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Archives for 50th Anniversary

Green Hiker-Green Planet Campaign Ignites Broad Partnership and Inspires Action on Climate Change


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Last Tuesday, at almost 3500m above sea level; cold, wet and muddy from a light snow storm that had been a steady drizzle a half-hour earlier, and out of breath from walking uphill for three hours straight, I considered myself fortunate. I was trekking through one of the most beautiful alpine regions in the world, Nepal’s Langtang region, together with 19 other fellow men and women, all prominent personalities from disparate sectors of the Nepali society. Our team was on a four-day mission to observe the impact of climate change on the Himalayan Mountain range and to learn about the ongoing climate change adaptation initiatives supported by USAID and the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) and led by local communities.  The trek, called the Green Hiker-Green Planet campaign, was organized by USAID in partnership with WWF to raise the awareness of global climate change among non-development or academic professionals—particularly the media and members of Nepali parliament and the private sector—and to encourage collaboration among these diverse groups.

Along the trek route, we passed through several areas affected by landslides and forest fires that had completely destroyed villages and ruined water sources for thousands of people.  The landslides and fires are direct causes of changing weather patterns and deforestation in the Himalayas.  Many of the people who lived in the region that we spoke to were gravely aware of the gradual, yet steady, change in the previously predictable climate of the region.  The changes had been particularly drastic over the last ten years they said, from changing rainfall patterns to extended dry seasons, hitting their crops—and thus, their livelihoods, the hardest.

Those that took part in the Green Hiker-Green Planet campaign, was organized by USAID in partnership with WWF to raise the awareness of global climate change among non-development or academic professionals—particularly the media and members of Nepali parliament and the private sector—and to encourage collaboration among these diverse groups. Photo Credit: USAID/Nepal

Along the trail, a farmer we met at Jibjibe village recited a poem on climate change for us. Remarkably, her poetry was not about the sublime and dramatic snowcapped and jagged Himalayan peaks but about carbon credits, changing weather patterns, depleted water sources and the need for heightened attention and action on climate change. We were left in awe, somewhat shocked and surprised that a farmer in such a remote village of the Langtang region could so articulately talk about climate change and its impact. He summarized the purpose of our trek in plain, simple language – an often difficult feat for many of us, including those in the development profession.

The diversity of the group added greatly to the discussions during the trek allowing for different perspectives and exchange of ideas. We were not only learning from our interactions with the communities and from our site visits, but also from each other. Mr. Anil Chitrakar, a leading energy and environment activist in Nepal and chairperson of the Himalayan Climate Initiative, shared “climate change is so big and beyond us that it requires urgent action on the part of all. This trek brought together such a diverse group of passionate Nepalis committed to advancing the many social, development, and political issues of the country, stimulated excellent ideas, and helped create a strong partnership network. If we stay committed, this network can grow from 20 of us to thousands and spur stronger joint action on climate change and environment conservation. That’s our goal, and I know this team, together, can make that happen.”

The trek closed back in Kathmandu with an Earth Day press conference on April 22during which trek highlights and remarks by key experts on climate change were the major theme. Speaking at the press conference, Dr. Kevin A. Rushing, Mission Director of USAID/Nepal, remarked “it is especially imperative to address climate change in Nepal because of its largest glacier concentration outside the polar region.  Nepal hosts eight of the world’s tallest peaks and around 3,200 glaciers and 1,466 glacial lakes—with approximately 1.3 billion people dependent on the water that comes out of the mountains’ many rivers. ”

The Green Hiker-Green Planet Campaign also served as a sounding board and an informal inauguration of USAID’s new environment program in Nepal called Hariyo Ban Nepal ko Dhan (or Green Forests in English) which will contribute to the reduction of threats to biodiversity and vulnerabilities of global climate change in Nepal through interventions in two priority bio-diverse landscapes: the Gandaki River Basin and the Terai Arc-Landscape. The many ideas from the trek will feed into the program once it is rolled out in a couple of months’ time.

The trek was also held to commemorate USAID/Nepal’s 60th Anniversary and WWF’s 50th Anniversary. With 60 years of development efforts in Nepal, USAID has a long history of successful and cutting-edge environmental programs in the country, including its work with community forest user groups to support environmental governance, conserve biodiversity, and promote sustainable livelihoods.

On that Tuesday at 3500m in a snow storm, we stopped for lunch and shelter in a tea house in Singompa, a picturesque village in a beautiful pine forest with a breathtaking view of the Langtang range.  Huddled together sipping hot soup, the trekking team had one of its most stimulating discussions at the tea house. Sunil B. Pant, one of the three parliamentarians on the trek and an upcoming political leader, commented, “The next major conflict in Nepal and elsewhere will be caused by climate change if we don’t act now to mitigate the threats it poses. The Green Hiker-Green Planet campaign is a great opportunity to discuss how we can all work together as partners to address climate change and its effects. The momentum we gain during this trek needs to continue.” The fog rolled up the mountainside bringing more rain turned into snow changing with it the mood of the trekkers inside.

We felt euphoria first, because for most of us living in Kathmandu, the snowfall experience is limited to the movies and TV we watch. But the euphoria soon turned into reflective discussions because of the unusual April snowstorm; snowfall season even in these mountains should have ended by March. For any and all of the skeptics in us, there wasn’t a bigger moment of truth than this – climate change was happening and is inevitable. “What were we going to do to prevent and mitigate its negative impact?”

Worth a Thousand Words

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This image captured top honors in the latest FrontLines photo contest. These rural schoolchildren participate in the USAID-funded Southern Sudan Interactive Radio Instruction project, which uses radio to broadcast interactive student lessons. The lessons, based on Southern Sudan’s primary school syllabus, complement classroom instruction in literacy, English, mathematics, and life skills for grades one through four. July 2010. Photo Credit: Karl Grobl, Education Development Center Inc.

Celebrating National Women’s History Month: Mother and Daughter Team Up for Development

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The phrase “like mother, like daughter” can refer to common physical traits or hobbies, but in the case of Paula and Caroline Bertolin, it is their shared passion for development work that best applies.

March is National Women’s History Month, a time to reflect on the countless women who are making a difference in the world.  For Paula, it is through her work at USAID.  She believes in the Agency’s mission of humanitarian assistance. “USAID does what needs to be done for countries that need it,” she explains.   Paula is an officer in the Office of Food for Peace, working on issues of food security for Ethiopia for the U.S. Government’s longest-running and largest food assistance program.  These initiatives respond to short-term relief and long-term development.  Before working at USAID, she served over five years in the Peace Corps in Cameroon, and has worked for Catholic Relief Services in Burkina Faso and in Kenya.

Caroline, 30 years old, followed her mother down the development career track.  She recently became a member of the Foreign Service where she is a Contracts and Agreements Officer, overseeing the execution of contracts and assistance awards.  She works on the business side of USAID, in partnership with recipient governments and organizations to make USAID assistance as effective and efficient as possible.

“My parents were very proud and excited,” she says of their reaction when she decided to work for USAID. In the career choice, she has also emulated her father, a 30-year Foreign Service veteran. For Caroline, it’s not just a career, but a lifestyle.  She believes kids who spend a part of their childhood surrounded by different cultures, languages and people develop excellent skills of observation and adaption.  She acknowledges that when growing up, her best answer to the “where’s home” question was:  “wherever my family happens to be at the moment!”

Although Paula has spent most of her career working in the Africa region, Caroline is ready for assignments in any region of the globe.  She explains: “Part of the beauty of being a Contracting Officer is that you are a true generalist.  You get to work with a variety of programs from any and all technical sectors at USAID and you are always wanted—and  needed – everywhere!”

Reflecting on National Women’s History Month, Paula believes that women in the work force still have “a long way to go, particularly if you choose to take time out for childrearing.” She cites that women, especially with interrupted careers, are victims of the pay gap, which was recently cited in a White House report.

The younger Bertolin gives her mother’s generation credit for breaking into USAID’s male-dominated Foreign Service Corps. However, she states, “the women of my generation need to produce more representation at the top levels of USAID — we need more women in high-level leadership roles.  This will affect how girls at home and abroad think about women and their role in development.”

Like mother, like daughter.

Coming Full Circle: My Experience with USAID

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By: Anne Ralte, USAID Senior Advisor

Anne Ralte, aged 10 years old, of Calcutta, West Bengal, India, in a photo sent to her Christian Children’s Fund sponsors, Drs. Sally and Donald Hoople.

I was born in Mizoram (“land of the Mizo people”), a remote, mountainous part of north-eastern India, with our own language and culture.  During my early childhood in the 1950’s, we were a marginalized tribal group with most families, like mine, making a living by farming.  We lived in simple one-room wooden houses built on stilts along the hill slopes – with no running water or electricity.  Our everyday life centered on work in our family rice farm.  My mother, older sister and I had the additional burden of fetching water from mountain springs, washing the family laundry in rivers, gathering firewood and cooking.  Since there was no public transportation, we walked everywhere – up and down hills and valleys.  When I was able to make the four-mile trek, I sometimes joined my older siblings in attending a small missionary school. With no television or radio, our universe revolved around our close-knit community, with occasional stories by those adventurous enough to walk across the border into Myanmar (then known as Burma).

After my father died, when I was five years old, my mother struggled to take care of the farm and the small home bakery that my father had started.  Although illiterate, she intuitively knew that for us to do better in life, we would have to be placed in an English-speaking boarding school in Calcutta, West Bengal.  In those days, widows automatically lost their social standing in the community, with their role relegated to the upbringing of children and menial duties assigned by in-laws.  Traveling outside the community (or having an independent life) was frowned upon by the elders, so her decision led to her being ostracized.  Now, forty plus years later, my mother’s vision has become widely accepted.

This is how I ended up in a small school that served the poor with a Title II food aid and a children sponsorship program.  The Welland Gouldsmith School, connected to the Old Mission Church, was a charitable institution founded in 1870 to impart European education.  My mother was able to get my older sister and myself enrolled by paying a small amount of monthly fees.  However, she died about a year after we were enrolled as boarders.  My older brother, who stepped in to take care of us at age 16, also died within a year.  Fortunately, a family from New York participating in the Christian Children’s Fund sponsorship program took a special interest in me as they were school teachers pursuing doctoral degrees and just like them, I loved to learn.  Besides excelling in my studies, I learned to play the piano and violin, and also tried learning the sitar.  My early years of trekking up and down the hills of Mizoram prepared me well for competitive track races, basketball and other sports — so my life, while there was deep sadness, was full.

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A History of Health Aid

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Some of the villagers in Dourbali line up at the "fair" table, where mobile health team aides dispense medicines.

In the 1970’s, there was an international effort that sought to provide relief and development assistance to the victims of the savage drought that has brought distress to the Sub-Sahara countries of Africa. The United States, through USAID participated in a Recovery and Rehabilitation program aimed at providing the basis for social and economic development of the area, known as Sahel. AID’s assistance included health and nutrition projects; agriculture and livestock production; water management; transportation and reforestation activities, as well as emergency relief.

USAID@50 – International Women’s Day

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By: Abby Sugrue and Laura Rodriguez, USAID

We were rummaging through historic USAID materials in the basement of the Ronald Reagan Building and found this photo of a young nurse and a baby. We couldn’t find a project name, date, title, or country – just “USAID” scrawled in pencil on the back. Still, the image stayed with us, especially as we were preparing to commemorate the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.

This week USAID, along with the Government of Norway, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, and The World Bank launched Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development, to seek innovative prevention and treatment approaches for pregnant women and newborns in rural, low-resource settings. Saving lives at birth is one of the most critical challenges we face in developing countries. Finding new technologies, such as low-cost infant resuscitation devices or incubators, and new approaches to improve birth outcomes for mothers and newborns would not only alleviate suffering, but would also have a significant impact on public health and economic productivity.

In honor of maternal and child health workers around the world who are saving lives, we hope you enjoy this photo.

Nurse feeding a newborn.  Photo found in archived USAID materials.

This photo of a nurse feeding a newborn was recently found in archived USAID materials.

Helping the First Elections to Succeed

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Today I work at USAID/Indonesia as a development specialist in the Office of Democratic Governance. But during the popular uprising that led to the downfall of Suharto and the return of democratic government to Indonesia I was a student activist.

After the popular, student led uprising in Indonesia – similar to what recently occurred in Cairo, Egypt — the government agreed to early elections in 1999. I joined the Indonesian Rectors Forum (Forum Rektor), an NGO that was formed in support of democratic elections, and organized a group of individuals to develop manuals and forms for election monitoring. I was subsequently trained as a national trainer for voter education by the American Center for Labor Solidarity (funded by USAID) and as a national trainer for elections monitoring. I was also the head of division for election monitoring training in the Bandung office of Forum Rektor. This led to a position at the national office in which I managed about 300,000 volunteers for voter education, vote monitoring, and parallel vote tabulation, and eventually to a position in the Executive Office.

I knew USAID/Indonesia FSN Mimi Santika (who continues to work at the Mission today) as the Forum Rektor contact at USAID and met her several times in 1999. My first contact with the American Embassy was actually in 1998 with Ining Nurani. Today she is a colleague in the Democratic Governance Office at USAID, but then she was with the Political Section of the Embassy. I met with Ining because the Embassy wanted to know more about the student movement in Indonesia. We talked about the Forum Rektor Task Force strategy on fighting the New Order regime of President Sukharto. We, in turn, were curious about the US perspective.

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USAID@50: Stories from the field

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Tiana Razafimahatratra, a Foreign Service National working at USAID’s Madagascar misson, tells the story of her first days working with USAID.

When I told my former colleagues from CARE that I had been recruited by USAID to join the mission in Madagascar as a Foreign Service National (FSN), their first reaction surprised me. It was to talk of stars.

“Stars?” I asked.

Yes, answered my friend Malala. She then went on to detail the US flag: “It’s full of bright stars. And now you are going to become one of them!”

My response was that I was proud to join this strong development agency and that I was impatient to contribute to the brightness of USAID by leaving invaluable legacies for my country, Madagascar.

My first day at the Mission was chock-full of surprises, and I have carried the memories with me for the past seven years. November 29, 2004 was the day for a presentation of the “Managing for Excellence Report” – MER for the Environment and Rural Development (ERD) program, during which the ERD team had to present achievements, results and challenges.  Despite my recent arrival, I was put right in the thick of things and asked to participate in a major presentation to share our achievements. This was also going to be my first introduction to the Mission Senior Staff.

Emotions were swirling: excited and proud, but also anxious about being publicly exposed to those I considered as USAID veterans.  The portfolio presentation was planned for the afternoon so that I had time to prepare with the team during the morning.  My responsibility was to present the evolution of Madagascar’s forest cover as a result of USAID’s ERD program. I flashed back to what my friends had said upon learning of my new job: bright stars. This gave me the strength and willingness to face challenges.

I have to keep shining, I thought. Be bright for USAID, be bright with your new team, be bright for your country, and be bright for yourself.  Don’t see stars due to dizziness and nervousness, but be clever and deliver the best.

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My Journey with USAID

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By Winston J. Allen, PhD
Senior Evaluation Specialist, USAID Bureau for Policy, Planning, and Learning

USAID entered my life in 1963, when I participated in the school lunch program at my elementary school, the Congo Town Municipal Primary School in the outskirts of Freetown, Sierra Leone. The school lunch, supported by USAID, was a high point in our school day, and was the only thing that stood between us and our regular lunch time soccer game. The lunch menu was usually fish stew served with bulgur, cornmeal, or rice, accompanied by a glass of milk. Although the lunch program was sponsored by USAID, back then, we associated it with President Kennedy. To this day, I can safely say that, President Kennedy has been the most popular American president in Sierra Leone.  Local folk songs were composed in his honor, while streets and buildings were named after him. As kids, we felt that he provided lots of goodies for us, and was an inspiration to my generation on the virtues and values of the United States.

As the years unfolded, USAID continued to play a significant role in the development of Sierra Leone, and my life. As an undergraduate student majoring in geography at the University of Sierra Leone, in the late 1970’s, we made regular field trips to the USAID funded Adaptive Crop Research and Extension (ACRE) Project, as part of an agricultural geography class. Through these visits I saw the development needs of the country, and I became interested in pursuing a career in international development.

Winston Allen visits with participants in a womens empowerment, democracy, and governance project he was evaluating in Nigeria

In 1985, I arrived in the United States to pursue graduate studies in international development planning at the University of Pennsylvania, and my journey with USAID continued.  The agency and its partners were primary sources of data for my dissertation research on the transformation of United States Private Voluntary Organizations (PVOs), from philanthropic to development agents in Africa.  A significant finding of my research was that program activities implemented by PVOs with USAID funds were rarely evaluated. This finding eventually became the basis of my international development career. Upon completion of my doctorate in 1992, my journey continued with working on evaluations of reproductive health, child survival, and HIV/AIDS programs supported by USAID.

In 2010, my journey with USAID brought me to the Bureau of Policy, Planning and Learning, where I now work as a Senior Evaluation Specialist, at the office of Learning Evaluation and Research. My arrival coincided with what I consider a very unique and exciting period in the history of USAID – the elevation of Development as one of the pillars of US foreign Policy, the others being Diplomacy and Defense. More exciting was the recognition of evaluation as the vehicle through which learning can take place to maximize the impact of USAID programs.  As a result, my work has focused on the impact evaluation of the Feed-the-Future initiative, using evaluation methods that include experimental and quasi-experimental designs. Even though my career is dedicated to the scientific rigor of evaluation methods, I always remember that there are people around the world with individual stories of the impact of USAID’s work, including me.

Week 11: Working in Development

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Submitted by Kimberly Ocheltree, Community Health Educator in Peace Corps Cameroon. Before joining the Peace Corps, Ms. Ocheltree worked as a Policy Fellow in USAID’s Office of Population and Reproductive Health.

I used to work at USAID and answer mission’s questions surrounding 13 various policies and statutes related to family planning assistance. My life has drastically changed and now I sit in mud huts educating men and women on the importance of pre-natal consultations using hand-drawn pictures and feeling like quite a bit of information gets lost in translation.

Kimberly Ocheltree on World AIDS Day

Kimberly Ocheltree in Camaroon on World AIDS Day. Photo provided by:Kimberly Ocheltree

The transition from USAID’s Office of Population and Reproductive Health to Peace Corps Cameroon has been challenging and engaging…but most of all it’s been an adventure. I currently work as a community health educator in Tourningal, a small, rural and predominantly Muslim village in the Adamaoua province of Cameroon.

My experiences at USAID prepared me in an incredible way to become Peace Corps volunteer, because it taught me how to think about public health interventions and development programming.

As a result, I conducted a DHS-style survey my first three months at post to assess my community’s maternal and child health needs. Over the last 13 months, I have tried to focus my service on educating men and women on the importance of maternal health for women and families. I have worked to integrate the knowledge of maternal and reproductive health I gained at USAID into my service in an attempt to provide my host community with comprehensible and appropriate health information, which they can utilize to improve their behavior.

Development inherently has its pitfalls and moments of frustration; prime examples for me here in Cameroon have been when close friends in village choose to deliver their babies at home despite my education on the dangers and girls receiving scholarships for their school fees being forced to abandon their studies to get married as young as 16. Despite these challenges, I seek to remember what I’m working for and why I’m trying so hard. Development is a slow process–even though it feels even slower in Cameroon–if no one tries it would never happen. The small successes I have experienced in village make the struggle worth it: mothers adopting soy to enhance their children’s nutrition, villagers actually showing up for free HIV testing on World AIDS Day, and kids being able to ask questions surrounding sexual and reproductive health during a summer camp hosted by Peace Corps volunteers.

Happy 50th Anniversary to USAID and Peace Corps. I’ve been involved with both organizations and I genuinely look forward to the work we can accomplish together over the next 50 years.

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