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.

What can 77 women do with $5,000? Just ask Miriam Sánchez. This rural mom in Cubinche had few employment opportunities and, as a result, no reliable source of income. She led a group of women in forming a small association that would use their sewing skills to produce and sell clothing. Upon hearing about Miriam and the association, USAID provided financial support to help the group expand its operations.

A USAID program has been training teachers in creative ways to make learning in Spanish easier for non-native speakers. As they learn to read and write in Spanish, they also learn the skills to write in Quichua.

USAID launched a small loans project to encourage Ecuadorian banks and financiers to grant credit to these small entrepreneurs. Making small loans available to individuals with business sense and vision, but without a credit history, has proven to be an effective tool in the fight against poverty.

Northern Ecuador’s Condor Bioreserve stretches from Andean grasslands to Amazon rainforests. Its mountain streams trickle into rivers that supply water to the capital of Quito. The region is a sanctuary for the endangered spectacled bear and the Andean condor, the world’s largest flying bird. A top conservation priority, the bioreserve is threatened by unsustainable farming, over-grazing, logging, illegal hunting, and intentionally set fires. Local communities depend on natural resources to survive, yet come into conflict with wildlife when bears attack cattle pasturing near their habitat, costing families thousands of dollars a year.

In the Northern Ecuadorian provinces of Imbabura and Carchi, many rural families make a living from dairy farming. For years, these small farmers, each of whom has no more than 20 cows, could not directly access markets to sell milk at fair prices. Instead, they sold through intermediaries who set the prices, kept a portion of the profi ts, and often failed to pay on time. The hard work of the small producers was not reflected in their incomes, and they could not improve their living conditions.

The mountain municipality of Cajibío, in Colombia’s Cauca region, covers roughly the same area as Los Angeles, California. Most of Cajibío’s 34,000 residents live in rural areas, such as the village of Ortega, long known for violence and insecurity associated with narcotraffickers, paramilitaries, and guerillas. For years, frightened villagers watched as warring groups destroyed their homes and crops. Retaliation and revenge became commonplace. After so many years of fear, Norys Pechinché, a 58-year-old widow and natural leader, decided it was time for a change.

A group of Afro-Colombian women have made a little imagination go a long way. By turning an everyday object into a thing of beauty, they found a market that no one knew existed. With support from USAID, these women are transforming a simple vegetable — the gourd — into two product lines: food packages (for sweets) and decorative objects for the home.

In Colombia’s Caquetá region, more than 73,000 people have been driven from their homes by criminals and guerillas, usually at gun-point and with threats of violence. Blanca and Alberto were among those people. When forced to flee from their home with their children, they were violently uprooted from their community, family, and business.

“Illegal armed groups came to our house and gave us 24 hours to leave. They threatened to kill us if we went to the police, or if we didn’t leave,” Alberto said.

Héctor Manuel Lozano is 35 years old and was born and raised in Aguachica in south César, a region in northeastern Colombia. He works full time at the Citizen Coexistence Center, an organization funded partly by USAID, which helps promote peace and conflict resolution in a community torn apart by fighting. In areas where the central government is weak and often unable to provide services, coexistence centers play a crucial role.

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Last updated: January 15, 2015