Transforming Lives

Every day, all over the world, USAID brings peace to those who endure violence, health to those who struggle with sickness, and prosperity to those who live in poverty. It is these individuals — these uncounted thousands of lives — that are the true measure of USAID’s successes and the true face of USAID's programs.

Panama is facing a major challenge in the Panama Canal Watershed. Next to the backdrop of gigantic, modern cargo ships transiting the Canal, lies an area of extreme poverty, where much of the population scrapes a meager living off small farms. Like many people in the Canal Watershed, Yadira Martinez and her family live in a shack with earthen floors and a thatched roof. They are often unable to meet basic needs, such as adequate nutrition. USAID's sustainable agriculture programs are reaching out to people like Yadira to teach them more effective agricultural techniques.

Located in San Lorenzo National Park in the Panama Canal watershed, El Achiote is a world-renown site for bird watching. According to Audubon Society records, it holds the most bird sightings for a given period. In addition to birds, it boasts a diversity of flora and fauna.

The community of El Achiote has been working to ensure that it preserves its status as a premier birdwatching site for generations to come: they have built a sustainable tourism infrastructure that is not only protecting the natural resources they depend on, but also improving their quality of life.

By her own account, nineteen year-old Margarita Flores is no longer the shy young woman she was before participating in a USAID training program on sustainable agriculture for soil and water conservation. Margarita’s brother, Rodrigo, encouraged her to attend the training workshop on improving farming techniques. The training provided farmers with the tools and know-how to improve yield and diversify crops on small farms, while reducing soil erosion in the sensitive Panama Canal Watershed area. Now, in spite of her youth, she feels empowered as an agent of change.

Lexania Marín is a self-described coffee addict, who has been drinking coffee all her life. Now she gets to do it for a living. Through a USAID-supported program to boost Nicaragua’s coffee industry, the university student from a small coffee farm in Dipilto Viejo, Nicaragua, has become a cupper — a specialist in evaluating the taste and aroma of coffee.

Since 1996, USAID has funded the Farmer to Farmer Program to support Nicaragua's dairy industry by improving milk production, conservation, storage, processing and commercialization. 

On a large padded blanket spread out on the ground, infants lie amongst brightly colored plastic blocks, their mothers dangling toys within their reach. Nearby, toddlers sit at colorful tables connecting blocks or drawing with markers and crayons. They are at the home of Josefina Garcia, participating in an early childhood stimulation program supported by USAID. Twice a week, mothers from the small rural community of La Tejana, Nicaragua, bring their children to Josefina's home, which offers some of the children their only chance to play with toys. Under this program, USAID provides assistance to more than 21,000 families in communities across Nicaragua that are identified as high risk for malnutrition and infant mortality. The complementary food provides an incentive for families to come to the Casa, where they receive counseling on how to improve their diets, especially when the child is ill or undernourished.

With a glut of low quality coffee saturating the world market, coffee prices have plummeted, but the specialty and organic markets, which often pay more than double the price of conventional coffee, offer Nicaragua’s small farmers one way to increase their incomes.

“The crisis is not only over-supply of coffee,” said Byron Corrales, a coffee grower and vice-president of Cafenica, a 6,000-member federation of small growers’ cooperatives. “It’s also about protecting our environment and establishing a relationship between producers, buyers and consumers that will benefit everyone.”

The San Lorenzo Health Center was recently named the best of the six health centers in Nicaragua’s Boaco district. This recognition caps a period of four years without a maternal death in the municipality, following several years of averaging more than three a year. Dr. Horacio Moreno, the municipality’s medical director, credits much of the success to a USAID-supported leadership development program.

The southern state of Rivas is the traditional home for Nicaragua’s plantain fields, where more than 50,000 acres are under cultivation. But neglected fields produced small yields and undersized fruit. And in recent years, local prices have declined, making the U.S. market — with a sales potential of 12 million pounds a year worth $3 million — an attractive alternative that could increase local incomes and provide more jobs.

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Last updated: October 24, 2013