- When a family of 12 fled violence in Syria, the Jordanian relative who took them in was not too concerned about providing everyone with adequate water – a scarce resource in this region of the world – thanks to a USAID project that helped build cisterns to harvest and store rainwater.
- A water ATM? Similar technology that meters public water sources is a welcome development for some urban Kenyans who would otherwise face the high cost and inconvenience of procuring water for cooking, washing, cleaning and everything else.
- Cambodia is enlisting a variety of players – including school children – on its mission to wipe out snail fever, an infection that can lead to debilitating illness, and, in children, malnutrition and cognitive difficulties.
- Delivering medications efficiently could stomp out two debilitating diseases endemic to Haiti; wearing new sneakers kicks up that protection even more by creating a barrier between parasites and kids’ feet.
Archives for Youth
Billy Niyingabiye, age 11, puts on his headset, steps up to the microphone, and recites his lines. The child voice actor is recording a math lesson for use in Rwanda primary grades classrooms.
“I’m so happy. It’s something I never imagined,” says Billy of his work. He auditioned for the role at his mother’s urging and was chosen from a pool of 80 would-be voice actors. Now he’s helping other children learn math, reading, and writing skills thanks to interactive audio teaching materials produced at the recording studio.
The recordings are part of the USAID-funded Literacy, Language, and Learning (L3) Initiative, which is helping Rwanda’s Ministry of Education improve literacy and numeracy learning in primary grades classrooms. The program, implemented by Education Development Center (EDC), aims to improve the quality and availability of primary grades instructional materials across Rwanda.
Last summer, L3 installed state-of-the-art equipment to upgrade the Rwanda Education Board’s recording studio. There, interactive math and literacy lessons are being recorded in English and Kinyarwanda. Lessons are placed on memory cards, which teachers then play back over Nokia cell phones, some with attached speakers for larger classrooms.
“We provide the hardware, software, and technical support needed to produce world-class education materials for Rwandan children,” EDC’s Said Yasin told the Rwanda news daily The New Times. “This is a modern teaching approach [where] programs are set in a way that enables or facilitates the flow of teaching.”
Channeling interactive learning
Programs produced and edited at the newly equipped studio are examples of interactive audio instruction (IAI), which helps teachers use engaging and effective instructional practices and supports them as they master the new teaching methods.
The classroom teacher leads the lesson with the guidance of the audio recordings. The teacher and students receive directions in using supplementary materials, such as flashcards, decodable texts, and phonics charts.
Audio lessons include songs and chants to make learning more fun, and they encourage the use of manipulatives to make problem solving more tangible. A multiplication lesson might use no-cost items such as sticks, stones, and bottle caps, while a number chart may be made from a rice sack. Teachers may also attend workshops to learn how to write their own stories for literacy learning.
The audio recordings encourage interactive learning, a departure from the traditional lecture-memorization method. “This is much different from the way teachers are used to delivering their lessons,” says Francis Kihumuro, a member of the instructional materials development team.
“Children can be helped to think beyond the normal,” he says. “Usually questions are closed. But if you give them open-ended questions, it helps them think critically. It helps them find other ways to approach and solve a problem.”
Instructional programs produced in the newly outfitted studio were field tested in a local school. This year, 90 primary schools in Rwanda will receive first- and second-grade materials for English, Kinyarwanda and math. In addition to producing literacy and numeracy programs for children, the studio is also producing video modules on effective mentorship practices for training school-based mentors and on teaching and school leadership practices for teachers and head teachers.
Billy’s voice will come through loud and clear, guiding other students like himself.
“I like the subjects I’m learning and the teachers who are teaching them,” says Billy, whose school work and confidence have improved since getting involved with the program. L3 hopes to reach 30,000 teachers and 1.5 million learners in Rwanda over the course of five years.
As for Billy, while he enjoys his work as a child voice actor, he aspires to become a doctor or teacher when he grows up. “Because of the things we’re recording, we’re teaching children things they don’t know,” he says. “This will help them, because it is different from what they are used to, and they will learn more from it.”
This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating
How would you describe the work of Urban Planet?
Urban Planet Mobile develops and distributes digital education worldwide, primarily through basic mobile phones that provide English language education. The Urban English™ program design – simple SMS with an embedded audio file – creates the potential of reaching 95% of mobile phones worldwide with life-changing educational content. An English-speaking taxi driver in a tourism-based economy, for example, has the opportunity to earn a greater income than one who can’t speak English.
We believe access to quality education is a human right so our focus is to make education readily available to people, with little or no other access, on a device they already own and use. We also ensure affordability by charging micro-payments. Free programs are hard to scale and sustain because there is always a cost to developing and deploying the content. By providing quality, in demand content, people are more inclined to make the small investment for the tangible results education brings.
Urban Planet started with the goal of reaching the most basic phones and helping bring mobile education to the world. Today we are successfully reaching hundreds of thousands of people with our scalable and affordable technology. And this is only the beginning. Through the support of USAID, Urban Planet is testing and evaluating the effectiveness of MobiLiteracy, our 90-day mobile literacy program in Uganda. The intervention is an out of school supplemental program for pre-literate children. It introduces letters, sounds, and common words, and works on developing both listening comprehension and encouraging storytelling and sharing.
Why is language learning critical for development? Is there something about this modality of education that disproportionately benefits women?
Literacy is the basis for learning, but it’s more than that. According to the UNESCO (PDF), in the developing world, the children of literate mothers have a 50% greater chance of surviving past the age of five. Literate communities are generally healthier, less violent, more civically engaged, and more economically strong.
Mobile phones are very personal devices, more so than any other technology device. MobiLiteracy lessons are sent as a basic SMS daily lesson with an audio link. Mothers can open the audio lesson at a convenient time, which could also mean a safe and private time. The lesson can be deleted from the phone, saved, and also shared privately.
While the lessons are generally meant for children, mothers with limited or no literacy can certainly benefit. Parental involvement in education is a proven precursor to success but parents with limited education feel inadequate and ashamed. This program empowers mothers to take an active role.
Where do you see this technology ultimately going over the next several decades?
The cost for tablets and smartphones will continue to decrease as the competition increases and the capacity of the technology expands. Also, areas with limited or no connection will get connected.
Right now, simple programs that provide for supplemental education make a tremendous impact, but the future is more robust educational programs, widely accessible and available to people currently limited from such programs due to lack of technology and the requisite infrastructure. More and more formal curricula will be created for this digital world.
While censorship and repression inhibit the spread of certain ideas, information, and education, through the use of mobile technologies, marginalized members of society will have unprecedented access to education. It is through education that a more peaceful, healthier, and better world will emerge.
This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating
Everyone loves a good story. Fairy tales take us to faraway lands and help us dream dreams. Horror stories scare us and make us appreciate our own security. The moral of a story can grow our character and teach us valuable principles. But the stories we love most are those that allow us to see new possibilities for our own story. Because the most valuable story for each of us is our own. I was fortunate to have parents who believed in their little girl’s potential and made me feel that I could accomplish anything if I set my mind to it. A ‘sky’s the limit’ mentality is not always the norm for young women in the United States and often remains unimaginable to women and girls around the world.
As we celebrate Women’s History Month, I think about the millions of women and girls who hold up half the sky but feel invisible and trapped due to poverty, illiteracy, disease, abuse and other forms of marginalization and deprivation. At the top of the list of concern are the children, both girls and boys, living in adversity. Alone, scared, and vulnerable, children living outside family care in orphanages, refugee camps, brothels or the streets are the most invisible of all. No one knows their stories. Often they don’t even know their own. To survive, they must find food, shelter and protection but they often say that their greater struggle is their desire to be known and to belong somewhere. We all wrestle with personal identity. Imagine having nothing to start with.
Because each child has a unique story, I founded a social enterprise called Each Inc. that is developing technology products and services to help both practitioners working directly with children, and governments or researchers interested in aggregate data to improve policies and programs at a macro-level. The girl effect and other related efforts have been successful in raising awareness of the necessity and wisdom of investing in each girl’s future. To make those investments effectively it helps to know her story.
It’s difficult to find a solution for each child without having their case history data in a timely, usable form. How can you find families for orphans in institutions if you don’t know their family history? How can you safely reunify a trafficked child with their family if you don’t know who they are? Social workers are faced with these kinds of questions every day and the lack of data makes their difficult job even harder.
Improving data and technology systems in this field for practitioners would enable them to make more informed decisions for each child and share information securely for better collaboration. For government officials, particularly in underdeveloped countries, improvements are critical to strengthening child protection systems and to disaggregating data by gender to target assistance appropriately. The U.S. Government Action Plan on Children in Adversity includes these goals and I wrote about Each Inc.’s support for this effort here.
We are eager to work with individuals and organizations involved in the identification, care and protection of children. Each child has a story.
Gangs are often seen as a problem of boys and men. Historically, communities have focused on men as both perpetrators and victims of gang related crimes, which include assault, kidnapping, extortion, illicit substance and human trafficking, theft, and murder. And to date, the answer has also been a predominantly male approach – police and court systems that focus on penalizing individuals for these crimes.
However, gangs don’t only make boys and men vulnerable; they make communities insecure for girls and women, too. Although the majority of homicide victims and perpetrators are male, there is an alarming trend of girls joining gangs as well as becoming victims of sexual assaults and femicide.
Fed up with the violence and driven by a desire for positive change in their communities, women are taking leadership roles to tackle gang violence and crime. Through youth movements, such as Movimiento Jovenes Contra La Violencia (Youth Movement Against Violence) in Central America, young women are leading efforts and bringing together communities, governments, and youth to form partnerships and find creative solutions.
“I am worried about the alarming situation and of the number of youths that are killed every day, and the impact that the violence has on my family. So I decided to take part in finding a solution,” says Vivien Rueda, one of the founders of Youth Alliance Association in Guatemala City.
The Youth Alliance Association project takes a whole-of-community prevention approach. Through USAID’s outreach centers in high-crime areas, the group helps to provide a safe space for recreational activities and job training for at-risk youth as well as ex-gang members. In order to strengthen a sense of community, the centers are called “Outreach Centers for My Neighborhood,” which is similar to a local, common catch phrase “for my neighbor, for my neighborhood.”
The visibility of youth activism was raised to the national stage in Honduras by Alejandra Hernandez, former head of Movimiento Jovenes Contra La Violencia in Honduras. In addressing the Honduran National Congress, she echoed the frustration of youth, of which 2.3 million are girls: “We are here to say that we are tired of being just observers of the violence in our country, now we want to be actors in the construction of solutions that allow us a safer Honduras.”
Women are unique actors and add value to these crucial conversations. They are instrumental to help achieve peace in their communities by bringing diverse perspectives, mobilize a variety of community actors, and ensure that all citizens have their security concerns heard.
This blog is part of the Global Health Research & Development Blog Series.
Asking the right questions is the first step to generating the ‘downstream’ evidence needed for the implementation of health policies and practices, as my colleague E. Callie Raulfs-Wang described in her March 12 blog. And fostering the right partnerships is crucial to determining the right questions. Partnerships facilitate operations research, or the testing of scalable solutions that overcome barriers to access, demand, and quality in real world settings. Investing in operations research to accelerate results is also a key strategy in the Global Roadmap of the Child Survival Call to Action. This pledge, signed by more than 160 governments, renewed their commitment to child survival and to eliminating all preventable child mortality in two decades, as USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah explained.
USAID’s Child Survival and Health Grants Program (CSHGP) supports new operations research partnerships among non-governmental organizations (NGOs), academia, and ministries of health to generate evidence about how to solve critical challenges in the implementation and scale-up of high impact maternal, newborn, and child health interventions. By working in partnership with ministries of health, studies are designed to meet the ministries’ expressed needs for evidence that would strengthen their systems. Solutions are tailored to local contexts, with relevance to global implementation challenges, such as how best to: integrate services within and across sectors; improve the continuum of care to maximize access and lower costs; ensure equity in access to health information and appropriate use of services; and strengthen systems’ capacity for accountability to communities.
As USAID’s Jim Shelton commented in Nature magazine this year, promoting health literacy for preventive health behaviors such as handwashing and breastfeeding, and deploying community-based interventions for services and health education, are among the priority public health approaches needed now for universal access to health.
Some questions that must be addressed in order to operationalize these approaches include:
- How can community health workers (CHWs) more effectively reach households with timely information, case management, and referral?
- What are effective models for partnerships between health care providers and community agents/traditional caregivers to improve the continuum of care and increase demand for services through culturally appropriate and respectful care?
- How can data collected by communities be used as a communication and planning tool to improve the quality of care and accountability?
The answers to these questions would facilitate the research goals of integrated maternal and newborn health, child health, and nutrition, as outlined in USAID’s Report to Congress: Health-Related Research and Development Strategy. As stated in the research goals for health systems strengthening (HSS), “Ensuring equitable access to high-quality essential health services requires an increase in the evidence base on how to best implement HSS interventions and promote uptake of best practices.” These partnerships have the potential to achieve more than the sum of their parts by bringing together perspectives and skills that yield rigorous, relevant, and practical evidence.
At this year’s Global Maternal Health Conference in Arusha, Tanzania, presenters from CSHGP’s NGO partners in Peru, Liberia, Pakistan and Ecuador shared experiences on bridging the gap between communities and health systems to meet the maternal and newborn health needs of their most vulnerable populations . These research projects are helping ministries of health learn how best to operationalize and improve current policies on providing culturally competent, respectful care, and are testing new systems for overcoming geographic and financial barriers to safe childbirth. These partnerships are meeting the evidence needs of ministries of health that are striving to implement policies that make access to care more equitable.
To learn more about some of these 30 research partnerships in 23 countries check out this brief (PDF).
Read other posts in the Global Health Research & Development Blog Series:
- Microbicides, Vaccines, and TB Diagnostics Oh My! What’s New in HIV/AIDS Research?
- Where the Rubber Hits the Road: Evidence Informing Impact for Global Health
USAID Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean Mark Feierstein joins youth from San Martin in sports activities organized in their municipalities as part of their crime prevention projects. USAID/El Salvador recently launched a $42 million public-private alliance called “SolucionES” (“Solutions”) to help local governments and citizens to prevent crime at the municipal level.
This week we feature USAID Kenya as Mission of the Week. USAID Kenya’s “Yes Youth Can” program is a youth-owned, youth-led, and youth-managed effort to empower Kenya’s young people to create a greater voice in their communities and government. Created in response to the 2007/08 post-election violence, Yes Youth Can works to combat some of the causes of conflict, including feelings of alienation and lost of trust in elected leaders. In the last 15 months, Yes Youth Can has mobilized over one million youth to join “bunges” or informal parliaments, which plan peace-building activities, promote democracy and governance, and inspire the next generation of Kenya’s leaders.
Read more about the Kenyan bunges in a past FrontLines article.
I just returned from India‘s “Call to Action Summit for Child Survival and Development“, which took place in Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu.
India accounts for the largest number of deaths of children under five: nearly 1.5 million per year. This number is staggering, but there is good news. There has been a steady rate of decline in child mortality — even ahead of the global rate of reduction. As I told DevEx during the Summit, “success in India is paramount to see the global success and vision of ending preventable child deaths in this generation.”
Led by India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the Summit called for an accelerated response to decrease child mortality across the country. This event was a direct outcome of the Call to Action held in Washington, DC last year — where India joined Ethiopia and the United States with UNICEF to launch a global roadmap to end preventable child deaths globally. About 300 policymakers, public health practitioners, private sector, civil society and media representatives attended India’s Summit, including 27 international and 35 national experts. Notably 20 State delegations were present. U.S. Ambassador Nancy Powell, a stalwart advocate for child survival, addressed the opening plenary on behalf of the United States.
The Summit had several main themes related to child survival and development: quality of newborn care, interventions for preventing diarrhea and pneumonia, social determinants of child survival, nutrition, strengthening health systems, improving accountability, communication for child survival, partnerships for improved maternal and child health, and leadership dialogue. The complete agenda and speakers can be found on the Summit’s website.
There was a rich discussion at the Summit along with solid deliverables. The Government of India launched the Reproductive Maternal Neonatal Child Health Adolescent health strategy (RMNCH+A), which serves as a roadmap for the States. Also released were several guidance documents including implementation of newborn care as well as management of pneumonia and diarrhea. A National Child Survival Scorecard was showcased, and States were encouraged to develop their own scorecards and to monitor progress.
India’s Call to Action is the beginning of a national movement. Attendees demonstrated a passionate commitment to mobilize on behalf of India’s children — and to hold each other to account. India’s leadership and programmatic success will help galvanize the global response. USAID will continue to be a steadfast partner of “A Promise Renewed”, the sustained effort led by UNICEF to reach our global goal. Working together, ending preventable child deaths will be one of the greatest moral victories of our time.