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Representatives from 54 local community based organizations participate in an Another-Option led session during the workshop.

Community engagement and social mobilization are at the heart of USAID Read Liberia.  Another Option for the activity organized and conducted a one-day workshop to introduce Read Liberia to local Community-based organizations. The meeting was held in Gbarnga, Bong County on April 24, 2018.

The workshop was designed for community-based organizations (CBOs) to share their activities in social mobilization anddentify opportunities where early grade reading activities, i.e., reading clubs, parent-teacher meetings, reading contests, could be included in their outreach programs.  It was helpful in our planning to learn from their rich experiences, as well as to build-in discussions of what are effective approaches to community engagement.

The large group of 52 community workers were divided into smaller working groups. They shared their different experiences on introducing different behaviors in health and education. In addition to sharing activities that worked they talked about lessons learned and what didn’t work. The workshop concluded by drawing examples of how these experiences and interventions related to the new USAID activity especially focusing on parents’ engagement in early grade reading.

Community leaders discuss ways to use existing outreach activities to promote early reading.

Recommendations included the development of peer education training and social mobilization materials to support key messages on early grade reading as well as introducing a monitoring system to support transparency and accountability of USAID Read Liberia activities.

This workshop is the first of several planned community meetings to discuss benefits and ways to increase early grade reading in Liberia.

The initiative is active in six counties: Nimba, Lofa, Bong, Margibi, Montserrado, and Grand Bassa.


Rebecca Martinez, who wrote this blog post, is the Program Coordinator for USAID Read Liberia. She conducted the meeting in partnership with local counterparts on the ground in Liberia.

Another Option has been working in early grade reading for four years in Africa and Asia under several USAID-funded awards. Research shows that barriers to education, parental aspirations, and societal norms are similar across the world and do not change that dramatically—whether you are in West Africa or South Asia.

As part of the USAID Early Grade Reading Program (EGRP) in Nepal, we’ve provided technical support in early grade reading Social and Behavior Change. We’ve worked closely with the Government of Nepal stakeholders including the Department of Education and the National Center for Education Development to design and develop materials for parents and caretakers, teachers, and education officers to support early grade reading. Developed resources including a peer education module for parents, and an interpersonal communication toolkit for teachers to bridge communication gaps with students’ parents.

An illustration showing a girl reading to her family in a typical Nepali home.

In Nepal, we worked very closely with the government of Nepal to design and create all of our materials. And, we’re really pleased that the teacher training guide has been accepted by the government of Nepal as part of its national teacher training curriculum.

Because the social mobilization and interpersonal communication have shown results in Nepal, we wanted to test these materials in Liberia to see if they could be adapted to the Liberian setting and its needs for our USAID Read Liberia.

With permission from the Liberian Ministry of Education to pre-test the peer education materials, we set out to answer three critical questions: do parents understand the content (particularly the graphics and illustrations); was the guide culturally sensitive; and would it resonate with Liberian parents of young readers.

We conducted an assessment with twenty-one parents-twelve women and nine men-in two communities – one urban and one rural—at Slipway Public School and King’s Farm Public School. We found that the barriers to education and aspirations were similar to parents and teachers in our Nepal-based early reading program. Parents we interviewed in both places cited factors related to economics, social norms, existing education infrastructure, and gender as real challenges in their attempts to ensure their children received a decent education.

The Liberian parents overall did relate to the illustrations that were developed for Nepali parents, and that the tools were able to generate insightful discussions about the roles of parents in the reading lives of their children both in and out of school. Parents at both of our focus groups said they could see themselves and their challenges reflected in the illustrations.

Parents also provided feedback on specific visual details that Another Option could do to make the resources more relatable to the Liberian context. For example, participants indicated that some of the hand gestures used in the Nepali context varied in their interpretation in Liberia and could confuse the user. They also asked for more illustrations bridging into the community and not just in the school setting to allow parents to see their roles as educators throughout their daily interactions with their children. Additionally, much discussion was held around the differences of the education setting in rural areas versus urban areas and how these could be better portrayed.

An illustration showing a child reading to her family in a typical Liberian household.

Based on these responses, we worked with local illustrators to improve the cultural resonance of the illustrations in efforts to make it more relevant to parents and caregivers in urban and rural communities in Liberia. Additional materials like flyers and posters will be developed for social mobilizers to use during community engagement activities promoting early grade reading. The final Liberian version has been shared with the Ministry of Education and we have received the go ahead to test it in the field across several counties.

With these changes, parents will have specific examples on what they can do to help their children learn to read. These include children reading aloud for ten minutes a day, children having a quiet place to read, and regularly going to school.

In both Nepal and in Liberia the support and guidance from the Ministries of Education were invaluable. The Nepal version is endorsed and carries the seal of the Ministry of Education, and we hope that the Liberian ministry also adds its endorsement to this early grade reading tool.

Learn more about our early grade reading work in Nepal here.

Rebecca Martinez, who wrote this blog post, is the Program Coordinator for USAID Read Liberia. She conducted the pre-test in partnership with local counterparts on the ground in Liberia.

“My grandfather inspired me to read and always brought me books. Now when I travel, I always remember to bring back books for my children.”
Pushpa Basnet, CNN Hero 2016-17

“In the 2014 earthquake, houses with strong foundation withstood the damage. Early grade reading is the foundation to improve our children’s future.”
Mr. Baburam Poudel, Director General, Department of Education (DOE)

“Teaching is all encompassing – it is as cultural, social and familial process.”
Dhananjaya Sharma, Education Expert

The commitment and resolve of these statements reflect the focus of the media orientation workshop organized by the Department of Education (DOE) and the USAID-funded Early Grade Reading Program (EGRP).

Held on February 6 in Kathmandu, the workshop was the first opportunity for 28 Nepali print and broadcast media journalists to come together and understand the program and their role in strengthening the program. Using presentations and group discussions, Focal Person, Bishnu Adhikari, Deputy Director, DOE and EGRP Chief of Party, Edward Graybill along with other technical team leads, shared strategic ideas about the relationship between EGRP and the government’s National Early Grade Reading Program (NEGRP).

Further, participants received information packets with community mobilization and peer advocacy materials, developed and designed by the program, with the intention to facilitate better communication amongst beneficiary parents and between parents and teachers about children’s reading habit.

Mr. Baburam Poudel, Director General, Department of Education welcomed the participants and opened the workshop by reiterating the critical nature of quality early grade reading and stressed all involved stakeholders to work in tandem to improve access, quality and management of primary education.

Education expert, Mr. Dhananjaya Sharma called for teachers and other stakeholders in primary education to encourage two-way interactions with students and to change classroom settings to make it child-friendly among others.

Special guests at the orientation included comments by Ms. Basnet, named as a CNN Hero in 2016-2017. She stressed the importance of reading in her own personal development from a shy student to a confident woman.

Deputy Director Mr. Adhikari spoke at length about the National Early Grade Reading Program (NEGRP) and raised issues about program’s implementation including ownership of the program, lack of technical resources and lack of commitment of policy making and implementation.

A key message that came out of the interaction between the journalists and the EGRP and the government teams was that a strong sense of camaraderie and commitment to this important work was required from all stakeholders to implant the love for reading in Nepali children from the very early grades.

A similar workshop will be organized in Bhaktapur, Kaski, Banke, Saptari and Kanchanpur districts in February and March

This blog was prepared by Adheep Pokhrel, Communication Manager for USAID/Nepal’s Early Grade Reading Program managed by RTI International

End of 2014 and the new year started in Egypt with visits to several live bird markets…or as one of my colleagues said “street markets that sell poultry”….The good news and the bad news is that – again I quote a colleagues – “you can find everything you want and don’t want” at these markets.

Spoken like a true public health professional.

Another Option was there under the auspices of UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Egypt where we worked with some amazing people from the government of Egypt’s Ministry of Agriculture and GOVS (General Office for Veterinarian Services), governorate and district governments as well as the Ministry of Health and leadership at WHO. Our role was to develop a behavior change communication strategy to address HPAI (H5N1 virus).

We visited several live bird markets in Meyna and Qualibya and Cairo governorates…and in addition to the generosity of so many government officials we talked to household farmers – majority of whom are women and terrific businesswomen, Sector 3 farmers, and veterinarians at the community-level and other community leaders

We took the opportunity to talk with several household farmers at the market…my colleague who is a veterinarian conducted the interviews



Snapshot of the back of a transporter’s motorbike is piled high with caged poultry he brought to market in Meyna



Household farmers were very open to talking about their poultry business and their aspirations



When you’re getting ready for a quick summer break to Florida the glaring headline that there are 81 known cases of chikungunya* (chik-en-gun-ye) being reported in Florida does bring you up short….especially when your day job includes prevention communication on neglected tropical diseases.

Though the cases are reportedly from people who recently visited the Caribbean it still has not been a virus that is prevalent in this hemisphere….and not in the US.

I hope they all get well soon…and that the mosquitoes stayed there and not here.

In the meantime….just in case….


And the prevention guidelines are:
• Clean up standing water around yards and homes so mosquitoes do not have a place to breed
• Put up screens on windows and doors
• Wear long sleeves and long pants when out at night – when mosquitoes are prone to bite
• And if you don’t wear long pants and sleeves….use an insect repellant

Be safe.

…As for  me, I’m rethinking my packing.

* Chikungunya is a virus transmitted to people by mosquitoes. The most common symptoms of chikungunya virus infection are fever and joint pain. There is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat chikungunya virus infection. Travelers can protect themselves by preventing mosquito bites. Centers for Disease Control website

Picture is from Naples Daily News 2014…I hope it is the right mosquito!

It has been an intense winter in the US especially in our central section and along the east coast.

Polar vortex was a new term to many of us when we heard it the first time in January of this year but now that we’ve been through it we won’t forget it and hope not to experience it again. It is now the second day of spring 2014 and though the sun is out and the temperature is warming up we have a prediction of snow again for next week.

Though I am as tired of winter – and snow – as anybody I also know the demands a large metropolitan area places on water reserves and water tables….water in any form…snow, ice, rain, even dew…should not be discounted or grumbled about.

I get the point about flooding.

The UN’s World Water Day is March 22 and for this year the link is being made between Water and Energy – these are interlinked and interdependent.

Energy needs water and water needs energy.

With demands for both growing and resources dwindling (think of California) it is not a matter of a good strong rain storm – or snow storm – but how each of us consumes and uses water and energy.

World Water Day 2014

World Water Day 2014


We can do more.

So stop grumbling.

Instead, see snow, rain, and sleet as building up the water table and helping to supply energy whether during a Polar Vortex or whatever new weather phenomenon we get to learn about during the dog days of summer.

It was Jim Lehrer who told the story of how technology has changed the way news information is gathered and how it is reported.

Several years ago the digital operations and the TV production team for News Hour with Jim Lehrer began to share office space. Shortly after that co-habitation the Fort Hood shooting took place…the story goes that when word came that there had been a shooting the TV/Print journalists grabbed for the phones and started calling their military/Pentagon contacts to find out what had happened…while the digital journalists were very quiet (as I remember the story) and focused on their computers….no reaching for a phone….reading screens.

The digital journalists were getting updates via Twitter (primarily) as well as other digital and social media….the information was current and in real-time. It was eye witnesses accounts and even official reports came through digital media.

Yesterday as the Navy Yard shooting was unfolding…I was in downtown Washington…in meetings, in cabs, at lunch, more meetings…and in between I followed my Twitter accounts to keep up on the shooting and its aftermath.

This was a local story. And the Washington media and national media that are based here did an remarkable job on air, in print, and digital. Kudos to them….(and yes, most print and broadcast journalists have Twitter accounts…)

I appreciate ALL of the news coverage no matter what format. And last night and this morning I read the news stories and listened to the analysis…but in the heart-stopping moments of the event I appreciated Twitter.

It was my source of information on the shooting, road blocks and closings, metro closings, and general updates from the District MPD.

Late-breaking news indeed.


PS…my apologies to Mr. Lehrer if have the specifics of his story off a bit

There have been a plethora of national elections in many new democracies, like Georgia, Kenya, and Nigeria, as well as countries not known for their democratic process, like Zimbabwe, Egypt, and Russia.

And in every news story or feature on the elections the lead paragraph mentions the “international observers” that are in the country to guarantee a free and open election.

georgia parliamentary election

Citizens cast votes in Georgia’s 2012 parliamentary elections

I always think of Jimmy Carter and the Carter Center’s attendance at elections in Central America and Asia where he and the team declared elections fair or under suspension.

There was a brouhaha in the last United States presidential election when some countries said they would send observers to the U.S. to make sure everyone had access to vote.

Shades of 2000 and 2008.

But what exactly is an “international observer” and what are they observing?

One of our partners, Brian McCotter, has extensive experience in the democracy and governance sector and has been an observer for elections for many years. Working primarily for the National Democratic Institute (NDI), a Washington, D.C.-based civil society organization, he has been involved in elections in South Africa, Malawi, Mozambique, and Georgia, where he now lives in Tbilisi.

Brian was an observer for last year’s Parliamentary Election in Georgia, which saw the voting in of a new prime minister and majority government—much to the surprise and shock of the incumbent party. Western-style campaign tactics, like negative advertising, and the flood of messages on mass and social media led to a record voter turnout—always a good thing in elections—and the voting out of the incumbent party.

Georgia has Presidential elections this October. Brian will likely be an observer for these elections as well.

Knowing he was going to be engaged in the upcoming election, and with voting issues at the front of my mind, I asked Brian to give us a “day-in-the-life” of an observer and a few talking points on what an observer’s responsibilities are.

Here we go:

1. Election observers come in all shapes and sizes, genders, and professional backgrounds. Although most have experience in some level or government, politics or international organizations.  Most international observers do not come from the country they’re observing in, but have some tie to or experience in that country. It’s helpful for an observer to understand the culture, context and environment in which he or she is working.

2. Long-term observers begin working on an election up to six months (often four) before Election Day, and oversee the planning and progress of the elections. During that prep time they look for red flags like voter roll fraud, illegal campaigning, media bias and political intimidation. Long-term observers work to keep problems to a minimum.

“Many of the problems with elections don’t really happen on election day,” Brian said. “Influence of the election happens long before the elections. Dead people voting, people voting four times, all kinds of things.”

3. Short-term observing is typically a five to seven day commitment that begins three days before the election and focuses on making sure elections are carried out fairly and appropriately. Brian has participated in both long-term and short-term observation missions, though the past four elections he observed were short-term.

The process for a short-term observer begins with a series of briefings by local and international NGOs—organized by the institution (NDI in Brian’s case) that is managing the observation mission. Along with representatives of political parties and the Central Electoral Commission, they walk observers through the rules and specifics of the election – also highlighting problem regions or issues that are topical. Everybody receives a briefing book—their “Election Bible”—to follow for the country’s election.

4. On Election Day, observers will visit 10 or 20 polling stations. Start time varies by country, but it’s always a big day. Following the voting, observers stay to watch the counting.

“Election Day is a long day,” Brian says. Counting usually goes until 4:00 a.m, so it’s not uncommon for an observer to work 24 hours straight on Election Day!

georgia parliamentary election

Central Election Commission employees prepare to register voters for Georgia’s parliamentary elections.

5. Observers carry a checklist and fill out a form to make sure the each polling station is adhering to the rules.  Each observer or team can then record their results and document what they witnessed at each station.

6. If there are problems: Report. Report. Report. Observers report to a number of different people. They may raise fraud issues with the Electoral Commission, or more often report back to a central office run by their sponsoring organization who then reports to the central electoral commission or further investigates.

“To be honest, most of the time everything is fine,” Brian said. “Observing can be a mundane, laborious process if the elections go well. And that’s exactly what you want. You want it to be a mundane, boring process that is well run.

“[Sometimes] new observers are a bit too keen to find fraud and problems, when often, particularly in an election that’s fairly well run, there are more human errors and administrative mistakes than conspiracy and malfeasance.”

As Georgia’s presidential election draws nearer, long-term observers are, at this very moment, working to ensure a fair election takes place in October. Election observers are valuable assets for promoting and preserving the democratic process in countries around the world.