Last week, Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg traveled with Assistant Administrator Mark Feierstein to Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico to visit USAID projects, announce new initiatives, and meet with government officials, civil society, and USAID partners. During December 12th-13th Deputy Administrator Steinberg met with President Porfirio Lobo to discuss USAID’s ongoing work in Honduras, including crime prevention and food security. He also announced a new public-private partnership with TIGO, a regional cell phone company, which will provide internet access, cable TV, and free fixed telephone lines to each of USAID outreach centers for at-risk youth. By 2013, there will be 40 centers in Honduras and 100 throughout Central America as part of the Central America Regional Security Initiative.
Archives for Youth
I’ve found there are some things on which everyone can agree.
- Children need strong beginnings – health, nutrition and nurturing care – to live their most productive lives;
- Children grow up best in the care of loving families;
- Children have the right to live free of violence, exploitation, abuse and neglect.
These truths offer a simple moral imperative, but they are also backed by science. Neuroscientists, pediatricians and economists alike have demonstrated that a promising future belongs to those nations, communities and families that invest wisely in their children. I’ve studied the irrefutable links between the wellbeing of children and the economic and social progress of nations – they provide a compelling agenda for strengthening policies and investments to ensure that all children grow up within protective family care, and free from deprivation, exploitation and danger.
Following the genocide in Rwanda, over a million reed-thin and weary refugees poured into the Goma refugee camp in what was then Zaire. In the midst of cholera, relief workers brought infants and children to make-shift orphanages in an effort to save lives. Little babies were lined up like loaves of bread on cots, given vaccines to stave off preventable illnesses and fed routinely through IVs. Yet they still died by the hundreds. It’s called “failure to thrive”—the lack of human contact and nurturance required to live.
I looked into the eyes of many of these Rwandan babies who “failed to thrive”. It was an experience that continues to haunt me to this day. In a brief moment, I witnessed the flicker of God-given potential dim – a desperate fight at first, then resignation and a ghost-like stare until death. It’s the opposite of when I looked into my own son’s eyes and, for the first time, he recognized me and responded with delight!
Last year 6.9 million children died from preventable causes. We have the science to explain what happens within the bodies and brains of children who face deprivation, exploitation and danger. We have the evidence that demonstrates how early intervention break cycles of poverty, inequality and violence. We have empirical data that shows investments made early in the lives of children yield greater returns than at any other point in the life cycle. We have other champions and partner organizations on the ground prepared to roll up their sleeves and scale up what is proven to work. We work with governments all over the world that are prepared to partner to do more and better on behalf of their children in need.
In June, the Governments of Ethiopia, India and the United States, in collaboration with UNICEF, hosted the Child Survival Call to Action. As an important follow on to this global effort, this week the first-ever U.S. Government Action Plan on Children in Adversity (PDF) will be released. It is a testament to the fact that the U.S. government takes the science – and the investment – seriously. With significant investments in international development, the technical expertise and research capabilities embedded within key agencies, and diplomatic outreach, the U.S. government is well positioned to lead and mobilize around this sensible and strategic global agenda for children in adversity – children who face poverty, live on the streets or in institutions, are exploited for their labor or sex, recruited into armed groups, affected by HIV/AIDS, or separated from their families as a result of conflict or disaster.
The Action Plan I have helped to develop outlines objectives that will deliver ambitious and positive results for children. It also identifies programs that work and that can be taken to scale. It demonstrates that we can measure impact and affect change.
Yet, this work is about more than science, or sound economic investments. It is about the miracle and potential of each child, and our profound duty to care for our children, and in so doing, protect our future.
I have spent 40 years working to create a world in which all children grow up within protective family care and free from deprivation, exploitation and danger. The U.S. Government Action Plan moves us closer towards this vision. I invite you to join this global conspiracy of goodness.
Dr. Boothby has taken a leave of absence from Columbia University, where he is the Allan Rosenfield Professor of Clinical Forced Migration and Health at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. As Director of the Program on Forced Migration and Health, he has lead several research initiatives, including the Child Protection in Crisis (CPC) Learning Network—a constellation of over 150 agencies working in 32 countries on the development of an evidence base for efficacious child health and protection programming. Through the CPC Network, Dr. Boothby established university based research centers and graduate training programs in Africa, Asian and the Middle East.
Today is Day 15 of our of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.
The science is clear – childhood experiences shape adult outcomes, including long-term health, cognitive development, academic achievement, and one’s ability to be gainfully and safely employed. Our experiences as children shape our lives as adults, affecting our ability to develop as healthy and productive individuals, families, communities and nations. One could say (with firm evidence as back up) that there is no sustainable development without sincere and sustained commitment to child development.
In the same way, our notions about what it means to be a female or male are imprinted in our brains early in development. Formative experiences – such as how our parents behave with one another and what caretaking and economic roles our mothers and fathers assume—influence our “normative gender expectations”.
If we are serious about change – really breaking through cycles of poverty and gender inequality– we must start early. Dr. James Heckman, a Nobel Laureate in Economics, has demonstrated that investments in young children produce much greater dividends than those made later in life. These physiological and economic arguments reinforce an even stronger moral imperative.
Evidence shows that violence against and exploitation of children and women – which often occur together and share common risk factors – can be prevented. Children who witness violence are significantly more at risk of health problems, anxiety disorders, poor school performance and violent behavior. Women who experience violence are less likely to earn a living and less able to care for their children.
Those who face violence face significant threats to their survival and well-being, as well as profound life cycle risks that have an impact on human, social and economic development. And the cycle of violence, exploitation, and abuse repeats itself, compromising the lives of children, women and families, and hindering the growth and productivity of communities. The cycle also contributes to abuse as a normative gender expectation for males and females alike. Until this cycle is broken—intentionally, strategically and early on, poverty, inequality and inhumanity will persist.
In the same way that public health efforts have prevented and reduced pregnancy-related complications, infant mortality, infectious diseases and illnesses, so can the factors that contribute to violent and abusive responses – attitudes, behavior and social, economic, political and cultural conditions –be changed.
In a few days, the U.S. Government will release an Action Plan on Children in Adversity, the first-ever government-wide strategic guidance for international assistance for children. The goal is to take strategic action to ensure that children grow up within protective family care and free from deprivation, exploitation and danger.
The Action Plan identifies programs that work and that can be taken to scale. It demonstrates that we can measure impact and affect change. It builds on existing efforts that allow children to not only survive, but thrive – honoring children’s rights to strong beginnings, protective and loving family care, and protection from violence, exploitation, abuse and neglect. These objectives are central to U.S. development and diplomatic efforts and, as a result of the Action Plan, will be integrated into our international assistance initiatives.
We know what needs to be done. Let’s get to it!
Giving youth real decision-making power and leadership roles in development processes and programs is a challenge in practice. We know from both our practice and research efforts that effective youth development needs to put meaningful youth participation at the forefront. RTI International’s experience working with youth around the globe in the areas of education, employment, health and governance for the past 30 years directs our strategy in placing them in key partner roles to solve global development challenges. With that in mind, we, along with other members of Alliance for International Youth Development (AIYD), strongly support the new USAID Youth in Development Policy (PDF), launched in November 2012.
The engagement of youth in development has been inconsistent. There are cases where youth are consulted on their needs and expectations and are invited to attend planning workshops or conferences. While these are important steps for youth participation, oftentimes they fall short of creating active roles in leadership. At worst, they provide the illusion that youth actually have a stake in the decision-making process.
The Arab Spring demonstrations in 2011 showed many governments the importance and impact that youth can play in civil society. This was clearly reflected in the passing of the new Moroccan constitution in July 2011, which emphasized good governance, accountability and citizen input into government affairs.
Capitalizing on this unique context, RTI began working with commune councils and existing youth associations in the Moroccan cities of Safi, El Jadida, Séfrou, Sidi Harazem, and Ain Chgag to create seven Local Youth Councils that represent 134 youth associations in their cities. RTI’s current implementation of the USAID Morocco Local Governance Program (LGP), “A Platform for Dialogue between Citizens and their Commune”, offers some lessons learned on giving youth a real voice in development. LGP is taking an innovative approach in creating formal mechanisms for meaningful participation of youth in local affairs.
LGP is training young people in critical skills such as communications, participatory planning and negotiation in order to participate in roundtable discussions with commune council members. Together they discuss civic participation, youth employment, education and the communal charter.
The results are encouraging. Youth are engaged in local governance and are better organized as an important political constituency. They discuss and advocate their priorities to elected officials. But they want more, and are expressing that they want to see this heightened dialogue translate into concrete changes such as different decision-making patterns and results on youth issues.
A real opportunity for enhanced youth leadership and decision-making is before the Youth Councils and the Moroccan government. The new Moroccan constitution calls for the formation of an institutionalized Consultative Council for Youth and Community Work to play an advisory role to the government on youth policies. This past May, youth leaders from the LGP-formed Youth Councils hosted a forum with civil society experts, local government representatives and Parliament officials to provide concrete recommendations on how the Consultative Council should be created, what it should be implementing and how it can represent young people in the democratic process.
According to a youth leader from Safi, “Our proposals for the new Consultative Council are based on real discussion among youth leaders. Nobody told us what to do or what not to do. We do not want this to be just something that is designed in the capital. Instead, it should represent the vision of the youth across the country.”
An important focus for LGP in the next two years is to help the Youth Councils continue to work to influence the formation and agenda of the new Consultative Council, and to consolidate the existing seven (soon to be 10) youth councils into an institutionalized political structure that can be sustained beyond USAID-funding support.
RTI has learned that forming Youth Councils and training youth in the leadership skills they need to affect change takes significant time and resources. Often, the fruition of these efforts – marked by transformation into formal decision-making power and active leadership – is difficult to achieve in typical three to five year programmatic cycles.
Over the next few years, it will be critical to take a long-term perspective in achieving a real youth voice in Arab Spring countries, as well as other developing countries. This means sustaining youth dialogue and participation mechanisms from one program cycle into the next and institutionalizing youth bodies into formal political structures.
We are optimistic that the release of the Youth in Development Policy will encourage more missions, especially in countries with large and growing youth populations, to prioritize greater youth participation in development. RTI and the other AIYD members are committed to helping fulfill the Policy’s goal of equipping local youth leaders with skills and tools to create their own solutions, and to institutionalize their efforts in their countries’ development processes.
The release of the new USAID policy (PDF) on youth and development is an opportunity to reflect on whether our work in development is truly serving the next generation. As millions of young people transition from school to work, the urgency of the problem is clear. These young people have the potential to be engines of significant economic growth and agents of social change. But if we fail to equip them with the skills they need, and if the market is unable to provide meaningful work, they will be a drain on national resources and a source of social instability.
Here in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the problems faced by youth are particularly severe. Unemployment among young people between the ages of 15 and 24 ranges as high as 60 percent. And young people in Bosnia and Herzegovina are suffering a crisis of confidence. They have lost faith that this society can provide them any opportunity for success. Civic involvement among young people is extremely low, and an alarming 97 percent of youth believe they have no or little influence on important decisions in the local community.
But the problem does not lie in them. The problem is a society where young people have been taught that corruption is normal and acceptable, that the powerful can prey on the weak with impunity, and that the citizen does not have a meaningful voice.
Yet these young people are brimming with good ideas to challenge societal norms. With the help of USAID, young people around the country are developing projects and putting them in motion. These projects are designed to tackle many of the country’s greatest needs. These young people want to be the driving force behind social change by rebuilding divided multi-ethnic communities, becoming political leaders, and working with local officials to push for changes and resources for youth-driven community projects. They are ready to move their country into a prosperous future as a member of the European Union.
Investing in these young people is one of the soundest investments we can make. Development programs targeting youth can be enormously cost effective. USAID Bosnia is investing in programming that leverages three dollars for every dollar of USAID assistance. We are investing in job training programs linked to strategic industries in partnership with the private sector. And we are teaching young people how to advocate for themselves. By strengthening civil society, promoting entrepreneurship and helping to develop young leaders, we believe that a small investment now will result in a significant return in both economic and social development.
For more about youth programs in Bosnia and Herzegovina, visit our website.
Disasters impact the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world every year. Half of those affected are children, who often bear the biggest brunt of humanitarian crises. Nowhere have we seen this more clearly than in the wake of the January 2010 Haiti earthquake. As a result of the disaster, hundreds of thousands of children lost a parent, caregiver or other family members. They lost access to essential services and resources including food, water, shelter, education and health care. Children who were separated from their families– orphaned or disabled– and those living and working as domestic servants were particularly vulnerable. Many more were exposed to violence, exploitation, abuse and neglect.
This devastating event hammered home the need to provide children with timely and appropriate protection, care, and support when they need it the most. The need for child protection was clear in Haiti, and yet, despite the best of intentions and a wealth of resources, emergency child protection interventions were slow to start and inadequate for the scale of the problems. In reviewing what happened in Haiti, USAID and our global partners identified a need to advance our efforts for children in emergencies.
USAID is leading the charge in this effort by supporting the launch of the new Minimum Standards for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action. These standards were developed by the Child Protection Working Group in response to the hard lessons we learned in Haiti. Specifically, these standards strive to strengthen coordination, increase accountability, improve the quality of protection programs, and enable better communication on issues involving children. These standards provide a common approach to the protection of children for the entire humanitarian community across sectors. Over the next few years, frontline humanitarian personnel will receive training on these new standards, and organizations will develop strategies to translate them into life-saving assistance on the ground.
While the standards are oriented to staff working in the field, I believe they also provide donors and governments with new opportunities to promote stronger child protection interventions especially in times of crisis. These new standards also compliment the commitments made in the soon-to-be released U.S. Government Action Plan on Children in Adversity. This plan emphasizes the need for the entire government to work together to ensure quality, coordinated, evidence-based programs to protect children. The U.S. Government is fully committed to seizing the opportunities presented through the release of these standards.
I had the opportunity to attend the launch of the minimum standards earlier this month in Geneva. In the more than 30 years I have spent working in this field, I have witnessed first-hand the struggles children in Rwanda, Mozambique, Indonesia, Darfur, Haiti and elsewhere face in the wake of conflict and disaster. I am heartened to see how far we, the humanitarian community, have come in efforts to assist these children, and the promise and hope these standards give us all to do even more going forward.
Dr. Neil Boothby is the U.S. Government Special Advisor and Senior Coordinator to the USAID Administrator on Children in Adversity
For many at-risk youth, workforce development training is the key to gaining the necessary skills to enter the workforce and become productive, earning members of society. In Guyana, a Caribbean country on the northern coast of South America, USAID workforce development programs serve critical needs in areas where crime rates are high and youth who lack job skills have few options to make a living. A USAID-supported program aims to give young Guyanese youth who are vulnerable to crime and violence, or have already committed minor crimes, a chance to turn their lives around.
The Skills and Knowledge for Youth Employment (SKYE) Guyana project will, by August 2013, provide 805 at-risk youth ages 15 to 24 with training in market-driven skills, and improve their ability to transition into the workforce. Community partners are preparing youth for the workplace by providing training in communications, personal development, local labor laws and financial literacy — areas that have been identified as priorities by public and private sector employers in Guyana. All activities are integrated through the provision of employment coaches that are paired with each youth to assist them in reaching individual development destinations.
The SKYE Project is part of President Obama’s Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), in which the United States is working together with the nations of the Caribbean on substantially reducing illicit trafficking, increasing public safety and security, and promoting social justice. Funded by USAID, SKYE is managed by the Education Development Center (EDC), and works with private sector partners, government ministries, community agencies and NGOs.
Youth participating in SKYE activities are given the opportunity to avoid entering or re- entering the juvenile justice system by taking part in activities that help them achieve their goals and become productive members of their communities — before their lives are lost to crime, violence and incarceration.
Employment coaches are key to the project’s success. The SKYE Project is recruiting and training 22 employment coaches, mostly local credentialed social workers that focus on youth, to work with young participants in four regions throughout Guyana.
“It isn’t difficult to train youth to be carpenters or construction workers,” Corbin says. “But when training ends and job seeking begins, youth are in danger of vulnerability if they don’t get a job right away. Our employment coaches are there to provide support and guidance to transition youth to real jobs in their communities.”
In the next few years SKYE will also assess labor market needs to better position youth for success. The project is also working to build local capacities by providing curricula and training so that Guyanese communities can continue to engage at-risk youth and provide opportunities to become productive members of society.
As part of the USAID Education Strategy (PDF), we are focused on improving reading for 100 million primary school students. We are supporting a movement to get All Children Reading. Our core approach is focused on improving teaching, making sure children have enough time to learn to read, using a language they understand, making sure they have access to reading materials, and testing to ensure they are meeting goals. These five “Ts” are key to reading success.
Reading is the most important skill that children learn as they start school. Reading success in elementary school leads to success in other subjects, higher education and life. And yet, in some sub-Saharan African countries, children who have attended school for five years have a 40 percent chance of being illiterate.
Reading saves lives. A child born to a mother who can read is 50 percent more likely to survive past the age of 5. Educated women are more likely to send their children to school and better able to protect their children from malnutrition, HIV infection, trafficking and sexual exploitation.
Reading impacts financial stability. As many as 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty if all students in low-income countries left school with basic reading skills. That is equivalent to a 12 percent drop in the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day. Research has found that countries that have experienced surges in literacy rates by 20 percent to 30 percent have seen simultaneous increases in GDP of 8 percent to 16 percent.
USAID’s approach to improving reading and literacy revolves around five goals, also known as the five “Ts”:
- More time devoted to teaching reading
- Better techniques for teaching reading
- More texts in the hands of children
- Teaching children in the mother tongue (a language they speak and understand)
- Testing childrens’ reading progress
Time. Reading has to be taught every day. Teachers and administrators need to maximize the amount of time spent on reading. Children also need additional practice time. Increased time spent learning and practicing reading results in success.
Teaching. To be effective, teachers need to teach the five components of beginning reading: phonemic awareness (knowing the sounds of their language), phonics (matching
the sounds to print), vocabulary, fluency and comprehension.
Text. In order to learn to read, children require ample reading materials. Materials don’t have to be expensive, but they must match children’s reading levels, and every classroom needs multiple titles so children may strengthen their reading skills.
Mother Tongue. Beginning reading instruction must be conducted in a language that children speak and understand. Acquiring solid reading skills in their first language allows children to learn content and to become successful learners of other languages.
Testing. Assessment should be conducted in classrooms to ensure that teachers are aware of children’s progress and instructional needs. Assessment must also be conducted at the national level to support data-driven policy making.
USAID and our partners are dedicated to pursuing reading improvements because they change lives.
On any given day, the departure terminal in Kathmandu’s Tribhuwan International Airport fills with crowds of young Nepalese leaving the country to find better economic opportunities elsewhere. There is little wonder why: in 2008, Nepal’s unemployment rate was estimated at 46 percent. Each year, approximately 300,000 youth leave the country to become migrant laborers abroad, draining the country of some its healthiest, most productive workers.
Over the past five years, however, a USAID project has helped tens of thousands of youth not only find skills-based work at home but also become employers themselves. USAID’s Education for Income Generation (EIG) project, developed in close coordination with the Government of Nepal and many local partners, began in 2008 just as Nepal was emerging from the shadows of its longstanding political conflict. The program was designed to help marginalized communities, especially in western Nepal, fully participate in the country’s economy and society.
Today 74,000 disadvantaged youth who were trained in entrepreneurial literacy, vocational skills, and agricultural productivity and enterprises are reaping benefits, with higher incomes, raised living standards, and substantially increased food security.
The EIG program ends this week, but its investment in furthering opportunities for disadvantaged communities will continue to pay off. Many of the successful approaches and lessons learned developed through this project are continuing under the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future (FtF) activities and other related programs, and most of EIG’s local partners are continuing with follow-on work under FtF.
In agriculture alone, 54,000 beneficiaries have been able to grow and earn more through diverse, high-value crops. All in all, these beneficiaries, of whom 82 percent are women, have seen their incomes grow by about 250 percent. In Karnali, a notoriously food-insecure district, an estimated 9,000 youth have directly benefited from improved food security.
The program, with the help of its partners, designed its vocational skills trainings after studying the market’s needs. As a result, more than 11,000 youth were trained in skills ranging from masonry to mechanics, carpentry to industrial wiring, mobile and air conditioner repair, and more. Within six months, about 80 percent of the beneficiaries were either employed or had managed to establish businesses in which they had employees of their own.
In the region’s disadvantaged Dalit community, EIG offered 421 scholarships for professional degree certificates in teaching and nursing, which empowered these beneficiaries to serve as role models in their communities. And in four districts across the mid-western region of Nepal, the program established 80 distillation units to process non-timber forest products like lemongrass and citronella into essential oils. The raw materials are largely grown and harvested by women’s groups and, with EIG’s help, these products are now sold in the export market.
None of these accomplishments will come to an end, even though EIG does this week. And although young workers continue to fill Nepal’s international airport terminals, the project’s tens of thousands of beneficiaries in western Nepal have shown that Nepalese youth who are willing to work hard can make a life in their own towns and villages, with their families and loved ones …and can contribute to their own country’s future.
USAID is proud that today over 750 veterans have continued to serve the American people by joining our Agency. On this Veteran’s day, we value their resiliency and selflessness and we pay tribute to their stories.
Author Mirko Crnkovich is Deputy Chief, in Plans and Liaison Division of the USAID Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance Office of Civilian-Military Cooperation.
I served in the military as an Army officer for 10½ years. My first exposure to USAID didn’t occur until my ninth year of service when I was in Afghanistan along the Pakistan border in Paktika province. I was one of the first special operations team leaders with a USAID officer assigned directly to my team, which was conducting civil affairs in an effort to help stabilize the greater Bermel Valley area.
I honestly had no idea what this USAID civilian was doing in my area of operations, what he was supposed to accomplish, or how he hoped to achieve his objectives – and quite frankly I had no desire to babysit him. Looking back, my ignorance was embarrassing, but was no fault of my own – I simply hadn’t been properly trained or educated on what my civilian counterparts brought to the effort. I had no awareness about what USAID was or did, nor did I have an understanding of what it was doing in Afghanistan.
What I learned from that great USAID officer—a core development principle; that it wasn’t the “what” that we did that was important, it was the HOW; and perhaps most importantly, ensuring the local population was directly involved in all of our efforts—directly led me to leave the military, and ultimately, to join USAID in 2008 as a civil servant, allowing me to continue my service to the United States in USAID’s Office of Civilian-Military Cooperation. What I realized is that our military is not properly trained or resourced to effectively conduct stability operations – and neither are our civilian agencies.
Yet both sides bring incredible dedication and capabilities. My greatest epiphany was that my USAID counterpart and I were exponentially more successful when we worked together, hand-in-hand, to achieve our objectives, than when working unilaterally. I wanted to take that experience and find a place where I could leverage my experiences, serving as a Rosetta Stone between my military and civilian colleagues in an effort to better synchronize USAID and Department of Defense efforts – both in D.C., and in the field – and to make each better and more effective.
Increasing the respect and understanding between our civilian and military partners is what I strive to do every day, and the successes are rewarding. I miss the military daily, but not a day has gone by that I have regretted my choice. I am incredibly proud to be a member of the USAID family, and even prouder still of the work we do around the world on a daily basis.