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Dispatch from a war zone

As featured in The Marketplace - 2015 - May/June:

Civil disruption has not deterred MEDA from working in global hotspots. The following edited report from a strife-torn region suggests what it’s like to work amid constant danger. For reasons of security the MEDA staffer and her location are not identified.

The country where I lead a women’s empowerment program for MEDA is considered one of the most dangerous on earth. Local strife has caused us to move our office four times in two years. Just getting to the airport to attend a MEDA meeting in Canada was a challenge because a 12-metre hole from an airstrike the previous week had damaged the runway of our airport.

I have seen more change and disruption in two years than most people have seen in 20. Our unusual circumstances produce a high turnover, but members of my staff pledged to stay long enough to make things happen, some for a year or at least enough time to reach a specific target in the project before leaving. I cannot ask more. This is a hard place right now, but as long as the project components are delivered successfully and the clients are happy, then all is fine.

Currently there are increased challenges ­— power cuts, telecom failure, travel difficulties, and threats from religious dogma. But we still operate and carry out monthly networking events facilitated by MEDA staff on our premises. We are running a nationwide gender and ICT (Information and Communications Technology) survey and the women are the ones asking for this. The results will help us work on suitable business development services for them. This is our strong point; this is how we help and are there for our clients.

The spirit of collaboration and common mission is vital. When hostilities heightened and it seemed the international community was abandoning our country — along with many local citizens who could afford to leave — MEDA staff did not give up! We worked from home, in cafes, in our car waiting in the queue to refuel (some fuel lines were five days long!), over the phone, online when we had power and in our bombed office after a stray missile. Why? Because we are passionate about our country’s women and how what we are doing is the building block of a sound society. When women are empowered they improve the lives of people around them.

In the two years of the project so far, we have trained 200 women from various cities. We also mentored and supported hundreds of women in person at our face-to-face business plan support clinics and an equal number online. Throughout this we created a nucleus of networks for them and a place to feel safe and supported in their business entrepreneurship quest.

Their feedback speaks to why MEDA is trusted and credible in this country. Despite the strife and danger, we never left, we kept our word, we followed up and we delivered to make it happen against all odds (not always following plans to the letter but being creative along the way). This would not have been possible without us being there for each other and for the client, whether in head office, senior management or in the field.

Our future is increasingly uncertain. Will the status quo remain? Or will we see a diplomatic resolution and restored normality, along with more opportunities conducive to women’s empowerment? I cannot predict the future but I know I can always count on a spirit of unity and our motivation to serve the client! ◆

Beyond bananas

Cavelle in boatAs featured in The Marketplace - 2016 - May/June:

by Cavelle Dove, Myanmar

I grew up in the most eastern part of Canada, in Newfoundland. My early years were in a very small homogenous rural community, where the most exotic thing that ever happened was that once a month we would drive to a larger centre and buy bananas. Bananas! It was a luxury and a reminder of a larger world somewhere out there.

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Feed them for how long?

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