MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

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It's the last day of work, don't be sad just be glad, it's the last day of work. All you Silver Lakers know exactly what I'm talking about... that silly song we sing so we can deal with the sad feelings of leaving camp for the summer. I sang that song as I walked to find a bijaji today, my last day of work at MEDA Tanzania.

I cannot believe it has been nine months, that is absolutely wild to me. The time has flown by. I find myself thinking about the beginning a lot, when I was so incredibly homesick, I considered packing my bag right then and there and flying back to Canada. I remember thinking about how I didn't think I could do this; that I did not have what it takes to live abroad for six months, nevermind extending the time for nine months. Those thoughts seem so silly to me now.

The office here in Tanzania has set seriously high standards for future offices I may work in. The environment here, is exactly what I always hoped for, a place where people not only work together but grow together. Whether it's Goodluck singing to the whole M&E department with Irene and Ngowi joining in, Mwinyi trying to confuse me with people by using their surnames, Lorraine checking in to make sure I was safe on the weekend or while travelling, others teaching me more Swahili phrases that I can never remember that really are just another way to say, "Hey, what's up?" or simply having hilarious conversations over the cubicles that I cannot help but giggle at. Those moments I will take with me always. This is not only an office but it is a family. A family I was lucky enough to be apart of.

I was able to complete my internship with a few days in the field taking pictures of the beneficiaries receiving their vouchers and nets. These are the people and the reasons why we continue to do the work for, these are the people that make every stressful day worth it and the people that are making the most out of the opportunities we are able to provide:

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Asante Sana (A great thank you) to all you at MEDA for making my experience every bit as great as it has been. This year has completely surpassed my expectations and I as I leave the office today, I will never forget all of your happy faces.

ASANTE SANA
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b2ap3_thumbnail_I-was-so-surprised.gifContinuing on this crazy roller coaster of emotions, nights like last night happen and I never want to leave Dar es Salaam. The thing I'm learning about the friends you make abroad is they become your family so quickly. Everyone is so desperate for that community that we all have this instant connection and care for each other. I care so much about all of the people I have met in the past nine months.

A few girlfriends and I had planned dinner for last night. As I was getting ready, I said to Marine..."I don't even really feel like a dinner party tonight!" Honestly, I just wanted to be home, I want to sleep as much time as I could away so I could be back in Canada but I would deal with it and go. We start walking up the stairs and now that I think back about the night, Marine was being SO WEIRD! When I tried to wear yoga pants to the party, she suggested I wear a necklace, she was just so bubbly and weird and as we went to the door, she sort of moved to the side; Why didn't I figure it out?

I walk up the MANY stairs to Madeline's apartment, open the door and was sprayed with an unbelievable amount of silly string!! I was in literal shock. Why were all these people here? Who are all these people? Why are they screaming at me? What do I look like?! My eyes, as per usual, started to fill up, all these people are looking at me and I just want to cry.

b2ap3_thumbnail_My-cake.gifb2ap3_thumbnail_Thank-you-to-all-my-friends-in-Dar-for-throwing-me-such-an-unforgettable-night.gifMy unbelievably, amazing friends had planned a birthday redo surprise party! I had told them about how my birthday was the first weekend in Dar, where I knew no one, did nothing and wanted to fly home. Wow, am I glad I didn't. They went above and beyond to make me feel special and to share a special day with me.

I cannot explain how much last night meant to me. In a short time they went from being people I have dinner with so I don't have to eat alone to people I look up to, people I am inspired by and people I truly care about. It is going to extremely hard to say goodbye to all of these people, and let's be real... I probably won't even do it because it is just too hard but I'm not so scared because I know that with the power of social media (at least) I will be able to keep in touch and watch these magnificent people do incredible things in this world. I can't wait to some day say... "That's my friend!"
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b2ap3_thumbnail_A-waterfall-near-Mt.-Meru.gifIf I had one wish, I would wish for life to be a musical. For anyone who knows me, also knows my love for musicals, although I have less then zero musical talent... I do LOVE it. So many times in life, I have thought, Man, wouldn't it be great if everyone just break out into song right now. Well, it took me 8 and a half months to realize that I am living in just that. Africa, the musical.

It was on my hike through different rural villages up to the waterfall on Mt. Meru that I finally noticed it. Every corner we turn there was a new village home blasting music out of these giant speakers, occasionally with the remix of a Cow's Moo, a Chicken's Cluck and the children's laughter. Tanzania is full of life and showing it through the songs they sing everyday.

When arriving at the waterfall, it was one of those moments where you can feel your soul taking a step back and realizing all that you have been experiencing and for me realizing that my time in Africa was starting to come to an end. Coming to the conclusion that I have made some of the best friends I could ever have imagined, I have learned so much more then ever expected and I have grown incredibly from the first day I arrived here. As we enjoyed the view, Chrissy and I talked about our experiences and what we were both excited and scared for when we got home. It is these moments that make me never want to leave.

The next morning, we wake up early to head out to a horse safari. Riding on the back of College b2ap3_thumbnail_Chrissy-Madeline-on-a-horse-safari.gif(Yes, that was my horse's name), through the large green grass fields, past the zebras and wildebeests, as I listen to the footsteps of the horses my mind began to wander. Starting to imagine all the people I would see at home and thinking about what activities I will get to enjoy this summer. I tried making the day go by faster and faster, which of course only makes it crawl by even slower.

After the horse safari, we were going to make a trip over to a friend's orphanage. Our guide was so gracious to guide us on which dala dala (local bus) to take and where to get off... too bad he didn't' know where he was going. We rode on the first dala dala, being charged mzungu (foreigner) prices for about 30 minutes, when we get off and our guide shows us the school, we realize we are at the completely wrong place. Trying not to waste too much time, we cram into the next dala dala, and I literally mean cram, there were 26 people in this dala dala, which let's be real... it's a 12 person van with a few extra seats. After all these frustrations, we finally make it to the meeting spot, there are the only two other Mzungus, so we know we are in the right place!

b2ap3_thumbnail_Sammy-and-I.gifb2ap3_thumbnail_The-children-performing.gifMaureen, works a Havila Children's Orphanage in Arusha for kids 3-18 years old. She is an absolutely remarkable, inspiring woman dedicating her life to these children and showing them unbelievable love and kindness which was demonstrated as we walked through the gates. Each child came up to introduce themselves to us and welcome us to their home. The kids spoke excellent English and we're full of joy and laughter.

We spent the afternoon listening to them singing a few songs their pastor had taught them as the younger ones show off their dance moves, the kids taking so MANY pictures as they were fascinated with cameras and just hanging around the courtyard getting to enjoy their wonderful personalities. They took us for a walk around the area to the children's library and another children's home. As we're walking, playing the 'Don't step on the Lava game' and learning more about each other, it wasn't too long until the movie 'Frozen' came up and they090 (2) asked me to sing my favourite song. For all of those who know me, again know that there is no chance of me signing in front of them. I tell them, I don't sing but I know this really cool beat, and again... it's the only beat I know. As we're walking back to the village, I teach them the Boom, snap, clap, boom boom, snap, clap and of course, they pick it up way quicker than I ever did. It was an all over, incredible afternoon.

On the walk to meet our driver, my favourite little three year old, comes up beside me and although he can speak barely any English says, "Miss Mary" and puts his tiny arms in the air. I pick him up, holding him so tightly. During that walk to our driver, I cannot help but think about how I never want to leave, this little three year, Sammy has stolen my heart along with all the other children. Every single child, so full of life and so full of laughter, singing their song every step of the way sharing their love with anyone they meet. With Sammy clutching my neck, while I listen to kids shout ' Boom, snap, clap, boom boom, snap, clap' it hits me again... I never want to leave.

My emotions are on the biggest, fastest, scariest roller coaster ride, one minute I'm ready to be on the plane home and the next, I never want to leave. I'm trying my best to enjoy every last second of my time in Tanzania because I know as soon as I leave, I will miss all that I have come to love here but I do have so much to look forward to as soon as I get back into North America. Doing my best to sit back and listen to the whole song before simply skipping to the next track.
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b2ap3_thumbnail_Meeting-with-processors.gifOne of the main objectives of the GROW project is to build the capacities of our Lead Farmers – female farmers who are chosen to represent their women's groups – so that they will have the skills to maintain their practices as entrepreneurs even after the project is completed in their communities.

This process can also be very empowering for the women: teaching agricultural practices to ensure their soybean crops produce good yields, providing communities with gender sensitization to avoid stereotypes, demonstrating different ways of using soybean to benefit their families, and promoting group savings accounts so women can manage their own funds.

One of the most recent examples of both capacity building and empowerment was last week – a select number of Lead Farmers were brought to Tamale for two days to participate in the Pre-Season Forum, an agricultural event that brings together different actors in the soybean value chain. The Lead Farmers were able to attend discussions, network, and observe demonstrations of farming technology.
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The following day, the group was taken to meet with a shea processor, and learn about the details of collecting the fruit, making it into butter, packaging it and selling it to buyers. Although the GROW project focusses on soybean production, an important element is maintaining the farmers' businesses throughout the year – this may mean engaging in other income generating activities, especially during the dry season, after soy is cultivated.

After these two days of introducing the farmers to different people, as well as new agricultural innovations, MEDA held a small reception at the office. Over biscuits and juice, the women were asked what their most memorable moment was during their stay, or something interesting they had learned. For many women, visiting Tamale was their favourite part – some of them had never travelled from their communities to the town. For others, the highlight was attending an event with different people involved in agriculture. Many Lead Farmers left with contacts of other farmers and links to input suppliers. Another element they enjoyed was meeting each other. Although they are all part of the GROW project, the selected Lead Farmers were from different communities of the Upper West Region. They were happy to meet other women like themselves b2ap3_thumbnail_At-the-reception-at-the-MEDA-office-talking-about-their-experiences.gifand share their experiences.

Regardless of what their most memorable experience was, the emphasis lies in the fact that the women were chosen to participate because MEDA believes in them – in their skills and capabilities, both as farmers and as women. Providing them this sense of accomplishment is almost more important than providing them with something tangible. It is with this confidence that the Lead Farmers will go forward in their communities and truly embrace their multifaceted identities as mother, business person, farmer and woman, and continue to be the role models MEDA knows they are.
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b2ap3_thumbnail_Lake-Kivu.gifb2ap3_thumbnail_Gisenyi.gifGood news! I made it to Rwanda, after the longest journey I was finally able to step onto Rwandan soil. The first words when I got into the taxi were, "How was the flight?" All I could do was laugh and reply, "A little long but good."

The beauty in Rwanda is undeniable. I can tell you about the lush, green rolling hills or the clean streets of Kigali but the true beauty lies in the hearts of the people. As frustrated I became with the Airport Authorities, I certainly did not expect the warm welcome I received from the Rwandan people. Every interaction I had with a Rwandan person, I find myself leaving with such a huge smile, from taxi drivers to mamas in the village to the kids on the streets, I loved all of them. Every single person was able to show and teach me about their life with nothing but kindness.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Me-Chrissy-and-Marine-so-excited-to-all-be-together-again.gifWe were all lucky enough to have my friend, Marine with us on the trip. Marine works for the Rwandan Development Board and Gorilla Conservation, she was so gracious to plan many cultural activities for all of us to enjoy throughout the trip. We watched some Rwandan dancers entertain a crowd of people, had a city tour of Gisenyi, checked out the local hot springs, made banana beer and so much more. Between her and Chrissy, I was free from all planning, which for those of you who know me, understand how much of a dream this was for me. I was able to sit back and enjoy every second of it.

The highlight of the trip was without a doubt going to see the Gorillas. Every time I try something new here, I find myself saying I have never experience something so amazing, which isn't quite the case but they all have their very unique qualities that make it so extra special, this one was no expectation. We had a short hike into the mountains before we approached the Gorillas, 100 meters from them we prepared, leaving all of our bags, walking sticks and basically everything but our cameras with the guards. We slowly walked past the great Silver back to get a better view of all of them enjoying their daily activities. With two short grunts the guards were able communicate with the Silverback to assure him we were harmless, simply their to observe. Learning to speak gorilla was MUCH easier then my attempt at learning Swahili.

We were only allowed one hour with the gorillas, so we did our best to make it count. Yes, we took as many pictures of possible, on our cameras, our phones, anything that could capture that image but by now I have definitely learned that no matter how great the image nothing can beat the real experience. So remembering, the importance of taking it all in from my picture scare after the safari, I made sure I took a few moments to put down the camera and enjoy the moment. These creatures were incredible. So humanlike in every aspect; the young ones rambunctiously wrestling with each other or imitating the Silverbacks chest pounds, the teen adults lazily laying in the sun wanting nothing to do with the others, the parents so lustfully looking after the young ones. Everything about them was amazing.

b2ap3_thumbnail_A-Silverback-gorilla.gifb2ap3_thumbnail_A-Silverback-with-a-young-gorilla.gifOn Monday, it was time to go back to Dar es Salaam. After a nightmare of a trip down, I ended up having one of the most amazing experiences with some of the most wonderful people. Then, they hit me with the news... I had no return ticket. I couldn't even believe my ears, I knew it was all good to be true.

Even with the stress I once again had to deal with at the airport, I was not going to let it bring down the trip. After some back and fourth banter, and pulling up every email I could find to help me, I was finally able to convince them to give me a ticket. Yes, of b2ap3_thumbnail_Young-adult-gorillas-playing.gifb2ap3_thumbnail_The-wonderful-people-I-got-to-share-with-this-amazing-experience.gifcourse there were a few tears... but come on, you can't even deny it doesn't help me. I think tears my be my superpower... at least to some heartwarming Africans.
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