt that more coverage of social issues and educational content could help the country develop faster. This kind of media, they reasoned, could help people make better life choices and engage citizens in their country’s government and development. Simply stated: People valued the power of knowledge and believed in media as a translator of information and source of empowerment.

Women radio journalists from  Radio Ibo FM 98.5 read the midday news for the listening public in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. / Nicole Widdersheim

Women radio journalists from Radio Ibo FM 98.5 read the midday news for the listening public in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. / Nicole Widdersheim

Haitians and international representatives across development sectors agreed. A medical doctor noted that “using community radio for prevention is much more cost effective” than treating diseases that could have been prevented. A specialist working to improve food safety nets added: “The more I work on health issues — including nutrition, the more I realize that the main problems arise from the public’s lack of information.”

USAID Media Officer Mark Koenig treks to the isolated, rural  community radio station, Radyo Vwa Peyizan Abriko / Radio Voice of the People of Abricot. This radio station has received support over the years from USAID and is beloved by the community, not only for sharing news and information, but also for acting in a mediation role and helping in lost and found. / Nicole Widdersheim

USAID Media Officer Mark Koenig treks to the isolated, rural community radio station, Radyo Vwa Peyizan Abriko / Radio Voice of the People of Abricot. This radio station has received support over the years from USAID and is beloved by the community, not only for sharing news and information, but also for acting in a mediation role and helping in lost and found. / Nicole Widdersheim

Throughout the world, USAID supports programs in over 30 countries to strengthen journalistic professionalism, establish media management skills and promote freer media. USAID programs are helping local media systems deliver critical information in diverse areas of development including agriculture, education, health, growth, environmental protection, resource management, conflict mitigation, election reporting and more. In countries struggling to cope with and recover from conflict, USAID also supports peace-building messaging and civil society monitoring.

As the testimony of Haitians suggested, citizens in all countries can be empowered by local media to address the issues they care about. People everywhere — across all development sectors — need trustworthy information and opportunities for public discourse. Access to information is a basic human right — freedom of press is a key foundation of this right. Today, and every day, we applaud the difficult work that journalists and media do and refocus our efforts on how best to empower media systems across the globe.
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Koenig is Senior Advisor for Independent Media Development at USAID’s Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance.

Aid Pushed to the Forefront of U.S. Foreign Policy

USAID Acting Administrator Alfonso E. Lenhardt delivers remarks at the briefing on the 2015 QDDR at the State Department. / Robb Hohmann, USAID

USAID Acting Administrator Alfonso E. Lenhardt delivers remarks at the briefing on the 2015 QDDR at the State Department. / Robb Hohmann, USAID

The second Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), released Tuesday by both USAID and the State Department, provides a blueprint for advancing America’s interests in global security, inclusive economic growth, climate change, accountable governance and freedom for all.

The document is a strong testament to the central role of development in U.S. foreign policy and to USAID’s role as the leading bilateral development agency. Not only does it reinforce development as a pillar of the United States’ national security strategy, but it also makes clear how important diplomacy is to achieving development goals.

“Development is not just a core pillar of U.S. foreign policy, but also a strategic, economic, and moral imperative.”
2010 QDDR and the Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development

The 2015 QDDR outlines four strategic priorities: 1) advancing inclusive economic growth; 2) promoting resilient, open, democratic societies; 3) preventing and mitigating conflict and violent extremism; and 4) mitigating and adapting to climate change. These goals underscore USAID’s Mission Statement. We are working to accelerate ending extreme poverty through inclusive economic growth and helping ensure that people have accountable, rights-respecting governments. However, those gains risk being undermined by conflict, corruption and climate change.

The quadrennial review also strongly reinforces our approach to getting things done and the reforms we’ve made. Building on the 2010 QDDR, it recognizes the importance of modernizing development policies and practices, including the new model of development, which weaves together local ownership, private investment, innovation, multi-stakeholder partnerships, and high expectations for mutual accountability.

QDDR-2015

It further highlights many of our key initiatives like Feed the Future, efforts to end preventable child and maternal deaths, and Power Africa. The document also pushes for greater agility in our workforce — so we can get the right people with the right skills in the right place at the right time — and a focus on managing risk, rather than avoiding it.

Advancing inclusive economic growth: Economic growth itself is not enough for an equitable, peaceful and prosperous world. What we need are economies that include everyone – women, minorities and other marginalized groups. Promoting stronger, more inclusive economies around the world is helping us achieve our goal of ending extreme poverty while also advancing U.S. economic interests.

Promoting resilient, open, democratic societies: We prioritize accountable governance and transparent, effective institutions because they are key to addressing our greatest challenges. The United States must remain a beacon of human rights and freedoms for those places with increasing repression and closing space for civil society. The report highlights the president’s initiative to Stand with Civil Society and our efforts to establish up to six regional civil society innovation centers to connect organizations with each other and encourage peer-to-peer learning.

Preventing and mitigating conflict and violent extremism: Our success or failure in achieving the aims of the quadrennial review will arguably be tested most in fragile environments where our ability to prevent and mitigate conflict is most essential. The document calls for us to advance a clear framework for engagement in fragile states, and makes it clear that we will prioritize prevention, through early-warning analysis and flexible strategies to nimbly fund our work wherever the specter of conflict or atrocities looms.

Mitigating and adapting to climate change: Climate change represents a growing threat to the potential inherent in more equitable societies. USAID will  make sure our programs, policies and staff take climate change risk and adaptation into consideration. This effort will require us to find new partners in capital cities, in the rural communities we serve, and in rapidly growing urban areas.

Our global leadership demands this combined approach to development and diplomacy, and through it, our partnerships, and an emphasis on local ownership, innovation and results, we are forging a path by which strengthened institutions will bring about accountable governance and, ultimately, a more stable world.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alex Thier is USAID’s Assistant to the Administrator for Policy, Planning and Learning. Follow him @Thieristan.

USAID Arrives in Nepal, Earthquake Response Efforts Begin

As the world watches, Nepal continues to face tragedy, destruction and chaos in the wake of Saturday’s devastating magnitude 7.8 earthquake. By current estimates, more than 5,500 people have died and nearly 11,200 more are injured. A total of 8 million people have been affected by the disaster. As rescue efforts continue, these numbers are expected to rise.

On Tuesday, USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) — comprising more than 130 humanitarian experts and urban search and rescue personnel — landed in Nepal with 90,000 pounds of equipment to coordinate the U.S. Government’s earthquake response efforts. Immediately, the DART began conducting disaster assessments and established a base of operations from which teams will work to help locate survivors. A Washington D.C.-based Response Management Team from USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) has also been activated.

Total U.S. humanitarian assistance for the Nepal earthquake response now stands at $12.5 million. USAID provided $10 million to address immediate life-saving priorities, including search and rescue efforts and the provision of shelter, safe drinking water, sanitation, emergency health care, and additional needs that emerge in the coming days. The remaining $2.5 million will go to the United Nations World Food Programme to buy 1,390 metric tons of rice, which is expected to help 120,000 people for one month.

Days after Saturday’s earthquake, women look on at the destruction in hard-hit Bhaktapur. / Natalie Hawwa, USAID

Days after Saturday’s earthquake, women look on at the destruction in hard-hit Bhaktapur. / Natalie Hawwa, USAID

Countries across the world are coming together to help the people of Nepal. The United Nations, international organizations, governments and NGOs are coordinating closely with the Government of Nepal to work quickly and save lives.

“This is a pretty well-oiled machine, actually,” Jeremy Konyndyk, director of USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, said during an interview with MSNBC two days after the earthquake. “There is a whole international system for deploying and coordinating search-and-rescue teams.”

A member of USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team -- from Fairfax County’s urban search-and-rescue team -- works with a canine to search for survivors in the rubble of a collapsed building in Bhaktapur, Nepal. / Fairfax County Fire and Rescue

A member of USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team — from Fairfax County’s urban search-and-rescue team — works with a canine to search for survivors in the rubble of a collapsed building in Nepal. / Fairfax County Fire and Rescue

However, the earthquake response effort is not without challenges. Some aid teams have had trouble landing in Nepal; the already-small airport has had to restrict flight volume. Also, with aftershocks likely to continue in the following days, people are afraid to go back into their homes, and resulting avalanches could block roads — preventing aid workers from accessing some communities.

USAID is developing strategies to deal with these challenges. We are working with the U.S. military on ways to reach hard-hit areas and speed up the delivery of critical supplies. We’re airlifting 700 rolls of plastic sheeting from our warehouse in Dubai to help up to 17,500 people with emergency shelter needs. We’re coordinating closely with our partners to make sure that the most vulnerable are protected from harm.

Mike Davis, a member of USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team, speaks with the Nepalese Army and the community in Bhaktapur, Nepal to figure out where people may be trapped. / Natalie Hawwa, USAID

Mike Davis, a member of USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team, speaks with the Nepalese Army and the community in Bhaktapur, Nepal to figure out where people may be trapped. / Natalie Hawwa, USAID

USAID has a long history of support to Nepal. In addition to numerous programs addressing education, global health, food security and more, the Agency has supported disaster risk reduction efforts in Nepal for more than two decades.

In partnership with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Government of Nepal, USAID has helped identify, prepare, and preserve 80 open spaces in Kathmandu Valley to serve as distribution centers or warehouses in the event of crisis. After Saturday’s earthquake, this program allowed IOM and the Nepalese Government to identify sites that are now being used to shelter displaced people.

DCHA Nepal Earthquake Map

Critical emergency relief supplies have been pre-positioned, allowing communities to have their immediate needs rapidly addressed. Much work has been done to strengthen the ability of Nepal’s government to respond to an earthquake like this one.

USAID is also no stranger to large-scale disaster response. USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance responds to an average of 70 disasters in 56 countries every year, delivering aid to those in need during times of emergency, conflict and crisis. In past year alone, USAID has led the global Ebola response, supported food security during times of drought, responded to floods in Bosnia and Herzegovina and continues to provide life-saving assistance to people affected by ongoing conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and South Sudan.

In the coming days, weeks and months, USAID will stand by the people of Nepal and the region during this time of need to help individuals, families, and hard-hit communities. Click here to learn about ways you can support the organizations responding to the earthquake.

Clara Wagner contributed reporting to this article.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Chuck Setchell is the Response Manager for the USAID Nepal Earthquake Response Management Team.

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Vaccinating Each Child to Build a Village

Community members in a village in eastern India learn about the “My Village My Home” tool at a vaccination session. / MCHIP

Community members in a village in eastern India learn about the “My Village My Home” tool at a vaccination session. / MCHIP

This post is part of the #ProtectingKids blog series. Read the whole series here.

In Chandradeepa, a remote village in eastern India, Esther Das works as an auxiliary nurse midwife tending to the primary health care needs of the community. For almost a decade, she has been playing a key role in making sure pregnant women and children in her village receive routine, life-saving vaccinations.

To keep track of which child has received which vaccine, she has been using a tool called “My Village My Home.” The tool is easy to construct – Esther draws the frame of a house on a piece of paper. After conducting a headcount, she draws a “plank” at the foundation of the house for each child in the village, with the oldest children at base of the house. When a dose of vaccine is administered to a child, Esther shades in their plank to make a solid brick.

“By using the tool, I am able to count all the [children] in my community with their immunization status on a single chart,” she said.

Just as more bricks make the foundation of a real home strong, more vaccinated children make Esther’s village healthier. By using the illustration of a house, Esther is able to easily identify unvaccinated children. To ensure the health of the village, every child needs to receive all recommended vaccinations, the same way every brick in the foundation of the house needs to be in place.

The diligence of community workers around the world like Esther in keeping track of childhood immunizations is critical to helping people live long and healthy lives. This week is World Immunization Week, and according to the World Health Organization progress toward global vaccination targets for 2015 is far off track. One in five children worldwide are not being vaccinated for preventable diseases.

USAID is supporting efforts to solve this problem. In 2011, the Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program — the predecessor to USAID’s flagship Maternal and Child Survival Program — introduced the “My Village My Home” tool in 28 public health care centers in Jamtara and Deoghar districts in Jharkhand state in eastern India to capture and track the immunization status of all children in those villages up to their second birthday.

Esther Das, an auxiliary nurse midwife, reviews the “My Village My Home” tool with community members in a village in eastern India. / MCHIP

Esther Das, an auxiliary nurse midwife, reviews the “My Village My Home” tool with community members in a village in eastern India. / MCHIP

The Anganwadi center, or health care center, in every village posts a copy of the hand-drawn house tool prominently in public. As an easy to understand illustration, the tool allows parents to track their children’s immunization progress compared with other children in the community.

During the study, the “My Village My Home” tool significantly increased the number of children who received vaccines — only 1.9 percent of eligible children in the participating villages did not receive the necessary vaccinations.

The program’s successful outcome combined with advocacy by the Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program encouraged the government of Jharkhand to implement the tool across all vaccination sites in the state.

Successful efforts like the “My Village My Home” tool are helping USAID work toward our mission of ending extreme poverty.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Gunjan Taneja and Anjali Vaishnav are consultants for USAID’s flagship Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program in India.

Slam Dunk: Empowering African Women Through Sports

 Astou Ndiaye shows off her ball-handling skills at last year’s launch of Live, Learn, and Play, a partnership between USAID and the National Basketball Association. / Zack Taylor, USAID

Astou Ndiaye shows off her ball-handling skills at last year’s launch of Live, Learn, and Play, a partnership between USAID and the National Basketball Association. / Zack Taylor, USAID

In Senegal, where I grew up, I guess you could say girls look up to me. After all, I’m 6-foot-3. I also won a professional basketball championship, worked my way through graduate school, and now manage a successful career while raising three kids.

Sure, I was a natural fit for basketball. But there was more to it than just the rebounds and my jump shot. The skills I learned playing the sport have led to my success off the court as much as on it.

I was back in Senegal last year to share this idea with hundreds of my compatriots at the launch of a new partnership that brings together the development expertise of USAID and the global cachet of the National Basketball Association.

The project — called Live, Learn and Play — provides opportunities few of us had when I was growing up. As an alumna of the WNBA, the women’s counterpart to the NBA, I was happy to support this new project, which uses basketball to train youth ages 13-18 in leadership, gender awareness and equality, and community participation.

Basketball changed my life. During the course of my career it opened doors, exposed me to new experiences, and taught me a lot about the world and myself.

But in any capacity–professional or not–getting involved in a sport means mastering skills, having the discipline to stay in school, keeping out of trouble, and leading a healthy lifestyle. These little things give young people the inspiration and ability to become leaders in any field. What you learn on the court can apply to any aspect of life.

Growing up in Dakar, I was fortunate to not lack the basics. However, with 20 siblings you can bet I learned to fight for my share. My mother always emphasized the importance of a good education–when I had to find a creative way to pay for schooling, those lessons in “fighting” paid off.

From the age of 13, I focused all of my strength and toughness on basketball. I practiced all the time: in the rain, and even through Ramadan, when I couldn’t get a drink of water until sunset. Luckily, some great coaches showed me that basketball was something positive that could lead to better things down the road. Mentoring is critical.

A few years later, I made Senegal’s national team. When I figured out that my game could open academic as well as professional doors, I took advantage of an athletic scholarship to go to university, where I graduated cum laude. After being drafted into the WNBA in 2003, I not only had the joy of having triplets, but also of being a part of the Detroit Shock championship team.

Girls learn basic basketball skills under the Live, Learn, and Play partnership with the NBA.“What you learn on the court can apply to any aspect of life,” former WNBA star Astou Ndiaye says. / Zack Taylor, USAID

Girls learn basic basketball skills under the Live, Learn, and Play partnership with the NBA.“What you learn on the court can apply to any aspect of life,” former WNBA star Astou Ndiaye says. / Zack Taylor, USAID

Basketball careers can’t last forever, so in 2008 I retired, became a coach and pursued a graduate degree in human resources. I’ve settled down now, and work with the state Health Care Authority in Oklahoma.

I know that my natural athletic gifts and supportive upbringing gave me better chances than many girls in Senegal. Still, I am convinced the principles I learned on the court led me to where I am today. If you understand early that hard work will pay off, everything else “comes around at the boards,” as they say in basketball. That means stay healthy, pay your dues, and know nothing will be handed to you.

Back in Dakar for the Live, Learn and Play launch, I had a chance to speak to the kids in the program. I told them that the odds of making it to the big leagues are tough, but that’s okay.  Dedication to basketball–at any level–teaches the toughness and resilience you need to find a pathway to a bright and successful future.

What’s great about Live, Learn and Play is the development of a network of skilled coaches, mentors and role models who will help thousands of kids become solid, productive citizens and active community members, whether they continue with sports or not.

This program can help empower girls in Africa, an issue close to my heart. Senegal is among the more forward-thinking countries in West Africa, but women there still face significant hurdles because of their gender.

Wherever I go, I encourage women and girls to push themselves to the forefront in whatever they do. Get out there and own it. Because when women get that, they are the real champions.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Astou Ndiaye, a former star in the WNBA, is a human resources specialist at the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and motivational speaker.

5 Memorable Moments from Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day

Fans wave their hands as singer Mary J. Blige spreads a positive message about empowerment during her performance Saturday at Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. / Ellie Van Houtte, USAID

Fans wave their hands as singer Mary J. Blige spreads a positive message about empowerment during her performance Saturday at Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. / Ellie Van Houtte, USAID

In the days leading up to Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day, there was a magnetic buzz in the air. From strangers on the bus to friends on social media, it seemed like almost every other person I talked to in Washington, D.C. wanted to spend their Saturday afternoon with thousands of friends on the National Mall.

Sure, the event was free and there was the undeniable celebrity appeal of musicians including Usher, No Doubt, Train, Mary J. Blige and Fall Out Boy, but I believe that the event’s underlying goals – ending extreme poverty and fighting climate change – only sweetened the appeal for anyone who believes that collective action can influence social consciousness.

When I arrived on the Mall with my camera in hand, many eager guests had already spread their blankets on the grassy hills surrounding the National Monument. Colorful T-shirts bearing environmental messages and handwritten posters with birthday greetings for “mother earth” made it clear that people were not just there to enjoy live musical performances and short films, but to also express their solidarity as the 45th anniversary of Earth Day approached.

As global leaders, including members of Congress and diplomats from Liberia, Australia and beyond, took to the stage to share their pledges to increase food security, improve access to clean water and sanitation, grow opportunities for young people, and use technology and innovation to spur creative ways to reduce poverty, the crowd responded with enthusiasm.

Phone networks were tied up during most of the day as people sent tweets and signed online petitions in response to on-stage prompts. It was just as much a day about activism as it was a day about entertainment.

USAID Associate Administrator Mark Feierstein was there, too, with a special announcement: As part of the the ongoing effort to respond to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the Agency will invest $126 million in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea to re-establish and strengthen health systems. To date, the U.S. Government has provided $1.4 billion in the fight against Ebola.

Witnessing Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day gives me faith in my generation’s will to shape a more equitable world and reinforces why the United States’ continued commitment to supporting global development and ending poverty is so important.

Enjoy a few of my favorite photos and quotes from last weekend’s celebration below and consider making your own personal commitment to making the world healthier and happier this Earth Day.

4.18.2015_GlobalCitizenEarthDayConcert_USAID_WashingtonMonument_EllieVanHoutte.USAID-1850

1. “Will you support women’s empowerment? Will you speak up to bring all the children to school? Will you raise your voice for people and our planet? … You have the power. Your generation can make it happen. Be a global citizen. Take your passion and compassion to make this world sustainable, prosperous.”U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

More than 250,000 guests joined in solidarity to end extreme poverty and climate change at Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. / Ellie Van Houtte, USAID

More than 250,000 guests joined in solidarity to end extreme poverty and climate change at Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. / Ellie Van Houtte, USAID

2. “It’s about all of us being aware but getting our hands dirty because it’s not going to be an easy thing.”Train frontman Pat Monahan

Celebrity musical guests at last weekend’s Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day included Train frontman Pat Monahan. / Ellie Van Houtte, USAID

Celebrity musical guests at last weekend’s Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day included Train frontman Pat Monahan. / Ellie Van Houtte, USAID

3. “Together we will pledge to mobilize additional budget resources to do our part – to improve our healthcare systems, education systems and create jobs for our young people, and grow our economies so that everyone can benefit.” Sierra Leone Minister of Energy Ambassador Henry Olufemi Macauley

Sierra Leone Minister of Energy Ambassador Henry Olufemi Macauley energized the crowd at the Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day event with a pledge to improve economic opportunity for young people in his country. / Ellie Van Houtte, USAID

Sierra Leone Minister of Energy Ambassador Henry Olufemi Macauley energized the crowd at the Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day event with a pledge to improve economic opportunity for young people in his country. / Ellie Van Houtte, USAID

4. “Together with New Jersey Congressman Chris Smith, I introduced a bill to assist farmers in growing more food and defeat hunger in the world’s poorest countries. The Global Food Security Act will help women secure the tools, education and training needed to produce the food their families and communities need.”U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum

Members of the United States Congress, including Rep. Betty McCollum, shared their support for the Global Food Security Act, a bill that would invest in programs to reduce chronic hunger. / Ellie Van Houtte, USAID

Members of the United States Congress, including Rep. Betty McCollum, shared their support for the Global Food Security Act, a bill that would invest in programs to reduce chronic hunger. / Ellie Van Houtte, USAID

5. “Ten years ago, we set ourselves a target, and we gave 30 million poor people safe water and 50 million people clean toilets. Today, I am doing it again; I am setting another target. Let’s do another 30 and another 50.” Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Lilianne Ploumen

Improving access to clean water and sanitation were issues championed by Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Lilianne Ploumen, left, during Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. / Ellie Van Houtte, USAID
Improving access to clean water and sanitation were issues championed by Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Lilianne Ploumen, left, during Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. / Ellie Van Houtte, USAID
More than 250,000 people attended Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day last Saturday on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. World leaders and musicians encouraged solidarity in the fight to resolve global issues like poverty and climate change. / Ellie Van Houtte, USAID

More than 250,000 people attended Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day last Saturday on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. World leaders and musicians encouraged solidarity in the fight to resolve global issues like poverty and climate change. / Ellie Van Houtte, USAID

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ellie Van Houtte produces and edits written and visual content for USAID as a multimedia storyteller. Follow her @ellievanhoutte.

Rebuilding Liberia As Ebola Cases Decline

Ebola survivors leave their handprints on a wall of the Bong County Ebola Treatment Unit - the facility that saved their lives. / Adam Parr, USAID

Ebola survivors leave their handprints on a wall of the Bong County Ebola Treatment Unit – the facility that saved their lives. / Adam Parr, USAID

In Liberia, life will never be the same. The lost lives will never be forgotten. Much work remains in not just defeating the Ebola virus but making sure it does not return. As the number of Ebola cases gets close to zero, new stories, signs of hope and efforts to rebuild are emerging. Citizens are regrouping, government services are emerging from a standstill and eyes are looking to the future.

USAID is focused on getting to and staying at zero, as well as helping the families impacted by Ebola. USAID programs will get food to communities, help children safely return to school, improve communications systems, get people back to work and re-establish and strengthen health services.

With the help of USAID, Liberia is rebuilding:

FAMILIES

Orphaned by the Ebola crisis, a young girl carries freshly harvested crops to the home of Harriet B. Quenisseeir. Harriet and her husband have welcomed 35 youth--most orphaned by Ebola--into their home. USAID is using food distributions to help ensure that all 35 are fed, happy and healthy. / Adam Parr, USAID

Orphaned by the Ebola crisis, a young girl carries freshly harvested crops to the home of Harriet B. Quenisseeir. Harriet and her husband have welcomed 35 youth–most orphaned by Ebola–into their home. USAID is using food distributions to help ensure that all 35 are fed, happy and healthy. / Adam Parr, USAID

USAID’s mission is to support the many families and individuals who have taken risks and opened their hearts and homes to respond to the Ebola outbreak; our work extends past disease control to providing vulnerable families with food to eat, getting children back in school, and helping reinvigorate markets and economies decimated by the Ebola crisis

In this way, we’re supporting new relationships in families. But we’re also supporting the relationship between people and their government. That means improving public services and communication systems to build confidence between a nation and its citizens.

HEALTH CARE

At the Star of the Sea clinic in West Point, Liberia, a young child waits for an immunization shot. The clinic, run by Catholic Relief Services with support from USAID, has now returned to providing critical health care services including triage, delivering newborn babies, and continuing vital childhood immunizations. / Neil Brandvold, USAID

At the Star of the Sea clinic in West Point, Liberia, a young child waits for an immunization shot. The clinic, run by Catholic Relief Services with support from USAID, has now returned to providing critical health care services including triage, delivering newborn babies, and continuing vital childhood immunizations. / Neil Brandvold, USAID

When Ebola struck, the already weak health care systems in West Africa took a major hit. Most normal services were put on the backburner and the region’s health security infrastructure was put to the test. Ebola taught us that an epidemic knows no boundaries. All nations need health care systems that can respond quickly and effectively to prevent the spread of Ebola and other viruses across their borders.

Now, USAID is helping affected countries restore health services and rebuild their health systems. On April 18, at the Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day Concert in Washington, D.C., USAID Associate Administrator Mark Feierstein announced the Agency’s next step: a $126 million commitment to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea to re-establish and strengthen their health systems.

By supporting a return to normal health procedures, including immunizations, triage and newborn deliveries, we want to ensure Liberians have access to the care they need. At the same time, by better preparing health care workers, clinics and state infrastructures to identify dangerous animal pathogens before they become serious threats, we hope to create a safer, healthier future — not just for West Africans but for Americans and the entire global community.

FOOD SECURITY

Fabio Lavelanet, CEO of Fabrar Rice Liberia, stands in front of a small portion of the tons of rice processed at his facility. The company plays an important part in the USAID Food and Enterprise Development (FED) Program, an initiative to reduce hunger and promote food security for Liberians.  / Adam Parr, USAID

Fabio Lavelanet, CEO of Fabrar Rice Liberia, stands in front of a small portion of the tons of rice processed at his facility. The company plays an important part in the USAID Food and Enterprise Development (FED) Program, an initiative to reduce hunger and promote food security for Liberians. / Adam Parr, USAID

When most people think about Ebola, they usually don’t think about food. USAID does. Through the Food for Peace program, food distributions have been made available to those in need. Also, by stimulating local food production, market functions and household livelihoods, vulnerable groups are gaining access to food security.

As families regroup and rebuild, we want to make sure that having food on the table isn’t a concern, hence ensuring that people can follow their quarantines, support their loved ones and focus on the future.

SCHOOLS

While schools were closed due to Ebola, Aminata, 16, and her siblings refused to put learning on hold. With the help of her mother, Aminata led classes for the family and several neighborhood children. Now, schools have safely reopened and the kids are happy to be back. / Neil Brandvold, USAID

While schools were closed due to Ebola, Aminata, 16, and her siblings refused to put learning on hold. With the help of her mother, Aminata led classes for the family and several neighborhood children. Now, schools have safely reopened and the kids are happy to be back. / Neil Brandvold, USAID

Crises like Ebola aren’t just health sector threats. In fact, when the outbreak made attending school dangerous, classrooms were closed for months — putting children’s education on hold.

However, USAID partnered with the Liberian Government to develop protocols in case of future suspected cases, integrate Ebola social behavior changes into the curriculum, and equip schools with supplies such as chlorine washes and disinfectant kits. As of February, classes are back in session.

Alivin Davi almost died from Ebola. Now he helps trace contacts of possible Ebola cases and gives psychosocial support to patients undergoing treatment. It is the strength and courage of people like him that will move Liberia forward.  / Neil Brandvold, USAID

Alivin Davi almost died from Ebola. Now he helps trace contacts of possible Ebola cases and gives psychosocial support to patients undergoing treatment. It is the strength and courage of people like him that will move Liberia forward. / Neil Brandvold, USAID

Ebola has left much tragedy in its wake. But the call to action that the crisis provoked is well on its way to becoming a triumph. The Ebola response has marked an unprecedented global effort to save lives; the combined and coordinated efforts of the U.S. Government, partner countries, NGOs and the private sector have made this recovery possible while illustrating global coordination at its best.

We are proud to have led the response along with our many partners, and will continue our work until all of Liberia and other West African countries are 100 percent Ebola free.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Clara Wagner is an intern for USAID’s Bureau of Legislative and Public Affairs working on content and public engagement.

From Vaccinations to Vitamins: Ensuring West Africans Get Critical Care Amid Ebola Crisis

Since the Ebola epidemic began in West Africa, the U.S. Government has contributed some $1.4 billion in funding to stop the disease in its tracks. This decisive action led to the major international response we see today and helped lower the number of new Ebola cases.

But our help extends beyond simply getting treatment to people who have fallen ill with Ebola, preventing the virus from spreading, and educating communities about the disease. We are also delivering food to devastated families, making sure children–some of whom lost relatives to Ebola–can get back to school, and ensuring markets are up and running so their parents can make money again.

USAID Associate Administrator Mark Feierstein made an important announcement about the United State’s ongoing commitment to getting to zero new Ebola cases today during the star-studded Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day Concert on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Speaking before hundreds of thousands of concertgoers, Feierstein announced the Agency will provide $126 million to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea to re-establish and strengthen their health systems, which have been weakened by this protracted public health crisis. Thanks to the American people, that money will go to both restoring critical health services that shut down during the Ebola outbreak and rebuilding those health systems so a crisis of this magnitude never happens again.

“That means more moms, dads and their children will get the critical care they need–from vaccinations to vitamins,” Feierstein said. “Our goal is not only to get to zero, but to stay at zero.”

We will also ensure that citizens have access to water and sanitation services, prenatal and maternal health care and nutrition, and programs to prevent and treat malaria and other infectious diseases.

Thanks to USAID clinics like the Star of the Sea in Monrovia, babies like this one are being born safely once again. / Neil Brandvold, USAID

Thanks to USAID clinics like the Star of the Sea in Monrovia, babies like this one are being born safely once again. / Neil Brandvold, USAID

USAID has been hard at work getting hospitals and clinics in the region into better shape.

In Liberia, the already-weak health system was unprepared to handle a crisis of this proportion. When the Ebola outbreak was at its peak, many routine health services became unavailable. Most hospitals were forced to close their doors to anyone but Ebola patients.

Now that the number of new cases is dwindling, USAID-supported clinics like the Star of the Sea are restoring vital health services. They are triaging patients and delivering newborn babies, ensuring that fewer pregnant women will die from preventable causes.

A little girl prepares to get her final round of adolescent shots at the Star of the Sea clinic in Monrovia, Liberia. / Adam Parr, USAID

A little girl prepares to get her final round of adolescent shots at the Star of the Sea clinic in Monrovia, Liberia. / Adam Parr, USAID

Although the Liberian Health Ministry recommends that all children under the age of 1 get several vaccinations, many hospitals and clinics were too overwhelmed during the Ebola crisis to continue to provide immunization services. That has since changed thanks to USAID’s support of clinics like Star of the Sea, operated by Catholic Relief Services. Now, Liberia’s next generation can grow up well protected from preventable diseases.

 Mothers and their children wait to be seen for primary health care services at the USAID-supported Star of the Sea Clinic in Monrovia, Liberia. / Neil Brandvold, USAID

Mothers and their children wait to be seen for primary health care services at the USAID-supported Star of the Sea Clinic in Monrovia, Liberia. / Neil Brandvold, USAID

Beth Gaddis, an American working as a health advisor at the USAID mission in Liberia, has helped provide pre- and post-natal care as well as routine vaccinations at the Star of the Sea clinic.

Working on the Ebola response since March of last year, Beth can tell stories from the “early days.” She’s brought thousands of infrared thermometers in her personal suitcase for temperature checks, and she watched USAID and the Liberian Ministry of Health collaborate when the first Ebola case crossed over from Liberia to Guinea.

Beth Gaddis, a health advisor for the USAID mission in Liberia, is providing routine health services at the Star of the Sea clinic in Monrovia, Liberia. / Neil Brandvold, USAID

Beth Gaddis, a health advisor for the USAID mission in Liberia, is providing routine health services at the Star of the Sea clinic in Monrovia, Liberia. / Neil Brandvold, USAID

USAID has also been supporting the training of thousands of health workers in infection prevention and control — which includes instruction on proper use of personal protective equipment, such as suits, gloves and masks. Institutionalizing these procedures will ensure health care workers tasked with treating people infected with viruses like Ebola won’t fall ill themselves.

In partnership with the West African governments, USAID is committed to restoring and strengthening their health care systems so that any future outbreaks of Ebola can quickly be extinguished.

This map shows the latest statistics regarding the Ebola response in West Africa as of April 14.

This map shows the latest statistics regarding the Ebola response in West Africa as of April 14. (Click for PDF)

USG Funding for the Ebola Response

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nic Corbett is the deputy blog editor of Impact. Follow her @nickycorbett.
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