In 2011, the United States Agency for International Development awarded a $9.8 million Cooperative Agreement to World Learning’s Grants Solicitation and Management Program to provide grants and capacity building services to nongovernmental organizations in Jamaica and the Bahamas. Carol Jenkins is the senior vice president for World Learning’s International Development and Exchange Programs and has had the opportunity to visit World Learning’s programs in Ethiopia and the Bahamas. She will be traveling to Jamaica this March with members of the World Learning’s Board of Trustees.
How does World Learning’s HIV/AIDS work in the Bahamas and Jamaica compare to its programming in Ethiopia?
From what I have seen, there are many similarities in our work across the programs, though of course the context is always unique. In all of the locations around the world where World Learning implements programs, we work with individuals to become better leaders in their communities and with institutions to lead in their own development and solve their own problems.
Why are World Learning’s HIV/AIDS programs necessary in the Bahamas and Jamaica?
Let me try and paint a bit of the larger, often hidden picture that’s happening in these countries. The workforce unemployment rate is very high—much higher than the official rates would suggest. Additionally, these economies thrive on the tourist industry, which has seen a decline in business due to the world’s economic downturn. Families, mothers, and young people are striving to earn a living just to get by. When I was visiting one of the Bahamian organizations with whom we work, I was told that it is not uncommon for females in the country to engage in transactional sex—in other words, it’s not that women are involved in sex work as a profession, but rather engaging in sex with a partner outside of marriage in exchange for resources—food, clothing, money, shelter, rent, etc. Combine this behavior with very restrictive social and religious environments that inhibit public discourse about sexual behavior and the prevention of HIV, and a serious HIV problem begins to unfold.
What impact is World Learning having there?
We have been able to support a number of local organizations already working with key populations in Jamaica and the Bahamas (those who are difficult to reach and at most risk for HIV infection). Our support to these organizations has helped improve their own institutional systems and procedures so they can better manage funding and implement their programs. As a result, they are more effective in their respective areas of work, and are able to really fulfill their individual missions.
How does this work fit in with World Learning’s other international development programs?
Our mission is to empower people and strengthen institutions. That is exactly what we are able to do here. An effective and sustainable response to the AIDS epidemic requires local leadership and the ability of local institutions to provide services and reach those in most need in the region. As a capacity development and education institution, we are very well positioned to deliver that.
Is World Learning looking to expand its HIV/AIDS program capacity?
We are currently very interested in becoming directly involved with the implementation of programs, particularly in the area of HIV prevention, gender-based violence, and empowerment of women and girls.