Inspirational Women from six countries honored in D.C. for local development success

By Jillian Slutzker

September 15, 2016

Nigerian honoree Rabia Eshak (center) was honored for her efforts to bring quality education to all of Nigeria’s children, especially girls. She is pictured above with Earl Gast, Senior Vice President of Education and Economic Growth at Creative, and Creative’s CEO Charito Kruvant.

Six inspirational women from around the world were recognized for their leadership and achievement of local development efforts at the “In Her Hands” book launch and awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 13.

As government officials, educators, communicators and community leaders, these six women hailing from El SalvadorHonduras, Jordan, NigeriaPakistan and Syria represent a group of 14 honorees selected as Inspirational Women by Creative Associates International. Launched by Creative’s Co-Founder and CEO Charito Kruvant, the initiative sought to identify and honor women around the world for their vision, energy and results related to the organization’s mission.

“We’re here to celebrate the success of development at the most local level,” said Kruvant, speaking at the event.  The honorees “put the passion, commitment and the urgency into what needs to get done.”

Held at the Ronald Reagan Building, the event was attended by more than 120 development professionals, U.S. and foreign government representatives and others.

To read the honorees’ stories, visit

Use #InHerHands to join the conversation on Twitter.

Strong partnerships for a common mission

“This award is not for me but for all the people who fight in their neighborhoods and who get up every day dreaming a different dream.”

Miriam Canales, honoree from Honduras

As on-the-ground partners of projects funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development or U.S. State Department and implemented by Creative, these women are critical to the success and sustainability of education reform and peacebuilding initiatives.

But this cooperation goes beyond partnerships on paper, noted Kruvant.

“We’re all following a common mission,” she said.

For example, the Mayor of Cojutepeque, El Salvador, Lupita Serrano, has made it her personal and professional mission to create alternative, positive pathways away from violence for the city’s youth and spearhead a whole-of-community approach to crime reduction.

Her efforts have been strengthened by teaming up with the El Salvador Crime and Violence Prevention Project—funded by USAID and implemented by Creative and local partners. Through citywide violence prevention activities, she has helped her city reduce its homicide rate and create more avenues for young people to build a future, off the streets and away from violence.

“It is thanks to [USAID and Creative] that other mayors and I have been working in a better way so our citizens can live in safe and peaceful environments,” said Serrano, as she accepted her award.

By supporting local leaders like Serrano to rally their communities for positive change, USAID, Creative and its partners are helping to ensure that progress is sustainable long after projects have closed.

Jordanian honoree Mary Tadros (left) has helped to catalyze systemic change to improve public education in Jordan. She is pictured with Christie Vilsack (right), Senior Advisor for International Education at USAID.

In Jordan, honoree Mary Tadros has been at the helm of systemic change to the education system and policy to improve learning and teaching—carrying on efforts she undertook as part of the Education Reform Support Program. Thousands of Jordanian students have benefited from these reforms.

Mary herself was a major catalyst for this change, though she attributes much of her success to the collaboration with her international partners.

“You have created a program that is sustainable and continues to serve the children of Jordan,” she said, speaking to familiar faces at the event of those who had supported the program.

Representing a new face for their countries

Many of the honorees’ countries more often make international headlines for conflict and poverty than progress and prosperity. For them, being named one of Creative’s Inspirational Women represents a chance to share a different, more positive narrative about their homes.

Hailing from Honduras’ most violent city, San Pedro Sula, honoree Miriam Canales is determined to change that reputation and to give young people a reason to be hopeful about their futures at home, rather than attempt a dangerous and uncertain migration north.

As the Northern Region Program Coordinator for Alianza Joven Honduras-USAID—funded USAID and implemented by Creative—she oversees 37 neighborhood youth Outreach Centers, which provide thousands of at-risk youth with opportunities for education, recreation, personal growth and job skills training off the streets and away from gang violence. She believes her tireless work in some of the most dangerous neighborhoods will help realize her dream for her country’s youth.

“We want to be seen around the world in a different way with a different image,” Canales said at the event. “This award is not for me but for all the people who fight in their neighborhoods and who get up every day dreaming a different dream.”

Honoree Sarwat Jahan shared her story of spreading messages of peace across some of Pakistan’s most divided areas. She signed copies of the book after accepting her award.

This dream is all too familiar to honoree Sarwat Jahan. A native of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Jahan knows well the challenges of violent extremism facing her country and the international reputation this has earned her nation.

While it is not easy for anyone, let alone a woman, in her country to try to change traditional mindsets or extremist beliefs, Jahan is determined to spread messages of peace around Pakistan and build inclusivity rather than stoke divisions.

During nine-year career with Creative, Jahan was instrumental in linking the private sector, peace organizations and government officials with efforts to counter terrorism and extremism. In the process, she fought for women’s empowerment by bringing women-led organizations into lead roles in these networks.

Extremism might make the news, but as Jahan stressed in her speech, this is only one side of the story.

“Extremism is becoming a big challenge, but our country is full of good, loving people…. My mission is to spread this message,” she said, adding that the support from international partners buoys her efforts and those of other peacebuilders like her.

Overcoming the odds, fighting for others

“The notion of mankind has become wider, more diverse and inclusive toward social groups that until recently are underrepresented, marginalized and persecuted even. Women have been key to instituting these changes, and they continue to be key.”

Sharon Cooley, Director of Business Development at Creative

Collectively, Creative’s 14 honorees have changed tens of thousands of lives as they have transformed education systems, helped to stem crime and violence, expanded opportunities for women and youth, and amplified calls for peace in conflict-plagued areas.

More remarkably, they have achieved these successes despite conflict, significant obstacles and gender barriers in their communities and countries.

Speaking at the Sept. 13 ceremony, U.S. Representative Nita Lowey described the honorees as having “courage.”

“In spite of all kinds of challenges and sadness and threats to their community, they become heroic to meet those challenges,” Rep. Lowey said.

One honoree who has faced cultural and systemic challenges is Nigeria’s Rabia Eshak.

Throughout her more than 30-year career in education in Northern Nigeria, she has been an indefatigable advocate for providing all children access to quality education—despite everything standing in the way, including most recently Boko Haram-inflicted violence and intimidation of teachers and students.

Nigeria also has the highest number of out-of-school children in the world. The average girl leaves the classroom when she is 9 years old.

Eshak’s work has been instrumental in expanding access to quality of education to thousands of children, and especially young girls who are more likely than their male peers to drop out or never go to school.

As deputy director of the USAID-funded and Creative-implemented Northern Education Initiative, she worked to bring more girls into classrooms and improve education quality for children in Islamic schools, who too often are taught to recite the Quran but kept illiterate.

“I have had opportunities to become what I am today because of education. Without education hardly anything can be done,” said Eshak, accepting her award in Washington.

Syrian honoree Hala Khairalla said she is committed to being a voice for peace and hopes to help bring an end to the violence that has torn her country apart.

Syrian honoree Hala Khairalla also knows what it’s like to take on seemingly insurmountable challenges and work through conflict to support others.

She was a college student in March 2011 when civil war broke out. As residents lived in fear and without a reliable source of information, she started reporting critical news from the streets of Aleppo. She knew she was putting her life on the line to ensure that the story was heard around the world.

While covering a protest, she was shot by soldiers. Gravely wounded and under arrest, she recovered in a hospital. After authorities released her from the hospital, she resumed her reporting and today is the head of Radio Nasaeem, the first woman-owned independent radio station broadcasting in Syria.

“My purpose was to get my voice to reach every person listening to radio in Syria,” said Khairalla.

And despite the dangers faced by journalists daring to report accurate news and dispatch messages to civilians caught in the crossfire, Khairalla remains steadfastly committed to her work.

“This award means a great deal to me because as I speak, there is a lot of violence and people are dying. I hope to end that,” she said.

Sharing their stories to inspire others

The honorees have inspired thousands in their communities. With the launch of “In Her Hands,” Creative aims to bring their inspirational stories to others striving for positive change across the globe.

This initiative celebrates the collective reach of these 14 women, as well as the millions of others whose stories are yet untold.

“The notion of mankind has become wider, more diverse and inclusive toward social groups that until recently are underrepresented, marginalized and persecuted even,” said Sharon Cooley, Director of Business Development at Creative, in her closing remarks. “Women have been key to instituting these changes, and they continue to be key.”

All photos by Erick Gibson.

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