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Young People in Benghazi Prepare to Take the Lead on Human Rights in a Democratic Libya

Youth participants and workshop trainers from the Helsinki Foundation show “V” signs for Victory. Photo Credit: USAID

“When I was four, the government took my father,” said nineteen-year-old Aliya El-Sharif. Speaking for the first time in public about how her father was killed along with more than 1,200 other detainees, according to Human Rights Watch, during the 1996 Abu Salim prison massacre in Tripoli. The massacre stands as one of the more egregious human rights violations perpetrated by the Gadhafi regime.

This month, exactly six months after the forces of Muammsr Gadhafi forces arrived at the doorstep of her city, Benghazi, threatening to fill the streets with the blood of its people, Aliya spoke at the closing ceremony of a six-day, USAID-funded training workshop on human rights.

Led by human rights experts from the Warsaw-based Helsinki Foundation, the workshop provided participants with tactics for identifying and reporting human rights abuses, seeking justice for those abuses, and advocating for human rights protections. The course was implemented in cooperation with two local civil society groups – Human Rights Solidarity and the Libyan Center for Development and Human Rights – that helped select the twenty-five students and young professionals who aspire to become civil society leaders and advocates for the rights of fellow citizens. The Libyan groups are now providing these aspiring leaders with opportunities for further engagement and advocacy within their respective organizations.

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The Role of Honor Related Violence in Sex Trafficking

In many societies, maintaining family and personal honor is integral to upholding cultural norms.  The burden of upholding such honor codes weighs more heavily on women and girls.  In countries such as Iraq, programs designed to combat human trafficking must address severe cultural stigmas about honor in conjunction with protection and prosecution efforts.

Female victims of sex trafficking are often detained and charged with prostitution. They generally spend six months incarcerated before their cases are heard. Photo Credit: Kamaran Najm/ Metrography

Vian* was 14-years old when her neighbor Ahmed, an 18-year old police officer, persuaded her to have a relationship with him by promising to marry her.  Their relationship only lasted a short period before Ahmed ended things, threatening Vian that he would kill her if she told anyone about them.  When Vian’s father became suspicious, he beat her and demanded to know if she was in a relationship.  Fearing for her safety, because the relationship, if discovered, would damage her family’s honor, Vian asked for Ahmed’s help in running away.   Ahmed tried to take Vian to Iran, but she escaped by taxi to another city to look for her friend’s house.  The taxi driver drove her to a brothel where Vian was forced into prostitution.  Several months later the police arrested and detained her and charged her with engaging in prostitution. Once in jail, Vian learned she was pregnant.

Iraqi women and girls are expected to uphold the honor of the family and tribe by adhering to rigid sexual and social norms.  Though not an exhaustive list of reasons, common breaches of these norms include perceived or real actions such as premarital sex, adultery, divorce or exercising freedom of choice in selecting a marriage partner.  Honor related violence is widely viewed by Iraqi society and the law as justified when it’s in response to what is deemed immoral behavior.  Retribution takes the form of ‘honor’ killings, forced marriage – including to rapists, – and severe restrictions on the mobility of women and girls.

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Inspiring Youth in Jordan

Like so many young people in Jordan and around the world, Murad Al Zaghal was in need of opportunities to express his creative voice in a positive, meaningful way that contributed to his personal growth. Through his participation in the USAID-sponsored International Youth Day 2011, 19-year-old Murad got a much-needed boost to his confidence in his abilities and the pursuit of his passion for design.

Murad standing beside the International Youth Day poster. Photo Credit: USAID/Jordan

As a young designer studying architecture at Hashemite University, Murad says that he had been feeling a little uncertain about his major and his design abilities. That changed earlier this summer. In keeping with this year’s theme of “Partnership and Participation,” USAID organized a design competition for the IYD 2011 theme with its local partner, educational and vocational training center, the Interclub House. Murad was encouraged to participate in the contest, and his modern, sophisticated poster went on to win.

“When I walked in and saw my design all over the place, on the backs of everyone’s t-shirts, and people taking pictures next to the posters I designed, it was really an amazing feeling,” Murad says about attending International Youth Day.  “I never saw my work displayed on such a large scale. It made me feel it was a good choice to pursue design, and I thought, ‘what if I had designed the whole building?’”

Along with the invaluable exposure he received, and the boost in his creative esteem, USAID awarded Murad with a graphics tablet that allows him to hand draw images and graphics on his computer. He is now far better equipped to continue pursuing his passion for design and architecture.

In order to support the youth of Jordan and encourage their talents and creativity, USAID sponsored International Youth Day 2011 for 400 youth representing 10 universities and youth organizations. Projects funded by USAID were on hand at IYD to teach participants about the ways USAID is providing support to millions of Jordanians in the sectors of health, economic development, job creation, and sustainable natural resource management, among others, and to encourage participation of youth in issues affecting their future.

Facebook Activism Inspires West Bank Youth

Youth in the West Bank town of Burqa are using Facebook to motivate a new generation of civic activism for the health of the community.

Ameena Abu Odeh, a 17-year-old from the West Bank town of Burqa, is a typical teenager. An avid ‘Facebooker,’ she was surprised to see a flurry of health activism related to her village on the social network. “I was diagnosed with diabetes when I was 14 years old. When I saw a Burqa Facebook page posting chronic disease awareness activities, I knew I could help,” she explained.

Through USAID’s Palestinian Heath Sector Reform and Development Project, villages like Burqa are participating in the Champion Community Approach to improving health care quality and access. The goal is to establish dynamic and continuous interaction between Ministry of Health primary health-care clinics and the communities they serve through empowered Community-Based Organizations (CBOs).

The Burqa community health clinic serves a population of 4,000, but most people living in Burqa viewed the clinic in a less than positive light. “There was a lack of civic participation, people did not trust the health care services, and would instead spend money on private doctors,” explained community coordinator Hanna Masoud, a 25-year-old sociology graduate. Hanna is one of two coordinators for the clinic’s partner CBO. They initially faced uphill battles convincing the local village council to become involved.

Hanna recognized that a fresh approach was necessary. Utilizing the IT talents of other young people in Burqa, she reached out to other young people online. The youth responded. To date, the Burqa clinic has more than 100 volunteers, many still in their teens. “We now have 300 fans on Facebook and receive as many as 1,500 views per day with excited responses from Palestinians living abroad…there have even been financial donations to our clinic,” explained 17-year-old volunteer and Facebook administrator Adi. This initiative is bridging community relations across generations, explained volunteer and mother of five Rania. “Watching from my window, I saw three of my children participating in a first-aid workshop. They even began leaving the house early on weekends to participate in clean-up activities,” she said. “After watching their dedication, how could I not become involved?”

By providing on-the-job coaching and mentoring of health professionals, procuring essential equipment, and establishing community-clinic boards, the Champion Community Approach is taking root in these communities. People are seeing positive results and are renewing their faith in their local clinics. To date, more than 500,000 participants from these communities have engaged in health promotion activities throughout the West Bank.

Ameena and other young people like her are making a difference in their communities. “I want to become a social worker…helping people is what I want to do with my life.”

To see a video about USAID’s Champion Community initiative, please visit USAID West Bank/Gaza’s Youtube page.

From the Field

In Lebanon, USAID will inaugurate a new youth soccer facility created through its Municipal Capacity Building and Service Delivery Program.  The inauguration ceremony for the new youth mini-soccer court will be held in Jdeydet Al-Aytaa in Akkar, North Lebanon.  Funded by USAID, this initiative created several local jobs and is expected to generate over $9,500 profit for the municipality, which they will then use for additional development work in the village.  The municipality provided the land and built a retaining wall on the border of the plot as their contribution to the effort.

Also in Lebanon this week, USAID will hold workshops in Tripoli, Beirut, and Zahle on improving the regulatory environment in Lebanon by building private sector capacity for regulatory impact assessments (RIAs). These workshops, held under the program to support Lebanon’s accession to the World Trade Organization are part of an overall private sector capacity building effort to support Lebanon’s accession. The aim of an RIA is to assess the impact of newly developed laws in order to improve them and achieve better regulations.

In Georgia, we will open up a new Agriculture Mechanization Service Center.  As part of the U.S. Government’s pledge to assist the people of Georgia following their war, the Access to Mechanization Project is funding the development of up to 25 privately-owned machinery service centers throughout Georgia which will increase access to machinery services for small farmers, leading to  increased agricultural sector productivity, competitiveness, and profitability.  The service centers are expected to create up to 225 new jobs, provide services to 14,000 small farmers, and increase agricultural revenues by $10 million.

Celebrating America with Muslim Americans

Last weekend, we celebrated the Nation’s independence in Chicago, where we represented USAID at the annual convention for the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). ISNA is the largest gathering of Muslims in North America, with nearly 40,000 Muslims in attendance.

We staffed USAID’s outreach and information booth, which was nestled among the hundreds of exhibition booths showcasing Islamic artwork, fashion, and literature.  While we had each attended the convention previously on our own, this was our first time attending with USAID.

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Rosie the Riveter Would be Proud

USAID Helping Young Palestinian Women Make Inroads into Male Dominated Fields
Submitted by David Kahrman, USAID Mission to the West Bank and Gaza

Like other students in the West Bank, Heba (23) and Nagham (17) saw the courses supported by USAID’s Technical and Vocational Education and Training Program as excellent opportunities to prepare for careers in their chosen fields. What makes Heba and Nagham unique are the fields they decided to pursue: Heba chose cellular phone servicing, while Nagham chose auto repair. Two professions which see precious few female faces the world over—even less so in traditional Palestinian culture.

Nagham pulls the plug on gender stereotypes. Photo: Save the Children

Heba, from a small and underdeveloped village northwest of Ramallah, finished her courses at  the Lutheran World Federation School in Jerusalem, a partner institution of  USAID’s Program and went on to become the West Bank’s first female cellular phone technician. After working for a few smaller companies, Heba was quickly recruited by Vodaphone where she is now the Head of the Department of Maintenance and Sales at the company’s local headquarters in Ramallah.

Meanwhile, Nagham is pursuing her studies in auto repair at another USAID supported school, the Hisham Hijjawi College of Technology in the West Bank city of Nablus.  At only 17 years of age, Nagham became the first woman to enroll in the “Autotronics” course where she is learning how to service and repair the complicated wiring that keeps cars running smoothly. Thanks to USAID support, Nagham is getting plenty of hands-on experience that she’ll be able to apply in the real world of auto repair.

As pioneers in their fields, both are confident that even though they are testing new waters, they will succeed.  At first, customers were wary, says Heba, “condescending looks and judgments continued for some time, but eventually, once people discovered my abilities, they would return and refer even more clients to me.” Heba says that her female customers hold her in especially high esteem—as they are proud to see a young woman like themselves working in a traditionally male-dominated field. With the same drive and entrepreneurial spirit that saw her pursuing a career in a field usually dominated by men, Heba has set her sights on becoming her own boss by opening a cellular phone repair center in her home town.

As for Nagham, she is still studying but is convinced that with the growing number of women drivers in the West Bank, she will have plenty of future customers. Nagham is pretty sure that many women will feel more comfortable going to a woman when their cars are in need of service.

So, if you happen to be in the West Bank and your phone stops working or your car breaks down, get in touch with USAID—we can point you to two women who should be able to help you out!

The Technical and Vocational Education and Training Program is being implemented in partnership with Save the Children.

How Free is Your Media? A USAID-Funded Tool Provides Insight

On May 3, the world celebrated World Press Freedom Day. Reflecting on the day’s events, a few important questions arise about what role the media plays in a community and in a democracy.

First, how does freedom of the press compare to freedom of speech? Not only do journalists need freedom to speak and write without fear of censorship, retribution, or violence, but also they need professional training and access to information in order to produce high-quality work. Furthermore, journalists need to work within an organization that is effectively managed, which preserves editorial independence. People need multiple news sources that offer reliable and objective news, and societies need legal and social norms that promote access to public information.

Second, why is the media important? We care about the media because it is a powerful and critical tool for ensuring that citizens understand the state of their community, country, and world. In this way, citizens are equipped to participate in the democratic process. Media gives a voice to the people and helps to hold governments and institutions accountable for their actions. Media is also the way to spread critical community messages, such as how to prevent HIV infection, where to vote in the next election, and how to address difficult issues with balanced, well-informed analysis so as to promote peace and tolerance.

Lastly, how do we measure how well (or poorly) the media sector is functioning, and how do we gauge progress? With great interest in this subject, USAID has supported comprehensive, multi-year assessments carried out by IREX, which are reported in the Media Sustainability Index (MSI). This tool analyzes challenges in the media sector by country and allows for tracking of progress from year-to-year.  In this way, it helps USAID to better identify media development gaps and possible areas for technical assistance. The 2009 edition of the MSI for Africa is now available, and editions are also available for the Europe & Eurasia and Middle East regions. With multiple years of surveys now completed, the tool spurs discussion and understanding of both the current status of the media in a given country and region as well as the trends over time.

The MSI is both a quantitative and qualitative tool. It draws on a set of panels composed of local media and civil society experts from each country, and the resulting index assesses five objectives important to a successful media system, which include the quality and professionalism of journalism as well as the management and independence of media businesses. The results also capture the rapidly changing new media landscape on the continent.

MSI’s data is used by a variety of advocacy and human rights groups, as well as USAID, other donors, and academics who are interested in tracking the role of the media in larger development processes. Findings from the MSI can inform how we channel our resources; for example, the latest edition of the MSI reveals that weak business management and professional journalism skills are some of the key factors challenging the media sector in African countries today.  In response, USAID programming in countries such as Liberia, Nigeria, and the DRC are better cultivating local skills and building the professional capacity of media.

New USAID Report Highlights Achievements in Egypt’s Health Sector

Yesterday I joined former USAID Administrator Peter McPherson, Egypt Embassy Counselor Motaz Zahran, and more than 100 members of the Egyptian diaspora and global health communities to launch USAID/Egypt’s Health and Population Legacy Review (pdf, 1.5mb).

The report demonstrates impressive long-term results of USAID health sector assistance in Egypt over 32 years.  For example, over the past three decades, there have been declines in maternal mortality by more than 50 percent and in infant mortality by more than 70 percent, as documented by Egypt’s regularly released Demographic and Health Surveys. Medically assisted deliveries increased from 35 percent in 1988 to almost 80 percent in 2008.

I served in USAID’s Egypt mission from 1976 to 1980 and again from 1984 to 1988, and I have seen with my own eyes the remarkable progress that has been achieved.  When I left Cairo in 1980 oral rehydration therapy was not part of Egypt’s health program.  When I returned in 1984 it appeared to me that there was an oral rehydration center in every neighborhood of Cairo and every village throughout the country.

The Egypt Health and Population Legacy Review attributes the success of programs like this to the duration of assistance and to robust funding and staffing levels.  Because USAID was a reliable partner with the Ministry of Health and Population over a 32-year period, it allowed not only for introducing new programs, but also for seeing them through various stages of program evolution. The substantial level of funding over the decades also helped ensure that programs were implemented on a large enough scale to achieve significant impact.

Despite the accomplishments, much work remains to be done.  And in many ways, the moment is ripe.  This has been a historic time for the people of Egypt and the Middle East.  And now, more than ever, it is vital that we use studies like these to learn from the past.

U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Margaret Scobey said it best:

The emergence of a new political order in Egypt sets the stage for even greater improvements in the lives of Egyptians. The accomplishments, the institutional strengthening, the data and policy analysis, and – most important – the many new Egyptian health professionals and leaders, are a solid platform from which to launch new initiatives and innovations of many kinds.  In the Egyptian health sector, the past can inform the future.

Video Immortalizes USAID’s Largest Iraq Project

Last fall, I worked in Baghdad to capture on digital video the achievements of the USAID/Iraq’s National Capacity Development Program – the Agency’s largest project in the country – as the five-year project winds down.

In this age of fast moving information, it’s more and more important that development projects are captured visually to help explain the impact of that work. In Iraq, that presents unique challenges given the weather, moving from government office to government office and even technical issues, such as inconsistent power supply throughout the day.

Working closely with 10 Iraqi ministries and the country’s executive offices, Tatweer – “development” in Arabic, and the informal name of the project – provided the support necessary for Iraq to update and sustain modern public administration practices and systems.

The hope is that ultimately these systems and practices will give Iraq the tools necessary to effectively use its natural resources and human capital towards a prosperous future.

After five years and 105,000 ministry officials provided with training, Iraqis began taking pride in their work, leading the trainings themselves and taking ownership of their departments and offices.

“How do you train 100,000 staff in a few years under these extreme conditions?” Tatweer’s Chief of Party Rick Huntington said. “Our students often have 15 years of experience, with bachelor’s and master’s degrees, but haven’t had the chance to modernize their skills in decades. The Iraqi people can’t wait for a gradual improvement in governance, so we have cascaded good skills to more and more staff, like ripples in a pond.”

The video, Iraq: A Partnership for the Future, captures and shares some of the palpable pride witnessed in Iraq. Filmed in various training locations and Iraqi ministries and centers, the video gives a glimpse at the strongest elements of the program, and what ultimately accounts for its success – its advisors, participants and the commitment of the U.S. government to make this worthwhile investment.

As the National Capacity Development Program comes to a close, we look to a peaceful and productive future and partnership with Iraq.

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