Think Creative - Issue 2

Think Creative ISSUE 2 Local language learning in Nigeria Incomes grow for Afghan dairy farmers Mapping opportunity in the Caribbean By Creative Associates International

For Farmers in Honduras’ DRY CORRIDOR seeds hope of


shot Turn the page to learn the story behind this photo

Photo by Erick Gibson

snap shot


updates from around our world

Nigeria By Boco Abdul, Communications Officer Northern Education Initiative Plus

When girls stand in the classroom to clap their hands or sing a song, I see beyond that. To me, it is an act of victory! USAID’s Northern Education Initiative Plus project is creating access to education and breaking socio-cultural barriers - one girl at a time. It is not just about the project numbers, it is about howwe are positively affecting their minds. I traveled to Sokoto state in northern Nigeria in July 2017 to visit schools and non-formal learning centers where the project is training teachers and provid- ing learning resources so children can acquire vital literacy and numeracy skills that can unlock a better life. In these rural classrooms, magic happened. Yes, the teacher taught, asked ques- tions and the children responded, but the project’s Mu Karanta! reading books were opening new chapters in the lives of these girls. I witnessed strong girls who were not afraid to express themselves - not afraid to laugh, not afraid to shout or even dance. In these moments, while singing songs from their books, they forgot the daily struggles of their lives, such as finding the next meal, avoiding an early marriage or walking several miles to fetch drinking water. I caught many glimpses of these moments on that trip, and they are forever etched in my mind. Indeed, the saying is true that if you educate a woman, you educate her family and community. To learn more, see page 22.

In this Issue 07 Dispatches Updates from around our world 08 // New skills for Afghan dairy farmers 09 // • Caribbean: Community asset mapping at work • Field Notes 10 // Proponte Más: Neighbors guide youth away from violence 11 // Nigeria: Healing communities with education 12 // In Focus: Elections in Somaliland 14 Cover Package Seeds of Hope for Farmers in Honduras’ Dry Corridor

Seeds of Hope 14 p.

Afghan Dairy Farmers 08 p.

ASSET Mapping 09 p.


With new technology, farming techniques, crops and knowledge, smallholder farmers build resiliency in a difficult environment.

ON THE COVER: Photograph by Skip Brown for Think Creative . Juan Escobar is a beneficiary of INVEST-Honduras’ Dry Corridor Alliance – PROSASUR project.

Photos by Erick Gibson (top left); JimHuylebroek (left); Skip Brown (right)

4 | Think Creative | Issue 2

Think Creative by Creative Associates International

Letter from Leland Kruvant President & CEO Creative Associates International


Founder & Board Chair Charito Kruvant President & CEO Leland Kruvant Chief Operating Officer Pablo Maldonado Chief Financial Officer Oswaldo Holguin Senior Vice President Thomas Wheelock Senior Vice President Earl Gast Senior Vice President Sharon Cooley VP, External Relations Jessica Kruvant VP, Global Operations Mario Vilela

pelling story of how communities are struggling against the forces of nature, as well as a revealing look at the ways residents, experts and donors are pulling together to solve the region’s ecological and economic challenges. It seems like a misnomer to talk about a “dry corridor” in a country that is so green. Having traveled throughout Honduras, most recently in November 2017, I have seen the country’s beauty and lush landscape up close. Indeed, the photos in this issue make the area look anything but dry. However, this ecologically sensitive region faces several months of heavy rain, which causes flash floods that destroy crops andwash away roads. These terrible down-

pours are followed bymonths of extreme drought that transform the landscape and endanger the lives and livelihoods of residents. Thanks to INVEST-Honduras and theWorld Bank, the Dry Corridor is gettingmuch-needed assistance to improve resilience and grow incomes. I hope you enjoy this Think Creative feature and the variety of other articles, updates and photos from the Caribbean to Afghani- stan—and share it with your friends and colleagues (either electronical- ly or the old-fashioned way). Sincerely,

Thank you for your overwhelm- ingly positive response to the premiere issue of Think Creative , our newmagazine that focuses on stories of success, results and innovation. We thought that going “retro” with print would generate a lot of conversation, particularly since we seem to spend more time looking at screens than at ink on paper. I truly enjoy the tactile experience—and share it in the old-fashioned way. Now that you have the second issue of Think Creative , I hope that it becomes a regular part of your reading list and a source of information and inspiration. This issue’s cover package on Honduras’ Dry Corridor is a com-


Senior Director, Communications Michael J. Zamba Communications Manager Marta S. Maldonado Strategic Content Manager Jillian Slutzker Art Direction Amanda Smallwood Writers Natalie Lovenburg Evelyn Rupert Web Design & Digital Technology Luis Aguilar Contributing Photographers Skip Brown Erick Gibson Jim Huylebroek Emanuel Rodríguez 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 ©2018.

20 Feature Stories

20 // On the Move: Mobile bus library wheels its way to rural Pakistani schools 22 // Reshaping education, one textbook at a time: Nigeria’s Mu Karanta! curriculum taps into students’ desire to learn

25 Creative Life A mission-driven community

Mobile Library 20 p.

26 // Staff Spotlight: Sharon Cooley leads business that catalyzes change 27 // • Culture Corner: Celebrating the Afghan New Year • Staff Photo Submissions • Did You Know? Explore calypso music’s history 28 // • Uniting Around Gender Equality • 16 Days of Activism • Get Involved: International Women’s Day 29 // • Q&A: Why is gender equality important to your work? • Creative Events 30 // Walk this Way: A day in the life of Creative Development Lab’s Cate Johnson

Sharon Cooley

26 p.

For more information about Think Creative , please email us at

Gender Equality

5301 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Suite 700 Washington, DC 20015 + 202.966.5804 Creative Associates International



Photos by Skip Brown (top & bottom); NomanManzoor (center) | 5


Learn About Creative • Explore Career Opportunities • Meet Our Recruiters

MARCH 23rd | 1-6 P.M. in Washington, D.C.

Visit to sign up

Creative recognizes outstanding projects and staff of 2017 Employee of the Year Matthew Bank, Project Manager, Stabilization and Development Senior Employee of the Year Susan Hirsch-Ayari, Senior Associate, Education in Conflict Chief of Party of the Year Mamdouh Fadil, Chief of Party for the USAID Afghan Children Read project

Project of the Year USAID Proponte Más project, Honduras

Tool/Product of the Year Track and Trace Technology, Creative’s Development Lab and the Afghan Children Read project

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Di spa t che s

Updates from around our world

Children are learning to read in the complex Mozambican language setting, which has more than 20 mother-tongue languages in its 10 provinces, through the Let’s Read! ( Vamos Ler! in Portuguese) program’s bilingual literacy approach.

Photo by Leopoldino Jerónimo | 7


updates from around our world

USAID’s Afghanistan Workforce Development Program training helped the Balkh Dairy Union to boost production and sales. Qeyamudin Qeyam (right) supervises milk distribution.

Afghanistan // Workforce Development Program New skills for Afghan dairy farmers

Qeyamudin Qeyam, Chairman of the Balkh Dairy Union and Afghan Dairy Producers As- sociation, says he’s already seeing the positive effects of the trainings. Since then, Balkh Dairy products have been introduced in 50 more stores, for a total of 300. “They expanded the scope of our market and increased our production. These are important advances,” he says. “Because of the trainings, we added two new products and learned how to vacuum pack cheese. Milk production in- creased by 500 liters a day.” Qeyam says that the progress shows the poten- tial of the cooperative system. And hundreds of families from small villages to the city of Mazar e-Sharif will benefit as Balkh Dairy continues to grow. n

He helped to select cooperative members to participate in program trainings, ultimately benefiting dozens of dairy farming families. He says the AfghanistanWorkforce Develop- ment Program trainings of families encouraged the adoption of better practices to keep dairy cows healthy and boost milk production. “A number of women were taught about the proper health and care of their cattle,” Homa- yun says. “Through these classes, the women were able to provide better care for their animals and obtain more milk.” The program also provided trainings in man- agement, marketing, production and sanitation to staff at the cooperatives, as well as market research to help the dairies better serve con- sumers and increase sales.

Every day as the sun rises in Afghanistan’s Balkh province, dozens of families are waking early to start their morning tasks. Cows are milked, and the milk is carefully carried to a local cooperative, where it is tested and measured. From there, it’s transported to a nearby dairy processing plant to be turned into products like yogurt and cheese for sale. This daily routine generates income for more than 200 families who are members of milk cooperatives around the city of Mazar e-Sharif and the greater Balkh province. And with help fromUSAID’s AfghanistanWorkforce Develop- ment Program, the cooperative is performing better than ever. Dr. Mohammad Homayun, Manager of Balkh Dairy, oversees 14 milk collection centers.

Photo by JimHuylebroek

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Community Asset Mapping at Work Saint Lucia // Community, Family and Youth Resilience Youth in the Caribbean are harnessing technology to put their communities on the map, raising awareness of local resources and providing vital information to public safety initiatives. Take a closer look at the process.

Field Notes

m Economic Growth Nicaragua: Aprendo y Emprendo

Through partnerships with the private sector, Aprendo y Emprendo has been able to offer both students and educators trainings in tourism and service, wood processing, entrepreneurship andmore. Tech- nical education courses are being matched to employers’ needs, giving at-risk youth better chances of em- ployment and success on the job.

1 Mappers, often local youth, collect data on the resources and problem areas in their communities using an app or pen and paper.

L i b r a r y

“ Library ”

Education Afghanistan: Afghan Children Read


In collaboration with the Ministry of Education, the Afghan Children Read project has distributed more than 314,070 teaching and learning materials in Pashto and Dari languages, providing some 188,500 early grade students in Afghanistan the opportunity to improve their reading skills. Ethiopia: READ II Funded by the U.S. Agency for In- ternational Development, the five- year READ II project seeks to boost the quality of literacy instruction and student support for 15 million children. It aims to better equip teachers with effective early grade reading instruction techniques and materials in seven mother-tongue languages and English. Mozambique: Vamos Ler! In partnership with the Mozam- bican government, the Let’s Read! ( Vamos Ler! in Portuguese) project has distributed more than 109,380 first grade reading books in three local languages as well as Portu- guese, equipping bilingual students to overcome learning barriers.


The information is uploaded onto Open Street Map , an open-source mapping platform.

3 The data can be used to tailor initiatives like public safety planning and violence prevention, tapping into existing resources and identifying areas of concern.

In the process, residents also benefit from a more complete picture of their community. 4

L i b r a r y

Police Station

Youth Center

Grocery Store


Infographic by Amanda Smallwood | 9


updates from around our world

Proponte Más family promoters (from left) Karla, Marcia and Wendy collaborate on reaching out to families in the Tres de Mayo neighborhood of Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Neighbors guide youth away from violence

Honduras // Proponte Más

Every few weeks, four women make their rounds in their neighborhood of Tres de Mayo, on the outskirts of the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, where rival gangs have spurred high levels of crime and violence. Nataly, Wendy, Karla and Marcia are check- ing in with the youth and families they work with through a violence prevention program called Proponte Más. They serve as a team of “family promoters” – community leaders who work directly with families to keep youth from increasing their risk for engaging with the gangs and violence that are all too common in the Tres de Mayo area. Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and implemented by Creative Associates International, Proponte Más has trained 72 family promoters in five of the coun-

try’s most violent areas. For families working hard to keep their kids safe, the regular visits have been a welcome support, says Wendy, one of the promoters. “When I visited my first family and told them about the program, I was able to see how pleased they seemed when we showed an in- terest in their child,” she says. “That’s when the doors of their homes just open wide.” Promoters like Wendy are trained by Propon- te Más to walk families through activities and conversations aimed at making youth more resilient to the factors that may pull them toward crime and violence. The promoters work to build family bonds, improve parental supervision, strengthen communication and change risky behavior in youth.

“Getting families to establish positive behav- ior patterns is the most efficient way through which we can achieve positive changes in the country,” Wendy says. Proponte Más sees the family structure as the best asset to prevent youth from becoming part of a cycle of violence and aims to help parents or guardians create home environments that are supportive and generate a sense of belong- ing for their children. In the city of San Pedro Sula, for example, family promoters in the Rivera Hernández neighborhood have helped repair the relation- ship between 11-year-old Ángel and his parents. Family promoter coordinator Nolvia says the team in Rivera Hernández quickly recognized that much of Ángel’s disobedience toward his

Photo by Emanuel Rodríguez

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Healing communities with education Nigeria // Education Crisis Response

mother, and other negative behav- iors, stemmed from his desire to no longer be treated as a young child. The promoters worked with the family to help them understand one another, opening up and estab- lishing more productive lines of communication. “They helped me to understand that he is growing up and that he’s entering adolescence,” says Án- gel’s mother Daisy. After a fewmonths of regular visits from promoters, Ángel is more respectful toward his parents, more helpful with household chores and doing better in school – all indica- tions that he has reduced his risk for falling in with a gang. The promoters, who are working with more than 325 families across the five municipalities, are just one piece of Proponte Más’ larger vio- lence prevention programming and are focused on youth at the lowest, or primary, level of risk. For youth at a higher risk level, the project turns to a more intensive family counseling model. Chief of Party Robyn Braverman says promoters serve as the first line of defense and can be crucial in keeping youth fromever getting close to jumping up to a higher level of risk for engaging with gangs. “Promoters have become lay counselors in their neighborhoods and are recognized for their innate skill sets,” she says. “Proponte Más is creating a unique model of in- tervention with the primary group of kids and strengthening the lay counselors’ capacity to intervene.” By organizing family promoters into community-based networks, like the four promoters in Tres de Mayo, Proponte Más is ensuring that families will continue to have support fromwithin their own neighborhoods long after the proj- ect’s formal end. “I’ve had a wonderful experience as a promoter, so much so that these families are my family,” says Karla, one of the promoters in Tres de Mayo. “Even if they tell me that they don’t need me anymore, I’m going to continue doing what I do because I want to help the community.” n

Education can be a source of healing and stability during conflict. At the height of violent extremists’ attacks in northern Nigeria, more than 2.5 million people were forced to flee their homes. With more than 1 million children among the victims, a clear path forward was needed to ensure learning continued in a safe environment. Over the last three years, the Nigeria Education Crisis Response (NECR) project has met this need by providing more than 80,000 displaced or out-of-school children and youth with basic

literacy and numeracy skills and psychosocial support in safe and supportive environments, called non-formal learning centers. The project was funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and implemented by Creative Associates International, the International Rescue Committee, the Nigerian government and local nongovernmental organizations. As the project comes to a close, take a look at its positive impact on the lives of children and youth in northern Nigeria. n


80,000 + displaced children and youth empowered with basic literacy and numeracy skills and social emotional competencies



primary school teachers trained in five northeastern states: Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe and Yobe

non-formal learning centers established in communities hosting displaced children and youth



non-formal learning facilitators trained in Social Emotional Learning in the classroom

students reached in formal schools with Social Emotional Learning in the classroom



adolescent girls and boys acquired market- oriented vocational skills

learners mainstreamed into formal schools, more than three times the project’s target

Photo by Erick Gibson | 11


updates from around our world

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

On Election Day in Hargeisa, voters lined up to cast their ballots for president of Somaliland using new voter registration cards. It was an inspiring scene and a credit to the people and leadership of Somaliland. In partnership with the Somaliland National Election Commission, Creative’s USAID-funded Bringing Unity, Integrity, and Legitimacy to Democracy project supported efforts to produce and distribute more than 700,000 voter identification cards ahead of the November election. While claims of illegiti- mate voters can undermine elections in emerging democracies, these secure cards helped support technical legitimacy and public credibility. Working with civil society organizations, the project also supported efforts to educate voters about their rights in the election, as well as how and where to vote. To ensure that all voices were heard, the project engaged marginalized groups, including nomadic herders, youth and women. Women played critical roles in the electoral process—as civil society leaders, poll workers, political party agents and, of course, voters. Despite a traditional culture and gender barriers that have largely kept women out of leadership and elected offices, women who were actively engaged with the project now say they are ready to move from casting ballots to appearing on them in elections to come. n “It was the first time I could vote, and I voted. My father, mother, brothers and sisters all came to vote to elect the party we support. It makes me really happy.” - Ferdous Issa, voter Somaliland Bringing Unity, Integrity, and Legitimacy to Democracy

Photo by JimHuylebroek | 13

Juan Escobar looks up from his cornfields outside of Choluteca, Honduras.

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For Farmers in Honduras’ Dry Corridor hope seeds


With new technology, farming techniques, crops and knowledge, smallholder farmers build resiliency in a difficult environment.

By Evelyn Rupert / Photos by Skip Brown

seeds of hope

“That’s what we’re looking for, for some help, because as farmers there are so many things we don’t have” – Juan Escobar, farmer

Juan Escobar has been fortunate with his cornfield. This year the corn has quickly grown well above his head, dropping tiny flowers in his hair as he walks through the rows. But the rainy season is coming to an end, and the toughest part of the year for farmers in Honduras’ Dry Corridor – when the heavy rains stop and months of drought settle in – is still to come. Escobar and his wife Juana Mercado Pine- da, who raised 10 daughters in their remote community of Siete de Mayo, have no reliable means of storing the large amount of water that falls during the rainy season for use throughout the rest of the year. The unpredictability puts both his fields and his family at risk. “How are we going to collect water? We don’t have water, because here water is scarce,” Escobar says, seated in a plastic chair on the edge of his field. “From January on, we have very little to drink, little potable water. Life, it’s very expensive. We must buy water fromwhere there are wells in order to bathe.” But next dry season should be different. With help from a new project in the region, Escobar built a water harvesting system that will allow him to save rainwater and irrigate his field.

A project known as ACS-PROSASUR, an acronym that roughly stands for “Dry Corri- dor Alliance - Promoting Food Security in the South” in Spanish – is providing Escobar with the tools to harvest water and the knowledge to sustain the system through rainy and dry seasons to come. The systemwill funnel rainwater from his roof through pipes and filters into a large geomem- brane bag. Escobar will then be able to hand pump the water into a raised tank, and from there water will trickle down into his fields and provide drip irrigation. For Escobar, the idea of irrigating his field was novel, as was the composting system the project helped him build out of plastic trash cans that allow him to fertilize his crops. But as a lifelong farmer who knows the difficulties of

the soil and weather, he was prepared to give these new practices a chance. “I knew what they were going to do, but until now we’ve never done it here,” he says, sweep- ing his hand toward the home where he’s lived for more than 40 years. “God willing, it will all work out well. In the harvesting of corn, we always get it right. But now with the water har- vesting, we will no longer have losses because we’ll have enough water. That’s what we want.” Building resiliency for the most remote Escobar and his family are not alone in their struggle for water. Only about 25 percent of families in the region have access to water at home – a problem that goes hand-in-hand with dire food insecurity. These are challenges that underlie every initia-

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(Left) Juan Escobar and his wife Juana Mercado Pineda grow squash and other vegetables in a small garden plot.

The dry season stretches from December to April and is marked by strong winds that worsen the drought.

Juan Escobar tests out the hand pumps on his newly installed water harvesting and irrigation system. Photo by Amalia San Martín.

The couple’s children and

Juana Mercado Pineda makes tortillas over her wood-burning stove.

grandchildren gather in their open-air kitchen.

tive of ACS-PROSASUR, which is working in 12 municipalities in the southern departments of Choluteca and El Paraíso to improve liveli- hoods and build resiliency for 6,000 poor and extreme poor families. The project is implemented by Creative Associates International in partnership with INVEST-Honduras. It is one piece of the larger Dry Corridor Alliance and receives funding from the World Bank through the Global Agri- culture and Food Security Program. The project will help families develop business and food security plans and provide farming tools like biofuel systems, complete small household projects such as installing clean cook stoves and laying concrete over dirt floors, and offer trainings and technical assistance. The project seeks to refine farming practic- es, diversify crops and connect smallholder farmers to markets to both raise incomes and improve health. More than 3,000 families will receive water har- vesting systems like the one at Escobar’s home, for a total of nearly 1,000 hectares of irrigation. Rony Alvarez, a technicianwho has beenworking closelywithEscobar, says the project is reaching families that have often been overlooked.

young people don’t have to migrate and can stay in the region,” he says. Helping families plan for better futures In addition to installing the water harvesting system, the project is giving Escobar other tools to help him improve his yield. He received assistance planting his corn more efficiently this year, is experimenting with different types of corn seeds, and will continue learning new practices to be more productive. ACS-PROSASUR is focused on “smart” agricul- ture – practices that take the weather instability into account and allow a family to be resilient in the face of dramatic changes in climate they will see throughout the year. Poor and extreme poor families that meet cer- | 17

“Assistance sometimes has stayed within a privileged group and hasn’t reached those who really need it. I’m someone who thinks that we’re in a country where a few people have a lot and a lot of people have little,” he says. “That’s why I like this project, because we’re coming to help the people who are most in need.” The Dry Corridor region of Honduras struggles with compounding challenges like food and wa- ter scarcity, poverty, illiteracy and high levels of migration. Alvarez says he thinks putting change inmotion at the household level can start to turn things around for families like Escobar’s. “We believe that by establishing land parcels that can be planted all year round, we can generate jobs and help people stock up for household consumption, as well as to sell their excess crops and generate incomes, so that

seeds of hope

Harvesting rainwater in the Dry Corridor: How does it work?


PIPES collect & filter rainwater from the roof


GEOMEMBRANE BAG stores water safely

tain criteria and have access to some land will be supported by the project in implementing agri- cultural business plans to increase productivity and raise their incomes by up to 30 percent. For those without land for planting, non-agricul- tural business plans will identify other ways for families to generate income and connect to the value chains in their communities. For many families, low incomes contribute to food insecurity and poor household living con- ditions, which can have long-lasting repercus- sions on health, particularly for children. Escobar’s wife, Juana, stands over her wood stove, flipping thin corn tortillas on a metal pan she’s placed over the flame. Through the project, Mercado says she’s learning some new recipes, like for tamales made with green corn. The cooking tips are one small way ACS- PROSASUR is helping families like hers im- prove their food security. And soon she will have more ingredients to work with as the project helps the family plant a small garden of new vegetables and basic grains. For the couple – and the flock of grand- children sitting in the kitchen, some scram- bling to finish homework before heading off to

Rony Alvarez (left) explains to Juan Escobar how his new composting system will help to fertilize his crops.

Changing mindsets, sharing knowledge But building trust and changing long-stand- ing traditional practices is a challenge, par- ticularly in isolated communities like Siete de Mayo. The project depends on a network of staff and volunteers to keep up with hard-to- reach families, braving steep, rocky roads and

school – the garden will help diversify diets and improve nutrition. “I hope for some help, that they’ll be able to plant corn, beans, all kinds of vegetables that you can plant in the summer,” she says. “They’re going to plant squash, carrots, onions, lettuce, string beans and cucumbers.”

Infographic by Amanda Smallwood

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HAND PUMPS push water from bag into tank


ELEVATED TANK drip irrigates field

leadership that he already has, the technology we’re going to pass on won’t be transferred through technicians, but though a producer. And people understandmuch better farmer-to-farm- er than if a technician teaches them.” Raising hopes Though only in the first of five years, the proj- ect has stoked excitement among the commu- nities and has begun to see results. Its continued success, however, will hinge on support and full engagement from the commu- nities, explains René León, Project Manager and Senior Associate for Creative’s Workforce Development and Youth Practice Area. And he’s already noticed families’ willingness to not only participate, but to do what they can to ensure that the project’s initiatives take hold. “I can see the desire of the community to be integrated and to be actors of the project,” León says. “To be active actors and not passive actors sitting and waiting for what the project can do for them, but how they can collaborate and incorporate themselves into the project so that the project can achieve better results and be successful.”

León contends that “it’s expensive to be poor” in the Dry Corridor, because impoverished families lack the up-front resources it takes to increase productivity and improve living con- ditions. With ACS-PROSASUR interventions, León and his team are working to empower families in poverty and extreme poverty to make positive change happen. This change is welcomed by Escobar, who has labored over his field largely on his own over the years, plowing fields with oxen, tilling and planting. Today, he has some help from one of his 21 grandchildren and some new techniques from the project. Escobar says he’s looking forward to seeing the positive effects that having a bit of extra assis- tance will produce in future harvests. “God willing the coming year we will have the help that we need. We will no longer have to go around borrowing pickaxes and shovels,” he says. “That’s what we’re looking for, for some help, because as farmers there are so many things we don’t have.” n With reporting in Honduras by Jillian Slutzker and Amalia San Martín

navigating around herds of cows and flatbed trucks laden with agricultural workers on their crowded commute. RimenMartinez, environmental specialist for the project, says generating sustainable change at the community level requires a continuous process of training and knowledge exchange among neighbors. “If a home adopts the technology, it will be easy to replicate that type of technology at the community or municipal level,” he says. “So it’s a process that requires a lot of knowledge-sharing, a lot of training, because you have to influence people’s culture, the culture of the home.” Working with Escobar early on in the project’s five-year lifespan is part of that plan to spread knowledge across the region. Edgardo Varela, who leads the project’s agri- culture component, says Escobar’s reputation and influence as a community leader – and his friendly and talkative nature – make him well-suited to pass on what he’s learning from the project to his neighbors. “When we give hima technology, he can teach others how to use that technology without the help of a technician,” Varela says. “With the | 19

Mobile bus library wheels its way to rural Pakistani schools On the MOVE

By Natalie Lovenburg

The Pakistan Reading Project is committed to improving educational opportunities for all children. Accessing quality reading materials plays an important role in students’ ability to learn to their fullest potential.

The Mobile Bus Library is one of several ac- tivities implemented by the Pakistan Reading Project to promote a culture of reading, partic- ularly in remote areas. Three days a week, the eye-catching bus arrives inside the school’s gates, parks adjacent to the building and raises its side awning to reveal a display of storybooks. Students gather, crossed-legged on ornate rugs, bright-eyed and enthusiastic as the session begins. Learning fa- cilitators, trained by the Pakistan Reading Proj- ect, guide the young students through various reading activities and storytelling sessions. After three to five days of storytelling sessions with the students at the school, the learning facilitator packs up the books, closes the bus awning and leaves 550 books with the school administrators to encourage the young readers to continue learning. Ministry of Education officials, in collabora- tion with teachers and the Pakistan Reading Project, have selected the storybooks to fit the cultural context and reading skill level. These officials are optimistic about the library’s posi- tive contribution to schools and communities. “I am excited to have the Mobile Bus Library in my schools,” says Tabassum Pathan, an Education Officer in Sindh province. “I believe it will play an effective role in promoting a culture of reading.”

A bus splashed with bright and bold colors and carrying 550 storybooks forges its way through a bumpy, narrow passage to reach its final des- tination: a primary school in remote Pakistan. TheMobile Bus Library is one of four buses navigating through several districts in Islam- abad and Sindh provinces, adding a new chapter of opportunity for students in hard-to-reach primary schools, where readingmaterials are scarce and libraries aren’t available. “Seeing, touching and reading the text in the books opens new avenues of comprehension and understanding, and ultimately improved learning outcomes,” says Shahida Maheen, who oversees the Mobile Bus Library initiative of the Pakistan Reading Project. The Pakistan Reading Project is a national program aimed at improving the reading skills of 1.3 million children in grades 1 and 2, in- cluding more than 280,000 students in Sindh. The project is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Led by the International Rescue Committee, along with Creative Associates International, World Learning and the Institute for Rural Management, the Pakistan Reading Project is delivering high-quality pre-service teacher ed- ucation, training and professional development with an explicit focus on teaching reading.

The bus has also sparked an interest in literacy among the parents of students, offering reading and writing activities for illiterate mothers in particular. As they learn, they are better able to support their budding readers at home. Bridging the gender gap In a patriarchal society like Pakistan, girls face high dropout rates and socio-cultural barriers to education: early marriage, limited mobility, security concerns and social pressures that keep them out of school.

Photos by NomanManzoor

20 | Think Creative | Issue 2

“Seeing, touching and reading the text in the books opens new avenues of comprehension and understanding, and ultimately improved learning outcomes.”

More than 5 million children are out of school in the country, of which 60 percent are girls. To address these challenges, the project in- corporates a gender-sensitive approach in all its activities, ensuring that girls and boys have equal access to educational materials through initiatives like the Mobile Bus Library. Pakistan Reading Project leads the development of policies that support reading programs, builds pre-service training curricula for the teaching of reading—a first for the country—and forges public-private partnerships for greatest impact and sustainability. During a gender assessment of reading activi- ties in the project’s schools in Sindh, Shaheen Ashraf Shah, Ph.D., Gender Advisor for the project, discovered that in many places physi- cal barriers like narrow streets, small entrances and lack of all-girls schools kept the Mobile Bus Library from successfully reaching girls and boys equally. And socio-cultural barriers such as limited mobility, harassment and security issues restricted girls from travelling to farther away and bigger schools in order to access the

- Shahida Maheen, Mobile Bus Library lead, Pakistan Reading Project

Mobile Bus Library. “The project’s gender ratio was skewed in the province,” explains Shah, who was raised in a rural area of Sindh and observed firsthand how women and girls suffer because of gender bias. Shah explains that initially, only 13 percent of the schools visited by theMobile Bus Library were girls’ schools. Out of 8,378 students bene- fitting fromactivities, only 28 percent were girls. Realizing the gender gap after Shah’s assess- ment, the Pakistan Reading Project team analyzed the situation, designed strategic interventions to ensure gender equity and charted out the next steps.

More girls’ schools were added to the Mobile Bus Library’s route, and, for the first time ever, girls’ schools were invited by the neighboring boys’ schools to jointly participate in the read- ing activities. The interventions resulted in a significant increase in girls’ participation, from 28 to 35 percent. Shah says she is encouraged by the positive change she’s witnessing. “We know girls’ education is crucial in the fight against poverty,” she says. “When you educate a girl, you educate an entire community–and ultimately transform it.” n With reporting in Pakistan by Noman Manzoor | 21

(From top) Zaharau Abdullahi Yabo, grade 3 teacher; 10-year-old Yazidu Sahabi and his father, Abubakar Sahabi; students in Sokoto state.

Reshaping education, one textbook at a time

In northern Nigeria, Mu Karanta! curriculum taps into students’ desire to learn

By Natalie Lovenburg and Boco Abdul

In partnershipwithmore than 100 international and local curriculumdevelopers, linguists, primary teachers and other educators, the project has de- veloped student books and teacher guides for each of the three terms of theNigerian school year. The MuKaranta! books equip grade 1 to 3 students to read in the local language of Hausa, and the Let’s Read! books prepare grade 2 to 3 students to transition fromreading inHausa to English. Collectively, the books contain more than 750 lessons, each of them providing children with opportunities to practice reading, listening and writing. The illustrations and stories embedded in the books communicate local cultural norms and values. Additionally, the guiding questions that supplement each lesson encourage early grade readers to think critically. Sparking excitement for learning In Sokoto state, a hot and arid Savannah region in northwesternNigeria that borders Niger, educat- ing children has been a challenge, particularly in rural areas. Farming families prioritize working in the fields over receiving an education, classrooms have suffered from insufficient textbooks, and teach-

Ten-year-old Yazidu Sahabi sits on a wooden bench in the front row of his grade 3 class and en- thusiastically raises his hand to answer his teach- er’s questions. He is passionate about learning. “You must study hard, and do it with all of your heart,” says Yazidu, who dreams of becoming a medical doctor. Zaharau Abdullahi Yabo, Yazidu’s teacher, says he is the first to arrive to her classroom each morning. She adds that the reading and writing skills he is receiving at school will put him on a path to success. “If a student doesn’t get a strong foundation in primary school, it is hard for him to achieve what he wants to become later in life,” explains Yabo. Yazidu is one of nearly 200,000 young students in Sokoto state improving reading and writing skills through an early grade reading program called Let’s Read! ( Mu Karanta! in Hausa). Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Northern Education Initiative Plus project is being implemented in formal and non-formal schools inNigeria’s Sokoto and Bau- chi states, with the goal of improving reading skills for more than 2million primary grade learners.

Photos by Erick Gibson

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ers are not adequately trained and mentored. With these education challenges, teachers and students are regularly absent from school. Grade 3 teacher Yabo says despite these hur- dles, perspectives are changing and a renewed excitement for learning is increasing in the remote communities. The Northern Education Initiative Plus has delivered more than 860,000 textbooks to students and teachers in nearly 900 primary schools in Sokoto state alone. “Children are coming to school more than they did before because of the books distributed to them,” says Yabo, who has been teaching at Nizzamiyya Islamiyya Model Primary school for nine years and even attended the school as a child. Before the Mu Karanta! books were delivered to school, Yabo says the teachers were using very old and outdated textbooks. Now, the new learning and teaching materials are improving the quality and accessibility of education for these students. “Even those that are not enrolled in school are drawn to these books and they ask their parents to bring them to school so they can get these books,” she explains. In the second of its five years, the Northern Education Initiative Plus has distributed more than 1.9 million reading textbooks to students and teachers in Bauchi and Sokoto states, opening new doors for children in northern Nigeria to improve their basic literacy and math skills. For 10-year-old Yazidu, the Mu Karanta! les- sons are enhancing his motivation to learn in the classroom. “When we learn Mu Karanta! my teacher teaches us new songs, she shows us papers with drawings of different objects and their names. We identify them together. She reads a story, asks us questions and we look in our books together,” he says. For Yazidu’s father Abubakar Sahabi, a quality education is essential for his youngest son, one of 18 children, to reach his goals. “When I watched him read, I realized that the many hours he spent in school were worth the while. My decision to educate him is a good investment,” says Sahabi. After witnessing his son’s motivation to learn Hausa and English, Sahabi, a retired teacher, installed a chalkboard in their home kitchen to practice the Mu Karanta! lessons together as a family.

Photos by Gretchen Robleto | 23

reshaping education

Addressing a state of emergency together

“We’ve seen how the community is very happy with the illustrations and how they represent the culture,” she says. “Before the materials were printed, we tested them in communities to make sure they were socially and culturally relevant and acceptable.” The reading expert says the illustrations were designed to reflect strong, curious, lively and active girls and boys, and the images show the children as being equal. The illustrations and the stories encourage students like Yazidu to become critical thinkers and to question, predict, infer and analyze–im- portant skills needed to succeed in school and eventually in a thriving career. “How do we know early grade students in Soko- to are improving their reading skills and enjoy- ing learning new lessons?” asks du Plessis. “We see the accelerated student achievement in classrooms and a new excitement and embrace for education from parents and communities every single day.” n for the community. “A society without education is not fit to be a society,” he says. “If you look at it morally, economically and socially, educa- tion shapes the life of every individual.” The Northern Education Initiative Plus project works closely with federal, state and local government education authorities to support improved early grade reading instruction and educational access. To date, more than 9,000 educators have been equipped with practical skills to teach the program’s Mu Karanta! early grade reading curriculum. In Sokoto, gov- ernment vehicles have helped deliver the materials to 77 hard-to-reach rural areas. The community is also doing its part. The project and its local government partners have engaged traditional and religious leaders, as well as parents and school ad- ministrators, to become reading advocates and supporters of the new curriculum. Yusuf Alhassan Muhammad, Local Government Reading Coordinator for the project, says this support is critical to students’ success. “The education system cannot be taken care of by individuals independent of the parents,” he says. “Teachers are the parents at school and equally the parents are the teachers at home.”

Northern Nigeria has the highest rate of out of school children in the country. And those attending school have not received the support they need to succeed in the classroom. About 80 percent of children in grades 2 and 3 in Bauchi and Sokoto states were not able to read a single word in Hausa or English, according to a 2016 early grade reading baseline assessment conducted by Northern Education Initiative Plus. Recognizing these challenges, Sokoto state is marshalling its resources to im- prove education quality and access. “The Sokoto government has declared an educational state of emergency after sit- ting down and realizing the major issues in education in northern Nigeria,” says Faruk Shehu, Executive Secretary for Sokoto State Universal Basic Education Board. Shehu says two main groups—the Policy Council on Education and Technical Committees—have been established to fast-track education activities related to the state of emergency. The commit- tees include principals, teachers, school administrators, unions and international nongovernmental organizations, among others involved in the sector. Shehu says that “everybody is coming together” to solve the primary challenges to education in the state, an important task

“Yazidu is performing better than his old- er brother who is in grade 4 because of the programmaterials and instruction,” explains Sahabi. “He has taught his brother and even other secondary students what he is learning at school.” Creative teaching, active learning In her career as a teacher in Sokoto, Yabo has experienced firsthand the challenges of teach- ing young learners with inadequate literacy curriculum and limited support. Until the Northern Education Initiative Plus program, she had not received in-service training. Yabo says she lacked quality teaching and learning materials and had limited guidance on planning lessons. For instance, she would enter a classroom and teach her students for several hours without inviting them to actively participate in lessons. “The trainings changedmy whole perspective on teaching. I have teacher guides with properly structured lessons. I engagemy pupils through- out the lesson. I hear their voices as much as they hear mine. It is teamwork,” says Yabo. Yabo says that since her school has embraced the Northern Education Initiative Plus inter- ventions, the culture of reading at Nizzamiyya Islamiyya Model Primary has improved, and the new approach to learning and teaching is creating a more positive environment.

“The education system cannot be taken care of by individuals independent of the parents. Teachers are the parents at school and equally the parents are the teachers at home.” -Yusuf Alhassan Muhammad Local Government Reading Coordinator, Northern Education Initiative Plus

There are stories that teach good morals and the value of education so children now understand that daily attendance in school is important,” she says. Joy du Plessis, the Senior Reading Specialist for Northern Education Initiative Plus, recognizes the importance of mother-tongue language and story illustrations in textbooks play to improve literacy education for all children–especially those living in remote northern Nigeria.

“Trained teachers are excited about teaching in class because they are finding creative ways to express themselves,” she explains. “Children want to come to school more because it is fun and parents love the textbooks.” She also says that the stories in the MuKaranta! textbooks have changed the behavior of children. “Children have listened to and read the stories that teach good hygiene, so children now take their bath and wear neat uniforms to school.

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