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A Time of Unparalleled Need

A young boy smiles as he walks out of his local bakery, arms full of freshly baked bread. Families such as this boy’s family rely on local bakeries to get their daily bread.

A young boy smiles as he walks out of his local bakery, arms full of freshly baked bread. Families such as this boy’s family rely on local bakeries to get their daily bread.

It’s hard to believe that what began as a simple cry for opportunity and human rights has become the biggest humanitarian crisis of our time.

Five years ago, at the height of the Arab Spring, the Syrian people took to the streets to peacefully protest for fundamental freedoms from an increasingly authoritarian leader. The response from the Syrian regime was unequivocal force and brutality that has left half of all Syrians dead or displaced, and spawned a breeding ground for extremists like the so-called Islamic State or Daesh.

If you want to know how this crisis feels, talk to some of the more than 17 million Syrians directly impacted by the violence—their homes bombed, their schools destroyed, their relatives and friends killed. That’s like upending the lives of everyone living in the New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston. And lives have certainly been shattered.

Ayyush is 80 years old. She recently lost her son in the conflict in Syria. She now only wishes for more years ahead to raise her grandchildren. Ayyush and her family live in the Islahiye refugee camp in Turkey where they receive monthly food assistance through an e-food card program.

Ayyush is 80 years old. She recently lost her son in the conflict in Syria. She now only wishes for more years ahead to raise her grandchildren. Ayyush and her family live in the Islahiye refugee camp in Turkey where they receive monthly food assistance through an e-food card program.

Today, 4 million Syrian refugees are living in neighboring countries—Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt—in donated apartments, relatives’ spare rooms and tents. Another 6.5 million are displaced internally, trapped in a living hell that includes daily indiscriminate barrel bombing by the Assad regime on the one hand and Daesh’s murderous reign of terror on the other.

Behind the figures are children and the parents who would do anything and risk everything to keep them safe. For families inside Syria, the choice is agonizing: Stay and risk your child being killed on the way to school, or risk their safety on a treacherous journey across borders.

What are these Syrians facing every day?

Hunger for one. Since this crisis began nearly five years ago, USAID has provided $1.55 billion in food assistance, more than all other donors combined. Since 2013, we have given bakeries still operating inside the country 122,000 metric tons of flour and yeast, which comes out to more than 300 million daily bread rations. USAID has also helped distribute food vouchers—essentially preloaded debit cards—so refugees can shop for the familiar foods they yearn for and, at the same time, boost the local economies of Syria’s neighbors.

These two Syrian sisters now live as refugees in Mafraq, Jordan. / Peter Bussian for USAID

These two Syrian sisters now live as refugees in Mafraq, Jordan. / Peter Bussian for USAID

Nearly 2 million children in Syria and another 700,000 Syrian refugees are out of school because of the conflict. As Secretary of State John Kerry said recently: “The burden of the conflict falls most heavily on the smallest shoulders.” Without that daily stability in their lives, children are at risk of being exploited as laborers and young girls in particular may face the pressures of early marriage.

Our teams on the ground are helping refurbish and modernize public school buildings in Lebanon and Jordan so they can accommodate the extra load of new learners. Some of the schools have doubled or tripled shifts to ensure everyone gets a chance to learn and thrive.

USAID is also providing health care to people in need across 14 governorates in Syria—2.4 million this year alone—as well as clean water to 1.3 million.

We are also supporting women to be change agents for peace inside Syria, and assisting moderate civilian actors inside Syria to keep schools open, repair public services and literally keep the lights on for communities under siege.

We are proud to say that we reach 5 million people every month in spite of the often dangerous conditions to make those connections happen.

Our assistance inside Syria and the region is not only keeping people alive, but keeping their aspirations alive, too. A future Middle East needs peace and opportunity, not spirals of retribution.

“Our dreams are very simple,” said Mohamad, a former bus driver in Syria who is now a refugee living in a cramped apartment in Jordan with what is left of his family. He lost three sons in the conflict.

Bags of wheat flour inside a storage room at a Syrian bakery wait to be turned into bread. Bakeries such as this one are vital to providing food to Syrians in need.

Bags of wheat flour inside a storage room at a Syrian bakery wait to be turned into bread. Bakeries such as this one are vital to providing food to Syrians in need.

What he wants now is what any person would want: “To have a decent living so that we can be self-sufficient and not put out a hand to beg. We want people to look at us as humans because we are just like them.”

Though the United States has been generous—$4.5 billion in humanitarian assistance over nearly five years in addition to other aid—our funding that supports the heroic organizations working with Syrians on the ground throughout the region is simply not enough. Additional support is sorely needed.

The United Nations’ appeals for humanitarian aid to address the crisis in Syria are still only 48 percent funded for this year. This is a shortfall of over $4.4 billion in life-saving services.

We must support those suffering inside Syria as well as those fleeing across the border.

As President Barack Obama reminded the world at the G20 Summit in Turkey, Syrian refugees are leaving their country to escape violence and terrorism. “Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values,” he said. “Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. We can and must do both.”

This conflict has spiraled out of control for too long. And while we are undertaking herculean efforts to help the Syrian people and Syria’s neighbors, we cannot alleviate this crisis without more help. If we do not continue to work with our partners to address the Syrian crisis and its impacts now, the problem will only get worse.

That is why we are asking you to stand in solidarity with USAID, our partners and, most critically, the people of Syria. Visit Humanity Acts to learn more about the humanitarian crisis that directly impacts the majority of Syrian people and how you can join us in supporting them.

We’re on social media using the hashtag #HumanityActs and we invite you to use it as well. Together we can help put an end to the biggest humanitarian emergency of our time. It starts here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Staal is the senior deputy assistant administrator in USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. Follow that office at @USAID_DCHA

Why Right Now is the Right Time to Act Faster to Stop Unnecessary HIV/AIDS Deaths

Emily with two employees of Project Concern International (PCI) and her youth group members, celebrating the youths' graduation from PCI's Entrepreneurial and Business Skills Training in Botswana. / Project Concern International

Emily with two employees of Project Concern International (PCI) and her youth group members, celebrating the youths’ graduation from PCI’s Entrepreneurial and Business Skills Training in Botswana. / Project Concern International

“Dineo! DINEO! Diiiiiny!”

I hear my Setswana name being called, but I can’t concentrate on that right now. I’m busy biting my tongue as I begin the familiar routine of mentally reminding myself to relax.

This is not a new experience for me as a Peace Corps volunteer in Botswana—closing my eyes and counting to 10 as I wait in line in a cramped grocery store while a cashier, in a comically unhurried manner, takes her sweet time ringing up customers’ items, moving at the speed of a sleepy-eyed cat that’s spent its day dozing in the sun. This seems to be the default speed in my village.

Thankfully, my lack of response did not deter my caller. I’m shaken out of my irritability by Masego, a shining star in the youth group that I manage. Before I can greet her, she’s excitedly speaking in a hushed tone:

“Dineo! I was calling! I want to tell you! Mpho got tested. She’s positive.”

Mpho is another member of my youth group. Masego should absolutely not be telling people, including me, Mpho’s* status. Before I can even speak on this, though, Masego nonchalantly adds:

“She says she won’t take the drugs when they ask.”

What? “Why?”

Masego shrugs. “Ga ke itse.” I don’t know. “She says she’ll take muthi.”

Muthi. Traditional medicine.

Well. That did not improve my mood.

Not only is that one of the last things an HIV/AIDS volunteer wants to hear, but it also scared me. Five weeks before, another youth that I had worked with, Pako, passed away. He was born with HIV and had been living with the virus until he was 21—the age he stopped his antiretroviral therapy because he didn’t want his new roommates to see and deduce that he was HIV positive.

Emily distributing condoms to youth group members after a lively condom demonstration in Botswana. / Thabo Lentswe

Emily distributing condoms to youth group members after a lively condom demonstration in Botswana. / Thabo Lentswe

This once healthy young man deteriorated before us, eventually dying, unnecessarily, all the while denying that he was HIV positive to his friends and denying that he had stopped taking his treatment to his family.

Twenty years ago, in Botswana and in many other parts of the world, an end like Pako’s was often inevitable for people diagnosed with HIV. That is no longer the case. More people than ever before are living with HIV. And by living, I mean living; they’re healthy—working, studying, caring for their children, playing soccer, hanging with friends, living.

How you ask? Antiretroviral therapy.

Now, more people than ever before have access to lifesaving medication. This monumental achievement is the direct result of the work of USAID, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), international partners, partner countries and civil society.

But here’s the thing: In order for antiretroviral therapy to work, people have to actually start taking it. And once they start taking it, they must adhere to it. Completely.

Emily with four youth group members in Botswana. / Project Concern International

Emily with four youth group members in Botswana. / Project Concern International

This is why the Joint United Nations Programme for HIV/AIDS, as part of its 90-90-90 targets, is striving to get 90 percent of all people living with HIV on sustained antiretroviral therapy by 2020 in order to end the HIV epidemic by 2030. USAID and PEPFAR have established new targets to aggressively scale up treatment in order to reach this goal.

This goal cannot be accomplished, though, if people, like Mpho, do not start the treatment.

Right now.

This goal cannot be accomplished if people, like Pako, do not stay on the treatment.

Right now.

This goal cannot be accomplished if the international community, including beneficiaries, does not act urgently.

Right now.

We are closer than we have ever been to reaching an AIDS-free generation. This can’t be done, though, if international agencies, civil society, partner countries and beneficiaries move at the same languid pace as the cashier in that cramped, scorching grocery store in my village in Botswana.

In order to control the HIV epidemic, save lives and get people on sustained treatment, we need to move now, together, with a sense of urgency and purpose. This is the time to push. This is the time to work. The time to act is now.

*Names have been changed throughout to protect individuals’ identities.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Emily Reitenauer is a program assistant on the Gender Team for the Technical Leadership and Research Division in the Office of HIV/AIDS in USAID’s Global Health Bureau. She spent three years (2012-2015) serving as a Peace Corps volunteer performing HIV/AIDS work in Botswana.

How and Why USAID is Ensuring Our Development Efforts are Climate Resilient

Agriculture projects such as this rice cultivation project in Vietnam can benefit from analysis early in planning to determine how climate change could affect outcomes. / Phuong Nguyen

Agriculture projects such as this rice cultivation project in Vietnam can benefit from analysis early in planning to determine how climate change could affect outcomes. / Phuong Nguyen

In a semi-arid region of East Africa, an unforeseen lack of rain is leading to a dismal farming season, undermining development progress. In Central America, agroforestry projects are slowed by a severe drought that is making it difficult to plant and grow new crops. In South Asia, culverts constructed under rural roads are unable to handle unusually heavy rainfall, resulting in widespread damage to property and livelihoods.

With hundreds of projects and thousands of staff across the globe, USAID witnesses the effects of climate change every day. Climate change undermines development gains and future development progress. It’s not just an environmental problem, but a human problem with direct implications for hunger, poverty, conflict, water scarcity, infrastructure integrity, sanitation, disease and survival.

Though USAID has been helping our country partners become more resilient to climate change for the better part of a decade, the need for full integration of climate risk management in our development efforts has never been clearer.

I recently returned to Washington, D.C. to join USAID’s Bureau for Economic Growth, Education, and Environment as Deputy Assistant Administrator. For the past four years, I was Deputy Mission Director of USAID’s Bangkok-based Regional Development Mission for Asia. In that role, I saw firsthand how the effects of climate change were going to necessitate a change in the way we do development.

A washed out road in Mozambique shows how infrastructure can benefit from awareness of future climate impacts, increasing local resilience to climate change. / Carlos Quintela

A washed out road in Mozambique shows how infrastructure can benefit from awareness of future climate impacts, increasing local resilience to climate change. / Carlos Quintela

In the Lower Mekong Delta in particular, changing precipitation patterns and rising temperatures are expected to shift the habitable zone for important crops like maize, coffee and rubber trees. And as this heavily populated region sits in the middle of two cyclone systems, the combined effects of increased precipitation, sea level rise and increased intensity of storms promise devastating consequences for coastal infrastructure, livelihoods and sensitive coastal ecosystems.

What can USAID do in the face of a changing climate? We can, and we must, incorporate climate risk management into all of our development efforts. USAID has already been doing great work to help developing countries adapt to climate change, better manage their natural resources, and develop their economies while lowering greenhouse gas emissions. USAID has also taken steps in recent years to integrate climate change considerations into much of our programming.

But prompted by the 2015 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review and an executive order from President Obama, USAID is now embarking on a plan to make all of our development assistance more climate resilient – whether it’s a health program in Zambia, an agriculture project in Ethiopia, or an infrastructure investment in the Philippines.

This October, we started with integrating climate risk into all new regional and country-level strategies. And starting next October, USAID will include climate risk management at all levels, including all new projects and activities. The only exception will be emergency funding, such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

We recognize that USAID is not the first development agency or multilateral development bank to begin screening its investments for climate risk, and we have learned a great deal from the World Bank, our German counterpart GIZ and others as we design our own methods of climate risk management. As the largest bilateral donor and development agency in the world, USAID has an opportunity, and a responsibility, to make sure hard-won development gains are not undermined by a changing climate.

It is clear that the populations hit hardest by climate change have been and will continue to be the poorest communities in the least developed countries. It is also clear that in order to reach our Agency’s goal – ending extreme poverty – we will need to make climate risk management a requirement in all of our development assistance.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carrie Thompson is Deputy Assistant Administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Economic Growth, Education and Environment, heading up USAID’s environment work. Follow @USAIDenviro

Strong Border Management is Vital to the Fight against Ebola

Members of USAID’s Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team recently met near the border of Guinea and Sierra Leone to review the progress of border management programs. / USAID/OFDA

Members of USAID’s Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team recently met near the border of Guinea and Sierra Leone to review the progress of border management programs. / USAID/OFDA

Diseases don’t stop at international borders, which is why the ongoing fight against Ebola in West Africa has taken a special focus on border management.

We’ve worked vigilantly to control the spread of the disease — marking victories along the way with success stories of survivors and periods during which countries were completely Ebola-free — but we can’t let our guard down. Merchants, farmers and migrant workers continue to use formal and informal border crossings to travel between countries, leaving a real risk that Ebola can still spread across countries.

Members of USAID’s Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team recently met near the border of Guinea and Sierra Leone, where thousands of travelers cross every day. We witnessed a scene that’s standard at any international border: People streamed back and forth between Forécariah, Guinea, and Kambia, Sierra Leone to sell goods, transport cargo and visit friends and family.

But one thing was different: Before making the crossing, each person lined up to have their temperature checked and to wash their hands — standard protocols now in place in the West African countries impacted by the Ebola outbreak.

Practices like handwashing and temperature checks at international borders are critical for the continued fight against Ebola. Border management has been a key part of USAID's response to the outbreak. / International Organization for Migration

Practices like handwashing and temperature checks at international borders are critical for the continued fight against Ebola. Border management has been a key part of USAID’s response to the outbreak. / International Organization for Migration

This is such a critical component to the response. Ebola has killed more than 11,000 people in the region since 2014, and the fight against the disease isn’t over. Just last week, three new cases were reported in Liberia, highlighting the importance of maintaining vigilance.

Our partner, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), has worked with the governments of the affected countries to strengthen health screenings at this and other land border crossings, as well as the airport and seaports in Sierra Leone’s capital. IOM is helping teach travelers about the importance of handwashing, and is also collecting data about migrants crossing the border. This data can be a valuable tool for disease surveillance, contact tracing and deployment of personnel.

These steps are making a big impact. At some border crossings, health screenings have been transformed from something most travelers skipped to a comprehensive process that screens every traveler. At Guinea’s international border crossing at Gbalamuya, for example, 25 IOM staff members are now working around the clock to make this happen.

USAID and the International Organization for Migration are working with the governments of countries affected by Ebola to increase surveillance and data collection at land border crossings, airports and seaports. / International Organization for Migration

USAID and the International Organization for Migration are working with the governments of countries affected by Ebola to increase surveillance and data collection at land border crossings, airports and seaports. / International Organization for Migration

In Liberia, USAID is working with NGO partners to build screening and triage stations at the border with Sierra Leone. The stations are equipped with handwashing stations, a temperature screening booth, and holding rooms for suspected cases; there’s also a disinfection team and on-call ambulance to transport suspected cases.

Vigilance isn’t just a responsibility for governments. We are also supporting community awareness and engagement activities so that border communities — including those areas where there is no official border post but people cross informally — are better able to identify Ebola symptoms and refer suspected cases to the proper health authorities.

These border management steps, along with USAID’s continued work across West Africa, will help national governments and local communities in this region better respond to any new outbreaks and ultimately work toward a common goal: saving lives now and in the future.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Al Dwyer is the USAID Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team leader.

16 Days: Making Schools Safe Everywhere For Students Anywhere

In 2013, this 11-year-old girl from the Democratic Republic of Congo was raped by a family friend. In the aftermath she faced social stigma, isolation and teasing in school. USAID-supported interventions like counseling and medical care helped her regain her voice and her dignity. / Morgana Wingard, USAID.

In 2013, this 11-year-old girl from the Democratic Republic of Congo was raped by a family friend. In the aftermath she faced social stigma, isolation and teasing in school. USAID-supported interventions like counseling and medical care helped her regain her voice and her dignity. / Morgana Wingard, USAID.

“He told me I couldn’t tell anyone.”

Angelina was only 14 years old when she was sexually abused by her teacher. Born into a poor family in rural Mozambique, she sold eggs on the side of the road to help cover the cost of her education and dreamed of becoming a nurse.

Teachers wield incredible power to positively influence young lives. However, they are also able to abuse that power. In this case, Angelina’s teacher promised financial support in exchange for her silence.

Scared and struggling to afford school fees, Angelina continued to suffer abuse for an entire year. It wasn’t until she participated in a school health program run by USAID partner ANDA that Angelina realized what was happening to her was wrong.

Worldwide, 246 million children experience gender-based violence at or on their way to school every year. A report released by the United Nations Human Rights Council noted that attacks on schools occurred in at least 70 countries between 2009 and 2014, and that about 3,600 attacks against schools, teachers and students were recorded in 2012 alone.

A student at the Saffa Girls School in the West Bank raises her hand in class. The school is one of 57 in the area that USAID provided teacher training to. The school now also has 28 rehabilitated classrooms, a computer and science lab, a library, resource center, and a protected playground. / Bobby Neptune for USAID.

A student at the Saffa Girls School in the West Bank raises her hand in class. The school is one of 57 in the area that USAID provided teacher training to. The school now also has 28 rehabilitated classrooms, a computer and science lab, a library, resource center, and a protected playground. / Bobby Neptune for USAID.

And those are the numbers we know. The truth is that gender-based violence in schools is happening in every country around the world right now. It is a global phenomenon depriving children, especially girls, of their right to a safe, quality education.

From kidnappings to shootings, from acid attacks to poisoning, and from discrimination to intimidation, girls are being threatened, harassed, attacked and killed while trying to learn.

With the help of her school health program, Angelina was finally able to recognize her abuse, prosecute her abuser, and pursue an education free from fear and harassment.

In Mozambique and around the world, going from the classroom to the courtroom can be incredibly challenging. It requires survivors, communities, teachers, law enforcement and governments to work together for justice. But Angelina’s counselor hopes other girls will have the courage to say no and speak out.

We at USAID believe that schools free from abuse and violence are possible. It is exhausting and difficult work. Changing mindsets, fighting stigma, and speaking up for those who’ve been silenced can sometimes feel futile.

But behind every statistic and every story is a hero like Angelina and the brave men and women who worked tirelessly to support her. We must continue to fight alongside them until schools everywhere are safe so students anywhere can reach their potential.

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence campaign begins today. The 2015 global theme is From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Make Education Safe for All. This year, USAID will spotlight 16 teachers, students, leaders and activists worldwide who have triumphed over gender-based violence and/or are helping students learn and thrive.

Whether it’s creating safe spaces for students to grow and play, strengthening laws to protect the most vulnerable, or training teachers to give support when it’s needed, these individuals are working to ensure that girls and boys, and women and men, can realize their universal human right to education. Starting today and throughout the campaign, follow their stories on Instagram and Medium.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Susan Markham is USAID’s Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment. Follow her @msmarkham.

Charting a Course Toward Pacific Climate Resiliency

This post has been republished from DipNote.


Resistant to punctures and ultraviolet rays, these sturdy, multiple-ply sand bags discreetly work double time as they protect the coastline while preserving the shore’s natural look. / C-CAP

Resistant to punctures and ultraviolet rays, these sturdy, multiple-ply sand bags discreetly work double time as they protect the coastline while preserving the shore’s natural look. / C-CAP

Climate change is already impacting the people of the Pacific. In Papua New Guinea, families are struggling to access water and put food on the table because of a severe drought. In Samoa, the owner of a modest beachfront resort has watched for years as her property erodes, with storm surges and flooding battering the shore, pulling her property toward the sea.

These are just a few of the courageous people I have met in the few months since I became USAID’s Regional Coordinator for the Pacific.

Last year at the United Nations Climate Conference in Peru, Secretary Kerry said, “Climate change is an issue that should be personal for absolutely everybody– man, woman, child, businessperson, student, grandparent…Wherever we live, whatever our calling, whatever our personal background might be, this issue affects every human on the planet.”

People living in the Pacific Islands rely on their surrounding environment for food, water, energy, and shelter. Although collectively these nations contribute less than half a percent of global greenhouse emissions, they are on the frontlines of the struggle against a changing climate.

Support for climate change adaptation is a key priority for U.S. Government assistance overseas.

In 2013, USAID launched the Coastal Community Adaptation Project (C‑CAP) which has helped more than 70 communities in nine Pacific Island countries adapt to climate change and contribute in practical ways to the region’s resilience. As Regional Coordinator, I have witnessed inspiring hope and optimism when communities pull together to save their homes and preserve their livelihoods.

C-CAP develops small-scale infrastructure projects — like building rainwater harvesting systems, which allow the families of Papua New Guinea I mentioned to access clean drinking water, and using geo-textile bags to protect the coastline, which help coastal dwellers like the resort owner in Samoa preserve their property and livelihoods.

Communities in Samoa help plant vegetation to form a natural barrier from the sea. / C-CAP

Communities in Samoa help plant vegetation to form a natural barrier from the sea. / C-CAP

Under C-CAP, local leaders, village elders, women’s groups, and other community members prioritize where our assistance goes based on an innovative process of mapping their community’s assets and deciding collectively what infrastructure projects they need most. Tamuera Loane, an Evena village elder from a Kiribati C-CAP site, spoke to the importance of the community setting its own priorities when he said, “Now that we have clean water, it is our duty to work together as a village to make sure the infrastructure is well cared for.”

This model works. But we also know that we can do more. That is why U.S. Ambassador to Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga, and Tuvalu Judith Cefkin just announced the creation of the Institutional Strengthening in Pacific Island Countries to Adapt to Climate Change (ISACC) initiative at the 9th Conference of the Pacific Community in Niue on November 5. A new five year partnership between USAID, the Pacific Community, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, and the Secretariat of the Pacific Environment Programme, the initiative will strengthen the national capacity of up to 12 Pacific Island countries to effectively plan, coordinate and respond to the adverse impacts of climate change.

This new approach is a big step toward creating lasting, widespread change across the Pacific. It builds on existing multi-sector, whole-of-island national adaptation models that have been successful in places like Kiribati and the Solomon Islands by pooling the resources and expertise of partners, including U.S. Embassies and the Council of Regional Organizations in the Pacific (CROP) agencies.

This initiative is creating buzz in the region because it recognizes that cooperation among regional partners can accelerate progress in our common fight against climate change.

By working together, we can build a climate-secure future.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Richard Edwards is USAID’s regional coordinator for the Pacific.

Openly LGBTI and in Office: A Historic Election for Guatemala

USAID elections projects promote transgender rights with lessons learned from the region. / NDI

USAID elections projects promote transgender rights with lessons learned from the region. / NDI

In Guatemala’s recent elections, Sandra Morán became the first openly LGBTI member of the Guatemalan Congress. She hopes to use her position to advance human rights throughout the country.

“My promise is to all people,” she said. “Although most identify me as a feminist, I believe in rights for all. I am a lesbian and I live as that. I hope that the global fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex rights advances to a point where it transcends to the smallest towns and communities worldwide.”

Morán’s election is no light feat for Guatemala; a nationwide survey conducted by George Washington University in 2012 found that 74 percent of Guatemalans would not vote for an openly LGBTI candidate, making Morán’s win against the odds.

But the Sept. 6 elections embodied a spirit of change, reflecting a growing sentiment against problems within Guatemalan government and society. “The elections occurred in the context of a fight against corruption and traditional politics; my election to Congress is a representation of that,” Morán said.

LGBTI Inclusion in Guatemala’s 2015 Elections

Congresswoman Morán, who has participated in USAID’s Elections Project: More Inclusion, Less Violence roundtables, feels a sense of hope for the future of LGBTI community. “It is about creating visibility. I hope to be able to enact legislation that supports equal rights and creates public policy change for the LGBTI community. It is my hope that as the movement strengthens, the communities lagging behind can progress.”

A transgender woman votes in Guatemala’s 2015 elections. / Shannon Schissler, USAID

A transgender woman votes in Guatemala’s 2015 elections. / Shannon Schissler, USAID


Morán’s election to Congress, in addition to projects that foster dialogue, visibility and respect for the LGBTI community, are laying a foundation for inclusion and tolerance, promoting a more democratic future for Guatemala.

USAID’s project helped launch a “Get Out the Vote” campaign to ensure that the LGBTI community had the opportunity to vote.

In partnership with Guatemala’s Election Tribunal, the project organized an LGBTI voter registration day. More than 200 community members registered to vote, helping make this election one with the highest voter turnout in recent Guatemalan history.

The project also enlisted eight transgender women to participate as election observers – another first for Guatemala.

“It is impossible to become comfortable with what we don’t see, know or live personally,” said Eduardo Nunez, the Guatemala country director of the National Democratic Institute, as he underscored the importance of encouraging dialogue, civic engagement and participation for the LGBTI community.

Debby Linares Sandoval — a transgender woman, LGBTI activist and advisor on USAID’s project — said she was proud of the experience she shared with other LGBTI voters.

“In the hour I was there, I interacted with eight gay voters and three transgender voters,” she said. “None of the transgender voters got harassed about their identity. I think that’s a big step for electoral awareness and opening to the community – for me, that is the start of something positive.”

USAID has helped Guatemala’s Election Tribunal update election manuals and provide trainings to electoral officials on how to be sensitive to people whose appearances are not congruent with the birth name on their personal identification card.

In the past, if a woman came to vote with an ID card with a male name, her ability to vote would be jeopardized. Recent efforts, through institutional changes and promoting internal dialogues, seek to extend tolerance and respect to all people.

My fight as an activist is about giving people voices that do not have one,” said Debby. “It’s to provoke civil society and the government to give us the same opportunities as any other citizen, with respect.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alana Marsili is a strategic communications advisor in USAID’s Democracy, Rights, and Governance Office working on citizen security, youth political leadership and urban municipal governance. Follow her @AlanaMarsili.

What Does Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Have to Do With Nutrition? Everything.

Children watch as a woman and child practice hand washing in Mali. / WASHplus

Children watch as a woman and child practice hand washing in Mali. / WASHplus

In Yarou Plateau, a village in Mali, people used to use any open space for bathroom needs. You can imagine the consequences.

Flies could easily find fecal matter lying around, and from there land on food, spreading diseases like diarrhea and intestinal worms. Fecal matter in open areas also contaminated the groundwater, which villagers use for drinking and preparing food. In Yarou Plateau, frequent diarrhea was much too common among mothers and children.

This created a vicious cycle. Diarrhea can worsen malnutrition, and the undernourished already have weakened immune systems — making them more susceptible to intestinal infections and more severe episodes of diarrhea.

The situation in Yarou Plateau changed two years ago when the village’s chief, Hamidou Samakan, visited the neighboring village of Gouna. Gouna had transformed since Hamidou had last visited; it looked clean, with no noticeable feces and fewer flies. But it wasn’t just the pristine environment that impressed him. Hamidou noticed the villagers there appeared much healthier.

How did this happen? The people of Gouna had started sweeping their public spaces and building affordable latrines, and as a result fewer villagers were getting diarrhea and fewer children were malnourished. It was then that Hamidou decided to bring better sanitation to Yarou Plateau, too.

Men show onlookers an open toilet in Mali. / WASHplus

Men show onlookers an open toilet in Mali. / WASHplus

Holding up the village of Gouna as an example, Hamidou motivated the people of Yarou Plateau to improve the sanitation in their village. Now, after almost a year, the village has built over 60 latrines, and rehabilitated ones that had never been used.

Yarou Plateau is one of 180 villages supported by USAID’s WASHplus project in Mali, and more than 70 percent of them have been certified as free of open defecation. With access to a covered latrine and soap and water for handwashing in every household, villagers are noticing a drop in cases of diarrhea and fewer malnourished children.

To achieve this, WASHplus took a multi-sectoral approach. The project set out to work with communities in Mali not only to improve water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) but also to reduce diarrheal diseases and malnutrition. Beyond building latrines, WASHplus works to change behaviors. In villages like Yarou Plateau, people are now using latrines, washing their hands, treating their drinking water, and preparing and storing food safely.

What is WASH? WASH is everything from handwashing with soap, to safely disposing of adult and child feces, to preparing and storing food safely.

Today, on World Toilet Day, WHO, UNICEF and USAID are releasing a jointly-produced document with guidelines on integrating WASH into nutrition programs in order to achieve positive gains in the fight against undernutrition.

The document, called Improving Nutrition Outcomes With Better Water, Sanitation and Hygiene: Practical Solutions for Policies and Programmes, details WASH practices that help improve nutrition and how they can be incorporated into programs focused solely on nutrition. This will springboard global efforts to integrate WASH intro nutrition programming, helping implementing partners and USAID achieve greater results.

By using WASH in programs that work across sectors to address malnutrition in all its forms, we can help reach the 2025 Global Nutrition Targets and the Sustainable Development Goals and work to end preventable child and maternal deaths.

Undernutrition is an underlying factor in almost half of all child deaths. Malnourishment significantly increases the risk of a child dying from diseases like pneumonia and diarrhea. When an unhealthy and unsanitary environment leads to frequent diarrhea or other diseases associated with unclean water, this can lead to loss of appetite, nutrients not being absorbed properly, and anemia.

Villagers like those in Yarou Plateau know first-hand how poor WASH practices can lead to undernutrition. USAID will continue to scale up nutrition and WASH  programs to reduce maternal and child deaths in places like Mali and around the world. This document shares best practices to integrate water, sanitation and hygiene practices into nutrition programs to ultimately create a healthier future and bring a higher quality of life to the developing world.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Merri Weinger is the Environmental Health Team Leader in USAID’s Bureau for Global Health.

Back in the Classroom: Displaced Students in Nigeria Find Education & Hope

Ikilima Shuib Chiroma teaches a class of adolescent girls on Sept. 21 in a non-formal education facility in Yola, capital of the state of Adamawa in Nigeria. Creative is implementing USAID’s Education Crisis Response program here through partner agency International Rescue Committee to assist youth displaced by Boko Haram. / David Snyder for USAID

Ikilima Shuib Chiroma teaches a class of adolescent girls on Sept. 21 in a non-formal education facility in Yola, capital of the state of Adamawa in Nigeria. Creative is implementing USAID’s Education Crisis Response program here through partner agency International Rescue Committee to assist youth displaced by Boko Haram. / David Snyder for USAID

Like most 10-year-old students, Dinah solves her math problems in the old-fashioned way—with her fingers. She counts to six and jots down the number.

For Dinah’s extended family, they are counting something entirely different—the months since the girl lost her mother during a raid by Boko Haram insurgents on her village in northern Nigeria.

After the vicious attack, the young girl eventually made it to a center for internally displaced persons. Dinah’s uncle drove from the city of Bauchi to bring her to his home.

Today, some seven months after the incident, Dinah is adjusting to a new school and a new future.

An insurgency has wreaked havoc on parts of Nigeria, forcing some 2.2 million people from their homes—one of the largest concentrations of internally displaced persons in Africa. Hundreds of thousands of school-aged children have been set adrift inside the country, ripped from their communities and their schools.

With the magnitude of the situation, USAID, state officials and NGOs stepped in with the Education Crisis Response program.

Launched in 2014, the goal of the program is to expand access to quality and protective non-formal education and alternative education opportunities for out-of-school children, ages 6 to 17, in three Nigerian states and reduce the burden on local schools already stretched thin by limited resources. It is implemented by Creative Associates International and the International Rescue Committee, along with local NGOs.

The project has established 294 non-formal learning centers that provide education, in-class meals and psycho-social services to the displaced children, says Ayo Oladini, director of the Education Crisis Response program.

Local facilitators identified and trained by the program use a government-approved curriculum to teach basic literacy, numeracy and life skills. The learning centers are housed in existing structures like schools or meeting houses that are made available by the local community.

The students attend class three days a week for at least two hours each day and are provided basic school materials.

Adolescent girls in a non-formal education class on Sept. 21 at a school in Yola, capital of the state of Adamawa in Nigeria. Creative is implementing USAID’s Education Crisis Response program here through partner agency International Rescue Committee to assist youth displaced by Boko Haram. / David Snyder for USAID

Adolescent girls in a non-formal education class on Sept. 21 at a school in Yola, capital of the state of Adamawa in Nigeria. Creative is implementing USAID’s Education Crisis Response program here through partner agency International Rescue Committee to assist youth displaced by Boko Haram. / David Snyder for USAID

Paving the way for mainstream education

State officials evaluating the non-formal learning centers say they are working.

“The type of education they do receive is a good one,” says Halilu Usman Rishi of Bauchi’s State Education Secretariat. “That is going to [pave the] way for them to mainstream to a formal system of education.”

The opportunity to return to class is life changing, especially for the many who have been displaced and out of school for years.

“For the kids who had forgotten most of what they have learned [and are] now coming back to a classroom — to say it is therapeutic is an understatement,” Oladini said. “It’s a thing of joy.”

Youth displaced by Boko Haram take part in a non-formal learning class in Gombe, Nigeria on Sept. 26 as part of USAID’s Education Crisis Response program. / David Snyder for USAID

Youth displaced by Boko Haram take part in a non-formal learning class in Gombe, Nigeria on Sept. 26 as part of USAID’s Education Crisis Response program. / David Snyder for USAID

Addressing psychosocial needs

And while education is the foundation of the program, children traumatized by conflict and upheaval can only learn when their fears are also addressed.

USAID responded to the psychological needs of the displaced children by incorporating a psychosocial approach to teaching. Facilitators are trained to teach in a student-friendly manner by incorporating group exercises and encouraging positive, interactive student-teacher relations. Working through local partner agencies, the program also encourages the local community to spread messages of peace.

“We make sure that we don’t create any more trauma, either for these children or within the community where they live,” Oladini explained. “We tell them ‘Look, the future is still there for you. You [may] have lost this, you [may] have lost that…but there is still hope for you.’”

Officials in Bauchi are embracing this strategy to help students deal with what has happened to them and their families.

“The program is, in fact, doing as much as possible to ensure that the children are associating with their friends in the learning centers,” says Bauchi’s Rishi. “Some of them used to tell us as we go around to discuss with them, that initially, they found it very difficult to associate with the other children. But as they interact so much with their friends in the learning centers, they forget thinking about such ugly happenings.”

Preparing for sustained success

Scheduled to phase out in 2017, the Education Crisis Response program is supported by Nigeria’s state and federal governments, which, Oladini said, will help ensure the long-term sustainability of the program.

From the outset, government education officials have been involved in every detail of program planning and worked with the program to identify communities, develop a teacher training manual and sit in on classes.

For every learning center, Education Crisis Response has also trained two local government education officials to serve as mentor teachers whose job is to work with the facilitators and provide feedback to teachers.

“From day one, we made sure [the government understood] that this is your program, it’s not our program,” Oladini said. “So from year one before the end of year two, they’ll be able to plan within their budget to see how they can scale up all these programs.”

And while government’s support of the Education Crisis Response program is essential, it is one part of an overall effort that also depends largely on the communities themselves.

“We’re letting them know that with or without parents, there is what we call ‘your own mindset’ – your own ability to move forward and persevere in a state of difficulty,” Oladini said. “This is what we are teaching them.”


Produced for USAID by Creative Associates International, with reporting by Michael J. Zamba and Ernest Akoma in Nigeria.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael J. Zamba is senior director of communications at Creative Associates International and David Snyder is a photographer and writer. Creative Associates International is implementing USAID’s Education Crisis Response program in northern Nigeria. Follow Creative @1977Creative.

Cote d’Ivoire Election to Mark Turning Point After Years of Healing From Conflict

Women sell their goods at a market in Duékoué, Côte d’Ivoire, on Sept. 30. USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives helped strengthen dialogue and positive interaction between the market women after tensions between their different ethnic communities led them to minimally engage with each other. Read more here. / Kendra Helmer, USAID

Women sell their goods at a market in Duékoué, Côte d’Ivoire, on Sept. 30. USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives helped strengthen dialogue and positive interaction between the market women after tensions between their different ethnic communities led them to minimally engage with each other. / Kendra Helmer, USAID

Today in Côte d’Ivoire, three in four people are under 35 years old, and many can’t find work.

After the last presidential election in 2010, violence erupted across this West African country. An estimated 3,000 people were killed, and hundreds of thousands were displaced. The youth were largely the instigators and victims of the violence, frustrated that neither presidential candidate would concede defeat.

For the young, the unemployed and discontent, elections matter.

Their vote in the upcoming presidential election Oct. 25 represents a new opportunity to participate peacefully in choosing the next leader. And a peaceful election can help ensure that economic growth and the promise of more jobs is realized.

I moved to Côte d’Ivoire to support post-conflict reconciliation through a program with USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives. Over the past three years, I’ve seen how communities have addressed the trauma and reconciliation has begun to take hold.

The dark years

Côte d’Ivoire has a history of military coups, counter coups and political assassinations. For many years, the government provided few public services. In many areas, administrative clerks did not issue birth certificates or national identification cards, courts failed to punish criminals, and police officers could not guarantee safety and security on the streets.

After the 2010 post-election violence, President Gbagbo was captured and transferred to the International Criminal Court to stand trial for war crimes. His challenger, Alassane Ouattara, became the new president.

A stronger community

Ethnic and political division and fighting had torn neighborhoods apart, destroyed people’s sense of togetherness and instilled distrust and hatred. In response, USAID organized hundreds of activities, inviting every political, ethnic and social group in the targeted community to participate in sports tournaments, cultural festivals, community service events and public forums.

There was a strong emphasis on engaging youth, who took part in information campaigns with community leaders and in public discussions  to confront sources of recent community conflict and identify ways to overcome them.

As people began interacting together regularly and in positive ways, they recognized that conflict had affected every person at some level, which connected them to each other. People began confronting their collective suffering and loss. The healing process was set in motion.

A local elections official in Duékoué, Côte d’Ivoire, explains the tabulation of votes from a previous election. Ahead of next week's presidential election, USAID's Office of Transition Initiatives has implemented activities focused on capacity-building of electoral institutions, improved access to credible information, increased inter-community dialogue, and widespread community mobilization and engagement in the electoral process. / Kendra Helmer, USAID

A local elections official in Duékoué, Côte d’Ivoire, explains the tabulation of votes from a previous election. Ahead of next week’s presidential election, USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives has implemented activities focused on capacity-building of electoral institutions, improved access to credible information, increased inter-community dialogue, and widespread community mobilization and engagement in the electoral process. / Kendra Helmer, USAID

A stronger government

During the crisis, the government had a limited presence across the country and provided few public services. To strengthen government services to marginalized communities, USAID has supported renovations of government buildings and facilitated roundtables to encourage community involvement. USAID’s support helped the new government demonstrate that it was helping Côte d’Ivoire recover from years of stagnation. The new government’s improved public image helped increase trust for Ivorians to move beyond the conflict.

The infrastructure has improved, as well. It used to take 30 minutes to travel 2 miles — due to restrictive security measures, traffic jams and crumbling infrastructure. Today, noticeable investments in roads and bridges and increased commercial activity from new boutiques and restaurants now creates a perception that Côte d’Ivoire is finally healing from the conflict.

A view of Abidjan, the economic capital of Côte d’Ivoire. The country, which accounts for 40 percent of West Africa’s economic activity, is a leading producer of cocoa, rubber, coffee, cashew and palm oil and serves as the home of the African Development Bank and many international companies. / Kendra Helmer, USAID

A view of Abidjan, the economic capital of Côte d’Ivoire. The country, which accounts for 40 percent of West Africa’s economic activity, is a leading producer of cocoa, rubber, coffee, cashew and palm oil and serves as the home of the African Development Bank and many international companies. / Kendra Helmer, USAID

A stronger economy

As the country moved beyond the conflict, the economy quickly rebounded from economic decline. It now ranks among the top 10 fastest growing economies in the world — with 9 percent annual growth.

As a leading producer of cocoa, rubber, coffee, cashew and palm oil, as well as serving as the home of the African Development Bank and many international companies, Côte d’Ivoire accounts for 40 percent of West Africa’s economic activity.

The potential here is enormous, and there is no better place than Abidjan to observe the economic explosion. Towering modern hotels, luxury shopping centers and shiny banks are mushrooming throughout the pulsating metropolis. New roads and an expansive bridge spanning the lagoon have opened to provide vital links across the city.

Women in Duékoué, Côte d’Ivoire, ask the mayor about the upcoming elections and other issues during a meeting Sept. 30. USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives is supporting social cohesion activities, including the coalition of area women to strengthen dialogue and positive interaction between women from different ethnic communities. / Kendra Helmer, USAID

Women in Duékoué, Côte d’Ivoire, ask the mayor about the upcoming elections and other issues during a meeting Sept. 30. USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives is supporting social cohesion activities, including the coalition of area women to strengthen dialogue and positive interaction between women from different ethnic communities. / Kendra Helmer, USAID

Stronger security

Security reforms and increased community resilience have helped Côte d’Ivoire build a protective buffer. Using its community-based approach, USAID partnered with opposing groups, including ex-combatants, at-risk youth, women’s associations, and administrative and traditional leaders to overcome their differences and work together to re-establish social and political ties.

In a region increasingly threatened by terrorism, the country offers a strong contrast. Terrorist organizations like Boko Haram and the Islamic State are not gaining ground in Côte d’Ivoire. Strong community networks in addition to the nationally-focused security measures will help reduce the outside influence of violent extremist organizations.


This month’s vote is a critical turning point. Peaceful elections will show the world that Ivorians, young and old, have moved beyond the conflict and division of the previous decades. They will also serve as a reminder across Africa that international support for peaceful transitions is important for development and prosperity.

As for the youth, they understand that they are powerful change agents among their peers and the wider general public. With USAID support, they are becoming actively engaged in a peaceful electoral process to ensure their prominent place in their country’s future.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark David Emmert is the country representative for USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives in Côte d’Ivoire.
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