New Programs in Honduras, Youth Training in Tajikistan Added to Civil Society Portfolio

Two separate programs – a five-year community safety initiative in Honduras and a youth training project in Tajikistan – have been awarded by USAID to Counterpart International’s Government Strengthening and Civil Society practice area.

Tajikistan: Inspiring youth

The new four-year Tajikistan Young Leaders (TYL) program will focus on encouraging youth to become socially conscious and take an active role in civil society, giving them ownership of their future and allowing them to contribute to the development of their communities. Approximately half of Tajikistan’s population is under the age of 18.

The program targets rural and semi-urban communities in the regions of Zerafshan Valley, Rasht Valley and Badakhshan where 70% of the rural population lives in abject poverty. Many of these areas are remote and difficult to get to; factors that will make this project all the more challenging.

Key program activities will include: initiating after school civic education; organizing youth exchanges, camps and national forums; and building the capacity of youth CSOs and networks.

This new project marks a return to Tajikistan for civil society and will facilitate cross practice area synergies between TYL and Counterpart’s current humanitarian assistance program in Tajikistan.

Beyond a progression of civil society in the region, these activities will lead to improved trust and a better perception of Tajikistan’s young people. By focusing and embracing their energy and ideas the Tajikistan Young Leaders program will inspire and empower the country’s youth.

Honduras: Involving communities in crime prevention

Meanwhile in Honduras, Counterpart hopes to improve citizen and community safety by strengthening local communities’ and government’s ability to prevent threats from gangs and drug traffickers. The public security situation in Honduras is one of the worst in the world, ranking among the top five nations with the highest number of violent crimes and murders per capita.

Unfortunately, crime and gang activity is a significant concern in Honduras. Rather than focusing solely on the problems at a judicial or institutional level, the initiative will involve community members and encourage more interaction with local authorities that will lead to more sustainable results.   

The Community Action for Prosperity (CAP) component is part of the larger Citizen Participation for Responsive Governance program that will help communities to plan and implement activities that address the root causes of insecurity, with a particular focus on youth and other at-risk groups.

Activities will involve crime prevention; dialogue forums to raise policy issues with government officials; and increased networking, supporting and encouraging citizens (youth in particular) to take positive action and bring stability to their area. 

Through these activities, CAP will build communities’ overall capacity to work collaboratively with municipal authorities, the private sector, civic organizations and patronatos (local councils).

Funded through GCSS LWA

Both programs were awarded to Counterpart under the Global Civil Society Strengthening Leader with Associates Agreement (GCSS LWA). Counterpart was awarded the GCSS LWA in 2009 and provides technical assistance, research, services and support for civil society projects.

The LWA mechanism allows Counterpart and its Consortium associates to implement a wide range of civil society, media development and program design and learning activities for USAID Missions around the world.

Already, Counterpart’s LWA has enabled USAID Missions to quickly program more than $92 million in civil society projects around the world, including Afghanistan, Armenia, Chad and India.

June 24th, 2011 | Tags: crime, gangs, GCSS LWA, Honduras, LWA, Tajikistan, youth | Category: | Leave a comment

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – Efforts Recognized in Northern Guatemala at Awards Ceremony

Community members assemble eco-bricks, where empty bottles are filled with trash.

By Jennifer O’Riordan

Ever looked at an empty plastic soda bottle as you’re throwing it away and wondered where they all end up? In Guatemala, they may become a sturdy wall in a new school.

Students, teachers and parents in the northern municipality of Raxruhá joined an innovative program that creates “eco-bricks,” in which plastic water and soda bottles are filled with inorganic plastic trash that can be used to create a variety of structures, from trashcans to classrooms.

These schools have been so successful in the program -- called Educational Program for Environmental Protection and Awareness -- that they were recognized for their commitment on June 20, 2011.

The program has taken off in over 30 urban and rural schools within the Raxruhá municipality, and it is raising awareness about environmental protection among some 3,200 students.

“It is an initiative with a direct impact on the improvement of environmental conditions both in the schools and their environs,” says Rony Mejia, Director of Counterpart International’s Community Tourism Alliance in Guatemala.

Counterpart co-hosted the awards ceremony as part of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Community Tourism Alliance project, which encourages schools and communities to reduce, reuse and recycle through a combination of environmental education and solid waste management activities,.

How eco-bricks work

In addition to waste separation techniques and how-to make compost, participants also learn how to build trashcans, small-scale landfills, restrooms and even classrooms using the innovative eco-bricks technique.

“In the beginning it took us some time to understand and accept the idea,” said Jose Roberto Chun Tiul, Technical Coordinator for the Ministry of Education in Raxruhá, “Now we see that it is a creative way for our children to participate. We now understand that we can educate our students and their parents through practical activities so that they prevent environmental pollution.”

Nicolas Politte, who is coordinating the project with Raxruhá municipality and Counterpart, says the eco-brick technique is already well-known.

“Eco-brick constructions have been expanding steadily in Guatemala. We know of at least 11 finished schools and five more being built, while a considerable amount of restrooms, meeting rooms, and other useful and needed structures have also been built,” Politte says.

Raxruhá has shown a strong commitment to the development of the region in recent years. The administration drew up a 15-year Municipal Development Plan where environmental education and solid waste management were identified as two of the area’s main challenges.

Evolution of the program

This project is divided into three phases and the awards ceremony marks the completion of phase two. In phase one, workshops and trainings are held where schools shared ideas and students, teachers and parents were taught how to build trashcans from reused plastic bottles. In a participatory process parents and teachers of each school discuss and vote in order to commit to participate in the ensuing environmental education and protection efforts.

In the second phase, the progress that each school and surrounding community has made was evaluated over several months. Evaluation criteria included the implementation of best practices such as trash separation, composting and organic fertilizer production.

And finally, technical assistance for more ambitious constructions will be provided in the third phase. Stricter evaluations will also be held, focusing specifically on how internalized and sustainable the processes are becoming within each school and community. At the end of this evaluation, the top 5 schools will be selected and prizes awarded to both rural and urban schools.

Prizes include clean-up kits for schools and eco-filters for water purification. The first prize will be a new eco-bathroom combo with walls made from eco-bricks, four gravity toilets and a rainwater collection system.

Politte spoke about what lies ahead for the Eco-bricks program: “We need to find more participants and supporters in order to consolidate and expand our efforts in 2012. It is important to cover the growing demand for these kinds of eco-constructions so that people continue to learn and retain hopeful environmental conservation efforts,” he says.

Along with Counterpart’s Community Tourism Alliance, other contributing organizations include USAID, the Municipality of Raxruhá, Ministry of Education, Ecofiltro and Hug It Forward.

GOOD has also highlighted this program on their site.


June 21st, 2011 | Tags: conservation, eco-bricks, Guatemala, management, natural resources, Raxruhá, sustainable tourism, trash | Category: | Leave a comment

Training Afghan NGOs to Tell Their Stories

© David Snyder/Counterpart International.

By Michael J. Zamba, Director of Communications

The market on the outskirts of Kabul was crowded with vendors selling everything from shoes to fresh fruit out of stalls, packed tightly together as to not let an inch of potential retail space go to waste. Neighborhood clients pushed their way along the sidewalk and even on to the street. It was a typical Tuesday morning in this Khair Khana market -- except for the presence of me, two other foreigners and two Afghans with a video camera.

Abdul Wali Hayat and Haroon Nusrat -- both in their mid-20s and working for the non-profit, non-governmental Counterpart International in Afghanistan --stopped in the market to practice a few of their newly-learned video production skills. "Inshallah" ("God willing" in Dari and Arabic), they would be able to capture the busy life in the market and use it in a short, online documentary.

Wali and Haroon had to get permission from a police commander and his team who were walking the beat that morning. Once the commander had agreed, Wali and Haroon repeated "Tashakur," or thank you. They also had to reassure shopkeepers that they would not interfere with their business or do things that were not permitted in this conservative society.

The small camera was a strong magnet for kids (who always crowd in front of the lens). When the kids came, we knew that it was time to move on.

All this just to get what is called video "b-roll," which is supplemental footage that is intertwined with interviews as part of a documentary. In the end, maybe 20 seconds of all this footage would appear in the video.

Although successful in their first endeavor, Haroon and Wali did not imagine that this would be the start of their Tuesday. Twenty-four hours earlier, they were sitting in a conference room packed with 36 people who were learning the basics of how to take photographs and shoot video in Afghanistan.

While Afghan media professionals do learn these techniques, it is unusual for people who work for non-profit organizations to receive this type of in-depth training on visual communications techniques. Monday's training was special since it sought to provide and share these skills with Afghan non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Organized by Counterpart International-Afghanistan's office, as part of its Initiative to Promote Afghan Civil Society II, which is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the communications seminar was a smart idea. The appetite was tremendous (indeed, we ran out of space in the training room!), and NGO staff traveled from many different parts of the country.

Their commitment in the six-hour course was evident. Afghanistan's security situation -- particularly outside the capital -- makes travel difficult and even dangerous. Moreover, many NGOs in the country have only a few staff members (but big demands for their services), so for each of these organizations, giving up a person for a day is a major commitment in itself.

Although they had varying levels of education and experience, none had been trained in communications before. About half said their organizations required them to do some communications work, such as preparing newsletters and field reports.

Led by David Snyder, a U.S. professional freelance photographer whose client list is dominated by NGOs, the morning training session consisted of practical information about how to get the best images from typical situations encountered by civil society workers. Though he has held similar trainings elsewhere for other NGOs, this was the largest group and his first time in Afghanistan.

Right after lunch, I handled a one-hour session on how to shoot video. Honestly, at first I was skeptical about training so many people. Having organized and managed training seminars for professional journalists in Latin America and the Caribbean, I knew it was a lot of new information for people to absorb.

My concerns were unfounded. After several hours of instruction, the Afghans were sent out for an hour to take photographs of everyday life in the surrounding neighborhood. When they returned to the meeting room, we could see that the basic techniques of good composition had resonated with them. In fact, some of the photos were very good.

The following day, Haroon and Wali put to work what they learned about video. By the end of Tuesday, they had set up and filmed three interviews. They ended the day of shooting at about 3:30 p.m. by taking us up a hill overlooking Kabul to shoot more b-roll.

It is here that they were reminded of one lesson that was not taught in the classroom but demonstrated earlier in the day: video cameras attract kids. Fortunately, I knew this so I came prepared with individually wrapped chocolate bars, and our spectators were quickly satisfied.

One final lesson of the day (and not part of the lesson plan): Always give out the chocolate bars when you're leaving since even the sight of candy tends to draw more children (and you don't want someone to be left out).

June 17th, 2011 | Tags: Afghanistan, communications, David Snyder, I-PACS II, photographs, training, video | Category: | Leave a comment

Children with Disabilities in Niger to Receive Food Assistance

Impoverished children with disabilities in the capital of Niger will receive two meals a day as part of a new one-year program to reduce malnutrition and keep kids in school, the U.S. Ambassador to Niger and Counterpart International announced on June 2, 2011.

Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by the U.S. non-profit Counterpart, each month almost 1,600 people with disabilities – most of them blind – will benefit from the initiative.

At the launching ceremony, the US Ambassador Bisa Williams said, "This food assistance will certainly allow persons with disabilities to lead a more active and dynamic life…Such support is essential to eradicating poverty and to limiting the negative effects of begging. The American Government through USAID is proud to support this initiative in partnership with Government of Niger and Counterpart International.”

U.S. Ambassador Williams was joined by Niger’s Population Minister and the Governor of the Niamey Region at the launch of the International Food Relief Partnership program.

While most food assistance programs concentrate activities in rural areas, the International Food Relief Partnership will focus on urban poverty. Also unique to the program is the participation of two nongovernmental organizations – the National Blind People’s Union and Handicap Niger – serving and run by people with disabilities.

“This initiative is another example of how Counterpart works with communities to overcome obstacles facing the most disadvantaged,” says Joan Parker, President and CEO of Counterpart. “These children will stay in school, live healthier lives and contribute to their communities, regardless of their disabilities.”

Elsewhere in Niger, Counterpart is helping communities in the Zinder region to overcome food insecurity through nutrition, agricultural training and other activities through 2013. In the Diffa region, Counterpart has a one-year initiative that supports 24 health centers, education for pregnant and lactating women and the rehabilitation of 65 cereal banks. Both programs are funded by USAID.

“Food assistance is part of a broader strategy to get people through dire times, and while giving them the platform – in this case in the form of health and education – that will help them to withstand future food shortages on their own,” says Parker. “It is an honor to work with community leaders that recognize that each community is better off by having all citizens healthy, educated and engaged.”

June 2nd, 2011 | Tags: children, disabled, food assistance, Niger, USAID | Category: | Leave a comment

Trip Report: David Snyder Reports from Hanoi

© David Snyder/Counterpart International.

By David Snyder

Wrapping up a few days in Vietnam with Counterpart International, which asked me to write and photograph some of the programs they carried out.

Yesterday, I met with several local motorbike taxi drivers, known here as Xe Om. They make their living on Hanoi’s roadways, ferrying passengers on their motorbikes. But Hanoi’s roadways are dangerous – overcrowded and filled increasingly by dangerous drivers who flout existing laws, according to drivers I spoke with.

One of Counterpart’s programs in partnership with the Red Cross was educating Xe Om drivers in first aid and road safety, providing them with first aid kits so they could help with any accidents they came upon.

It was certainly much needed. One driver I spoke with said he has responded to 100 incidents since he was trained in 2006, and though many were minor, he has helped to immobilize broken bones and transport injured crash victims to hospitals as well.

Today, I stopped in on the Hanoi Emergency 115 Center. It’s a cross between a 911 call center, where people phone in emergencies, and a paramedic unit. Equipped with five ambulances, the center receives as many as 90 calls each day.

In 2001, Counterpart supported the group with three ambulances – vehicles they used to open their first satellite center. Over the following years, Counterpart provided other vehicles and most importantly training to help the center’s medical staff provide more effective emergency care. Now, Hanoi 115 has five centers around the city and reaches 30,000 patients each year with emergency services.

It’s been an interesting experience, seeing how these projects have gone on.

It’s not an opportunity I get too often so I’m glad to have been able to see it.

David Snyder is a professional freelance writer and photographer based in Maryland.

May 31st, 2011 | Tags: 115, David Snyder, motorcycles, prehospital trauma care, safety, Vietnam | Category: From the Field | Leave a comment

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