Fall 2021

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Think Creative Fall 2021 By the numbers: Literacy in Nigeria Mobile hotline assists literacy in Ethiopia Restoring water to rural Guatemala By Creative Associates International

How local partnerships are rebuilding trust and livelihoods in Northeast Syria


snap shot Turn the page to learn the story behind this photo

Photo by Erick Gibson

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Littorals Regional Initiative By Atiewin Mbillah-Lawson, Communications and Reporting Officer

I attended a week-long field multimedia production and training trip in August for the USAID Office of Transition Initiative’s Littorals Regional Initiative (LRI). Taking place in Nabore, a rural community in Ghana’s Savannah region, the training focused on the newly established Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA). The experience was eye-opening for me. Facilitated by the Center for Conflict Transformation and Peace Studies, VSLAs provide financial educa- tion and training to marginalized groups, including members of the Fulbe tribe, who have typically been unbanked. The VSLA organizes, among other things, savings and loan meetings where members can learn and practice financial management skills. As I attended one such meeting, I watched as Fulbe members counted their pennies to determine how much they had saved that week. I watched the interactions among the 30 VSLA members who sat outside in a circle of chairs and saw them grin with pride at how much they had accumulated since the last savings and loan meeting.

For years, many Fulbe members have not used fi- nancial services because they do not trust them to keep their money safe and they lacked the knowl- edge and documentation required to establish a VSLA. This lack of formal financial management has made Fulbe members vulnerable to negative external influences, such as criminals and violent extremist organizations. Through the guidance of the VSLA, which is acces- sible to and inclusive of both Fulbe and non-Fulbe members, they can learn to manage their own savings, while reducing the need to seek monetary support from illicit actors. Coming from Ghana’s Upper East Region, also near the Savannah, I feel a deep sense of connection and gratitude for being part of the LRI team that works to build cohesion and resilience in commu- nities like Nabore. I look forward to seeing a similar impact in the five other communities where 14 additional VSLAs have been implemented. n

VSLAs create savings and lending opportunities in rural Ghana.

In this Issue

Signals of Change 14 p.

07 Dispatches

Updates from around our world

08 // New Creative Programming 09 // Field Notes

10 // Nigeria Education Initiative Plus: By the numbers 12 // In Focus: West Africa Trade & Investment Hub

14 Cover Package Signals of Change: How local partnerships are rebuilding trust and livelihoods in Northeast Syria

NEI Plus By the Numbers 10 p.

West Africa Trade Hub, Liberia 12 p.

ON THE COVER: A farmer stands with arms full of potatoes in Al-Mansoura, Raqqa. Photo taken by Mohammed Ghannam, Field Officer for Syria’s Agriculture and Livelihoods Stabilization Project (ALSP).

Photos by Erick Gibson (Snap Shot; NEI Plus), ALSP Staff (Signals of Change); John Healy (West Africa Trade Hub)

4 | Think Creative | Fall 2021

Think Creative by Creative Associates International

Letter from Leland Kruvant President & CEO Creative Associates International


Founder & Board Chair Charito Kruvant President & CEO Leland Kruvant Executive VP & Chief Innovation Officer Pablo Maldonado Chief Operating Officer Sani Daher Chief Growth Officer Benjamin Feit Chief Financial Officer Oswaldo Holguin Senior Vice President Thomas Wheelock VP, External Relations Jessica Kruvant VP, Global Operations Noy Villalobos VP, Education Eileen St. George VP, Economic Growth Jim Winkler VP, Capture & Bid Operations Ailea Sneller Senior Director, Communications Michael J. Zamba Art Direction Amanda Smallwood Communications Manager Marta S. Maldonado Writers Janey Fugate & Aja Beckham Digital & Social Media Specialist Olivia Chapman EDITORIAL STAFF Think Creative is published three times a year by Creative Associates International, a global development organization dedicated to supporting people around the world to realize the positive change they seek. The content is produced by Creative and does not represent the policies or positions of its clients, partners or host governments. Reproduction of any or all of Think Creative is prohibited without prior written permission. Copyright ©2021.

It would be an understatement to say that 2021 has been a difficult year. The pandemic created unprecedented hardships— economic, social, and personal. Going into 2021, I worried about how this pandemic might keep us from coming together as a community to meet the needs of an everchanging world. But I was inspired in 2021. Even in the most difficult moments of this pandemic, Creative’s global community rallied together. The past 12 months have shown me how fortunate I am to work with such dedicated and talented individuals who never lose sight of our mission. At the core of that mission is the belief that every

person deserves a voice and the opportunity to lead a healthy and productive life. This belief inspires a deep and abiding respect for each other and the world we serve. This mission has unified and strengthened our community and has driven us to remarkable achievements during this trying year: we pivoted in Ethiopia in support of school-aged learners in the North; we advanced our efforts in Honduras to improve food security; and we closed our very successful USAID/OTI program in Nigeria that worked to reduce conflict in two states. While the pandemic prevented me from seeing much of Creative’s work in action,

I have been inspired by these and other stories from the field and am deeply grateful to all those who made these achievements possible. For that reason, I am optimistic that we can achieve even more in 2022. This year has proven that, regardless what challenges may be on the horizon, Creative will continue to deliver (to our clients, partners, and beneficiaries) on the promise of our mission: To support the people around the world to realize the positive change they seek. Sincerely,

20 Feature Stories

20 // A Better Connection: Mobile hotline supports parents and volunteers to help children learn to read in Ethiopia 22 // Water for El Rancho: Restoring water to a rural Guatemalan community

A Better Connection 20 p.

25 Creative Life A mission-driven community 26 // Staff Spotlight: Benjamin Feit 27 // • Staff Photos

Water for El Rancho 22 p.

• Commending a Creative Leader: TomWheelock

28 // Leading through Innovation: Pablo Maldonado steps into new role; Q&A with COO Sani Daher 30 // Walk this Way: A day in the life of Hafsa Drissi Semlali, Program Coordinator for Morocco’s National Program for Reading

Meet Hafsa! 30 p.

For more information about Think Creative , please email us at ThinkCreative@CreativeDC.com

4445 Willard Avenue NW, Suite 400 Chevy Chase, MD 20815 + 202.966.5804 Creative Associates International

Photos by Skip Brown (Leland Kruvant; Ben Feit and Sani Daher); Vivian Jacobs (Water for El Rancho)

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Suwar Canal Restoring water access to Northeast Syria


Scan the QR code to view the interactive storymap of the Suwar Canal restoration initiative, which has restored nearly 90 miles of pipeline and infrastructure in Northeast Syria. For in depth coverage of additional initiatives in Syria, head to the cover package on page 14.

6 | Think Creative | Fall 2021

Di spa t che s

Updates from around our world

A young educator in Bauchi, Nigeria uses her NEI Plus

materials to teach her students how to read.

Photo by Erick Gibson

CreativeAssociatesInternational.com | 7


updates from around our world

The new Littorals Regional Initiative is addressing violent extremism in the Sahel region.

Creative and its partners are working towards a brighter future for Jordanian children by strengthening education services in the country.

Jordan // West Africa // Middle East New Creative Programming

nance, conflict resolution and social cohesion. Called the Littorals Regional Initiative, this program supports local counterparts in Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea and Togo by pro- viding short-term, targeted programming that reduces opportunities for violent extremists to expand their networks. Funded by USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives, the Littorals Regional Initiative complements the broader U.S. government presence in the region. While extremist organizations have been

Creative launched three new programs in Burkina Faso, West Africa and Jordan that are funded by USAID. Each program addresses a specific concern in each country with a solution-oriented approach. West Africa’s program focuses on improving stability and cohesion by reducing opportunities for violent extremists to expand their networks. Jordan’s program seeks to improve technical systems that led to poor educational services. Burkina Faso’s program will rebuild citizens’ trust in the government to deliver services and reduce the prolifera-

tion of violent extremist groups. The community-led programs empower citi- zens, government and local organizations by including them from the planning to execu- tion stages so that the work is sustained in the

targeted areas. West Africa

Facing increased pressures from violent ex- tremist organizations from the Sahel region, five West African coastal countries will receive support through a program to address factors that will improve stability, including gover-

Photos by Michael Waidmann for MCN Build Foundation

8 | Think Creative | Fall 2021

Field Notes

m Economic Growth West Africa Trade and Investment Hub

The USAID-fundedWest Africa Trade & Investment Hub has executed 55 co-investment grants valued at more than $55million, which has leveragedmore than $800 in private sector support. Part of the U.S. government’s Prosper Africa strategy, the Trade Hub’s efforts to date will generatemore than 900,000 new jobs – with an em- phasis on women and youth – and generate $200million in exports. Bar ama Baro USAID-funded Bar ama Baro (“Teach or Learn” in Somali) program recently trained 700 accel- erated basic education teachers in SouthWest, Hirshabelle, Jubaland and Benadir regions of Somalia. The training helped improve teach- ers’ skills in preparation for the new school year ahead. Mozambique Vamos Ler!/ Let’s Read! The USAID Vamos Ler!/Let’s Read! program pivoted from hosting in-person teacher trainings to engaging education professionals in virtual trainings via WhatsApp. The mobile interactions engaged about 2,250 teachers and 1,396 school directors who learned practical instructional strategies to address common pedagogical challenges such as time-on-task; methods that improve students’ vocabulary, reading and speech skills; and heightening teacher awareness of gender issues in the classroom. Read II Project The USAID-funded READ II program provided training to more than 27,000 Ethiopian literacy and language teachers and school directors at 3,000 READ II inter- ventions schools. Since the training workshops, students have shown progress in their ability to identify letters, read words in Amharic and English and comprehend texts.

The new Inclusive Governance for Resilience program in Burkina Faso will work to build trust and resiliency to reduce violent extremism.

education sectors as students score poorly on national and international assessments, particularly early grade students who struggle with literacy. Many students are out of school, including a large population of students with disabilities. The myriad of internal challenges, including systemic barriers, resource limitations, poor coordination among agencies and the absence of reliable metrics, are blocking progress, despite the government’s best intentions to meet these burgeoning needs. Burkina Faso A nearly $20 million USAID award will support a new program called the Inclusive Governance for Resilience program. This pro- gram will work with government, civil society, private sector and citizens to co-create road- maps toward resilience; build citizens’ trust in the government to deliver food, education and economic services; and reduce the prolif- eration of violent extremist groups. Since August 2020, more than 1 million people particularly from Sahel, Centre-Nord, East and Nord regions have been displaced. An initial six-month inception period that began this past July will allow Creative and USAID to decide on priorities and next steps for the five-year government program. The program will be implemented by Creative in partnership with Lutheran World Relief. During this first phase, Creative will con- duct research by gathering citizens’ insights through Creative’s innovative Fragili- ty and Resilience Assessment Methodol- ogy (FRAMe®), which is a mapping tool that identifies sources that weaken the citizen-state relationship and citizen’s access to resources. Creative will also assess the capacity of com- mune administrations and civil society or- ganizations to address factors that counter peace and reform and apply that data when designing an action plan towards cohesion and resilience. When the program is implemented, local actors will contribute significantly to the In- clusive Governance for Resilience program by facilitating workshops with Village Devel- opment Committees and other community groups. These workshops will enable commu- nities to discuss constructive advocacy strat- egies instead of passive or violent approaches to agitate the government for services. n

m Education

active in the Sahel region for more than a decade, the Littoral states have been largely spared the brunt of the violence. Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea and Togo are all grap- pling with varying and intensifying internal instability dynamics that could expedite the expansion and consolidation of violent ex- tremist organizations if left unaddressed. Jordan Jordan education leaders have introduced major initiatives including a push to establish universal kindergarten and build 600 schools in the next 10 years, among other large-scale goals. The USAID five-year Jordan Technical Assistance Program will strengthen technical systems within the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Youth while Jordan seeks to improve poor education services. The program will improve technical as- sistance systems such as finance, human resource services, communication and coor- dination among agencies, while Jordan builds new educational structures. The initiative is co-led by Creative and implemented by two Jordanian-based organizations, EdviseMe and ConsultUS, and Training Resources Group, which is based in Arlington, Virginia. The five-year program will assist the minis- tries that are managing the growing popula- tion of school-aged children, an influx of refu- gees from Syria and the COVID-19 pandemic. These challenges, coupled with internal technical issues, are evident across youth and

Photos submitted by Adebisi Modupe Adetunji

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Dispatches 950,000+ NEI Plus brought improved reading instruction to

updates from around our world

children in Bauchi and Sokoto states.

Nigeria Education Initiative Plus

The Northern Education Initiative Plus project (NEI Plus) aimed to provide greater access to basic education, especially for girls, out of school children and youth. The project partnered with a wide range of stakeholders in Bauchi and Sokoto states to build their capacity to plan; budget; administer schools; support and supervise teachers; deliver high-quality teacher learner materials; and mobilize community involvement for increased enrollment and improved reading outcomes. This approach has resulted in improved capacity to deliver education services, expand access and significantly improve reading outcomes for about 1 million school-age children. n

By the Numbers


Karanta! Let’s Read!

NEI Plus supported the development of early grade reading materials in four languages – Hausa , English , Igbo and Yoruba .

Photos by Erick Gibson

10 | Think Creative | Fall 2021

NEI Plus supported: • Establishment of 5,600 learning centers • Development and distribution of over 1,092,010 teaching and learning materials to the learning centers • Improvement of basic education access for over 269,000 children NEI Plus facilitated: • Establishment of over 4,000 center-based management committees, 47 women’s groups and 20 community coalitions • Establishment of 210 community reading centers and 800 school reading forums • Improvement of education awareness by increasing women’s group visits to over 500,000 households

Over $3.8 M Invested by Sokoto and Bauchi to extend the early grade reading program to all Local Government Areas

Through NEI Plus: • 8,370,173 teaching

and learning materials distributed to schools • Rapid expansion of Mu Karanta! and Let’s Read! to schools throughout Bauchi and Sokoto states • Both states are now recruiting additional teachers and organizing training activities 200 Community Reading Centers and 800 Reading Corners opened for literacy activities in Bauchi and Sokoto

269,000+ Children including 142,748 adolescent girls not enrolled in formal schools provided with basic literacy program

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updates from around our world

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Program in focus A closer look at Creative’s work in action

Liberia USAID West Africa Trade & Investment Hub

“We don’t get to hear the story of smallholder farmers who are already growing [palm] on their land.”

- Mahmud Johnson, Founder and CEO of the Liberian palm oil company J-Palm

Mahmud Johnson envisions a new model that improves smallholder farmers’ livelihoods without impoverishing the land. By harvesting wild palm, which is native to West Africa, and processing it on a small scale, farmers can earn more and become part of the global trade network. Made possible through a co-investment grant of $1.1 million by the West Africa Trade and Investment Hub, Johnson’s J-Palm has brought Led by U.S.-based Pacha Soap Co., the co- investment partnership will allow the palm oil companies to create more than 6,000 new jobs, upgrade processing facilities and transition to more valuable organic palm oil. Pacha and J-Palm are joined by 8 Degrees North, a Ghanaian organic palm oil company. Funded by the USAID, the Trade Hub deploys grants to leverage private investment that creates jobs and promotes inclusive, sustainable growth in the region. In two years, it has made more than 50 co-investment grants that will catalyze in excess of $400 million in private capital. n together partners dedicated to growing the palm oil industry in ways that benefit smallholders.

A co-investment grant from the West Africa Trade and Investment Hub will support smallholder farmers and create more than 6,000 new jobs.

Photo by John Healy

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Supporting agriculture is a key part of helping Syria recover from years of war.

Photo by Mohammed Ghannam

14 | Think Creative | Fall 2021

SIGNALS Change How local partnerships are rebuilding trust and livelihoods in Northeast Syria OF

By Janey Fugate

CreativeAssociatesInternational.com | 15

signals of change

“When Raqqa was liberated, it was complete- ly destroyed. Now you go to the city, you see streets opened, you see services provided,” says Mohamad Hamish, the Deputy Chief of Party for FURAT+. “If you go to Aleppo City, you see the same destruction, but nobody touched the rubble in those areas. We contributed to the stability of this area and people returned to Raqqa City. People in Aleppo City did not return.” This slow trickle of returnees like Ahmad to a country devastated by war is a sign that these efforts are making communities livable again. Programs like FURAT+, which operates in Raqqa and elsewhere in Northeastern Syria, are supporting local authorities and citizens as they pick up the pieces. The toll of war By any measure, Syria continues to be a major humanitarian crisis. Since the civil war erupted in 2011, half of Syria’s 22 million people have become displaced or refugees. Syrians and international partners are taking tentative steps to restore stability to the coun- try. In the Northeast, known as the breadbasket of Syria, ISIS has been pushed out, and Kurdish control of the semi-autonomous region has led to a tenuous respite. Though violence from re- gime-backed militias and ISIS sleeper cells still

Remnants of war line the streets in Raqqa, Syria, posing a threat to residents looking to move forward.

First responders trained by FURAT+ have removed more rubble than the volume of the Empire State Building.

War is no longer waged on the streets of the Northern Syria city of Raqqa, though the years of conflict are ever present. Buildings weakened by artillery, mortars and bombs are collapsing and have become the new threat to residents. “There was a real danger [to me and my fam- ily],” says Ahmad, who returned to Raqqa in 2017 after the city’s liberation from the Islamic State (ISIS). He asked that his last name not be used. “Large slabs of concrete were falling around us constantly.” Knowing that the falling pieces have caused countless accidents and killed children, Ah- mad reported the dangerous situation in his neighborhood to a new emergency response team. A day later, his home became one of 377 houses, hospitals, schools and buildings cleared of debris. Funded by the U.S. State Department, the Facilitating Urban Recovery and Transition Plus (FURAT+) project established and trained these first responder teams to clear rubble and provide emergency relief to Raqqa’s residents. Since 2018, FURAT+’s teams have removed more than 40million cubic feet of rubble, which is more than the volume of NewYork’s Empire State Building. Rubble removal is easy to take for granted, but its implications are enormous.

Rubble removal transforms war-torn cities like Raqqa

The heart of all this is that even though we cannot end the war, we can make people’s lives better. We can let people in these communities know that we care about them and work to bring some normalcy and sanity back to their daily lives.”

-Richard Jaskot, Director of Stabilization and Development

Photos by Beshr Abdulhadi via Flicker (top left, center right); FURAT+ Staff (center left); Skip Brown (Jaskot)

16 | Think Creative | Fall 2021

Shop owners working in the city’s economic hubs say their sales have increased and more businesses have opened since the lights were restored.

and lights are restored, civil servants need capacity building and support to enforce safety measures and respond to communities’ needs. Since 2019, Al Rashad+ has partnered with local councils to train more than 6,000 Internal Security Force officers in community policing techniques, transitioning former military men and women to different roles. “This is where the role of the community se- curity program is important because we try to work with them on prioritizing their security needs and concerns, and then we empower their security providers to provide and address those needs and gaps,” says Jihan Diwan, Al Rashad+’s Deputy Chief of Party. The streetlight installation, for instance, was a direct response to a request made by local authorities in Raqqa. Combining material work with capacity building in a community-led, holistic approach to security makes the work sustainable even in a conflict zone. The program has also been critical in support- ing the security forces as they responded to COVID-19, organizing awareness campaigns on best practices to prevent the spread and pro- viding more than 800,000 pieces of personal protective equipment. Al Rashad+ emphasizes women’s security concerns. The project has trained 580 female officers and has opened three women’s policing centers, where female Internal Security Forces officers respond to crimes against women. Streams in the desert In an environment as fragile as Syria’s, water scarcity is a critical facet of the country’s hu- manitarian crisis.

breaks out, local governments ready for change have created an opening for programs to begin rebuilding a region torn by war. After unimaginable loss and destruction, it is easy to ask: Where do we start? Local part- nerships that meet immediate needs form the beginning of an answer. Three projects – FURAT+, Al Rashad+ and the Agriculture and Livelihoods Stabilization Program – implemented by Creative are col- laborating with local authorities, civil councils, Syrian-led civil society organizations and busi- nesses to bring back basic services. Working specifically in Raqqa City and the surrounding province of Deir ez-Zor, Creative’s projects are addressing security, infrastructure needs, water and agriculture, bringing tangible relief in both rural and urban contexts. “The heart of all this is that even though we cannot end the war, we can make people’s lives better,” says Richard Jaskot, Director of Cre- ative’s Stabilization and Development Practice Area. “We can let people in these communities know that we care about them and work to bring some normalcy and sanity back to their daily lives.” Lights, security, action In October 2020, a dark street in Raqqa flooded with light. For the first time in more than five years, streetlights illuminated places once nearly impossible to navigate at night for fear of crime. These lights were the latest of more than 4,700 lights installed by Al Rashad+, funded by the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and the German Federal Foreign Office. The programworks to bring back basic security

Al-Rashad+ has trained 580 female officers and has opened three women’s policing centers, two in Raqqa and one in Deir ez-Zor.

services to the Northeast. Spread along more than 56 miles of roads, these lights are reviving commerce in the city as residents report feel- ing safer going out at night. “The streetlights have made it significantly saf- er for both civilians and businesses in import- ant parts of the city, signaling new growth in Raqqa,” says Manal Chafik, Al Rashad+’s Chief of Party. Al Rashad+’s work is also designed to bolster the human component of stabilization work: the police and security forces. As rubble is removed

Photos by Judy Abdulhakim Ismail (top, bottom); Al Rashad Staff (center)

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signals of change

Restorations to the Suwar Canal by FURAT+ will bring

running water to more than 360,000 people.

Four years of drought, beginning in 2006, caused 800,000 farmers to lose their livelihoods, according to the Center for Cli- mate & Security. The drought heightened

tensions leading up to the revolution, and in subsequent years agricul- tural operations were hit hard as war spread across the country. Efforts to restore running water and irrigation to the Northeast have been ongoing, with the repair and restoration of the Suwar Canal— which channels water from the Euphrates up to Hasaka, a city of 1 million near the Turkish border—as the cornerstone. ISIS damaged the canal during its retreat from the area, and it’s been out of service for years.

In the first three years of the conflict, sheep in the region declined by 45 percent.

We specifically targeted villages that are hard to reach and that other organizations have not yet gone to or don’t want to.”

-Hind Audsley, Chief of Party for ALSP

ALSP provided vaccines and veterinary care to support farmers with their livestock.

Today, conflict along the northern border regu- larly cuts off the region’s primary water source, AloukWater Station, exacerbating conditions in the al-Hol refugee camp and forcing more Syrians in Hasaka to leave their homes. Partnering with the Executive Council of Ja- zeera Region and the Deir ez-Zor Civil Council, FURAT+ is restoring the canal—section by section. The project is a massive undertaking. Together, they have repaired 50 miles of pipe- lines and infrastructure, reconnected 47 lift stations along the canal to the electrical grid and mended cracks in the base. When complete, more than 360,000 people will have running water. With water from the Suwar Canal, farmers can now irrigate more than 300,000 acres of farmland surrounding Hasaka, revitalizing the agricultural economy and encouraging displaced neighbors to return home. This proj- ect represents a major step forward towards rebuilding a livable society and is an example of a development decision driven by stakeholders on the ground.

Irrigation and agriculture are also a focus of the Agriculture and Livelihoods Stabilization Project (ALSP). Funded by the German Federal Foreign Office, ALSP implements agriculture and livelihoods projects primarily through Syrian civil society organizations in the northeast. By bringing capacity building and funding to these local groups, they have direct- ly impacted more than 20,000 people living in difficult situations. Vaccines and Gardens: Inroads in complex environments Fayez JasimAl-Faris, a livestock owner in a remote village in the northeastern province of Deir ez-Zor, lost half of his flock of sheep when the war in 2011 drove feed and supply prices so high that he could not afford to maintain them. He was forced to sell more than 50 animals to provide for his family. When ISIS moved to his village, he and his family fled, quickly eating through their savings. When they returned, they struggled to make ends meet.

But through a local organization called Sam for Development, Fayez received vaccines and veterinary care for his remaining flock, as well as funds to begin growing his own alfalfa to pro- vide for the animals. Since receiving Sam for Development’s support, his flock has expanded to include six new goats and five more sheep. According to a report from the Food and Agri- cultural Organization, in the first three years of the conflict, sheep in the region declined by 45 percent, goats by 30 percent, cattle by 40 percent and poultry by 55 percent. “After this project, especially due to the tech- nical consultations, my skills and experience improved,” says Fayez. “I now can identify and combat diseases.” Sam for Development, which implements agriculture and livelihood projects primarily through Syrian civil society organizations in the Northeast, is a grantee of ALSP. “We specifically targeted villages that are hard to reach and that other organizations have not yet gone to or don’t want to,” says Hind Audsley,

Photos courtesy of Skip Brown (Audsley); Judy Abdulhakim Ismail (Suwar Canal); ALSP Staff (agriculture photos)

18 | Think Creative | Fall 2021

affect livestock, the project has delivered more than 450,000 dosages of vaccines to livestock owners across Deir ez-Zor. Inflation, the value of the Syrian pound and climate conditions all compound to make farmers and livestock owners vulnerable. “When we help the farmers and support them to continue, we stabilize not only the farmers’ business but the food security of the region,” says Mesud Ahmed. The long road ahead Streetlights, better roads, reliable services and better trained and resourced Internal Security Forces are necessary for Raqqa’s road to recov- ery. In restoring electrical lines and rebuilding roads, for instance, FURAT+ has hired more than 4,500 Syrians, giving some people their first salary in more than five years. By stabilizing the agriculture industry through vaccines, tunnel gardens, advocacy for fair market prices and technical support, farmers now have ground to stand on and room to grow. In all cases, working within the context is the heart of Creative’s approach in Syria. “You have the context in order to help the people,” says Mesud Ahmed. “You all belong to

East Syria’s (SANES) Ministry of Agriculture, the NGOHumanitarian Coordination in Raqqa reached out to ALSP and other INGOs work- ing in the country for aid. Because poultry is a primary source of protein for the region, the need was dire. Audsley’s team then coordinated vaccination mobile clinics for poultry farms. “We targeted commercial poultry farms that if we didn’t support them, then it was going to have a major effect on food security of that community,” she says. For Newcastle and other common diseases that

ALSP works in hard-to-reach regions and places where other organizations have not yet gone.

Water from the Suwar Canal allows farmers to irrigate more than 300,000 acres of farmland surrounding Hasaka, revitalizing the agricultural economy and encouraging displaced neighbors to return home.

Chief of Party for ALSP. “In Deir ez-Zor most of them are returnees, so those villages haven’t yet been engaged.” Many of these villages are still living under threat frommilitant groups like ISIS and distrust any outside presence. ALSP Senior ProgramManager Mesud Ahmed says that bringing aid in the form of vaccines, for in- stance, builds community trust. “Because in some regions we cannot go and start with capacity building and peace build- ing,” he says. “They are just liberated from ISIS, they are afraid… So, you have to provide something material.” Tribal differences and long-standing cultural barriers add another layer of complexity to ALSP’s work in Deir ez-Zor. The region is eth- nically diverse, and ALSP relies on its Syrian staff’s understanding of how to navigate these differences. In this way, vaccines like the ones administered to Fayez’s flock lay the ground- work for future interventions. “We try to understand the tribe’s mentality,” says Mesud Ahmed. “We try to understand the security atmosphere and build rapport there.” ALSP has worked on a range of agricultural activities, from beekeeping to olive planta- tions, and in many places, from refugee camps to remote villages. At the root of its work is a belief that development in a post-conflict zone works best when programs respond to the most immediate needs that the people themselves identify – with an eye to sustainability. For instance, the programmade a major pivot in 2020 to combat the Newcastle virus, a disease quickly spreading through the region’s poultry farms. Overwhelmed and with no funding from the Self-Administration of North Photos by FURAT + Staff (top); ALSP Staff (center, bottom)

At the root of ALSP’s work is a belief that development in a post-conflict zone works best when programs respond to the most immediate needs that the people themselves identify.

them, and they belong to you.” But the situation is rife with reminders that the country’s past is not yet past. FURAT+ has organized and led teams to exhume more than 6,000 bodies from the rubble they cleared, an essential service for people’s mental health. In some cases, removal provides families with closure. And in all cases, it gives deceased a dignified burial. The time needed to heal the wounds of war will vastly exceed the time needed to train women police officers or to purify water sources, but it is a beginning. n

Supporting farmers helps stabilize both their businesses and the region’s food security.

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A Better Connection

Mobile hotline supports parents and volunteers helping children in Ethiopia learn to read

Primary school students in the Sebata district were at risk of falling behind reading com- prehension benchmarks when the COVID-19 pandemic caused nationwide school closures. USAID’s READ II decided on a tech-savvy solution: amobile hotline to help students with literacy education. Bedada Kewocha, 43, father of three children, uses the READ II hotline to ask for support when he helps his children with reading, includ- ing calling to ask the hotline’s trained operators for help pronouncing words or reading stories. The hotline “is very useful. It helps a lot in guid- ing on how to provide support for my children to

learn to read,” he says. Kewocha, a farmer, didn’t complete primary school and says that he doesn’t want the same for his children, who attend third and fourth grade nearby in Sebata district, Oromia region. His third child is still a toddler. “I do not want my children to live the life I lived. I want them to have a better future, and I believe education is the only way out,” he says. Funded by the USAID, the five-year READ II programworks to better equip teachers with effective early grade reading instruction tech- niques andmaterials in sevenmother-tongue languages and English while simultaneously

By Berihun Ali

Photo by JimHuylebroek

20 | Think Creative | Fall 2021

Mihret Gudisa (below) is one of the volunteer community literacy leaders in the reading camp where Kewocha’s children attend. Bedada Kewocha (bottom) regularly uses the READ II mobile hotline to get information and advice to help his children learn to read.

help children read. “This has helpedme not only to support my children’s education but also to have a close rela- tionship with them,” he says. Mihret Gudisa, 20, is one of the volunteer com- munity literacy leaders in the reading camp that Kewocha’s children attend. Before each camp session begins, Gudisa and other volunteers call the READ II mobile hotline to run through the planned activities and ask for advice on how to properly lead the workshops. “READ II provides us regular training on how to run the reading camps to help children learn to read,” she says. “But themobile hotlines are constant reminders and refreshers of the skills

I do not want my children to live the life I lived. I want them to have a better future, and I believe education is the only way out.” -Bedada Kewocha, Father of three “

READ II provides materials in seven mother-tongue languages and English.

Many of those calls have come fromparents like Kewocha who have themotivation and commitment to support their children but have been out of school for decades and forgotten a lot. Kewocha says that his children have shown more interest in school since themobile hotline was established. “They also tell me that they are actively engaged in the classroomactivities, and they are a bit motivated,” he says. “I amgrateful for those who prepare this technology and support us.” Some parents are stepping up to bemore involved in their children’s education by not only calling the READ II hotline for support but also attending reading camps. In 2019, USAID-funded reading camps began running in the community but temporarily closed due to the pandemic. Now themobile hotline provides guidance to parents and volunteers who want to

and information to properly support children [who are learning to] read,” she says. Kewocha and other parents regularly attend the volunteer-run reading camps and tell children stories. The hotline has engaged everyone in the community fromparents, volunteer communi- ty literacy leaders and teachers to take part in helping students read. Gudisa says that the hotline is so convenient, easily accessible and supportive that it’s like a “pocket guide [on how] to do things properly,” she says. “We are very happy with the contribu- tion we are providing to the community, and we are grateful for this project’s support.” “The project has now become a communi- ty project,” says Gudisa. “We will continue strengthening our collaboration with the schools and the community to help children learn to read and have a better future.” n

building a culture of reading in the school, home and community. When COVID-19 hit, READ II temporarily adjusted its focus and developed alternatemethods to support literacy, such as the hotline. It is implemented withWorld Vision and Education Development Center. The USAID-funded READ II mobile hotline was created for Sebata district teachers, volun- teer community literacy leaders, parents and students to get information and advice on how to support students who are learning to read, particularly during the pandemic. The hotline has reached close to 40,000 users and 200,000 calls have beenmade since April 2020.

Photos by Berihun Ali

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Many communities where Tejiendo Paz works have low electricity coverage, leaving water pumps ineffective.

Photos by Vivian Jacobs

22 | Think Creative | Fall 2021

Small, overlooked and under-resourced, El Rancho had few options to secure water when the people’s supply was cut off.

USAID’s Peacebuilding Project has helped resolve water scarcity conflict in parts of rural Guatemala.

Water for El Rancho

Restoring water to a rural Guatemalan community

By Janey Fugate and Vivian Jacobs

carrying water jugs up and down the steep hill from a natural water source at the base. “We had a lot of conflict because of the water issue,” says José García Lopez, treasurer for El Rancho’s local development organization, Community Council for Rural Development (COCODE in Spanish). But through support from the USAID’s Peace- building Project, or Tejiendo Paz in Spanish, water was restored to the town, transforming daily life for nearly a thousand people. Searching for solutions El Rancho resident Sara López Funez washes her clothes. Before the village got running wa- ter, she would have had to carry water from the base of the mountain in order to wash. Small, overlooked and under-resourced, El Rancho had few options to secure water when

the people’s supply was cut off. But as the situation worsened, José and other representatives fromCOCODE organized and took their complaint to Chiantla’s municipal government. In response, government author- ities eventually installed a new water pump and pipe system. But they left the project half complete without coordinating with the energy company to turn it on and pump water up to the town. When José and other community members approached Energuate, the region’s electric- ity provider, the company accused them of operating the pump illegally and fined them an amount they couldn’t pay. A stalemate ensued. “When they left us with [the fine], we saw this as a huge conflict, and we didn’t have any way forward,” he says. Water scarcity and access to potable water is

In a tiny community called El Rancho, set high on a sparse hillside in the ruggedWest- ern Highlands of Guatemala, Matilde López García is filling her “pila,” a home water station for cleaning plates and clothing as well as for collecting water for cooking. Until two months ago, this basic task was not possible. “I would go up the hill with buckets or a water jug, but I had to make several trips to have enough water to drink and to clean with at home,” says Matilde. For nearly two years, only half of the 900 resi- dents of El Rancho in Chiantla, Huehuetenan- go, had access to running water for one hour per day. Even in a small village of 900 people, this wasn’t enough. People like García hardly had enough water to save for drinking, let alone for washing clothes and other tasks. The burden of this scarcity primarily fell to the village women, who are usually tasked with

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water for el rancho

not only an issue in El Rancho. Across Gua- temala, communities face varying degrees of drought, with nearly 50 percent of rural Guate- malans lacking access to drinking water. Tension between communities and electricity companies compound this picture. Tejiendo Paz’s Deputy Chief of Party Luz Lainfiesta says that these conflicts reach back 12 years, arising when companies began charging prices that most poor families could not afford. A primary source of conflict, this issue has led to protests, roadblocks and strikes in recent years. “We have to remember that this conflict is magnified in areas with historical conditions of exclusion, poverty and vulnerability,” says Luz Lainfiesta. “Access to stable electrical energy with reasonable prices is a key element for economic development that is both inclusive and sustainable.” But before tensions could escalate in El Ran- cho, Tejiendo Paz met the community at this inflection point. Members of COCODE sought guidance fromCarlos Pinto, a community facil- itator for Tejiendo Paz, who had begun working in El Rancho on other initiatives. Pinto then supported community representa- tives, mediating the negotiations between El Rancho and Energuate that resulted in a signif- icant reduction of the fine. And most impor- tantly, after meeting with COCODE and Pinto, Energuate turned on electricity for El Rancho, powering the pumps that had lain dormant for two years. “The mediation functioned in such a way that the community and Energuate came together without fear of conflict, since there was an impartial third-party present,” says Pinto. Now, water reaches all the households in El Rancho and the pumps operate twice instead of once daily. Families now have ample water for cleaning, drinking and irrigation and don’t have to make the long trek up and down the mountain for extra water. “Before I had to carry the water, but now we have the water service,” says Matilde. “It is a great advantage to have the water pump, thanks to the people who organized themselves in the community and the support of institu- tions like [Tejiendo Paz].” Many communities where Tejiendo Paz works have low electricity coverage, leaving water pumps ineffective. Peacebuilding strategies at work This kind of conflict resolution is exactly what Tejiendo Paz aims to support across the four departments the project works in. From

El Rancho resident Sara López Funez washes her clothes. Before the village got running water, she would have had to carry water from the base of the mountain in order to wash.

Access to stable electrical energy with reasonable prices is a key element for economic development that is both inclusive and sustainable.”

-Luz Lainfiesta, Tejiendo Paz Deputy Chief of Party

Interior and Energuate. Tejiendo Paz provides technical assistance to the working groups, facilitating dialogue between communities and government authorities responsible for ensur- ing the distribution of electrical energy. According to José García Lopez, “the project facilitated us reaching out to those in charge… as they told us, we are here to help with negoti- ations and trainings so that you can identify the ways to solve conflicts… The main thing that we learned as a COCODE is that working hand in hand with institutions is a good thing.” Through working with government authorities at the municipal and departmental levels, as well as building relationships with communi- ties, the Tejiendo Paz project will continue to bring together citizens and authorities to find solutions to local conflicts. n

intrafamilial violence to issues resulting from COVID-19, the project works to build social cohesion, giving communities tools to address these conflicts and meet themwithout resort- ing to violence. Tejiendo Paz is also working to address electricity needs at the departmental level in Huehuetenango and Quiché, supporting recently initiated “Technical Working Groups” designed to address conflict in the energy sector. In several of the communities Tejiendo Paz serves, fewer than 50 percent of the people have electricity. Multiple government institutions participate in these technical working groups, including the National Commission of Electrical Energy, the Ministry of Energy and Mines, the Human Rights Ombudsman, the Ministry of the

Photos by Vivian Jacobs

24 | Think Creative | Fall 2021

Crea t i ve Li f e A mission-driven community

Atiewin Mbillah-Lawson, Communications and Reporting Officer (CRO) for the USAID/ OTI Littorals Regional Initiative, films cattle during a media production trip in Ghana.

Photo by Erick Gibson

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Creative Life

a mission-driven community

Benjamin Feit began his career as the Berlin Wall was coming down and the ColdWar was ending, making him feel that the possibilities to support change were endless. “I could think of nothing more exciting than working in countries in transition to support development and positively impact people’s lives,” says Feit. Nearly three decades later, he remains optimis- tic about the potential of development and has the experience to follow through on his early wish of supporting transitioning countries. A new era of business development Feit was recently named Creative’s first Chief GrowthOfficer. He will lead the company’s business development strategy, oversee proposal development and coordinate among other divi- sions to ensure continued growth. Feit has a talent for looking forward and is building a strategy for Creative that reflects a changing development landscape. “One of the most profound trends is a shift in how international development is financed and implemented,” says Feit. “We have been seeing this happen for some time and it will pick up steam in the next five years.” According to Feit, this shift includes a commit- ment to local ownership, as well as aid increas- ingly flowing to and through international financial institutions, multilateral organiza- tions and host country governments. “The companies that recognize, prepare for and adapt to these changes and find ways to engage even as they continue with traditional aid ap- proaches will be the successful ones,” says Feit. “This will require continued focus on traditional aid approaches to development, while remaining adept at serving amultiplicity of clients, bilateral donors, multilateral agencies, multi-donor trusts, host country governments, foundations, corporations and other private actors.” Staying true to developments ideals Feit’s belief in the potential of international development has guided him for over 25 years. “What has kept me interested throughout my Benjamin Feit Expanding Creative’s global reach Staff Spotlight

Ben Feit is ushering in a new era of business development, both at Creative and in the international field at large.

Finding his next inspiration at Creative Feit joins Creative after successful years as CARE USA’s Associate Vice President for Institutional Funding and Strategy inWashing- ton, D.C., where he developed and led a growth strategy focused on the U.S. government and multilateral clients like the World Bank. He also held roles at Palladium, Deloitte Con- sulting, Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI) and USAID. Feit was inspired to join Creative by its suc- cessful track record, potential for growth and compelling origin story. “The vision of four enterprising women of diverse ethnic backgrounds and nationalities who founded Creative in 1977 has led the orga- nization to become a major player in interna- tional development today,” says Feit. “Creative’s story speaks to the values that motivate me professionally – commitment, perseverance, diversity and a passion for social justice and improving the lives of others.” n

career is a deep-seated passion for the work, a belief that international development is about social justice and the idea that everybody de- serves an equal opportunity to prosper.” He has applied this philosophy to his work in the private, public and nonprofit sectors, including during his time in post-apartheid South Africa. He supported work to narrow the education gap and ensure Black students had the same oppor- tunities and resources as their white peers. His work in the field has also taken him to Niger during a coup, postwar Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Romania before it joined the European Union. Feit draws fromhis extensive experience across the sector to informa business development approach that balances client relationships and the best interests of the people served. “Just as we need to be responsive to client needs and wishes, we need to have integrity so that we respect our own professional expertise and judgments about what is good internation- al development, what is innovative, and how we can best solve a problem,” he says.

Photos by Skip Brown (Ben Feit, TomWheelock)

26 | Think Creative | Fall 2021

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