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
Dr. Ken Yamashita, USAID Mission Director in Afghanistan, addresses attendees of the November conference in Kabul. The three-day conference brought together civil society and government representatives.
By Jennifer Brookland
In Afghanistan, where citizens have traditionally lacked voice and political influence, civil society is building a collaborative and unified response.
In the lead-up to the 2014 presidential elections, civil society organizations continue to shape themselves into a transparent and proactive sector, joined together to support and monitor Afghanistan’s transition period and transformation decade.
“Now is the time to get together with one voice,” said Baryalai Omerzai, an NGO director. “Coordination and cooperation are not to criticize people, we need to work between ourselves to be one body with one voice, and then we can raise issues with the international community and the government.”
Building on lessons learned
Civil society and government representatives gathered in Kabul from Nov. 4 to 6 to discuss their role in monitoring the Tokyo Declaration, the Mutual Accountability Framework and the Aid Management Policy —new agreements and tools established to ensure greater coordination, accountability and ultimately effectiveness for development in Afghanistan.
“This unique opportunity has created a space for opening an important debate for joint work, flexibility and tolerance within civil society groups,” said civil society leader Aziz Rafiee. “The conference itself and the outcome will pave the road for a stronger and focused coordination among civil society actors.”
Afghanistan’s Civil Society Joint Working Group hosted the three-day event with technical assistance from the nonprofit Counterpart International’s Initiative to Promote Afghan Civil Society program and financial support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
Counterpart’s program works to bolster the ability of civil society to work together to ensure good governance and to actively engage in the process of crafting public policy.
For example, despite the best intentions, during the past decade international assistance did not always reach the areas with the greatest needs, and global donors frequently did not coordinate their efforts.
Post Tokyo – Transition and Transformation
The international community, government of Afghanistan and civil society collectively documented the country’s need for improved governance, rule of law, human rights, banking and finance, government budgeting and economic development.
The joint document that resulted from this process at the Tokyo Conference included 16 benchmarks, and earned a promised $16 billion in aid money.
“What was important about Tokyo was that it did not make very general statements like the other conferences in Bonn and London,” said Amin Habibi, Director General of Strategic Implementation of Policies in the Afghan Ministry of Finance. “Tokyo has a practical action plan with the involvement of Government, the international community, and civil society.”
During the past decade, through grassroots initiatives and international support, civil society organizations have become larger, more cohesive and more connected.
After 2014, it is these local organizations that will be “best placed to monitor progress, insist on reform, assure transparency, and contribute to the sustainability of the development commitments made by the international community,” according to an Asia Foundation blog post.
“It is very clear that the donor support is there,” said Rafiee at the conference. “The civil society has a responsibility to make sure this good will is properly invested into policies and procedure for an effective result and outcome oriented process.”
USAID’s Continued Commitment
Since 2005, Counterpart has been working closely with representatives of Afghanistan’s civil society to establish stronger, more sustainable civil society organizations. More recently, Counterpart has shifted its focus towards strengthening a more unified network to enhance its capacity to engage in the political discourse and forge stronger bonds with government and other critical decision makers.
Ultimately, citizens will be able to more effectively engage in the political process, solve community problems and demand good governance from their leaders.
That civil society organizations could come together to plan for unified next steps at such a crucial time is itself indicative of the gains it has made over the past several years.
During the November conference, USAID Mission Director Dr. Ken Yamashita announced a program that will provide continued support to civil society in monitoring and evaluating the Agency’s programs.
“We will depend on civil society partners outside of Kabul to understand if our programs are being effective,” he said. “It is important for civil society to be strong, to help us to be honest, and to work to benefit all of the people of Afghanistan.”
The future of Afghanistan post 2014 remains unknown; but civil society stands ready to champion the collective goals for change and, as a cohesive network, will be better positioned to rise to the challenge.
By Amadou Ba and Boubacar Sow
In Senegal, the dry northern area called the Fouta is known for migration; Fouta youth often leave in search of economic opportunities despite the potential of local agriculture. But for some, coming home turns out to be the best opportunity.
For 16 years, Aliou Kane moved around seeking economic opportunities outside of the Fouta and even outside of Senegal. However, in 1996 he decided to return to his Fouta roots to take up onion farming. Onions are a staple in Senegal and a principle ingredient in most traditional dishes. He started small, as do many subsistence Fouta farmers, with less than one hectare.
In 2006, Aliou began receiving technical, organizational and financial support from Counterpart International’s Food For Progress program funded by the U. S. Department of Agriculture. This support allowed Aliou to greatly expand his business from five to 15 and finally to 30 hectares. His yields have also improved: each hectare of Aliou’s land now produces five additional metric tons of food than it did before the intervention.
He was able to access $40,000 of credit from a local microfinance agency thanks to the guarantee funds put in place by Counterpart. Without these funds, he would not have had enough collateral to secure a loan. Today, Aliou pays his loans on time and has annual revenues of $138,000—more than seven times what he earned in 2007. He has been able to purchase four pumps for irrigation, two vehicles and a house.
“With training, I built my capacity to follow good planting techniques and business practices,” says Aliou. “This has allowed me to increase my production and revenues.”
These days, Aliou is focused on diversification and is now producing corn, rice, hot peppers and seeds on 10 additional hectares. He also has plans to enter into the livestock farming business. After receiving Food For Progress support to attend a national agriculture fair in 2012, Aliou focused his ambitions on formalizing his business in order to raise his profile in the eyes of the potential partners he meets at these national venues.
Thanks to his flourishing businesses, Aliou is well known in the Fouta and is the youngest village chief in his area. He has also been able to buy shares and invest in other local agriculture businesses.
Aliou wants to serve as an example to youth in his area who are thinking of seeking greener pastures elsewhere. He tells them, “I am actually doing much better financially now then I was when I was out of the country.”
This success story is featured on foodaid.org, a resource for the policy community and development practitioners to learn about U.S. food assistance programs.
By Jennifer Brookland
It’s difficult to discuss corruption when your language has no word for it.
The nonexistence of signs for words including “corruption,” “transparency” and “accountability” in Honduran Sign Language imply that deaf Hondurans have no place in the conversation about their country’s struggle for good governance.
Nonetheless, the approximately 100,000 Hondurans who are hearing impaired have plenty to say about such important topics.
One civil society organization in Honduras is making sure that the conversation about corruption is an inclusive one.
The Fundación Hondureña de Rehabilitación e Integración del Limitado (FUHRIL) uses financial and technical support from the Counterpart International-implemented Impactos program to serve as an interlocutor for people with disabilities to express themselves in favor of transparency and accountability in Honduras.
The Impactos program, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, aims to increase the transparency and accountability of public institutions in Honduras.
Too important for the silent treatment
Honduras ranked 129 out of 183 countries measured on Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index, which also listed the nation’s “budget openness” as “scant or none.”
An especially damaging consequence of this corruption has been the state’s inability to protect its citizens from high rates of violent crime and gang activity, which earned the country the sad distinction of being named the world’s most violent country by the United Nations.
“Despite efforts of the deaf Honduran community and other organizations, to this date there are hearing-impaired people whom remain disregarded and ignorant of all national events going on,” says Orquidea Centeno, who lost her hearing at age 15. “We have no access to justice, we have no access to information and we are invisible.”
Sketching an inclusive future
With grant money received from Counterpart, FUHRIL recently launched a campaign called “Listening is more than hearing, we are not deaf to corruption.”
The campaign seeks to increase awareness of the limitations faced by the disabled, demand services and information for them, and communicate their ideas and proposals to fight corruption.
FUHRIL partnered with the daily nationally-distributed newspaper Diario La Tribuna, which agreed to publish a monthly full-page cartoon series and weekly news banner with the campaign´s content at no cost for 10 months.
It’s a step FUHRIL Director Yolanda Dominguez calls, "a concrete accomplishment at this stage of the campaign.”
“The messages in these comic strips encourage good practices and values such as solidarity, respect and transparency,” says Dominguez.
The comic strips contain key messages that encourage those with disabilities to participate in civic actions aimed at fighting corruption. They take an inclusive approach in a place where those with disabilities are often marginalized and left out of the political conversation.
There is “total disregard towards the deaf community and the speed and subtlety with which corruption is positioned on a daily basis in the minds of our youth and children with or without disabilities,” says Dominguez.
FUHRIL’s campaign is already motivating and mobilizing people with disabilities to communicate their perspectives on issues such as the accountability of public officials.
Expanding the conversation
FUHRIL is also working with specialists—professors, designers and the Deaf Association of Honduras— to create visual interpretations of words such as "corruption," "transparency" and "accountability," whose creation will help deaf Hondurans demand good governance alongside their peers.
“Through the ‘Listening is more than hearing, we are not deaf to corruption’ campaign, my hope of a brighter future is reborn,” says Centeno. “My expectations through the project are, for us deaf people, to know about corruption, avoid and report it.”
By bringing all segments of the country’s population into the discussion on how to tackle corruption, organizations like FUHRIL hope they can deliver an inclusive message that Hondurans want good governance—and that authorities will hear that demand loud and clear.