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This Ramadan, Like Most, It’s Personal

Islamic Relief-USA CEO Anwar Khan delivers remarks during USAID Iftar / Robb Hohmann, USAID

To celebrate the month of Ramadan, USAID employees and members of the community came together for an Iftar dinner. / Robb Hohmann, 

For me, working at USAID goes beyond the mundane: It helps to deepen and solidify my faith.

As a Muslim employee, I am privileged to work for an agency that promotes many of the same core values that my faith inspires in me. Last night’s Iftar dinner hosted by USAID represented the best of those values: partnerships reinforced by good intentions and an elevated desire to help those less fortunate across the globe.

USAID has been hosting annual Iftar dinners in Washington for over a decade. These events bring USAID leadership and staff together with NGOs and religious leaders to meet and celebrate our partnerships. Through these partnerships, we strive to alleviate the suffering of the neediest and to raise the quality of life for so many around the world.

Islamic Relief-USA CEO Anwar Khan delivers remarks during USAID Iftar / Robb Hohmann, USAID

To celebrate  the work of USAID’s many partners to end hunger in communities around the world, Islamic Relief-USA CEO Anwar Khan was invited to deliver remarks during the Iftar celebration. / Robb Hohmann, USAID

During the month of Ramadan, Muslims around the world reflect on their many blessings while abstaining from food and water during the daylight hours. For most Muslims, it’s a challenge of spiritual and physical discipline, but one made easier by the certainty of a fortifying meal at sunset.

However, as we broke our fast last evening, I was reminded of the nearly 1 billion people across the globe who face hunger on a daily basis—200 million of them children. Their hunger is without end; not of choice, but of desperation. During Ramadan, fasting gives Muslims a degree of empathy with the less fortunate—and it can move us to do more.

Today, the United States supplies 46 million people with food aid. President Obama’s Feed the Future initiative has hit its stride by improving nutrition for 12 million children and helping nearly 7 million farmers grow their way out of poverty. The partners attending last night’s Iftar help us deliver that food aid and improve the lives of communities around the world without regard for race or religion.

USAID/ Bangladesh Mission Director Janina Jaruzelski delivers remarks during USAID Iftar / Robb Hohmann, USAID

USAID Bangladesh Mission Director Janina Jaruzelski shares a few words with guests before breaking fast at sunset with guests at USAID’s Iftar dinner. / Robb Hohmann, USAID

While the focus last night was on the work that USAID does in Muslim communities, our partnerships go well beyond that. Hunger and suffering afflict all and all need to be involved in the response. Events like last night’s Iftar dinner help to celebrate the progress we have made, but we are also inspired to continue the hard work that remains.

As we broke our fast and soothed our hunger in the company of so many who share a common goal, my resolve increased to do more to help those who remain hungry: to make sure they have access to clean water, basic education, economic opportunities and good governance.

I am thankful that my work allows me to wake up each morning and do just that every day.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Croshelle Harris-Hussein is a career foreign service officer currently serving in Washington, but on her way to Abuja, Nigeria. Croshelle also heads the USAID Muslims Employee Resource Group (UMERG).

Setting an Example, Emblematic of Recovery Possible in Nepal

A young girl plays with her doll outside her family's tent at Camp Hope. More than 330 families from the Sindhupalchowk district are taking temporary shelter at the camp. / Kashish Das Shrestha/USAID

A young girl plays with her doll outside her family’s tent at Camp Hope. More than 330 families from the Sindhupalchowk district are taking temporary shelter at the camp. / Kashish Das Shrestha, USAID

The summer sun is scorching the ground beneath our feet, and it is barely past 7:30 in the morning.

We move to a perch on an elevated platform, shaded by a large old tree. From here, we see a sweeping, yet jarring view. A horizon line of neat concrete houses, dotted with seasonal potted plants on their roofs, stands in stark contrast to fabric roofs covered in plastic tarp that dot the landscape in the foreground.

This is Camp Hope—a one square kilometer tent city in Jorpati, Kathmandu that serves as a temporary home to 330 households from five villages in the Sindhupalchowk district, just north of Kathmandu. The earthquake damaged or destroyed approximately 88 percent of houses in the district.

“We had to move,” said Sukra Tamang, an 18-year-old who now lives at Camp Hope with his family. “With all the debris and the ground shaking constantly, there was no space to even rest our feet.”

The April 25 earthquake and aftershocks displaced more than 500,000 families, uprooting the foundations of their homes and turning the hill terrain that supported their villages into rubble.

Camp Hope demonstrates the positive outcomes that are possible when private and public sector partners work together.

Tents made of materials strong enough to withstand monsoon season are built at Camp Hope for families displaced from their homes by the April 25 earthquake. / [PHOTO CREDIT: Kashish Das Shrestha/USAID]

Tents made of materials strong enough to withstand monsoon season are built at Camp Hope for families displaced from their homes by the April 25 earthquake. / Kashish Das Shrestha, USAID

Welcome to Camp Hope

At the camp’s main gate, young volunteers check and register all visitors before they are allowed to enter. Inside, a group of senior citizens, already freshened up and dressed for the day, bask in the morning sun as chickens cluck as they scurry past them.

Camp Hope is alive and teeming with activities. It looks, feels, and even sounds like a village. Murmurs of conversation fill the air, people line up at the hand water pump, and children fill open spaces with laughter and play. A group of women wash clothes as the din of construction echoes in the background.

Built on a community football ground, Camp Hope is an exemplary model of private-sector led humanitarian assistance – a clear demonstration of the impact that is possible when the private sector engages with other partners.

“When we wanted to start a camp for these communities, we couldn’t get any government land,” says Sangeeta Shrestha, camp founder and operator of Dwarika, a boutique heritage hotel, owned by her family. “A local youth club came offering their football ground, so here we are.”

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) soon stepped in with additional support. Heavy-duty plastic sheeting provided by USAID was utilized to create shelters that are strong enough to endure the monsoon season. In addition to building temporary homes for displaced families at Camp Hope, USAID provided shelter and protection for approximately 310,000 Nepalis across earthquake affected districts.

A full-stocked kitchen offers three meals a day for residents of Camp Hope. / Kashish Das Shrestha, USAID

A full-stocked kitchen offers three meals a day for residents of Camp Hope. / Kashish Das Shrestha, USAID

A partnership of hospitality

There are many advantages when a world-class hotel owner steps in to lead and manage a shelter like Camp Hope.

“We always have a lot of resources at our disposal, and I am lucky to have my hotel team of engineers and technicians whom I could call on to help set up the camp,” said Sangeeta, who now manages the camp full-time.

Adding a bit of comfort to the lives of displaced villagers, the camp offers a fully stocked kitchen and store room tent that is maintained by Sangeeta’s hotel. Camp residents are offered chicken once a week and eggs twice a week during their meals.

While shelter, food, and basic medical services address the physical needs of residents, their social and emotional needs are also important. Camp Hope offers a variety of programs and spaces to help residents as they heal. A prayer tent allows the community to continue their spiritual rituals in a minimalist manner. In the afternoon, women in the camp engage in sewing, knitting and other crafts in a facility has been set up for training. The camp also enrolled 83 children in a local school and regularly schedules field trips for youth.

“The plan, we hope, is to build back their villages so they can return to their communities,” said Sangeeta as she discusses what the future might hold for Camp Hope.

Camp Hope is designed to be a safe and comfortable space for residents. / Kashish Das Shrestha, USAID

Camp Hope is designed to be a safe and comfortable space for residents. / Kashish Das Shrestha, USAID

Looking Ahead: Charting a roadmap to rebuild a better Nepal

But, returning home for many of the residents of Camp Hope will be a challenge. Questions remain, about when, if, and how rebuilding of some villages may happen. Massive landslides during the April 25 earthquake completely destroyed many communities.

A discussion about the road forward—for vulnerable villages in the most affected regions and across the country—is at the forefront as the Government of Nepal convenes key donors and development stakeholders together at this week’s International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction.

As Nepal’s longest standing development partner, U.S government’s commitment to Nepal has stood the test of time. Our pledge at this week’s International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction increases the total amount of U.S. emergency relief and early recovery assistance to $130 million, and is only the beginning of our contribution to Nepal’s earthquake recovery, which will span multiple years.

As recovery efforts continue, aid and investments from the U.S. Government will support efforts to get the most impacted people back on their feet and to create a Nepal that is more resilient in the future.

  • We will train Nepalis to rebuild seismically-stable houses in affected areas.
  • We will help build temporary learning centers for children who are learning outside in makeshift tents. Efforts are underway to establish approximately 1,000 Temporary Learning Centers in earthquake affected districts.
  • We are helping people rebuild livelihoods by injecting cash and strengthening agricultural systems, the economic lifeblood for nearly 75 percent of the population of Nepal. USAID has already jump started early recovery— our resilience and livelihood program is distributing cash for work to the hardest-hit families, so they can begin the enormous task of rebuilding damaged homes and much-needed infrastructure.
  • We will continue to protect Nepal’s most vulnerable, including those susceptible to human trafficking.
  • We will lay the foundations for a more resilient Nepal by building institutions that can respond effectively to future disasters.

All of these efforts, along with support leveraged from the private sector, can and will help build back a better Nepal.

Those in Camp Hope know that this dream is possible.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Beth Dunford is USAID/Nepal’s Mission Director. Follow her at @beth_dunford, usaid.gov/nepal  and nepal.usembassy.gov.

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Raising the Bar, Honduran Singer Fights Violence through Music

With an inspiring message about peace and non-violence, Eduardo Umanzor performs at a Community Heroes event organized by USAID. / Photo Courtesy Eduardo Umanzor

With an inspiring message about peace and non-violence, Eduardo Umanzor performs at a Community Heroes event organized by USAID. / Photo Courtesy Eduardo Umanzor

Growing up in a middle-class neighborhood in San Pedro Sula, Honduras in the 1990s, the only concern I had was being yelled at or spanked by my parents because I was out late riding my bicycle or playing with kids in the street.

Today, it is a different story.

San Pedro Sula is now one of the most dangerous cities outside of a war zone, with a homicide rate about seven times higher than what health experts consider to be an epidemic. Some have dubbed my hometown “the murder capital of the world.” It fills me with deep sadness to see the city devolve into such violence.

So when the staff of USAID’s Alianza Joven program contacted my band Montuca Sound System to write the theme song for the campaign “Sí podemos Sampedranos”– or “Yes, we can, citizens of San Pedro Sula” — I felt honored. I saw it as a huge opportunity to give hope to a lot of young people through song.

At the time, my band had just become very popular across Honduras thanks to a contract with a mobile phone company, which beamed us into people’s homes with jingles we wrote for TV commercials. I was happy to use my newfound influence to raise social consciousness.

The 2011 launch of the “Sí podemos Sampedranos” campaign to end violence in San Pedro Sula coincided with the development of a Municipal Violence Prevention Plan and the construction of new outreach centers for at-risk youth.

Through nearly 50 youth outreach centers in seven Honduran cities, USAID’s Alianza Joven Honduras program, implemented by Creative Associates, offers a variety of activities to keep young people away from gangs and drugs. The youth outreach centers serve as safe spaces in some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country.

By participating in sports, art, school tutoring, life skills coaching, volunteerism and job training, vulnerable youth are developing the skills they need to live a better life.

Musician Eduardo Umanzor is inspiring young fans to take pride in their communities through uplifting songs.  / Photo Courtesy Eduardo Umanzor

Musician Eduardo Umanzor is inspiring young fans to take pride in their communities through uplifting songs. / Photo Courtesy Eduardo Umanzor

I’ve been impressed with the success of the outreach centers in bringing hope to the community. Many of my songs are about restoring pride in San Pedro Sula and bringing more love and peace to the city and youth. I’m always happy to sing them at graduation ceremonies and community talent shows with youth from the neighborhoods where Alianza Joven works.

Music can be a powerful force for social change. As soon as I get on stage and start singing the song “Un Poco De Amor,” which says, “Honduras needs a little bit of love,” I see the way my fans sing along. I see the way they feel inspired. Then they come to me and say, “Eduardo, these songs help me feel positive about the future.”

I sensed a burgeoning social movement while playing in my past band, Montuca Sound System, several years ago. I was writing songs about bloodshed, injustice and inequality in Honduras, and I saw how that led my friends and other kids my age to open their eyes and become interested in politics.

It’s hard to believe, but a lot of the people that I knew didn’t know they were living in such a troubled place.

I’m optimistic about the future for Honduras. Two and a half years ago, I had the chance to visit my sister in Bogota, Colombia, a city that once struggled with high rates of violent crime. My brother-in-law told me stories of how dangerous the area used to be, the near-constant fear he felt growing up, not knowing when a car was going to explode. You couldn’t feel safe anywhere.

Today, Bogota is beautiful, and not for one second during my stay did I feel unsafe. The transformation Bogota underwent gives me hope for the future of San Pedro Sula. It’s a matter of the community coming together to figure out what’s wrong and then working hard to fix those problems.

It’s never too late to start again for a new beginning.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eduardo Umanzor is a singer and songwriter in Honduras. Follow him @EduardoUmanzor_

Beyond News and Numbers: Who are Refugees?

Children play in the streets of the Hittein Refugee Camp in Zarqa, Jordan. / USAID Jordan

Children play in the streets of the Hittein Refugee Camp in Zarqa, Jordan. / USAID Jordan

Today, in honor of World Refugee Day, USAID recognizes the strength and resilience of the more than 60 million people around the world who flee war, persecution, and human rights abuses in pursuit of safety and stability.

The world is facing an extraordinary time of conflict and crisis— the number of refugees and displaced persons globally is at its highest point since World War II. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that 90,000 refugees seeking safer, more prosperous shores have risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean by boat in 2015.

World Refugee Day marks an opportunity for the international community to recognize the plight of these uprooted families across the globe.

This year’s theme is ‘Get to Know a Refugee – Ordinary People Living through Extraordinary Times.’ The goal is to remind us that refugees are just like everyone else, that their borderless status is not the only thing that defines them.

As many advocates and international development professionals know, more than anything refugees seek normalcy – whether it is a traditional meal that reminds them of home or ensuring that their children continue their education.

The story behind the journey

A mission trip working with Haitian refugees in the Dominican Republic inspired my own personal identification and commitment to refugees.

After witnessing the social exclusion and instability that new refugees face, I knew that I wanted to help them re-establish their lives. With the resolve to protect the human rights of refugees, I became a resettlement caseworker for the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a USAID partner dedicated to serving refugees.

As a member of the reception team, I was the first point of contact for refugees arriving in the United States. I greeted refugees at the airport, helped them settle into their new homes, and connected them to vital social services.

I learned that refugees have two stories: one of their past and one of the future they dream of. Both are incredibly unique and complex. Understanding their background stories helped me bridge their worlds together.

I remember taking the bus with one of my clients to show him his travel route home. As a young refugee from the Near East, he told me his friends couldn’t believe he made it. His mom didn’t sleep for the two nights while he traveled to America.

He had watched a lot of American movies and he said that he felt like he was living in one. Although he had been in the United States only four days, he already visited a friend several hours away to prove that he could get lost and find his way back. Like myself, he left home at 17 to pursue his education and career, and had an insatiable sense of wanderlust.

As we shared our hopes for the future, we were colleagues, compatriots, and comrades. I encouraged him to not give up, because even with an education, achieving success in the U.S. takes patience and perseverance.

Although it has been many years since I personally greeted refugees with the IRC, their stories continue to influence my work in international development.

Former USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah travelled to Kenya in July 2011, to assess the drought situation and the humanitarian response. Here he speaks with the chairwoman of a community effort to distribute food and clothes to new arrivals at Dadaab refugee camp. / Anna Gohmann, USAID

Former USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah travelled to Kenya in July 2011, to assess the drought situation and the humanitarian response. Here he speaks with the chairwoman of a community effort to distribute food and clothes to new arrivals at Dadaab refugee camp. / Anna Gohmann, USAID

A commitment to the human rights of refugees

USAID is working around the world to support refugees by giving them dignity and opportunity as they regain normalcy in their new lives.

From Syrian refugees in Jordan to Rohingha refugees in Bangladesh, USAID equips families with the resources and support they need to meet their basic needs despite the extraordinary struggles they face every day.

The civil war in Syria has resulted in the world’s largest refugee population. Since 2011, more than four million Syrians have been displaced to neighboring countries. Through innovative food assistance programs USAID is providing electronic vouchers and regionally purchased food to refugees. With access to local ingredients, refugees can cook traditional meals—a small comfort that helps them feel more at home in an unfamiliar environment.

In Thailand, USAID is working with the IRC and other partners to provide long-term health programs for as more than 100,000 Burmese refugees. More than two million people from Burma have been displaced due to political instability and human rights violations. The USAID Support to Health, Institution Building, Education, and Leadership in Policy Dialogue (SHIELD) project provides access to essential health services and education for migrants, refugees, and other displaced persons living on the Thailand-Burma border.

As we work to end extreme poverty, our Agency is committed to ensuring that every person, everywhere, feels safe, protected, and has the opportunity to thrive.  Helping refugees and ensuring they are able to regain quality lives across the world is critical to this mission.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jennifer S. Kim, Program Support Specialist in USAID’s Center of Excellence for Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance (DRG Center).

Ebola Doesn’t Disappear at Zero and Neither Will We

Senior Ebola Coordinator Denise Rollins, Associate Administrator Eric Postel, and National Security Council Senior Advisor Chris Kirchhoff listen as a staff member from the International Organization for Migration provides a tour of a mock-Ebola treatment unit in Freetown, Sierra Leone. / Kate Alexander, USAID

Senior Ebola Coordinator Denise Rollins, Associate Administrator Eric Postel, and National Security Council Senior Advisor Chris Kirchhoff listen as a staff member from the International Organization for Migration provides a tour of a mock-Ebola treatment unit in Freetown, Sierra Leone. / Kate Alexander, USAID

Imagine being in a house with 15 family members, and watching them all gradually die from Ebola.

This was Gibril Kamara’s reality.

Last month in Sierra Leone, Gibril shared his harrowing ordeal with our visiting team from Washington, D.C. As the senior coordinator of USAID’s Africa Ebola Unit, I was traveling with USAID Associate Administrator Eric Postel and others in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea — the three countries most affected by Ebola — to see USAID’s efforts on the ground, meet with officials, and hear from communities.

We met Gibril and three other Ebola survivors at the International Organization for Migration’s Ebola healthcare training center in Freetown. They told us their stories of resilience amid a devastating public health crisis.

Gibril recounted how at first his family members thought the symptoms they exhibited could have been caused by any number of diseases. However, Gibril knew the telltale signs of Ebola.

He pleaded with his family to go to a medical facility, but the patriarch of the family refused to allow them to leave. While the fear of stigma permeated the air, the patriarch insisted everyone stay at home and not seek outside help.

First, one sister died, then another, then uncles and aunts, and finally the patriarch himself.

Gibril decided he would not be next.

On the brink of succumbing to Ebola himself, Gibril made his way in a taxi to a hospital for medical care. With proper Ebola treatment and care, Gibril survived.

Although Liberia reached zero Ebola cases just days before my arrival in country, Sierra Leone and Guinea continue to see new cases weekly, and stories like Gibril’s are still common.

Through the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), USAID continues to work alongside partners in all three countries  to fight the spread of the disease. After hearing Gibril’s story, I stood in the middle of an Ebola command center in Freetown and was awestruck by the vast number of people, computers and teams needed to respond to the Ebola outbreak. The extensive coordination required to contain and defeat the disease is daunting.

From the surveillance teams and the social mobilization groups who go door to door identifying people with fever, to the ambulance drivers, health care workers and safe burial teams, everyone must work in lockstep.

Such a complicated effort is not easy in the best of circumstances, but in three of the poorest countries in the world, where the  people without electricity outnumber those that have it, effective coordination is a challenge. I doff my hat to the thousands of U.S. and local staff and volunteers who continue to work tirelessly.

Students of Infection Prevention and Control and Midwifery Training programs greet the USAID delegation in Kindia, Guinea.  / Kate Alexander, USAID

Students of Infection Prevention and Control and Midwifery Training programs greet the USAID delegation in Kindia, Guinea. / Kate Alexander, USAID

Since August 2014, USAID has converged an unprecedented array of people, equipment, financing and other resources to these Ebola-affected countries.

Thanks to the international community and local partners, we are easing the burdens of the citizens of these countries. As we work together to fight Ebola and lessen the secondary impacts of the outbreak, we are serving as an example of worldwide collaboration at its best.

Getting to zero Ebola cases is critical and  the  goal for USAID is helping these countries end the epidemic, get back on track, and be  better prepared to stop any future outbreaks before they become epidemics.

Weak health care systems suffered major setbacks during the Ebola outbreak, but now USAID is helping improve the ability to detect threats early, and respond rapidly and effectively to prevent the spread of Ebola and other viruses across borders.

In addition to support rebuilding and strengthening healthcare systems, we are also helping reopen schools and stimulate local food production.

Gibril’s world was turned upside down when he lost his entire family. However — like so many other Ebola survivors — Gibril was resilient.

Resilience is such an overused word, but it captures the spirit, commitment and dedication of the citizens of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea to get back on their feet after this devastating public health crisis.

Many survivors, like Gibril and the others I spoke with at the National Ebola Training Academy, now volunteer their time as trainers, health care workers and social mobilizers — helping other patients recover from their battles with the virus, while spreading awareness about Ebola prevention.

In turn, USAID will continue to support the people of West Africa. Ebola doesn’t disappear at zero, and neither will our fight to keep Ebola away.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Denise Rollins is the senior coordinator of the Africa Ebola Unit at USAID.

An Inclusive Society, a Paraguay without Barriers

Fundación Saraki’s President María José Cabezudo hugs her brother Carlos Cabezudo during a recent event promoting disability rights. / Giovanna Pederzani.

Fundación Saraki’s President María José Cabezudo hugs her brother Carlos Cabezudo during a recent event promoting disability rights. / Giovanna Pederzani.

As an  advocate for the inclusion of people with disabilities, I thought I understood the issue well.

But today I finally understand what putting myself in someone else’s shoes really means.

I recently attended an event organized by Fundación Saraki, the leading disability rights organization in Paraguay. The event was intended to raise awareness and support for their activities, but it ended up teaching people like me about the world people with disabilities live in.

After I arrived at the Hotel Guarani, I was forced to walk up the stairs to the main event room, rather than use the elevators. Organizers wanted guests to experience the inconveniences that many people with physical disabilities encounter every day. Reaching the second floor with my high heels and a loaded backpack was challenging — imagine what it must  be like for someone in a wheelchair?

At the entrance to the venue, I registered … with a tiny pen that would be too small for even my son’s small hands, and on a paper that was placed on a registration desk that was only a foot tall. Another message: This is everyday reality for people with disabilities who are significantly shorter than the average height.

To reach the event room, I had to navigated through a dark tunnel that organizers had constructed. As I meandered through the claustrophobic space, I could not see anything, and I struggled to go around obstacles with my hands and feet. Unfortunately, this is an experience all too common for someone who cannot see.

After traversing the frightening tunnel, I finally reached the event space. Twenty to 30 people in wheelchairs blocked the entrance, forcing me to apologize and suck in my stomach as I tried to get around them and into the room. Message received: This must be what it’s like for someone with a physical disability who is trying to enter a public restroom that is not accessible.

I finally reached my seat and opened an envelope with the agenda. It was in Braille. I don’t read Braille. I tried to close my eyes and imagine what it might say, but I couldn’t. This information was important, yet it was not available to someone like me who has different capabilities.

U.S. Ambassador Leslie A. Bassett and Director Of  Employment Of the Paraguayan Ministry of Labor Cesar Martinez pose with Mario Marecos, a Paraguayan human rights activist and  member of the National Commission of the Rights of People with Disabilities. / Chiara Pederzani

U.S. Ambassador Leslie A. Bassett and Director Of Employment Of the Paraguayan Ministry of Labor Cesar Martinez pose with Mario Marecos, a Paraguayan human rights activist and member of the National Commission of the Rights of People with Disabilities. / Chiara Pederzani

In the background, I could hear one of my favorite songs, Maxixe by Agustín Barrios. But this time, it was at a high pitch and too loud. Instead of being a song for the soul, it was an absolute nuisance to my ears.

When the music finally stopped, a woman took the floor and began to speak. I could not understand anything. She might have spoken in French and German, two very common languages, but incomprehensible to me.

Then a short film played on a giant screen. The film and sound were blurry and I could not understand what people were saying or what was being shown.

The whole experience lasted less than 30 minutes, but it worked. It was enough to make me feel totally excluded. I couldn’t get around. I could not understand the people around me. Everything felt narrow, too low, or too uncomfortable. I could not see well. Nothing was done to accommodate my needs.

I realized this is daily life for so many persons with disabilities.

No one should have to fight this way to live their lives. We can change it. We have to continue fighting for an accessible society, an inclusive Paraguay without barriers.

With the support of USAID, Fundación Saraki is working to make this a reality by raising awareness, influencing legislation, strengthening organizations for persons with disabilities, and promoting inclusion in work and education.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Giovanna Pederzani is a Paraguayan architect and an advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities.

Q&A: How Changing Behaviors is Helping Stop Ebola’s Spread in West Africa

In a new Q&A series, we are profiling the experts who have worked tirelessly to stop the spread of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa and are helping societies rebuild and strengthen health systems in the aftermath of the outbreak.

Kama Garrison is a senior public health advisor for USAID’s Neglected Tropical Disease Program. ​For the Ebola response effort, she has been working on social mobilization with other agencies and partners.

What is social and behavior change communication (SBCC) and what role has it played in the Ebola response?

SBCC is the use of communication strategies — mass media, community-level activities, face-to-face communication and technologies — to influence behaviors that affect people’s health.

Within the context of Ebola, SBCC is critical to ending the epidemic. Ebola is an easily preventable disease; changing a few key behaviors can stop the virus from spreading further. And while health facilities and health care workers are absolutely essential in responding to an Ebola outbreak, the behaviors of individuals, families and communities are key to stopping it entirely.

Kama Garrison holds up the silhouette of a hand, echoing the wall of handprints from Ebola survivors at the Bong County Treatment Unit in Liberia. / Ellie Van Houtte, USAID

Kama Garrison holds up the silhouette of a hand, echoing the wall of handprints from Ebola survivors at the Bong County Treatment Unit in Liberia. / Ellie Van Houtte, USAID

But SBCC isn’t just about telling people about Ebola, warning them to stop touching those who are sick or discouraging them from using traditional burial practices. It’s about carefully understanding a community’s cultural, religious and social beliefs so we can deliver meaningful, relevant and respectful messages and interventions.

Early on in the Ebola crisis, some fear-based messages made people feel powerless, hopeless and unable to act. Effective SBCC must be founded in the target population’s belief in their own ability to succeed; we seek to develop interventions that instill hope. Now, successful SBCC interventions have been developed to engage and better educate communities about Ebola.

Why is it critical to employ social and behavior change communication in a response like this?

Human behavior plays an important role in the spread of infectious diseases such as Ebola. Therefore, understanding the influence of behavior on the spread of disease can be the key to stopping disease transmission. Even if a new medical technology such as a vaccine is developed, people still have to trust that vaccine and choose to receive it – so addressing behavior is at the core of disease prevention and outbreak response.

But the motivations behind why people do what they do are complicated. People are complicated — our behaviors reflect our personal experiences, education, cultural/religious beliefs, community etc. SBCC seeks to understand these motivations. By using methods from psychology, anthropology, marketing and behavioral economics, we collect information and data about target populations to design suitable interventions that address the specific needs, beliefs and practices of the target populations.

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

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

What previous experiences with social and behavior change communication informed our Ebola response? How do you think those lessons that Ebola taught us will be relevant to future crisis responses?

In the past, I worked on SBCC and risk management for crises like the Avian Influenza and the 2009 H1N1/Swine Flu pandemic.

I’ve seen that large-scale outbreaks aren’t inevitable — that by working on preventative behaviors we can minimize the emergence of diseases and by strengthening response capacity, we can quickly contain them if they do emerge. But it isn’t easy. Food preferences, economics, and cultural and religious practices all contribute to the risks associated with emerging diseases. Those are difficult behaviors to address.

If prioritized, though, we can draw from proven solutions and make the necessary investments to prevent diseases such as Ebola from turning into regional or global epidemics.

What’s the next steps with these efforts?

The three affected countries aren’t out of the woods yet; there will be a continued focus on Ebola to end the epidemic in the region. Even after the end of this Ebola crisis, there will be a great need to rebuild trust in the health system so that children are immunized, women get appropriate maternal care, malaria is addressed, etc. SBCC is key to that trust building.

The Ebola outbreak has caused much pain and suffering.  However, in the midst of the crisis many heroic stories have emerged. What has touched you the most?

Ebola has created thousands of orphans — they are the ultimate tragedy of this crisis. In that tragedy, heroes emerge every day, from families that take in extended relatives to single individuals who adopt orphaned children. Those are the stories that touch me.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

South Sudan Government Expels Top UN Aid Official—Why It Matters

Internally displaced women and children sit in a tent in Ganyiel village in South Sudan. Conflict since December 2013 has left tens of thousands dead and more than 2 million displaced and dependent on food aid. / Samir Bol, AFP

Internally displaced women and children sit in a tent in Ganyiel village in South Sudan. Conflict since December 2013 has left tens of thousands dead and more than 2 million displaced and dependent on food aid. / Samir Bol, AFP

News that the Government of South Sudan expelled the United Nations’ top humanitarian official in the country on May 29 has sparked outrage.

The UN Secretary General, the UN Security Council, the U.S. government, the alliance of U.S.-based NGOs InterAction, the South Sudanese NGO Community Empowerment for Progress Organization, the European Union and many other governments voiced condemnation of the action to expel Toby Lanzer.

Why are so many so frustrated?

Because South Sudan’s leaders and warring parties have put their struggle for power before the needs of their own people.

After nearly 18 months of fighting, the man-made crisis is only worsening. Renewed fighting, displacement and economic hardships have left the country on the brink of collapse.

And now they are punishing the brave humanitarians whose mission is to help the people of South Sudan.

All humanitarian staff — from the top UN official to truck drivers who deliver lifesaving food in highly insecure conditions — must be free to carry out their work and speak openly without fear of attack or retribution from the government, opposition forces or any other party.

Punishing those who are shining a light on the catastrophe in South Sudan creates a chilling effect and an atmosphere of fear for aid workers at a time when people need them most.

South Sudan — the world’s youngest country — is one of the most food-insecure countries in the world. Up to 4.6 million people — almost half of the population — will face life-threatening hunger by next month.

A woman carries a sack of food aid after a food drop in a field in Nyal, near South Sudan's border with Sudan. USAID is the largest donor to the UN World Food Program in South Sudan. / Tony Karumba, AFP

A woman carries a sack of food aid after a food drop in a field in Nyal, near South Sudan’s border with Sudan. USAID is the largest donor to the UN World Food Program in South Sudan. / Tony Karumba, AFP

Parts of the country are at risk of famine for the second year in a row. Desperate to feed their families, many South Sudanese have sold or slaughtered valuable cattle — and now have nothing left.

Conflict has forced more than 2 million people to flee their homes, half a million of them as refugees in neighboring countries. Tragically, many who fled have nothing to return to. Their homes, markets, schools and hospitals have been wiped out.

The number of severely malnourished children has doubled since the start of the crisis, and many people are at risk of deadly, but preventable, diseases.

The humanitarian community has done everything possible to alleviate the suffering amid widespread violence. USAID has been working in Sudan, including present-day South Sudan, for 35 years.

The U.S. government has long been the largest donor to South Sudan, providing $1.1 billion in emergency assistance alone to affected populations in South Sudan and neighboring countries since the start of the crisis.

USAID has also provided more than $1.3 billion in long-term assistance since South Sudan’s independence in 2011, directly helping the South Sudanese people withstand the catastrophic effects of conflict and build foundations for a peaceful future through education, health, agriculture and livelihoods assistance, as well as support for media, civil society and conflict mitigation.

Last year, the U.S. government, other donors and humanitarian actors helped avert the worst-case scenario of famine — only to see the same dynamics driving communities into extreme life-threatening hunger again this year. Time and again, we have had to resort to costly air operations to deliver food and relief items.

Women in Ganyiel, South Sudan, carry home food distributed by the World Food Program (WFP). USAID is the largest donor to WFP in South Sudan, where up to 4.6 million people — almost half of the population — will face life-threatening hunger by next month. / Waakhe Simon Wudu, AFP

Women in Ganyiel, South Sudan, carry home food distributed by the World Food Program (WFP). USAID is the largest donor to WFP in South Sudan, where up to 4.6 million people — almost half of the population — will face life-threatening hunger by next month. / Waakhe Simon Wudu, AFP

Aid workers, particularly South Sudanese, risk their lives daily delivering lifesaving assistance to people in need throughout South Sudan. Several South Sudanese aid workers have disappeared while carrying out their humanitarian work. They remain unaccounted for. Others have been killed on the spot.

Renewed fighting since mid-April, including direct attacks on humanitarian workers and supplies, has severely reduced the ability of aid organizations to reach people in need.

At a time when multiple humanitarian emergencies worldwide demand international action, speaking candidly about the situation in South Sudan is critical to garner the vast support needed to keep people alive and ease suffering caused by this crisis.

Toby Lanzer advocated tirelessly on behalf of the people of South Sudan. Expelling him or silencing anyone who speaks about the dire situation in South Sudan is misguided and a grave disservice to the South Sudanese people.

The government should act responsibly, end the suffering, and move the country past this senseless cycle of violence.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Tom Staal is acting assistant administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. Linda Etim is deputy assistant administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Africa.

Turning Data into Action

Midwives in Timor-Leste are sharing vital health information with new mothers via mobile phones, while tracking health statistics in real time through the Mobile Moms project. / Catalpa International

Midwives in Timor-Leste are sharing vital health information with new mothers via mobile phones, while tracking health statistics in real time through the Mobile Moms project. / Catalpa International

Family farmers in Senegal are increasing their crop yields by experimenting with a new agricultural input: data.

Thousands of farmers are using technology to share information about their day-to-day operations so they can function more efficiently as a cooperative. Together, they optimize productivity by coordinating where they grow crops, negotiate bulk fertilizer purchases, share local market prices, check weather forecasts in real-time, and compare crop yields using off-the-shelf, cloud-based software.

These smallholder farmers have empowered themselves with better information to improve their standing in the national marketplace.

Like these farmers, USAID recognizes the transformative potential of data to amplify impact. Greater accessibility to mapping tools, mobile phone-based solutions, low-cost sensors, satellite imagery, and social media is opening worlds of opportunity to people across the globe.

We’re betting that development professionals, government officials and citizens around the world will take advantage of improved access to data to improve their outcomes.

In order to unlock the promise of tech-enabled, data-fueled growth, USAID’s U.S. Global Development Lab launched an Agency-wide competition in 2014, the Data2Action award, to find and support exemplary innovations that use information to accelerate progress.

We received input from 80 countries through 45 USAID missions and bureaus, representing all sectors of development, including health, agriculture, water, energy, governance and disaster assistance. This response is a clear statement about the capacity and demand for data-driven development within USAID. Across the Agency, the current and continued use of high quality data is critical to achieving our mission of helping to end extreme poverty.

For the Turning Data into Action competition, 147 USAID staff submitted their best ideas -- showcasing the incredible enthusiasm across the Agency for using data and technology. / mSTAR Project, FHI 360

For the Turning Data into Action competition, 147 USAID staff submitted their best ideas — showcasing the incredible enthusiasm across the Agency for using data and technology. / mSTAR Project, FHI 360

From this pool of applicants, we’ve identified eight USAID teams who are already “turning data into action.” They’re mapping food insecurity in Nepal; using citizen feedback to improve post-conflict reconciliation in Mali; building transparent dairy markets using mobile phones in Kosovo; and optimizing electricity distribution using sensors in Pakistan.

Beyond celebrating these current USAID innovators, we’re also supporting four new ideas for data-driven development. These four award winners are receiving support for innovations that remotely monitor rural water systems, track malaria using the cloud, crowdsource disaster preparedness mapping and allow smallholder farmers to use Earth-orbiting satellites. Our recently released Data2Action booklet showcases more details on these exciting pilot projects.

Through the Data2Action award, we’ve learned how the use of data is accelerating our development impact around the world. Innovators like the Data2Action winners are leading a grassroots movement that is revolutionizing the way we use technology and information to solve global challenges.

In Mali, a mobile phone hotline has highlighted the importance of traditional song and dance in the return to normalcy. / Yaya Bouare, AECOM International Development, Inc.

In Mali, a mobile phone hotline has highlighted the importance of traditional song and dance in the return to normalcy. / Yaya Bouare, AECOM International Development, Inc.

Do you have a passion for using data to improve lives, but don’t know how to turn your idea into action? USAID can support your passion through shared experiences, best practices and trainings. The Lab, FHI360, and TechChange recently teamed up to create a free interactive online course on Mobile Data Solutions. The two-hour course is a mix of animations, video interviews and scenario-based case studies.

In just four months, more than 1,000 people from 125 countries and representing over 600 organizations have taken the course. Admire Nyereyemhuka, who works for Catholic Relief Services in Zimbabwe, recently completed Mobile Data Solutions and is now building an SMS-based reporting system for a USAID/Food for Peace program that’s ensuring food security and improving nutrition in Zimbabwe.

“This course is so practical,” Admire said. “Whenever my friends and colleagues ask me if it will be advisable to use mobile technologies in their projects, I provide them with the course so they can make informed decisions.”

Like the data-sharing farmers in Senegal, USAID and our partners around the world are unlocking the power of real-time data to help optimize our results. Embracing new technologies allows us to turn data into action, and action into impact so that every dollar spent on development goes further.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Eric King is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) on the U.S. Global Development Lab’s Digital Development team. Follow him @eric_m_king. Nick Martin is the founder and CEO of TechChange, a Washington, D.C.-based social enterprise that provides tech training for social change. Follow him @ncmart.

New Policy Guides USAID’s Cooperation with Department of Defense

Students in the village of Atome, Togo oversee the construction of a new school built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in coordination with USAID’s West Africa Regional Mission. / Jennifer Aldridge, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Students in the village of Atome, Togo oversee the construction of a new school built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in coordination with USAID’s West Africa Regional Mission. / Jennifer Aldridge, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Did you know that USAID and the U.S. Department of Defense work side by side on many international development projects? In fact, our collaboration is so important that we released a new policy on Cooperation with the Department of Defense today.

USAID’s partnerships with the Defense Department and other U.S. Government agencies are vital to improving the effectiveness and impact of our work around the world.

The global challenges we confront – from violent extremism to climate change and global health security – are so large and complex that no single agency can handle them all alone. By partnering, the U.S. Government can achieve development and security outcomes that exceed the capacity of a single agency.

USAID’s new policy is designed to serve as a guide for our staff on how and when to coordinate with members of the U.S. military throughout the USAID program cycle.

Dozens of USAID staff participated in the two-year process to draft this important resource – an update to the Agency’s 2008 policy on civilian-military cooperation, which recognized the increasingly important role of development in advancing national security priorities along with defense and diplomacy.

The revised policy seeks to build a mutual understanding of each agency’s roles and responsibilities to avoid misunderstandings that could lead to confusion, duplication of effort, and disappointing outcomes.

USAID’s West Africa mission and U.S. Africa Command worked together to host broadcast roundtables (pictured) on improving civil-military relations. More than 250,000 people listened in on these radio programs hosted by local leaders. / Rod Stubina, USAID

USAID’s West Africa mission and U.S. Africa Command worked together to host broadcast roundtables (pictured) on improving civil-military relations. More than 250,000 people listened in on these radio programs hosted by local leaders. / Rod Stubina, USAID

Providing a solid foundation at the policy and planning level ensures that strong coordination in the field is possible. USAID and the Defense Department have joined forces on several programs through the years, including building safer maternal health clinics in Timor Leste, expanding inclusive education programs in Macedonia and constructing nutrition centers in Ghana. Other programs have expanded alternative development programming in Peru, created opportunities for Jamaican youth, and fostered disaster resilience in the Philippines.

These successful programs illustrate the real, measurable development outcomes that result when the USAID and the Defense Department work in partnership with one another.

So what does USAID cooperation with the Defense Department look like? This relationship can take on many forms, but joint collaboration and planning are at the heart of the policy we’ve crafted.

USAID and the Defense Department work together to ensure perspectives from both partners are incorporated into our respective policies and strategies. For example, when the Defense Department carries out humanitarian assistance activities, it follows the guidance of a policy document that ensures USAID — the lead U.S. Government agency for development and humanitarian assistance — is involved in the process, so that the humanitarian work is well coordinated, mutually reinforcing and transparent.

The next level of cooperation focuses on planning. Through USAID’s Office of Civilian-Military Cooperation, the Agency has a strong network of experienced Foreign Service officers located within the Defense Department’s Combatant Commands and the Pentagon to help coordinate USAID and Defense Department regional, country and contingency plans.

These development advisors serve as USAID’s voice in the Defense Department planning process, and reciprocally ensure that the voice of the Defense Department is included when developing five-year, country-based strategies that illustrate how USAID’s assistance is synchronized with other agencies’ efforts.

USAID and U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) are partnering with Bangladesh agencies to protect the Sunderbans mangrove forest (pictured), the largest remaining habitat for endangered tigers in the world. / Karl Wurster, USAID

USAID and U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) are partnering with Bangladesh agencies to protect the Sunderbans mangrove forest (pictured), the largest remaining habitat for endangered tigers in the world. / Karl Wurster, USAID

Moving forward, USAID hopes to share its best practices with the Defense Department. The USAID’s Office of Civilian-Military Cooperation is continuing to build interagency learning through Development in Vulnerable Environments trainings for members of the U.S. military. This course helps the Defense Department employees learn about the USAID’s field capabilities and understand the critical role of development in supporting national security and prosperity.

As we work to end extreme poverty by 2030 and continue to create resilient, democratic societies, this new framework for interagency collaboration helps USAID strengthen its efforts with one of its strongest partners – the U.S. Department of Defense.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Beth Cole is the director of the Office of Civilian-Military Cooperation, and Sergio Guzman is the policy team lead at the Office of Civilian-Military Cooperation.
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