MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field
Stephanie has an undergraduate degree in Global Studies from Wilfrid Laurier University and is currently completing a postgraduate certificate in International Development from Humber College. She was born in Toronto, Ontario and has grown up in Oakville, Ontario.  Stephanie has a wide range of interests within international development. In 2012, she spent three months working in Ghana with The Ark Foundation, an organization specializing in women’s rights and empowerment. She was also selected to participate in a United Nations Conference on the Post 2015 Millennium Development Goals in New York City this past February. Furthermore, she has spent the past five years volunteering with Free the Children and has worked on a number of their campaigns. Stephanie loves to travel and is very passionate about helping others as well as learning about different cultures. She is very excited and grateful for the opportunity to be a part of MEDA and work with the EDGET program in Ethiopia.

An Interesting Christmas

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International development work has it perks for sure, but one of its downfalls is that you are often away from your loved ones for quite some time and are out of the loop with what is going on back at home. I try not to dwell on what I am missing and try and live in the present, soaking up as much of this experience as I can, but there are times when it is difficult. I'm sure we have all been there and being away from my family for Christmas was one of those times for me. For some, missing Christmas may not be a big deal, but in my family, it is probably the biggest event of the year. There is tons of food, music, and it really is the only time family from all over the globe can be together. This was my first Christmas away from home.Thankfully, (in ways) work was hectic, so I really did not have much time to think about it and before I knew it, Christmas was only days away. It was strange for Clara and I – we were not only in a tropical climate away from home, but Ethiopia does not celebrated Christmas the same time we do. They celebrate Orthodox Christmas, which is about two weeks later, so not much was going on for our Christmas. With that being said, we still tried to make the best of it. We decorated our home with Christmas lights and ornaments, and blasted Christmas songs while at home. We both managed to get Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off, so we had time to relax and watch an abundance of Christmas movies.On Christmas day, our work invited us for a special Christmas coffee ceremony and even gave us adorable Christmas buddies (a reindeer and a snowman). I truly appreciated their effort to make our Christmas as special as they could for us, especially since it wasn't their own Christmas. Even though we were far away from home, it helped to be around friends.Perhaps the highlight of the day (besides saying Merry Christmas to our family back at home) was going to the movie theatre to watch the new Hobbit movie! Clara and I did a marathon that week and were ecstatic that it was actually showing at the movie theatre here. We thought it was a pretty great way to spend Christmas.Even though I was not with back at home with my family this Christmas, I wouldn't say I was alone. MEDA and Clara were my family this year and I am so grateful to have celebrated Christmas with them. It is times like these that you really appreciate the relationships you've created and realize that family can come in different forms.I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and New Year's. Thank you to everyone who made mine special and unforgettable.
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Travelled Centuries Back In Time

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After the week of work visiting clients in Bahir Dar, Clara joined me and we did some touristy things...First Stop: Blue Nile FallsAlso known as "Tis Isat, the "Smoke of Fire" waterfall is near the Tis Abay town situated about 30 km downstream from the town of Bahir Dar and Lake Tana. The Blue Nile Falls are considered one of Ethiopia's greatest natural spectacles and is the second largest waterfall in Africa (next to Victoria Falls).The town was busy when we arrived late that Saturday morning. It was Market Day. Once we got through the crowds we trekked 1.5 hours up the mountain to the falls. I don't hike, not alone with high altitude, the scorching sun and sharing the path with dozens of cows. Needless to say, it was a mission and it would not have been complete without stepping in cow dung and nearly being trampled a few times. Haha – it was still worth it. Even though it was very busy, we got to see the falls in its full form (sometimes there is little water, due to the dam). I was so hot, I seriously considered jumping in it, but I refrained, knowing it would not end well.Second Stop: The Lalibela ChurchesOn the Sunday, we boarded a plane for Lalibela to see the UNESCO heritage site of the 11 monotheistic rock-hewn churches.These churches were attributed to King Lalibela who, in the 12th century, set out to construct a 'New Jerusalem', after Muslim conquests halted Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land. Due to this, Lalibela is one of Ethiopia's holiest cities, especially for the Ethiopian Orthodox community.The churches were not constructed — they were excavated. Each church was created by carving into the ground to form the churches from the inside and out. The largest church is 40 feet high.Going from Bahir Dar, a lush, green paradise to Lalibela, a rocky, mountainous desert was quite a drastic change, but not any less spectacular.The churches of Lalibela are unlike anything I have ever seen. The most impressive was Bet Giorgis (St. George) church. It is cut 40 feet down and its roof forms the shape of a Greek cross. It was built after Lalibela's death (c.1220) by his widow as a memorial to the saint-king. It was breathtaking... no, literally! All the walking, up and down stone hills, through caves and across bridges nearly killed me. That weekend was a work out.All the churches were so beautiful and it really was a privilege to witness something so sacred to the Ethiopian Orthodox Christians and Orthodox Christians around the world.This weekend was the first major touristy trip we did and I am glad we did it. Ethiopia is often not given much thought, but it truly has a lot to offer, you just have to look for it.
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Increasing Sustainable Economic Growth = Improved Livelihoods

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In early November, I woke bright and early to catch a seven AM flight. When I arrived at the airport, I traveled 1.5 hours to visit three EDGET clients; a Farmers Field Schools Group and 2 rice processors. Each had a different story to tell about their progress, challenges and success. It was amazing to finally be able to connect the information I gathered for reports and see how the project is impacting client's lives first hand.Knowledge is Power- Farmers Field School GroupIn a town called Libo, I walked through hectares and hectares of farmland for what seemed to be hours. I almost stepped on a snake and screamed really loud, which provided entertainment for the rest of the staff. Eventually, I reach a series of huts and the group of farmers. This was one of EDGET's Farmer Field School (FFS) Groups.Farmers Field Schools is an EDGET initiative that gives farmers the opportunity to view demonstrations and experiment of improved farming techniques. Members then share what they learned and their results with their Farmers Field School group members and neighbouring farmers.Even though they were shy at first, the men opened up to me about their experiences with FFS and described how they have used the new technologies to improve their rice production, increase their businesses and ultimately create a better life for themselves and their families.Balay- Improved Technologies= Increased SuccessAfter the farmers group, I visited a processor named Balay. Balay provides a rice processing service for neighbouring farmers. Due to the training sessions and opportunities he has received from MEDA through the EDGET program, his business is a huge success. He also recently bought a rice processing machine on a cost-sharing basis with MEDA – it combines a number of steps into one. The machine produces higher quality rice, which increases the value and ultimately the profit.Balay believes this machine will be a great investment for his business and his future."This machine will not only benefit me as a processor, but because it increases the quality of rice, the farmers will benefit as well by receiving a greater income for the rice they produced."From Fields to MarketsThe last person we visited was Momina, a rice processor, turned parboiler turned business woman. Momina has been a rice processor with EDGET for a number of years but in 2013, she decided to parboil rice as well. Parboiling is an additional step in processing rice that increases the nutritional value and quality.Momina has used EDGET's training on market linkages to sell her rice in local markets and several supermarkets in Addis. She has not only put parboiled rice on the market but has also shown the value of women as key players and entrepreneurs in the rice industry.
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Almost 2 months down!

I cannot believe I have been in Ethiopia for nearly 2 months already. It's crazy! The past few weeks have been pretty uneventful – going out from time to time and working lots. EDGET has been in the middle of report season so the office has been in full swing. I am also excited to report that this week I will going out to Bahir Dar, a city north of Addis to work with MEDA's office there.For those of you who are still a little unsure of what it is exactly I do here, I thought that this would be good opportunity to give you a little more background on EDGET (the project I am working with), as I will be going out to the field and meeting some of our clients in a couple of days.Ethiopians Driving Growth through Entrepreneurship and Trade (EDGET) is a 5-year pro-poor, value chain development project that is funded by Global Affairs Canada (GAC). We aim to increase the income of 10,000 rice farmers and textile artisans by giving improved technologies, training on better farming techniques, business skills and creating access to local markets and business partnerships. Currently we have approximately 8,000 client farmers in the Amhara Region and Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples' Region (SNNPR) and 2,000 textile clients in Addis Ababa and SNNPR.So, what am I going to be doing in Bahir Dar? I am going to be visiting our MEDA office there, which is situated in the Amhara Region, and following up on three of our rice farmer clients in the surrounding villages. Basically, I will visit each site and interview the clients on how their business as rice farmers has been, what are the challenges they have faced and how they have benefited from participating in the EDGET project. With the information gathered, I will then conduct some briefs to explain the situation for some donors visiting MEDA Ethiopia next week.On Friday, Clara is going to come meet me in Bahir Dar and we are going to take this chance to explore a bit of Bahir Dar and some touristy sites: Lake Tana, the origin of the Nile and Blue Nile Falls. Then we are hopping on a plane to Lalibela, home to one of the world's most astounding sacred sites – eleven rock-hewn churches.I have a busy and slightly stressful week ahead, including the dreaded 5am airport visit tomorrow, but hopefully it will be worth it!
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I Am Thankful for Canadian Healthcare!

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Thanksgiving weekend...usually a time I would get together with family and stuff my face with way to much turkey, resulting in a comatose state for the next 24 hours. However, this year's Canadian Thanksgiving was a little different and ended up being two polar extremes – as you can probably figure out, it concluded in a not so festive fashion.It started out great, and rather unexpected. As many of my fellow Waterlooers and German friends know, around this time of year, Oktoberfest happens. Oktoberfest is basically a German event focused celebrating German food, music and culture. Being in Waterloo for my undergrad years, which has a huge population of Germans, allowed me to become quite acquainted with this annual celebration.It did not even cross our minds that Oktoberfest would be celebrated here, in Addis of all places! But low and behold, we found out that the Hilton Hotel was organizing an Oktoberfest event on the weekend! Who would have thought?After running around trying to find last minute tickets, we made it. I was ecstatic – it reminded me of being back in Waterloo again. The Hilton set up at tent in the back of the hotel and had different types of vendors, a huge Oktoberfest themed buffet (sausages, pretzels, the works!) and even had a German Polka band! We met up with some friends, enjoyed the event and even danced with some Austrian diplomats till the early hours.Sunday was pretty uneventful, but I cannot say the same for Thanksgiving Monday. My roommate Clara had been pretty weak and out of sorts for a couple days so when she started having pain and could barely stand up, we got worried. On Monday, I left work early to take her to the hospital with Ferkadu. First we went to a Swedish clinic specifically for expats and after several lab tests and hundreds of US dollars later, they still could not figure out what was wrong. To rule out appendix, they sent us to an imaging centre all the way across town to get an ultrasound as they are a very small clinic. After a couple hours, we found out it was not appendix but they still could not figure out what was wrong so we went back to the clinic for further tests. Due to some questionable blood results, the doctors sent us to the Korean Hospital for further investigation. The Korean Hospital is known to be a relatively reputable hospital that many people go to, but it was in the next town over, just outside of Addis. Keep in mind we had been on this quest for already 4 hours and poor Clara was barely surviving.This is where I want to talk a bit about the underdevelopments of Ethiopia's transportation system. There is road construction everywhere and no traffic lights. This can easily make a 30-minute commute a couple of hours, especially at night. After being in bumper to bumper traffic for an hour and a half, we get to the hospital. The Korean Hospital is a large hospital that was built by the South Koreans around 20 or so years ago. Even though it is considered one of the better ones, we were not impressed. Not only had the doctor we were supposed to see already left for the day, but poor Clara had to go through all the lab tests again and then we waited for the results for another 4 or so hours. I was terrified that Clara had to do a procedure there. I tried to keep in mind that this is a developing country, but when I saw ill people waiting around for hours and in less than acceptable sanitary conditions, I was terrified.Several hours later we got the test results (finally!). It was just a bad infection and they sent Clara home with antibiotics. I was thankful that it was nothing serious and Ferkadu drove us home (he stayed with for the entire time!). It was 11 pm by the time we got home, making it 8 hours and countless miles just to find a diagnosis.I have waited longer for medical assistance in a Canadian hospital but just seeing the conditions of the medical facilities, spending hundreds of dollars and driving around Addis for different tests, makes me NEVER want to get sick here. I never thought I would say this but thank goodness for Canadian healthcare.Regardless, Clara got the help she needed. I know it could have been much, much worse. Even though this Thanksgiving turned out to be less than ideal, I am thankful. I am thankful for the amazing friends we met and had a great time with them weekend. I am also eternally grateful for all our amazing MEDA colleagues that helped us make sure that Clara got help on Monday. Ethiopia has its ups and downs, just like any other country (healthcare being a major downfall), but having a support system definitely softens the blow.
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Exploring Addis

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When we arrived in Ethiopia, it was the day before the Ethiopian New Year so the city was in full swing. Ethiopian New Year is celebrated on September 11th. This is because Ethiopia traditionally follows the Coptic calendar that is 7 years and eight months behind the Western Gregorian Calendar, making this year 2007! I know, a little strange to think about, just because it's different. I was taken back when I saw "Happy 2007" flash across the screen!Ethiopian New Year is a national holiday and basically the entire country shuts down for it. It is considered a private event, spent with family and lots of food. Even though this is considered a quite affair, the MEDA staff still wanted us to experience it and introduce us to what this celebration was all about. So my supervisor, Balay, invited Clara and I to his home on New Years to celebrate with his family. Here we experienced an array of different types of traditional Ethiopian food eaten more so on special occasions. It was incredibly special that he invited us to such a private event and his family was so friendly, sharing with us all they love about Ethiopia. We will be forever grateful for being able to be a part of such an eye-opening and wonderful event.On the Saturday, our country director, Doris, invited us for another Ethiopian celebration at her home. It felt like Thanksgiving to me because we had turkey (they call it soft chicken), stuffing and even cranberry sauce. I could not believe it! We were so incredibly spoiled with so much food that weekend – I'm not complaining! This celebration made me feel like I took a piece of home with me, which was very comforting.Skip ahead a week, we experienced our first week working in the MEDA office, getting to know the projects and being introduced to all the staff. It has been information overload! Learning all about the projects, the process of how things are done and actually working an 8-5 job will definitely take getting used to. I know it will certainly take some time to adjust and besides being completely exhausted and ready to crash as soon as we get home, I am enjoying it so far!This past weekend has been low key, which I think we both appreciated. This past Saturday, Fekadu who is one of MEDA's amazing drivers, took us on a tour of the city. I did not realize Addis was as big as it is; granted, we have only really travelled a few blocks around the office and our house. I was just amazed! Addis, which is considered one of the hot spots in Africa for political and economic conversation and development (the African Union headquarters is also station here), also manages to maintain a lot of beauty, history and culture. Probably my highlight of the tour was driving up Mount Entoto, the mountain surrounding the city. Addis is a busy and rapidly developing country but when looking down on it from on top of the mountain provided a different view and pictures just do not do it justice. Addis is beautiful!
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Arrival in Addis Ababa

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Two months ago I had no idea what my next step was going to be as a new professional in international development, not alone what part of the world I was going to end up in! It only really hit me once we landed. All I could see outside the airplane window was large green rolling hills. I knew then that I had definitely left Toronto! I was so relieved that we had arrived safely and was very eager to get off of the plane as I had been sitting for 13.5 hours straight! After exiting the airport, I felt like I was in a completely different world. One thing I automatically noticed is the drastic difference in wealth among the people. Ethiopia has a population of approximately 94 million, making it the most populous landlocked country. Ethiopia is also one of the world's poorest nations. According to the UNDP's 2013 human development index, Ethiopia ranks 173 out of 187 countries and 40% of its population lives on less than US $1.25 a day. Roads are shared with livestock and due to the fast growing economy there is construction in every possible direction. It was especially busy the day we arrived because it was the day before Ethiopian New Year. Even though it is a very busy city, I consider Addis to be very beautiful. There are lush palm trees and when the clouds clear, the view of the hills is beautiful.Once we arrived at our house our lovely landlady, Tsedey had a coffee ceremony for us. I knew that coffee is a staple in Ethiopia but what I did not know is that the coffee ceremony is an integral part of Ethiopian social and cultural life. An invitation to a ceremony is considered a mark of friendship and represents great hospitality. The process consisted of roasting the coffee beans over a tiny charcoal stove, with incense burning. Tsedey then took the beans and let us smell them from the stove before grinding them with a pestle and mortar. After, the grounded coffee beans were put in a special boiling pot called a jebena that strains and boils the coffee and water. Once the coffee was ready, Tsedey served it to us with homemade popcorn (which I later realized is a common part of the coffee ceremony). Some coffee ceremonies may be slightly different from the one I experienced but for the most part, they follow similar steps. One thing is certain, Ethiopian coffee is fantastic!It is a lot cooler here than I expected. September is still considered to be a part of the rainy season so it rains on and off daily while also dropping in temperature, especially at night. In the evening of the day we arrived, the other intern Clara and I woke up freezing and with no electricity (also common). So we had to improvise and make oatmeal over a gas stove and eat it out of mugs while huddled in our blankets. Our first day in Ethiopia was definitely an adventure, to say the least!When I applied for the Communication and Program Support Intern position for MEDA's EDGET program, I had no idea that I would be where I am today. I am very pleasantly surprised that I was offered the position! I am very excited to start this new chapter of my life and to be a part of the amazing work MEDA does. I am truly passionate about working towards sustainable development, creating hope and giving people the skills, resources and opportunities to create positive change for themselves. I hope to not only develop my professional skills but also take this time to reflect on my personal development and growth. This will be one whirlwind of an experience and while it may not be all sunshine and roses, I will give my all and take everything in.
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