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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.

Around the World in Videos: How USAID is Helping Curb Child and Maternal Deaths

Mom and baby are doing fine because mom was taught how to perform Kangaroo Mother Care to keep her premature newborn warm. / Molly Ronan, Embrace Global

Mom and baby are doing fine because mom was taught how to perform Kangaroo Mother Care to keep her premature newborn warm. / Molly Ronan, Embrace Global

In 1990, more than 12 million children under the age of 5 died every year because of preventable conditions and diseases. Today, we face a situation considerably less bleak.

But still, far too many children today are being robbed of the chance to lead full, healthy lives. They are being robbed by illnesses we can prevent and treat. And far too many mothers won’t get to hold their newborn in their arms. These women won’t have the chance to raise their families or contribute to their communities.

Over the past six years, the Obama administration has strategically focused our maternal and child health programs in the 24 countries that account for more than 70 percent of child and maternal deaths globally.

By providing expectant mothers with high-quality and respectful care during delivery, resuscitation for newborns, vaccinations, diarrhea treatment and education about the importance of breastfeeding and handwashing, it is estimated we have helped save the lives of nearly 2.5 million children and nearly 200,000 mothers since 2008.

Acting USAID Administrator Alfonso Lenhardt joins Indian Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi and heads of delegations from around the world at the Call to Action Summit on Aug. 27 in New Delhi, India. / Clay Doherty, USAID

Acting USAID Administrator Alfonso Lenhardt joins Indian Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi and heads of delegations from around the world at the Call to Action Summit on Aug. 27 in New Delhi, India. / Clay Doherty, USAID

This week in New Delhi, I join health ministers from those priority countries and experts from across the globe for The Call to Action Summit to take stock of progress, share best practices and forge alliances.

Here are snapshots of some of USAID’s efforts around the world.

India

Like all mothers, Satyawati wants the best for her children, including for her newborn son. In a world where motherhood is still a risky endeavour, her story reflects the Indian Government’s new approach to maternal and child survival. With help from her local health worker, Satyawati knows how to best care for her children. She has had them vaccinated, and she practices proper hygiene at home.

Millions more have benefited from India’s recent efforts to reduce maternal and child deaths. In fact, under-5 mortality has dropped from 126 per thousand live births in 1990 to 53 per thousand live births in 2013. The government is using a scorecard to track its progress, providing transparency and accountability.

Malawi

“It’s heartbreaking to not have the equipment you can use on a baby to survive,” said Indira Chikomoni, a nurse at Zomba Central Hospital in Malawi. But with USAID’s support, 27 hospitals throughout Malawi now have access to a device called the Pumani bCPAP, which helps newborn babies breathe until their lungs have fully developed. The device has tripled the survival rate for babies treated for respiratory distress syndrome.

Gloria Mtawila’s son Joshua, who was struggling to breathe at birth, stayed on the machine for a month until eventually he could breathe on his own, and now he is a healthy baby boy.

Ethiopia

Adanech Belay is a proud mother of three, one of millions of rural families that used to live beyond the reach of the health system in Ethiopia. With USAID’s help, the Ethiopian Government has trained more than 38,000 health workers and deployed them around the country. Now, Belay can give birth in a clinic. She knows about vaccines, hygiene and family planning. Health extension workers now form the backbone of Ethiopia’s health care system, empowering families like hers to take charge of their own health. And the efforts are working.

In September 2013, Ethiopia announced it had achieved Millennium Development Goal 4—reducing child mortality by two-thirds by 2015—a full two years ahead of schedule. In 1990, Ethiopia’s under-5 mortality rate was one of the highest in the world at 204 for every 1,000 live births; by 2013, this rate had been slashed to 64 for every 1,000 live births.

Nepal

Until recently, three in 100 Nepali babies died before they were 1 month old, often from infections introduced into the body through the umbilical cord stump. In Nepal, where home delivery is common, a newborn’s umbilical cord has traditionally been cut with dirty household tools, and substances like oil, turmeric or even cow dung were rubbed on the stump to encourage “healing.”

All that is changing now with the support of USAID. With our partner JSI, we’ve helped develop a low-cost antiseptic gel we’re providing to pregnant women free of charge. A network of 50,000 female volunteer health workers are teaching communities how this little tube and new healthy practices can save their babies’ lives.


When a child dies, and when a mother dies giving birth, it is a tragedy for all of us. Because we miss out on everything they might have offered, and because it continues the cycle of extreme poverty that holds the entire world back. Together, we can break that cycle.

The goal of ending preventable child and maternal deaths is within our reach. We will continue Acting on the Call until every mother and child has the chance to lead a full, healthy life.

Q&A: The Legacy of West Africa’s Ebola Crisis

USAID’s Senior Ebola Coordinator Denise Rollins (right), Mission Director John Mark Winfield (second from right) and Bureau of Legislative and Public Affairs staffer Kate Alexander listen as a staff member of DuPort Road Clinic in Paynesville, Liberia speaks to them. / Jonta Williams, USAID

USAID’s Senior Ebola Coordinator Denise Rollins (right), Mission Director John Mark Winfield (second from right) and Bureau of Legislative and Public Affairs staffer Kate Alexander listen as a staff member of DuPort Road Clinic in Paynesville, Liberia speaks to them. / Jonta Williams, USAID

In this Q&A series, we are profiling the experts who have worked tirelessly to stop the spread of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa and are helping societies rebuild and strengthen health systems in the aftermath of the outbreak.

Denise Rollins, the senior coordinator of the Africa Ebola Unit, has worked at USAID for 28 years. She rejoined USAID in March after retiring last October because she felt a tremendous commitment to help those in need. She is USAID’s liaison coordinating with other U.S. Government agencies to help West African countries strengthen their ability to respond to future disasters.

What will the legacy of Ebola be in the countries affected by it?

Ebola has changed the lives of those affected by the virus and those who helped fight the disease. Ebola has left behind pain, sadness and death; we cannot keep our heads in the sand knowing what we now know about the disease.

However, as these countries get to and remain at zero, the international community will help build more enduring social and economic systems that will allow the countries to handle not only Ebola, but other infectious diseases, as well. We will once again see progress in health, agriculture, education and the overall economy. While Ebola leaves a legacy of caution and preparedness, it also gives us a future based on hope and resilience.

In July, USAID and other donor partners and governments gathered at the International Ebola Recovery Conference held at the UN. What are your thoughts on the conference?

The conference was a platform for representatives of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Mano River Union to outline their recovery strategies, and for the UN to foster a dialogue between the African countries and the donor community about recovery priorities and expectations.

Donors then pledged an unprecedented $3.4 billion in new funding, with the United States pledging $266 million, in addition to the $1.8 billion already provided for the response efforts. This brings the total pledged for response and recovery to more than $5.2 billion from the donor community.

This was a great step forward in a global call to action that will lead to the creation of more resilient societies in Africa.

What made the Ebola crisis different from past health crises?

The large number of people dying, the rapid spread of the virus, and an initial inability to treat patients made this crisis different. In terms of geography, Ebola reached bustling capitals and heavily populated cities, leading to a faster rate of transmission. Misunderstandings and lack of information about the disease also increased fear and panic, causing some victims to avoid reporting their illness. We have never seen a humanitarian public health crisis quite like this one.

What role has communications played in controlling Ebola?

Denise Rollins retired last October after working at USAID for 28 years, but when asked to return as senior coordinator for the Africa Ebola Unit, she said “yes” without hesitation. “I knew this was the right position for me,” she said. / Ellie Van Houtte, USAID

Denise Rollins retired last October after working at USAID for 28 years, but when asked to return as senior coordinator for the Africa Ebola Unit, she said “yes” without hesitation. “I knew this was the right position for me,” she said. / Ellie Van Houtte, USAID

Due to pre-existing issues with digital and communications infrastructure, it was hard to share information about the disease during the crisis. It was difficult to control the outbreak without accurate and timely information to detect Ebola, trace contacts of people who were infected, organize patients’ transport to treatment centers, and coordinate teams to conduct safe burials. Poor information hampered our ability to understand where the outbreak was occurring.

In Liberia, USAID sent a data logistician to serve on the Disaster Assistance Response Team to develop a better data sharing platform. He helped significantly reduce the time it took to get information from outlying areas to the capital. USAID is working with all three countries on improving data and communication technologies.

We are also strengthening public and private partnerships to bring low-cost Internet and mobile phone service to urban and lower-income, rural settings.

How are we helping to strengthen governance?

USAID is expanding the roles of community groups, NGOs and civil society to manage the effects of Ebola and more effectively work with the government to improve the quality of public services.

Our plan includes help with reopening schools, empowering civil society, and supporting open data policies and using technology for government services and information.

Interest in Ebola has been declining as the situation improves. Why are our response efforts still important?

The focus of the response continues to be ending the Ebola epidemic. While there is Ebola in West Africa, nothing prevents it from entering the United States, so this is a matter of national security.

In terms of the countries themselves, Ebola quickly damaged weak institutions, disrupted vulnerable communities and stymied health systems’ ability to address other infectious diseases or basic health care. We strive to rebuild and strengthen health systems there to enable societies to fend off future threats, while making sure those who’ve experienced setbacks can return to a path of prosperity.

These efforts are core to USAID’s mission to end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies.

Amid the Ebola crisis, many stories have emerged describing heroic aid efforts and acts of bravery. What stories touched you most?

Access to education and the preservation of arts and culture are important to me, so I was heartened to hear stories of children in Sierra Leone eagerly tuning in to an education radio program; of an American artist who stuck photos of smiling health workers on their protective suits so patients could see who was underneath the mask; of actors, taxi drivers, traditional leaders and musicians working together to raise awareness and stop Ebola.

Providing Clean Water to Families Fleeing Violence in Central Darfur

Triangle Generation Humanitaire and community members worked together to build more than 1,150 emergency latrines. / Triangle Génération Humanitaire

Triangle Generation Humanitaire and community members worked together to build more than 1,150 emergency latrines. / Triangle Génération Humanitaire

“We just ask Allah: When will we be able to stay in one place and not be scared?” The words of Mohammed Omer, a 58-year-old unemployed farmer, echoed throughout the Sudanese village of Ammar Jaded in Central Darfur.

Mohammed didn’t always live in Ammar Jaded. He was a farmer, harvesting and selling his crops in the local markets of Dar El-Salam, where he lived with his two wives and 14 children. But when Mohammed’s village was raided and torn apart amid increasing tribal conflict, his family and thousands of others were forced to flee.

Mohammed and his family fled to Um Dukhun, another town in Central Darfur. But shortly after, Um Dukhun was also attacked by armed men. They looted the homes and set them on fire, leaving behind a path of destruction. Once again, Mohammed and his family were forced to uproot their lives.

Mohammed is now settled in Ammar Jaded, where he and thousands of others hope that they have found a safe and stable place to stay.

Mohammed talks of the struggle of continuously relocating his family due to the conflict between two tribes. “My kids now have no education, and we have lost everything: our cattle, our home, our land. All of this and we don’t even know what they are fighting about. What is the reason?”

In places like Sudan where the frontlines of the conflict are fluid and humanitarian needs are continually changing, USAID supports Rapid Response Funds to quickly address emerging needs. Through this fund, the International Organization for Migration in Sudan and Triangle Generation Humanitaire were able to bring clean water and sanitation practices to Ammar Jaded.

New wells like this one provide clean water to more than 29,000 people in Central Sudan.  / Triangle Generation Humanitaire

New wells like this one provide clean water to more than 29,000 people in Central Sudan. / Triangle Generation Humanitaire

Triangle Génération Humanitaire built more than 1,150 emergency latrines and dozens of handwashing stations, organized hygiene promotion campaigns, and distributed more than 1,000 hygiene kits. Campaigns to clear garbage were organized for thousands of people, and garbage collection dustbins were distributed throughout the villages.

To provide clean water for more than 29,000 people in Central Sudan, Triangle Generation Humanitaire also restored seven existing water points and constructed three new wells.

As a result of the tribal conflicts, more than 1.7 million people have been forced from their homes, leaving behind their land and cattle — along with their hopes for a brighter future. Mohammed explains his day-to-day struggle to take care of his children.

“Sometimes they eat, sometimes they don’t,” he says. “We used to drink very brown water before. My kids would get sicker and sicker, and I could not do anything about it because I have nothing left.”

But Mohammed says he was grateful even for the brown water because people in the outskirts of the village did not have access to water at all; they would dig underground near the dried up wells with the hope of finding water sources.

“For them, it was really bad. They would walk for 90 minutes to come further into the village to drink the dirty water. Now, thanks to this [Rapid Response Fund], everyone has access to clean, safe water, and [in] less than 15 minutes walking.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Amani Osman is a Communications Officer for International Organization for Migration in Sudan.

World Humanitarian Day: Protracted Mega-crises Require New Solutions to Save Lives

Christmas miracle: Baby Josephine was released as the youngest Ebola survivor from a USAID-supported Ebola treatment unit in Liberia in December 2014. / Maya Baldouf, International Medical Corps

Christmas miracle: Baby Josephine was released as the youngest Ebola survivor from a USAID-supported Ebola treatment unit in Liberia in December 2014. / Maya Baldouf, International Medical Corps

Two days before Christmas 2014, 4-month-old Josephine was released from our partner International Medical Corps’ Ebola treatment unit in Bong County, Liberia — becoming the youngest Ebola survivor. Her head had been shaved to insert a life-saving IV drip, but her mother Korto — also an Ebola survivor — was all smiles as she took her baby home.

On a February night in Aleppo, Syria, Yousef Abo’s house was hit by a Scud missile. In a photo captured by one of our partners, you see Yousef standing by the rubble that was once his home, torn apart by the loss of his wife, two sons and two daughters.

These families’ stories reflect the suffering and hope that have defined and challenged the humanitarian system over the past year.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is an international public health crisis the likes of which the world had never seen before. Like the epidemiological charts that illustrate the curve of the disease, this crisis, too, will have a definite beginning, middle and end. It’s been a year since USAID deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team to West Africa to coordinate the U.S. Government’s response efforts. In that time, we succeeded in working closely with affected countries to stem the tide of the disease.

Liberia now has no Ebola cases, and new cases in Sierra Leone and Guinea are at their lowest numbers since the start of the outbreak. A successful end to Ebola in West Africa looks increasingly near.

Yousef Abo stands at the exact spot in Aleppo, Syria, where a Scud missile destroyed his home and killed his entire family. / Pablo Tosco, Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre

Yousef Abo stands at the exact spot in Aleppo, Syria, where a Scud missile destroyed his home and killed his entire family. / Pablo Tosco, Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre

Syria, on the other hand, represents the grim reality of what has become the humanitarian system’s new normal: protracted mega-crises with no end in sight. The United Nations has classified Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and Yemen as “Level 3” emergencies, requiring a rapid scale-up of response efforts.

Violence and insecurity in these countries is causing a record number of internal and cross-border displacements, and aid workers are saving lives at great risk to their own. USAID disaster experts are working with our dedicated humanitarian partners to overcome significant obstacles and navigate fluid frontlines to deliver much-needed food, clean water, medical care and critical relief supplies. But absent a political solution, our aid can only do so much, and humanitarian needs will continue to escalate.

This is in stark contrast to a decade ago, when mega-disasters included the Indian Ocean tsunami, the Somalia famine and the Pakistan floods. The patterns of these disasters were more clearly defined: Many lives were lost, and people suffered, but there was a clear pattern of needs peaking and tapering off as these crises played out.

Ebola aside, today’s mega-crises show no signs of subsiding and conditions continue to deteriorate. In just over a decade, the number of people in need of humanitarian aid has more than doubled. The mega-emergencies we now face are man-made crises that are a product of today’s turbulent times.

In Syria—the worst humanitarian emergency of our era—the crisis has entered its fifth year with no signs of ending. Fighting rages on in South Sudan and Yemen where millions are now at risk of famine.

Ongoing conflict in South Sudan has forced more than 1.5 million people to flee their homes. Around the world there are now more people displaced by conflict than any other time in history. / Jacob Zocherman, The Danish Refugee Council

Ongoing conflict in South Sudan has forced more than 1.5 million people to flee their homes. Around the world there are now more people displaced by conflict than any other time in history. / Jacob Zocherman, The Danish Refugee Council

This, in turn, has placed enormous strain upon the humanitarian system and cast its weaknesses into stark relief. Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, recently called attention to the “patchwork humanitarian system” struggling to handle today’s burden of crises. She said we need to think hard about how to reform and invent new solutions.

Next year, the United Nations will be holding its first-ever World Humanitarian Summit. The hope is that this will serve as a forum for change, where countries can come together with solutions to improve the humanitarian system to meet the challenges of today and the future. The stakes are high, and the U.S. Government is working hard to use the summit to advance serious reforms and innovations.

This disaster team in Liberia is one of five Disaster Assistance Response Teams simultaneously deployed by USAID to lead the U.S. Government response for the Ebola outbreak, the Nepal earthquake, and crises in Syria, Iraq and South Sudan. / Marco Rivera, USAID/OFDA

This disaster team in Liberia is one of five Disaster Assistance Response Teams simultaneously deployed by USAID to lead the U.S. Government response for the Ebola outbreak, the Nepal earthquake, and crises in Syria, Iraq and South Sudan. / Marco Rivera, USAID/OFDA

While crisis can bring out the worst in humanity, it also brings out the best in us — something that we celebrate today on World Humanitarian Day. Every year on Aug. 19 we honor the fallen UN relief workers who died in the 1993 bombing in Baghdad and pay tribute to aid workers around the world. It’s also an opportunity to look ahead to the future.

Today’s unparalleled challenges require new and innovative solutions. USAID is prepared to roll up its sleeves to show that the spirit of humanitarianism is still very much alive.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeremy Konyndyk is the director of USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance.

An Appeal for More Support for Youth Civic Engagement

Students in Jordan debate on a live TV show as part of the Ana Usharek and Usharek+ youth political participation program. / Haniyeh Dmour, National Democratic Institute

Students in Jordan debate on a live TV show as part of the Ana Usharek and Usharek+ youth political participation program. / Haniyeh Dmour, National Democratic Institute

The program carries a simple name, but a powerful purpose.

Since 2012, Ana Usharek — which means “I Participate” in Arabic — has brought together more than 11,000 young people across Jordan to take a leading role in promoting civic participation and engaging with government. This is noteworthy in a country where young people have limited opportunities to engage in public policy processes — despite representing about 70 percent of the population.

Through local advocacy initiatives and peer-led discussions on democracy and human rights, university and high school students are raising their voices on important issues at a critical period in their country’s history.

They’ve challenged the views of decision makers and members of parliament in roundtables and town hall meetings. They’ve visited local organizations, discussing such issues as the 2013 parliamentary elections, decentralization and political party laws.

Youth involved in Usharek+, the advanced student participation program, have led dozens of local advocacy initiatives addressing issues such as changing the university grading system as well as amending the Press and Publications Law.

It’s clear: Young changemakers, particularly when given opportunities and support, have the vision, imagination, energy, ability and persistence to help bring lasting, positive social change.

On International Youth Day, we are reminded that the international development community must build stronger partnerships with youth so they can not only meaningfully participate in development programs but also in important decision-making processes within their communities, nations, and at the global level.

Too often, youth participation efforts are narrowly focused on “youth” issues which frequently exclude broader societal concerns, as many older people think the young aren’t interested in “abstract” issues such as democracy.

But in-depth country studies, conducted by Restless Development, revealed that governance was the most important issue overall for the young people surveyed. And “an honest and responsive government” was listed among the top four concerns in the United Nation’s MyWorld2015 survey, whose respondents were overwhelmingly under 30.

In Nicaragua, partner organizations bring together hundreds of youth every year to foster democratic values and provide them with leadership skills. / Bartolomé Ibarra, National Democratic Institute

In Nicaragua, partner organizations bring together hundreds of youth every year to foster democratic values and provide them with leadership skills. / Bartolomé Ibarra, National Democratic Institute

But a few key impediments need to be addressed. For example, we need to create more meaningful opportunities to engage youth in civic issues, since adults frequently dominate existing channels for participation. In addition, we need to focus on educating youth about public policy issues and help them develop skills in critical thinking, public speaking and advocacy.

Most importantly, to counter apathy, we must help instill in young people the belief that their participation will indeed make a difference in the future of their country.  One way of doing this is to provide youth the opportunity to engage in efforts in which they can make a difference, and achieve at least a small degree of success.

These challenges are even greater among marginalized youth, such as young women, adolescent girls, LGBTI, indigenous youth, and youth who are disabled or are from minority ethnic groups.

The Ana Usharek and Usharek+ programs, both supported by USAID and implemented by our partner the National Democratic Institute, are tackling these challenges in Jordan and have built up the capacity of youth to engage in constructive dialogues on important public policy issues.

Similarly, USAID is working to enhance youth participation in political processes and other critical issues, including countering violence, promoting peacebuilding, and supporting inclusive, transparent and accountable governance in places such as Kosovo, Kenya, Nicaragua and Guatemala, among others. President Obama’s youth leadership programs, such as YALI, also play a critical role as they help generate support for youth participation.

As we celebrate International Youth Day, let’s reflect on the various ways in which we can support more meaningful youth civic participation.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Maryanne Yerkes is a senior civil society and youth advisor in USAID’s Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance.
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