Dr. Jill Biden

Dr. Jill Biden, wife of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, promoted women’s rights, immigration and education during her recent trip to Africa. She visited Ethiopia, Malawi and Niger, where she focused on matters associated with economic empowerment and educational opportunities.

In each country, Dr. Biden met with local citizens in many different places in order to engage in government and civil society and focus on issues relative to each country. Here are some of the highlights of her three-country trip.


  • Dr. Jill Biden’s first stop in Africa was Ethiopia. She first visited a transit center for refugees at the International Organization for Migration. There she learned about the refugee screening process for those hoping to resettle in the US.
  • With a focus on women’s empowerment and women’s rights, she attended an event in the high-tech center in Addis Ababa funded by the U.S. Embassy. There, she handed out certificates to girls who completed computer training.
  • Finally, she met with female members of Ethiopia’s parliament and cabinet, as well as entrepreneurs and other members of the community.


  • First, Dr. Biden attended a reception for humanitarian aid workers from the U.S. Embassy. She addressed the El Niño drought by gaining information from the USAID Food for Peace Program about food security.
  • She traveled to primary schools, the first of which was assisted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program. Biden learned about the USAID Girls Empowerment Through Education and Health Activity (ASPIRE) at a second primary school.
  • Finally, Dr. Biden met with local farmers learning about how the maize trade influences economic empowerment and with Malawi’s First Lady Madame Gertrude Mutharika to discuss their collective pledges on women’s empowerment.
  • It was Dr. Biden who announced that 20 million dollars have been donated through the World Food Program to assist food insecurity in Malawi.


  • Dr. Biden visited the Marie Stopes International Clinic to discuss family planning and reproductive health with Nigerien women.
  • She discussed with local residents the issues surrounding the Boko Haram conflict and the humanitarian crisis in the state. After meeting with President Mahamadou Issoufou, she talked to young Nigeriens about youth participation in local elections.
  • Dr. Biden discussed empowerment through job creation and its positive effects on the national economy, and she participated in a roundtable at the U.N. Development Program to discuss gender inequality, education and protection.

Dr. Jill Biden’s focuses on women’s empowerment and education are based on the notion that education is a tool that can be used to lift communities out of poverty. By developing self-confidence through education, girls and women in Africa can become active participants in their local communities.

Kimber Kraus

Photo: Voice Of America


Ethiopian Electric Power (EEP) has just started two new Hydropower projects with a price tag of over $45 million. The new Hydroelectric dams will be located on the Genale Dawa and Dabus rivers with construction expected to start in 2017.

Second Growth and Transformation Plan

The two new Hydropower projects are part of a larger initiative called the Second Growth and Transformation plan (GTP). The first GTP, which lasted from 2010 to 2015, was a success that resulted in the creation of a second GTP that encompasses this hydroelectric project.

The first GTP emphasized economic growth, expansion of public services and political stability. A crucial part of the plan was to reach the Millenium Development goals (MGDs) put forward by the U.N.

Ethiopia has made serious economic progress in the past decade, maintaining a GDP growth rate greater than 10 percent since the mid-2000s, which is double the average sub-Saharan African growth rate.

Even more impressively, Ethiopia has seen a 33 percent reduction of the population living in poverty since 2000. The high growth rate and government projects have been crucial in decreasing poverty in Ethiopia.

Hydroelectric and geothermal power are very important for Ethiopian development. The country is home to 12 river basins and part of the Great Rift Valley, making it a prime location for sustainable energy.

However, not all of that potential has been realized. Of an estimated 50,000 MW of power that Ethiopia could produce from hydroelectric and geothermal sources, only 2,000 MW are currently being generated.

Continuing the Progress

While it may seem like Ethiopia has a long way to maximize its energy production levels, it’s important to note just how far it has come. Since 2000, Ethiopia has increased its energy production 3.5 fold, with especially high annual increases since 2013.

Not only will increased sustainable energy production help Ethiopian citizens, but a proposed energy deal with Kenya (the third fastest growing economy in the world) will bring a big boost to the Ethiopian economy.

The new hydroelectric dams will generate 672 MW, a significant increase to Ethiopia’s current power levels. The two new dams are expected to begin generating power in 2021.

John English

Photo: Flickr

Drought in EthiopiaOn May 13, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, USAID announced that it will be giving an additional, much-needed $128 million in humanitarian aid to the country to help mitigate the impact of the drought in Ethiopia, the worst in 50 years.

Acting Assistant Administrator for the Bureau of Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Affairs Thomas H. Staal and Commissioner Mitiku Kassa of Ethiopia’s National Disaster Risk Management Commission jointly announced the additional aid. Kassa said that the Ethiopian government had contributed $381 million to relief efforts. The U.S. has contributed $705 million in humanitarian aid to Ethiopia since October 2014, and $211.5 million in USAID money to Ethiopia was spent on humanitarian assistance in 2015, specifically.

The most recent addition to the U.S.’s humanitarian aid is intended to provide relief food assistance, safe drinking water, nutrition services and mobile health clinics to help with the huge impact of the drought in Ethiopia. Due to recent rains, USAID is also sending seeds for food production during the expected upcoming rains.

According to NPR reporter Gregory Warner, this drought has not conjured up the typical images of African famine, such as pictures of starving children with distended bellies. Ironically, this has caused some trouble for Ethiopia’s fundraising efforts, said Warner, as there has not been as much media attention given to the drought. Of the $1.4 billion necessary to provide both food and nonfood amenities for the 10.2 million affected people, the country has only secured 54 percent, with the U.S. as its principal donor.

The drought in Ethiopia is the result of El Niño and successive poor rainy seasons. According to Warner, over a third of the country’s crops failed over multiple harvests. Now that the rains are coming, though, there are concerns that this will bring about further difficulties, such as flooding.

The region is incredibly vulnerable to climate change due to its reliance on agriculture and rain-fed agriculture, in particular. According to USAID, though, one of the benefits of providing aid to Ethiopia is its potential as a trading partner, saying, “A healthy and prosperous Ethiopia will increasingly contribute to the stability and economic progress in the region and, as such, is an important trading partner and security ally for the United States.”

Anastazia Vanisko

Photo: Flickr


Researchers from MIT, Tufts and Georgia State University are conducted a study to determine whether tablet computers that have with literacy applications can improve global literacy rates among children living in extremely poor communities.

As part of the first phase of the study, tablets were sent to a pair of Ethiopian villages with no schools or written culture, a suburban South African school with a student-to-teacher teacher ratio of 60 to 1 and a rural school in the U.S. with mostly low-income students.

The tablets contained specially designed apps to help illiterate children ages four to 11 learn letters, sounds and reading fundamentals. The children in Ethiopia had never seen electricity or paper before this study.

Maryanne Wolf, founder and director of Tuft’s Center for Reading and Language Research, visited Ethiopia in 2013 and saw how excited the children were to use the tablets.

“The children learned to be facile so quickly—it was breathtaking,” Wolf said, according to a Tufts Now article.

In the African deployments, students who used the tablets scored much higher than those who did not. The American students also improved their scores dramatically after using the tablets for just four months.

“The whole premise of our project is to harness the best science and innovation to bring education to the world’s most under-resourced children,” associate professor of media arts and sciences at MIT Cynthia Breazeal said, reports an MIT News article.

The main theme of this project is that it is self-starting. The research team purposely did not tell the children what to do with the tablets because if the project expands, they will not be able to bring in coaches to teach the children how to use the apps.

Within minutes of receiving the tablet, one Ethiopian boy figured out how to turn it on. Within a week, the Ethiopian children had the apps up and running.

The research team is currently analyzing the data collected from the trials. They have also created a nonprofit organization called Curious Learning, which is now looking for partners to help launch larger pilot programs in an effort to improve global literacy rates.

Kerri Whelan

Photo: Flickr

Education is what’s in fashion for the girls studying at Studio Samuel, a non-profit founded by New York designer, Tamara Horton. Located in Ethiopia, this organization aims to alleviate poverty and empower girls and women through training in a broad range of life skills.

According to the non-profit’s website, women in impoverished Ethiopia are living in severe health, education and career opportunity deficits. The organization notes the following:

  • Only four percent of women in these communities have received health screenings.
  • Only 16 percent of girls will advance into secondary school.
  • 64 percent of the community’s unemployed are female-identifying.
  • Trafficking and child marriage often halt young Ethiopian women’s journeys to self-reliance.

In order to combat these obstacles to gender parity and poverty alleviation, Tamara Holton founded Studio Samuel in 2012. The goal was to teach young women life skills and instill self-esteem that can help create pathways out of poverty.

The centerpiece of Studio Samuel’s work is the Training for Tomorrow program, which offers a two-year curriculum for girls, ages nine to 18, that runs in parallel to their regular schooling. The instructors pull from materials vetted by United Nations-based agencies in order to best serve the students.

According to the World Health Organization, the “Ten Core Life Skills” for success include “the abilities for adaptive and positive behavior that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life.” The Training for Tomorrow program teaches these abilities as a way to help girls realize their potential and avoid falling back into cycles of poverty.

The classes include everything from computer programming, a valuable job skill in the 21st century, to self-defense, a skill which Studio Samuel sees as a confidence-builder in young girls.

When founder Tamara Horton isn’t working in Ethiopia, she is thriving as a fashion designer living in New York City. She owns a shop, designs costumes for Off-Broadway shows, and is a mother to her son, Niko Samuel, for whom her non-profit was named.

She came up with the idea for Studio Samuel when she first adopted Niko from Ethiopia. In an interview with the Huffington Post, Horton said that “[t]he seed was planted the first time [she] met [Niko]. I wanted to give back in some way and after seeing the struggles that poverty places on a family, particularly the girls, it was the place to start for me.”

The organization has seen enormous success since its founding. Approximately 94 percent of students in the Training for Tomorrow program saw improvement in their academics and/or behavior within six months of enrollment. In addition, there has been a 97 percent success rate in avoiding human trafficking and child marriage amongst students.

The philosophy behind theses achievement can be described by the adage “teach a man (or woman for that matter) to fish,”. Studio Samuel believes in an “empowerment without pity” model, one that imparts skills training to women and girls, instead of offering traditional forms of charity.

As Hilawi Alemayehu, the organization’s Country Director, said in an interview with The Huffington Post, “By creating together and not giving handouts, a foundation unfolds [that] may not have existed. It builds pride and accountability and once welcomed, it is extremely impactful.”

Jen Diamond

Photo:  Flickr

Health_mother_ Child Mortality

USAID is working with the Ethiopian government to reduce maternal, neonatal and child mortality rates, according to their website. Ethiopia has one of the highest rates of maternal deaths in the world.

“Women have a one-in-52 chance of dying from childbirth-related causes each year,” according to USAID. “Every year, more than 257,000 children under the age of five die and 120,000 die in the neonatal period. More than 60 percent of infant and 40 percent of under-five deaths in Ethiopia are neonatal deaths.”

Increasing Health Care Services

This dire situation calls for extensive health care services. Ninety percent of Ethiopian women give birth in their homes in order to observe cultural traditions and be surrounded by company they trust. Health facilities can spread awareness about the value of institutional delivery in decreasing mother and child mortality rates; many mothers have never heard the benefits of skilled birth attendance and postnatal care.

Preventable complications like hemorrhage, infection, unsafe abortion, hypertensive disorders and obstructed labor are to blame for 80 percent of maternal deaths.

USAID has intervened in family, community and facility care by increasing accessibility of health services. A health extension program includes basic obstetric and newborn care, essential newborn care, management of neonatal and childhood illnesses, coverage of immunizations and the early identification and treatment of sick children, all of which go a long way to decreasing the child mortality rate.

Additionally, they funded the Integrated Family Health Project, an activity that seeks to promote and strengthen family planning and maternal, newborn and child health practices and services. With the cooperation of health programs throughout Ethiopia, the IFHP impacts about 40 percent of the country’s entire population.

The Health Ministry and various organizations provide health facilities with ambulances, equipment and skilled staff. The majority of communities in Ethiopia lay in rural regions that place women in a vulnerable position when a complication arises during childbirth, and many fatalities occur in the transfer to a health facility.

Global Involvement

The Government of Germany recently contributed 10 million euro to UNICEF, bolstering its emergency response to drought affected regions in Ethiopia. This support will provide life-saving assistance to severely malnourished children and pregnant and lactating women. Lack of nutrition threatens close to half of a million children under the age of five and nearly 140,000 lactating women in the Somali area.

By providing preventive, promotional and basic curative health and nutrition services to mothers, infants and young children, USAID and other organizations like UNICEF are saving lives and combating illness and disability.

Emily Ednoff

Photo: Flickr


Ethiopia is currently facing its worst drought in 30 years leaving 7.5 million hungry each year. Researchers are attempting to popularize the Enset plant amongst farmers in order to address hunger in the region.

The Enset plant is known as the ‘false banana’ as it resembles the banana tree but is taller and fatter. The crop is a staple in the highland areas of southern Ethiopia. However, in the midlands, non-indigenous and soil-depleting crops like maize are farmed.

While other crops like coffee and grains wither, the Enset plants withstand both droughts and heavy rains. In fact, it can survive up to seven years without rain by storing water in its leaves.

“One of the unique qualities of the Enset is that it will always be around as a backup plan,” said Gebre Ynitso, an associate professor who studies the plant in the Department of Social Anthropology at Addis Ababa University. “It’s like money in the bank.”

All parts of the Enset plant are edible. The root of the Enset is boiled and served with meat, while the trunk and stalks are fermented and eaten with bread or porridge. The root of the plant can even be made to last a number of years by placing it in a 2-meter deep pit, with yeast and starch to ferment it.

The Enset plant can also feed livestock, allowing families a form of protein during famines and droughts. The leaves that fall from the Enset plant also improve soil fertility.

The Enset plant is only a staple to 20 percent of the Ethiopian population, as most see the plant as inferior and harder to cultivate than grains.

However, researchers have created outreach programs to foster increased awareness of the importance of the Enset plant. The Arba Minch Univeristy in southern Ethiopia built an “Enset Park” to provide local farmers with seeds and other materials needed to plant Ensets.

The Dilla University hosted “Enset on Wheels” food carts, and prompted other food festivals to take place. For example, a festival in Gadeo showed local farmers the versatility of Enset by presenting 32 different meals using the plant.

Wolde Tadesse, a visiting researcher at the African Studies Department at Oxford University in the UK said: “What’s important about the Enset is that it keeps the family alive. It’s the backbone of the family and community.”

Marie Helene Ngom

Sources: Permaculture, DW
Photo: Flickr

The World Bank recently established a line of credit for female entrepreneurs in the world’s poorest nations. The program has already helped more than 3,000 female entrepreneurs in Ethiopia start their own businesses and escape poverty.

In poor communities, women are far less likely than men to own valuable assets to use as collateral to get a loan. Without these loans, many business ventures never make it off the ground.

An estimated 70 percent of women who own small or medium-sized businesses are unable to stabilize and improve them because of a lack of funding credit. This challenge creates a huge loss in potential income within a community.

According to World Bank economists Francesco Strobbe and Salman Alibhai, investing in female-owned businesses results in one of the “highest return opportunities available in emerging markets.”

The World Bank is helping to put an end to this opportunity loss and stagnation of female business opportunities by offering female entrepreneurs loans through the International Development Association and several international development organizations in Canada and the United Kingdom.

Between January 2014 and September 2015, Ethiopia’s Women’s Entrepreneurship Development Project disbursed 768 million birr (about $38 million) worth of credit to 3,227 female entrepreneurs. Currently, nearly $2 million in credit is being disbursed each month with an average individual loan size of approximately 219,605 birr (approximately $11,000).

Research shows that female entrepreneurs are more likely to hire other women to work in their businesses, opening up employment opportunities in communities where positions for women were scarce before.

Thus far, 76 percent of the women who have taken advantage of the program are first-time borrowers, unlocking untapped capital and opening up a new route to closing the gendered financial gap.

Despite the majority being first-time borrowers with little to no collateral, the repayment rate is 99.4 percent. Besides the success of the small loans, the program also offers entrepreneurship training to inspired women throughout the nation.

So far, more than 5,000 women have taken advantage of training and hope to enter into the exciting realm of business ownership. This trend is likely to drive down the overall rate of unemployment throughout Ethiopia, which currently stands at 17 percent.

Claire Colby

Sources: CIA World Factbook, World Bank
Photo: Flickr


From July to September of this year there’s been just one day of rain per month where “it should have been raining every other day,” Mr. Yasin, a local farmer in Ethiopia, told reporter Jacy Fortin of NY Times. His crops have since failed as this year’s drought in Ethiopia erodes away his land and his stability.

Reportedly caused by this year’s potent El Niño, the drought is beginning to take its toll on this country where 80 percent of the population works in agricultural productivity. Because of this, 40 percent of the country’s economic output is from the agriculture, which makes for a bad mix.

This drought is estimated to put 8.2 million people in need of food assistance; that nearly doubles the count before the drought began which was 4.55 million.

This year, however, is not the first time this country has faced a massive drought; in 2002, the GDP of Ethiopia dropped 2.2 percent as a result of widespread crop failure from a drought. Once before then the country had fallen to drought since there was a drastic famine that spurred massive aid to the area as a result.

Ethiopia’s government plans to outsmart the drought this year and has come up with ingenious precautions and early action initiatives to supplement its food aid assistance. In doing so, it hopes to establish a source to cling to throughout the drought’s duration.

Since July, the parliament has allotted $192 million in food aid, water transport and animal feed with the hopes of sustaining a viable option even with the effects of the drought. This plan was adopted because early warning systems in Ethiopia are capable of providing large windows of time before possible droughts occur.

Despite this domestic solution, more is needed to successfully pull through the crippling natural disaster. The conditions have forced the government to raise international funding requests by $164 million in order to fully assist all those in need.

Only about 43 percent of the total $596 million request has been met, but international aid does take time to fully take effect, so Ethiopian officials are expecting more soon. They also claim that the drought could last up to a year and estimate a staggering 15 million could be in need of food assistance in 2016.

For now the Ethiopian government must stress the importance of rationing food, and individuals must find new ways of providing monetarily and nutritionally for their families.

Emilio Rivera

Sources: NY Times, University of Notre Dame
Photo: Flickr

Trachoma is an endemic disease in Oromia, the largest and most populous state of Ethiopia. The disease has caused an impairment of vision in 2.2 million people in the world as the leading infectious cause of blindness.

The combination of poor sanitation and minimal access to clean water increases the risk of infection and nearly 229 million people in the world live in high-risk areas. Women are more susceptible to infectious trachoma than men because of their higher exposure to young children who are typically the bearers of the disease.

Eighty percent of Ethiopians live in rural areas with poor sanitation and little access to clean water. Seventy-six million people in Ethiopia are at risk of contracting blinding trachoma and another 800,000 people are at risk of irreversible blindness if they do not receive surgery.

Ethiopia only has 120 ophthalmologists and the majority of them work in Addis Ababa. The country is ill-equipped to destroy the disease on its own although the surgical procedures are simple and quick.

The Fred Hollows Foundation is a non-governmental organization focused on eliminating preventable blindness. The organization’s work in Ethiopia is focused mainly on the implementation of the SAFE strategy recommended by the World Health Organization in Oromia’s 225 endemic districts.

SAFE is an acronym for Surgery, Antibiotics, Face-washing, and Environmental improvements. Changing the way people manage personal hygiene has been one of the ways they are trying to reduce the risks of trachoma.

The Fred Hollows Foundation and its partners treated 5,637,226 people with antibiotics and performed more than 7,000 lid surgeries in 2014 alone. They also trained 36 surgeons and 10 clinic support staff as well as supplied $126,747 worth of equipment used to treat trachoma in Ethiopia.

According to the Fred Hollows Foundation website, “What is needed [to eliminate trachoma in Ethiopia] is a significant scale-up of the SAFE strategy, including resources, expertise and commitment from regional and local governments and development organizations in the water, sanitation and hygiene sectors.”

Iona Brannon

Sources: Al Jazeera, The Fred Hollows Foundation, World Health Organization
Photo: Flickr