USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Latin America and the Caribbean

Photos: Secretary Clinton in Haiti

U.S. Secretary of State Visits USAID sites in Northern Haiti: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to northern Haiti on October 22. In addition to attending and making remarks at the inauguration of the Caracol Industrial Park, she visited the USAID-funded Caracol EKAM housing site and the USAID-constructed 10 megawatt power facility that will supply electricity to the Caracol Industrial Park and nearby areas. USAID officials in attendance included Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg, Latin America and Caribbean Assistant Administrator Mark Feierstein, and Latin American and Caribbean Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator Beth Hogan. During her trip, the Secretary also met with President Michel Martelly, Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, local and national elected officials, investors, and community members. Photos by Kendra Helmer, USAID.

Driving Economic & Social Change – Highlight Women Entrepreneurs in Peru

Luzmila Huarancca Gutiérrez began making textiles at home in Ayacucho, a region located in the Andean Highlands. The quality of her work quickly attracted buyers from across Peru and abroad, and today she is a leader in the artisanal textile industry, managing a network of 800 artisans in Ayacucho.

To meet the rapidly growing demand, Huarancca trained 16 women to work with her. She is also investing her earnings in her family and community. She is improving her family’s home, enhancing the local community center, and building a store and acquiring sewing machines.

Huarancca, along with other successful women entrepreneurs, was front and center at an event in Lima last week entitled Power: Women as Drivers of Growth and Social Inclusion where President Humala of Peru, Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and Executive Director of UN Women and former Chilean President, Michelle Bachelet all spoke passionately about how the success of women is key to increasing economic growth and improving lives throughout Peru and the world. The event was part of Social Inclusion week, highlighted as one of the fundamental guiding principles of President Humala’s administration.

At the conference, USAID showcased the work of Huarancca and three other Peruvian women who received USAID support to grow their businesses. The women entrepreneurs shared their stories with Peruvian national and international dignitaries, including Secretary Clinton. These women increased employment and prosperity in their communities and demonstrate the spirit, drive, and dedication needed to boost individual women into the formal economy, connect them with national and international markets, and lead their families and communities as agents of economic and social change.

In fact, two of the entrepreneurs, who had never met before, agreed to work to develop and market products together – chocolate and Brazil nuts. Listening to how these women overcame barriers and became successful business women who are giving back to their communities is inspirational and they demonstrate how these types of program interventions can inspire lasting and dramatic change for women, their families, their communities and their countries.

Read more of their stories below:

Moving USAID Forward in Haiti

Gary Juste is the Office Chief of USAID/Haiti’s Office of Acquisition and Assistance.

There is a myth that when USAID enters into an agreement with a U.S.-based non-governmental organization or contractor, most of the money stays in the United States.

The reality is much different.  A significant amount of resources is spent locally.

  • A case in point: one of our health partners in Haiti employs 963 people; 950 are national staff and only 14 are international staff; this means that Haitians represent 98.5 percent of the staff. Also, international staff contributes to Haiti’s economy through routine purchases from local markets for food, fuel, clothing and electricity.
  • U.S.-based organizations working in Haiti purchase items from the local economy. For example, a democracy and governance project spent nearly $500,000 on the local market for computer rentals, printers, Internet service, office rental, equipment and supplies during start-up.

At the same time, we understand the importance of partnering more directly with a variety of organizations, including local entities.  However, U.S. law demands that grantees meet strict U.S. Government criteria to be fully accountable and liable for spending U.S. taxpayer dollars. It would be irresponsible of me as a USAID employee—and also unfair to me as a U.S. taxpayer—to make awards to organizations unable to track funds.

Immediately after the January 2010 earthquake, we worked with existing partners to quickly provide life-saving assistance. Following the emergency phase, we have continued to increase contracting to local partners and build the capacity of Haitian organizations to receive direct funding—in line with USAID Forward procurement reforms.  Since the earthquake, we have worked directly or through sub-awards with over 400 Haitian non-governmental organizations and firms.

To increase the number of new firms who compete, we have reached out to local entities and made them aware of U.S. government contracting opportunities and requirements.

  • Since the earthquake, the U.S. government has hosted or participated in more than 30 Haitian diaspora-focused events.  I have personally participated in 10 or more of these events in areas with significant Haitian Diaspora populations, such as Miami, New York, Chicago, Houston, New Jersey and Washington, D.C.
  • In Haiti, we regularly conduct “How to Do Business with USAID” seminars. When we host pre-award conferences, on average more than 50 individuals from various organizations attend, including Government of Haiti representatives.

Many of our prime contractors use a variety of local sub-grantees.  Sub-recipients of contracts make great implementers and it affords the prime contractor the opportunity to build the financial tracking capacity of the sub-grantee.  We are making very deliberate efforts to build the capacity of these sub-awardees to receive U.S. funds directly in the future.

  • A solicitation for a new, large procurement recently closed; the awardee is required to identify five local organizations to qualify as primary implementers by the third year and be eligible to receive direct awards from USAID, or face financial consequences (making them “walk the talk”).
  • We have agreements in place with Haitian certified public accounting firms to provide financial services to our partners and work with local organizations to build their financial capacity to receive direct awards.

And we are making progress. Between March 2011 and April 2012, more than 40 percent of our funding went to non-traditional USAID partners—or partners which had never before received funding from USAID. Among them are two Haitian-American firms that were previous sub-awardees and which are now managing multi-million dollar contracts. One of the best ways to become a direct recipient of USAID funding is to begin as a sub-awardee.

Although this new way of doing business is much more time intensive, we also realize this is the best way to build local capacity and move USAID Forward.

Visit our FAQ Page for additional information on how we do business with local firms.


Empowerment, Not Pity: HIV Prevention Programs for People with Disabilities

Ed Scholl, of John Snow, Inc., is the AIDSTAR-One Project Director. 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.

The messages were familiar, but the delivery was not. The classroom was filled with high school students learning about HIV, sexually transmitted infections, and pregnancy prevention.  But instead of a teacher lecturing, or using a flipchart or video, a blind man spoke to the class, with a sign language interpreter communicating his words to deaf students who attend the Dominican Republic’s National School for the Deaf in Santo Domingo. I watched as the deaf students carefully followed the interpreter’s hand motions and quickly responded in sign language to the questions posed by the facilitator.

Students at the National School for the Deaf in the Dominican Republic respond to questions about HIV. Photo Credit: Ed Scholl,JSI

The blind facilitator is one of 30 persons living with disabilities trained by the Dominican PROBIEN Foundation to communicate HIV information to others living with disabilities. Two other PROBIEN facilitators, one who is also deaf and another whose leg was amputated, simultaneously led discussions about HIV and reproductive health in other classrooms at the school. These efforts to bring HIV information and education to persons living with disabilities and their families are supported under a grant provided by the AIDSTAR-One project, with funding made available by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)/Dominican Republic. Through AIDSTAR-One, USAID is providing financial support and technical assistance to build the capacity of twelve Dominican NGOs, including the PROBIEN Foundation, working in HIV prevention, care and treatment for most-at-risk and vulnerable populations.

Persons with disabilities make up an estimated 15 percent of the world’s population.

Wheelchair basketball players in the Dominican Republic are among the HIV promoters trained by the PROBIEN Foundation. Photo Credit: Ed Scholl,JSI

They are considered to be a population at risk of HIV, unintended pregnancy, and sexual abuse, yet they are often overlooked when it comes to programs and services. Why is this so? PROBIEN Director Magino Corporan explains that much of society doesn’t want to acknowledge the human rights of people living with disabilities. They may be objects of pity and charity, but they don’t enjoy the same opportunities for education, employment, health care, and rights that others enjoy. People living with disabilities are also often considered to be sexually inactive, so they rarely receive sexual and reproductive education, contraceptives, and access to services.

Recognizing the value of peer education, PROBIEN trains people with disabilities to provide education about HIV, sexually transmitted infections, and reproductive health to other people with disabilities, and to their families. One PROBIEN promoter, who lost both legs in a traffic accident, directs a community radio program and shares information about HIV with his listening audience once a week. Two other promoters play in a wheelchair basketball organization and share HIV messages with their teammates. When I interviewed them recently, they invited me to sit in a wheelchair and play a practice game with them. Needless to say, this one-time basketball player was humbled in the extreme!

PROBIEN also works at the policy level and, in 2008, played an instrumental role in getting the Dominican Government to include persons living with disabilities as beneficiaries of national health insurance (along with persons living with HIV).

Thanks to the work of PROBIEN and its volunteer promoters and the support of USAID,  many more people with disabilities and their families in the Dominican Republic are receiving messages about HIV and sexual and reproductive health and taking action to protect themselves and live healthy lives.  Efforts to protect this often neglected at-risk population not only empower people living with disabilities to take control of their own health but also serve as a powerful example of a truly inclusive and human rights approach to HIV programming.


Video of the Week: Reading in Peru

According to experts, in the first grade children must learn how to read and understand what they read. In the second  grade, they must improve their fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. With more fluency there is greater chance for children to understand what they have read. That’s why in countries that are are more advanced in education, there are set reading standards for children. In Latin America, children who finish second grade are supposed to read 60 words a minute. Watch this video to learn more about basic reading standards in Peru, and how young Peruvian children learn how to read.

Ask the Expert: Literacy in Latin America

We interviewed Karen Towers from our Latin America and Caribbean Bureau to discuss the state of education in the region.

1)     It seems that Latin America and the Caribbean is doing better in education – is that true?

Yes and no. While it is true that access has increased, education quality is still a serious issue.  In the early 1960s, one out of every five children in Latin America and the Caribbean was enrolled in the first grade, now 95% of nine years olds are enrolled in school.  The problem is that children are not learning.  UNESCO tests indicate that more than 1/3 of third graders cannot read at grade level.  By the time these students reach the 6th grade,  20% will still be functionally illiterate.

Girls reading in Peru. Photo Credit: USAID

1)     Why are these literacy rates so low?

Many factors contribute to the low literacy rates, but primarily disorganized schools and poorly trained teachers. Teachers often only receive the barest guidance on what to teach and little or no training on how to teach it.  In addition, there is almost a complete lack of accountability. Often there are no independent evaluations of schools and teachers have no clear standards against which to measure student’s performance.  This video from Peru demonstrates some of problems with school performance for an average student in a public school in the region.

2)     Why is early-grade literacy important to development in the region?

When children cannot read, it limits their ability to learn other subjects such as math or science and also impacts their ability to participate in society in the long run. Studies have shown a correlation between literacy and voter participation and citizen security.   In addition, learning outcomes have a directly impact a country’s economic growth. A 10% increase in the share of students reaching basic literacy translates into a 0.3 percentage point higher annual growth rate for that country.

3)     What is USAID doing to improve early-grade literacy rates?

USAID’s new Global Education Strategy has made literacy a top development priority. By 2015, USAID aims to improve reading outcomes for some 100 million children across the globe. USAID programs include helping to develop teacher skills, introducing new technologies that facilitate learning, and improving tools to measure and assess children’s reading skills.

Percentage of 3rd graders with the lowest reading achievement level on UNESCO Tests Source: Ganimian, Alejandro. How Much Are Latin American Children Learning? PREAL, 2009

4)     Where are USAID’s programs located in LAC?

USAID has education programs in 10 Latin American and Caribbean countries: Haiti, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Eastern Caribbean, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Peru.

5)     What are the focus of these programs?

USAID programs are focused on improving reading by improving the 5 T’s:

  1. Teacher Technique – teaching teachers how to teach reading.
  2. Time Use – maximizing instructional time in the classroom.
  3. Texts – put appropriate books in the hands of children.
  4. Tongue – implement appropriate language policies and provide mother-tongue based instruction.
  5. Test – measure reading skills against a common standard.

    Percentage of 6th graders with the lowest reading achievement level on UNESCO TestsSource: Ganimian, Alejandro. How Much Are Latin American Children Learning? PREAL, 2009


Pounds of Prevention – Focus on Brazil

Residents of Ceará State employ many techniques to protect their livelihoods from the negative effects of drought. Here community members work to construct cylindrical wells and underground reservoirs that collect and conserve water. Photo Credit: Cáritas Brasileira

In this next installment in the Pounds of Prevention  series, we travel to Ceará State in northeastern Brazil, which is in the midst of a severe drought.

Over the past few years, the area has faced increasingly frequent drought conditions and rural residents face difficult choices.They include whether to abandon their farms and move to urban centers or to rely on water trucked in by the government.

More recently, however, community organizations have worked with experts from USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance on strategies to minimize the negative impacts from droughts and adapt their livelihoods in such a way that makes families more resilient.

Using a variety of techniques to conserve water, enhance agricultural practices, and diversify income sources, residents have mitigated the risk of drought. They are now are reenergized about the future of their communities.

Pounds of Prevention: Colombia

In this next installment in the Pounds of Prevention series, we travel to South America, to Colombia, a country with several active volcanoes that USAID and the U.S. Geological Survey help monitor. The article tells what happened on June 30, 2012, when the Nevado del Ruiz Volcano erupted briefly.

Marta Calvache, the head of the volcano hazards program in Colombia, explains the impacts of the 1985 eruption of Nevado del Ruiz Volcano. Photo: Wendy McCausland, VDAP

In contrast to the tragic result of the 1985 eruption that destroyed an entire village, on this day, the people and government took immediate preparedness measures and executed timely evacuations. The article also gives insight into how USAID and interagency partners like the U.S. Geological Survey provide support to countries to reduce their disaster risk and lessen the damage from natural hazards like volcanoes.

Video: Working for Equality for People with Disabilities in Haiti

The January 2010 earthquake in Haiti increased the challenge of supporting people with disabilities.  Not only were there more people with disabilities, many local disabled peoples organizations were severely impacted.  However, the earthquake also brought increased international awareness to the many barriers to inclusion that existed prior to the earthquake.

Immediately following the earthquake, USAID funded a spinal cord injury center. Recognizing the earthquake as an opportunity to make long-term change for people with disabilities during the reconstruction process, we recently made four new awards to address four different aspects of inclusion and provision of better and more accessible care.


Prevention & Youth are the Solution

The word of the day in Central America is prevención. A wide range of actors in the region—particularly in the “Northern Triangle” (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador)— design and implement strategies and programs that focus on the prevention of crime, mainly aimed at youth.

The premise behind prevention is that rising criminal activity and violence linked to the drug trade is creating conditions for young people to be attracted to the flashy—but dangerous—world of drug trafficking.

The fast money and flashy lifestyles of drug traffickers glorified in the popular telenovelas are luring young people to become pawns in the bloody turf wars of organized crime and drug cartels. The economic downturn that hit the region, with its related high levels of unemployment and underemployment, has also pushed young people into a life of crime and drug consumption.

In Guatemala, its youth face a difficult situation. There are several risk factors on the road to their development. Generally, Guatemalans take pride in claiming that this is a “young country.” With a population of almost 15 million people, 2 out of 3 Guatemalans are 24 years old or less.

But these figures also represent an immense challenge for this Central American nation, particularly within the context of low rates of economic growth and traditionally low quality in health and education. The country’s inability to generate enough opportunities to absorb thousands of young people entering the labor market annually plus historical institutional weaknesses in justice and security paint a complicated scenario. In addition, Mexico and the isthmus have become both, the main transit route for narcotics heading North, and the main theater of operations for the bloody turf wars over control of the drug trade.

These factors have made the “Northern Triangle” one of the deadliest regions in the world. In Guatemala, the vast majority of victims are younger than 25 years of age. Similarly, 89% of aggressors are aged between 18 and 35 years.

The fact that youth are the main protagonists in the daily violence, both as victims and perpetrators, has led some researchers to refer to this phenomenon as the “criminalization of youth.”

To that end, the Guatemalan government has begun an unprecedented consultation process in order to enact a public policy on youth crime and violence prevention. This exercise in citizen participation seems promising. And, the government’s commitment on prevention is being matched by the donor community in Guatemala. International cooperation in this country also views prevention as a big part in the solution in the fight against public insecurity.

As Vinicio Gamarro, a sixth grade teacher in the village of Naxombal, asserted, young people need “to do good things so they won’t think about violence.”

Vetha Quej, a 20 year-old concurs with Gamarro. At a meeting of community leaders, civil society organizations, youth, and international donors working on violence prevention among youth at the local level, Vetha said that young people like her need “work instead of violence.”

To address these needs, USAID helps provide Guatemalan youth with productive options to turn away from gangs and other criminal organizations. Programs focus on youth employability, technical training for at-risk youth, internship programs, and a range of activities that teach young men and women values and life skill through sports and arts. It is precisely this type of pursuits that will give youth hope for a better future.

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