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USAID Salutes Nobel Laureates Whose Discoveries Help Fight Malaria, River Blindness, Elephantiasis

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This year’s Nobel laureates in medicine developed therapies that revolutionized the treatment of some of the most devastating diseases caused by parasites.

On Monday, William Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura were cited for their discovery of the drug Avermectin, the derivatives of which have radically lowered the incidence of river blindness and elephantiasis. And Youyou Tu was rewarded for her research on malaria therapy. USAID relies on these medicines to protect millions of people at risk.

Parasitic worms afflict one-third of the world’s population, causing diseases like river blindness and elephantiasis. Before the development and widespread use of the avermectin-derivative ivermectin, river blindness left whole communities in Africa blind from the disease. Adults would be led around by children holding a stick. Agricultural productivity and development were at a standstill. Decades later, these communities are thriving agricultural centers, and children are in school instead of caring for the blind.

A child leads two individuals blinded by the parasite that causes river blindness through a village. / Bill VanderDecker

A child leads two individuals blinded by the parasite that causes river blindness through a village. / Bill VanderDecker

USAID’s neglected tropical diseases (NTD) program targets both river blindness and elephantiasis, as well as other diseases. Each year we distribute ivermectin, the drug used to treat river blindness, to more than 25 million people.

Since 2006, USAID has supported the delivery of more than 1 billion preventive drug treatments for NTDs – to almost a half a billion people. The neglected diseases team also manages the largest public-private partnership in USAID’s history, having secured more than $8 billion in drug donations to date. We estimate that for every tax dollar spent by USAID, more than $26 in drugs is donated in-country.

Inspired by a description in a 1,700-year-old Chinese text of the use of sweet wormwood to combat fever, it was Tu who discovered artemisinin. ​This medicine remains the most effective treatment for malaria today, saving millions of lives.

The parasite responsible for the most lethal human malaria started to resist the drug chloroquine in South America and Southeast Asia in the late 1950s and early 1960s. By the late 1960s, efforts to eradicate malaria had failed and the disease was on the rise.

At that time, Tu turned to traditional herbal medicine to find novel malaria therapies. In China, the qinghaosu plant was used in fever remedies for thousands of years. Tu examined 2,000 recipes for traditional Chinese remedies and discovered one derived from sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua) reduced malaria parasites in the blood.

USAID has been fighting malaria since the 1950s, helping develop the tools relied on today. For example, USAID funded trials showing that mosquito nets, treated with safe insecticide, were effective in significantly reducing child deaths and preventing malaria in pregnancy.

Habiba Suleiman, 29, a district malaria surveillance officer in Zanzibar, naps with her little girl Rahma under a mosquito net. She lives in Tanzania, where up to 80,000 people die from malaria each year. Hariba is working to change that. Read her story on USAID’s storytelling hub. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

Habiba Suleiman, 29, a district malaria surveillance officer in Zanzibar, naps with her little girl Rahma under a mosquito net. She lives in Tanzania, where up to 80,000 people die from malaria each year. Hariba is working to change that. Read her story on USAID’s storytelling hub. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

The U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), launched in 2005, represents the U.S. Government’s bilateral commitment to massively scaling up proven malaria prevention and control efforts. Led by USAID, PMI has advanced game-changing innovations, like insecticide-treated mosquito nets and more effective drugs.

Through PMI, USAID funds operational research to improve uptake and scale of interventions, to preserve intervention effectiveness in the face of both drug and insecticide resistance, and to respond to changes in malaria epidemiology.

More than 6 million deaths have been averted, primarily among children under 5 in sub-Saharan Africa through the expansion of malaria control efforts by affected countries — with the support of PMI and other key partners.

This success would not have been achieved without access to high quality malaria treatments, diagnostics, and tools like bed nets and indoor spraying to kill or repel malaria carrying mosquitoes. Since the initiative began, PMI has purchased more than 318 million quality-assured artemisinin combination therapies, as well as more than 174 million rapid diagnostic tests to support appropriate malaria case management.

The financial and technical contributions of the U.S. Government are a major catalyst in the remarkable progress that has been achieved in many countries to reduce the devastating burden of parasitic worms and malaria. But the work is far from complete.

More than 1 billion people suffer from one or more NTDs. Almost all are poor who live in rural areas and urban slums of low-income countries. Nearly half a million people still die each year from malaria. When children fall ill, students miss school, and adults stop working and are unable to provide for their families.

We admire Campbell, Ōmura and Tu for their inspiration and celebrate their discoveries that helped mankind.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Thomas is a communications advisor in the Bureau for Global Health.

Countering Violent Extremism Through Development

Richard Bernardo, 18, from conflict-affected Mindanao, Philippines, now works at an automotive shop in Zamboanga City after completing a two-month course offered by USAID for out-of-school youth in the region. USAID/Philippines provides skills trainings for out-of-school youth in Mindanao to help them gain access to income opportunities. / Rojessa Tiamson-Saceda, EQuALLS2 Project

Richard Bernardo, 18, from conflict-affected Mindanao, Philippines, now works at an automotive shop in Zamboanga City after completing a two-month course offered by USAID for out-of-school youth in the region. USAID/Philippines provides skills trainings for out-of-school youth in Mindanao to help them gain access to income opportunities. / Rojessa Tiamson-Saceda, EQuALLS2 Project

Where does the fight against violent extremism fit within the broad spectrum of development?

USAID’s mission – to end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies while advancing our security and prosperity – outlines the answer.

It is through USAID’s approach to development that we can prevent the underlying causes of discontent from turning into radicalization. It is this inclusive approach that also drives our commitment to advancing the Global Goals.

Over half of U.S. foreign assistance goes to countries in the midst of conflict, or trying to prevent conflict or state failure. While we have made remarkable gains, the scourge of violent extremism undermines the work we and our partners are doing.

Violent extremism impedes growth by discouraging long-term investment – not only by international corporations, but by local entrepreneurs who hesitate before setting up shop in a market or fear investing in inventory.

Violent extremists’ actions tax health systems, overcrowd hospitals, create refugees and displace people from their homes. Responding to attacks consumes government services and resources, stymieing development.

This is why we must focus more effort on preventing the growth of violent extremism before it starts.

Addressing the root causes of violent extremism successfully starts by resolving issues at the community level. While each case is different, our experience indicates it is often a combination of social and economic marginalization, unaccountable governance, and inadequate institutions, among other push factors, that are at the root of extremism.

A generation in northern Uganda lost touch with the environment during years of conflict. Children grew up in crowded IDP camps knowing little about the lands around them. USAID and the Wildlife Conservation Society are advising officials on how to bring back the wild. Koch Lii School, once used by rebels as a base, now has a Wildlife Club where students learn to perform drama on subjects related to biodiversity. / Julie Larsen Maher, Wildlife Conservation Society

A generation in northern Uganda lost touch with the environment during years of conflict. Children grew up in crowded IDP camps knowing little about the lands around them. USAID and the Wildlife Conservation Society are advising officials on how to bring back the wild. Koch Lii School, once used by rebels as a base, now has a Wildlife Club where students learn to perform drama on subjects related to biodiversity. / Julie Larsen Maher, Wildlife Conservation Society

These issues are also at the heart of what impedes economic growth. These grievances create opportunities for pulling forces that draw vulnerable people into the compelling, but ultimately empty, narratives of violent extremism.

Recognizing this, USAID developed its 2011 policy The Development Response to Violent Extremism and Insurgency to help guide the use of our tools effectively, and balance our broader development objectives with these security priorities. It affirms the necessity of identifying and addressing drivers of extremism, while remaining flexible and locally focused.

USAID manages programs that specifically address drivers of violent extremism in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. These programs are working in coordination and often through local and national governments, the private sector and NGOs to address issues of exclusion and injustice. These partnerships enhance USAID’s traditional development tools to address the drivers of extremism before they metastasize into a much larger problem.

Tomorrow’s event at the United Nations on balancing security and development will explore how USAID and like-minded partners can partner to prevent violent extremism. Development professionals care about violent extremism, and those on the security side recognize that development tools and expertise are needed to succeed against violent extremists.

We are confident that we can work together and make progress in key areas.  Already, we are making progress on a foundational step: understanding the local drivers of violent extremism and what works to address them.

A new network to support research focused on these issues, RESOLVE, was launched just last week and is supported through a partnership between USAID, the State Department and the U.S. Institute of Peace. Other efforts, like guidelines for good practices on gender and countering violent extremism by the Global Counterterrorism Forum, create operational approaches for local partnership.

As Secretary Kerry called for in the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, we have to get ahead of the next ISIL. Development that reduces the allure of violent extremist groups has immeasurable payoffs, both in terms of making us more secure and by ensuring we reach our ambitious Global Goals targets by 2030.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Russell Porter is Executive Director for the Secretariat for Countering Violent Extremism at USAID.

Change and Transformation @USAID: Modernizing Development Assistance

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Larwanou Mahamane, a vegetation ecologist, presents aerial imagery of the Ader-Doutchi region of Niger to community members of Laba under a USAID–U.S. Geological Survey partnership. Sustainable land management practices help mitigate the impacts of climate change. / Gray Tappan, USGS, Earth Resources Observation and Science Center

This is the perfect year to solidify a transformation in foreign aid. As world leaders nail down the Sustainable Development Goals, it is a key moment to underline the global consensus around strategies for progress. It will help ensure the international community permanently modernizes its approach to development.

Fall 2015 presents myriad opportunities to spotlight encouraging efforts. The June Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa created a foundation that will be reinforced this month at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where world leaders will adopt the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that outlines a vision for ending extreme poverty and promoting sustainable development.

Declarations from those summits will be complemented by outcomes from climate change negotiations to be held in Paris in December, as well as other important deliberations focused on key topics such as countering violent extremism and promoting gender equality.

So what promising changes should be spotlighted?

Data

Increasingly, data is driving planning and decision-making. The growth in results-based management helps ensure we invest wisely, discuss accomplishments concretely and constantly learn and refine our efforts. USAID is benefitting enormously from its enhanced ability to quantify and discuss, for example, the number of farmers whose incomes have increased as a result of Feed the Future.

We are striving to collect better data across a range of sectors, including health and agriculture, and to make that data more widely available. We also increasingly use data to better oversee operations. (And we are part of a wave of donors employing data to close gaps in information.)

USAID and NASA are working together to use satellite data in forecasting severe weather and natural disasters; lives are being saved because we can now chart floods and wildfires, and better predict drought and landslides.

Our Development Credit Authority, which has unlocked over $3 billion of private capital in over 70 countries, has improved how it tracks over 140,000 borrowers to better target and enhance USAID investments improving health care, food security and infrastructure, among various sectors. And internally, the USAID leadership team now uses a management system to ensure and track progress against specific management priorities and targets.

The push for evidence must continue and it must be complemented by a drive to ensure data is fully analyzed, used and disseminated. That’s the only way development agencies will truly become learning institutions where decisions are consistently well-informed and where gaps in knowledge are ever-smaller barriers to progress.

New Partners

Today, an exciting range of new partners and funders drive development efforts around the world. This comes at a time when funding from foreign direct investment outpaces traditional bilateral donor assistance to developing countries and domestic revenues in developing economies are increasing by an average of 14 percent per year.

The potential is huge. Last year alone, USAID started working with 450 new government agencies, private firms, foundations and other NGOs. Those partnerships leverage hundreds of millions of dollars in resources each year.

The relationships bring tremendous new energy, ideas and funding. They help the global community align work and target investments. And they close gaps in financing to meet priority needs. Three new broad partnerships announced during Financing for Development — the Addis Tax Initiative, Global Financing Facility and the Sustainable Development Investment Partnership — are emblematic of the potential for collaboration and alignment. They may prove models for the future.

Innovation

Jharana Kumari Tharu, a female community health volunteer in Nepal, demonstrates how a simple tube of chlorhexidine antiseptic gel could help prevent infection and even death when applied to a baby’s cut umbilical cord stump. / Thomas Cristofoletti, USAID

Jharana Kumari Tharu, a female community health volunteer in Nepal, demonstrates how a simple tube of chlorhexidine antiseptic gel could help prevent infection and even death when applied to a baby’s cut umbilical cord stump. / Thomas Cristofoletti, USAID

There is also enormous potential to harness innovation, science and technological advances for development. USAID christened its Global Development Lab last year. The Agency is having noteworthy success reducing neonatal mortality in Nepal using chlorhexidine, an umbilical cord antiseptic. Crop yields in Africa are increasing substantially as a result of the development and distribution of drought-tolerant maize. And efforts to promote mobile banking are improving transparency and governance, and increasing the accessibility of financial services globally.

Continuing to encourage and invest in innovation offers enormous potential for reducing poverty, but science and technologies will only deliver fully on their promise if they are rolled out in locally appropriate ways and they reach millions, especially the marginalized and vulnerable groups who are often left behind.

Game-changing technologies will also have to be developed and deployed with just-as-smart strategies that minimize risk—and sharpen recognition that all investments will not bear fruit. The possibility of under-performance should not stifle innovation.

Taken together, these trends embody a promising foundation. But a cautionary note is warranted. None of the strategies emerging from the conversations this year will enable us to end extreme poverty, unless they consider our ever-changing world. Quite simply, the targets we all hope to achieve won’t stand still while we come up with solutions.

Today, many of the world’s extreme poor are living in unstable nations often dealing with prolonged, profound crises. Development efforts are increasingly concentrated in these environments made fragile from conflict, extremist threats, recurrent natural disasters or climatic shifts. Unless we factor in these threats, reductions in poverty will be fleeting.

William Gibson is credited with saying, “The future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed.” Nowhere is this truer that in the field of development aid. Promising changes in the approach to assistance offer enormous potential for widespread success.

As heads of state convene, donors must ensure we carry forward the transformation of foreign aid so that it delivers broadly, enabling us to meet the goals we are setting for 2030.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carla Koppell is USAID’s Chief Strategy Officer. You can follow her @CarlaKoppell.

Advocating for Sign Language Education as a Human Right

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Georgine Auma in Washington, D.C. for the Young African Leaders Initiative. / Georgine Auma

As children growing up in Kenya, Georgine Auma and Natha Yare were excluded from their right to education.

Why? Because they are deaf. Access to education in sign language is still denied to millions of deaf and hard of hearing children, and even those who are lucky to receive an education — like Georgine and Natha — often lack teachers or specialists adequately trained in sign language, causing children to miss early language acquisition milestones that assistive devices like cochlear implants or hearing aids cannot provide.

For Natha, being deaf meant she couldn’t go to a local school, and instead attended a school for the deaf 15 hours away by bus. Even there, though, Natha was denied her right to a quality education.

“The government decided to introduce new teachers that knew no Kenyan Sign Language; these teachers filled blackboards with words and gestured for us to copy,” Natha said. “When we finished, we felt like we accomplished something. Afterwards, we went outside to run and play, not understanding what was copied.”

In many countries like Kenya, social stigma causes parents and community members alike to perceive deaf and hard of hearing children as impaired or altogether unable to learn.

NathaYare

Natha Yare (far right) with the deaf football team she helped organize at the Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya. / UNHCR

When Georgine became deaf at the age of 9, her parents didn’t know what to do with her. Although she already had a strong language foundation, her parents kept her from school for a full year before deciding to re-enroll her equipped with what they believed was a solution: hearing aids.

“I returned to the same school I was in before — needless to say, I never understood a thing taught in class,” Georgine said. “As a coping mechanism, I developed a love for books and literally read everything I could. Reading helped me stay within the top three of my class.”

Georgine recounted struggling with isolation and an identity crisis while growing up. “I thought I was the only deaf person in the world until I discovered Kenyan Sign Language at Maseno School for the Deaf,” she said. “There, I finally found my identity and felt a sense of belonging.”

USAID’s Commitment to Access and Inclusion

When I hear stories like Georgine and Natha’s, it takes me back to Kenya, where I worked at two schools for the deaf as a Peace Corps volunteer. The challenges faced by deaf and hard of hearing people are still prevalent, though; I recently attended the quadrennial World Federation of the Deaf conference, where over 100 deaf youth representatives echoed the same themes of barriers to sign language and education.

USAID is working to change this, providing access to education and sign language around the world. Education projects promoting sign language have been implemented in countries including Ecuador, Georgia and Morocco.

USAID partnered to produce Ecuador’s first-ever sign language dictionary, and with the current All Children Reading Grand Challenge initiative, the Agency is developing revolutionary software to support bilingual education in Morocco and Georgia. In Morocco, with early grade reading software using both Moroccan Sign Language and Arabic, deaf students have been shown to develop better literacy skills, learn better, and thinking more outside of the box than they did before.

Inclusive education is becoming an important theme on the global stage. It is important to ensure that students like Georgine or Natha aren’t left behind. Quality education for deaf and hard of hearing students means equipping teachers with fluency in sign language, thus creating truly inclusive spaces for all learners — because every child has a right to be educated.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Josh Josa is a Program Analyst working in USAID’s Office of Education. Follow him @JoshJosa.

Talking About Parrots on Talk Like a Pirate Day

The imperiled hyacinth macaw, pictured here in Pantanal, Brazil, is threatened by habitat loss and trapping for the pet trade. USAID works with partners around the world to protect habitata important to parrots and other wildlife while helping communities participate in and benefit from conservation. / Conservation International

The imperiled hyacinth macaw, pictured here in Pantanal, Brazil, is threatened by habitat loss and trapping for the pet trade. USAID works with partners around the world to protect habitats important to parrots and other wildlife while helping communities participate in and benefit from conservation. / Conservation International

What is the first thing you picture when you hear someone talk about parrots? A bird on a pirate’s shoulder? “Polly want a cracker?” Or maybe an image of beautiful, colorful feathers? But parrots are more than just eye candy and pirate paraphernalia. Parrots ensure forests grow, help communities develop eco-tourism, and serve as symbols of national pride.

Flourishing Forests

Parrots are critical to the health of the forest ecosystems where they live. As fruit and seed eaters and dispersers, parrots scatter seeds and help forests continue to flourish. In Guatemala, the Maya Biosphere Reserve, part of the largest tropical forest north of the Amazon, is home to the majority of Guatemala’s endangered scarlet macaw population and an amazing array of plant and animal life.

To help protect these beautiful birds, USAID partners with local communities and non-governmental organizations like the Wildlife Conservation Society to conserve these important forests. Because of these efforts, we now see scarlet macaws multiplying throughout this unique reserve.

A pair of scarlet macaws flies over the forest canopy in their Andean Amazon home. Macaws are prolific seed dispersers, important to maintaining and recovering the highest biodiversity areas on the planet. / USAID

A pair of scarlet macaws flies over the forest canopy in their Andean Amazon home. Macaws are prolific seed dispersers, important to maintaining and recovering the highest biodiversity areas on the planet. / USAID

Talking Ecotourism

Parrots are a main draw for eco-tourism. The revenues, in turn, support local livelihoods and provide funds to manage protected areas and wildlife conservation. In Colombia, USAID partners with the Audubon Society to develop a parrot tourism program in the Caribbean. By training community members on how to work as birding tour guides and develop birding trails, the project provides an income to local individuals while protecting parrot habitat.

Their enthusiasm and tenaciousness helps “birders” pave the way for ecotourism in remote areas lacking infrastructure and amenities. USAID support this group of birding journalists and tour operators get familiar with Guyana’s Iwokrama forest. / Martina Miller

Their enthusiasm and tenaciousness helps “birders” pave the way for ecotourism in remote areas lacking infrastructure and amenities. USAID support this group of birding journalists and tour operators get familiar with Guyana’s Iwokrama forest. / Martina Miller

Community Conservation

In Nicaragua, coastal development, expanding agriculture, and poaching has reduced the habitat of the yellow-naped parrot. With the support of USAID and other conservation partners, Paso Pacífico works to conserve this endangered species through tourism and environmental education. Through work with communities and environmental education for children, these efforts led to greater understanding of parrot populations, including threats from wildlife trafficking and the pet trade.

Women in an indigenous community in the Mosquitia region of Honduras make handicrafts depicting macaws and other forest creatures using wood chips left over from processing certified sustainable mahogany. Income from handicrafts and timber help people value and conserve forest habitat to rather than clearing it for agriculture. / Charlie Watson, Rainforest Alliance

Women in an indigenous community in the Mosquitia region of Honduras make handicrafts depicting macaws and other forest creatures using wood chips left over from processing certified sustainable mahogany. Income from handicrafts and timber help people value and conserve forest habitat to rather than clearing it for agriculture. / Charlie Watson, Rainforest Alliance

Illegal Pet trade of Parrots

A prominent member of the Huambracocha community in Peru’s Pastaza river basin wears a traditional macaw feather cap. USAID engages with indigenous communities like his to ensure wildlife populations -- including macaws and river turtles -- are managed well and available for local use. / Michael Tweddle

A prominent member of the Huambracocha community in Peru’s Pastaza river basin wears a traditional macaw feather cap. USAID engages with indigenous communities like his to ensure wildlife populations — including macaws and river turtles — are managed well and available for local use. / Michael Tweddle

Unfortunately, parrots are often part of wildlife trafficking, which is frequently connected to the illegal trade of drugs, arms and humans. People enjoy them as pets but often are unaware that they may be illegally obtained and traded, contributing to the smuggling business. Protecting wildlife helps keep the peace in communities and reduce profits from illegal activity.

According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, 259 out of 355 species of parrots are in international trade and nearly 30 percent are almost extinct due to wildlife trade. The scarlet macaw population in Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and Belize have been reduced to small, isolated populations. African gray parrots in Central and West Africa are going extinct, with about a fifth of the global population captured for trade each year.

USAID’s work to conserve parrots in Guatemala, Brazil, Nicaragua, Colombia and elsewhere help to protect the birds, support local livelihoods, and conserve important forest ecosystems.

Next time you think about pirates or parrots, remember that these beautiful birds do a lot more than mimic our words!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Natalie Bailey is a Biodiversity and Natural Resources Specialist in USAID’s Forestry and Biodiversity Office. She is on Twitter @nataliedell.

How Guatemala’s Justice System Became Strong Enough to Prosecute Corruption

People hold national flags and a sign reading "I love CICIG (International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala)" as they take part in a Aug. 22 demonstration in Guatemala City demanding President Otto Perez's resignation. / Johan Ordonez, AFP

People hold national flags and a sign reading “I love CICIG (International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala)” as they take part in a Aug. 22 demonstration in Guatemala City demanding President Otto Perez’s resignation. / Johan Ordonez, AFP

About six months ago, the UN-mandated International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, together with Guatemala’s Public Ministry, swept through the country, exposing high-level corruption and scandals that ultimately landed President Otto Perez Molina behind bars.

The investigations resulted in the resignation of over four dozen high-level public officials, including the president, the vice president, and several ministers. The ring of corruption supported six major scandals that cost Guatemalan taxpayers more than $200 million and resulted in 10 deaths due to medical malpractice.

The role of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala has been particularly significant in uprooting deep-seated corruption in Guatemala. However, it arguably would not have been as successful without over a decade of strategic reform in Guatemala’s judiciary.

Over the past 15 years, USAID’s justice reform efforts played an integral role in spurring Guatemala’s judicial metamorphosis. USAID supported the Government of Guatemala in establishing a criminal justice system that now has the capacity and fortitude to prosecute high-level corruption.

The implementation of oral proceedings required new court structures and procedures that have transformed Guatemala’s court system. With a new criminal procedure code and a restructure of the roles and responsibilities of judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys, the country has improved the efficiency, transparency and effectiveness of the court system.

USAID’s provision of training to the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office on Corruption led to a new investigation model and an inter-institutional cooperation agreement for the investigation and prosecution of corruption and crimes within the public administration.

Since the implementation of the model, trainings that focus on criminal investigation, case theory, forensic audits, prosecution strategy and presentation of corruption cases have been ongoing and attended by justice sector officials.

An image showing Guatemala's President Otto Perez Molina shaking hands with the Chief of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, Colombian Ivan Velasquez, is posted on a market wall in Guatemala City on Aug. 28. / Johan Ordonez, AFP

An image showing Guatemala’s President Otto Perez Molina shaking hands with the Chief of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, Colombian Ivan Velasquez, is posted on a market wall in Guatemala City on Aug. 28. / Johan Ordonez, AFP

USAID also worked with the Government of Guatemala to establish a “high impact court” to focus on ensuring the most sensitive and complex cases can be processed. These cases include corruption, organized crime, kidnappings, narco-trafficking, gangs and trafficking in persons — cases that need to be tried in a secure area with protection measures.

USAID worked with the country’s Supreme Court to ensure these courts would have the necessary security for Guatemala’s justice sector personnel. Previously, their work on these dangerous cases would have had little chance of proceeding through the justice system.

Around-the-Clock Justice

Nearly a decade ago, USAID worked with the judiciary, the Attorney General’s office and the police to pilot a new 24-hour court model in Guatemala City. Judges are now available 24 hours a day so that a detainee can be seen by a judge within six hours of arrest. Before, detainees were often held in prisons for more than three days — a violation of due process.

These courts are effective and financially sustainable. Under the old system, over 77 percent of cases in Guatemala City were dismissed for lack of merit, often because the arresting officer was not present at the long-overdue hearing. Under the new model, the number of cases dismissed for lack of merit is less than 15 percent.  Now fully funded by the Government of Guatemala, the 24-hour court also benefits investigative processes by allowing prosecutors to seek court orders for wiretapping or search warrants around the clock.

On Sept. 11, the model was replicated in Guatemala’s second largest city, Quezteltenango (also known as Xela), after a decade operating with a traditional court structure.

The new 24-hour court is the latest evidence of the country’s institutional determination and ongoing commitment to effectively deliver justice — a cornerstone of Guatemala’s continuum to democracy.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alana Marsili is a strategic communications advisor in USAID’s Democracy, Rights, and Governance Office working on citizen security, youth political leadership and urban municipal governance. Follow her @AlanaMarsili.

A Partnership Connecting Space to Village

SERVIR in the field

NASA and USAID use imagery and data collected by satellite to help stakeholders address issues like climate change through SERVIR program. / SERVIR

NASA is deeply committed to Earth science and the value it provides people around the globe.  We have been since our founding. It was my pleasure to attend the launch of the newest SERVIR hub — SERVIR-Mekong — in Thailand just a couple of weeks ago. Today, I joined hundreds of colleagues from our partner, USAID, and from around the world for a Town Hall about SERVIR and the impact of our global collaborations in Earth observation.

NASA and USAID have accomplished a lot together. Launch of this important new hub in the SERVIR network, which includes SERVIR-Himalaya, SERVIR-Eastern and Southern Africa and the Applied Sciences Team projects in Mesoamerica, is certainly tangible proof that what we’re doing is working.

We get a lot of questions about our Earth observation work at NASA.  In fact, a lot of people aren’t even aware that it’s such a core function of the agency.  But make no mistake, NASA is deeply committed to Earth science and the value it provides people around the globe.  We have been since our founding.

The more the SERVIR network and other partnerships expand, the more opportunities we have to test and showcase our newest Earth observation satellites. Missions like Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM), Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) and others are now returning massive amounts of data and more Earth science missions are on the way.

Satellite imagery used for disaster response work.

Satellite images created by SERVIR, like the one above, were helpful tools in the disaster response effort in Nepal this year. / SERVIR/ICIMOD

I am also pleased that we are finding new ways to bring NASA’s science to meet USAID’s development objectives. We are excited that our scientists are being connected with international scientists to combine those people’s local knowledge with NASA’s Earth system science studies through USAID’s Partnership for Enhanced Engagement in Research, or PEER program. Twelve of our scientists now work with USAID-funded international collaborators to harness their collective knowledge for the benefit of development.

Our partnership between NASA and USAID allows us to work together to bring space to village. Moreover, it also is bringing “village to space” as NASA has learned new USAID terminology such as “results framework”, “indicators”, and “theory of change” – terms that are more than just words, but help benchmark impacts and ensure the successful outcome of our activities. Together, our agencies have worked in 4 regions and 37 countries, developed 62 tailored decision support tools using Earth observations, increased the capacity of over 300 institutions, enabled 120 university fellows from 24 countries, and trained over 2000 people.

The International Space Station also is becoming a platform for Earth observation. There’s the ISERV test bed camera used by SERVIR end users, for instance which has acquired more than 140,000 images of across 6 continents to support response to floods, wildfires, tropical storms, and other extreme events around the world. Other instruments aboard the Station, including RapidScat to monitor ocean winds and the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS) to measure clouds and pollution, also are contributing to the wealth of Earth science data available to the public and to decision-makers like those SERVIR serves.

Satellite images created by SERVIR, like the one above, were helpful tools in the disaster response effort in Nepal this year. / SERVIR/ICIMOD

Together with our partners at USAID, we are all contributing to the effort to help bring our space-based science down to Earth for real time, real world applications that are changing the lives of people where they live.

The demand-driven approach of SERVIR is unique in the space world. The network is responsive and engaged and developing the demand-driven tools that are going to have the most impact for a specific region. I never doubted that there was a hunger for more information and ways for people everywhere to make a difference in their home regions, but the tools that SERVIR has provided have really started something special.

Just as the Space Station has become a model of international cooperation among nations who have many differences, so has SERVIR become a network not just of hubs, but also of regions and people.

I can’t think of anything more gratifying to demonstrate why our space program is vital to everyone on this planet.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden is the administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Empowering Voters One Mobile Phone at a Time

Two boys competed in a mobile phone typing contest in March 2015 to showcase how fast and easy typing in their native language, Khmer, can be with the Khmer Smart Keyboard, an app developed with assistance from Development Innovations. / Chantheng Heng, USAID

Two boys competed in a mobile phone typing contest in March 2015 to showcase how fast and easy typing in their native language, Khmer, can be with the Khmer Smart Keyboard, an app developed with assistance from Development Innovations. / Chantheng Heng, USAID

Walk down any street in bustling Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and among the many motorcycles, tuk tuks and food sellers, inevitably you will see young Cambodians using their mobile phones.

With two out of three Cambodians below the age of 30, Cambodia is one of the youngest countries in Southeast Asia, and Cambodian youth are embracing new technology such as smartphones and tablets as they become more affordable to communicate in ways that are having a profound impact on society.

Around the world, these technologies are allowing people to self-organize and connect with one another like never before.  As a result, in many countries regular citizens — whether as part of formal civil society organizations, or as bloggers, citizen journalists or human rights activists — are flourishing and lending talent and expertise to drive political, social, and economic development.

This year’s theme of International Democracy Day — Space for Civil Society — is an opportunity to reflect on how USAID is leveraging this wave of new communications technologies in its programming around the globe. These technologies are fostering improved access to information for citizens even in the most repressive countries and creating space for civil society to develop.

Phone empowerment

Although power of citizen voices is growing stronger, backlash countering transparency and access is growing across the globe.  According to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, more than 100 new laws restricting freedom of association, assembly, and expression were proposed in the last three years alone. Galvanizing civil society, democratic governments, and private philanthropy to push back against these restrictions is at the heart of President Obama’s Stand With Civil Society initiative.

In Cambodia, USAID is working with the International Republican Institute through the Accountability and Governance in Politics program to help inform voters. The program aims to strengthen multi-party competition, support public demand for reform, enhance the accountability of elected officials, and increase youth civic engagement and women’s participation in the political process.

Access to the internet is increasing rapidly across Cambodia and outpacing the research on total users, especially for young people using free wi-fi available at many locations across the nation’s capital. / Chandy Mao, USAID

Access to the internet is increasing rapidly across Cambodia and outpacing the research on total users, especially for young people using free wi-fi available at many locations across the nation’s capital. / Chandy Mao, USAID

Take Ell Lavy, for example. At 31 years old, he drives a taxicab in a village in the province of Siem Reap. Since he lives in a remote village far from the town center, it is difficult for him and his family to get news — especially about political issues.

But now, he is learning all about Cambodia’s various political parties and their platforms by calling hotlines run through an interactive voice response system supported by USAID. The hotlines allow citizens like Ell to stay plugged in, even in areas with limited Internet access. While he is an avid listener of the radio, the hotlines allow him to get more detailed information about each political party.

“I didn’t know that I could use my phone to get this information,” Ell says. “When I called and listened, I heard a message about the party and about the lawmaker in my province of Siem Reap. Before, I had only heard information like this when I was studying at school in Phnom Penh.”

Since the launch of the interactive voice response system in August last year, more than 45,000 calls have been made. Political parties, recognizing its value, have been waging an aggressive campaign promoting the hotlines on social media and are seeing an increase in their use by up to 5 percent each month. Political parties are in the process of entering into direct relationships with telecom providers in order to continue this service themselves, making the endeavor sustainable.

Young 5D Lab members access training and use video production equipment and software to create and edit videos at Development Innovations. / USAID

Young 5D Lab members access training and use video production equipment and software to create and edit videos at Development Innovations. / USAID

These technologies go beyond helping increase political participation. In Cambodia, citizens can also use their cell phones to improve health outcomes and protect the environment. Similar interactive voice response systems are being used to reach people with HIV and to share vital information to women in remote areas regarding hygiene, breastfeeding and child care. Cambodians have begun using cell phones to document illegal logging practices for local authorities in their communities.

As the 2017 commune election and the 2018 general election approach, the hope is that young people in Cambodia will be more tuned into the political sphere and ready to make their voices heard to shape the future of their country.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jean-Marc Gorelick is the elections and political processes team lead in the Office of Democracy and Governance in USAID’s mission in Cambodia.

To Fight Extremism, The World Needs To Learn How To Talk To Women

This blog is a condensed version of an article published in Foreign Policy. Read the full article here.


When I was in Pakistan about three years ago, a prominent female civil society activist told me how some women in northwest Pakistan were supporting militants by donating their most precious gold and jewelry and endorsing their sons’ radicalization.

We had been talking about engaging Pakistani women to de-radicalize youth, and she warned me that extremists were speaking more effectively than moderates to women, leveraging their influence in the home, family and the community. Women could help combat violent extremism, but it would require a concerted effort to reach out to, counter-message, and actively engage them.

Her message was clear: As violent extremist movements have strengthened, the international community needs to engage more intentionally with women in countering violent extremism.

Members of the Bring Back Our Girls group campaigning for the release of the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram Islamists march to meet with the Nigerian president in Abuja, on July 8. / Philip Ojisua, AFP

Members of the Bring Back Our Girls group campaigning for the release of the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram Islamists march to meet with the Nigerian president in Abuja, on July 8. / Philip Ojisua, AFP

Tools are already in place. The international community has passed several United Nations Security Council resolutions providing a foundation to better engage women in promoting peace and conflict resolution. U.S. policy has emphasized that women’s empowerment, protection and participation are vital to any effort to fight violent extremism.

Today, women and girls are facing unimaginable brutality at the hands of extremists. Since 2014, Amnesty International estimates 2,000 women and girls have been kidnapped, raped or forced into marriage by Boko Haram in Nigeria. And, according to the United Nations, approximately 2,500 women and children are being held captive in Syria and northern Iraq by the Islamic State; some 1,500 civilians may have been forced into sexual slavery.

During a panel discussion at the U.S. Institute of Peace in July, Zainab Bangura, special representative of the U.N. secretary-general on sexual violence in conflict, eloquently described the interconnections in the work of the Islamic State. She spoke of a “battle that is being waged on the bodies of women and girls” in which sexual violence has become a “tool of terror.”

Women and girls also suffer when violent extremism results in displaced communities. Since the onset of violence in Syria, early marriage has risen dramatically. The U.N. estimates that while about 13 percent of Syrians under 18 were married before the war, rates skyrocketed to 32 percent by early 2014.

Save the Children and Amnesty International have both pointed to economic drivers of increased early and forced marriage; desperate families receive a dowry for marrying off a girl while also reducing the number of mouths they have to feed. Reports of domestic violence have also risen.

Victimization only tells one piece of the story. Women have long been members of extremist groups. Media attention often focuses on female fighters and suicide bombers, though relatively few perpetrate attacks. That said, Syria experts estimate over 20 percent of the Islamic State’s recruits are female, and some 550 of the 3,000 foreign fighters from Western countries are thought to be women.

A Kurdish female fighter of the Women’s Protection Units looks on at a training camp in al-Qahtaniyah, near the Syrian-Turkish border on Feb. 13. Syrian Kurdish forces have been fighting advances by the Islamic State jihadist group. / Delil Souleiman, AFP

A Kurdish female fighter of the Women’s Protection Units looks on at a training camp in al-Qahtaniyah, near the Syrian-Turkish border on Feb. 13. Syrian Kurdish forces have been fighting advances by the Islamic State jihadist group. / Delil Souleiman, AFP

The group has developed messaging that romanticizes the need for devout women to help create a new society. As Islamic State members, these women are recruiting, teaching and building communities, and they are married to male recruits as an incentive for men to join and remain with the movement. They are also encouraged to reproduce to advance the creation of a state committed to the cause.

Perhaps most under-appreciated is the role of women as partners to counter violent extremism. Around the world, women often have influence within the family, giving them enormous potential to stem recruitment and radicalization. As community members frequently left behind in conflict zones to maintain the home and care for children, women and girls often have information that can provide early warning of conflict or the potential for violence.

Examples from around the world illustrate how women can stem violence and extremism. In Sudan, Hakamat singers — women whose songs can foster conflict by belittling other ethnic groups, decrying cowardice, and urging retribution — are promoting tolerance, coexistence and peace. In Somalia, the cross-clan linkages women gain through marriage are used to help mediate. In Central America, women can be key voices in discouraging young people from joining criminal gangs and committing crime.

Along the Tajik and Afghan border, Sisters Against Violent Extremism is establishing schools to teach mothers about preventing the radicalization of their sons. Over 150 mothers have reported reconnecting with distant sons and daughters, persuading them not to attend illegal meetings or read radical material. Two groups of mothers have organized meetings with local police to increase understanding of the role women can play.

Building on this knowledge, USAID is engaging women and girls to counter the rise of violent extremism. In Kenya, USAID is  teaching women about peacebuilding and de-escalating conflict. In Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso, USAID funds the use of radio, social media and civic education to elevate voices of non-extremist women and men. And in many parts of the world, we seek to strengthen the role of women and youth in political and peace processes.

But, we know the international community needs to do more to effectively engage women in countering violent extremism. A critical first step is incorporating gender equality and women’s rights in every facet of society. But that is just a starting point.

In July, experts came together to identify how international development stakeholders could elevate the role of women in countering extremism at a forum organized by the U.S. Institute of Peace, USAID and the State Department. Among their conclusions was the need for the United States to broaden its support for networks of women and youth in communities challenged by violent extremists.

For the international community, the remainder of 2015 is full of opportunities to strengthen these efforts. It is a moment that the world can’t afford to miss.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carla Koppell is USAID’s chief strategy officer. Follow her @CarlaKoppell.

Overcoming the Stigma of Disability Across the Globe

USAID Senior International Education Advisor Christie Vilsack greets young women in an English class at the Lao Disabled Women’s Development Centre in July 2015. / David Lienemann, Official White House Photographer

USAID Senior International Education Advisor Christie Vilsack greets young women in an English class at the Lao Disabled Women’s Development Centre in July 2015. / David Lienemann, Official White House Photographer

Growing up in Laos, Chanhpheng Sivila contracted polio at the age of 3, which affected her leg and spine and made walking difficult. When it came time to go to school, her parents wouldn’t let her attend, telling her they couldn’t afford a school uniform for all 12 of their children.

But Chanhpheng was determined to get an education. Defying her family’s reservations, Chanhpheng decided one day to steal her big sister’s old school uniform and then secretly followed her to school. Her boldness paid off. The teachers at school saw Chanhpheng’s determination and convinced her parents to let her attend.

The 4-foot-7 Chanhpheng battled her way through school and eventually went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from the National Academy of Politics and Public Administration in Vietnam and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Rattana College in Laos. She refused to let the stigma of having a disability get in her way.

In 1990, Madam Chanhpheng founded an organization that became the Lao Disabled Women’s Development Centre. She is now a tireless and inspiring advocate for the rights of women and girls with disabilities.

25 Years of Empowerment

As Madam Chanhpheng’s center celebrates 25 years of empowering women and girls with disabilities in Laos, the United States is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This landmark legislation guarantees rights of individuals with disabilities in the United States.

It also serves as model legislation informing disability rights internationally, including in many of the countries where USAID works today. The law’s principles of access, inclusion and non-discrimination are woven into USAID’s own Disability Policy, which promotes the inclusion of persons with disabilities across all of our programs.

Dr. Jill Biden and USAID Senior International Education Advisor Christie Vilsack pose with students from Hanoi College of Information Technology in July 2015. / David Lienemann, Official White House Photographer

Dr. Jill Biden and USAID Senior International Education Advisor Christie Vilsack pose with students from Hanoi College of Information Technology in July 2015. / David Lienemann, Official White House Photographer

I recently accompanied Second Lady of the United States Dr. Jill Biden on a trip to Laos and Vietnam. On the trip we saw some of USAID’s efforts to give children and youth with disabilities access to education as well as workforce development training.

Dr. Biden recognized the Lao Disabled Women’s Development Centre for its work educating and empowering young women in Laos over the last two and a half decades. Each year, the center provides basic education, life skills and job-related training for 35 young women. Since 2002, over 500 young women with disabilities have graduated from the center.

Our delegation visited a reading class and a papermaking demonstration, and then we bought scarves woven by the women in the program. The center benefitted from a USAID grant given to World Education Laos through the Senator Patrick Leahy War Victims Fund; the fund primarily helps individuals with disabilities in conflict-affected countries.

While in Asia, Dr. Biden and I also visited students from the Hanoi College of Information Technology in Vietnam, where USAID has collaborated with Catholic Relief Services since 2007 to provide advanced computer skills training to over 700 youth with disabilities. About 70 percent of the program’s graduates have found jobs; a few have even found their life partners in the class and have plans to marry.

The U.S. Government has supported inclusive development programs in Vietnam for the last 25 years, even before normalization of diplomatic relations in 1995.

The Road Ahead

Madam Chanhpheng Sivila shows off a scarf made by young women at the Lao Disabled Women’s Development Centre. / David Lienemann, Official White House Photographer

Madam Chanhpheng Sivila shows off a scarf made by young women at the Lao Disabled Women’s Development Centre. / David Lienemann, Official White House Photographer

According to UNESCO, most children with disabilities in developing countries are out of school. The problem isn’t that they don’t want to be in school or that they can’t afford it. The reason is often negative and discriminatory attitudes, like those faced by Madam Chanhpheng, combined with physical barriers.

USAID is committed to finding new strategies to reach people with disabilities. Earlier this year, our All Children Reading Grand Challenge for Development awarded funding to five organizations for their low-cost, technology-based solutions to promote literacy for children with disabilities. They are developing and implementing these reading technologies over the next two years in Georgia, India, Lesotho, Morocco and the Philippines.

Another major obstacle to addressing the out-of-school issue is the lack of data on children and youth with disabilities. A great first step would be to gather data on the numbers of children with disabilities in and out of school, disaggregated by type of disability. This would help us to know who is being left out of the education system and allow us to study the barriers in order to plan effective interventions.

The data would undoubtedly be telling, but we will also need to open our minds to what is happening behind the numbers. By learning from people like Madam Chanhpheng, we will be better positioned to steer the agenda for educating children and youth with disabilities.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christie Vilsack is the Senior International Education Advisor at USAID. Follow her @ChristieVilsack.
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