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.

Rubiel Zapata always dreamed of growing rubber. A certified teacher who lived in his hometown of Uré, he taught in rural schools in the northern Colombian department of Córdoba for five years before “the violence in the region forced me to leave,” he said.

“René” (a pseudonym) was one of 14 children born into a poor family in southern Colombia. He started working early to support his family, and by age 12 had joined an illegal armed group. When René turned 18, he began receiving training from the USAID-supported Don Bosco center in Cali to rebuild his life and self-esteem.

Life was bleak until Julio Contreras heard about Actuar por Bolivar, a USAID-supported non-governmental organization that provides social and economic assistance to people displaced by the drug-fueled violence in Colombia. He enrolled in its program and received psychological counseling to come to terms with the many changes taking place in his life.

For ten years, former cook “Maria” worked in a coca plantation in the Department of Arauca, in northern Colombia on the border with Venezuela. Despite the danger and violence associated with cultivating coca, she processed and sometimes harvested the leaves, hoping to raise enough money to buy a house.

By encouraging beneficiaries to identify their most pressing needs and take an active role in the selection, design, and construction process, USAID creates the sense of ownership and achievement in Colombia’s high-risk regions.

USAID and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) conducted a national competition for law students that would encourage the participation of universities from throughout Colombia to help adjust their academic programs and better prepare their students to carry out their responsibilities under the new accusatory system.

The Paloquemao legal complex in Bogotá, Colombia has more than 100 courts and a backlog of more than 8,000 homicide cases. Before March of last year, Colombia's largest judicial complex could not address families’ and victims’ needs. Now, however, with the support of the USAID Justice Reform and Modernization Program, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the office of the Colombian Attorney General (Fiscalía), such persons have a Victim’s Attention Center (CAV) where they can get psychologi-cal support and legal advice about moving their cases forward.

Due to this lack of easy access, the Government of Colombia never invested in infrastructure for this community. In 2008, first grade students of Serankua were not able to receive basic education due to the inadequate classrooms and sanitary units). Additionally, children from the surrounding indigenous communities such as Garwan, Maranchukwa and Jechikin were not able to attend class at this school because of the lack of capacity.

Among Brazil’s poor, youth unemployment can be as high as 66 percent. Young people looking for work lack the skills, experience, and education that make them desirable in a tight labor market. Another, very different, problem among the poor is access to electricity. About 12 to 15 million poor live without electricity — they are not connected to the nation’s power grid.

USAID is tackling these two problems with a joint solution: training youth how to install renewable energy systems that do not rely on access to the nation’s power grid.


Last updated: January 12, 2015