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Archives for Youth

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.

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.

How Vocational Training Is Changing the Destinies of Morocco’s Youth

Youth participate in a morning sewing class at the Chifae Association, a USAID-supported NGO providing vocational training to local youth in an impoverished urban neighborhood in Tangiers. /USAID

Youth participate in a morning sewing class at the Chifae Association, a USAID-supported NGO providing vocational training to local youth in an impoverished urban neighborhood in Tangiers. /USAID

Moroccan youth, who make up a third of their country’s population, represent a massive pool of untapped talent and potential. However, with 40 percent of Morocco’s youth out of school or out of work, many feel lost and unsupported by their communities. These youth can become susceptible to the world of crime, drugs and radicalization.

To help provide them with an alternative, USAID and its partners in Morocco are working together to provide sustainable opportunities for youth. I recently had the chance to visit USAID activities in Morocco that provide young people with the skills they need to enter the workforce, and connect them to jobs in high-demand sectors.

USAID’s Favorable Opportunities to Reinforce Self-Advancement for Today’s Youth activity works with at-risk youth in underprivileged neighborhoods in the north of Morocco. Since 2012, the activity has improved the lives of over 12,000 at-risk youth in the cities of Tangiers and Tetouan by increasing confidence and community engagement, and providing professional skills training, academic support and tutoring.

Deputy Assistant Administrator Maria Longi witnesses the signing of a partnership agreement between the Nova Moda 2 clothing company and the Chifae Association to increase youth employability. / USAID Morocco

Deputy Assistant Administrator Maria Longi witnesses the signing of a partnership agreement between the Nova Moda 2 clothing company and the Chifae Association to increase youth employability. /USAID

Working with local civil society organizations, this USAID project addresses the challenges that push young Moroccans down hazardous paths. It improves their access to quality education and job opportunities and increases their community involvement through vocational training and career services—giving young people more positive options for their future.

I saw this firsthand when I visited the Chifae Association, a USAID-supported NGO providing vocational training to local youth in an impoverished urban neighborhood in Tangiers. I had the opportunity to observe a morning sewing class, where young men and women sat at rows of sewing machines testing stitches on colorful fabric scraps.

The students I spoke to at the Chifae Association told me how the USAID project is helping them find themselves. I was moved by their sense of ambition as we talked about their personal challenges and aspirations. They are learning new skills that will help them get a job and become excited about their future. One student told me that if it wasn’t for this program, he would most certainly be on the street selling drugs.

From the Chifae Association, we headed straight to Nova Moda 2, a clothing factory where many of the graduates from USAID-supported vocational training centers like the Chifae Association become interns or employees. Nova Moda 2 provides these graduates with good salaries that allow them to support themselves and their families. With this new sense of purpose, Moroccan youth gain self-esteem and feel more respected in their neighborhoods.

Nova Moda 2, a clothing factory where many graduates from USAID-supported vocational training centers like the Chifae Association become interns or employees. /USAID

Nova Moda 2, a clothing factory where many graduates from USAID-supported vocational training centers like the Chifae Association become interns or employees. /USAID

I also attended the signing of a partnership agreement between the Nova Moda 2 clothing company and the Chifae Association. This agreement made official what was already apparent: Everyone participating in this program—students, teachers and company managers—is committed to working toward a common goal of youth employability.

Through dedicated partnerships like this, students who complete the vocational training program have a clear vision of how their newly acquired skills can be applied in a viable profession, and with that, a hope for their future.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Maria Longi is the deputy assistant administrator for USAID’s Middle East Bureau.


RELATED LINKS

Family Planning for the World’s Youth Promotes Peace, Health and Prosperity

A mother with her child at the Nhamatanda Health Center in Mozambique. / Arturo Sanabria, Photoshare

With close to 600 million girls growing up in developing countries, achieving global prosperity starts with educating and empowering these young women so they can be healthy, productive members of their communities and become agents of change.

This year’s World Population Day encourages us to “Invest in Teenage Girls.” Voluntary family planning is one tool that can both educate and empower young women worldwide.

Access to voluntary family planning and reproductive health services for everyone, including youth, is vital to the future of our planet. About half of pregnancies among adolescent women in the developing world are unintended, with about 23 million young women wishing to avoid pregnancy, but not using modern contraception. This puts them at high risk of unintended pregnancy.

As we observe World Population Day on July 11, we acknowledge that young people hold the key to determining the future of our planet and to ensuring we meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)17 goals focused on ending all forms of poverty, achieving social justice for all, and tackling climate change by 2030.

Voluntary family planning is an important intervention that cuts across the five themes of the SDGS: people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership.

A nurse shows a client an implant rod, and explains how it works during a family planning outreach at a Nairobi informal settlement. / Tobin Jones, Jhpiego

Voluntary family planning affects people. It supports adolescents’ rights to information, and the rights of girls to remain unmarried and childless until they they are ready and desire to bear children.

Family planning saves lives. Today, pregnancy and childbirth are the leading causes of death for adolescent women. By helping young women time and space their pregnancies, family planning helps reduce the number of high-risk pregnancies, and allows women to properly feed, clothe and educate the children they decide to have. Studies show that by 2020, family planning could help avert approximately 7 million under-5 deaths and prevent 450,000 maternal deaths in USAID’s priority countries.

A poster in a Sare Bilaly health hut in the region of Kolda, Senegal. / Amy Fowler, USAID

Family planning impacts the planet. Access to family planning can slow global climate change and improve the health and environment of households and communities worldwide, and research shows that it already has. A 2013 report warns: “poor reproductive health outcomes and population growth exist hand-in-hand with poverty and unsustainable natural resource use.”

Family planning helps reduce poverty and contributes to economic growth and prosperity. Nearly 21 percent of the world’s population—some 1.5 billion people—still live on less than $1.25 per day. By slowing rapid population growth, family planning can help to decrease the sheer number of poor people.

Reducing adolescent fertility can contribute to a “demographic dividend” of rapid economic growth. Having fewer children per family leads to more household savings and increased investments in each child. In Korea and Thailand, governments aligned population policy and family planning services with human capital development policies, particularly girls’ education, to accelerate economic growth.

Voluntary family planning can contribute to peace. Studies show that a large “youth bulge” (defined as a high number of 15- to 29-year-olds) is associated with a high risk of civil conflict. The political impact of fertility decline is measureable: Research shows as a country’s population ages, the probability of attaining and maintaining a liberal democracy is increased.

Worldwide, more than 30 million adolescent women are not in school. Early and unintended pregnancy can be both a cause and a consequence of dropping out of school, so family planning can help women and girls stay in school, become literate, and achieve their educational and employment aspirations. All of these outcomes lead to more peaceful communities and societies.

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Health workers in Mali. / Jane Silcock, USAID

Family planning partnerships at the global and country level will be critical to achieving success as we work toward reaching a grand convergence between the developed and developing world in the next 15 years. As the largest bilateral donor for family planning assistance, USAID has played a crucial role in increasing access to modern contraception. And through our youth policy, USAID strives to integrate youth reproductive and sexual health needs into all of our programs and partnerships.

Young people today will decide our future. We need them to participate in the social, economic, political and cultural life of their communities to eliminate poverty and achieve our collective goals. We also need to recognize the diversity of need and experience of this age group when developing reproductive and sexual health programs and services. As we help youth to succeed, voluntary family planning will be an essential element of our long-term development strategies.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ellen H. Starbird is the director of the Office of Population and Reproductive Health at USAID. Get updates about USAID’s Family Planning work via @USAIDGH.


RELATED LINKS

Harmful Child Labor Is Everyone’s Business

ChildLabor3

Two little girls reading in Pakistan. / Save the Children

“Rose,” 16, never expected to end up living in the streets of Abidjan, sleeping nights under a table in the marketplace and having to sell sex for survival. She left her village in rural Côte d’Ivoire for a promise to live with her aunt in the city to attend school and perform domestic chores.

Things did not go as planned. Rose experienced harsh verbal abuse at the hands of her aunt and sexual abuse from her uncle and, in the end, her aunt threw her out of the house.

Rose was eventually discovered and taken to a transit center supported by a USAID PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) project implemented by Save the Children. Through this center, she was able to gain the strength and skills to return to school, despite testing positive for HIV/AIDS.

As a child labor practitioner, I am well aware of the risk factors for girls becoming domestic workers when migrating from rural to urban settings. So I have to wonder: Could we have helped Rose earlier, preventing the extreme trauma she experienced?

Girls sit in a circle in a classroom in Pakistan. / Save the Children

Girls sit in a circle in a classroom in Pakistan. / Save the Children

Every June, people from around the world commemorate the World Day Against Child Labor to speak up for the 168 million children working under harmful conditions in various sectors—including agriculture, on construction sites, hidden in households and exploited in brothels.

Harmful child labor takes many forms. And too often development practitioners do not recognize the risks of child labor when designing activities to spur economic growth or increase agricultural output, or when responding to humanitarian emergencies during times of crisis and conflict when child labor is often prevalent.

In addition, child labor programming has historically been narrow in focus, only looking at the child workers’ needs (like school and vocational training) or that of their parents within a community, rather than recognizing other harms surrounding children.

We could serve children better if we took a broader view of their risks given their particular environment and situation.

For example, the removal of a child from harmful work on a cocoa farm and relocation to a school in a nearby town is considered a successful outcome. However, is it really a success if she has no familial care or ends up sexually abused and impregnated by her teacher?   

The theme of this year’s World Day is Ending Child Labor in Global Supply ChainsIt’s Everyone’s Business. Recent regulations, certification and monitoring schemes have made businesses more accountable for how their commodities are produced. But all duty bearers, including government agencies and donors, need to address these issues. Not only for children working in formal settings, but also for those working in informal settings, like households.  

Identifying and then tackling the root causes of child labor is key, including interventions like

  • Providing second-shift classrooms for working children as a chance to return to and catch up in school.
  • Supporting Community Child Protection Committees to better prevent and respond to violations such as child abuse and neglect, but to also create awareness and change behavior on issues like child marriage and gender discrimination.
  • Training teachers and communities to deliver school-based health and nutrition services, such as child-focused health classes and deworming campaigns.
  • Lifting up families with working children by providing vocational training, cash transfers and opportunities to start their own businesses.
ChildLabor5

Economic strengthening activities for women are part of the USAID-funded PEPFAR project in in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, that provides support to families affected by HIV/AIDS. / Save the Children

There is no silver bullet to deal with the worst forms of child labor, much less child protection risks globally. However, through enhanced coordination, integrated programming, advocacy efforts, and policy initiatives we can make a difference in the lives of children like Rosie.

We are on the right track. According to the International Labor Organization’s World Report on Child Labor, since 2008, the global level of hazardous and worst forms of child labor has decreased from 115.3 million children (7.3 percent) to 85.3 million (5.4 percent).

Let’s continue this work together and make it everybody’s business to keep children safe and protected.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Wendy Blanpied is a Senior Child Protection Specialist at Save the Children.


RELATED LINKS

  • Read about the International Labor Organization’s World Day Against Child Labor 2016 theme, and activities and initiatives commemorating the day.  
  • Check out the video on Child Labor in Supply Chains.
  • Learn about a new tool for retail giants to “target” child trafficking.

Even Amid a Humanitarian Crisis, Education Cannot Wait

Nepalese children attend school in a temporary learning center following the April 2015 earthquake / Derek Brown for USAID/Nepal

Nepalese children attend school in a temporary learning center following the April 2015 earthquake / Derek Brown for USAID/Nepal

Education is a core component of a humanitarian response. However, too often education remains severely underfunded given competing priorities. But without it, children — and girls in particular — are at increased risk of abuse, exploitation, disempowerment or worse.

While working in international education for more than 30 years, I’ve seen how natural disasters, famines and wars can sideline education.

And yet we know from research — and our own life experiences — that going to school and learning is critical; it provides children with a sense of normalcy and helps prepare them for the future. An extra year of secondary school for girls can increase their future earnings by 10 to 20 percent. Research even shows that investing in women and girls can boost an entire country’s GDP.

Children attend a morning assembly at a temporary learning center in Nepal / Kashish Das Shrestha for USAID/Nepal

Children attend a morning assembly at a temporary learning center in Nepal / Kashish Das Shrestha for USAID/Nepal

However, over the past decade, we have seen greater consideration of the long-term need of children affected by crisis and conflict. Education in these contexts is prioritized by the U.S. Government — we know it’s critical to the global effort to end extreme poverty and build peaceful democratic societies.

Providing access to quality education for children and youth in crisis and conflict is one of USAID’s priorities for education. Between 2011 and 2015, we provided millions of out-of-school children and youth in 20 countries with access to education.

That’s good progress, but it’s not enough. As a result of the conflict in Syria, the world is experiencing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. Syria is among 35 crisis-affected countries where 476 million children are in desperate need of educational support.

Aminata, 16, teaches her younger siblings while schools in Liberia were closed during the height of the Ebola epidemic / Neil Brandvold for USAID

Aminata, 16, teaches her younger siblings while schools in Liberia were closed during the height of the Ebola epidemic / Neil Brandvold for USAID

A shift in USAID education response

For decades, humanitarian and development assistance were often partitioned, and this sometimes led to not focusing on returning many displaced children and youth to school until after a crisis or conflict had ended. Education has always been a key focus in the international refugee response; but this at times has not been true in the case of natural disasters or even in the case of internally displaced children.

As crises have become longer — families are displaced for 20 years on average — children may spend their entire childhood exiled from their homes. Without education, a new generation grows up without the basic skills needed to contribute to their community and society.

The U.S. Government is now committed to ensuring that whenever a crisis or conflict hits, education is not disrupted. Prioritizing the continuity of education reaps long term rewards, and contributes to a smooth transition from humanitarian assistance to sustainable development.

Victoria Cole, 12, hasn’t let the Ebola crisis interrupt her education. Here she participates in in an outdoor classroom while schools in Liberia were closed during the height of the Ebola epidemic / Neil Brandvold for USAID

Victoria Cole, 12, hasn’t let the Ebola crisis interrupt her education. Here she participates in in an outdoor classroom while schools in Liberia were closed during the height of the Ebola epidemic / Neil Brandvold for USAID

In the past year, the United States has responded to the education needs of children living in a range of crises, including violent conflict in South Sudan, gang violence in El Salvador and Guatemala, the Syrian refugee crisis, earthquakes in Nepal, and the Ebola outbreak in Liberia.

  • Nepal: On April 25, 2015, Nepal was shaken by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake that claimed lives, destroyed homes, and reduced thousands of schools and classrooms to rubble. USAID and partners sprang into action by building more than 1,000 temporary learning centers to ensure children could continue their education while the rest of the communities were rebuilt around them.
  • Liberia: In August 2014, at the height of the worst Ebola outbreak in history, all schools were closed, leaving 1.5 million children at home and unable to learn. Crises like Ebola don’t only affect the health of communities, but also their ability to continue working and learning. In response, USAID worked with the Liberian Government to integrate basic Ebola prevention and treatment information into the curriculum, supply classrooms with prevention supplies, and prepare for future suspected cases. These measures allowed schools to reopen six months later.
  • Syrian refugee crisis: Since the start of the conflict in Syria, the Department of State has worked with international and nongovernmental organizations to open and refurbish schools, provide educational materials, pay school fees, and offer accelerated learning programs for refugees and host communities in neighboring countries where 2.4 million Syrian refugee children now reside. These same partners provide protective family care and reunification, protect distressed children from violence and abuse, provide counseling and psychological support, and meet other critical needs of children both inside Syria and in neighboring countries.
  • Nigeria: Since 2009, a violent insurgency has gripped much of northeastern Nigeria and displaced more than 1 million children and youth, greatly diminishing their education and job prospects. Since 2014, USAID has worked with local partners and officials to ensure their education can continue by establishing about 600 nonformal learning centers in communities where displaced children and youth have relocated – temporary shelters, markets, churches, mosques and under the shade of trees. The international community is far from reaching all of those children in need, however. We must do more.

Bridging the humanitarian and development divide

No one donor can do this alone — we must work together with countries affected by these crises and a range of education experts. That is why the U.S. Government is enthusiastically supporting Education Cannot Wait: A Fund for Education in Emergencies.

The fund is championed by the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Education Gordon Brown, Chair of the Global Partnership for Education’s Board of Directors Julia Gillard, UNICEF’s Executive Director Anthony Lake, the U.S. Government and other donors.

Education Cannot Wait, managed by UNICEF, will help transform the global education sector and bridge the humanitarian and development divide by collaborating with non-traditional actors for a more agile and rapid response to education in emergencies. Ultimately, the fund will increase safe and quality education so that all children have the opportunity to learn, amid emergency and protracted situations.

With 75 million girls and boys most directly affected by crises globally, we know that solving this problem requires collective action. This is why we call on the private sector, host country governments, civil society, and traditional and non-traditional donors to all come together.

Education Cannot Wait must engage new actors — non-traditional donors, the private sector, foundations and philanthropists — to contribute to financing the platform. They can make education as much a priority as food security, shelter and health. New actors can unlock new funds, and their participation can help the international community create transformative and long-lasting change in the lives of the world’s most vulnerable young people.

It’s a challenge that must be addressed through strong political will and financial support.

As a veteran development worker and education specialist, I’ve seen firsthand what happens when children and youth are given an education–how going to school and continuously learning allows them to heal and grow.

These children and youth, when provided with an education are given a new hope for a better future and a chance to succeed — they become self-sufficient, are better able to earn a decent living, and contribute to their societies in a productive way. We all benefit.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Evelyn Rodriguez-Perez is the Director of USAID’s Office of Education in Washington, D.C. Ms. Rodriguez-Perez is a veteran educator of 30 years and a Foreign Service Officer previously stationed in Peru, Egypt and Honduras.

Empowering Women Through a Simple Purse

Imagine giving birth without the help of sterile tools, a doctor, nurse or midwife. This is the experience of nearly half of women giving birth in low-income countries — and many are at high risk of infection. With limited access to antibiotics, these infections often prove fatal.

One woman is trying to change that.  

Zubaida Bai, founder and CEO of ayzh, speaking at USAID's Partnering to End Extreme Poverty and Achieve the Global Goals event. / USAID

Zubaida Bai, founder and CEO of ayzh, speaking at USAID’s Partnering to End Extreme Poverty and Achieve the Global Goals event. / USAID

Zubaida Bai is the co-founder of ayzh, an organization providing women’s health resources to underserved women globally.  The venture’s first product is a clean birthing kit that includes all the items recommended by the World Health Organization to prevent infection at birth.

Infections at birth affect more than 6 million women annually. Even worse, poor hygiene and sanitation during birth is directly linked to the preventable deaths of more than 1 million women and newborns each year.

In celebrating International Women’s Day earlier this month, we recognize women like Zubaida who are revolutionizing their field and making history with their achievements. With the support of USAID and other organizations, Zubaida’s work establishing ayzh has saved the lives of women and newborns on a global scale.

Zubaida posing with the clean birthing kit. / Ayzh

Zubaida posing with the clean birthing kit. / Ayzh

This is her story: After earning her engineering degree, Zubaida Bai decided to go back to India to serve the women she had seen suffer her whole life from health and financial hardship.

She worked in India for four years developing technology appropriate for low-resource settings, before she decided to spin off on her own. Both Zubaida and her husband Habib were passionate about helping women, so they started looking for opportunities to design for this underserved population.

On a field visit to a rural village, Zubaida discovered that some midwives used a sickle — normally used for cutting grass — to cut the umbilical cord. This was an “aha” moment for her.

Reflecting on the infection she contracted when her first child was born in one of the best facilities in India, she thought, “If I had everything and had to suffer an infection, what would women in these villages be facing?” This is the moment that launched Zubaida into a whole new world of maternal health.

“It made me very determined to make my childhood dream come true – to improve the lives of women,” she said in a blog for TED.

In 2007, Zubaida and her husband participated in MIT’s International Development Design Summit, a program that brings together people from across the globe to collaborate and build projects that address issues faced by the world’s poorest communities.  The program exposes participants to practical design for development.

Zubaida and other IDDS participants in morning circle, the way that summits start their days with team building exercises, announcements, and appreciations. / IDIN

Zubaida and other IDDS participants in morning circle, the way that summits start their days with team building exercises, announcements, and appreciations. / IDIN

After studying how to best succeed in markets in developing countries, Zubaida founded ayzh in 2009 and a year later launched the clean birth kit. She called it “janma,” which means “birth” in Sanskrit. The $3 purse comes with six items to ensure a safe and sterile delivery at half the cost of comparable birth kits.

Ayzh hires local Indian women to assemble the packages, allowing them to develop a stable income. Since 2010, about 250,000 kits have been sold in India, Afghanistan, Gambia, Laos, Ghana, Malawi, Nigeria, Zambia, and Haiti — reaching 500,000 mothers and babies.

Ayzh plans to reach 6 million women over the next five years, improving maternal health and breaking the cycle of poverty one woman at a time.

With support from USAID’s Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) through MIT’s International Development Innovation Network, ayzh is developing a similar kit for newborns. It will provide the tools necessary to make transitions for new mothers and their babies as smooth and healthy as possible.  

Through HESN, USAID is empowering entrepreneurs and researchers at universities so that people like Zubaida can get the funding and mentoring they need to jump start their ventures.

Zubaida Bai and ayzh intern Kelly Brennan iterating on potential impact metrics they can use when communicating with their stakeholders during a workshop in Chennai, India. / Kyle Munn, SEAD

Zubaida Bai and ayzh intern Kelly Brennan iterating on potential impact metrics they can use when communicating with their stakeholders during a workshop in Chennai, India. / Kyle Munn, SEAD

Last year, ayzh was selected to be a part of a cohort of innovators at the Social Entrepreneurship Accelerator at Duke  — another HESN partner — to receive mentorship and capacity building to expand their global reach and impact. The Evidence Lab at Duke is providing support to ayzh to find the best ways to measure and communicate its impact.

With the support of USAID and other organizations, we hope this venture and others like it will continue to improve the health of women around the world.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Danielle Somers is a communications analyst for the U.S. Global Development Lab’s Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN). Emily Jablonski is a virtual intern for HESN and student at the University of Michigan.

Young Entrepreneurs Develop Startups in Serbia

The room was full of energy and promise. Huddled around computers, young adults worked in teams in a bright, open-concept, collaborative environment resembling a startup, creating innovative apps and IT platforms.

This is Serbia’s ICT Hub, a business incubator in Belgrade for information and communications technology (ICT) entrepreneurs.

Last fall, I visited the ICT Hub — a partner project of USAID, DNA Communications and Orion Telekom – to learn more about economic opportunities for young adults in Serbia, a country where the unemployment rate for this population is about 50 percent.  However, jobs in ICT are growing for people entering the workforce.

So far, over 60 young Serbians have participated in the ICT Hub’s intensive training for developing entrepreneurship skills and business strategies, and many more have engaged in monthly lectures open to the general public on strategy, leadership and tech entrepreneurship.

The ICT Hub provides a space available 24/7 where teams can collaborate, receive mentorship support from local business executives, have access to business and legal resources, and develop programs and applications specific to the IT sector.

As a young communications professional and an ICT aficionado, I was delighted to discover a general sentiment of optimism and hope when I spoke to my fellow ICT-enthusiast peers at the Hub about their various apps and innovations.

First, I met ICT Hub Project Director Kosta Andrić, who emphasized that the goal of the Hub is to build the potential for tech entrepreneurship while changing the mindset of young adults and the work culture within the country.

Young adults who first come to the Hub often fear failure, but through the program, they learn to take chances and innovate. Not all ideas and products may succeed, but the skills developed through the hub are transferrable to future ventures.

Kosta introduced me Milan Brindić, 26, co-creator of Bincode Entertainment, a gaming studio that produces mobile games. Milan enrolled in the ICT Hub’s program after an initial investment from a Bulgarian accelerator, a business incubator that provided mentorship and support for his startup. His team now has a space to work on the game as well as support from the hub’s extensive network of contacts, and a pathway for fulfilling his dream of publishing his game.

“Life in Serbia is hard for a young person … but, despite that, every person must follow his dream,” Milan said.  “The ICT Hub is very useful to me and helps me the most with networking…every tenant helps each other, so we are like family.”

Integrating communication and technology, Milan’s passion for gaming has a regional twist; his role-playing mobile game apps are based on Slavic mythology.

“We are inspired by all the other great role-play games in the world,” he said. “Each team member is in love with this genre of games. But one important fact — everyone knows what Greek mythology is, but we are inspired by Slavic mythology, and we want to educate our players about Slavic mythology and about Slavs.”

Milan Brindić, 26, co-creator of Bincode Entertainment, collaborates with team members at the ICT Hub. / Laura Jagla, USAID

Milan Brindić, 26, co-creator of Bincode Entertainment, collaborates with team members at the ICT Hub. / Laura Jagla, USAID

A creative path for many

Since the ICT Hub opened in fall 2014, several products developed have been quite successful. Some participants have created mobile games, such as extreme sports game Longboard Mapp, which has more than 15,000 users. ICT Hub participant Vuk Nikolić, creator of TruckTrack, a management software for the trucking industry, was connected to U.S. venture capital seed fund 500 Startups, which invested money and expertise in Nikolić’s software and team. Now, TruckTrack’s team has expanded, and the platform has over 2,000 companies registered.

Other teams are just getting their start, though they are enthusiastic about their potential. Nemanja Stefanovic, 25, creator of HireApp – an application connecting youth and others with part-time jobs – remarked that the creative space and mentorship offered by the hub contributed to his success

HireApp creator Nemanja Stefanovic and team member (left). New ICT Hub participants Vanja Belić, Stevan Janković, and Vuk Spplajković (right). / Laura Jagla, USAID

HireApp creator Nemanja Stefanovic and team member (left). New ICT Hub participants Vanja Belić, Stevan Janković, and Vuk Spplajković (right). / Laura Jagla, USAID

Investing in the future

The next ICT Hub session of pitching to potential investors will take place this spring. Hope lingered in the air as participants worked in a flurry to innovate.

After meeting with the young entrepreneurs at the Hub, I can summarize the experience in one word: possibilities.

In the words of Milan Brindić, “In the next five to 10 years, I see myself running a gaming company in San Francisco, focused on game design and experience. I am making awesome games… So, my dream is… I don’t have any dream, I am living it already!”

ICT Hub is a model that could be replicated in other countries to promote entrepreneurship, leadership development, and increased economic opportunity.

Possibilities, indeed.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laura Jagla is a Communications Specialist in USAID’s Bureau for Economic Growth, Education and Environment.

Online to On the Ground: How Students in Virginia Supported Nepal Earthquake Recovery

Students and staff from AidData and the College of William & Mary participating in a Crisis Mapping event in April, 2015. / Hannah Dempsey, AidData

A massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal just as I was finalizing plans to spend the summer working there.

At the time, I was a student at the College of William & Mary and a Summer Fellow with the AidData Center for Development Policy, a research and innovation lab that helps the development community improve transparency by mapping where funds and efforts flow. The geospatial data tools we create help universities, think tanks and civil society organizations make better decisions about aid allocation, coordination and evaluation.

In the midst of planning for my trip to Nepal, the earthquake struck, leaving 9,000 people dead, entire villages flattened and hundreds of thousands homeless. After receiving news that our friends and colleagues were safe, my classmates and I looked for a way to help Nepal from our campus in Virginia.

Our solution? Crisis mapping from our laptops.

As student researchers at AidData, our day-to-day focus is tracking, analyzing and mapping development finance data. With specialized data skills, we were ready and equipped to rapidly collect, process and send spacial data to the people in Nepal who needed it. We partnered with USAID and other organizations to identify areas of Nepal in need of assistance, and mapped this information so that responders, community members and others could take action.

Within 48 hours of the earthquake, my student team started Tweeting to recruit other students to data mapping trainings on our campus.

Disaster mappers needed

More than 50 students responded to our call to action. We mobilized volunteers quickly, teaching them how to use the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) platform to create and edit online maps of humanitarian and natural disasters — Nepal’s earthquake, in this case.

Volunteers meticulously combed through aerial images of the Nepali landscape for buildings, roads and residential areas damaged by the earthquake. Along with thousands of other mappers around the globe, we also examined satellite images to pinpoint areas of destruction outside of Kathmandu and provide data on where shelters were. Over the next five months, volunteers at William & Mary provided more than 111,000 updates to the map.

Satellite maps created through the AidData Nepal Info Portal played an important role in recovery efforts in Nepal. / AidData’s Nepal Info Portal

One challenge we faced was how to make all of our data, along with geo-referenced news reports and YouTube videos of the damage, accessible to policymakers and first responders. Save the Children and USAID helped us get our data where it was needed, informing the efforts of and keeping them out of harm during search and rescue operations.

Even though the immediate needs of the earthquake have subsided, our work continues. Inspired by the mapping fervor following the Nepal disaster, students began organizing open-source ”mapathons” and even created an OpenStreetMap club to further develop their skills so that they will be ready to mobilize the next time the call for disaster assistance goes out.

I was amazed by how quickly and easily students could plug into global efforts, make tangible differences and help the lives of strangers halfway across the globe.

This experience spurred my passion for using data to positively impact global development and I look forward to doing even more to uplift humanity through this type of work in the future.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hannah Dempsey is a Research Assistant with AidData and a Senior at the College of William & Mary, one of eight university-based Development Labs that is a part of the U.S. Global Development Lab’s Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN).

The AidData Center for Development Policy is one of eight USAID Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) university-based Development Labs. As part of the U.S. Global Development Lab, HESN is the Lab’s flagship program to engage universities in global development using science, technology and innovation-focused approaches. AidData, based at the College of William & Mary, is made up of full-time staff as well as a cohort of student research assistants that collectively work to improve development outcomes by making development finance data more accessible and actionable.

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