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Archives for Europe and Eurasia

Young Albanian Women Set Sights on IT

This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”. In observance, USAID is spotlighting innovative women working in these fields.

“We weren’t aware of how huge the event actually was until the day of the competition. When I saw the people and how important it was, the energy was overwhelming and I knew this was something I wanted to do again and again,” explained 20 year old, Egi Shijaku, about her experience at the 2nd Annual Microsoft Imagine Cup held in Tirana, Albania on March 15.

Egi Shijaku at the 2nd Annual Microsoft Imagine Cup held in Tirana, Albania on March 15. Photo credit: USAID

USAID was one of the main organizers of the 2013 Microsoft Imagine Cup which brought together 15 university-level teams to present their IT projects to judges. After the competition, USAID’s enterprise development project is providing technical assistance to the 2013 winners to help them commercialize their winning ideas. In addition, qualified businesses and organizations are eligible for a grant of up to $20,000 to introduce business technologies or innovations.

Shikaju was part of a three person team from Epoka University who competed in this year’s competition of innovative software applications. Her team submitted a mobile software application that allows users to upload photos and GPS data of garbage and waste in order to notify local government authorities responsible for clean-up.

“Garbage collection is really a problem that worries us all. Tirana and all the cities in Albania have the problem of waste that isn’t thrown in the right places and at times is thrown in public spaces.”

According to Shikaju, the key was to build something that was user-friendly and beneficial. Her mobile solution makes it easier for local authorities to monitor environmental hotspots and gives citizens the option to simply click and report. Just knowing how easy it is to report would serve as a deterrent.

While her team placed seventh this year, Shikaju is already thinking about next year’s competition and will participate in “Start-Up Week” in April. As a second year student studying Business Informatics, a new degree program which combines Computer Science and Economics, her future in IT, and that of many young girls like her, looks bright.

“I see business informatics, computer science, IT being a trend in Albania for young girls,” said Shikaju. There are currently 23 students in the program, half of whom are women.

“Right now there are a lot of systems being developed in Albania,” explained Shikaju.  “All the systems in the government are being transferred to computers. Businesses are looking for ways to transfer their business to the Cloud, so that is a sphere as well. I am always surprised with how huge this market is even as small as a country like Albania.”

The main impediment to growth of the IT sector, particularly programming and developing software, is lack of qualified applicants. As Albania’s IT sector expands, young women like Shikaju are jumping at the opportunity to get involved.  Shikaju said she surprised how in interviews with people, particularly after the Imagine Cup, there is significant interest in her, not because of her gender, but because of what programming language she knows.

Greener Pastures in Crimea’s Future

For those of us who have always had it, access to clean water is something that is all too easy to take for granted. We turn on the tap, cook and bathe, and water our lawns and gardens, without ever thinking of the complexities that bring us our clean water.  Others must constantly think about clean water because they have never had access to piped-in clean water in their homes, and have always made do by carrying water from the local well.

In the former Soviet Union, some communities once had access to clean water, but are now suffering the effects of crumbling infrastructure and increasing water demands. Nowhere is this more true than in the small communities scattered across Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

USAID will utilize the existing Soviet-era pump facility (background) in Pervimaysky to irrigate farm fields for a rural community of 300 persons. Photo credit: Jason Gilpin, USAID

Crimea is an attractive region, with a wide variety of ecosystems, rainfall, sunshine, land use and people. For two years as a Peace Corps volunteer, I lived in Sevastopol, a city located on the peninsula’s south-western tip, and often traveled throught small villages and towns in Crimea where Ukrainian NGO colleagues and other volunteers were based. I saw firsthand how many people in rural Crimea go days or even weeks without water, particularly in summer. In many villages, the public water system operates for one or two hours a day only on a few days a week. Even quick showers are a luxury and residents use the brief time the water system is functioning to quickly fill up as many empty plastic containers as possible in order to live through the dry period. Bottled water is expensive for the average Crimean villager, whose monthly income rarely exceeds $200. Crimea is also growing as a tourism destination, further burdening  the overwhelmed public water system during the summer season.

The problem with poor water availability isn’t caused by a lack of water in the region. While Crimea is a fairly dry place, averaging just over 15 inches of precipitation annually, there are ample sources of underground  water and Dnipro river tributary water provided by aqueducts from the north. The challenge is transporting enough water from aquifers and aqueducts to households in order to satisfy seasonal demand during the periods of increased use. This is particularly true in spring and summer when people use this water to irrigate backyard cash crops, which are critical to supplementing rural residents’ annual income.

The USAID Project “Partnership for Sustainable Water Supply for Agriculture Development in Crimea (SWaSAD)” launched in July 2012 by our Ukrainian partner, Agrarian Markets Development Institute, is successfully demonstrating that with transparent planning, modest investment and strong community support, infrastructure improvements can be made that will bring reliable water service to residents in small communities in Crimea. The Project includes demonstration projects in three districts in Crimea: Saki, Pervimaysky and Razdolnensky.

I joined my colleagues from USAID in late February in visiting the communities selected for partnership on this project. In Saki, we heard from the project’s major stakeholders. A local farmer remarked that this project was “very important” in improving crop yields and local income, and that locals were “enthusiastic” about the prospect of reliable water in their communities.

In many ways, the objectives are simple: most of the project sites involve simply connecting the existing water sources, such as the water in a canal with homes along the streets in the villages, using simple irrigation pipes and pumps, so that people can irrigate their backyard cash crops with non-potable canal water without burdening the community’s drinking water system.

One of the project sites plans a broader-based agricultural application on large, communally-owned plots of land. The site we visited in Pervimaysky would restore the function of Soviet-era water infrastructure to irrigate fields farmed by 30 families. This, in turn, would support 300 beneficiaries in the nearby village, providing much-needed employment opportunities and increased economic activity for local businesses. The difference between an irrigated field and a non-irrigated field was fairly obvious and pretty stark — one field a bright green, the other a dull brown.

As tourism continues to develop in Crimea, water demands will continue to grow.  It is economically critical that the region develops a plan to supply reliable potable water to the tourist centers, while also allowing farmers to irrigate their crops, helping to fulfill Ukraine’s promise as the breadbasket of Europe.

What makes this project particularly unique is that USAID/Ukraine is implementing it with the support of the Development Grants Program, which is designed specifically to increase the capacity of locally-managed and operated organizations, thereby increasing local knowledge to sustain the results of USAID-funded initiatives after grant completion. As part of this initiative, our local implementing partner is improving its internal controls and management processes, and developing its human resources so that it can independently achieve results from similar activities.

In the end, we are not only helping Crimea increase its water security and improve the quality of life of local residents, we are also improving the ability of local NGOs to use their own skills and resources to continue to develop this critical region of Ukraine.

Lessons of Financial Independence and Self-Sufficiency in Georgia

Working in 85 communities in 10 target municipalities across Georgia, the USAID/New Economic Opportunities (NEO) initiative enables highly vulnerable individuals to be self-sufficient through vocational training.

“Amazing, but I have to put some of my villagers on the waiting list,” smiles Shalva Grigalashvili, plumber and tile-setter from Kvishkheti community in Khashuri municipality. “More and more people in Kvishkheti feel a need to put appropriate tourism infrastructure in place and start to upgrade their houses to attract more visitors,’” explains Shalva. As a popular tourist destination in Georgia, the income of the Kvishkheti population significantly depends on the tourism revenues accrued each summer.

The twenty-two year old Shalva Grigalashvili was one of 20 students who graduated from the USAID-sponsored plumbing/tile-setting vocational training program at the Khidistavi Orienti Vocational College in Gori in September 2012. Along with other top students in his program, the USAID/New Economic Opportunities Initiative (NEO) awarded plumbing and tile-setting toolkits to encourage graduates like Shalva to start their own businesses and support income generation opportunities.

Shalva Grigalashvili, one of USAID/NEO beneficiaries, tiling a guesthouse bathroom in Kvishkheti village of Khashuri municipality. Photo credit: USAID/NEO

Unlike many of his friends and neighbors who travel to work in Tbilisi, Shalva decided to stay in his own village and help other residents improve their living conditions. After completing his training, Shalva started to renovate his neighbors’ houses in Bulbulistsikhe village in Kvishkheti community. Shalva also decided to help a less successful classmate who because of poor performance did not receive a plumber’s toolkit. Through their joint efforts, Shalva gave his friend the opportunity to build upon his training and better master their profession, gain employment and increase his income.  “Hard work,” Shalva admits, “but well worth the effort. It is so rewarding to have such a highly demanded profession that brings you money and respect.”

Shalva is just one of the 254 vulnerable individuals from NEO target communities in the Shida Kartli, Mtskheta-Mtianeti, Racha-Lechkhumi, and Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti regions of Georgia that benefited from USAID-funded vocational training programs. Within three month of graduation, 168 graduates (66 percent) had already obtained new jobs or improved their employment status. Additional sessions of vocational training for NEO vulnerable beneficiaries in trades such as apparel-making, hair dressing, cooking and construction works are scheduled for early 2013.

Learn more about the USAID/New Economic Opportunities (NEO) initiative in Georgia.

Follow USAID Georgia on Facebook and Twitter.

USAID Promotes Good Farming Practices in Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan is proud of its exotic fruits, and the pomegranate is definitely one of them. Pomegranate production has strategic importance for domestic trade and exports.

Azerbaijan’s Pomegranate Festival is a great way for growers to learn new techniques, showcase their products, and build sales networks. Since 2006 it has been a popular autumn festival held in November in the Goychay region of Azerbaijan.

This year, USAID’s Azerbaijan Competitiveness and Trade (ACT) Project set up its own stand at the Festival to provide information about ACT project activities and achievements in the pomegranate sector. The Project’s stand offered training materials on 25 agriculture topics and displayed 100 kgs. of the seven different varieties of pomegranates produced by the farmers who received USAID assistance. Training materials were particularly in demand by Festival attendees. The Project distributed over 2,000 pamphlets and booklets.

A local TV channel interviews USAID’s pomegranate expert at the USAID stand during the annual Pomegranate Festival in Goychay. Photo credit: Anar Azimzade/ACT

For the last couple of years, USAID has been supporting pomegranate farmers and processors with technical assistance and training. The ACT Project has provided training on good agricultural practices to approximately 2,250 farmers who have subsequently rehabilitated about 200 hectares of pomegranate orchards in the Kurdemir, Goychay and Sabirabad regions. This support has resulted in a 33% increase in productivity, a 28% increase in overall production and a 21% increase in farmer profit in the three regions. Azerbaijan’s pomegranates do not compete with U.S. agriculture.

National and local media covering the Festival expressed strong interest in the ACT Project. ELTV, a local TV channel, interviewed the experts, guests and exhibitors for a TV program dedicated specifically to the development of the pomegranate sector in Azerbaijan.

Two farmers from the Goychay region praised the Project’s technical assistance and training in an interview with ELTV. They expressed their gratitude to USAID and proudly displayed high-quality pomegranates at the Festival as fruits of this cooperation.

Video of the Week: Mile the Corn Farmer

In Macedonia, the USAID Small Business Expansion Project is working with corn farmers on growing their businesses through increasing corn yields and connecting them with regional dairy industry leaders, who have agreed to buy livestock feed locally. The project is introducing drip irrigation on several demonstration farms as tried and tested methods of increasing production, and is also providing farmers with seeds that will produce a corn/silage ratio that both meets the needs of the dairy industry and maximize the profits of the farmers.

The Small Business Expansion Project will use these demonstration farms in its campaign to assist and encourage other corn growers in Macedonia to invest in new technology to double or triple their yields, and by doing so, grow their businesses and create new jobs.
Learn more about the Small Business Expansion Project.

Empowering Women – In Kosovo and Beyond

Early this month, we had the great pleasure of participating in the International Women’s Summit – Partnership for Change: Empowering Women­ – hosted by President Atifete Jahjaga of Kosovo with support from USAID and assistance from the National Democratic Institute. The event brought together 200 prominent men and women from all sectors and from all around the globe to engage in a robust and inclusive dialogue about women’s economic empowerment, political participation, access to resources, and security.

The caliber, talent, and enthusiasm that the event attracted are a testament to the importance of gender equality and empowerment. The excitement to work together to tackle the issues on the table was palpable. Government officials, political leaders, business women, entrepreneurs, media representatives, and civil society actors representing a full spectrum of ethnicities, ages, and cultures came together to discuss concrete solutions and models from around the world to improve the standing of women and girls economically, politically, and socially.

We, with all of the participants, agreed to a set of Pristina Principles that set out clear actions to address barriers to the empowerment of women. Please join us in supporting these goals or sharing your own ideas on Facebook or Twitter (#KosovoWomensSummit or #PristinaPrinciples).

And so we, together with women and men from around the world, will work to ensure that all women have economic opportunity, the opportunity to participate in political decision-making, and access to justice and security.

Paige Alexander is the USAID Assistant Administrator for Europe and Eurasia. Carla Koppell is the USAID Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality. Maureen A. Shauket is the USAID/Kosovo Mission Director.

Picture of the Week

Closeup photo of a cow's nose.  Photo credit: Jyldyz Niyazalieva, Kyrgyz Agro-Input Enterprise Development Project

Through the USAID-funded Kyrgyz Agro-Input Enterprise Development Project, production of biofertilizer out of organic waste was organized on a dairy farm in northern Kyrgyzstan. Natural biofertilizer, rich in biologically active substances and microelements, is derived in the process of anaerobic fermentation. This initiative helps to implement environmentally-friendly techniques and promotes organic farming in Kyrgyzstan.

From June 19-June 22, 2012, USAID joins delegations from around the world at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in Rio de Janeiro, to mark the 20th anniversary of the historic Earth Summit.

Photo credit: Jyldyz Niyazalieva, Kyrgyz Agro-Input Enterprise Development Project

U.S. and Russia Explore Cooperation on the Global Fight against Malaria

Last week, I travelled to Russia with Dr. Bernard Nahlen, the Deputy Coordinator of the President’s Malaria Initiative. We had very productive talks with the Russian Ministry of Health and Social Development and the Martinovsky Institute of Medical Parasitology and Tropical Medicine. We discussed potential U.S. – Russian cooperation in the global fight against malaria. USAID has started to work with Russia to address global development challenges around the world. Last year, we agreed to work together to help eradicate polio. We are now exploring how we could cooperate to control malaria in Africa and the Asia Pacific to save children, improve maternal health, improve maternal health, reduce suffering, and promote economic development.

Russia has long and deep experience with malaria. The disease was first reported in Russia in the 14th Century. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Russian and later Soviet scientists were involved in research that led to breakthroughs in malaria diagnostics and control efforts. The Martinovsky Institute was established in 1921 and after many years of effort malaria was eliminated from the former Soviet Union in the 1960’s. As in the U.S., the Soviet military and government continued research into fighting malaria in tropical areas around the world. Today, the Marinovsky Institute carries on this legacy. It even continues to train foreign doctors including some from Africa.

In talks with Russian officials, we discussed collaborating on training and capacity building, evaluation, operational research, advocacy and resource mobilization in support of national malaria control plans in third countries. We are exploring joint participation or co-leadership in international and national forums such as the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the Roll Back Malaria Initiative and regional or global health meetings. The Russians are particularly interested in ending preventable child deaths from malaria and reducing the burden of malaria during pregnancy. The talks were fruitful and we should see progress on this cooperation very soon.

Our Continued Common Struggle – World Tuberculosis Day 2012

Last year on this blog, I wrote about why the United States and Eastern Europe and Eurasia need to work together to fight against multi-drug resistant (MDR) – tuberculosis (TB) and extensively drug-resistant (XDR) –TB. In the world of modern travel, these diseases are a plane ride away from our shores.

As we commemorate World Tuberculosis Day this year, Eastern Europe and Eurasia continue to have the highest rates of MDR-TB and XDR- TB in the world.  Of the 27 countries with a high burden of M/XDR-TB, 10 are in the Europe/Eurasia region.  MDR-TB is a national security interest and a global health interest for the region and for the world.

Tuberculosis is largely curable but also potentially deadly. It exacts an enormous personal and economic toll, often striking people in their most economically productive years.  Diagnosis and treatment of MDR-TB and XDR-TB are more complicated and expensive.  MDR-TB for example requires 24 months of treatment vs. 6 months for drug-susceptible TB and the treatment is more than 260 times more expensive.  As a result, M/XDR-TB constitute major risks to effective TB control.

Europe and Eurasia are of particular concern because they have shown the world’s highest rates of MDR-TB.  A 2011 USAID-funded survey in Minsk, Belarus found the highest MDR-TB rates recorded to date.  Prior to that, one region in Russia and Baku, Azerbaijan had the highest recorded rates.

The picture of TB in the region is unique, fueled by inadequate diagnostics, poor compliance with treatment and insufficient infection control. The growth of HIV/AIDS further contributes to TB rates.  In addition, TB programs historically have been implemented in a silo fashion separate from the rest of the health care systems, and drug regimens have been improperly prescribed and/or incompletely followed by patients.

In response to alarming new rates of MDR-TB USAID, working in collaboration with national TB programs and the Global Fund, has invested strategically and targeted areas where it can have the highest impact: strengthening surveillance systems, improving the quality of data collection and monitoring, strengthening laboratories, improving infection control, strengthening treatment services,  bolstering drug management practices, and improving policies and protocols.

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Picture of the Week: Helping Newborns in Azerbaijan

Aishan, pictured with her mom Narmina. Photo credit: Arunas Liubsys  USAID Primary Health Care Strengthening Project

Aishan weighed only 1kg when she was born. Narmina’s delivery was a special case, requiring an emergency Cesarean section. Aishan was born premature and required critical care to help her breathe and intravenous feeding to support her growth. Thanks to the quick thinking of the skilled staff at the Azerbaijan Republican Perinatal Center, both mom and baby are healthy and thriving today.

USAID’s support to train the Center’s obstetricians, neonatologists, midwives, and nurses in routine delivery and newborn care and managing complications contributed to the successful outcome. USAID’s partnership with the Ministry of Health and Republican Perinatal Center already has helped save the lives of many babies, including Aishan.

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