Renovated preschool will improve health and education for Moldovan children

Children from Kindergarten #183 at the ribbon cutting ceremony in Buiucani. © Elena Zandelova/Counterpart International

by Kulsoom Rizvi

When Moldova became independent in 1991, the government faced an economic crisis and only funded programs deemed essential. This left scarce funding for early education, which led to many educational institutions falling into disrepair.

One of those schools was Kindergarten #183 in Buiucani District, roughly 20 km northwest of the Moldovan capital. It was one of the first educational institutions in the community, founded over two decades ago. At that time, construction materials were limited and the school’s staff did what they could with the little they had on hand – cutting and twisting pipes to create faucets, for example.

Since then, the school’s kitchen has been untouched. Cracked, moldy walls and constant flooding in the basement created unhealthy conditions, below even basic hygienic and sanitary standards. Making matters worse, the old ventilation system was extremely noisy and disrupted the children during their learning.

That’s all changed now.

Through Counterpart’s Small Reconstruction Project (SRP), the school underwent a $15,000 renovation to its kitchen facility, food storage facility and entrance hall, impacting more than 400 children, age 2-7, who attend the school each day.

“The completion of this infrastructure reconstruction project will lead to improved health outcomes and increased educational attainment for the children at this kindergarten for many years to come,” Rang Hee Kim, Director of Humanitarian Assistance at Counterpart said.

The opening of the newly renovated kitchen was celebrated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony where guests included William H. Moser, the U.S. Ambassador of Moldova; Ms. Tverdohleb, the Director of Education Department in the Municipality of Chisinau; and hundreds of smiling children and their families, dancing and singing. The ceremony captured the attention of the local media, with four TV channels covering the event live.

Ana Teaca, who is the Director of Kindergarten #183, said one of her dreams was to create a safer and healthier environment for the children and now feels that they have accomplished that goal with the support of Counterpart.

(L to R) Ana Teaca, Director of Kindergarten #183, Walter Kneib, Country Co-Director for Humanitarian Services, Latter-day Saints Charities; and William H. Moser, Ambassador of the United States to the Republic of Moldova at the ribbon ceremony for the opening of Kindergarten #183's newly renovated kitchen. © Elena Zandelova/Counterpart International

“The greatest gift in my life is these children who are coming every year to this school. Dedicating my work to them is my mission in life,” said Teaca, who has been the Director since 1990.

Renovations included repairing and repainting the walls and ceilings of all four rooms, assisted by volunteers, replacing and evening the floor titles, installing a modern ventilation and electrical system and completely renewing the pipes, faucets and sinks.

“This is not only a renovated kitchen, but an improvement in these children’s health and well-being which will benefit many generations to come,” Vladimir Cerbov, Country Program Director in Moldova said.

Children will now also have access to improved drinking water and properly prepared food, which will result in better health and educational outcomes. The completed project also impacted 10 kitchen staff who are now able to work in a safe environment.

The Latter-day Saints Charities (LDSC) donated a bread cutter and oven to the school and also brought in volunteers to help repaint all the walls. Counterpart has collaborated with LDSC since it began its activities in Moldova in 1998. It’s the partnerships, Cerbov said, that led to success of the project.

Counterpart International’s Humanitarian Assistance Small Reconstruction Projects (SRPs) are geared to address urgent humanitarian issues and improve the standard of living for communities. 

The projects are funded by the U.S. Department of State, Office of the Coordinator of U.S. Assistance to Europe and Eurasia (EUR/ACE) and implemented by Counterpart’s Community and Humanitarian Assistance Program (CHAP).

Since 2006, Counterpart has completed 113 small reconstruction projects in former Soviet countries. Ten of these SRPs were completed in Moldova with reconstruction works valued at over $220,000. 

October 4th, 2013 | Tags: humanitarian assistance, Small Reconstruction Project, SRP Moldova | Category: Impact Stories | Leave a comment

In Western Honduras, a slow path to a fast road

Potholes & corruption are good friends, civil society groups say

Accidents like this are frequent along the CA-4 highway in Western Honduras. Community organizations are joining together to fight the corruption that prevents the necessary repairs.       © David Snyder/ Counterpart International.

By Jennifer Brookland

The CA-4 highway in Western Honduras is an artery that links the industrial hub of San Pedro Sula with the country’s largest port, coffee roasters of Santa Rosa de Copan to distribution networks, and tourists with the Mayan ruins. It also connects Honduras with neighboring Guatemala and El Salvador.

Instead of allowing visitors to flow in and exports out, however, the CA-4 highway is an eyesore, an obstacle and sometimes a deathtrap.

It is cracked, potholed and buckled. Every two or three months, crews are dispatched to patch up the road—but they never seem to really repair it.

Vice-Mayor of the municipality of San Nicolas Copan, Roberto Carlos Chinchilla Sorto, says this makes the CA-4 something else: a symbol of corruption. He suspects that some companies and public officials could be benefiting from illicit road maintenance deals.

From San Nicolas Copan to the capital of Tegucigalpa, people are seeing the problem.

“In the last six years, millions of lempiras have been invested in maintaining the highway,” says Dina Eguigure, Senior Program Officer at the nonprofit Counterpart International. “But if we do a tour of Tegucigalpa or San Pedro Sula to Copán, we will realize that the road is completely destroyed. So we do not know where the resources have gone.”

Advocating for transparency

Counterpart’s Impactos program is partnering with two civil society coalitions—the Asociacion de Organizaciones No Gubernamentales (ASONOG) and Espacio Regional de Occidente (EROC)—to mobilize residents, investigate road investments and work with the Ministry of Public Works, Transportation and Housing to resolve the CA-4 dilemma.

Developing these organizations’ capacity to advocate for better highways is one of the major contributions of the Impactos program, says Equiqure.

ASONOG and EROC are organizing and amplifying citizen voices calling for improved roads in Western Honduras, a region they say is historically neglected by politicians who find more votes elsewhere.

They have formed a citizen coalition of more than 20 organizations, including the Chamber of Commerce, professional associations, community groups, banks and business, in three provinces of Western Honduras.

“Why? Because everyone feels harmed by the road,” Eguigure says.

Quality of life

José Ramón Ávila, the Executive Director of ASONOG, says: “It is of utmost importance for us in the west, which has 40 of the 80 poorest municipalities in Honduras. I think rebuilding roads and making them accessible will help improve the quality of life of an entire population—the nearly 30 percent of the national population that lives here.”

A smooth, safe road would allow residents to invest more in their families or businesses instead of on brakes, shock absorbers and suspension repairs. And proper, long-term road repairs would mean millions of lempiras now earmarked for upkeep could go to other sectors, such as health or education.

It might attract more tourists who would spend money on hotels and restaurants throughout the region. Fruit and lumber exports would be more cost-effective to truck out.

Noé Mercedes García, a community volunteer with EROC, says 45 percent of the country’s coffee comes from Western Honduras. “So why not have a road in top condition?” he asks.

EROC, a joint body that promotes public and governmental coordination to influence public policy, began by researching five years of appropriations assigned to road maintenance in western Honduras.  

More recently, it started working with authorities from the Ministry of Public Works, Transportation and Housing to investigate the use of funds assigned to the maintenance of CA-4.

“There are significant changes,” says Ávila. “First, we have put the construction of this road on the government agenda as a key regional development issue. Second, we have more sectors that are interested in this issue, and not just the problem of the road but what this means for the whole context.”

National transparency efforts

ASONOG, EROC and the notorious CA-4 highway are just a piece of the Impactos program.

With USAID support, Impactos is building up civil society organizations around the country to enable citizens, organizations and the government to increase transparency and accountability of public institutions.

“Our program works bottom-up and top-down,” says Gloria Manzanares, Counterpart’s Director in Honduras, referring to the approach of engaging both civil society and the government to address mutual challenges.

Progress may be slow, but it is underway, and it seems to be accelerating.

Click here to visit our full multimedia package on fighting corruption in Honduras >

April 20th, 2013 | Tags: | Category: Impact Stories | Leave a comment

Counterpart “brightens the eyes” of Georgian deaf community

Jerry Oberndorfer from the U.S. State Department distributed rice, soup and school kits to the Union of Deaf of Georgia.

By Jennifer Brookland

Deaf Georgians in need may not speak loudly, but their words of thanks are heard.

Amiran Batatunashvili, President of the Union of Deaf of Georgia, welcomed Counterpart International and a delegation of other supporters and partners to his organization’s Tbilisi headquarters, and acknowledged them for their steadfast support.

“The people of our union cannot speak loud,” says Batatunashvili, “but you can see their appreciation for your support in their brightened eyes.”

Jerry Oberndorfer, the U.S. State Department’s Director of Humanitarian Programs, Lisa Lashinski, from the U.S. Embassy in Georgia, and Irakli Saralidze, Counterpart’s Country Program Director, were among the visitors.

They toured the organization’s community center, computer labs, classrooms (used for sign language instruction and dance classes) and offices used by fellow grantee hellenicare, which provides free medical examinations and pharmaceuticals.

Oberndorfer, Lashinski and Saralidze also distributed rice, soup and school kits. The items were donated by Counterpart and two other Department of State grantees, ACTS Georgia and the United Methodist Committee On Relief.

The Union of Deaf of Georgia serves more than 2,700 deaf, invalid, orphaned, sick, physically disabled and elderly people as well as large, low-income families in Tbilisi and regions of Georgia.

Most struggle with unemployment or rely on low-income jobs or meager pensions. They are indeed the “neediest beneficiaries,” says Batatunashvili.

The support Counterpart provides helps the Union distribute clothing and food, giving families the opportunity to spend money on other needs, such as medical services.

The local organization has been supporting the country’s deaf community since 2002, facilitating workshops focused on education and community-building, sponsoring health clinics, and distributing essential humanitarian aid like food and warm clothing. It has been receiving humanitarian assistance commodities from Counterpart and distributing them to beneficiaries throughout Georgia since 2002.

The assistance was made possible through Counterpart’s Community and Humanitarian Program (CHAP), which is funded by the U.S. Department of State and has operated in Georgia for nearly two decades. The program distributes food, shelter items, clothing, furniture, and medical equipment to vulnerable populations throughout the country.

April 2nd, 2013 | Tags: Georgia, Community and Humanitarian Program, CHAP, United States Department of State, disabled, Union of Deaf of Georgia, Jerry Obendorfer, humanitarian relief, humanitarian commodities | Category: Impact Stories | Leave a comment

National media coverage brings acclaim to Kazakh youth organization

After a grant allowed the Youth Information Service of Kazakhstan to increase its publicity and online presence, the media took more notice of its efforts to prepare young people as leaders and volunteers.

By Jennifer Brookland

Political stories tend to dominate the daily papers and television headlines in Kazakhstan, leaving news about youth movements or civil society to take a backseat at best.

In this challenging media environment, a civil society organization called Youth Information Service of Kazakhstan (MISK) had a doubly hard time getting attention as it worked to raise public awareness of the problems—and possibilities—facing young people.

Though unemployment, social problems and low-quality education weigh on the nation’s young people, MISK envisions a world where they are empowered to address these challenges through civic engagement and volunteerism.

Its main projects include a “Civic education school” where accomplished experts deliver classes that educate youth on democracy, human rights, social responsibility and the rule of law, and an annual conference called “ZhasCamp” that convenes 300 youth activists to discuss and plan social initiatives and learn to manage them.

Young people are seeing the benefits from these camps.

“Being a volunteer gives me a confidence in myself and those invaluable starting opportunities which lead to conscious activity,” says Dmitriy Shubin, who participated in civic education school. “MISK is not just a non-governmental organization, it is our life.”

But limited media attention was holding the organization back from becoming more influential, attracting more sponsors and partners and gaining higher-level support from Kazakh authorities.

Setting up for success

A public outreach grant won under Counterpart International’s Kazakhstan Civil Society Strengthening Program allowed the organization to change that.

The program, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, competitively awarded $2,000 grants to MISK and either other partner civil society organizations for use in public outreach.

Institutional strengthening grants support the formal development of partner organizations, helping them acquire skills in strategic planning, financial sustainability, new media and volunteer management, says Counterpart’s Country Director Marat Aitmagambetov.

“We believe this would eventually result in the overall management progress of the partnering organizations, help them to become more effective and better advocate their mission to both beneficiaries and the Government,” he says.

Making MISK “exist”

MISK used its grant money to publish flyers and brochures about the organization’s work, as well as producing a short video about its mission. It shared the 90-second video entitled “Youth” on social media, and widely disseminated it via listserve to youth-focused NGOs, students and mass media.

Getting both traditional and new media interested in the organization’s work was crucial for MISK.

“It is a time when you realize that if you or your organization is not present in media, and social media, it may be seen as if the organization does not exist at all,” says Irina Mednikova, Director of MISK.

This time, the media paid attention.

Reporters from Kazakhstan’s only 24-hour television news channel, 24.kz, saw “Youth” on YouTube a few weeks after its release, and took a closer look at the organization.

Impressed with the video, and with MISK’s dynamic online content and social media presence, 24.kz produced a 25-minute news report about the organization in both Kazakh and Russian.

In turn, leading national TV agency “Khabar” used a clip from that broadcast in their news program as well.

More visibility, more results

The increased national media coverage generated measurable interest in civil education school and ZhasCamp.

The number of volunteers working with MISK soared—from 15 to 41 in its main office in Almaty. The organization was able to hire three additional staff members and coordinators.

New staff members are currently being recruited for branches in other places, after young people posted online inquiring about opportunities to work with MISK in their hometowns.

Focus groups are reporting a positive image of the organization, and invitations to events and meetings are mounting, especially as MISK strengthens its relations with youth organizations in Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, and Poland.

Its social media following has swelled from 250 to 1,000 followers on the Russian equivalent of Facebook.

The combination of grant money and media coverage is allowing MISK to interact with its most important audience—the young people it is making more visible in Kazakhstan’s public life.

Additional reporting contributed by Fariza Mukanova, Kazakhstan Civil Society Strengthening Program Coordinator.

January 31st, 2013 | Tags: Kazakhstan, media, public outreach, youth, Youth Information Service of Kazakhstan | Category: Impact Stories | Leave a comment

Women in Azerbaijan inspired to achieve their leadership potential

Workshops on leadership and decisionmaking helped Aytekin Verdiyeva gain skills and confidence - and a notable government position.

By Ilgar Agasibeyli

When a crowd of around 70 people listened to Aytekin Verdiyeva make an impassioned speech on women’s leadership in Azerbaijan, no one could have guessed it was the state official’s first-ever public oration.

“I was overwhelmed with feelings when I was making my first public speech as a government official,” says Verdiyeva.

Most women in Azerbaijan never achieve prominence in public and professional roles, constrained by conservative social values and an inability to enforce legal frameworks protecting women’s political participation.

But if Verdiyeva’s story is any indication, that situation seems to be gradually changing. 

The shy 28 year-old struggled to find a job after graduating from the Azerbaijan Technology Institute, and says she had very little confidence in her own skills and capacity.

Verdiyeva’s perception of herself and her career potential transformed while she was attending women’s leadership workshops organized by the Ganja Regional Women’s Center. 

For the past year, the center has been working with women in four regions of Azerbaijan to overcome their limitations, both self-perceived and imposed by society, and pursue more visible public roles.

It offers seminars and workshops on supporting women’s leadership and increasing their involvement in decision-making.

These training opportunities were made possible by the Women’s Participation Project, implemented by Counterpart International in close partnership with 13 local women’s organizations and Azerbaijan’s State Committee for Women, Family and Children’s Affairs. 

The two-year USAID-funded program seeks to improve the status of women in Azerbaijan by raising public awareness on issues that affect women and empowering more women to engage in political processes.

“I would say without exaggeration that confidence blossomed in my inner world after participating in the leadership events organized by the Women’s Participation Program,” says Verdiyeva. 

In fact, she became one of the most active participants.

Rising rapidly from her position as a government clerk, Verdiyeva quickly claimed the position of Senior Advisor of the State Social Security Fund.

She acknowledges that the leadership seminars helped her make the decision to apply for the Senior Adviser vacancy she saw advertised. She successfully passed the written test exams and interviews, surpassing competition that included other qualified male and female candidates.

“Aytekin Verdiyeva became a good role model for her peers,” says Maleyka Alizade, the executive director of the Ganja Regional Women’s Center. “And she is not just a ‘first swallow’ announcing the growing confidence of women in our region. Our women have great capacity for leadership and political participation.”

January 29th, 2013 | Tags: Azerbaijan, leadership, women | Category: Impact Stories | Leave a comment

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