Youth take the front seat in shaping the future for girls’ education


Nargiza (left) and Munisa (right) took the skills they learned in a civic education course to promote gender equality in Tajikistan's rural schools. © Counterpart International

By Kulsoom Rizvi

Meet Nargiza Khojaeva and Munisa Sharifkhojaeva – two ambitious 15-year-old girls from the Gharm district of Tajikistan. Both girls spent most of their childhood in Rasht Valley, a traditional, rural community in Gharm located in the northeastern part of Tajikistan, which has the highest school dropout rates than the national average for both boys and girls – ranging from 11 per cent to 14 per cent.  

Much of rural Tajikistan carries a restrictive view of the role of women in society. Girls’ education continues to be a major concern in the country with enrollment rates in the upper grades low and dropout rates high.

“Many bright, young girls of Rasht Valley run into the cold cultural wall blocking them from higher education. Most cannot fight back and as a result, their educational growth is prematurely cut off after ninth grade as the only thing expected from them, is that they get married,” Nargiza said.

Munisa recalls many of her fellow female classmates are forced to drop out of school for early marriage.

“We are 14 girls in my class now. In less than a year, I am sure we will have only 8 girls in the class. My classmates will leave school at grade 10,’ Munisa says. Parents in our village do not want their daughters to continue education. My mother was a very bright student at school, but because of her early marriage she was forced to stop her studies. She dreams to see me educated.”

Marrying girls off early is a way for poverty-stricken families to conserve their own limited resources. Tajikistan has one of the lowest per capital GDPs among the former Soviet republics. Because of the lack of employment opportunities in the country, as many as a million Tajik citizens work abroad, almost all of them in Russia, supporting their families remotely.

Through Counterpart International’s Young Leaders Program (YLP), the girls saw a window of opportunity for  their future and shaping the future of other girls to come.

Nargiza and Munisa attended a 10-week civic education course organized by YLP that educated 222 youth participants from Rasht Valley on the core principles and values of volunteerism, civic participation and human rights. Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the program supports active, civically engaged, and socially conscious youth in Tajikistan, providing young people with the tools and experience to take ownership of their future.

Targeting the rural youth

Nargiza dreams to become a journalist. While taking the civic education course, she learned how to communicate her arguments. From the course, Munisa took away skills in analytical thinking. She would like to become a lawyer someday.

“I would like to deliver this course to 14 schools in my village,” says Munisa.” I want the girls from my village to know that there is nothing to fear about wanting to learn. Parents in my village should change their conservative view on educating women and accept education as a way for girls embrace knowledge. When a person is open to learning, a world of opportunities opens up.”

One of the program’s main activities is to educate and improve the skills of the rural youth in public speaking and debate techniques and methods.

“The goal of the civic education course is to promote understanding of the democratic process in Tajikistan. It emphasized the role of the individual and the family in Tajik society as well as citizens’ rights and responsibilities. It’s important for youth to have an active voice in a democratic society. We’re creating and supporting our future leaders,” Coordinator of YLP in Gharm Shamsullo Mirzoev says.

After completing the course, Nargiza and Munisa decided to participate in a regional debate to further promote their goal in making a difference for girls and education.

The debate, funded by the Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation, gathered around 50 participants from Rasht Pedagogical University and the Gharm Medical College. The girls were considered the youngest and most active participants at the regional debate tournaments – winning the debate on gender equality in education. Both girls were invited to participate in the “Voices of Youth” debate organized by Eurasia Foundation of Central Asia and the World Bank which gathered youth from all over the country.

“The award is an amazing opportunity to further youth leadership development, to make a tangible difference and inspire others. I am going to continue active participation to exercise my rights and democracy and to force for change in my community,” Nargis says.

Nargiza and Munisa hope to start a debate club for girls in their community, continuing to expand the dialogue on gender issues.

January 8th, 2014 | Tags: civic education, civil society, gender equality, girls’ education, Tajikistan, youth, Youth Leadership Program | Category: Impact Stories | Leave a comment

Investing in the development of local farmers in Guatemala


73 extensionists graduated from Counterpart International’s Certificate Rural Extension Program in April, the first class since the closing of the Ministry of Agriculture (MAGA) extension system and university programs in 1990. 

The extensionists are now certified to work in their communities for the MAGA throughout the Huehuetenango district, providing best farming practices and techniques to improve the overall agriculture productivity.The certification is a part of the USDA-funded Food for Progress program.

The National Extension System in Guatemala disappeared 24 years ago leaving many rural farmers and communities desperate for guidance and support. The new administration in Guatemala has made an effort to re-establish the extension system.

Counterpart is improving the capacity of MAGA’s formal extension agents and certified non-governmental agricultural advisers to provide technical support to agricultural producers for increased productivity and household and market outcomes.

Through the establishment of Rural Development Learning Centers (CADERS in Spanish), Counterpart provided farmer-to-farmer training to the graduated extensionists, one third of which were women.

Counterpart has 10 CADERS in Huehuetenango where training activities took place on soil conservation, water management, horticulture production, food security and nutrition for community members, agricultural promoters, and MAGA extensionists.

The CADERS facilitate a teaching and learning process and provide a place for farmers and teachers to converse on best practices and technology, food and nutritional security, and rural development solutions. After trainings, each farmer is then able to share and replicate what they learned to their community members.

“The transfer of knowledge and skills to farmers and their families is an important extension activity and the extension agent must prepare himself thoroughly,” Country Director Maria Esther Bucaro said. “They must find out which skills or areas of knowledge are lacking among the farmers in his/her area, and then arrange suitable teaching and learning experiences through which the farmers can acquire them and solve their problems. Extension also provides advice and information to assist farmers in making decisions and generally enable them to take action.”

May 7th, 2014 | Tags: agriculture, capacity building, extension agents, Food for Progress, food security, Guatemala, leadership, nutrition | Category: Impact Stories | Leave a comment

Afghanistan’s presidential candidates endorse key policy issues

Afghan Civil Society announces a majority of presidential candidates have pledged to civil society groups that they will prioritize the needs of the people. 

by Kulsoom Rizvi

As a result of a nationwide campaign initiated by Counterpart International’s local civil society partners, nearly all eight presidential candidates from Afghanistan’s 2014 elections earlier this month endorsed five key policy areas, prioritizing the needs of the Afghan people. 952 provincial council candidates also endorsed the pledge letters.

Prior to the April 5 elections, nearly all of the 8 presidential candidates signed or verbally endorsed the pledge letters at a press conference which outlined Afghanistan’s most pressing problems voiced by citizens. The main policy areas included:

  • Peace and Political Stability
  • Humanitarian Development
  • Economic Development
  • Human Rights, Rule of Law & Good Governance
  • Health, Sport and Environment

“I appreciate Afghan civil society for its initiative. I pledge to place your practical and reasonable recommendations in my program and in my future programs as well,” Mohammad Daud Sulltanzoy, one of the 2014 presidential candidates said.

Convening a network of leaders

Counterpart’s Initiative to Promote Afghan Civil Society (I-PACS II), funded by the U.S. Agency for Development, strengthened the capacity of 13 lead civil society organizations to convene other local leaders and organizations to drive the dialogue and information collecting in preparing the pledge letters.

With Counterpart’s technical support, the civil society leaders facilitated a series of conferences in 29 provinces where locals spoke about their needs and concerns at the provincial level. As a result of these dialogues, 712 provincial council candidates endorsed the people’s key needs in areas like the peace process, quality education and transparency in the recruitment process of civil servants. This formed the basis of the pledge letters presented to the eight candidates running for the 2014 elections.

Following the provincial dialogues, more than 200 civil society activists and leaders gathered in Kabul to map out a more comprehensive list of the country’s critical priorities for presidential candidates to endorse. Five major groups were established with 40 participants in each group to discuss key issues in peace and stability, human development, economic development, human rights and good governance and sports, environment and health.

“It was the first gathering of civil society coming together to discuss the priorities of the people to present to the Presidential candidates. This is showing the new strength of civil society, coordinating for a single goal to better the lives of all Afghans,” Arezo Qanih from the Empowerment Center for Women said.

The 2014 Election for Afghanistan is a turning point, marking a peaceful transfer of power through democratic means for the first time in the country’s history. Identifying and outlining public priorities, allow for the continued engagement and conversation with key government, Parliament and international leaders to ensure stability and peace post-2014.

“Counterpart International is proud to have supported this historic gathering which marked the first time that Afghan CSOs, representing a diverse group of constituencies, entered the national campaign debate to call upon presidential candidates to formally commit to endorsing the civil society agenda.” Lori Yamamoto from Counterpart International said.

May 5th, 2014 | Tags: Afghanistan, civil society, I-PACS II, pledge letters, Presidential Election 2014 | Category: Impact Stories | Leave a comment

Counterpart’s partners prepared to deliver independent disaster relief

John A Heffern, U.S. Ambassador to Armenia at a ceremony celebrating the handover of the disaster packages which will enable local partners to independently respond rapidly in the event of disasters and emergencies.

Counterpart International's government and local partners in four countries will deliver independent disaster relief after receving $3.78 million worth of emergency supplies. The handover was celebrated at a ceremony in Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan in March and April receiving widespread media coverage. 

The Ministry of Emergency Situations in Armenia, the Emergency Management Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Georgia and FOCUS Humanitarian Assistance in Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan will resume responsibility for the disaster packages. 

“The Department of State, as well as Counterpart International, has had strong, impactful relationships with all of these organizations and this transfer has assured that the Department of State disaster packages will continue to be used in an effective manner in support of victims of disasters whenever they occur,” Jerry Oberndorfer, the State Department’s Director for Humanitarian Assistance of the Office of the Coordinator of U.S. Assistance to Europe and Eurasia said.

Counterpart has maintained the U.S. State Department pre-positioneddisaster packages under its Community and Humanitarian Assistance Program (CHAP)from 2006 to 2014 and has a long history of responding to disasters and emergencies in the former Soviet countries. For instance, in Georgia, Counterpart responded to four disasters including the heavy rainstorms in June 2011 in Shida Kartli that triggered mudslides and floods that killed several people and damaged about 1,500 homes. The program also released disaster supplies during civil unrest that broke out in the southern cities of the Kyrgyz Republic in June 2010 and an earthquake in the rural Rasht Valley in Tajikistan in 2007 which damaged and destroyed more than 1,400 homes.

Since 1995, Counterpart has coordinated the distribution of approximately $1 billion worth of humanitarian assistance to individuals in need through its network of local partner organizations.

May 1st, 2014 | Tags: Armenia, CHAP, disaster response, Georgia, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan | Category: Impact Stories | Leave a comment

Infographic: Counterpart and coral restoration


About 10 years ago, Counterpart International looked closely at what could be done to address the rapid pace of coral destruction around the communities we serve. Without an intervention, the decline would soon have devastating effects for other marine life as well as the communities who depend on fishing and tourism for their livelihoods.

This urgency led to an innovation in reef restoration, called coral gardeningTM, which Counterpart developed and refined in collaboration with Miami University and the Punta Cana Ecological Foundation.

Here's a look at how Counterpart and its public and private sector partners have taken a community-based approach to building greater awareness, support and action for restoring these natural resources.

Read the full story.


November 20th, 2013 | Tags: capacity building, community engagement, coral gardens, coral reefs, Dominican Republic, Frohring Foundation, infographic, Punta Cana Ecological Foundation, University of Miami | Category: Impact Stories | Leave a comment

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