Think Creative Fall 2023

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Think Creative Fall 2023 A midwife’s gift and struggle in Guatemala Bringing together local expertise in the Middle East Strengthening food security in Senegal By Creative Associates International

COMING Together

Local actors leading social cohesion efforts in their communities

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

Photo by Chanel Distel for USAID/OTI

snap shot

Littorals Regional Initiative By Michael J. Zamba, Senior Director of Communications

In Malanville and Karimama communes in northern Benin, wrestling competitions draw thousands of spectators, particularly youth, and hold a strong cultural connection to the communities. Unfortunately, the region is feeling the effects of violence that is spilling over from the Sahel, as well as local challenges with ethnic divisions, drug abuse, unemployment and idleness among youth. With the support of USAID/OTI’s Littorals Regional Initiative, wrestlers and two local NGOs—Jeunesse Santé Environnement et Développement NGO (JSED-ONG) and DEDRAS—organized a series of tournaments to speak with the audience about youth’s role in promoting peace. Before each bout, the local partners provided education and guidance to the crowds and fighters on peaceful conflict resolution. The positive impact of this sensitization effort has already been observed in the improved relationships between Fulbe and non-Fulbe attendees, who have begun visiting each other’s homes after bonding over their mutual love for wrestling. n

In this Issue

Coming Together 14 p.

07 Dispatches

Updates from around our world

08 // NewWins in Ethiopia and Syria 09 // • Development Alliance Launched in the Middle East • CARI Guatemala Wins USAID Photo Contest • Field Notes 10 // Mali PSR & REWARD II By the Numbers 12 // In Focus: USAID READ II Education Recovery Activity

14 Cover Package Coming Together: Local actors leading social cohesion efforts in their communities

CARI Photo Contest Winners 9 p.

REWARD II By the Numbers 10 p.

ON THE COVER: Michel Yao, a journalist and blogger in Mali, promotes social cohesion in his community by combating disinformation online. Photo taken by Jim Huylebroek for Creative Associates International.

Photos by Chanel Distel for USAID/OTI (Snap Shot); Erick Gibson (LRI); Carlos Garcia (CARI); JimHuylebroek (REWARDII)

4 | Think Creative | Fall 2023

Think Creative by Creative Associates International

Letter from Leland Kruvant President & CEO Creative Associates International


Founder & Board Chair Charito Kruvant

President & CEO Leland Kruvant

Creative’s Founder and Board Chair started to use the word “Peace” in her email signature line as far back as when email was introduced to the public. Like her, many of us continue that tradition. Peace is a powerful word that Creative embraces as a cornerstone of our work in fragile, conflict and post-conflict settings, as well as in our everyday life. Yet, peace is not the absence of conflict. Peace is the result of many factors—inclusiveness, interdependence, openness, equitable distribution of resources and many more—that are achieved through numerous

locally driven approaches. This issue of Think Creative examines one of those elements— social cohesion—by showing examples of how communities are strengthening their bonds and collaborating to overcome issues that could lead to conflict. As I read through the successes in our cover story, I was impressed to see how people within a community—an educator, a blogger, a traditional leader and an indigenous activist—stepped forward to build social cohesion. Equally impressive are their results. While the countries we draw

these examples from have larger challenges, they demonstrate that taking steps to build social cohesion can have a dramatic, lifelong, positive impact on a community, despite the larger national context. These are small, worthwhile steps in the long journey to peace. As we face a variety of global, regional and local challenges, each community’s efforts to build social cohesion are critical in their journey to fulfilling the positive changes they seek. Peace,

Executive VP & Chief Innovation Officer Pablo Maldonado

Chief Operating Officer Sani Daher

Chief Financial Officer Oswaldo Holguin

VP, External Relations Jessica Kruvant

VP, Global Operations Noy Villalobos

VP, Education Cory Heyman

VP, Economic Growth Jim Winkler

VP, Communities in Transition Sharon Van Pelt


Senior Director, Communications Michael J. Zamba

20 Feature Stories

Art Direction Amanda Smallwood

20 // A Good Investment: Using blended finance in Senegal to strengthen food security and boost employment 22 // La Comadrona: An indigenous midwife’s gift and struggle in Guatemala’s Western Highlands ​

Communications Manager Marta S. Maldonado

Boosting Food Security in Senegal 20 p.

Senior Strategic Content Manager Ashley Williams

22 p.

25 Creative Life A mission-driven community 26 // Staff Spotlight: Sara Benavides 27 // Staff Photos

Digital Media Manager Olivia Chapman

Guatemala’s Comadronas

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 ©2023.

28 // Continuing a Legacy of Progress: Creative’s leaders visit programs promoting education, peace and economic growth 29 // Celebrating Milestones: Recognizes decades of service at Creative 30 // Walk this Way: Alinor Osman, Outreach and Communications Manager for USAID’s Bar ama Baro

26 p. Meet Sara!

For more information about Think Creative , please email us at

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

Photos by Skip Brown (Leland Kruvant); Deleba Nomo Serge Kadel for USAID (Senegal); Karen Chang (Comadronas); Amanda Smallwood (Sara Benavides) | 5

Join the Creative mission

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GET TO KNOW How Creative is empowering educators and students.

Scan the QR code to learn more about Creative’s holistic “whole child, whole teacher, whole school” approach.

6 | Think Creative | Fall 2023

Di spa t che s Updates from around our world

Creative COP Robyn Braverman and USAID Honduras’ Alexis Lopez celebrate the launch of the new Sembrando Esperanza (Sowing Hope) project.

Photo by Luis Villatoro | 7


updates from around our world

The new USAID Ethiopia Civic Engagement Activity expands Creative’s work in the country, where Creative currently implements the USAID READ II Education Recovery Activity.

Business Development // Ethiopia Civic Engagement Activity & FURAT III New wins in Ethiopia and Syria

Creative was recently awarded two new pro grams in Ethiopia and Syria that will address civic engagement and governance. Funded by the USAID, the Ethiopia Civic Engagement Activity is a four-year program to strengthen civic and community-based actors’ abilities to engage in policy analysis, advocacy, dialogue and collective action for peaceful, democratic change. In Syria, The U.S. State Department’s Support ing Local Governance and Essential Services program is a three-year cooperative agreement to make public operations more responsive, transparent and accessible to citizens living outside the regime’s control in the northeast ern part of the country. Strengthening civil society in Ethiopia The Ethiopia Civic Engagement Activity will use a collective impact approach in which civil society raises citizen-defined issues in an iterative process. “This new program supports civil society as it continues to grow and play a vital role in shap ing Ethiopia’s future by pressing for more mod

ern governance, contributing to the peaceful resolution of the country’s complex conflicts and representing the diverse groups that make up this dynamic country,” says Leland Kruvant, Creative’s President and CEO. The Ethiopian Civil Society Organization Council, with more than 3,900 members, will bring together a cross section of organizations and individuals—including youth, women, traditional leaders, faith-based organizations, diaspora and others—to co-create activities, while simultaneously building their organiza tional skills, comity, connection and trust. Along with implementing partners VNG International and the Center for International Private Enterprise, the USAID-funded pro gramwill create up to 20 clusters in key parts of Ethiopia which will promote issue-based partnerships and inclusive dialogue that leads to improved governance. Supporting governance in Syria Popularly known as FURAT III, the new program derives its name from an Arabic word that means “sweet water,” which is also used

by Syrians to refer to an area of the Euphrates Valley. FURAT III’s predecessors, FURAT and FURAT Plus, were implemented by Creative and local partners. The new programwill emphasize marginalized communities—including women, youth and religious and ethnic minorities—to promote a more inclusive societal structure. In addition to building the skills of local governance actors, the programwill also work on restoring and providing essential services, supporting firefighting teams throughout the region to enhance emergency preparedness and response capabilities, promoting better coordination and transparency regarding the governance processes, and engaging with communities to foster active participation, inclusion and awareness of local governance initiatives. “FURAT III allows Creative to fulfill the U.S. strategy in Syria to support the stabilizing effects of good governance to better the lives of people in northeastern Syria,” says Richard Jaskot, who lead’s Creative’s Stabilization Practice Area. n

Photo by JimHuylebroek

8 | Think Creative | Fall 2023

Field Notes

Business Development // Dev-Alliance Development Alliance Launched in the Middle East

m Citizen Security

Sembrando Esperanza The five-year USAID Sembrando Esperanza project launched in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in June, a collaboration with the Comisión de Acción Social Menonita, Fundación Nacional para el Desarrollo, Centro de Desarrollo Humano and the Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa. The program aims to improve security conditions, with a special focus on youth and families at risk of violence and irregular migration. Co-investment partners, multilateral organizations and government officials learned about the USAID West Africa Trade & Investment Hub’s significant contributions to bolster economic growth, investment opportunities and employment during its hybrid event, “Leveraging Private Sector Engagement to Promote Sustainable Impact,” in Abuja, Nigeria, Sept. 6 & 7. Nigeria LEARN to Read InMay, the NigerianMinistry of Education celebrated the launch of a National Reading Framework to improve early grade reading outcomes. The Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council began working on the National Reading Framework with the USAID-funded Northern Education Initiative Plus and finished it with the support of the USAID-LEARN to Read program. Jordan Technical Assistance Program (TAP) USAID’s TAP program recently won first place in Jordan for USAID’s Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting (CLA) Case Competition. The competition showcases examples of USAID staff and partners using a CLA approach and informs how the agency and its implementers can promote organizational learning for better development results.

Five companies have formed a strategic alliance to address economic, social and educational challenges facing communities in the Middle East and North Africa. The new Development Alliance (Dev-Alliance) in the MENA region leverages talents, skills, cultural knowledge and geographic expertise of the companies—including three in Jordan and one in Palestine—to improve locally conceived, designed and led programs. Leland Kruvant, President and CEO of Creative Associates International, says the five-company Dev-Alliance in the MENA region ensures that local entities with exceptional technical knowledge and geographic roots are at the center of the devel opment efforts, while improving their skills as both initiators and implementers of programs funded by bi-lateral and multilateral donors. “The Dev-Alliance is a collaboration among equals in which partners bring their expertise and insights to the table that ultimately results in better, locally led programming,” says Kruvant. “Local participa tion and ownership have been our core principles for more than 45 years. The Alliance allows our core principles to go deeper in support of com munities and clients.” The Dev-Alliance members in the MENA region include Edvise ME, ConsultUS, Amawi Takrouri & Associates (ATA) and Core Associates, as well as Creative Associates International. When mutually beneficial, Alliance members will collaborate to design and submit proposals to bilateral and multi lateral donors, such as USAID, as well as implement

programs jointly in the areas of economic growth, public sector governance, education and more. Haya Shubailat, a Partner at Edvise ME, a 100 percent women-owned company in Jordan, says the Dev-Alliance is a positive step to ensure that local organizations have a strong and equal voice in the process of designing and implementing development programs. “We at Edvise ME believe in the strength of a locally rooted, globally connected approach to drive change,” she says. “We are thrilled to join the Dev-Alliance. Together we can learn from each other and exchange knowledge and best practices to promote sound development that will benefit our society and the global community.” n have been our core principles for more than 45 years.” - Leland Kruvant, Creative President & CEO Local participation and ownership “

m Economic Growth Trade Hub

m Education

Guatemala // CARI

The Central America Regional Initiative (CARI) won second place in the 2023 USAID Photo

Contest. The photo features a greeting between two youth

Photo by Carlos Garcia arlos García

leaders who are working with the project to make positive changes in their community. | 9


updates from around our world

USAID’s Mali Peacebuilding, Stabilization and Reconciliation aimed to improve prospects for long term peace, security, and reconciliation by building trust between conflict-affected communities and their governments; strengthening the ability of communities to mitigate and manage conflict and prioritize/address their most pressing development needs; and training and empowering marginalized youth as change agents. Program activities were implemented in 43 conflict affected communes in central and northern Mali from April 2018 to July 2023. Mali PSR support for inclusive governance helped to move communes from conflict to resilience and formed the foundation upon which security, counterterrorism, stabilization and development responses could be anchored. n Mali PSR

1,070 Youth participated in livelihoods trainings, 60% went on to carry out economic activities

reward By the NUMBERS

40 NGOs supported in Benin, Togo, Guinea, Mali and Niger

200 + Locally developed activities focused on elections, social cohesion, land disputes and more

110 Conflicts de-escalated by REWARD II-trained youth

10 | Think Creative | Fall 2023

Photos by Jim Huylebroek


12,000+ People reached during activities related to civic education and citizenship

18,350 People participated in 340 activities to build support for peace and social cohesion

98 % Of citizens reported confidence in local or regional authorities/ institutions, up from 45% at baseline

The USAID-funded REWARD II program provided grants to local non-governmental organizations in Benin, Guinea, Mali, Niger and Togo to help prevent and mitigate electoral violence, counter democratic backsliding, enhance peace and promote social cohesion. Nana Traoré of Tombonkan, Mali, recognized REWARD II’s role in reducing political polarization and ethnic tensions in her community. “This activity was able to unite voters from different political groupings of the municipality of Madiama to discuss the importance of social peace in the success of an election. Also, the activity created an opportunity for dialogue between different ethnic groups of the commune to create a climate of unity before the elections.” n REWARD II

41,454 Youth trained in peacebuilding/conflict prevention activities in the five countries | 11

Photos by Jim Huylebroek; Mali PSR staff (top center/right)


updates from around our world

The USAID READ II Education Recovery Activity is using art to help students heal after being displaced by conflict.

12 | Think Creative | Fall 2023

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

Ethiopia USAID READ II Education Recovery Activity

“They draw about peace, hope, winning and a better Ethiopia”

- Eskedar Alebachew, Teacher

During Ethiopia’s bloody two-year conflict, more than 9,300 schools were damaged or destroyed and about 4.5 million students were unable to attend school. Many of them were internally displaced. When a truce was reached, traumatized students reluctantly returned to tattered or ruined classrooms. “During the first art classes, I was teaching lessons about drawing,” says Eskedar Alebachew in Kombolcha, Ethiopia. “All the students drew pictures of weapons, such as Kalashnikovs, pistols, bombs, tanks, etc. Their thinking was connected to war, not to learning.” The USAID READ II Education Recovery Activity’s multifaceted efforts focused on at-risk populations, reducing gender-based violence and developing the skills of school staff to offer psychological first aid and psycho-social and emotional support. Artwork is one of the strategies used in the classroom. “We trained teachers to use the power of art to influence students to forget about the past and to think about a better future,” says Tassew Zewdie, Ph.D., Chief of Party of the USAID READ II Education Recovery Activity. The USAID READ II Education Recovery Activity reached more than 530,000 students in 1,100 plus schools with educational materials, classroom support and more. n

Photo by JimHuylebroek | 13

T r u s t

e q u a l i t y

COMING Together

How communities from East Africa to Central America are using uniquely local strategies to strengthen social bonds, build inclusive connections and drive positive change

i n c l u s i o n

r e s p e c t

s ta b i l i t y

p e ac e

14 | Think Creative | Fall 2023

The Tejiendo Paz project in Guatemala relies on dedicated community members, like Juana Tax, to support peace and social cohesion in the Western Highlands.

Photo by Karen Chang | 15

coming together

When Rasmata Barry fetches water from the community borehole in Ghana’s Upper West Region, she frequently must wait until all the other women have finished before she can use the pump. “Sometimes at the borehole, we have to wait for hours for our turn. The situation is frustrat ing,” says the mother and seamstress. As an ethnic Fulbe, unfortunately, this exclu sion is one of many frustrations she lives with as part of a minority in her community. The rampant discrimination and exclusion facing the Fulbe are sources of conflict. Wanting to better understand the situation and how it creates instability, the USAID Office of Transition Initiatives-funded Littorals Regional Initiative and a local NGO called SAVE Ghana hired Rasmata and others to be enumerators. They traveled to more than 60 small communities to survey Fulbe and their neighbors about their conditions and local situation. Achieving social cohesion is a goal of most development programs, though definitions of social cohesion vary. An April 2023 paper by the World Bank called “Leveraging Social Cohesion for Development Outcomes” offers this view: “Social cohesion in its broadest sense refers to the ability of communities and individuals to collaborate with one another and with gov ernment for the common good,” wrote Shreya Chatterjee, Marine Gassier and Nikolas Myint. “Strong social cohesion makes communities more resilient to external shocks and better able to manage public goods, which in turn fa cilitates stability and growth. Conversely, gaps in social cohesion can substantially exacerbate development challenges by undermining the ability of communities to overcome conflicts in a non-violent, productive manner and to act collectively to identify and implement solu tions to the issues they face.” Alimou Diallo, Chief of Party of the USAID- supported REWARD II program that worked in five West African countries, provides an implementer’s perspective of how local NGOs are making this a reality. “Social cohesion is ... a way of working with communities to give them the knowledge and skills to address any issues that emerge in their communities using peaceful means. Because

and ultimately social cohesion. “The other thing is addressing not only the visible conflict, but also working to eradicate the root causes, because peacebuilding is a long-term process,” he says. “That is one way of empowering these communities to promote peace and social cohesion.” In Honduras, one of the three pillars of the re cently launched USAID-funded program called Sembrando Esperanza seeks to build social cohesion in 25 municipalities, with a focus on youth, families, governmental organizations and civil society, among others. “We’re trying to build a level of trust that builds social cohesion at the local, municipal and national level,” says Robyn Braverman, the pro gram’s Chief of Party. “I think that’s very hard because in this country there’s been a lack of decision making... There is a sense of inability to govern across sectors.” This issue of Think Creative explores the unique ways communities around the world approach social cohesion to solve local chal lenges, improve locally led development, pro mote participatory governance and strengthen democratic institutions. The following are examples of how communities inMali, Guate mala, Ghana and Somalia are addressing social cohesion.

Michel Yao is fighting disinformation in Mali by training youth and civil society organizations to spot fake stories.

conflict is inherent wherever humans are,” says Diallo, whose programworked with 40 NGOs in Benin, Togo, Niger, Mali and Guinea to co-create and administer 200 grants focusing on cohesion, elections, marginalization and democratic backsliding. Diallo says that getting diverse stakeholders in a community to take ownership of their local challenges and crafting fact-based solutions are the first major steps toward conflict resolution

Photos by Erick Gibson (top); JimHuylebroek

16 | Think Creative | Fall 2023

Left: Rasmata Barry is an ethnic Fulbe, a minority group in Ghana that is often discriminated against. She was hired through the USAID Littorals Regional Initiative to help research and better understand local tensions.

Below: Juana Tax incorporates Maya wisdom into her work to help women heal and to strengthen social cohesion.

Mali: Championing social cohesion by fighting disinformation Fake stories are nothing new for Michel Yao. The 32-year-old is a journalist and passionate blogger in SouthernMali who is championing social cohesion by fighting disinformation, which has exploded in his country. Misin formation and disinformation have eroded citizens’ trust in government and democratic ideals, as well as led to violence. Yao’s aptitude for identifying disinformation earned him an opportunity for additional instruction and to become a trainer of trainers. He now teaches youth and civil society organi zations to identify and counter disinformation. He also maintains his personal commitment to tracking down disinformation and publicizing it on his website and social networks. “My vision of social cohesion is clear,” he says. “For me, an imperative part of social cohesion is opening up and maintaining discussions at all levels,” the journalist says. Yao’s efforts have been boosted through train ing by the USAIDMali Peacebuilding, Stabili zation and Reconciliation (Mali PSR) program, a five-year program that focused on building trust and communication between commu nities and government, supporting citizens to detect and respond to the warning signs of con flict, such as the spread of disinformation, and bringing residents and local leaders together to build peace. “I have used this training to increase my ability to identify and discredit false information shared on social networks and in the media in Keyes,” he says. One discussion that Yao is pushing is the legacy of enslaved people inMali—a legacy that could be altered by disinformation. Though outlawed in 1905, some elite families inMali still seek to enslave the descendants of formerly enslaved people in a practice known as “descent-based slavery.” As a result of this practice, more than 3,000 people have fled their villages to avoid persecution, Yao says. Yao launched amajor initiative called “Mali Without Slavery” to counter disinformation about formerly enslaved people and believes it will enable communities to better resolve their differences and treat each other with respect. By shedding light on a painful topic, Yao is working against disinformation by elevating the truth. “A few years ago, talking about descent-based

Cohesion means that we are united and coordinated and that together, we propose solutions to our problems.”

- Juana Tax, Departmental Delegate for the Office for the Protection of Indigenous Women, Guatemala

a circle of flowers as an offering to that day’s “Nahual.” For the Maya, “Nahual” is the energy, spirit or strength that guides a person each day. Tax is a Departmental Delegate for the Office for the Protection of Indigenous Women (DEMI is the Spanish acronym) in Totoni capán, Guatemala. Tax and DEMI have been organizing healing sessions like these in part nership with Tejiendo Paz, a USAID-funded project to reduce conflict and violence while strengthening social cohesion within commu nity members and among nearby villages. Tax became involved with DEMI eight years ago to support women survivors of gen der-based violence. Seeing that there were few healing programs for survivors that integrated

slavery was considered a sin or even sabotage in some circles,” Yao says. “Today, this question is increasingly being addressed, proof of a small step forward in the fight against this practice which violates human rights.” Yao acknowledges that his work is far from done and that the community must come to gether to promote peace and social cohesion. “We can avoid chaos by favoring dialogue,” he says. Guatemala: Culturally informed heal ing for victims of gender-based violence Before she begins a group healing session with survivors of gender-based violence, Juana Tax first lights colorful candles and places them in

Photo by Karen Chang rlos García | 17

coming together

the Maya worldview and ancestral practices, Tax developed her own culturally integrated healing programs. “The Maya worldview is a part of who I am,” says Tax. “My parents and grandparents upheld traditional Maya practices and that was passed down to me.” Tax believes the Maya worldview and ancestral practices have critical principles and values for social cohesion, and so she incorporates them into her group healing sessions for survivors. For example, Maya practices of dialogue and consensus are key to resolving community conflict and are regularly integrated into her sessions. “Cohesion means that we are united and coordinated and that together, we propose solutions to our problems,” Tax says. Tax has become instrumental in creating group healing sessions in conjunction with Tejiendo Paz. These groups provide culturally relevant psychosocial services and healing support to women who have experienced gender-based violence. DEMI’s efforts to support survivors extend beyond group healing sessions. DEMI’s holistic approach often includes the support of social workers, lawyers and psychologists to help survivors navigate the complex legal system in Guatemala in search of justice. For Tax, DEMI’s work strengthens the social cohesion among survivors by empowering these women to create positive changes. “Women in our culture are in charge of educating our children,” she says. “We play a very important role within the family. If we educate and shape our children well, we can then influence a change within our society, our community, our family.” Ghana: Building cohesion by resolving one conflict at a time It was another busy day for Kansawurche Hajia Bukari at her maternity clinic in Northern Ghana. As a medical professional, Bukari has built close ties across diverse communities in the re gion. As a QueenMother—a traditional female leader who, among other duties, resolves local conflicts—she is called on to do much more than provide medical care.

Queen Mothers, like Kansawurche Hajia Bukari, are traditional female leaders in Ghana who help resolve conflicts, among other duties.

When she saw a group of Fulbe men approach ing her maternity clinic, she knew they were not coming for pregnancy advice. The delega tion of nomadic herders told the QueenMother they had been banned fromwatering their cattle at a private school’s borehole. The school leadership claimed the herders’ cattle had de stroyed the school’s farm and were disruptive during classroom lessons. Water has been and continues to cause conflict around the world. For the herders, access to water has become more difficult because of climate change, increased farming and new settlements that have blocked the Fulbe’s traditional grazing routes. Grievances like this exacerbate disparities within communities, as

Social cohesion is ... a way of working with communities to give them the knowledge and skills to address any issues that emerge in their communities using peaceful means.” - Alimou Diallo, Chief of Party, USAID REWARD II West Africa program “

training focused on dialogue and mediation to resolve conflict, as well as how personal leader ship impacts community relationships. “Before the training, we were authoritarian traditional leaders, but with this training, we learned that democracy gives better results, which has really helped our leadership skills,” the QueenMother says. With these new skills, Bukari successfully brought the herders and school administrators together to dialogue and reach a compromise;

well as foment mistrust of local officials and their ability to resolve them. The QueenMother could sense that the situation was escalating and needed her quick intervention. Fortunately, weeks before the Fulbe men sought her intervention, the QueenMother was trained in leadership, conflict management and the prevention of violent extremism by the USAID/OTI Littorals Regional Initiative. The

Photo by Michael J. Zamba (QueenMother)

18 | Think Creative | Fall 2023

Ambiyo Mohamed Dahir has been an educator in Somalia for more than 30 years. Her work with IDP students is critical to maintaining social cohesion.

Conflicts arise as traditional grazing routes diminish in West Africa. Communities are working with herders, farmers and settlements to find peaceful solutions.

of enrolling out-of-school children into the accelerated basic education program, which condenses eight years of classroom studies into four years. These enrollment efforts have helped build cohesion and collaboration between existing community members and displaced persons. “Host communities sometimes see the IDPs as rivals competing for the same resources. Since this program rolled out, we have brought all parts together to better utilize the opportunity,” she says. Supported by the USAID-funded Bar ama Baro project (“Teach or Learn” in English) and developed in close cooperation with the Somali government, the program underscores her lifelong purpose of building social trust among IDPs and host communities. Education is an important tool to give children and youth a sense of stability and provide basic skills like literacy and numeracy. However, for mal education is largely out of reach for IDPs. Initially, Dahir and four colleagues stepped in by setting aside small amounts of money from their limited monthly salaries to buy school supplies for IDP students. Two hundred boys and 208 girls are enrolled in her school as part of the accelerated basic education program. She expects to enroll more students each semester. “In my meetings with the community, I always emphasize the importance of education for all and the need to accommodate and create ini tiatives to allowmany children from disadvan taged and internally displaced communities to come to school, sit with their peers and enjoy the privileges of safety, quality and a child- centered classroom. In this way, we can build a better and cohesive community,” says Dahir. n This cover story is a collaboration among Alinor Osman, Ashley Williams, Atiewin Mbillah Lawson, Erin Josephine Treinen, Karen Ives, Sabra Ayres and Michael J. Zamba.

the herders would compensate the school for any crop destruction in exchange for permis sion to use the borehole. Pastor Immanuel Danka felt relieved with the intervention. “The way [the QueenMother] approached the issue was great because she started by ensuring our relationship with the Fulbe community was good. From there, we gave them a time they could come to fetch wa ter and they have honored that,” he says. Communication, inclusion, and negotiation are key steps to achieving social cohesion, she says. “I have started visiting communities across the region, advocating for peace and good neighborliness and working with other women leaders to build community relations,” the QueenMother says. Based on the results between the herders and the school administration, her efforts are paying off. Locally led solutions to regional and global challenges such as water resources form

the basis for improved community relations and reinforce the role of local leaders like the QueenMother to act quickly. Somalia: Rebuilding social cohesion through education Ambiyo Mohamed Dahir has lived through tough times during her more than 30 years of teaching in Baidoa, Somalia. The ongoing deadly drought and attacks by violent extrem ists have created more than 3 million internally displaced persons—which are eroding social cohesion in her community as more people arrive to neighborhoods and camps, placing greater strains on limited resources. “Baidoa is surrounded by camps for displaced people and their numbers are increasing by the day,” Dahir says. “These are our people, and they deserve to live a decent life.” As the head teacher at a school with 1,800 stu dents and 41 staff, she has used her position to rally the community around the common cause

Photos by Eric Gibson (center); Ismail Taxta (top right) Carlos García | 19

a Good


Using blended finance in Senegal to strengthen food security and boost employment

By Fatima Datt

Arame Mbaye left school at the age of 11 to work as a farmer, growing rice and vegetables to help support her family. Now at age 62, she has worked for more than four decades in the fields of Ross Bethio, a community some 50miles fromher native Saint-Louis, Senegal. Today, she is the owner of four hectares of rice paddy fields and is the President of the Economic Interest Group, a co alition of around 20 women paddy rice farmers. Saint-Louis is located at the entrance of the

Senegal River, north of the country’s capi tal, and is a large rice-producing area. The geographical position of Saint-Louis offers favorable climatic conditions for agricultural production. Combined with the potential of irrigable land (estimated at 172,800 hectares) and the abundance of water, the region is a major agricultural hub for Senegal. Nonetheless, Arame struggled to expand and make her agribusiness profitable. Paddy cultivation is her main source of income.

With profits ranging from $3 to $4 per 80 kg bag of paddy, she found it difficult to pay off her loan, reinvest in costly inputs and meet her family’s needs. Harvest seasons were mostly unprofitable. “When the season is good, I can pay the loan and have a small profit. But if the season is bad, I could barely pay the bank and have something left for me,” she says. Across West Africa, small-scale agriculture ventures like Arame’s are critical to regional

Photo by Deleba Nomo Serge Kadel for USAID

20 | Think Creative | Fall 2023

Left: The Trade Hub co-invests with local agribusinesses to increase domestic production and import substitution to create greater food security in West Africa.

increase white rice production in Senegal’s Ross Bethio region and reduce the country’s dependence on rice imports. EAG supports producers by facilitating access to an interest-free credit line of up to approxi mately $3,072 and by distributing agricultural inputs as in-kind contributions that are repaid at harvest time. Paddy rice producers have sig nificantly improved food security in Senegal. The co-investment helped EAG to purchase machinery, cultivate an additional 375 hectares of land, increase agricultural production and integrate 375 farmers into its current network of 1,545 paddy rice producers. EAG is raising approximately $5.3 million in private capital as part of its three-year partnership with the Trade Hub, which ended in February. The results are significant. Sales of white rice and other by-products amounted to more than $7 million (equivalent to 15,627 metric tons) compared to $1.87 million and 4,993 metric tons at the beginning of the partnership. Finally, given the growth in revenue, EAG intends to change its legal status from a sole proprietorship to a limited liability company to facilitate the access of more financing from banks. These results not only indicate the success, but also the level of sustainability that enables enterprises to positively impact food security for the long-term. For a smallholder like Arame, the effects of participation with EAG are life changing. When EAG signed a contract with Arame to buy all her paddy rice, it allowed her to repay her cred

The war in Ukraine has disrupted the shipment of critical grain supplies, making sustainable agricultural enterprises in West Africa more critical than ever.

The Trade Hub promotes measures to ensure access to healthy, safe, and nutritious foods.

I no longer have paddies growing moldy or being wasted because of the lack of buyers .” - Arame Mbaye, Rice Farmer “

food security, though the challenges they face threaten their sustainability. To respond to global food security crisis and local challenges, the USAID-fundedWest Africa Trade & Investment Hub (Trade Hub) and its co-investment partners are reducing dependence on imports by supporting greater domestic production. The Trade Hub co-invests with local agribusinesses to increase domestic production and engages the private sector to support food security efforts. “The Trade Hub is part of building the region so that in challenging times like these people inWest Africa will have the infrastructure and tools to sustain their communities, conduct business and to keep their livelihoods intact,” says RobinWheeler, the Trade Hub’s Chief of Party. One Trade Hub co-investment partner, woman owned Entreprise Aïssatou Gaye (EAG), is

working to reduce the nation’s dependence on imported rice, a key food source for the Senegalese people. Smallholder farmer Arame heard about EAG and its founder and owner, Aïssatou Gaye, and was drawn to her unique, almost revolutionary reputation as a female entrepreneur who buys paddy rice from producers to process it into white rice. In 2021, EAG received a $450,842 co- investment grant through the Trade Hub’s COVID-19 Rapid Response program to

it on time—and make a profit—a trend that she is likely to maintain in the future. “I no longer have paddies growing moldy or being wasted because of the lack of buyers,” Arame says. As part of that network of 2,961 paddy producers supported by EAG and the Trade Hub, Arame was able to access funds through a third party holding with La Banque Agricole for several harvest seasons, allowing her to achieve a level of success that better reflects her experience, knowledge and hard work. n

Photos by Deleba Nomo Serge Kadel for USAID | 21

Comadrona La

An indigenous midwife’s gift and struggle in Guatemala’s Western Highlands ​ ​

By Sara Barker and Erin Treinen

Photo by Karen Chang

22 | Think Creative | Fall 2023

Below: A group of midwives celebrate completing a series of trainings to strengthen their role in addressing conflict and preventing and reporting sexual and/or gender-based violence.

Maria Luisa Tzul Pacheco, age 60, is a third generation comadrona, or midwife, in Nimapá, Totonicapán. To be a comadrona is to be an ancestral authority in your community. ​ Their knowledge is passed down through generations, often frommother to daughter to granddaughter, ​as is the case with Tzul. To Mayans, it is considered sacred work and is the destiny of someone who is born with the gift of receiving new life. “I can tell howmany months along a patient is when I’m touching her. My hands know,” says Tzul. “We know where the baby is and the position it’s in, because this is a gift.” The role of Mayan ​comadronas in the West ern Highlands of Guatemala holds particular importance in rural communities with limited access to medical services. ​In such settings, comadronas provide holistic health care to pregnant women, including pre-natal and post-partum support. Despite the vital role comadronas play in their communities, they often face discrimination within the public health system. The USAID- funded Peacebuilding Project, or Tejiendo Paz in Spanish, is working with comadronas ​in the Western Highlands to tackle the social divi sions created by discrimination and to prevent gender-based violence. Inter-institutional coordination and responses in support of midwives ​Tejiendo Paz works to address the root causes of conflict in four thematic areas: 1) youth, gen der and families; 2) governance; 3) land rights; and 4) natural resources. The project’s work with comadronas seeks to reduce social conflict and violence and to strengthen social cohesion in the Western Highlands of Guatemala. Reaching 130 com munities in 15 municipalities, Tejiendo Paz ​is implemented by Creative with PartnersGlobal and ProPaz. ​Tejiendo Paz works with men, women and

lationship and ensure comadronas know what resources are available to them. Sessions were implemented in coordination with the Gov ernment of Guatemala through a local health center that is part of the Ministry of Health, the Departmental Delegate for the Office for the Protection of Indigenous Women (DEMI, its Spanish acronym), and with support from the Rural Development Cooperation of the West ern Highlands (CDRO, its Spanish acronym). In addition to responding to community- level priorities, Tejiendo Paz has joined forces with the ​Secretariat Against Sexual Violence, Exploitation and Human Trafficking (SVET, its Spanish acronym) to implement departmental level ​trainings with comadronas. These trainings focus on preventing and reporting sexual violence, exploitation, and human trafficking and are implemented with ​the National Movement of Midwives NimAlaxik, a national association of comadronas. Tejiendo Paz also partnered with the Foundation for Education and Social Development (FUDESA is the Spanish acronym) to develop a communication campaign on preventing domestic violence, ​which reached ​over 70,000 people in the Western Highlands. A vital role in rural health care A 2015 study conducted by USAID found that there are just ​12.5 healthcare workers for every 10,000 people in rural areas of Guatemala. At least 25 percent of Guatemalans, many in hard to-reach mountainous areas, must travel over an hour to the nearest basic healthcare facility. Comadronas are committed to the health and ​

Nimapá, Totonicapán is a community that Tejiendo Paz works in to reduce social conflict and violence and to strengthen social cohesion in the Western Highlands of Guatemala.

youth, to develop community-led action plans to address conflict and prevent violence. Community members in Nimapá identified dis crimination ​against comadronas as a prevalent form of social conflict, so their action plan prioritized supporting them. Tzul, her mother and 29 other comadronas in Nimapá partici pated in a nine-session training on their rights and how to effectively exercise themwithin the public health system. The project’s training sessions included a focus on conflict mitigation, dialogue, leadership, and self-esteem, providing the women with the skills and confidence to negotiate with health authorities and support their patients. Importantly, the training brought together ​ key players invested in the rights and health of indigenous women to foster their working re

Photos by Karen Chang

La Comadrona

Left: Mayan comadronas are particularly important in rural communities with limited access to medical services.

wellbeing of the women in their communities, attending to 79 percent of births in the Western Highlands. They are available at all hours and serve women in the most remote areas of the country, often traveling by foot for hours and working for very little pay. ​ Many Mayan women prefer a comadrona because they trust them, share their beliefs and speak their native language.

Comadronas often act as family mediators. Al though attitudes around gender are changing, some men may still prefer sons, and will blame their wives if they give birth to a daughter. ​ Husbands and wives may also have differences of opinion over the type of care the mother receives or the place of birth, as well as options for birth control and reproductive decisions. The project’s training sessions related to conflict mitigation and dialogue prepared comadronas to prevent and address intra familial conflict in their practice. Aracely Garcia, a Health and Nutrition Coordinator at a local public health post, participated in the training. “Thanks to the trainings with the Peacebuilding Project, the comadronas learned strategies for having effective communication and preventing con flict,” says Garcia. “Through using their lived experiences with patients, the training created a space for dialogue and problem-solving.” Domestic and gender-based violence is a preva lent form of conflict in the Western Highlands. According to SVET, sexual violence increased by 40 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic. Comadronas are a critical source of informa tion for women and girls on their rights and how to exercise them. They are also a source of information on how to report violence and resources available to victims and survivors of domestic and gender-based violence. The training in ​Nimapá included a session on preventing, identifying, and reporting domes tic and gender-based violence. “The topics about violence against women and intrafamilial violence have helped us,” shares Tzul. She now encourages her patients to not allowmisogyny. “Before misogyny was accepted, but not anymore,” says Tzul. “The trainings taught us that men shouldn’t hit women and women shouldn’t hit men. If I see that a couple is fight ing a lot, I tell the woman to report it.” “We all have a gift in this life,” says Tzul. She and other comadronas are using their gift to support women in their communities, not only to give birth to healthy, thriving babies but also to ensure that women and girls ​live a life free from violence. n

Thanks to the trainings with the Peacebuilding Project, the comadronas learned strategies for having effective communication and preventing conflict.” - Aracely Garcia, a Health and Nutrition Coordinator “

to in a health center rather than in the mother’s home,” says Tzul. But seeking medical care for a patient can be a double-edged sword for comadronas. In addition to being blamed for the emergency by health care workers, the family may be resistant. “The culture can be a challenge. Many times, the husband, mother-in-law, or grandmother say the birth must happen at home and only in the home,” explains ​Juan Francisco Tzunun, a representative fromCDRO. The conflict mitigation skills the comadronas learned through the project’s trainings are helping them navigate a skeptical public health system, sensitive family topics and cultural be liefs so they can provide the best care possible for mothers and babies. Comadronas prevent familial conflict and gender-based violence ​The intimate role that comadronas play in the lives of women and families make Tzul and her peers uniquely positioned to prevent and re spond to violence against women and children.

One of the Office for the Protection of Indigenous Women’s (DEMI, its Spanish acronym) priorities is access to culturally relevant healthcare for indigenous women, which includes comadronas. However, the public health system often creates barriers to comadronas doing their work. Many hospitals do not allow comadronas to accompany their patients during birth. Train ings and care provided within the public health care system often do not include space for Mayan medical practices, which many families have used for generations. What’s more, many older comadronas do not speak fluent Spanish, preferring to communicate in their native Mayan language, while many health authorities exclusively speak Spanish. Comadronas are discriminated against in hos pital settings in part because they do not have a university degree and can be looked down on or even blamed by hospital staff. Tzul says that part of comadronas’ knowl edge and intuition includes knowing when to involve additional care. “We know when a pregnancy is high risk and needs to be attended

Photo by Karen Chang

24 | Think Creative | Fall 2023

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