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Archives for Latin America and the Caribbean

Fighting for Justice in Colombia – One Courageous Woman’s Story

As a 26-year-old junior reporter with the Colombian newspaper El Espectador, Jineth Bedoya Lima sought out tough assignments, despite knowing the risks it could entail.  Through painstaking investigative journalism, she began to uncover an arms smuggling network between government security forces and imprisoned paramilitaries in the maximum security La Modelo prison in Bogotá.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, right; and First Lady Michelle Obama, left; pose for a photo with 2012 International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award Winner Jineth Bedoya Lima of Colombia, at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on March 8, 2012. Photo Credit: State Department

On May 25, 2000, as she arrived at the prison for an interview with a key paramilitary member, unknown men grabbed Ms. Bedoya, threw her into a vehicle, drugged her, and drove her to a farm three hours south of Bogotá.  There, the men repeatedly raped her, bound her, and left her in a garbage dump at the side of a road, where a taxi driver discovered her later that evening.  As the men raped her, they told her, “Pay attention.  We are sending a message to the press in Colombia.”  Jineth, determined to press on despite this horrifying experience, was back at work two weeks later.

Even as Ms. Bedoya’s journalistic career has continued to flourish – she is now the sub-editor for the justice section of El Tiempo, the most widely read newspaper in Colombia – she has continued to push for justice in her own case, which had languished in the Colombian courts for more than 11 years.  Early last year, frustrated by the lack of progress, she joined forces with the Colombian Foundation for Free Press and began a campaign to pressure investigation and prosecution within the Colombian criminal justice system, draw more attention to sexual violence in Colombia, and bring her case before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.  Since then, USAID/Colombia has supported Ms. Bedoya, along with the Colombian Foundation for Free Press, in her campaign for justice for herself and women who are victims of sexual violence in Colombia.

Ms. Bedoya’s efforts are bearing fruit.  The Colombian Attorney General’s office committed itself last year to making progress in the case.  After 11 years of stagnation, the pace and nature of the investigation took a decided turn.  A newly-assigned prosecutor has developed solid leads and convincing testimony concerning the perpetrators, as well as the masterminds, of her abduction and rape; the case is now taking shape and moving forward.  Evidence and testimony have also been received in proceedings currently pending before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.

In addition to a test of journalistic freedom, Jineth’s case has become a symbol for widespread impunity in the Colombian justice system for crimes of sexual violence against women.  Ms. Bedoya was already a recognized figure before she began to raise the profile of her own case.  She has served as the spokeswoman of Oxfam’s campaign – “Rape and Other Violence: Take My Body Out of the War” – and now appears in TV ads denouncing sexual violence as part of that campaign.  Ms. Bedoya hopes that her efforts to investigate and resolve her own case will help end the stigma and silence surrounding sexual violence.

Journalists play a critical role in Colombia uncovering scandals, reporting on abuses committed by all actors in the ongoing internal armed conflict, and documenting how the conflict affects civilians.  Ms. Bedoya has come to view herself as a standard-bearer for women as victims of sexual violence because of the voice that she has as a journalist; she speaks on behalf of so many women in Colombia who cannot speak out, or are not heard.

In November 2011, after Ms. Bedoya testified in Washington before the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, The Atlantic ran an article recounting Ms. Bedoya’s compelling story, indicating that she may be the only journalist in the world publicly seeking justice as a victim of sexual assault resulting from her work.

Ms. Bedoya continues to receive threats from paramilitaries and guerrillas alike, evidence of her effectiveness in denouncing both.  Recognizing the risks Ms. Bedoya faces, the Colombian government has provided her with an armored vehicle and bodyguards under a national protection program.  That protection program began a decade ago with USAID support and is now almost entirely funded by the Colombian government.

On March 8, 2012, International Women’s Day, Ms. Bedoya was one of ten women to receive the prestigious International Women of Courage Award from Secretary of State Clinton for her unfailing courage, determination, and perseverance in fighting for justice and speaking out on behalf of victims of sexual violence in Colombia.  USAID has been proud to support Ms. Bedoya, along with the Colombian Foundation for Free Press, in her battle to seek justice for herself, for women, and for journalists.

USAID’s FrontLines – April/May 2012

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Read the latest edition of USAID’s premier publication, FrontLines, to learn more about the Agency’s work with partnerships and in the countries that make up the Latin America and Caribbean region.

The Armenian EyeCare Project (AECP) is the brainchild of an Armenian-American diaspora-led organization, which launched its efforts in 2003 to strengthen the eye-care system and reduce preventable blindness in Armenia. In 2004, USAID and AECP joined forces. Through the partnership, USAID/Armenia helped AECP scale up its programs, which complemented the mission’s health care goals for the country. For part of that effort, AECP brought in a mobile eye hospital, which made stops in 90 percent of Armenia’s communities to provide eye exams and necessary treatments. Pictured: a man receives an eye exam. Photo credit: AECP

Some highlights:

  • Soap. Water. Tippy Tap. After answering nature’s call, some Senegalese wash up in ways both inventive and resourceful.
  • What is proving good for economic growth in post-war Sri Lanka is also providing a positive communal experience for people from all sides of the two-decades-long conflict.

Subscribe to FrontLines for an email reminder when the latest issue is posted online.

Turning the Corner on HIV and Tuberculosis Co-infection in Brazil

AIDSTAR-One is funded by USAID’s Office of HIV/AIDS. The project provides technical assistance to USAID and U.S. Government country teams to build effective, well-managed, and sustainable HIV and AIDS programs.

A patient at the CECAP Clinic in São Paulo receives his TB medication from his doctor. Photo Credit: Ed Scholl, JSI

HIV and tuberculosis (TB) affect millions of people worldwide every year. Eighty percent of the world’s cases of HIV are concentrated in the 22 countries—including Brazil—with the largest TB epidemics. Without precise and sustained treatment, HIV and TB can become a deadly combination for men, women, and children.

Adolescents like 17-year old Silvia (name has been changed) from São Paulo need access to medical services to treat both TB and HIV. I met Silvia last November, when she came to a clinic to seek medical care for multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR TB)—a dangerous form of TB that requires special medical care and treatment.

With funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which provides support to medical clinics throughout Brazil for TB and HIV services, Silvia is receiving the care she needs to lead a full, healthy life.

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Haitian Prime Minister Visits USAID

USAID Deputy Adminstrator Donald Steinberg (left) meets Haiti's Prime Minister Garry Conille on Feb. 7, 2012. Photo by Kendra Helmer/USAID

USAID officials met with a delegation from the government of Haiti on Tuesday to discuss international coordination and the pace of reconstruction following the 2010 earthquake. Haiti Prime Minister Garry Conille and other representatives met with USAID officials including Administrator Rajiv Shah, Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg,  Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean Mark Feierstein and Haiti Task Team Director Elizabeth Hogan. Also participating was the State Department’s Haiti Special Coordinator Thomas Adams.

The group also discussed USAID programs in Haiti (including support to the legislature), donor coordination, women’s affairs and facilitating private investment. During his five-day visit to Washington, D.C., Conille also plans to meet with congressional members and institutions including the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Haiti “A Country Undeniably on the Move”

Originally posted in The Miami Herald

It’s been two years since one of the most deadly natural disasters of the modern era devastated one of the poorest countries in the world. Even with an unprecedented international response in partnership with the Haitian government, the sheer scale of the 7.0 earthquake—which killed 230,000 people and displaced over 1.5 million—meant the country’s recovery would be a massive undertaking.

As President Obama directed, the US Government joined with the Haitian government to conduct search and rescue operations, clear streets of rubble and provide emergency supplies to survivors of the earthquake. Individual Americans have been a vital part of the effort — in 2010, more Americans donated money to Haiti relief efforts than watched the Super Bowl.

Despite daunting challenges over the last two years, today we can point to several specific results on the ground. Over half of the 10 million tons of rubble has been cleared from Port-au-Prince’s streets, more people have access to clean water today than before the earthquake, and collective efforts have mitigated the outbreak of cholera that killed thousands in the country.

In former President Bill Clinton’s words, our focus must now be on working with the Haitian government to “build back better.”

With the leadership of Secretary Clinton, we are trying to harness the transformative power of science, technology and innovation to accelerate economic progress and improve lives throughout Haiti.

For instance, instead of investing in rebuilding banks that fell during the earthquake, we worked with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to launch a mobile banking revolution in the country. Nearly two-thirds of Haiti’s population has access to mobile phones but only 10 percent have bank accounts. By introducing technology that allows Haitians to save money and make transactions on their phones, we’re encouraging local wealth creation. To date, nearly 800,000 Haitians have registered for mobile banking, helping Haiti likely become one of the first mobile money economies in the world.

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Indigenous Internship Program Trains Peru’s Young Adults

Darwin Mori Barbaran was born one of 10 to a school teacher and a jewelry artisan deep in the Peruvian jungle. When he was a child, both of his parents died in tragic accidents.  He was forced to confront the grim realities of the hinterlands at a young age –the tough physical labor life there would require as well as  the paltry opportunities for those who stay in the campo. As a result, he decided to do all he could to break out of the recurring cycle of poverty.

A life as a farmer, logger, weaver or a carpenter was really not interesting to him. Unlike many of his peers, he was grappling with profound questions, such as how societies develop, how governments can be more efficient with lesser resources, and how to create and sustainably run environmentally-friendly, legal businesses.

One bright, sunny afternoon, Mori’s life was forever changed by an announcement on the radio. Listening to his favorite station that broadcasts in the Shipibo indigenous language, he heard that the Peruvian government created a scholarship program for indigenous students from the Amazon to attend public universities in the capital city.

Initially, he was nervous. He would have to speak Spanish and dress in a different fashion. He would live in the chaotic city of Lima. But ultimately, he decided to pursue the scholarship. After a rigorous application process and a tense waiting period, the good news arrived: he had been accepted.

As predicted, Mori faced serious obstacles upon arriving in Lima. He was forced to share a room with four roommates, often times having to schedule sleeping in shifts, so the two mattresses would suffice for all. He picked up two jobs: one at the university library working as the bag check clerk, and the other making necklaces and another popular kind of jewelry called shakiras – a skill he learned from his mother. While some were able to take summer classes and get ahead in their studies, Mori could not, as the S/. 250 (approximately $85) per class was simply out of his budget. After nine years of struggling against the odds, and after many academic ups-and-downs, Mori graduated with a B.A. in Economics.

Recently, he began working at USAID/Peru under the mission’s Afro-Peruvian and Indigenous Internship Program. This program, founded in 2009, works to increase the number of quality professional and educational opportunities available to Peru’s Afro-Peruvian and indigenous populations. The effort aims to train recent graduates who could become their country’s next generation of leaders by providing hands-on development experience and an understanding of the U.S. Government.

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International Education Week: Early Education Sets Young Nicaraguans on the Path the Academic Success

Identifying problems in early-grade reading is crucial for development in parts of the world where the stakes are high for kids that get behind the learning curve at a young age.

Nicaragua is one country that has identified early-reading as a major area for improvement and made widespread efforts to address it. The ministry of education there has incorporated EGRA into its national assessment system, and has begun training all first-grade teachers in its implementation, and is developing tools for assisting teachers in the provision of remedial programs for students that fall behind.

Despite gender equality in access to schooling in Nicaragua, boys have higher drop-out rates than girls. Because of economic reasons, especially in rural areas, the chances of a dropout returning to school are minimal. Photo Credit: USAID

Identifying problems in reading and promoting early grade reading is crucial for development in parts of the world where the stakes are high for kids that get behind the learning curve early. While reading is one of many skills that young students must master to thrive today, it is the foundation of all other learning activities in the classroom. It also is increasingly understood as a science, not something that kids simply learn “naturally,” particularly if their homes are devoid of reading opportunities. USAID has made this one of its central concerns through its new Global Education Strategy (2011 – 2015), and is building on prior work that has aimed to set the standards for learning as well as useful measures for assessing it.

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New Mission Director Sworn in for Jamaica

Denise A. Herbol was sworn in on Friday, November 4, 2011 as the Mission Director for USAID’s mission in Kingston, Jamaica.  Herbol, a career Senior Foreign Service Officer, leaves her post as Senior Deputy Mission Director for USAID’s mission in Islamabad, Pakistan.  Ms. Herbol has been with the Agency since 1987 and has served in Lebanon, Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Ghana, Belize, Albania, Uganda, Colombia, and Ukraine.

The programs she will oversee in Jamaica will impact economic growth, education, democracy, and anti-corruption; including programs to empower at risk youth, stimulate economic development, improve education and skills development; and fight corruption.

Herbol is looking forward to working to working in Jamaica, despite a lean budget.  She says, “ I know that Jamaica has strong effective institutions with good leadership and I expect we will be able to more quickly move to expand the amount of resources through host country systems as well as local NGOS.”

Fundación Saraki Helping Advance Labor Rights and Inclusion for People with Disabilities in Paraguay

Worldwide, it is estimated that 15% of men and women have some kind of disability. The worldwide unemployment rate for people with disabilities is estimated to be close to 80%.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and during my recent trip to Paraguay I wanted to highlight a group that I met with, called Fundación Saraki. The non-profit specializes in helping advance the labor rights of those with disabilities and strives for inclusion in Paraguayan society.

Members of Fundacion Saraki, a non-profit that is dedicated to laboral inclusion for those with disabilities. Photo Credit: Laura Rodríguez/USAID

Although Congress in Paraguay passed a law in 2004, which provides mandatory labor inclusion of People with Disabilities (PwD) in public institutions, there has been little compliance with the law up to 2009. Also, there is no legal requirement for private companies in Paraguay to hire PwD.

In May 2009, Fundación Saraki was granted a Cooperative Agreement for the “Effective Labor Inclusion” of People with Disabilities within the public and private sectors. With this agreement, Fundacion Saraki has started working with many private companies including McDonald’s and Supermercados España (a local supermarket chain in Paraguay).

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Public Private Partnership Week: Passion Fruit, Opening the Path for a Brighter Future

Rural farmers in Paraguay are having great success selling their passion fruit through farming associations to a leading corporate juice brand. This is thanks to USAID’s support through Paraguay Productivo, a program that connects small farmers with private sector buyers.

Lucia Santos and her grandson who have benefited from the cooperative with Frutika. Photo Credit: Laura Rodriguez/USAID

Last week, I had the chance to visit some farmers in Paraguay’s Itapúa province and learn about their experiences with Paraguay Productivo and especially the leading local buyer, Frutika. I was thrilled to see the benefits of the program for myself and hear the testimony of small-scale farmer, Lucia Santos, whose life has been transformed through her production work. In the following video she says that she now has enough money to buy necessary items for her family.

USAID/Paraguay Productivo has GDA (Global Development Alliances) agreements with 20 organizations, mainly small farmer cooperatives & private firms and has generated $9.8 million U.S. dollars  in local sales and exports. Paraguay Productivo is working with Cooperatives and associations that have over 100,000 members some of them in production and many others in savings and credits cooperatives.

The program also provides technical support to farmers, including advising them on how to best produce crops. And it has helped them find buyers like Frutika, one of Paraguay’s most successful food processing and distribution companies, which buys passion fruit and other products from small farmers.

This is a win-win arrangement. The company can count on a reliable source of passion fruit and rural producers now have a reliable buyer. Since the initial agreement in 2009, approximately 300 small farmers have joined the program and started producing passion fruit and another 250 farmers are preparing to cultivate more passion fruit.

Some municipalities are joining the effort because they are investing in nursery production for passion fruit. In rural Paraguay where the poverty rate is as high as 48 %, this assistance is really helping to transform people’s lives.

Beneficiary Norma Riveros, credits her passion fruit sales to her participation in Paraguay Productivo, which ensures her and her family a regular income. They can now afford to buy a machine that helps them clear the field and improve crop yield. I also had a chance to speak to 19 year old passion fruit farmer and business student, Rolando Fretes, one of the cooperatives’ young leaders. In this video he talks about his work and explains why Paraguay Productivo is important to his community:

At the end of the day, I visited the production plant at Frutika and saw first-hand the results of the farmers’ hard labor. Frutika is one of the best-selling companies in Paraguay, and the leading provider of juices such as orange juice, passion fruit, and peach. Here, Engineer Celso Cubilla discusses the importance the company’s partnership with Paraguay Productivo to its business goals.

In short, there is no denying that this public private partnership is beneficial to Paraguay’s economy and all the parties involved: USAID, the rural farmers and Frutika.

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