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Helping Salvadorans Build a Better Life at Home

USAID job training programs provide Salvadoran youth the skills they need for greater employment and economic opportunities as a deterrent to migration. /USAID Bridges to Employment Project

USAID job training programs provide Salvadoran youth the skills they need for greater employment and economic opportunities as a deterrent to migration. /USAID Bridges to Employment Project

In 1999, as a graduate student doing a research project in El Salvador, I was held up at gunpoint.  With a .45 pistol thrust into my chest, I had never felt such fear in my life. I know that my brush with violence was something that many Salvadorans are threatened with every day.

Faced with unimaginable violence at the hands of ruthless gang members, debilitating poverty and hopelessness, nearly 70,000 children from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala embarked upon a treacherous journey in the summer of 2014, with a goal of reaching the United States.

Yet, a baseline survey in El Salvador, taken after the migration surge, indicated that 70 percent of citizens in high crime municipalities would prefer to remain in their communities than migrate, presuming improved security, education and economic opportunities. The data indicate that while the factors that attract people to migrate are strong, most Salvadorans would prefer to build a prosperous life closer to home.

Low-cost community outreach centers help reduce crime and violence, a leading cause of illegal migration, by providing youth in high-crime communities a place to learn computer skills or to play a musical instrument, engage in sports activities, or receive tutoring as alternatives to gang involvement. /USAID

Low-cost community outreach centers help reduce crime and violence, a leading cause of illegal migration, by providing youth in high-crime communities a place to learn computer skills or to play a musical instrument, engage in sports activities, or receive tutoring as alternatives to gang involvement. /USAID

In 2013, I returned to El Salvador as USAID’s Mission Director. In my time there, I found so many people working to do just that—people who care and love their country, people who are working together to make their communities safer and more prosperous. It is this El Salvador that people hear less about. Building this El Salvador contributes to our own safety and prosperity.

At the recent Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America that was held in Miami, Florida, Vice President Pence emphasized the U.S. Government’s commitment to continue to partner with the countries of Central America to root out crime and corruption, and to provide greater education and economic opportunities that will “give the citizens of Central America a better path and a brighter future.”

A secure and flourishing Central America will help to stop the flow of illegal migration and drugs and create new economic opportunities for all, including the United States. As Vice President Pence said, “We are in this together.”

The Northern Triangle presidents have created their own plan, the Alliance for Prosperity, which provides a framework for addressing the major obstacles to economic growth and demonstrates the political will of the governments in the region to advance prosperity, security and democracy. The plan integrates security, economic and good governance initiatives to build a safe, democratic and prosperous region where people can build a better life at home without having to leave.

As we stand together with the countries of Central America, USAID programs help to tackle the problems driving illegal migration, namely insecurity, lack of economic and educational opportunities, and weak governance. I believe that our support for El Salvador and Central America is making a difference that not only helps Central Americans build a better, safer life for themselves in their own countries but helps ensure our own security and prosperity as well.

In El Salvador, our education programs in high crime communities help keep over 100,000 vulnerable youth in school and out of gangs through quality education and extracurricular activities in a safe environment. Over 20,000 youth have received job training to increase employment opportunities. At the same time, USAID is helping to reduce corruption and impunity and increase citizen trust in the government through support for criminal justice reform and judicial transparency.

I have seen the impact of our programs when we have worked together with the government, with community and church organizations and with private businesses. Where we have integrated our efforts with better policing, improved education, safe parks and playgrounds, and increased job and economic opportunities, crime rates go down. People in these communities feel safer—their children play in new sports fields and parks, and businesses stay open later.

I have personally spoken to youth who have told me they were ready to leave the country but found new opportunities at a USAID youth outreach center or a job training program or as a student at a university. They tell me they now have hope for the future, and many are committed to making their communities and their country a better place.

That spirit and determination is what I will now remember the most about El Salvador. And through our continued collaboration, I can now envision a day when all Salvadorans will be able to build a secure, prosperous life at home.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Larry Sacks is the former USAID/El Salvador Mission Director   (Larry Sacks was sworn in as USAID/Colombia Mission Director on Aug. 4.)

Tanzania’s Young Leaders Bring Innovation to Development Challenges

Abella Paul Bateyunga. /Young Business Leaders of Tanzania

Abella Paul Bateyunga. /Young Business Leaders of Tanzania

In Kiswahili, “bora” means better. Two years ago, Abella Bateyunga, 29, founded the Tanzania Bora Initiative to give y oung Tanzanians a voice, a sense of belonging, and a connection to other youth who want to change their country for the better.

The initiative empowers young Tanzanians through data-driven projects, youth-led television shows on political participation, and training for young girls in computer coding.

The Tanzania Bora Initiative leadership team. / Tanzania Bora Initiative

The Tanzania Bora Initiative leadership team. / Tanzania Bora Initiative

Abella founded the initiative after she returned from two months in the United States on a fellowship with the Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI). Funded by the U.S. State Department and USAID, the fellowship is a huge honor; only 1,000 youth across Africa are chosen each year. YALI fellows get to meet other young rising African leaders in their cohort and are offered opportunities for leadership training at U.S. universities.

Abella Bateyunga with the Tanzania Bora Initiative team. / Michael McCabe, USAID

Abella Bateyunga with the Tanzania Bora Initiative team. / Michael McCabe, USAID

As the 2015 national elections in Tanzania approached, Abella thought about new ways to engage Tanzanian youth to both vote and mobilize peacefully. She also thought of ways to empower youth to use data-based evidence and advocacy to engage local and national leaders on social issues.

Abella’s background as a lawyer and former radio reporter for the BBC in Tanzania positioned her to develop a strategy to engage youth in the election and in data-driven development efforts for employment and youth voice.

Girls in the “She Codes for Change” course. / Tanzania Bora Initiative

Girls in the “She Codes for Change” course. / Tanzania Bora Initiative

Creating Youth Dialogue in Tanzania

Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa  are facing a “ youth bulge ” due to high fertility rates; in Tanzania, over 73 percent of the population is under 30.

“She Codes for Change” provides a safe space for girls to learn coding. /Theirworld, Mticka Almas

“She Codes for Change” provides a safe space for girls to learn coding. /Theirworld, Mticka Almas

In Tanzania and other countries, the government and key civil society partners have developed national plans of action to reduce violence against children and youth that stems from domestic violence and other community violence. In other countries, governments are restricting the ability of civil society organizations to speak out on the rights of minority or excluded groups, including youth who are underrepresented in decision-making.

With support from USAID’s Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening and implementing partner the International Republican Institute, Abella started the Tanzania Bora Initiative with a small budget and a core team of five savvy young social media leaders.

Participants of the Kijana Wajibika (Youth Be Responsible) consortium, which demands youth accountability and participation in civic issues. /Kijana Wajikia and Restless Development Tanzania

Participants of the Kijana Wajibika (Youth Be Responsible) consortium, which demands youth accountability and participation in civic issues. /Kijana Wajikia and Restless Development Tanzania

In just two years, Abella and her team have brought innovation to Tanzanian media and civil society with initiatives like Data Zetu, funded by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDs Relief (PEPFAR) in partnership with the Millennium Challenge Corporation to promote data-driven advocacy by youth.

Working with artists and young journalists, Abella helps create dialogue in communities based on evidence and data about what is happening and what works through community solutions. Data Zetu empowers youth to gather data from the local government on services and analyzes it to determine areas in need of improvement.

Participants of the Kijana Wajibika (Youth Be Responsible) consortium, which demands youth accountability and participation in civic issues. /Kijana Wajikia and Restless Development Tanzania

Participants of the Kijana Wajibika (Youth Be Responsible) consortium, which demands youth accountability and participation in civic issues. /Kijana Wajikia and Restless Development Tanzania

Other activities have included engaging pop music groups in Temeke District — one of the largest and poorest areas in southern Dar es Salaam — through its Arts for Change project. Abella and her team work with these musicians to write songs that champion their issues.

Given the rise in violence in Tanzania, Abella partnered with USAID-supported partner Search for Common Ground and others to counter violence in the home and community, as well as violent extremist messaging, through television shows, youth peace festivals and media campaigns.

Kijana Wajibika recognizes youth as an asset who can contribute and lead change. /Kijana Wajikia and Restless Development Tanzania

Kijana Wajibika recognizes youth as an asset who can contribute and lead change. /Kijana Wajikia and Restless Development Tanzania

Abella and the Tanzania Bora Initiative also supported the Kijana Wajibika (Youth Be Responsible) consortium funded along with the Restless Development movement   – for youth to demand accountability and participate in civic issues and learn to use data for decisions. Abella’s TV program creates data ambassadors and trains journalists, particularly young women, to collect data and empower youth on topics related to the national youth agenda: employment, sexual health and education.

Recognizing that youth often don’t know their rights, Abella created the “Know the Constitution” campaign — an online portal which is complemented by a television show called “One Voice” (Sauti Moja) serving as a college competition on rights and the constitution.

Amplifying citizens’ voices through data. /Data Zetu

Amplifying citizens’ voices through data. /Data Zetu

Tanzania Bora Initiative-led activities under Data Zetu. TBI/Data Zetu

Tanzania Bora Initiative-led activities under Data Zetu. TBI/Data Zetu

Abella also recognizes the importance of skills-based opportunities for youth who want to make a difference. That was the impetus behind starting She Codes for Change in partnership with Apps and Girls . The program trains girls from each region on digital literacy and computer  coding.

“Creating mobile apps on issues that concern girls has a transformative effect on their opportunities,” said Abella. “The girls have developed apps on female genital mutilation prevention, bus fares, fashion and rights.”

Abella Paul Bateyunga was chosen by USAID partner IREX as a Young African Leadership Initiative fellow in 2014. / Courtesy of Abella Bateyunga

Abella Paul Bateyunga was chosen by USAID partner IREX as a Young African Leadership Initiative fellow in 2014. / Courtesy of Abella Bateyunga

Abella describes her vision for how international development organizations such as USAID can best approach engaging youth as partners in development:

“Youth bring three key tools to the development field: Innovative ideas, a wicked broad knowledge of how to mobilize networks via media (especially new media) and record numbers of youth in Tanzania and around the world. We aren’t the hope of tomorrow, we are changing things today.”

Ebola Aftermath: Restoring Trust in Hospitals in Guinea

Fatimata Binta Diallo, an anesthesiologist, inside the office of Dr. Bakayoko Sekou, director of Dubreka Hospital. / Mariama Keita, USAID

Fatimata Binta Diallo, an anesthesiologist, inside the office of Dr. Bakayoko Sekou, director of Dubreka Hospital. / Mariama Keita, USAID

In 2014, Guinea was declared ground zero for the Ebola outbreak, and before it was brought under control in January 2016, there were more than 3,300 confirmed Ebola cases in the country.

During the peak of the rapid spread of the disease, people were afraid to go to the hospital because of low levels of trust in government and poor delivery of health services in general. People were less willing to accept Ebola as real, nor did they embrace social messaging aimed at reinforcing behavior change to save lives.

In the aftermath of the 2014-2016 epidemic and in the face of its reemergence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, USAID is working with partners, communities and policymakers to help Guinea recover and stay resilient. Through a combination of hospital renovations, medical equipment donations and community engagement, we are rebuilding the people’s trust in the healthcare system so they will resume using hospitals and clinics.

Karoline Nyoka, a program officer with Health Communication Capacity Collaborative, greets and interviews patient Salematou Sylla. / Mariama Keita, USAID

Karoline Nyoka, a program officer with Health Communication Capacity Collaborative, greets and interviews patient Salematou Sylla. / Mariama Keita, USAID

Recently, I traveled to the francophone West African country and made my way to Dubreka, a small town of 8,000 people just north of the capital, Conakry. There, I met with Dr. Bakayoko Sekou, director of Dubreka hospital, and we talked about how the Ebola crisis had affected his community.

Prior to the emergence of Ebola, on average there were up to 95 births per month at the hospital. But during the outbreak, the rate dropped to the single digits due to fear of sickness and death associated with hospitals during the outbreak.

Dr. Bakayoko Sekou, director of Dubreka Hospital, takes a group photo with his staff. / Mariama Keita, USAID

Dr. Bakayoko Sekou, director of Dubreka Hospital, takes a group photo with his staff. / Mariama Keita, USAID

However, Dr. Sekou proudly reported that the community is once again using Dubreka hospital to meet their health care needs — he attributed the current rate of 100 births per month to a higher quality of services that the staff now offers.

On my way to meet Dr. Sekou, I noticed the symbolic large Gold Star (Etoile d’Or) signage prominently displayed near the entrance of the health facility, signifying that the Dubreka hospital had passed a months-long accreditation process.

The smile of 26-year old Salematou Sylla brings tears of joy to the health team at Dubreka Hospital who saved her life. / Mariama Keita, USAID

The smile of 26-year old Salematou Sylla brings tears of joy to the health team at Dubreka Hospital who saved her life. / Mariama Keita, USAID

The Gold Star accreditation system is part of a campaign by USAID partner Health Communication Capacity Collaborative, Jhpiego and the Guinea’s Ministry of Health to rebuild people’s trust in the healthcare system and improve the quality of services offered at hospitals.

The brand and the quality associated with it was widely promoted through a mass-media campaign on radio, TV, on billboards, and at community events. Dr. Sekou

cited the Gold Star accreditation as one of his greatest achievements.

He also attributed the accreditation to USAID support in renovating the pediatrics and maternity section of Dubreka hospital, which included adding ramps, repairing the roof, installing ceiling fans and air conditioners in delivery rooms and operating rooms, and fixing the building’s plumbing.

Basic supplies and amenities like protective gloves and air conditioning are rare in hospitals in the developing world. Fatimata Binta Diallo, an anesthesiologist who visited Dr. Sekou’s office during our meeting, told us she vividly remembered a patient who was completely surprised by doctors’ use of protective gloves. Another patient being prepared for surgery had shouted to her, “Madame Diallo, wait, don’t put me to sleep yet. I feel like I am in paradise with this cool air.”

The services that the hospital provides are life-saving, but they only work if people trust that the hospitals are safe to use. Dr. Sekou told me the story of 26-year old Salematou Sylla, who came to the hospital in need of an emergency C-section. Although she lost her unborn child and underwent three major surgeries, she survived.

“Salematou entered into the hospital unable to pay for her medical fees and was in need of emergency caesarean section due to a shattered womb,” Dr. Sekou told me. “Many times, healthcare workers pull resources together from their own pocket to support the financial health care needs of patients like Salematou.”

Dr. Sekou then offered to introduce her to me. We walked into what appeared to be an outpatient section, where I saw a young, thin and fragile-looking woman sitting in a chair. Our presence brought a smile to her face. I had to fight back tears as I watched Dr. Sekou embrace Salematou as he would his own biological daughter.

Her survival is a huge success, as maternal and neonatal mortality rates in Guinea are some of the highest in the West African region. At USAID, we remain committed to re-establishing trust and restoring confidence in the health care system to prevent another global health humanitarian crisis.

As Ebola recovery interventions come to an end in the region, USAID has renovated 16 health facilities, and we expect to renovate another 20 by the end of this year. This translates into more success stories like Salematou’s as the citizens of Guinea get access to quality health care.

About the Author

Mariama Keita is a Communication and Partnership Advisor in USAID’s Africa Bureau, Office of Sustainable Development working on Ebola Recovery programs in West Africa. Follow her @mariamakeita

The Power of Radio in the Fight for Girls’ Education in Malawi

Marshall Dyton, the editor-in-chief of Malawi's first online Muslim publication during a live broadcast on Kumakomo Radio. / IREX

Marshall Dyton, the editor-in-chief of Malawi’s first online Muslim publication during a live broadcast on Kumakomo Radio. / IREX

Most people in Malawi  rely on radio as their primary source of news and information, as 85 percent of the population do not have access to television or newspapers.


Marshall Dyton
 is no stranger to this fact — he recognizes radio’s power and its critical role in educating and informing rural communities across the country, including his own in Mangochi District in eastern Malawi.

As a Mandela Washington Fellow
— chosen as part of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) program in 2015 — and editor-in-chief of Malawi’s first online Muslim publication, Marshall first produced radio broadcasts during an internship at the Kumakomo Community Radio Station in Zimbabwe, which he secured with support from USAID. There, he led a team of a dozen volunteers to produce content.

After completing the internship, Marshall decided to put his newfound skills to use to engage communities about a plight sweeping Malawi — the negative impact of child marriage on education for women and girls.

This is an issue that Marshall understood personally — his mother was one of the few women who went to school in his community, despite a culture that prioritizes the education of men and boys.

Marriam Larry (left), from Wumi Wumo Foundation and part of the second cohort of USAID's Regional Leadership Centers, and Halima Twabi (right), from Malawi Girls and a 2016 Mandela Washington Fellow. / IREX

Marriam Larry (left), from Wumi Wumo Foundation and part of the second cohort of USAID’s Regional Leadership Centers, and Halima Twabi (right), from Malawi Girls and a 2016 Mandela Washington Fellow. / IREX

Shedding Light on a Dark Subject

According to UNICEF, Malawi has the 11th-highest child marriage rate in the world, with nearly one in two girls married before the age of 18. Human rights activists have long argued that child marriage is a barrier to education particularly for girls, making them vulnerable to cycles of poverty and violence.

Bashir Amin, of the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation, the state-owned radio station. / IREX

Bashir Amin, of the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation, the state-owned radio station. / IREX

Early this year, the Malawian government voted to amend the constitution to remove a provision that allowed children to marry at 15. Now, marriage before the age of 18 is illegal, but challenges remain.

To join the fight against child marriage and other issues that affect women and girls in marginalized communities, Marshall wanted to engage directly with communities to create change. Inspired by his time at the Kumakomo Radio, he organized a radio talk show that brought together chiefs, religious leaders, girls, women and men to confront child marriage and discuss the importance of education for girls.

Florence Mwitha, a recent graduate, representing girls during a live broadcast of Kumakomo Radio (left) and Twaina Sanudi, an activist advocate of Muslim girls’ rights (right). / IREX

Florence Mwitha, a recent graduate, representing girls during a live broadcaston Radio Islam (left) and Twaina Sanudi, an activist advocate of Muslim girls’ rights (right). / IREX

The show was a collaboration across the YALI and Mandela Washington Fellows networks, and with Regional Leadership Center participants — young leaders between 18 and 35 enrolled in USAID-supported leadership training programs in sub-Saharan Africa — who took turns at the microphone during the live show.

Previously, issues around child marriage, women’s education and the status of women were rarely discussed, and they remain largely taboo. Marshall’s goal was to take the discussion to the national stage.

A Malawian schoolgirl reads out loud to her class. USAID is working to improve reading skills in primary school students and create safe spaces for girls to learn. / Amos Gumulira, Feed the Children

A Malawian schoolgirl reads out loud to her class. USAID is working to improve reading skills in primary school students and create safe spaces for girls to learn. / Amos Gumulira, Feed the Children

“With radio we spent less but achieved more,” Marshall said.

The show was broadcast live for two hours and reached an estimated 3 million listeners on national radio. The aim was to increase awareness within Muslim communities in Malawi about education, the misinterpretation of religious text, and why communities must confront embedded cultural values that lead to child marriage.

Marshall Dyton during the Mandela Washington Fellowship Presidential Summit in 2015 in Washington, D.C. / IREX

Marshall Dyton during the Mandela Washington Fellowship Presidential Summit in 2015 in Washington, D.C. / IREX

“Radio allows for debates and discussions to be open and transparent, and can be a critical tool for building consensus among communities and citizens,” Marshall said.

The talk show was organized under the Girl Child Education Movement, an initiative that Marshall founded to help girls in his community access education in rural Malawi. Broadcast on Malawi’s only Islamic radio station, Radio Islam, the event was designed to reach Malawi’s Muslim communities, who are vulnerable to discrimination given their religious and cultural background, Marshall said.

Creating Change Through Community Inclusion

As a result of the talk show, the Muslim Association of Malawi, who attended the event, agreed to open new offices in rural areas where communities can access up-to-date information about education and scholarship opportunities for girls.

Girl power in Chipoka, Malawi. /Amber Lucero-Dwyer

Girl power in Chipoka, Malawi. /Amber Lucero-Dwyer

Inspired by the success of his radio show, Marshall’s dream is to start a community radio station that is run by youth from diverse religious backgrounds. He believes that one way to tackle challenges facing marginalized communities and women in Malawi is to discuss these issues in an open forum.

Like in Malawi, USAID supports programs in over 30 countries to strengthen journalistic professionalism for individuals such as Marshall, establish media management skills and promote free media.

About the Author

Neetha Tangirala is a Senior Program Officer at IREX.

Raising Goats (and Confidence) in Uganda

Women share highly nutritious goat milk from their own livestock with their children to improve and diversify their diets. / ACDI/VOCA

Women share highly nutritious goat milk from their own livestock with their children to improve and diversify their diets. / ACDI/VOCA

One key to women’s empowerment is self-confidence. When a woman truly realizes her worth and can publicly act on that confidence, the world changes for her.

One woman living in the Karamoja region of Uganda—where tradition dictates much in the lives of men and women—had little confidence in her own abilities, that is until she was offered an opportunity to generate income for herself through USAID’s Resiliency through Wealth, Agriculture, and Nutrition in Karamoja Project.

When Joyce Owalinga first married, her husband Sagal managed the family’s money, choosing when and how to spend it. “My husband controlled all the money, and when he went away for long periods of time for work, my children and I had very little food. We would sometimes go to bed hungry.”

Despite economic disempowerment, Joyce, like many women in her village, is responsible for feeding her family. To come up with the money, she collected and sold firewood and charcoal and did odd jobs for others, yet she still failed to scrape together enough for her family’s basic needs. “I couldn’t even afford salt and flour, and I had nothing to call my own.”

To empower women as income earners in their communities—and strengthen food security in Karamoja while diversifying livelihoods for rural families—USAID partnered with ACDI/VOCA and Welthungerhilfe to introduce a hardy breed of goat—Galla, or “milk queens” into the region.

Livestock owner and her family show off their “Milk Queen” goat. / ACDI/VOCA

Livestock owner and her family show off their “Milk Queen” goat. / ACDI/VOCA

The project’s unique approach organized 211 women’s livestock groups, comprised of about 10 women each and initially consulted  with village elders to determine how to best counter expectations of traditional roles and to secure support, as men typically care for livestock and keep the money from sales.

After attending a training to learn how to care for the goats, Joyce received five of her own.  She and other group members attended additional trainings on health management and how to build shelters for the animals. The  goats began to thrive under their care.  

As the women demonstrated their herding skills, gender norms in communities began to change little by little. When Joyce went into the village to sell her goats’ milk, she was able to keep the proceeds and reinvest in the business. After the group took part in animal care training sessions, Joyce confidently spoke to others about how to trim a goat’s hooves. As she spoke, Sagal listened carefully to learn more about the intricacies of animal care.

A recent assessment of this project revealed that 65 percent of community members now recognize livestock group members as new leaders in their communities. And, perhaps not surprisingly, 61 percent of members reported improved marriage dynamics as a result of owning the goats. This holds true for Joyce and Sagal. He quietly mentioned that he now holds more respect for Joyce and intends to give her the first calf born this season.

Lokibeyia Livestock Group Chairwoman Rachel Akol herds one of her many goats.

Lokibeyia Livestock Group Chairwoman Rachel Akol herds one of her many goats.

Now chairwoman of her livestock group, Joyce has successfully increased her stock of goats from 5 to 15. She recently made the decision to sell one of her goats and used the profits to start her own business.

“Now, I have something that I can call my own,” she proudly noted. “As chairperson of my group, I can also now speak with confidence. The other women and community members respect and listen to me, and my husband now respects me.”

As Joyce and other group members grow more confident, they are leading by example and teaching their children how to spot health problems in goats. By involving a new generation in this activity, children now understand that both men and women can own and take care of livestock, fostering gender equality within the children’s minds.

This project represents lasting, sustainable change in Karamoja—a catalyst tool for empowerment that is ushering in a new way of looking at the world.

Food security, economic empowerment and gender equality must all be seen as crucial elements to community resilience, and the project is making strides to ensure that communities in Karamoja value all of these.

Gender equality and women’s empowerment are a core pillar of sustainable development, and USAID currently supports gender programming in more than 80 countries. For societies to thrive, women and girls must have access to education, economic resources, healthcare, and technology.

To achieve USAID’s mission of ending extreme poverty and promoting the development of resilient, democratic societies, programs seek to ensure inclusivity, strengthen the voices of the marginalized and vulnerable, and help women and girls reach their full potential.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Mitchell is the deputy chief of party for the USAID Resiliency through Wealth, Agriculture, and Nutrition in Karamoja project. Paul Guenette is ACDI/VOCA’s chief communications officer.

Cambodia’s Youth Debate Champion Helps Young People Find Their Voice

Linda Eang won first prize in the International Republican Institute’s televised debate series Next Generation in 2014. / IRI

Linda Eang won first prize in the International Republican Institute’s televised debate series Next Generation in 2014. / IRI

Linda Eang was once known among her family and friends to be shy, so it was quite the surprise when she won a televised debate competition called Next Generation in Cambodia three years ago.

The 24-year-old’s path to victory wasn’t straightforward.

Growing up, Linda was told by her family to stay away from politics. They feared her involvement after seeing so many people killed under the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia from 1975-1979. Even now, she says, they can see on the news that people who get involved in politics are sometimes imprisoned or shot.

While Linda is not old enough to remember the darkest days of Pol Pot’s communist dictatorship, her growing awareness of the current challenges facing Cambodia is what inspired her to become involved in student government and debate at her university.

Once she had the opportunity to go to school, Linda learned about the scale of poverty in her country and its under-resourced health care system. “Living in that kind of environment made me want to become part of the solution,” she said.

Linda and her teammates from the Next Generation debate competition. / IRI

Linda and her teammates from the Next Generation debate competition. / IRI

This inspired Linda to get involved with Next Generation, a project of the International Republican Institute (IRI) supported by USAID.

The initiative was Cambodia’s first televised youth debate competition aired on the most popular television network. Each weekly 30-minute episode brought together 24 selected contestants to debate pressing social and political issues such as poverty, and the electoral system, Facebook censorship and gender quotas in politics. Participants built skills in public speaking and engaged on questions of national importance.

Linda, who was 21 at the time, won first place, and the prize was a study trip to the United States.

“Winning the competition was a turning point in my life,” Linda said. “I never imagined myself standing on stage with the confidence and arguments to convince an audience to vote for my team.”

That experience built up her confidence to amplify the issues she cares about and opened possibilities for future careers that she hadn’t contemplated, such as a job in politics or as a debate coach.

It also helped to expose her to the wider world.

In 2015, Linda traveled to the United States a second time as a youth leader to participate in the State Department’s prestigious International Visitor Leadership program. During the trip, she traveled to Texas, Iowa, Seattle, Washington, D.C. and New York City to learn more about the U.S.

Linda is interviewed by Men Kimseng at Voice of America during her 2014 visit to the United States as part of the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership program. / IRI

Linda is interviewed by Men Kimseng at Voice of America during her 2014 visit to the United States as part of the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership program. / IRI

She has also won five additional national debate competitions and a regional public speaking contest in China, and served as president of the Pannasastra University Student Senate from 2015 to 2016.

Linda is passionately committed to empowering young people through her debate coaching.

Linda has become a true political buff. Her inspiration comes from watching others, who previously never cared about a particular issue, start to have discussions based on her debates. “After my friends and family watched the debate about whether provincial governors should be appointed or elected, they started discussing that issue, and people in my community who never cared about that issue before started to talk about it,” she said.

She has also become passionate about empowering young people through her debate coaching and as a trainer at her university’s debate club for the last three years.

“The greatest barriers for young people in Cambodia are the lack of trust and motivation from the environment around us,” she said. “We are taught to be followers — and in some cases, it makes young people lose their creativity and stunts their full potential. But I think that’s starting to change as more young people become educated. If we study hard and work hard, I believe a better future is possible for us.”

After deciding she wanted to start an initiative that everyone could join, Linda also launched a new public debate club in January of this year. She coaches members in “expressing their point of view and, most importantly, building their self-confidence.”

Now that she has become something of a celebrity in her country, Linda is determined to use her position to help young Cambodians recognize that they have the capacity to not only change their own lives, but change their country for the better.

“As I explore different areas of work, I find myself that I want to help other people as much as I can,” she said. “Being able to make an impact on other people through debating and life coaching are my biggest passion. I see a lot of potential in young Cambodians. My life purpose is to empower and mentor them to reach their full potential and help to shape the future of this country.”

Celebrating Women and Girls during Women’s History Month

Since 2000, USAID has constructed nearly 3,000 classrooms and renovated 2,700 more allowing many schools to cut class size and eliminate the need for students to learn in shifts. / Bobby Neptune for USAID

Since 2000, USAID has constructed nearly 3,000 classrooms and renovated 2,700 more allowing many schools to cut class size and eliminate the need for students to learn in shifts. / Bobby Neptune for USAID

To eliminate poverty and reduce reliance on development dollars, we need to empower women and girls.  Gender equality isn’t just a women’s issue—it’s everyone’s issue.  By educating girls and ensuring women have economic opportunities, USAID works toward better future outcomes for all people.

Investing in girls’ education

Ensuring that a nation’s girls are educated unlocks human potential, translating into a more productive workforce for that country. A recent study found that every year of secondary school education is correlated with a 10 percent increase in a girl’s future earning power.  If 10 percent more adolescent girls attend school, a country’s GDP increases by an average of 3 percent .

As laid out in the U.S. Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls, USAID, the State Department, the Peace Corps, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation are working together to use adolescence as a point to leverage development and diplomacy efforts. Positive interventions during adolescence can disrupt the cycle of poverty, and instead prepare entire country populations for future GDP growth and thriving economies.

Solita Melus, 33, holds her baby Orelus after he receives immunizations and is weighed by Ketcia Orilius, a community health worker in Haiti. At 3 months old, Orelus weighs 5 kilos, a weight that Ketcia tracks on her tablet. / David Rochkind, USAID

Solita Melus, 33, holds her baby Orelus after he receives immunizations and is weighed by Ketcia Orilius, a community health worker in Haiti. At 3 months old, Orelus weighs 5 kilos, a weight that Ketcia tracks on her tablet. / David Rochkind, USAID

Helping Women Open Businesses

Worldwide, women own or operate up to 33 percent of all private businesses, and women-owned enterprises grow faster than those owned by men and faster than businesses overall. And yet, only half of all women of working age, compared to three-quarters of men, are in the workforce. If the same number of women participated in the global economy as men, the world could grow in GDP by $12 trillion.

In developing economies, women are 20 percent less likely to have a formal bank account than men, and are substantially less likely to use savings and lending instruments. These means it is more difficult for women to start a businesses. USAID saw this challenge as an opportunity, and now e-payments are the default payment method for our programming and development assistance. Since switching from cash to e-payments, providers estimate that Bangladesh alone has saved 40,000 hours in staff time and $60,000 per year, while bringing thousands of previously unbanked women into the financial system.

Caring for Mom and Baby

In developing countries, a mother’s death in childbirth means her newborn is about eight times more likely to die in the first year of life than one whose mother was alive. USAID is working in 25 countries around the world to end preventable child and maternal deaths.  By focusing on cost-effective, high impact interventions, we have helped reduce maternal deaths globally by nearly 50 percent since 1990. And in the past ten years, U.S. Agency for International

Development (USAID) efforts have contributed to saving the lives of more than 4.6 million children and 200,000 women.

These development objectives are interrelated: Researchers estimate that over 50 percent of the decline in child deaths between 1970 and 2009 can be attributed to increased educational attainment by mothers. This research brought together USAID’s education, health, and economic empowerment development strategies: Each piece of development impacts another. By investing in women and girls, and providing them with education and economic opportunities, we are able to ensure that their children and families are safe and healthy – thereby impacting households and communities.

I just returned from New York where I attended the UN Commission on the Status of Women, and we discussed women’s empowerment in many forms. At USAID, our programs provide opportunities for education, economic empowerment, and better health for women to determine their life outcomes, and influence decision-making in households, communities, and societies.

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, we hope you continue to honor the women who have overcome barriers, pioneered the paths that all of us walk—women and girls, men and boys—and continue to contribute to a better future. We will continue to work for increased opportunity and prosperity for women and girls—leading to a more stable and secure world for everyone, everywhere.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Marita Eibl is the Acting Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment at USAID.

Partnering to Improve Women’s Lives in Bangladesh

On International Women’s Day, USAID recognizes a joint mission with the U.S. Pacific Command to repair devastating childbirth injuries and improve the lives of women in the Asia-Pacific.

Sukuri waits for fistula surgery at Kumundi Hopital in March, 2014. Locked in a cycle of her husband leaving her to remarry and then returning to her, she hopes for the repair of her fistula and a united family. / Amy Fowler, USAID

Sukuri waits for fistula surgery at Kumundi Hopital in March, 2014. Locked in a cycle of her husband leaving her to remarry and then returning to her, she hopes for the repair of her fistula and a united family. / Amy Fowler, USAID

The prospect of motherhood often brings anticipation and joy. But for women living in extreme poverty, motherhood can bring fears of obstetric complications or death, or a prospect of rejection or broken families if they suffer permanent disabling injuries.

Particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, many women who give birth find themselves with a devastating maternal injury. Called obstetric fistula, the condition is a hole in the birth canal that results in chronic, uncontrollable leakage of urine and/or feces. Fistulas are commonly caused by obstructed labor without access to timely and skilled medical care, such as cesarean section.

All too often, women with fistula are abandoned or neglected by husbands, unable to work, ostracized from their communities, and left to deal with heartache after a stillbirth.

For Hosnera, a housewife in Bangladesh, the future looks brighter thanks to USAID’s Fistula Care Plus project. Fistula Care Plus trains doctors and nurses to perform fistula surgery and provide expert pre- and post-operative care and work in communities to prevent fistulas through access to quality, timely care during labor.

Hosnera has lived with a fistula for 10 years and Bangladeshi doctors have been unable to repair it. After receiving training from USAID, doctors at Kumundini Hospital successfully performed the surgery and Hosnera is now fistula free.  

Hosnera at Kumundi Hospital in March 2014. With training from Fistula Care Plus, doctors at Kumundini Hospital were able to successfully perform the surgery. Photo by Amy Fowler, USAID

Hosnera at Kumundi Hospital in March 2014. With training from Fistula Care Plus, doctors at Kumundini Hospital were able to successfully perform the surgery. Photo by Amy Fowler, USAID

Other Bangladeshi women are not so fortunate. Throughout the country, an estimated 71,000 women have fistulas that require surgery, and each year an estimated 2,000 more Bangladeshi women develop them. The 13 centers and hospitals in Bangladesh that conduct fistula repair can only perform about 1,000 operations per year, leaving about half of the women with untreated maternal injuries. To address this gap, USAID and the Department of Defense (DOD) are working together to help boost the number of local fistula surgeons, as well as surgical repairs.

USAID and DOD collaborated on a joint medical mission in November 2016 to train local Bangladeshi medical personnel on improved techniques for fistula repair and prevention. The training was possible through a one-year interagency agreement between USAID and the U.S. Army Pacific Command (PACOM). The first phase involved a two-week intensive training on fistula repair and prevention among a team of Bangladeshi medical students, nurses and surgeons from PACOM’s Regional Health Command-Pacific, surgeons from Tripler Army Medical Center and USAID health officers.

“This effort helps advance U.S. Pacific Command and Regional Health Command-Pacific’s mission to prevent disease and improve the health of systems and individuals across the Asia-Pacific,” said Brigadier General Betram Providence, commanding general of Regional Health Command-Pacific. “Together we can help Bangladeshis have access to basic or specialized medical care.”

During the training, the DOD team demonstrated improved techniques that help prevent fistula, as well as improved surgical methods with the use of certain tools. DOD also assisted Bangladeshi surgeons during fistula surgeries, some of whom had been trained through the USAID project. A second phase of the mission is scheduled in April 2017.

“I appreciate the PACOM team giving me the opportunity to share knowledge and skills,” said Prof. Begum Nasrin, one of the trainee fistula surgeons. “I think my knowledge from this training will be help me alleviate the patient’s sufferings. I hope for more of this kind of program in the future.”

By the end of the joint mission, the team successfully completed 36 fistula-related surgeries helping women live happy lives with their family. One of the women was brought to Kumundi Hospital last fall for repair surgery during the visit with PACOM surgeons. Since the birth of her last baby nearly four years ago, she had suffered from recto vaginal fistula, a condition characterized by continuous leaking of the stool through the vagina. Today, she is finally free of fistula.

“The terrible days with leaking stool are over,” she said. “I am now enjoying a different and better life. Thanks to the friendly doctors for making it happen.”

Since 2005, USAID has tested new approaches to identify women with fistulas in Bangladesh before taking expensive trips to hospitals for curative treatment. USAID has improved the surgical and nursing skills of health care personnel to prevent and surgically repair obstetric fistula, uncovered the unintentional creation of fistula in caesarean section and hysterectomy, and has supported the repair of obstetric fistula for more than 2,000 women.

“Our collaboration with PACOM helps build enduring, strategic relationships with partner nations,” added Natalie Freeman, USAID Senior Development Advisor to PACOM. “Working together helps us achieve common ground.”

USAID and DOD have partnered since 1961 to make best use of our combined skills and resources and help improve lives around the globe.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kristen Byrne is the Strategic Communications and Outreach Specialist for USAID’s Office of Civilian-Military Cooperation.

Putting Cranes Back to Work

USAID’s technical assistance to the National Bank of Serbia (2003-2006) laid the foundation for a strong banking sector that is now healthy, solvent and enjoys the trust of its citizens. More recently, USAID worked with Serbia’s Ministry of Construction to reform construction permitting to make it easier for businesses to invest. Not too long ago, few people believed these changes were possible.

Back in 2002, in my early 30s, I decided to invest in my future and buy an apartment in Belgrade. But times were difficult. After a decade of civil war, the banking sector was in shambles and getting a loan was nearly impossible. A stagnant economy and a depressed construction sector artificially inflated real estate prices.

Finding good quality furniture at reasonable prices also proved challenging. The lack of competition among local furniture retailers and absence of foreign retailers kept furniture prices unreasonably high. Many of us traveled over 250 miles, to either Zagreb or Budapest, to reach one of the closest IKEA stores that sold everything one needed at reasonable prices.

The Swedish furniture giant IKEA made its first attempt to enter the Serbian market 25 years ago, but was thwarted by the civil war. Their second attempt in 2008 failed because of an unmanageable construction permitting process and unresolved land ownership issues. However, in 2015 IKEA became the first foreign investor in Serbia to receive an electronic construction permit. This was made possible by a new e-permitting system – introduced with the assistance of USAID. The IKEA investment in Serbia is worth EUR 70 million and will create 300 jobs.

Vladislav Lalić, IKEA’s Southeast Europe director: “The dream that started 25 years ago finally became reality.” / Mirjana Vukša Zavišić, USAID

Vladislav Lalić, IKEA’s property and expansion manager for Southeast Europe: “The dream that started 25 years ago finally became reality.” / Mirjana Vukša Zavišić, USAID

“Since the very beginning we were looking for some kind of ‘unified’ procedure. To run from one institution to another costs time and money and is excessive. Now things look good — our first store in Belgrade will open in July 2017.” said Vladislav Lalić, the company’s property and expansion manager for Southeast Europe. “Our experience will be an incentive for other investors who are considering investing in Serbia.”

The construction permitting process used to take over 240 days and required about 52 interactions between the investor and 20 different public sector entities. It was widely seen as a hotbed of corruption and a source of various economic inefficiencies.

“The new system shifts the burden from citizens and investors to local governments and public institutions that need to coordinate their work and request the necessary documentation from one another through official channels,” said Ivana Blažić Sević, head of city planning in the town of Topola.

IKEA’s first store in Serbia will welcome customers in the summer of 2017. Works at the construction site are in full swing. / Mirjana Vukša Zavišić, USAID

IKEA’s first store in Serbia will welcome customers in the summer of 2017. Works at the construction site are in full swing. / Mirjana Vukša Zavišić, USAID

A comprehensive reform of this process started in 2011. Administrative procedures and charges related to construction permits were a key impediment to business development. At the time, Serbia ranked 176th of 183 counties in the World Bank’s Doing Business report in this category.

With assistance from USAID, a law enacted in December 2014 in Serbia shortened the time required to issue a license to 28 days. A few months later, the government launched a one-stop-shop consolidated procedure, and by January 2016, the e-permitting system came online. The new law also lowered administrative costs of construction, creating considerable savings for investors. Serbia now ranks 36th of 190 countries in the World Bank’s Doing Business report with respect to construction permitting—a jump of 103 places compared to 2016.

“The effects were immediate,” said said Joe Lowther, former Chief of Party of USAID’s Business Enabling project.  “In 2015, Serbia’s construction sector expanded by 20.5 percent, while the number of building permits issued rose by 36 percent relative to the preceding year. That also meant job creation – construction is a very employment-intensive industry with spillover effects to other industries.”

Before, there were hardly any cranes in Belgrade. By October 2016, there were 489 active construction sites, according to the city’s mayor. / USAID Serbia

Before, there were hardly any cranes in Belgrade. By October 2016, there were 489 active construction sites, according to the city’s mayor. / USAID Serbia

Moreover, new projects under construction are beneficial to Serbian citizens. The Clinical Center of Serbia, for example, received a permit under the new system and will soon start building  much-needed health care facilities.

With a more favorable business climate attracting investment, local government revenues increased by 18 percent in the first quarter of 2016 — which are key for the development of Serbia’s cities and municipalities, said Aleksandra Damjanović, State Secretary at Serbia’s Ministry of Construction. In addition, Serbia’s GDP expanded 3.5 percent in real terms in the first quarter of 2016; a significant part of this growth came from expansion in the construction sector.

“Before there were hardly any cranes in Belgrade—now we see them everywhere,” Damjanović said.

I was lucky the stars aligned in 2002 so I could make my first big step as an adult. Today, I am relieved that, largely thanks to USAID’s economic sector assistance programs in Serbia during the past 15 years, my son and future generations will have an easier start in life.

More than 4,000 permitting officials, who had not used any form of electronic communication in their work before, were trained in using the new online construction permitting application. / National Alliance for Local Economic Development Serbia

More than 4,000 permitting officials, who had not used any form of electronic communication in their work before, were trained in using the new online construction permitting application. / National Alliance for Local Economic Development Serbia

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mirjana Vukša Zavišić is a Development and Outreach and Communications Assistant at USAID Serbia who assists in the overall management of all public relations. Strahinja Mitovski is a Communication Manager at USAID Serbia’s Business Enabling project, Cardno Emerging Markets, USA.

Digital Health: Moving from Silos to Systems

Health officers use mobile phones to input data during a trachoma mapping project in Ethiopia. / Dominique Nahr, Sightsavers

Health officers use mobile phones to input data during a trachoma mapping project in Ethiopia. / Dominique Nahr, Sightsavers

From health officers conducting contact tracing with mobile phones in Ebola-affected countries to TB patients using apps to fulfill their treatment regimen, digital technology is playing an increasingly central role in global health.

In fact, over the past decade, the use of mobile and web-based technologies to improve health has grown significantly — not only in developed countries but in emerging economies as well.

The field of digital health, as it is now known, has seen an uptake in financial investments and the projects launched around the world, according to a recent study by Health Data Collaborative. Strong health systems are built around reliable data. As such, digital technologies are becoming an integral component of efforts to achieve and measure progress toward ensuring people have access to affordable and quality health care, a principle enshrined in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

A woman holds a mobile phone in Ghana. /John O’Bryan, USAID

A woman holds a mobile phone in Ghana. /John O’Bryan, USAID

In our time leading the USAID Global Development Lab and Global Health Bureau, respectively, we have witnessed key transformations in the way USAID invests in and uses digital technologies to improve global health programming and outcomes. The Agency is moving away from business as usual and supporting game-changing initiatives like the Rumor Tracker in Liberia, which supported health workers to track and counter rumors on Ebola, and mHero, a two-way, mobile phone communications system that can facilitate the exchange of real-time data between Ministries of Health and frontline health workers.

The good news is that we are institutionalizing the best of what we have learned through years of project implementation, as captured in the Principles for Digital Development. In the past, digital health funding flows were driven by projects and programs in silos. We are gradually moving away from this, so we can make better-coordinated and aligned investments in scalable, sustainable and interoperable digital systems. Interoperability describes the extent to which systems and devices can exchange data and interpret shared information.

In Haiti, USAID has supported delivery of vouchers that can be read by a simple barcode reading app. / Naomi Logan, USAID

In Haiti, USAID has supported delivery of vouchers that can be read by a simple barcode reading app. / Naomi Logan, USAID

This past April, during a workshop organized by USAID, Dr. Sas Kargbo, director of the Department of Policy, Planning and Information at Sierra Leone’s health ministry spoke about his country’s experience in dealing with fragmented information during the Ebola crisis and how that impeded the ministry’s ability to have an accurate and reliable picture of what exactly was happening on the ground. His vision, he underscored, is to have an integrated health information system, down to the community level, to improve the coverage, quality and reporting of service delivery. His vision is our vision.

Many promising open source technologies are showing the potential to scale in a sustainable manner, enabling country governments to manage the use of the technology over the long term. Yet these tools often suffer from a lack of core funding as they are largely driven by disease-specific problems whose interests lie only in finding disease-specific solutions.

Health education efforts in Sierra Leone during the Ebola outbreak. / World Bank Group

Health education efforts in Sierra Leone during the Ebola outbreak. / World Bank Group

This is why in September of this year, the Lab and Global Health Bureau created a new funding mechanism that will bring funds together across disease-driven platforms to break down silos in health programming. Our new digital health mechanism will dedicate a portion of its funds to financing some of these most promising tools and help them transition to sustainable business models.

Our bet is that by better aligning digital health investments and increasing adherence to best practice for digital health tools, we can accelerate global health outcomes and ultimately save more lives. As these digital systems grow, we expect to see a flourishing of best practice examples driven by an increased demand for data for decision-making at all levels of the health system, from central health ministries to remote health worker posts.

But here is a word of caution. Experience has taught us that the effective use of digital technologies relies not just on connectivity, software and devices, but also on the capacity of individuals and institutions. This means that training is as important as hardware.

This USAID project supports local manufacturing of smart phones and digital devices in Haiti. / Naomi Logan, USAID

This USAID project supports local manufacturing of smart phones and digital devices in Haiti. / Naomi Logan, USAID

This lesson must permeate all of our future investments. Training will be a central activity of our new digital health funding mechanism as it supports digital health implementations in specific countries.

Our vision for the future builds on these lessons to optimize our investments and increase global health returns. At the end of the day, we are accountable to two audiences: American taxpayers who are committed to ending extreme poverty and building resilient and democratic societies, and people in developing countries who measure returns in the number of lives saved.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ann Mei Chang, Chief Innovation Officer & Executive Director at The Global Development Lab, and Jennifer Adams, Acting Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Global Health
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