Think Creative Spring 2024

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Think Creative Spring 2024 Fire safety in northeastern Syria Community coffee promotes transparency in Honduras Fair trade opportunities in Côte d’Ivoire By Creative Associates International


Fostering HEALING


Using trauma-informed practices to heal during and after conflict



Turn the page to learn the story behind this photo

Photo by

snap shot

West Africa Trade & Investment Hub By Jim Huylebroek, Photographer & Videographer

On my recent trip to Côte d’Ivoire, I found myself amidst the rustling of lush trees, following Ouattara Natogoma as she determinedly collected shea kernels with the hope of carving a path toward a brighter future. Ouattara sells her harvest to Eric N’Guetta, who created a profitable enterprise that uplifts the lives of rural residents. Eric established a shea butter production facility, buying raw shea kernels from villagers and turning them into high-quality shea butter in demand in global markets. By purchasing Ouattara’s product and investing in local processing facilities, Eric effectively upended

the traditional value chain. Through sustainable practices and fair-trade principles, he ensures that the benefits of his enterprise reach those at the grassroots level, providing employment opportunities and fostering economic empowerment. Eric’s social enterprise is supported by the USAID West Africa Trade & Investment Hub, catalyzing economic growth in 16 countries across the region—with a particular focus on women and youth. This collaboration between entrepreneurship and the will to succeed could catapult this region towards more prosperity and increased security. (See Eric’s story on page 24.) n

Ouattara at work gathering almonds in Djelebelé, Côte d’Ivoire.

In this Issue

READ II Fostering Healing 14 p.

07 Dispatches

Updates from around our world

08 // Collaboration for Change: Save Ukraine 09 // • West Africa Trade & Investment Hub Stats • Al Rashad’s Success in Syria • Field Notes

10 // LRI Youth Case Study Results 11 // New Creative Programming 12 // In Focus: Sembrando Esperanza Activity 14 Cover Package

LRI Youth Case Study

New Creative Programming 11 p.

10 p.

Resuming Learning, Fostering Healing: A refocus on schooling helps children heal after conflict trauma

ON THE COVER: Students in Ethiopia are back in class post-conflict under the READ II Education Recovery Activity. Photo by Jim Huylebroek for Creative Associates International.

Photos by Jim Huylebroek (Snap Shot, Ethiopia); Erick Gibson (LRI); iStock: hadynyah (Vietnam)

4 | Think Creative | Spring 2024

Think Creative by Creative Associates International

Letter from Leland Kruvant President & CEO Creative Associates International


Founder & Board Chair Charito Kruvant

President & CEO Leland Kruvant

Executive VP & Chief Innovation Officer Pablo Maldonado

I was in Guatemala in mid-January when I was invited to meet the reform-minded newly elected President who upended the country’s political predictions. I felt honored to meet President Bernardo Arévalo so soon after his inauguration. While my expectation was a quick courtesy visit, that was not the case. President Arévalo entered the room and spent 30 minutes enthusiastically discussing his plans to engage marginalized groups and the need to strengthen civil society, among other topics. The President’s grasp of current development projects in Guatemala—including Creative’s

implementation of two USAID programs—was impressively detailed and without notes. Together, we spoke about the keys to sustainable programming and the shared goals between his government and USAID. President Arévalo recognized the USAID/OTI-funded CARI Guatemala program for its support during the electoral process that took place in late 2023 by supporting community based organizations, the government-elect, and the dialogues between them. In addition, we spoke about the USAID Tejiendo Paz peacebuilding project, which is working in the

Western Highlands to strengthen civil society, support indigenous communities and increase social cohesion. It actively looks for opportunities to connect communities with other actors and resources to collaborate on their recognize both programs’ hard work, as well as commend their local ownership and focus on marginalized communities, was a highlight of our visit to Guatemala. peacebuilding initiatives. Hearing the new President

Chief Programs Officer Noy Villalobos

Chief of Staff Tim Kernan

SVP, Business Development Sharon Cooley

Acting Chief Financial Officer Mark Miebach

VP, External Relations Jessica Kruvant

VP, Education Corey Heyman


VP, Economic Growth Eileen Hoffman

VP, Communities in Transition Sharon Van Pelt


Senior Director, Communications Michael J. Zamba

20 Feature Stories

Art Direction Amanda Smallwood

20 // On the Front Lines of Fire Safety: Firefighters are saving lives, improving local governance in northeastern Syria 22 // The Café Connection: The surprising influence that coffee and bread are having on transparency in Honduras 24 // Balancing the Scale: How one entrepreneur is creating fair trade opportunities for women and youth in rural Côte d’Ivoire

Communications Manager Marta S. Maldonado

The Café Connection 22 p.

Senior Strategic Content Manager Ashley Williams

Writer & Editor Pariesa Brody

Contributing Writers Daniel Lynx Bernard Evelyn Rupert

25 Creative Life A mission-driven community 26 // Staff Spotlight: Gladys Ekoto 27 // Staff Celebrates Lunar New Year at HQ

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 ©2024.

Balancing the Scale 24 p.

26 p. Meet Gladys!

For more information about Think Creative , please email us at

28 // Invest in Women, Accelerate Progress: Celebrating the advancement of women in Creative leadership 30 // Walk this Way: A day in the life of Megan McCune, Senior Field Operations Manager

4445 Willard Avenue, Suite 400 Chevy Chase, MD 20815 +1 202.966.5804 Creative Associates International

Photos by Skip Brown (Leland Kruvant); Jim Huylebroek (Honduras, Côte d’Ivoire); Amanda Smallwood (Gladys Ekoto) | 5

Society for International Development United States

Stop by Creative’s exhibit!

WORLD IN CRISIS SPARKS OF HOPE Friday, April 26, 2024 | Washington Hilton & Online


Employee of the Year ELISABETH MAXWELL

Senior Employee of the Year URVASHI VYAS


Chief of Party of the Year ANA LEVERON


6 | Think Creative | Spring 2024

Dispatches Updates from around our world

USAID’s Tejiendo Paz builds skills and creates economic autonomy for women in Guatemala’s Western Highlands to break the cycle of gender-based violence. A participant in Pachoc, Totonicapán, shows her handmade huipi l.

Photo by Pablo Fetzer Botzoc | 7


updates from around our world

Left : Save Ukraine provides services to displaced families, including shelter and counseling.

to Ukraine. These missions, not covered in the agreement signed with Creative, were showcased in a November segment on “60 Minutes” called “Disappeared.” Officially, Russian troops have forcibly displaced more than 19,000 Ukrainian children, but “60 Minutes” reports that the actual number could be as high as 300,000. At a learning exchange event with Creative staff members, several of the repatriated youth shared their stories of being taken away from their parents to “camps,” where they were forced to live in inhumane circumstances and recite the Russian national anthem. These children were all returned to their families or taken to healing centers managed by Save Ukraine. According to testimonies from returned children, there is a consistent pattern of deliberate and systematic destruction of Ukrainian identity through indoctrination and forced Russification. Furthermore, teenagers are recruited into Russian youth military movements. Save Ukraine has evidence that thousands of these young individuals are actively fighting against Ukraine. Creative looks forward to continuing to collaborate with Save Ukraine in development, education and peacebuilding opportunities. n

Ukraine // Save Ukraine partnership Collaboration for Change

Save Ukraine and Creative signed an agreement to collaborate on development opportunities in Ukraine, emphasizing their mutual expertise in education, assisting displaced persons, promoting economic recovery, empowering youth and fostering peacebuilding efforts. Save Ukraine, established in 2014, is the country’s largest family-focused humanitarian aid organization, dedicated to safeguarding children and families affected by the consequences of war. Its initiatives primarily target vulnerable populations, including orphans, the elderly, children with disabilities, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and victims of violence. Save Ukraine has also evacuated more than 108,000 people from combat zones near the front lines. Aligned with this partnership, Save Ukraine’s Founder and President Mykola Kuleba brought his team to Washington, D.C., to meet with high-level officials and supporters about

the war and its effect on children and youth. He was accompanied by five teenagers rescued by Save Ukraine after being kidnapped by Russian soldiers and taken to Russian controlled territories. Save Ukraine has gained recognition for its courageous rescue missions aimed at repatriating forcibly deported children back

Save Ukraine’s nearly a decade of on-the-ground efforts, combined with our 47 years of experience, are a good match for donors and the residents of Ukraine.” - Leland Kruvant, Creative President & CEO “

Photo courtesy of Save Ukraine

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Field Notes

West Africa // USAID Trade & Investment Hub Generating new jobs

m Economic Growth Trade Hub

The Trade Hub has supported the expansion of private sector operations, diversified product offerings and added 26,179 jobs in FY2023, which ultimately boosted employment in West Africa by nearly 66,000 positions since 2020— exceeding its original targets.

A Côte d’Ivoire learning event highlighted the significance of co-investment partnerships and shared lessons for economic growth to boost regional trade, gender inclusion and access to finance. With USAID’s West Africa Trade & Investment Hub’s grants of $2.66 million in Côte d’Ivoire, local partners facilitated $35.8 million in private investments, created 940 jobs and generated $17 million in export sales. At the Dec. 14 event, U.S. Ambassador Jessica Davis Ba commended the Trade Hub’s grantees for achieving locally led, sustainable growth driven by the private sector. Bar ama Baro USAID’s Bar ama Baro (“Teach or Learn” in English), which is helping create safe learning spaces for students, has expanded into new districts in early February. Around 1,200 students have enrolled in seven schools managed by 40 teachers and six head teachers. USAID’s Bar ama Baro strategically supports government and community actors in designing and delivering comprehensive, non formal education to marginalized students. Engagement Activity The four-year USAID Ethiopia Civic Engagement Activity officially launched Dec. 11 in Addis Ababa. The initiative aims to support local and grassroots civic actors in achieving inclusive, peaceful and responsive governance. USAID/ Ethiopia Mission Director Scott Hocklander highlighted the activity’s relevance and importance addressing a diverse audience of domestic and international officials and non-governmental organizations.

65,946 jobs added since 2020

26,179 jobs added in 2023

] <

] <


] 8,901 women



] 34,949 women


m Education

11,781 youth

32,489 youth

Syria // Al Rashad Community policing builds public’s trust

4 female police centers refurbished

m Governance Ethiopia Civic

Al Rashad program Highlights

37,705 security officers trained

150 miles of streetlights installed


policies adopted by internal security forces

Al Rashad increased public trust in the local police and improved responsiveness to citizens’ needs in Northeast Syria—a significant change in the mentality fostered under the Assad regime and ISIS—through community policing strategies and building the capacity of law enforcement. The three-year U.S. State Department program concluded in 2023.

Infographics by Amanda Smallwood | 9


updates from around our world

Fulbe and non-Fulbe youth have fostered stronger networks and relationships, reducing suspicions and misunderstandings.

ever, community members said the program should be expanded to more participants and regions to bolster its impact. The program has also improved youths’ under standing of the violent extremism threat and their role in addressing it, leading to increased awareness and engagement in community-lev el conflict management. Youths have become respected leaders within their communities, fostering a sense of empowerment, belonging and pride. “Security forces and politicians in coastal West Africa perceive youth, particularly those from minority groups like the Fulbe, as a security threat,” said Olivier Girard, LRI Chief of Party. “We want to change this narrative and make youth a part of the solution and not the prob lem. We do this by building their leadership, conflict resolution, and advocacy skills and supporting them as they engage with deci sion-makers, solve problems, and bring about positive changes in their community.” Data collected in the study suggests that com munity conflicts — whether they be domestic, school-related, interethnic or interreligious — are decreasing in communities reached by LRI. Respondents said that addressing the stigmatization faced by Fulbe communities and promoting education among Fulbe children are crucial for long-term change. Triangulating conflict data, providing misinformation train ing and involving parents and security forces can further strengthen the program’s impact, the study found. By identifying the activities, factors and contexts that produced the most catalytic outcomes in strengthening youth networks and building youth capacity and capabilities, the Youth Case Study will help LRI refine its youth engagement strategy in the near future . n

West Africa // Littorals Regional Initiative (LRI) LRI Youth Case Study

In Benin, Ghana and Togo, groups of ethnic Fulbe youth gathered to face the stereotypes that have created social divisions within their community and with other communities. As they came together at youth camps, a sense of unity began to blossom. Through their participation in youth en gagement activities under the USAID Office of Transition Initiatives’ Littorals Regional Initiative, these young individuals helped chip away at barriers that had persisted for generations. These barriers make communities and individuals more vulnerable to the threat of violent extremism spilling over into coastal West Africa. The program emphasizes strengthening youth networks and capacities in order to help them take ownership of their challenges and play an active role in their community. To take stock of its impact, USAID/OTI and Creative staff jointly conducted a Youth Case Study. Using data from the three countries gathered in 27 interviews and six focus group discussions involving 61 youths, the study demonstrated

successes and room for improvement across the program. Learning lessons for the future The Littorals Regional Initiative has led to significant positive outcomes in the targeted communities, the report found. Fulbe and non Fulbe youth have fostered stronger networks and relationships, reducing suspicions and misunderstandings. Youth in Ghana report feeling a greater sense of unity and connection, while in Togo, they have gained recognition and influence in decision-making processes. How

We want to change the narrative and make youth a part of the solution and not the problem.” - Olivier Girard, LRI Chief of Party

Photo by Erick Gibson

10 | Think Creative | Spring 2024

New Creative Wins

USAID Vietnam Local Capacity Development program

Creative Associates International was awarded new projects in Vietnam and Uzbekistan, as well as a funding mechanism that covers Mexico and Central America. These projects will allow Creative to further its mission of providing innovative solutions to complex development challenges. In Vietnam, the program will focus on promoting good governance and improving service delivery. In Uzbekistan, the new project will work to support the government’s efforts to provide inclusive education for primary students. These projects reflect Creative’s commitment to locally led development programs that support the positive changes that communities seek. n

GOAL - To foster collective action for improved service delivery systems at multiple levels of government, improve stakeholder engagement and prioritize public service solutions/initiatives to improve priority services.

LENGTH - 5 years | BUDGET - $19 million

PARTNERS - The Asia Foundation, Arizona State University, Duke University

USAID Uzbekistan All Children Succeeding Activity

Central America Regional Support Services IDIQ

GOAL - To improve foundational skills for children in kindergarten through grade 5 including children with disabilities. Initially working in 1,000 schools across 2 regions.

GOAL - To provide integrated solutions addressing the root causes of irregular migration from Central America, focusing on economic opportunity, governance, climate change, crime and insecurity.

LENGTH - 5 years | BUDGET - $25 million

LENGTH - 7 years

PARTNERS - American Councils for International Education, Syracuse University, Sharoit/Praxis Plus, Yuksalish

PARTNERS - Deloitte, Environmental Incentives, Glasswing, Kroll, ME&A, Panagora, Vistant, TechnoServe

Photos by Jim Huylebroek (CARSS IDIQ); golibtolibov (Uzbekistan) and hadynyah (Vietnam) via | 11


updates from around our world

12 | Think Creative | Spring 2024

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

Kenberlyn Downs wants to counter the devastating violence that has gripped her Honduran community, Choloma. She is focusing on families— in particular at-risk youth—and providing them with counseling. “Family counseling is an intervention that seeks to strengthen bonds within the home and redirect patterns of support and accompaniment,” explains Downs, a family counselor with the non governmental organization CESAL. Trained counselors like Downs conduct preliminary assessments to measure risk factors for violent activities and the likelihood of youth migration. Armed with this evidence, they organize family meetings and provide individual support sessions with young people to address aspects of their lives. “We start with small behavior changes in young people, work with their families to improve dynamics and then move on to deeper and more individual aspects,” says Downs. USAID’s Sembrando Esperanza and local organizations are playing a vital role in fostering stronger and more resilient communities by bringing families together and offering continuous support in their homes. “We want to give them support and guidance,” she says. “Reminding them that there is a promising future beyond their current challenges.” Downs is supported by USAID’s Sembrando Esperanza, which is deploying innovative youth oriented approaches like family counseling to reduce violence and stem irregular migration. n “The connection with people, especially young people, is crucial.” Honduras Sembrando Esperanza Activity - Kenberlyn Downs, Family Counselor

Kenberlyn Downs is supported by USAID’s Sembrando Esperanza, which is deploying innovative youth-oriented approaches like family counseling to reduce violence and stem irregular migration.

Photo by Jim Huylebroek | 13

Students focused on thier classwork in the Yekatit primary school in Kombolcha, Ethiopia.

14 | Think Creative | Spring 2024

Resuming Fostering HEALING


Using trauma-informed practices to heal during and after conflict

By Daniel Lynx Bernard | Photos by Jim Huylebroek

Ethiopia’s two-year conflict displaced millions of people and resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths. Leveraging education as a “life-sustaining” activity and adopting trauma informed practices, USAID’s READ II Education Recovery Activity pivoted to support students’ and educators’ healing process. | 15

resuming learning, fostering healing

Left: Students at the Sekota Woleh displacement camp study outside a tent classroom.

The usual calm of his rural village, Wuchale, was ripped apart by the sounds of automatic rifles firing, explosions and screams. He saw neighbors shot. As he and his family fled their home, Abel saw lifeless bodies on the ground. In the daylight, Abel and his family hid from the fighters. At night, they walked. The family trekked 60 kilometers to the urban center of Dessie, where they resettled. Abel’s parents enrolled him in second grade at a public school. But Abel had been traumatized by those sights and sounds. He was too afraid to walk to school, sit in class or go to the play ground without his parents beside him. Even with his parents accompanying him, he was restless and couldn’t pay attention to the teacher. He didn’t interact with his classmates. When he talked about the experiences of war, he burst into tears. He was another victim of a two-year war that cost as many as 600,000 lives and displaced more than 2 million people. Fortunately, Abel’s temporary school was among over 1,100 schools and temporary learning centers receiving assistive services under the USAID READ II Education Recovery Activity. In response to the conflict, the project trained 14,000 teachers, school directors and community leaders to provide psychological first aid and emotional support to students affected by conflict. Abel’s new teacher recognized that Abel needed counseling. The training advised educators to seek a referral when a student’s needs are beyond the school’s capacity, so the school’s director contacted a college instructor who trains school counselors. Applying guidance from the training, teach ers encouraged Abel and other traumatized children to participate in school life through sports and working together. They praised and recognized each improvement in behavior and encouraged parents to do the same. Abel gained the confidence to sit in class with out his parents and then walk to school on his own. He paid better attention to the lessons. By

In the immediate aftermath of emergencies, efforts focus on driving resources that literally save lives—water, food, shelter and medical care. But for children affected by crises, school not only gives them back a part of their life disrupted by conflict but also provides a setting where they can regain stability. That healing role is apparent as Creative Associates International and partners complete the USAID-funded READ II Education Recovery Activity in Ethiopia. “When we say that education can be used as a tool for sustaining life, we mean that it is a process by which individuals are provided with psychosocial support, counseling and advice so that they see a better future. Even though the situation is really bad and challenging at the time, there is still hope in the future,” says Tassew Zewdie, Ph.D., Creative’s Chief of Party for READ II.

Siham Abdulaziz, a student in Kombolcha who lost her mother during the war, receives regular support from her teachers.

“It means trying to help those individuals affected by the conflict to navigate through that

challenging time,” he says. Individuals like Abel Abate.

In 2021, seven-year-old Abel was finishing first grade when war arrived at his home in Ethio pia’s Amhara Region.

16 | Think Creative | Spring 2024

To see READ II in action, scan the QR codes to watch videos!

Education as a life-sustaining activity in Ethiopia

READ II Education Recovery Activity

the end of the school year, he ranked third in his class. “The training enabled us to do what we could to support traumatized students in our schools,” says Abdu Yimam Seid, the school’s director. Abel’s father, Melese Abate, was moved. “I am happy not only because my son received the support he needs to recover from his trauma experience, but because of the way the director and the teachers involved the parents to make sure the students are doing well,” he says. School as a site of healing The project applied a trauma-informed approach, recognizing that the shock of conflict affects the whole community. Resuming school is also therapeutic for edu cators, families, and communities whose lives revolve around the school’s schedule. “The daily routine provides safety and a sense of confidence,” says Ilham Nasser, Ph.D., Senior Technical Advisor in Education for Develop ment at Creative’s headquarters. “Education provides a framework for thinking critically about all this trauma we went through, all of these emotions we have.” Tiruwork Seifu worked as a primary school teacher for 10 years before the conflict up turned the life of her community in Shewa Robit, Ethiopia. Seifu and her students witnessed the execution of their neighbors. After the fighting passed, they were traumatized anew by the sight of blood on the walls of houses and by the discovery of bodies buried at the school.

Trauma-informed education in Northern Ethiopia

READ II Education Recovery Activity

Adopting new practices Follow-up visits by the project team found that teachers had embraced self-care and were calm and supportive of students. Services for education in emergencies supported by READ II reached more than 700,000 students.

Robi Primary School was among the schools assisted by READ II, and Seifu received training on education in conflict and crisis. The first lesson for the teachers was self-care, recognizing they, too, had been traumatized and needed to find calm to help their students do the same. “I never thought about my own mental and emotional wellbeing,” Seifu says. “The training changed me. Now I know I must be physically and emotionally healthy to support students.” Seifu led the students in activities to practice managing their emotions. During break time, she encouraged individual students to open up about what they had experienced, listened to their stories and comforted them.

Zeki Ahmed, a student in Dessie, used artwork to help overcome the trauma of the two-year war.

Even though the situation is really bad and challenging at the time, there is still hope in the future.” - Tassew Zewdie, Ph.D., Creative’s Chief of Party for READ II | 17

resuming learning, fostering healing

“If you want to work with teachers in integrat ing social-emotional learning, the teachers themselves should be aware of their emotions, of their own trauma,” Nasser says. “And to be role models for children in terms of showing, ‘We all went through this trauma, but we’ll go through it, and we’ll be OK.’” School directors said the training had led them to adopt a stronger emphasis on students’ wellbeing and given them new skills to support it. Parents said the self-care techniques they learned in the project’s awareness workshops helped them heal from trauma and better support their children’s learning. “Crisis offers an opportunity to reset how things had been done habitually,” says Kevin Nascimento, Senior Technical Advisor in Edu cation for Development at Creative. “It allows us to say, let’s bring in this focus on healing trauma in addition to the academics.” A project transformed The READ II project was able to help schools and communities recover from conflict only after an extraordinary transformation.

Students walk to their class at Addis Fana elementary school in Dessie, Ethiopia.

Adapting to coronavirus school closures in spring 2020 would be only one of many major changes for the project. The pandemic coincided with changes in USAID’s strategy that reduced READ II’s remaining budget and changed priorities. That necessitated the closure of some important activities and the termination of partnerships with some co-implementers. In November 2020, armed conflict erupted

between rebels and national forces in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region, spreading into the neighboring regions of Amhara and Afar in mid-2021. Schools closed as families fled to camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs). USAID instructed READ II to scale down from seven regions to only the three affected by the conflict, to equip temporary learning centers and conflict-affected schools and provide psychosocial services. Initially, the on-the-ground team’s mission was to improve literacy. Now, it was being called upon to implement a project in education in emergencies—as soon as possible. However, the team had strengths that would help them pivot. Having implemented education projects in crisis contexts in 13 countries in the prior decade, Creative was experienced in rapidly assessing conflict-affected communities’ needs and designing holistic responses. Creative’s home office provided technical assistance in needs assessment, referral systems and a train ing curriculum for psychosocial support and social-emotional learning. Implementing partner World Vision provided international experts to train the project team virtually in the psychological first aid and social care they would impart in the new training programs.

Temporary learning centers supported 1,324 students – including nearly 500 out-of-school children – during and after the conflict.

If you want to work with teachers in integrating social-emotional learning, the teachers themselves should be aware of their emotions, of their own trauma.” - Ilham Nasser, Ph.D., Creative Senior Technical Advisor in Education for Development “

The project launched in 2018 as Reading for Ethiopia’s Achievement Developed II, part of a series of USAID-funded early-grade literacy projects. With the original READ II program initially focused on improving reading in seven regions, it also built the capacity of eight local organizations, more than 27,000 teachers, 6,000 school leaders and more than 11,000 community volunteer literacy leaders to organize supple mental reading opportunities.

18 | Think Creative | Spring 2024

Using art to overcome trauma in Northern Ethiopia

READ II Education Recovery Activity

Ethiopia sports & recreation support to schools

unique way,” Zewdie says. “If one location is inaccessible, the next day we will decide to go to a different location that is accessible and in high need. We have to divert those schedules to other locations and mobilize other locations in order not to waste time.” Staff in Tigray faced danger as the fighting continued and had to cope with disruptions in banking, phone service and fuel supply. After the government and insurgent Tigray forces signed a peace agreement in November 2022, READ II planned to train teachers and school directors in the three regions simul taneously in late 2023. But clashes resumed in Amhara in mid-2023, making that region unsafe to work in. So READ II reacted by focusing its resources on training in the other two regions on an accelerated schedule. When they finished in those regions, security had improved in Amha ra, so they quickly did all that region’s training. Pivoting will become the new normal given destabilizing trends such as global warming, project leaders predict. “The work will have more and more crisis- related elements,” Bostock says. “Organizations like Creative that are known for responding flexibly and quickly to crises will have a competitive advantage.” Zewdie advises implementers to expect the un predictable and plan for it. “Anyone developing a project foreseeing any future conflict needs to make sure that flexibility is built into the de sign, so that the design will allow you to change aspects of the project, even major aspects.” n Habtamu Woldeyohannes and Betelhem Tesfaye contributed reporting.

READ II Education Recovery Activity

And the Ethiopia team had already faced a crisis. Just months after the project’s launch in 2018, drought-fueled conflict displaced a million people in Ethiopia’s Oromia and Somali regions, closing schools for weeks. The READ II literacy project had been de signed with a crisis modifier setting aside a portion of its budget in case of crisis. USAID activated that contingency. READ II rapidly delivered educational materials to IDP camps and trained teachers and school directors to provide psychosocial support in collaboration with regional education bureaus. That experience proved valuable when the Tigray crisis erupted. “That became the core of our training mate rials for education in emergencies,” says Guy Bostock, the program’s Deputy Chief of Party. “What we had learned about the supply chain, procuring and transporting large amounts of school materials, we were then able to scale that up.” Another asset was the advice of humanitarian actors with long experience in the region, in cluding World Vision and International Rescue Committee, both partners on the original itera tion of the project, as well as UNICEF.

Students at the Addis Fana Primary School in Dessie display their artwork as part of a district-wide contest.

Adapting to the unpredictable The experience also demonstrated how work ing in conflict situations requires implement ers to be agile. The team would often prepare for an activity in one village only to learn days before that the security situation had wors ened. “The work environment was changing in a | 19

Firefighters extinguish a car fire in Raqqa, Syria, in early 2023.


Firefighters are saving lives, improving local governance in northeastern Syria

By Michael J. Zamba

On the outskirts of Raqqa, cotton warehouses dot the landscape as farmers across the region bring in their annual harvest—the second most important agricultural product in Northeast ern Syria. Unfortunately, harvest season is also fire season. On a hot day this summer, the two seasons collided when a massive fire broke out in a cotton center north of Raqqa. “It was a very big fire,” recalls Turki Mohamad, the fire brigade leader. “Because of the magnitude of the fire, all the firefighters in the main brigade of Raqqa, the Sahlabiya center, the Hazima center and two fire engines with their teams from the Tabqa Fire Brigade responded.” After hours of nonstop efforts, the firefighters were able to control and extinguish the blaze, saving cotton and earning recognition from res idents and the elected Municipal Committee.

In the provinces of Raqqa, Hasakah, Tabqa and Deir Ezzor in Northeast Syria, firefighters face a daunting challenge. After years of war and few basic resources, they lacked the equipment and training required to fight fires. The firefighters who responded to the cotton warehouse blaze were fortunate as they recent ly received professional training and modern equipment to take on the most common incidents in their areas. It is part of a new effort to provide critical local services to residents in areas liberated from the Syrian regime and violent extremists. While saving lives and property are the firefighters’ main objectives, they are playing a larger role in northeastern Syria as local councils look to build a connection between residents and government service providers in a region that is struggling to rebuild itself.

With funding and support from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, the Facilitating Urban Recovery and Transition (FURAT III) program is working with elected and appointed officials to identify basic services required by residents. Through these efforts, the program aims to strengthen local governance partners in northeastern Syria. The program is designed to support local officials and citizens living outside the regime’s control in the northeastern region of the country, with an emphasis on women, youth and religious and ethnic minorities. “The FURAT III program is designed to support local governance entities and build their capacities to better manage services,” says Mohamad Hamish, FURAT III’s team lead. These services include water, sanitation, electricity and roadwork.

Photos provided by FURAT III

20 | Think Creative | Spring 2024

The team is training committees on data collection, management, surveying and other skills that empower local governments to better serve their people. FURAT III empha sizes governmental transparency, coordina tion between authorities and residents and outreach that allows northeastern Syrian locals to participate in the governance process. Mahmoud Abdo, a trainer with Raqqa’s First Responders Team, says the firefighters support building the relationship between the local council and the community by taking several important steps, particularly by demonstrating their competence and readiness to protect the community from extinguishing blazes to creat ing safe swimming areas in the Euphrates River. “Taken together, they contributed to strengthening the connection and common understanding between firefighters and the community,” Abdo says. With social cohesion and community involve ment as high priorities, the initial decision of where the program needed to provide its support was a joint process. Based on the needs of residents, the current capabilities of emer gency services and the unprecedented threat posed to agriculture, including those caused by regional conflict, communities decided to focus their attention on first responders. “In regions frequently facing conflicts, airstrikes or natural disasters, bolstering firefighting capabilities is paramount for public safety,” Hamish explains. Much of the critical support included specialized equipment and skills training for firefighters–particularly as regional conflict continues to touch the liberated areas. Specialized training and modern equipment As the regional conflict drained resources from communities, local firefighters lacked vital sup plies, such as foam used for fighting oil-based wildfires, and essential training to battle fires. Professional instruction in a wide variety of skills–such as the management of hazardous waste and standard protocols necessary for maintaining operational safety when battling a wildfire–are now available to first responders. The program is working with the International Safety Training College to ensure that these first responders are proficient and prepared with the latest firefighting techniques and methods. The Malta-based school provides agencies with training in various areas of firefighting, emergency response and hazmat management. These skills-based training

programs allow for ongoing instruction of local firefighting units even after FURAT III has left the region. That specialized training was put to the test in the Al Jazeera region’s city of Qamishli on Oct. 5, 2023, when fighter jets and drones attacked strategic infrastructure that supports the city. One of the drones targeted the city’s power station. “The fire was huge and scary; I was close when the station was bombed,” recalls a resident who witnessed the explosion. Firefighters quickly responded. “We heard the sound of violent explosions that shook the city of Qamishli, and we learned that the main power station had been bombed,” says a member of the Qamishli Fire Brigade. “We quickly went to the station with several firetrucks. When we approached the station, we found thick smoke emanating from the station. The bombing targeted the fuel tanks, and the fire was large.” Using their newly acquired training, firefight ers were able to extinguish the blaze at the Amuda power station within 20 minutes.

In regions frequently facing conflicts, airstrikes or natural disasters, bolstering firefighting capabilities is paramount for public safety.” - Mohamad Hamish, FURAT III’s team lead “ A Raqqa brigade member tunes up a firetruck in between operations.

The resident who witnessed the fire was im pressed. “The firefighters looked experienced and familiar with what they were doing. And, indeed, they were able to extinguish the fire in a short time,” the resident says. Leveraging new technology and ensuring collaboration through municipal govern ment, local officials developed a fire incident dashboard that offers detailed insights into the causes, response times, dates and types of fire incidents. With the help of the dashboard, patterns and root causes of fires can be identified, providing crucial insights for the development of targeted preventive measures. n

Raqqa firefighters battle a blaze in a store.

Photos provided by FURAT III | 21

THE Café


The surprising influence that coffee and bread are having on transparency in Honduras

By Evelyn Rupert

At a market in Chamelecón, Honduras, Odalma Enríquez hands out piping hot cups of coffee in Styrofoam cups to members of the community. But the gathering is about more than enjoying a café con pan with neighbor—it also gives Enríquez and other local leaders a chance to talk with the community about important issues like transparency and corruption. “We’re going to talk about transparency through an afternoon of coffee and bread,” Enríquez says. “We realized that the less we know, the more vulnerable we are. When we know more, knowledge gives us power.”

Enríquez leads the Intersectoral Committee in Chamelecón, a platform that brings together over 40 community-based organizations and works to address critical issues and empower local leaders. The Intersectoral Committee is one of several across the country that has grown with sup port from the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Transition Initiatives through a project called the Central America Regional Initiative (CARI) implemented by Creative Associates International since 2021. “We aim to mobilize all of that community

Photo by Jim Huylebroek.

22 | Think Creative | Spring 2024

Left: Odalma Enriquez (center) at work during a café con pan in Chamelecón, a suburb of San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

We’re going to talk about transparency through an afternoon of coffee and bread. We realized that the less we know, the more vulnerable we are. When we know more, knowledge gives us power.” - Odalma Enríquez, Intersectoral Committee in Chamelecón

agency to improve transparency on a hyperlo cal level,” says Ana Leverón, Chief of Party of CARI Honduras. By building the skills of local leaders, increasing the visibility of community-based organizations and awarding small-impact grants, CARI Honduras has fostered a network of actors working together to demand greater transparency and accountability from elected In Honduras, a lack of governmental transpar ency and widespread corruption have eroded citizens’ confidence in their public institutions and contributed to social problems including crime, gender-based violence and migration. Those problems have further marginalized already vulnerable communities. In response, local organizations and larger net works are giving leaders the tools to advocate for their communities’ needs. “You need a citizen connection so that they can say to these officials, ‘Look, these are the priorities,’” says Juliette Howitt, President of the Plataforma Amplia Nacional Liberadora (PANAL), which means the Broad National Liberation Platform. With CARI Honduras’s support, PANAL has trained dozens of leaders on public infor mation, communications and advocacy and connected them directly with government agencies to convey the challenges and gaps in services they face. After starting in the Tegu cigalpa area, PANAL is expanding its reach to other communities including San Pedro Sula, Rivera Hernández and Chamelecón. “It has been a valuable opportunity to uplift these community leaders who have enormous potential and bring them closer to institu tions,” Howitt says. “Because what we lack most in our country is leadership, too. And there is a huge number of people who have a lot of leadership.” Supporting local champions In Rivera Hernandez, an organization called Semillas Triunfadoras (Triumphant Seeds in English) is spreading knowledge about trans officials and government agencies. Advocating for communities

parency and accountability through hands-on training sessions and workshops that partici pants can replicate in their own communities. “We try to train these communities so that they learn how to move forward,” says Mauricio Fernández, the organization’s President. “Be cause we’re from the communities, and we go to the communities where they ask for us and call on us to support their development. And these people plant that little seed of knowledge so that they can triumph in the future.” Fernández said that one of Semillas Triunfad oras’ primary goals is to prepare the next gen eration of leaders to turn the tide of corruption. “We’re training kids, youth, and of course adults, but we’re already focused on the future so that this next group of young people can save our future,” he says. Across Honduras, with support from USAID/ OTI’s CARI Honduras program, youth are forming their own networks and becoming more engaged in building the future they want to see for their communities. “There wasn’t a youth network until now,” says Cristina Álvarez, coordinator of the Youth Transparency Network in El Pedregal, Tegucigalpa. “The youth themselves weren’t aware of transparency ... However, through the awareness that has been raised in different activities, I think that their way of thinking has changed.” As intersectoral committees and other com munity-based organizations have grown and ramped up their activities while maintaining strong principles of accountability themselves, residents are beginning to see them as a beacon of transparency. “I see the before and after more than anything

in the sense that with the creation of the Inter sectoral Committee, the visibility it’s had in the community and the accountability,” says César Alvarado, a pastor and member of the Pedregal Intersectoral Committee. “People from the dif ferent neighborhoods that we represent have begun to change their mentality. Now people in the community come to us, and not just here but also to leaders in different neighborhoods.” Envisioning a more transparent future Leaders in Honduras have seen how some thing as simple as a cup of coffee can catalyze conversations that may break through taboos and open the door for a community to mobilize around transparency. And now, with greater knowledge and tools to demand services and accountability from elect ed officials, the impact of leaders like Enríquez is rippling through communities. “We can say that Chamelecón has made a turn. It’s made a 90-degree turn with knowledge,” she says. “I feel proud of all of the leaders that I’ve trained, and now that we’re training. Because now we’ve become a group of leaders training other leaders.” Enríquez says that as the CARI Honduras proj ect comes to a close in 2024, she and others are committed to continuing to share the knowl edge they’ve gained. “We’ve planted a seed that allows for critical thinking about the problems that we’re seeing. We have leaders, we have connected partners on every level that are aware of the reality and that now have the resources to be able to act,” says Leverón, the Chief of Party of CARI Hon duras. “So to leave that community strength, I think that’s one of the strongest legacies that CARI can leave in Honduras.” n

Illustration by Dimiraira via | 23

Left: Eric N'Guetta (right) with a villager in Djelebelé, Côte d’Ivoire.

tional women to meet the demands of the international market,” N’Guetta says. Bio Amandes collects and processes high quality shea butter sourced from 2,800 rural women. Bio Amandes has trained women on modern agricultural practices, provided tricycles to help them transport their goods and launched programs to diversify their income-generating activities. “We have set up a fair-trade program that enables us to pay women a higher price than the market price,” N’Guetta says. “The fair-trade program allows us to immediately reinvest 50 percent of our profit to the women.” In 2022, for example, Bio Amandes made a profit of $1 million—of which $500,000 went to rural women. Through a grant from the USAID-funded West Africa Trade & Investment Hub to the impact investor Injaro Investments Ltd., N’Guetta unlocked a $1.07 million loan that allowed Bio Amandes to build a refinery in March 2023 that can process up to 2,500 metric tons of shea. “We started from zero,” N’Guetta says. “From zero, we’ve grown to more than 2,000 tons today.” The refinery has created jobs for women and youth. Fatoumata Kone joined Bio Amandes after high school as an intern. Now she maintains equipment in the refinery—providing financial stability and social standing among her peers. “Now I can support myself, help my parents financially,” Kone says. “When people see me in my work clothes, I’m respected.” N’Guetta has big plans for the business, its staff and producers. “The next step is to go even further in processing, to make, to fractionate and produce shea oil, to really do more,” N’Guetta says, “to go even further in the processing of shea butter so as to create more added value locally and impact more women and satisfy many more customers.” n

Balancing the Scale

How one entrepreneur is creating fair trade opportunities for women and youth in rural Côte d’Ivoire

By Pariesa Brody

Côte d’Ivoire native Eric N’Guetta left Abidjan to study in Europe, where he stayed after graduation and settled into a successful career in finance. After several years, N’Guetta felt the urge to go back to Côte d’Ivoire. “I needed to bring something back to my country. I needed to create added value there,” N’Guetta says. “So, I decided to return to Côte d’Ivoire—not to Abidjan, but to remote places

where there is nothing—and start a new life as an entrepreneur.” Relocating to a rural city called Ferkessédougou, he set his sights on locally grown shea. Harvested mainly by women, shea nuts have become highly sought after internationally as a raw material for cosmetic products. But N’Guetta saw that the women earned little and were stuck producing raw materials.

Photo by Jim Huylebroek

24 | Think Creative | Spring 2024

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