8 Ways USAID is Advancing Fundamental Freedoms, Promoting Democracy, and Strengthening Human Rights Around the World

Read about programs in Cambodia, Kenya, Iraq, Jamaica, Nepal, and South Sudan


Some of the faces of USAID’s work in democracy, human rights and governance from around the world. See our StoryMap at the end to take a virtual trip to the places where all eight of our award-winning photos where shot. / Prasiit Sthapi, Jim Huylebroek, Chamnan Prak, Hank Nelson

USAID believes that advancing fundamental freedoms, promoting democracy, and strengthening human rights around the world reflects the best of who we are as a country. We know from experience that each country’s journey to self-reliance must begin with a free and democratic foundation.

USAID works toward this goal by partnering with governments to meet citizens’ needs, by promoting fairness and justice for all, and by focusing on inclusion of all communities.

Below are eight photos that capture the essence of how USAID works with communities to promote, protect, and deepen democracy, human rights, and governance around the globe. These are winners and finalists of the 2019 USAID/Democracy, Human Rights and Governance (DRG) photo contest; the photos were submitted by implementing partners and USAID field missions, and judged by a panel from USAID/DRG.

1. Providing New Hope Through Learning to Walk

Chamnan Prak, Cambodian Children’s Trust (Photo Contest Winner)

Three-year-old *Sreyna from Battambang Province, Cambodia was thrilled to finally be able to see and learn to walk with the assistance of new glasses and a walking frame. With USAID support, the Family Care First network is supporting social workers and medical outreach teams to visit and assist Sreyna’s family. Now, she can play happily with other children, and her father, *Samnang, said “I now have a new hope for my daughter.” Since 2013, Family Care First, a network of nearly 50 organizations, has helped more than 45,000 families with services — including with assistive technology, educational support, and other health needs — to support children to live in safe and nurturing family-based care.

* Names have been changed for confidentiality.

2. Promoting Cross-Generational Dialogue to End Female Genital Mutilation

Philippa Ndisi-Hermann, USAID (Photo Contest Winner)

A young Samburu girl and clan members gathered during an alternative rite of passage ceremony in 2018. In Samburu and other counties in Kenya, harmful cultural practices like female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriages deny girls access to education and the opportunity to have a voice in matters that are important to them, such as reducing gender-based violence. USAID is encouraging communities to embrace alternative practices for rites of passage. The Koota Injeena (“Come let us talk” in Borana) project works with clan elders and traditional birth attendants — who typically perform female circumcisions — to teach them about the dangers of child marriage and FGM, and facilitate cross-generational dialogues to end it.

3. Encouraging Voter Participation

Jim Huylebroek for Creative Associates International (Photo Contest Finalist)

Zainab, 18, was displaced from Anbar Province, Iraq, and now lives in the Harsham camp for Internally Displaced Persons in Erbil. She voted for the first time in May 2018. Through the Iraq Elections Support Program, part of the larger USAID Governance and Performance Accountability Program, Creative Associates International provided voter education outreach and encouraged participation from internally displaced persons and minorities. The project also worked with 2,635 civil society observers before, during, and after the election to safeguard its legitimacy.

4. Reducing Youth-Perpetrated Crime and Violence

Jamie Barnett/FHI 360 (Photo Contest Finalist)

Representatives from civil society groups, government, and the private sector gathered in St. Ann, Jamaica in December 2018 to vote on priorities for reducing the high levels of youth-perpetrated crime and violence in Clarendon, a parish in the country. The USAID-funded Local Partner Development program, which hosted this activity, is building the capacity of Jamaican social enterprises, community-based and non-governmental organizations, and government entities to become effective, sustainable actors in the effort to improve citizen security and support the country’s journey to self-reliance.

5. Utilizing Partnerships to Counter Violent Extremism

Hank Nelson, USAID (Photo Contest Finalist)

Sofi Gedi, head of Wajir Human Rights Watch, launched the Wajir county action plan on countering violent extremism (CVE). USAID/Kenya’s NiWajibu Wetu program recognizes that women play a key role in CVE initiatives. Through partnerships with local organizations in Nairobi and northeastern Kenya, the program has improved CVE collaboration between women and security forces, sensitized mothers and teachers to the early warning signs of radicalization, and ensured that women’s voices are incorporated into CVE county action plans. To date, the project has launched CVE plans for Garissa, Isiolo, Mandera, and Wajir counties.

6. Restoring Confidence for the Future

Prasiit Sthapit, Humanity & Inclusion (Photo Contest Finalist)

Nishan,14, lost his left leg in a road accident at the age of five in Nepal. In 2012, with support from USAID’s Humanity & Inclusion STRIDE program, Nishan was fitted with a prosthetic leg and received rehabilitation care from a community-based rehabilitation center in Biratnagar, eastern Nepal.The project provided physical rehabilitation services for victims of conflict and other people with disabilities through custom-made prosthetic limbs, orthotic devices and wheelchairs. It also provided counselors for patients’ emotional recovery, which helped renew renewed confidence and hope for their future.

7. Promoting Women Leaders Through Radio

Puot Panyuan, Internews (Photo Contest Finalist)

Margaret Simon Gatluak, a community correspondent (at left) from Internews’ Humanitarian Information Service radio station, Kondial FM in Bentiu, South Sudan, interviewed women leaders from an internally displaced persons camp on International Women’s Day on March 8, 2019. They discussed how they approach problem-solving and overcoming challenges as women leaders. The guests appreciated the role radio plays in creating awareness and providing the community with entertainment and life-saving information. Internews’ Humanitarian Information Service serves the information needs of more than 500,000 people annually in South Sudan.

8. Providing Voter Education

Jim Huylebroek for Creative Associates International (Photo Contest Finalist)

A boy looked at his mother’s ballot as she voted in the May 12, 2018 parliamentary elections in Erbil, Iraq. Through the Iraq Elections Support Program, part of the larger USAID Governance and Performance Accountability Program, Creative Associates International provided voter education and encouraged the participation of internally displaced persons and minorities.

About the Author

Jessica Benton Cooney is the Communications Specialist for USAID’s Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance.



Jessica Benton Cooney
U.S. Agency for International Development

Jessica Benton Cooney is the Senior Communications and Outreach Specialist for USAID’s Center for Democracy, Human Rights and Governance.