National advocacy organization Aman-saulyk works in Kazakhstan to raise public awareness of health and human rights. With volunteer management training from Counterpart, it added four volunteers who can amplify the message.
By Jennifer Brookland
Selbi Turesheva is passionate about raising awareness of people’s right to health in Kazakhstan.
“Every person may face a time in life when they are in need of medical attention,” she says. “Receiving quality medical care is that person’s human right.”
Turesheva and fellow university student Parvina Kurbanoa became the first volunteers to give their time to Aman-saulyk, an organization that conducts national advocacy campaigns to promote patients’ rights to quality medical care.
Though the need is great, the group was unable to attract volunteers away from big cities like Almaty in favor of Kazakhstan’s more remote rural areas. That changed when Aman-saulyk and another 11 civil society organizations received volunteer management training from Counterpart International.
As part of the U.S. Agency for International Development-supported Kazakhstan Civil Society Strengthening program, the instruction allowed Aman-saulyk leaders to improve their skills and learn how to recruit, train and make productive use of volunteers like Turesheva and Kurbanova.
“Earlier, I doubted how a person can work for free and work so effectively,” says Oksana Gulak, Aman-saulyk’s online health protection project coordinator. “But after the training we were able to see what an employer and a volunteer can offer to each other and build mutually beneficial relations.”
The training helped the organization recruit two more volunteers. Today, the four are actively engaged in translating relevant international materials from English to Russian to make the organization’s website more robust.
With their help, people can easily read general information about Aman-saulyk and its mission to educate patients.
Their goals include translating heftier publications into Russian so that all can peruse them. First up: information on providing palliative care.
The volunteers are also actively promoting Aman-saulyk’s activities using social networks and new media.
“On Facebook we have been posting basic patient’s rights hoping to reach a wide range of people,” says Turesheva. “They need to know that they have these rights.”
More fans are starting to follow the organization online, and the number of people reading web posts is ticking up as well.
The efforts of these hardworking volunteers allowed Aman-saulyk’s message to reach an increased number of Kazakhs. With its increased ability to manage volunteers, the organization is now working to expand its recruiting effort so that additional do-gooders can contribute their talents and magnify its reach.
Additional reporting contributed by Fariza Mukanova, Kazakhstan Civil Society Strengthening Program Coordinator.
Regional Policy Dialogues allow Afghans to collaboratively address local needs and find solutions. Whether building a high school for girls or fixing a broken water pump, this community-led development approach is seeing real results.
By Tom Willcox
The inhabitants of Labaabe Baala village in Afghanistan’s Samangan province had struggled for seven months to secure a clean and safe water source, ever since the village well fell into disrepair.
The water source has finally been fixed as a result of regional policy dialogues held between the head of the Community District Council, two members of the Shura and three religious leaders and community elders. Furthermore, this feat was accomplished not through donor funds, but through the community’s own initiatives.
“These regional policy dialogues are like bridges,” says Rahimullah Morshidi, Counterpart International’s Director of Community and Policy Engagement in Afghanistan. “They enable follow-up of the issues which are recommended by RPD participants, ensuring the relevant responsible parties engage with the community to find a suitable solution.”
The dialogues are facilitated through Counterpart's USAID-funded Initiative to Promote Afghan Civil Society (I-PACS II) program, which provides technical and financial support to a network of key partner organizations.
The program convenes regional policy dialogues on a quarterly basis across Afghanistan—forums specifically designed to enable civil society organizations, government officials, community members, and donors to interact and find solutions to community and regional challenges.
When Labaabe Baala’s water problem was nominated as a priority issue at a regional policy dialogue hosted by three I-PACS partners in Jawzjan province, one of the organization’s Community Dialogue officers traveled to the village to investigate.
When he arrived, Ali Ahmad Zalmai discovered the village well had been built with poor quality materials. Both the pump and the handle had only worked for a month after being installed. Community members, lacking the knowledge and resources to repair the well themselves, had expected support from the government.
Zalmai encouraged further discussions about the issue with community members, which led to suggestions that the well could be fixed without external funding if the villagers agreed to chip in for the cost of maintenance.
“The community members themselves decided to contribute to rebuilding the water well,” says Zalmai. “They calculated the repair of the well to be 18,000 Afghanis (approximately $350), and each individual contributed 100 to 1000 Afghanis ($2–$20) depending on their financial limits.”
The collaborative problem-solving and joint decision-making gave the people of Labaabe Baala a sense of responsibility and ownership of the well, in addition to ensuring its operation and maintenance.
“We are now trying our best to take care of the water,” says community member Raees Khaliq. “We have a specific time for people in the community to come and take the water and we even lock the manual pump when it is not being supervised.”
The well repairs alone had an extremely important impact on the community of Labaabe Baala, now able to access clean, safe water.
But the process by which it was able to restore the well is indicative of a far greater achievement: the empowerment of an engaged community to resolve issues and find sustainable solutions on its own.
Children at the Froilan Turcio public school are now back in class after advocacy efforts by their parents and a local Honduran NGO. © Katie Rotramel/Counterpart International.
By Jennifer Brookland
Many children rejoice at the thought of a day with no school. But for 63 children at the Froilan Turcio public school in Olancho, Honduras, those days suddenly became unacceptably frequent.
When one of their teachers was unjustly transferred to another community, the sole remaining instructor had to handle grades one through six, plus preschool.
In addition to the impracticality of educating an excessive number of students, she was about to depart for maternity leave.
When the unhappy parents realized there was no plan for a replacement teacher, they immediately went to local education authorities.
The parents found little assistance from officials, including the Municipal Education Director. He refused to return the absent teacher, and responded to their complaint by challenging the parents to press charges.
As the parents struggled to get answers, the remaining teacher went on maternity leave and the school was shuttered.
Not taking “no” for an answer
Outraged, parents in this rural-remote community turned to the Association for a More Just Society, whose Anti-Corruption Legal Assistance Center (ALAC) agreed to help take their grievances to the government – and vowed not to accept no for an answer.
ALAC receives technical and financial support from Counterpart’s Citizen Participation for Responsive Governance program, known locally as Impactos. The program, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, is a five-year initiative that helps civil society organizations increase the transparency and accountability of public institutions.
ALAC offers a confidential system where all citizens who are victims of or witness to corruption can file and track an anonymous claim.
It is the first center of its kind in Honduras, where responsive administration and good governance sometimes take a backseat to other interests.
The education system is especially fraught with problems. In its first six months, 90percent of complaints ALAC received concerned corruption in the education system.
Responding in person
When ALAC followed up with the Education Departmental Office of Olancho on the case of the teacher-less school, it got the same response the parents did: none.
The staff realized they would have to solve the problem more actively. They contacted the Transparency Unit of the Education Department, and with one of the unit’s lawyers, traveled to Olancho to investigate and document the incident.
Together with the Transparency Unit, ALAC also worked to inform the community of their education rights. They showed community members how to use social audit mechanisms to oversee the public education services being provided locally.
They also organized and trained 30 of the parents on how to use the country’s Transparency and Access to Public Information laws to monitor the performance of public officials.
"It's very important to highlight the parents' involvement in this case,” says Ludim Ayala, the director of the ALAC. “They were committed to making sure their children were in class."
Finally, ALAC helped draft and circulate a document that denounced the deficiencies in the educational system and pledged the unit’s commitment to resolving the problem immediately.
The success of a partnership
With the pressure from ALAC, the Transparency Unit, and the community, the District Education Director threatened to fire the Municipal Director who had dealt with the complaint so cavalierly if the teacher was not returned to Froilan Turcio public school.
The swift, coordinated action organized by Counterpart’s local partners worked.
The teacher who had been inappropriately transferred was returned to her post, and classes resumed the following week.
“I think the key effect of the story is how citizens who were organized in a parent-teacher association in a hard-to-reach rural forgotten community were able to raise their demands and complaints on the right to education for their children,” says Gloria Manzanares, Counterpart’s Chief of Party for the Impactos program.
The success showed people throughout Honduras that reporting acts of corruption can help hold public officials accountable in upholding the rule of law, and make government more responsive to the needs of the people.
A woman watches as her child munches on dried cheese - a crucial source of protein for young children in Mauritania.
By Mary Kate Wise
In the Gorgol region of Mauritania – where drought and poverty mean every scrap of food counts – milk is a crucial source of protein and nutrition for growing children.
“When the children drink the animal’s milk, they have energy and want to play,” says Phuel Maimouna, a young mother from the Tintrami community, who feeds her three children with milk from her cattle herd.
During normal rainy seasons milk is plentiful. But without the technology to preserve and store it, families have no choice but to throw the surplus away.
For the six dry months out of every year, when the men from Tintrami take the cattle on a migration to find grazing ground, families must go without their main source of protein.
In 2010, Counterpart International established a pilot project in the Gorgol region that offered another solution. It showed women how to make dried cheese products out of their surplus milk during the rainy season.
The dry cheese provides a nutritious food source which, at 28 percent protein, can make the difference in keeping children healthy during times of scarcity.
Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Multi-Year Assistance Program, the Counterpart initiative aims to improve the health of mothers and children and ensure better nutrition. The five-year program also builds microenterprise and community development.
Women who participate in the project learn the technical aspects of dry cheese production, and receive a cheese-making kit with the necessary equipment.
The project also enables the communities to construct storage warehouses lit with solar panels for the cheese to dry in.
The women produce the dried cheese by first straining and whisking the cow’s milk. They add a mix that ferments the milk, then scoop out the curds into a mold where they sit for six hours overtop a clean screen that allows for drainage.
Finally, they move the cheese behind a screen to protect it from flies and dust and leave it to dry for up to five days.
Once the cheese is ready, it can be dried and shaped into a patty, crushed into porridge or sautéed with vegetables in a sauce, and can be flavored to taste salty or sweet.
When stored properly, the dried cheese lasts up to six months.
Children have to be shooed away during the production process because they like the dried cheese so much, says Maimouna.
Besides the nutritional benefits to families, making dried cheese also allows households to save money.
When the herds are gone in the lean season, women typically spend 1600 Ouguiyas (about five dollars) for each kilo of milk powder substitute. Instead, they can produce a kilo of dried cheese from every 10 liters of extra milk they had during the rainy season.
Over the pilot phase of this activity, 200 women produced more than 260 kilos of dried cheese. They are using what they have learned to teach other women in their communities to make the cheese as well.
Participants are now contacting local suppliers to discuss options for packaging and selling the cheese as a source of additional income.
Women speak out at the recent Clean World and Citizens' Labor Protection League roundtable on enforcing recent legislation protecting women.
By Jennifer Brookland
Authorities in Azerbaijan are taking violence against women seriously. They’ve signed on to international treaties, passed laws against workplace discrimination, and written equal rights into the constitution. But without robust enforcement and public awareness, this legislation is often only powerful on paper.
“We have adopted the law on domestic violence but the law does not work,” says Parliament member Fazil Mustafa.
Annagi Hajibeyli, head of the Azerbaijani Lawyers Association, countered, saying: “Having a bad law is better than not having any law at all.”
The two exchanged their perspectives during a roundtable discussion held on Nov. 26 as part of the international 16 days of activism against gender violence campaign.
The attendees—86 representatives of civil society organizations and government agencies, youth, lawyers, and members of Parliament—conferred about the underlying societal causes of violence against women, and how to stop it.
The nongovernmental organizations that sponsored the roundtable—Clean World and Citizens’ Labor Rights Protection League—are part of a coalition that Counterpart International has supported since March 2012 as part of the U.S. Agency for International Development-funded Women’s Participation Project.
The project provides technical and financial support to the local NGOs, which implement issue-based public awareness campaigns, advocate for gender equality, increase women’s influence in decision-making processes, and build women’s leadership skills.
The roundtable is part of a larger series of activities implemented by the coalition designed to raise awareness and stir public debate on the issue of domestic violence.
The government of Azerbaijan supports the national fight against gender-based violence and has a new agency responsible for implementing the country’s gender policies; Mehriban Asgerova represented the State Committee on Family, Women and Children Affairs at the roundtable and expressed the agency’s commitment to addressing the problem.
Asgerova believed the existing law on domestic violence would be more effective if police officers were aware of it.
Participants suggested other measures that might help, such as establishing family courts that could address domestic violence through mediation, and supporting women’s economic and educational rights in general.
Many in Azerbaijan hold conservative values that translate into social exclusion for women and underrepresentation in politics and commerce.
Roundtable participants pinned white ribbons to their chests signifying their protest against gender-based violence and solidarity with the victims. The event also featured a visually graphic mob where young men carrying bloodied axes played out chasing young women.
There were 1,782 registered criminal cases linked to domestic violence last year, almost three quarters of which involved beatings, according to Mehriban Zeynalova, Clean World’s Chairperson.
Unfortunately the trend appears to be continuing: during the first six months of 2012, 790 women suffered from domestic violence, and 38 were killed.
With domestic violence often considered a private matter and not reported to authorities, the true number is likely higher.
“I think that men’s behavior toward women is the measurement of the society,” said Zahid Oruj, one of the male lawmakers present at the discussion. “A man who violates a woman is a weak man.”
The organizers concluded the event by awarding certificates of appreciation featuring white ribbons to public activists who have taken action against gender based violence.
Reporting was contributed by Altinay Kuchukeeva