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Monday
Mar062017

Representations in development

Discourse, as coined by Michel Foucault, encompasses the body of knowledge produced on a given topic that implies and reinforces certain power relationships. Past discourses of Africa laid the foundations for what was deemed relevant when writing about Africa. From such discourses emerged stereotypical notions of Africa—some of which still influence the current body of knowledge produced about the continent. Primitive Africa –static Africa, the one that has failed to develop; wild and dangerous Africa— the untamed one; exotic Africa—the land of the uncovered and superstitious; unspoiled Africa—the undamaged and untainted by evils of the modern world; utopian Africa –the idealized Africa, the pre-colonial Africa; and finally the broken Africa –land of decay, sickness, state failure and starvation.

Those discourses and tropes have been utilized and reinforced in the earlier stages of development, the starving and dying African child as a great example of many development marketing images of choice. These representations have played a key role in establishing a collective imagery of what “Africa” represented and still represents. Past discourses of Africa have clearly set the limits of our understanding of Africa, using tropes, stereotypes and language to conceive a perceived reality, an “imaginary”, narrow narrative about Africa.

While child mortality, famine and war are still of great concern, misrepresentations of Africa (or “Western inventions” of Africa, as coined by scholar V.Y Mudimbe) set Africa as the opposite of the West, forever cast in “Otherness”. Dominant discourses about Africa have been the continent’s inability to develop or “catch up” with the West due to cultural barriers and inherent “backwardness”.  Mainstream media has played a great role in setting such tropes.  However, with the rise of alternative media spaces, Africans globally have been able to take back control of their own representation by providing more nuanced perspectives. This is why in my opinion, alternative media platforms such as Visiter l’Afrique are so needed.

This platform revolutionized Africa’s media narrative by being one of the first to depict Africa for what it was, far from stereotypes but also without denying its current challenges. It also shifted perceptions of African tourism, often limited to safaris, resorts and famous locations such as South Africa and Kenya. From busy streets, far away villages, breathtaking beaches, to yummy street food, Visiter l’Afrique provides a vibrant visual catalogue from photographers across the globe. From Gambia, Namibia to Burundi, Visiter l’Afrique boldly affirms that all African countries are worth visiting!

As our internships are coming to an end, we must be aware of the power of our words and how we represent our placement countries to our peers back home. What will we be sharing? What images will we be sharing? How will we depict the people we have worked with? How will we contribute in shaping this collective and mainstream imagery of the Global south?

 

Aurore Iradukunda is working as a Health Promotion Intern with Nova Scotia Gambia Association in Gambia.

Tuesday
Feb212017

What does climate change have to do with poverty?

In 2009, the Stockholm Resilience Centre published the oft-cited paper “A safe operating space for humanity”, which attempted to measure nine planetary boundaries, which, if crossed, would result in unknown and perhaps catastrophic effects for the planet. Of these nine thresholds, in 2009 it was estimated that three of these had already been passed: Climate change, rate of biodiversity loss, and the nitrogen cycle. In 2015, these researchers revisited the original measures, and this time they placed more emphasis on climate change. Crossing the climate change boundary permanently, they warned, would have lasting, transformational effects on our fragile home called Earth.

Of course we know this. If you are like me, you watched The Inconvenient Truth in your dimly-lit science classroom. You connect climate change with a graph with a sharp upward line around the industrial revolution, or with an image of a polar bear on a single ice float. You vaguely understand the science behind it, and you imagine an apocalyptic future where Florida is underwater and the arctic is a tropical paradise.  But that is the future, far away, not affecting your daily life. In the winter, when the thermometer shows sub-zero temperatures, you joke that global warming is a myth.

Before we left the Nairobi headquarters of Crown the Child Africa, fellow intern Patricia and I were conversing with the staff there about our destination and the place we would work for the next few months: Nanyuki.

“You will see climate change there,” someone remarked, and the others agreed. I was not sure what they meant by this until after I arrived in Nanyuki.

One woman, Jane, from the rural Mureru group for savings and lending, took aside the Local E-Roots Coordinator, Donald, after the monthly microfinance group meeting. She complained that her sweet potatoes were not growing well: it had been too dry. The rains came later than expected. Even at the resource farm near the base of Mount Kenya, the river on the property is lower than it has been in recent years. This is not surprising. In fact, in 2013 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted this exactly: “subtropical arid and semi-arid regions will likely experience less precipitation.” Nanyuki and the surrounding area is a semi-arid region. The same IPCC report claimed that low-income countries will be the ones who bear the brunt of the effects of climate change.

In North America, it is hard for us to understand the life-and-death effects of climate change. Our way of life contributes so much to the problem, but we are isolated from the effects. While there may be shocking weather events, like hurricanes or the drynesss that led to devastating forest fires in 2016, we are generally prepared for these events: we have hurricane-proof houses, and insurance to protect us if anything goes terribly wrong. Unfortunately, the effects of climate change have a much greater impact on the lives of people in poverty. If you are a subsistence farmer, a dry year could mean your family does not have enough to eat. It may mean you do not have enough money to send all your children to school. All these things are interconnected: if a family lacks nutritious food, the children do not have enough energy to do well in school. Without education, the family is likely to stay in poverty. They will continue to work at subsistence agriculture, which, especially with climate change, is unstable. It is a precarious existence.

I have seen climate change firsthand here. I have seen a field of cabbage gone to waste because the rains did not come as they do every year. The farmer worked hard to plant these cabbages with the expectation that the rains would come. But the rains did not come, and when they did it was not enough to salvage the crop. The hard work and investment went to waste, and the family may go hungry. The sad part is, we in North America bear some of the responsibility for this failed crop. Our excess comes at the expense of these people’s lives.

The last thing I want to do is make people feel guilty. I do not think it is the fault of the individual that we are so disconnected from the people who make our life possible. Rather, it is the driving philosophy of our culture– the idea that we are individuals– that fools us into thinking that we are indeed independent from the rest of the world. Individualism is basically the cornerstone of our North American paradigm. Our economic system is based on the idea that individual players acting in their own self-interest will lead to a favourable outcome for everybody. Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, said “Individual ambition serves the common good.” This thinking is ingrained in our mindset. I really think that individualism has made many good things possible, like democracy and feminism. But it is also flawed. Because of course we are not really individuals. We all depend on others and have others depending on us. And we all depend on the earth to sustain us. We need to be aware that our economic choices do have effects on more people that ourselves, and that these effects are not always favourable.

So you see, there are farmers in Kenya who are depending on us. They are depending on us to stop emitting so much CO2, because in fact that is a factor causing climate change, and climate change is causing challenges for them. I love being in Kenya and working with an organization, Crown the Child Africa, that is actively fighting poverty. I love seeing how programs like child sponsorship, microfinance, and E-Roots are helping people have more stable incomes, food security, and hope. But at the same time, I am ever-aware that in fact, I am part of the problem. I am contributing to this machine that actually keeps people in poverty. According to the World Bank, Canada’s emissions of carbon dioxide in 2013 were 13.5 metric tons per person. In Kenya in the same year, emissions per capita were 0.3 tons per person. Our way of life, the way of life that is based on the false idea that we are individuals and our habits will not affect others, is in fact harming others.

The good news is that extreme poverty rates have more than halved since 1990. The bad news is that this could all be reversed if we do not stop the climate change that is threatening many of the poorest people in the world.

I know you probably came here to read about my experiences in Kenya. But I think the only way to make sense of these experiences is to look at them within a bigger theoretical context. I do not want to be just one more voice warning Westerners of a dystopic future, if we do not urgently change. There have been many of these voices, and change had been negligible. I believe change will only come through us collectively adopting a new paradigm, a new ideology that does not bow down at the altar of money and greed but rather returns to values that human societies have held for millennia: interdependence and the sacredness of life.

Hannah Main is working as a Business Development Coordinator with Crown the Child Africa in Kenya.

Tuesday
Feb142017

Achieving success in Bolga!

As my time here nears the end, it has been an incredible experience to see what kind of work is being done here in Northern Ghana. As I continue to learn about the work that Widows & Orphans Movement (WOM) does, I wanted to take this opportunity to share some success WOM has had through its Microcredit projects.

One of the major thematic areas of WOM is economic empowerment for women achieved through two Microcredit schemes, one in Bolgatanga and one in Bongo. The Bolga Microcredit Program is WOM’s flagship program that has been going on for more than 10 years and has distributed over 1,500 loans. Here is a story of Linda Adongo and how she achieved success because of WOM’s Bolga Microcredit Project.

Linda Adongo, a widow of 12 years, has been a client of for over 9 years. Her journey began slightly after her husband passed away when she had just finished learning the art of hairdressing. However, after her husband passed, Linda was not able to take care of herself, her family and her children, nor was she getting any help from others. She continued to struggle but was motivated to use her skillset as a hairdresser to make a living. In the early days, she used to weave and cater to women outside under a Neem tree. This gained the attention of an NGO which helped with funding for an actual store.

Although Linda had a store, she was still struggling to make strives with her business because she was not able to have enough hairpieces, materials or even clients to help generate business. As a result, she found her way to the WOM office to apply for her first loans. With her first loans, she was slowly able to attract more and more clients. In recent years, she continues to take out loans with WOM, and uses the money to travel to the south (Accra or Kumasi) to purchase more hair pieces, nails, and other materials that differentiate her from other competitors. Prior to this, her clients would have to purchase the piece they want from the market, and then come to Linda. However, with Linda having her own hair pieces and materials, she has created for herself an additional revenue stream because she can now charge for the materials and the service. With her profit, Linda can pay for her children’s school fees and hire other employees to help. The loans she takes Linda has expanded her business to include manicures and pedicures, and purchased a new pedicure machine.

Looking forward, Linda has plans to start an apprenticeship program for others that want to learn hairdressing. Currently, she already teaches and mentors other girls to become hairdressers, some of whom come back and work for her. Because her store is close to a school, Linda is looking to further expand her business for students and parents to buy school supplies and books from her shop. Not only has her business succeeded, but Linda has become more business-minded and confident since taking loans with WOM. She is also a large advocate and support of the work WOM does as she continues to refer her friends to WOM.

Due to the success of the Bolga Microcredit Project, WOM expanded their Microcredit Project into Bongo, a district approximately 20 km north of Bolgatanga, at the beginning of 2016. During its first full year, WOM has disbursed over 250 loans to widows and widow groups. I was lucky enough to talk with Madam Felicia on her journey with WOM and the success she has been having as a result of WOM’s Microcredit Project.

Madam Felicia Azubire has been a widow for approximately ten years now and currently takes care of her five grandchildren. Ever since Madam Felicia was widowed, and her own children were very young, she struggled to care for and provide food for her children, and even – to a point that she was hospitalized due to a high stress level.

In efforts to make money, Madam Felicia started her own business by making and selling malt because millet is relatively cheap and the demand for malt is high. Malt is made from red millet, and then can be used to brew a local drink called pito. Madam Felicia used to benefit from loans from other organizations, but they were never enough and didn’t allow her to make a large enough quantity to make enough money. With small quantities, pito suppliers must buy from a variety of malt suppliers, and the money that gets distributed is very little. Prior to her loans with WOM, Madam Felicia would make only about 20 cedis (approximately 6 CAD) a day and was unable to make food or pay for her children and grandchildren’s school fees.

Madam Felicia has been with the Bongo Project for almost 8 months now, and has received a second loan, upon repayment of her first loan. Not only has she never defaulted on any of her payments, but she has also been the leader of her widows group (11 people). Today, she can buy large quantities of millet to make lots of malt. Pito suppliers buy their entire malt supply from her, and Felicia makes up to 50 cedis (approximately 15 CAD) per bowl! She claims that has WOM allowed her to increase her business, and has opened her eyes to a savings account. Madam Felicia says that every time she makes money, she can save a little money, and revert to her savings account in times of need. Today, when her grandchildren come to her and ask for money, she is now able to provide for them. Madam Felicia sees this as an opportunity to make up for all the times she was not able to take care of her own children, she can take care of her daughter’s children. Her success has extended beyond her business; Madam Felicia is now more confident and gained many leadership skills as she leads her group to meet regularly. As we look to the future, Madam Felicia only expects for her business to expand. She is now using her second loan to buy pigs so they can multiple and she can start to sell piglets as well!  

James Thalla-Joel is working as a Financial Management Specialist with ACIC partner Widows and Orphans Movement (WOM) in Ghana.

Tuesday
Feb142017

Remembrance is important

As I rang in the New Year in Canada over the holidays and observed the extra hoopla surrounding Canada’s 150th Birthday year, I have pondered how to situate the persistent problems of colonialism that exist in Canada, with Haiti’s history.

In 1492, when Christopher Columbus “discovered America”, he arrived on this beautiful island I have come to call home. The anchor of his ship, the Santa Maria, can be seen at the National Pantheon Museum in Port au Prince, which I visited with my mom when she was visiting in early January. Most startling about Columbus’ arrival on this island, is how quickly the island’s original Ayitians, the Taino peoples disappeared due to warfare, smallpox and other diseases. Terms such as wiped out, near extinction and disappearing peoples are used to describe these people. As I think back on the history courses I took, I realize how this fact was underemphasized when I was busy memorizing poems about the years that explorers arrived in the “new world”. An entire population was eliminated, and it disturbs me that prior to living on this island, I had given this fact very little thought. Our guide at the National Museum took a significant amount time to remember the Taino peoples, the first Ayitiens on this island.  

This remembrance is important, as it includes the Taino peoples in Haiti’s historic origin story. Last year in Ottawa, I attended a roundtable discussion led by Dr. Kathleen Mahoney, whose research highlights the importance of origin stories. As Canada celebrates 150 years, the narrative of two founding nations, England and France, continues to be our origin story. The First Nation groups that not only contributed to the founding of the country, but also were the first to occupy this territory, have been largely ignored in traditional history.

Therefore Canada’s 150th Birthday is an opportunity to reconsider what being Canadian means to us by revisiting this origin story. Artist Kent Monkman’s exhibit, Shame and Prejudice, shakes up the perceptions we have of being Canadian by juxtaposing First Nation images with images of Canadian historic events. Canada has a “darker history” that must be re-learned moving forward[1]. In the same vein, Haiti’s history should not be forgotten, not only of the disappeared Taino peoples, but of slavery, revolution, and liberty.

*   *   *

On another note, there is exciting news in Terrier Rouge. A group of women have taken part in jam training sessions through ISCA, and have launched the company “Onz Manman” meaning 11 mothers. They sell delicious jams in mango, papaya, grapefruit and pineapple flavours, sometimes adding rum to the jam. Before Christmas, their sales surpassed 1000 USD, and we are working hard to create a product that can be sold at hotels in Cap Haitien nearby. Take a look at this beautiful line-up of jams!


[1] http://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/shame-and-prejudice-art-exhibit-1.3950579

Marie Dumont is working as a Value-Chain and Agri-Business Coordinator with ISCA partner Les Soeurs Notre Dame du Sacré Cœur in Terrier Rouge, Haiti.

Tuesday
Feb072017

Gag to the Global Gag Rule and the forces that reinstated it

January 23, 2017 marks the day that the Trump Administration reinstated the Global Gag Rule, also known as the Mexico City Policy. This act of injustice strips all US funding from foreign aid groups, who not only provides abortions, but also educates and advocates for the service. This action will devastatingly affect millions, lead to an increase in abortions (predominately unsafe), devastate the global health system, and most importantly, deny the rights of women to have access to comprehensive reproductive health services.

Under the Reagan Administration, the Global Gag rule originated in 1984 at a United Nations population conference in Mexico City.[1] This was the first initiation of integrating domestic abortion politics into the international aid agenda. Since then, it has been a political seesaw. Each US Republican president has reinstated this rule, being in effect for 17 of the past 32 years, and has subsequently been repealed by Democratic Presidents (most recently by Obama).2

Along with a multitude of critics, including global health leaders, the Trump Administration has widely broadened the Rule’s impact compared to previous years. The language of the memorandum applies to an estimated 9 billion USD of international health funding used to fight malaria, HIV, Zika virus, Ebola, and others.[2]  Health clinics around the world relying on US funding will be forced to close their integrated family planning programs. In addition, the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress made large accusations that US tax dollars were currently being used to financially assist abortions and the purpose of this bill was to prohibit this.[3] However, this is a large misconception as the Hyde Amendment has prevented this from happening since 1976.[4] Tax dollars were never spent on abortion services, and this has introduced a massive misconception to American citizens and arguably has increased societal support of the bill. Fundamentally, using and violating women’s sexual and reproductive rights as political ammunition is unethical and inhumane.

For foreign NGOs funded by the US, they are forced to choose between two options:[5]

1. Accept the policy and continue to receive U.S. family planning funds and being prohibited from providing abortions, abortion counseling, referrals, and/or advocacy efforts. This is in exception to cases of rape, incest or life endangerment.

2. Refuse the policy, promote and support women’s rights, and seek alternative sources of funding to prevent health clinics from closing down, provide comprehensive and a large range of sexual and reproductive health services to clients, and continue advocacy efforts for law reforms in their respective countries to decrease unsafe abortions.

This grave situation calls for a serious reflection on power and decision-making processes. I ask, how does the stroke of a pen in the Oval Office, surrounded by only men (who are white, there I said it), stand against years of advocacy, scientific evidence, reproductive health progress, and the blood, sweat and tears put in to improve access to reproductive services? To make matters even more un-imaginable, and makes you question if vegetables are even good for you anymore, this all happens just 48 hours after millions of women marched the streets across the world, calling for the protection of women’s reproductive rights. Not only did he forbid international organizations around the world from receiving U.S. aid funding, the Trump Administration also passed H.R. 7, which permanently prohibits money from using federal funding for abortions, making the Hyde Amendment permanent. If successful, this will continue to devastate vulnerable, low-income, and underserved populations right in the United States, as well as penalizing private health insurers who cover abortion services.[6] Finally, Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, has an alarming history of interfering with reproductive rights and health. For example, he ruled that bosses should be able to deny women access to birth control coverage. 

As demonstrated extensively in other global contexts, such as Africa and Latin America, extensive research has shown that this Bill has indirectly resulted in significant cuts in funding for family planning services, HIV/AIDs treatment, emergency contraception, not solely just abortion services.[7] Studies have shown that this rule has increased abortion rates in sub-Saharan African countries, reduced access to contraceptives, increase unintended pregnancies, and has put women’s health and lives at risk.[8] High rates of unsafe abortions are strongly acute in the Caribbean and Latin America. Between 2010 and 2014, there was an estimated 6.5 million induced abortions each year in both regions. At least 10% of all maternal deaths (900 in total) annually were due to unsafe abortion. About 760,000 women in the region are treated annually for complications from unsafe abortion.[9][10] The most common complications from unsafe abortion are incomplete abortion, excessive blood loss and infection. Less common but very serious complications include septic shock, perforation of internal organs and inflammation of the peritoneum.

The political forces of the reinstated GAG rule has re-enforced how my role, as an intern working for the Jamaica Family Planning Association (JFPA), is greatly influenced by incomprehensible forces. JFPA is an organization that uses integrated approach to serve low-income citizens and responds to the country’s everyday context: extremely high rates of adolescent pregnancy, sexual abuse and assault, unsafe abortions, and rape. Further, since abortion is illegal here, one might think the rule does not have a significant impact for family planning services; however, this is not the case. Jamaica relies heavily on US funded grants and initiatives, therefore, any grant or current program that is funded by the government poses our organization at risk to receive funds. To stay afloat as an organization with day-to-day activities, JFPA is lucky in the sense that we are heavily funded by the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), a large organization that does not receive a significant amount of US funding. They have already confirmed they will not sign the policy.[11]

Further, JFPA is a large advocate for women’s rights and we continually urge the government to amend the law for women to have choice and access safe and affordable abortion services. Abortion is illegal in Jamaica under the Offenses Against the Persons Act of 1864 that is based on the 1861 English Act of the same title. Those who seek abortion services and their providers are at risk of prosecution. The consequences of criminalizing women who seek abortions (or the healthcare providers who do or refer the procedure), is still a significant issue. This forces innocent individuals to spend years incarcerated even though this is a complete violation of human and reproductive rights. The illegality of abortion makes individuals more vulnerable to unsafe abortion practices. About 1,200 cases of abortion complications are treated every year in Jamaican public hospitals. Physicians in Jamaica are hesitant to perform an abortion as the law provides then with no real protection, and many fear prosecution. As such, access to adequate sexual and reproductive healthcare can reduce the demand for abortions.

All these abortion restrictions, the anti-abortion legislation—what you’re doing is not stopping us from getting abortions, but driving us into the back alleys, making abortion more costly, dangerous, and stigmatized.6

- Melissa Madera  

The Gag Rule affects countries who heavily rely on US funding dramatically, whether abortion is illegal or not. It puts developing countries where abortion is legal at great risk to looking services, and puts countries where abortion isn’t legal even further behind achieving equality for women. Global leaders, such as the US, should be champions of sexual and reproductive health given the vast availability of resources, knowledge, and evidence. Human rights are at stake. It is devastating that certain state politicians and world leaders are putting unjust value systems that stand against women’s rights and affordable, comprehensive and scientifically accurate sexual education and services.

My small reflection on the current global dialogue on the Gag Rule is a reminder to those of us who have the privilege to stand-up to women’s rights that we cannot sit back and wait until the next extreme attack on fundamental rights is being debated before the Supreme Court. If the world wants to protect global health, we must stand together with allies for social justice and it has to be today. With current strong activist moments on the streets demanding justice for all, there is indeed hope and a network of solidarity to fight the good fight! For instance, last Wednesday, the Dutch government has announced plans to establish an international fund to fill the gap created by this reinstatment of the Rule, funding contraception, abortion and education for women. This was quickly supported by Belgium and Canada is currently under consideration. As Canadians and global citizens, we can play an important role. I highly recommended keeping up to date with Action Canada for Sexual Health & Rights and to take action: http://www.sexualhealthandrights.ca/ggr-take-action/

President Trump is now following a worrying tradition that has a dangerous impact on the sexual and reproductive rights, health and life of women and girls across the world, particularly those who are most at risk of human rights abuses. The gag rule during both Reagan and Bush´s administration was a barrier to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health in many parts of the Global South7

- Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International

 


[1] Talbot, M. 2017. Trump makes the Global Gag Rule on abortion even worse. The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/trump-makes-the-global-gag-rule-on-abortion-even-worse

[2] The New York Times. 2017. Mr Trump’s Gag Rule will harm global health. The New York Times Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/26/opinion/mr-trumps-gag-rule-will-harm-global-health.html

[3] Crockett, E. 2017. The House just passed a sweeping abortion funding ban, Here’s what you should know. Vox. Retrieved from: http://www.vox.com/identities/2017/1/24/14370748/taxpayer-funded-abortion-house-passed-permanent-hyde-amendment

[4] Diamond, A. 2017.. Trump Strikes at Abortion with a Revived Foreign-Aid Rule. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/01/mexico-city-policy/514010/

[5] Centre for Health and Gender Equality. 2017. Global Gag Rule. Retrieved from: http://www.genderhealth.org/the_issues/us_foreign_policy/global_gag_rule/

[6] Modera, M. 2017. I talked to 200 women who had abortions –here’s my letter to congress. Self. http://www.self.com/story/i-talked-to-200-women-who-had-abortions-my-letter-to-congress

[7] Guevara-Rosas, E. 2017. Trump’s global gag a devastating blow for women’s rights. Amnesty International. Retrieved from: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2017/01/trumps-global-gag-a-devastating-blow-for-womens-rights/

[8] Schvey, A. 2017. Trump’s global gag rule hurts the world’s most vulnerable women. The Hill. Retrieved from: http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/the-administration/316930-trumps-global-gag-rule-on-abortion-hurts-the-worlds

[9] Guttmatcher Institute. 2016. Abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean. Retrieved from: https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/facts-abortion-latin-america-and-caribbean#2

[10] Sedgh G et al., Abortion incidence between 1990 and 2014: global, regional, and subregional levels and trends, The Lancet, 2016, http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(16)30380-4/abstract.

[11] IPPF. 2017. What is the Global Gag rule? Retrieved from: http://www.ippf.org/global-gag-rule

 

Georgia Venner is working as Health Education Programme Manager with Jamaica Family Planning Association/FAMPLAN in Jamaica.