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Nitin Madhav: Providing U.S. aid to the poor and suffering abroad

Nitin Madhav, officer-in-charge at U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Burma and China Programs
Nitin Madhav, officer-in-charge at U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Burma and China Programs (Photo credit: USAID)
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The Partnership for Public Service
Monday, January 17, 2011; 1:44 PM

From war-torn Afghanistan to Pakistan and Burma, Nitin Madhav of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has been on a mission to improve the lives of those who are suffering and impoverished.

During nearly two decades of work overseas, Madhav has delivered textbooks to 3.5 million Afghan children, worked on an exchange program bringing students from the tribal areas of Pakistan to the United States, and monitored the reconstruction efforts in Burma after a devastating 2008 cyclone.

The work has been extremely rewarding, but often dangerous.

Prior to joining USAID, Madhav was in Rwanda with Doctors of the World working on a child immunization program when he and three colleagues were ambushed by Hutu militiamen. Madhav was the sole survivor, but was seriously wounded and subsequently had a leg amputated at a local hospital.

"I've had some unusual experiences: being shot in Rwanda; having my prosthetic leg break in the middle of a Madagascar forest; flying over the snow-capped mountains of Afghanistan in an old Soviet cargo plane; and chugging down the Irrawaddy River in Burma to visit project sites," said Madhav.

"But I'm very fortunate to have worked on important foreign policy priorities and their underlying social development issues," he said. "I've met compelling people along the way, from those who have lost everything in natural disasters or wars, to heads of states."

In his role as USAID's officer-in-charge for Burma and China programs, Madhav visited Burma after the May 2008 devastating cyclone to monitor U.S. efforts to distribute emergency relief supplies and provide shelter assistance. The cyclone resulted in an estimated 138,000 causalities, blew away hundreds of thousands of homes and destroyed crops, fisheries and livestock that provided the main livelihoods for many of the inhabitants.

"They were living in absolute poverty, and that doesn't even describe the destitution," Madhav said.

In an earlier assignment, Madhav worked with USAID program called "Experience America" that brought students from the tribal area of Pakistan to the United States to learn about American values.

"What most people in Pakistan know about America they get from Hollywood movies or from propaganda," he said. "This program allows the Pakistan students to learn about America for what it is."

The course of Madhav's career changed with the Sept.11, 2001 terrorist attacks when he was assigned to a new USAID Central Asia task force because of his previous work at a United Nations intern with Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

His primary task was creating and delivering 10 million textbooks to 3.5 million Afghan children within a two month period. The books had to be hand-written, photocopied and bound by 2,000 people working in Pakistan, and then delivered throughout Afghanistan.

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