From the Berlin Wall to the Arab Spring

History lessons youth teach us

by Alex Sardar, Chief of Party in Armenia; featured in the August edition of InterAction's Monday Developments

The Arab Spring is truly historic. People are standing up in a region where customs have required deference to the wise and elder. This is nothing short of a socio-cultural quake.

Today’s mostly youth-led revolt is new for the Middle East but not for the world. In 1989 and 1990, young activists saw the culmination of their Leipziger Montagsdemonstrationen as they peacefully challenged the status quo and proved to be smarter than the Communist East German state.

Just about the only difference between the youth activists of Tashkent and Tunisia, Yerevan and Yemen, or Berlin and Bahrain, is the way they communicated their aspirations for change.

Instead of VHS tapes in 1989, today YouTube spins the pictures to the world; for every carbon-copied newsletter distributed out of a church basement, thousands of email names are put into the carbon copy lines of emails in mosque computer centers. The images, words and essence of the message, however, remain the same.

Likewise, as the development community comes face-to-face with the surge of the youth enthusiasm that has fueled the Arab Spring, we can draw on the more than 20 years of programmatic experience in the former Eastern Bloc nations and the Newly Independent States (NIS) of the former Soviet Union.

It is here that a myriad of initiatives helped us refine our work with youth groups, activists and champions of change in the institutions we have come to know as the linchpins of sustainable development.

In the mid-1990s, the floodgates opened and international NGOs began working with youth activists (most of whom were in their late teens/early twenties) to assist them in setting up NGOs and mobilizing their communities.

Today, we find those activists firmly grounded in two distinct establishments.

First, there is the non-profit establishment—a solid grouping of civil society organizations, which are, for better or worse, mainstays in their societies and on donor rosters.

Second, there is the state establishment. Youth leaders sought change by eventually taking seats in government. (In some unfortunate cases, NGO leaders became part of this category when their independent organizations became extensions of the state apparatus and began wearing PONGO (political NGO) and GONGO (government-organized NGO) badges).

In hindsight, during the rush to support young activists and the excitement surrounding the spark of change for the former Soviet bloc, donors and international NGOs made a number of mistakes:

  • They neglected or did not have the resources to ensure that there would be a succession plan in place for the next generation of young leaders in local NGOs, in government posts and as activists.
  • There was a lack of investment in deepening the capacity for managing short and long-term change among these erstwhile young leaders, who over time have become as entrenched in the business of public life as they once were in the ideals of public life.
  • Little attention was paid to sustainable forms of on-going youth development and ad-hoc camps and leadership exchanges littered workplans and proposals.

In the development context, youth is fleeting. As a mindset, it has a shelf life of about a decade.

The clock is ticking in the Middle East. As the Obama administration shores up international support for the change process that has begun in the region, the development community must also re-tool with sharp focus on meaningful and long-term interventions to build on the courage that has been on display in actions of these young activists.

Unlike our experience with the former Soviet Bloc, international NGOs and development organizations have several decades of work in the Middle East that can allow us to forego the niceties and missteps of new guests. Today, with our fundamental understanding of institutions and their role in the emerging Middle East, we are able to continue building on conversations with long-time civil society collaborators and show some tough-love to young activists, so that their talents and life investments today continue to bear fruit a few decades down the line. Moving forward, we may consider the following starting points for a new wave of development work in this region, particularly with young people.

Young Arab activists are the means and the end of the change process. Disenchantment with social change in the former Soviet Bloc has been occurring as more young people have seen themselves as having become mere tools to a larger agenda. To a great extent, young people have been excluded from the decision-making process and their seat at the table has been occupied by the formerly young.

Today’s individual young activist is an institution onto herself. She has the world’s attention through social networking and communication technology, and does not necessarily need an organization to legitimize her aspirations. We need to develop smart strategies for institutions to better understand and further complement this reality. We also need to understand how we tap into the power of networks without necessarily needing to formalize them into organizations and coalitions.

Consequences of young activists’ actions are exponentially more palpable given their reach to the masses. Their ability to feel and act responsibly in that context is just as essential. Our work must focus on leadership capacity development that combines focus on effective short-term activism, value-added advocacy and long-term accountability and follow up in the context of the shorter-term action.

Government and non-government institutions must come to grips with the role of the young in their organizations, and facilitate the space for youth engagement in positions of power. (Mirroring in governance circles the monopolies that may exist in economic life has proven detrimental to the longevity of organizations in other places.) And to be clear, coming to terms with youth also means adopting youthful thinking and the capacity to absorb internal and external change.

Donors and international NGOs can no longer not treat in-depth organizational development as an after-thought. In the Middle East and North Africa, engaging with an international program must mean that the national counterpart institution is willing to make organizational development (including change management, strategic leadership and governance) a top priority.

If the grandeur of this moment of opportunity is lost on any of us, we simply need to consider what the headlines will be 20 years from now if the institutional foundations of civil society do not reflect sustainable and well-grounded tenets of a just and free Middle East.

August 23rd, 2011 | Tags: Alex Sardar, Arab Spring, development, Monday Developments, youth | Category: | Leave a comment

Counterpart Sends Rice to Somalia

Youth at the College Church of Christ, Searcy, AR putting together bags from donations.

Urgently needed rice that will feed thousands of starving people will be sent by the nonprofit Counterpart International to drought-stricken northern Somalia.

“This human tragedy is truly heartbreaking,” says Joan Parker, President and CEO of Counterpart. “We are bringing together the Churches of Christ and our Somali partners to respond to this emergency.”

The Churches of Christ, which has collaborated with Counterpart in other humanitarian projects since 1999, raised money, donated the rice and provided other items in support of Somalia.

Spearheading the initiative on behalf of the Churches of Christ, Minister John Kachelman of Judsonia, Ark., says the Somalia relief effort has had a deep impact on his life.

“It’s made me aware of just how blessed we are in America with an abundance of things,” he says. “It is humbling. It has made me realize the obligation we have, as being so blessed, that we can help others.”

Once a day for two weeks, almost 10,000 people living in displacement camps in the Puntland region of northern Somalia will receive a serving of rice from this donation. Kaalo Relief and Development Organization, Counterpart’s on-the-ground partner, will distribute the aid.

The cargo ship departs from Columbus, Miss., on Tuesday. Part of the shipping cost is covered by the U.S. government’s Ocean Freight Reimbursement program.

Despite the worldwide appeal for support, the food crisis in northern Somalia continues to be desperate as an estimated half a million starving people have filled displacement camps. Unfortunately, compared to southern Somalia, the North has received less international attention.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) reports that the famine now affects Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia. “Across the eastern Horn of Africa, more than 12 million people—a number greater than the populations of Houston and New York City combined—are now in need of emergency assistance to survive,” USAID reported.

It is estimated that 29,000 Somali children age five and younger have died because of the food crisis, according to U.S. figures. On Tuesday, the United Nations warned that more Somali children will die of disease and hunger unless more assistance is forthcoming.

Your help is needed

Counterpart’s Parker is urging other congregations, companies, schools and individuals to help with this international relief effort by visiting to make a contribution.

“It is in our power to relieve the suffering of thousands of other Somalis,” Parker says. “Your donation will make a difference by allowing Counterpart to send more food and supplies.”

 Counterpart has plans to send additional containers of urgently-needed food, hygiene kits, water purification tablets and other supplies to the affected region but needs more support, says Rang Hee Kim, Counterpart’s Director of Humanitarian Assistance.

“The best way you can help Somalia is to contribute cash,” she says. “We have access to food and other emergency supplies, but need cash donations to pay for transportation and other costs.” Visit to donate.

This latest shipment is part of Counterpart’s ongoing support for Somalia. In the past, the international nonprofit organization has distributed $3.7 million of assistance to the Puntland region through its local partner.

Counterpart in Africa

In addition to this relief effort for Somalia, Counterpart works to create sustainable livelihoods in neighboring Ethiopia through a program supported by USAID. In Africa, the nonprofit is active in Senegal, Niger, Mauritania, Chad and Cameroon, where it works to enhance food security and strengthen civil society.

“Our efforts in Africa have improved the lives of thousands of people and ensure that they can support their families,” Parker says. “This is part of Counterpart’s strategy of building healthy and sustainable communities.”

Counterpart is a 501(c)(3) registered with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. Donations are deductible as described on your receipt and to the extent allowed by law.


For additional information, please contact:

Michael J. Zamba
Director of Communications
Counterpart International
Tel. (703) 236-4324

August 18th, 2011 | Tags: Africa, disaster, disaster response, famine, humanitarian assistance, rice, Somalia | Category: | Leave a comment

Counterpart co-founder joins Joan Parker on Executive Leaders Radio

Counterpart co-founder, Father Stan Hosie, joined President & CEO, Joan Parker, on Executive Leaders Radio. They discussed the early days of Counterpart International in the South Pacific, with fun and lively anecdotes from Father Stan. Listen now (skip to 13:30) >

August 1st, 2011 | Tags: Executive Leaders Radio, Father Stan Hosie, interview, Joan C. Parker, podcast, radio | Category: | Leave a comment

Moringa Tree Recruited in the Fight Against Malnutrition in Senegal

By Meg Hewitt

The Moringa tree, originally from the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains in Northwestern India, is saving the lives of children in Matam, Senegal.

Even in the dry season and during times of drought, the resistant Moringa tree continues to produce leaves. These trees are vital as one in five children in this region suffer from malnutrition, according to the UN’s Human Development Index (HDI).

As part of the USDA McGovern-Dole Food for Education program, Counterpart International has teamed up with Peace Corps volunteers to help 38 communities plant beds of this valuable tree.

Farmers are taught an intensive cultivation technique that plants many trees close together in deep soil that maximizes the amount of leaves per tree. High leaf yields are important because then people can utilize them in both fresh and dried forms.

Benefits of the Moringa tree

Dry Moringa leaves are ground down to a powder, which can be used in a variety of ways. This process condenses the nutrients so that large doses of nutrition can be added to traditional Senegalese dishes year-round. The leaves’ nutritional attributes include amino acids, vitamin C, vitamin A, calcium, potassium and proteins to name a few. Although the leaves are particularly nutritious, every single part of the Moringa has benefits -- including the trunk, bark and roots.

Emphasis has been placed on informing local families about the resultant powder’s benefits for pregnant women and mothers who are nursing newborns, children under five and the most in need of the extra nutrients that prevent and reduce malnutrition.

Peace Corps partnership

Seven consecutive days in June, staff from Counterpart and Peace Corps volunteers visited communities and trained participants to plant beds of the Moringa. Demonstrations gave communities essential knowledge on how-to build sufficient plots, dig soil and obtain materials needed for the bio-intensive farming technique of “double-digging.”

“This initiative is a great example of Counterpart’s lasting partnerships for social change – teaming with Peace Corps volunteers has made this project all the more successful for the communities,” says Josephine Trenchard, Counterpart’s Chief of Party in Senegal. "I look forward to seeing an improvement on the nutrition status of these communities as they embrace the opportunities this Moringa tree offers.”

Counterpart staff traveled to each participating community to evaluate site suitability, communicate preparations for the plot and conduct trainings on how to harvest and utilize different parts of the Moringa tree. Square beds were created at elementary schools, middle schools, health posts, water sources and in the compounds of community leaders.

Long-term benefits

In six months, Peace Corps volunteers will measure the bed spacing to assure they a better overall yield considering soil type. They will also provide additional hands-on trainings on how to harvest and tend the Moringa beds, trim the leaf for replication and grind the leaves into powder.

This project has the potential to impact the health habits and agricultural knowledge of participating communities in the long-term. Communities now have the knowledge and skills to carry out examples of intensive cultivation that they can teach to others. Counterpart and Peace Corps volunteers will continue to work on the Matam region project and replicate this sustainable practice elsewhere in Senegal.

July 19th, 2011 | Tags: Food for Education, malnutrition, Matam, McGovern-Dole, moringa, Peace Corps, Senegal, USDA | Category: | Leave a comment

School feeding program boosts enrollment, student performance in Cameroon

Delegation looks to copy Counterpart’s implementation of Food for Education program



By Meg Hewitt

Providing children with a nutritious meal at school is fuel for learning in the Bui Division of Northwest Cameroon and has proven one of the most reliable ways to ensure a healthy learning environment.

“Our children previously left for school hungry and often crying. But now they are eager for each new school day to begin. Their happiness makes us proud and very happy to cook for them,” said a volunteer cook at the Tadu Government School.

Impacts on school attendance

The program has had dramatic results. Enrollment at the Tadu Government School increased 40.5 percent for boys and 33.6 percent for girls from 2009 to 2010. Children in Project schools perform better in soccer, handball, athletics and other sporting activities. Two project schools qualified to represent Bui Division at the Regional Schools Sports and Athletic Competition in soccer and long jump.

School feeding started in 2009 supplying 13,542 students per day. As of the end of June, more than 20,500 students per day were benefitting from Counterpart’s school feeding program.

Recognition from abroad

The Tadu Government School, one of the 74 USDA-sponsored Food for Education (FFE) participants, was visited in June by Cameroon’s Ministry of Basic Education, the World Food Program and the UN  Food and Agricultural Organization so they could develop a corresponding national school feeding model and strategy in other regions. Counterpart manages the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education program at the Tadu Government School.

The delegation, which was met by an enthusiastic crowd of some 500 people, took a tour of some of the project’s accomplishments in the school including a school farm and garden, new toilets, a warehouse and a kitchen.  The delegation was most impressed by the parent and teacher participation.

“We formerly did not know how to prepare food for a large number of people, but with the training given to us by the project's health and nutrition staff, we are now invited whenever there is a major occasion in the village and paid to cook for visiting dignitaries,” one community member shared.

Lasting support

The school gardens and farms also serve as outdoor laboratories for lessons on environmental education and agriculture, which constitute a strong base for project sustainability. The school gardens have generated income for the school through the sales of produce from their gardens and use the money to support other school activities.

“We have learnt a lot from you and shall carry your example elsewhere,” said the leader of the delegation, Madame Alice Montheu. She promised that given the enthusiasm shown by the community in supporting their children’s health and education, she will get the Ministry of Basic Education to personally visit the project and provide further infrastructural support to the school.

Other members of the delegation were equally impressed.

 “We had heard so much about this program during our various meetings with partners in Yaounde, what we have witnessed here today is simply marvelous,” observed Richard Temfack, Coordinator of WFP/FAO management committee.

July 19th, 2011 | Tags: Bui, Cameroon, education, FAO, Food for Education, food security, McGovern-Dole, school, USDA, WFP | Category: | Leave a comment

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