The most powerful attraction is MEDA’s Ethiopia team – their hospitality, dedication to the development of their country, intelligence, and the humility with which they approach their work that reminds me of our Mennonite members in Waterloo. It is precisely the support they provide me for all my assignments in Ethiopia and the diligence with which they follow up that strengthens my belief that great results are possible only with great teams.
The most powerful attraction is MEDA’s Ethiopia team – their hospitality, dedication to the development of their country, intelligence, and the humility with which they approach their work that reminds me of our Mennonite members in Waterloo. It is precisely the support they provide me for all my assignments in Ethiopia and the diligence with which they follow up that strengthens my belief that great results are possible only with great teams.
“I never thought that these kind of days would come for me and my daughter. I never thought weaving would change our lives like this!” – Werkinesh Wade
MEDA launched its first project in Ethiopia in December 2010, Ethiopians Driving Growth through Trade and Entrepreneurship (EDGET), a rice and textile value chain project funded by Global Affairs Canada. The project aimed to increase incomes for 10,000 men and women farmers and textile producers in three regions of Ethiopia: Amhara, Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region, and Addis Ababa. EDGET, which means ‘progress’ in the Amharic language, concentrated on integrating smallholder rice farmers and textile artisans into high value markets through increased market linkages and enhanced productivity....
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.
Mombasa is a coastal city on the Indian Ocean and is the second largest city in Kenya. Historically it was a vital port city for trade. We had to adjust quickly to a new language (Swahili), currency (Kenyan Shillings), transportation (Kenyans drive on the other side of the road) and so on. Our first time in one of the grocery stores was eye-opening. There was much more variety and selection compared to what's available in Addis. We were also very excited about the nice cafes, restaurants, and the mall in Nyali. From a development perspective, I began to notice quickly the differences between Ethiopia and Kenya. Ethiopia follows a state-led development model, and the government protects the economy from foreign franchises. Kenya, on the other hand, has scaled back the role of the state, liberalized markets and embraced a Western model of development.
Our time in Mombasa was short and sweet. We didn't travel around too much, but mainly relaxed by the beach, ate food we can't find in Addis, and spent time getting to know the guests at our hostel. Our stay at the hostel was pretty unique. The owner recently moved into the current house a few months ago, so it didn't feel like home yet and was missing her personal touches. We were there when artwork, curtains, and the like were being put up. To see her and express that she was coming alive again, was something that excited me. I'm all for pursuing things, opportunities and people in life that make you come alive. Of course we all go through different seasons, some much more difficult than others. But ensuring that there's life in what you do, is vital.
During our trip, I was reading a book called "The Me I Want To Be" by John Ortberg. It's a timely read, because I've experienced many challenges, opportunities to grow and self-discover throughout this internship. If there's one thing that I realized recently, it's this: for some time I got lost in questions and uncertainty about the future, which made me doubt my dreams, passions and capabilities. It's a downward spiral if you don't quickly realize there's a process to figuring it all out. And answers don't always come quickly or conveniently. Being confident and certain in who I am in my faith in the Lord, regardless of circumstances, is what will keep me grounded. A quote from the book that I love is this, "life is not about any particular achievement or experience. The most important task of your life is not what you do, but who you become."
It's already nearing the end of January, which means I have less than two months left. It feels like there isn't enough time to get everything done, so it's crunch time! I'm excited to go to the field next week and spend time collecting most significant change (MSC) stories from our clients. My sister wrote in her Christmas card to me: "There's no CAP to what you can learn there." I want to hold onto this. Each day, there are new things to learn from different people, opportunities, and situations. There is no cap!
Back at home, the month of December is usually filled with reflection, travel, and celebration. I usually travel to the US to visit family and friends or attend a church retreat to conclude the year. My family usually doesn't have extravagant Christmas traditions, we just enjoy each other's presence.
Over the month of December, Steph and I decorated our house with lights, paper trees, and ornaments. And this past Tuesday, I had some friends over for a Christmas dinner party. I made pork chops, sausages, mashed potatoes, and roasted vegetables. It was nice having company over for the first time. Some of my friends said that they felt like they weren't in Ethiopia with the food, decorations, and Christmas music. The next day, Christmas Eve, Steph and I were off work. We got two days off to celebrate our holiday, but technically Christmas in Ethiopia is in January. We had a nice Christmas Eve dinner and watched the Hobbit at home. Waking up on Christmas morning, I had a nice post-it note stuck on my door from Steph, reading, "Merry Christmas!" with a cute reindeer doodled on it. We had pancakes and fruit for brunch, exchanged gifts, and watched Home Alone – a classic. In the afternoon we went to the office for a nice Christmas coffee ceremony our staff had put together for us. We had coffee, cake, and received a nice gift from our staff. I really appreciate their thoughtfulness and for celebrating Christmas with us, even though they celebrate in January. Our evening was spent calling home to say Merry Christmas. We also watched the Hobbit at the movie theatre and had a nice Christmas dinner in Bole.
I'm really thankful to be in country with Steph – we made Christmas the best we could, even though we're both far from our families. There's just a few months left of this internship, and I don't think I would have made it this far without her support and friendship. As we near the end of 2014, a new year is just around the corner. I'm always excited for a new year, because it's a fresh start and I gather together hopes and dreams for another year. The year 2014 has had its ups and downs, and at the beginning of the year I never would've thought I'd be in Ethiopia working with MEDA. Now that it's the end of the year, I can say that despite this year's challenges, all of the obstacles and experiences have helped me grow as a person – and being on this internship has contributed much to this growth.
First Stop: Blue Nile Falls
Also 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 Churches
On 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.
I went on a field visit in the South for a few days with Lauren Good from MEDA's DC office and an E-FACE colleague, Wondwossen. It was a really eye-opening trip. I learned so much from working and traveling with Lauren, Wondwossen and the field staff. And of course our wonderful clients always teach me so much. After a 7-hour car ride, we finally arrived in Wolaita. We then drove to Sibaye Korke kebele (kebele = municipality) in Damot Gale woreda (woreda = district) to meet with a potato producer cooperative and a group of youth sales agents. We were warmly welcomed by one of our female clients, a member of the potato producer cooperative, who had prepared tasty potatoes for us! Lauren and Wondwossen facilitated a focus group discussion, verifying information and data for our project's potato intervention. I couldn't help but notice all the kids in the area sneaking up around us to see what was going on.
After this discussion, we met with six youth sales agents who participated in the Building Skills for Life program. They each shared about their businesses (used clothing, sugar cane, butter, coffee, cereals and seed, teff) and what their future aspirations are. It was refreshing to hear about their dreams and how the training they received changed their mindsets. I interviewed one client named Aynalem and I was so encouraged by her story. Despite a difficult life growing up, she has worked hard to provide for herself and support her mother. As we were leaving, I encouraged her to study hard and chase after her dreams.
The next day we visited more youth in Humbo Woreda. In this group, two youth stood out to me. They were on time and one brought his record book to show how he keeps track of his expenses, sales and savings. I could tell they were very serious about their future dreams: one wants to become an engineer and the other wants to become a doctor. This really amazed me. Through their current businesses, they know if they work hard, continue to save and maximize their profits, they can attain their dreams.
Another theme I noticed among the youth was a sense of empowerment. They felt empowered because they were no longer burdening their families. They were earning their own income through their respective businesses and can now pay for their own expenses. I have no doubt in my mind that these youth will go on to be successful and influential leaders in Ethiopia. I have a few months left of my internship, so I'm eager to meet more clients, hear their stories, and document how the project facilitated positive change in their lives.
Knowledge is Power- Farmers Field School Group
In 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 Success
After 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 Markets
The 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.
I met up with Steph in Bahir Dar first since she was there for work. We had dinner along Lake Tana that was lit up by the moonlight. The following day we went to see the Blue Nile Falls. Saturdays are market days, so as we drove one hour to the falls, there were lots of people walking with their cattle or goats. We met up with our tour guide who led us on a 1.5 hour hike. Many times we were face-to-face with cows walking on the path on their way to the market. We saw the Portuguese Bridge and the Blue Nile Falls, and then walked back to finish our tour. There were many kids selling scarves and hand-made crafts along our hike, telling us, "Madam, I'll give you a good price." I eventually caved and bought one even though I've already accumulated so many in Addis!
We relaxed for a few hours and then went for dinner along the lake and watched the sunset. In Bahir Dar we took these 3-wheeled scooter-type taxis called "Bajaj's" or "Touk-touk's" – they were super cheap and really easy to use. After dinner we checked out Kuriftu for dessert, along with good talks under a full moon.
The next part of our trip was to Lalibela, a town renowned for its rock-hewn churches that were built in the 12th century. The story goes that King Lalibela sought to create a New Jerusalem for those who could not make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The churches were not constructed in a traditional method, rather, they were excavated and carved from the living rock of monolithic blocks. The churches are still used to this day by Orthodox Christians. And now that it is a UNESCO heritage site, tourism has really taken off over the past few years. The landscape in Lalibela reminded me of the Grand Canyon (although I've never been). It's very desert-like with canyons and plateaus all around.
After resting up, we went to see the churches. It was really amazing to see the churches, inside and out. My favourite was St. George, the church shaped in a cross. We had a really good guide who showed us all 11 churches within 3.5 hours. It was an exhausting tour, as we walked through passages, trenches, and in-and-out of most of the churches.
While it was overall a really good trip, I'm glad to be back in Addis. After a few days of traveling, all you want is the familiarity of your own home and the variety of food options that are available in the city. With about four months left of this internship, I'm hoping to squeeze in a few more trips, to see more of Ethiopia. It really is a beautiful country. I had a few moments throughout this past trip that reminded me that I am very blessed to be here with MEDA and working on a great project that is changing lives.
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!
The highlight of the trip was our first site visit. We went to a village called Chano Dorga to meet with 2 Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) groups. I'm thankful to have been there for the first 1.5 days with Doris, our country manager. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience in micro-finance and international development. Doris asked the questions and then the clients' responses were translated. I wrote down everything as fast as I could. The members of both VSLA groups were eager to speak and share their successes with us. They were also very thankful to the project, as I often heard "ameseginalehu" which means "thank you".
While Ethiopians living in rural parts of the country have awareness of traditional saving methods, it's still difficult to save. Generally, saving habits are poor due to low levels of income or lack of financial literacy. However, through the project, clients training and education on financial literacy – how to save, budget and access credit. Through this training they can take steps to start improving their household income. When target households experience livelihood improvements, their vulnerability to resorting to child labor decreases. This is huge.
When I first read about E-FACE, I didn't quite understand the connection of why our project was working in the South. Yet I learned that traditional weaving is originally from the South and there is a growing demand for hand-woven textile products. This is why child labor and child trafficking are such big issues in Ethiopia.
The diligence of these savings groups really amazed me. They initially started out saving 5 ETB (25 cents USD) a week, and now they save 10 ETB (50 cents USD). Some members even save two-fold, in which they receive more in dividends. It was humbling to sit with them in their village and hear their stories. Saving a small amount of money each week has opened up opportunities that they otherwise would not have had. This is why the successes and life changes of our E-FACE clients are very inspiring. They save each week for the sake of their families and communities. They also took the knowledge and skills offered through the project and put them into practice to bring positive change to their families and communities.
I don't think the issue of financial illiteracy is isolated to developing countries. In North America, debt is a really big problem. It may be a different strand of financial issues, but perhaps reveals learning about finance and money is needed back at home as well. I personally would like to learn more about personal finances, how to budget and how to save. These are skills and habits that require training, awareness and self-discipline.
It's really exciting to hear about our clients' future plans and aspirations, as they have set goals to save more and expand their business endeavours. I hope to have another opportunity to visit the field, meet more clients and capture more of their success stories to demonstrate the amazing work being done through E-FACE.
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.
Our second visit was to a TVET site, where youth received training at a hair salon school. When I entered the building, the youth were busy working away at doing people's hair. It was interesting to see a fair amount of males receiving this training, whereas at most hair schools in Canada, the students are mostly female.
My highlight of the entire day was the last site. We drove down a very bumpy road to a government work space, where youth participants in the Building Skills for Life program were working with weaving looms. Building Skills for Life targets young workers (ages 14-17) and provides them with practical education and training, so that the youth can be empowered to create opportunities for themselves. The program also includes technical training on traditional weaving, which is what I was able to see for myself through the visit. The youth seemed pretty shy as I went around with my camera, but once I started getting a few shots, some of the youth seemed to be alright with me taking pictures of their work. Some of the pieces were very intricate, and it amazes me that they learn and develop these skills in order to make a living for themselves at such a young age.
I'm thankful I had the opportunity to join today's site visits. It really brought the past few weeks of what I've been working on in the office to life. It's one thing when you see E-FACE numbers, reports, and documents. It was refreshing to see the clients and get a better understanding of how this project is really impacting lives, especially those in the textile industry. Of course I still have so much to learn and grasp about the project and overall child labor in Ethiopia (especially in traditional weaving), which makes me even more eager to get out into the field and to the sites.
In the future, I'll be traveling to Arba Minch to see E-FACE's field work and interventions. I'm really excited to see a different part of Ethiopia, and look forward to meeting more clients.
A few things I've been able to do over the past month have included...
- City Tour: It was great to see more of Addis a few weeks ago. We saw different parts of the city (mainly from the car), but got to see a nice city view from Entoto Mountain, and visited Lucy at the National Museum. Addis is a pretty big city, compared to where I'm from (Waterloo, ON). But it's not as overwhelming as somewhere like Seoul, South Korea. I have yet to ride a 'blue donkey' (16-passenger vans) or they call them taxis, but am hoping to soon. They're way cheaper than cabs, but obviously less comfortable. I used to ride them all the time when I spent 2 months in Uganda (they call them matatoo), so I'm guessing it's pretty much the same thing here. That way, I feel like I'll get to know the city more, if I get familiar with local transportation.
- Traditional Dancing: Jillian from HQ was in Addis for a few weeks, so Steph and I had the chance to go to Yod Abyssinia for Ethiopian traditional dancing and food. It was a fun night! I got pulled up on stage to dance, and while dancing isn't my forte, I gave it a shot. My brother is an amazing dancer (he dances competitively), so I did it for him. He would have been proud! The dance moves weren't too difficult, but I still probably looked so bad compared to the Ethiopian dancers.
- Meskel: It was Meskel a few weeks ago. 'Meskel' means cross in Amharic, or the holiday is also known as 'Finding the True Cross'. Steph and I went to Meskel Square with our colleague, Wondwossen. There were thousands and thousands of people there. It was quite the experience. We managed to find a place to stand at the way back, and heard several people speak, along with many songs. Once it was dusk, people started lighting these little wicks. It was really amazing how the place just lit up so fast! And after much anticipation, the huge tower of wood and grass, was lit on fire. We waited about 2 hours for it to finally happen. Everyone was singing and cheering once it was lit, and there were fireworks too! Leaving the ceremony... was crazy though! We were squished in a sea of people, and eventually managed to get out. For the rest of the night on our way home, you could see and hear people celebrating in their neighborhoods.
Life in Addis is really starting to grow on me. Since I don't have that much time here, I want to do more exploring. Already, we've been to Bole a few times, checked out Piazza for shopping and the Stadium for great leather. In the midst of poverty/begging being very in your face, there are things that make me laugh and remind me of why I'm here. Whether it's the smiles and laughs of little kids when I wave, or when people are pleased to hear I'm Korean (Ethiopia and Korea are friends – I just learned recently that Ethiopia sent troops to South Korea's aid during the Korean War), or getting to know my colleagues at the office, these are all things that make it fun and rewarding to be here. I definitely feel like the next 5 months are going to fly by, so I don't want to waste any time!
While reading through various client success stories, I noticed there was a general theme of the long-term benefits clients received through good financial habits such as saving, or joining a Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA). The idea of a VSLA is to reach the very poor (typically in remote areas) who are unable to or unwilling to receive loans from formal financial institutions such as microfinance Institutions (MFIs). Thus, VSLAs operate as community-based saving and credit groups, composed of about 10-20 members. Each member makes a contribution to a loan fund, helping the fund to grow by borrowing from it and paying back the loans with a service charge. Based on the E-FACE success stories collected so far, it helped me realize these kinds of financial decisions can open doors for clients that prior to being part of a VSLA were unimaginable. These 'open doors' can range from opening up a shop to sell various goods and products, to buy a goat or chicken, or to see an increase in income so that children can go to school.
Although I haven't been out to the field yet, I'm thankful to have these first few weeks in the office. It was a bit overwhelming at first, because everyone was so busy. But it also gave me assurance that there may very few dull moments throughout my internship, because there's always something to do, something to read, or something to help out with. I've also realized it's really important to remember why I'm here and seek out opportunities to grow professionally and personally in-and-outside of the office. Whether it's trying something new or taking initiative to work on a specific skill, my work is definitely cut out for me over the next few months. I'm hoping that this current outlook and perspective will set the tone for this internship. Again, I'm very excited to be here and extremely grateful for the opportunity.
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!
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.
While it wasn't intentionally planned, we arrived during the major holiday in Ethiopia, New Year. It was Ethiopian New Year last Thursday, so it is now the year 2007 in Ethiopia because their calendar is 7 years behind the Western calendar. We were invited to spend an afternoon with Balay (Steph's supervisor) and his family, had lots of food, and was welcomed warmly. I've been really touched to experience such generosity over the past few days from our staff here, including Doris and our respective supervisors. We also went to Lafto mall on New Years with my supervisor, Meron, to bowl at the bowling alley. I've never had to manually keep my score, so that was a fun learning experience. The following day, we were invited to have a turkey lunch at Doris' place. We had a wonderful afternoon, heard stories about adjusting to life in Ethiopia and enjoyed really amazing food.
If I were to sum up a few initial thoughts and impressions, here they are:
- Rain - Lots and lots of it. We arrived at the end of the rainy season, so good thing I brought rain boots and a rain jacket!
- Prices - Some things like eating out, bread, vegetables, and fruit cost very little, while household items like a kettle or strainer, have turned out to be much more expensive than we thought.
- People - Our landlady and MEDA staff have also been so generous and welcoming. And most people we walk by and encounter have been very friendly. Since I haven't been in a country where people tend to notice you and seem to be talking about you, it's something I'm still adjusting to. However, for the most part, when we walk around, there are folks who say 'Hi' and mean no harm at all.
- High altitude - I didn't notice it at first, but when walking up hills, it was hard to breath. So it's going to be a few days to get adjusted.
Today, will be our first day at work! I'm really excited to be here and be part of the E-FACE (Ethiopians Fighting Against Child Exploitation) team. It's been fascinating reading about the program, which makes it even more exciting to start this week. I am a little bit nervous, but also ready to take on new challenges and lessons that I'll gain through this internship with MEDA. Stay tuned for more updates soon!
(We've picked up on how Ethiopians say "Hi" and "Bye"
The day began very early as Mekdim and I met at 7am to begin the drive to Asgori. As we drove along the countryside, we would stop every 15 minutes to pick up a cousin, aunt or other family member to accompany us on the trip. When we arrived to the farm, I was amazed at the amount of land they owned. This was also my first time on a farm so I couldn't contain m excitement seeing the horses and cows up close and personal. Before too much time had passed, I was ushered into the main guest house. Having travelled to the south of Ethiopia, I was familiar with the traditional huts but I had never had the opportunity to go inside. Well, that day I was lucky enough to enter one and a coffee ceremony was being prepared. It is customary in all Ethiopian households to perform a coffee ceremony at least once a day; however, Mekdim informed me that the family had never had a Canadian guest before and this ceremony was especially important for them.
After the coffee was poured, I was introduced to the patriarch of the family, great grandfather Abenezer. We shook hands, pressed our cheeks together three times and then he asked if he could give me the tour of his property. Hand in hand, he brought me to each of the fields he owned (i.e. teff, wheat and chick pea). He then had a demonstration of the grinding process. Finally, he took me to see his cattle field where I was offered fresh yogurt. As the day progressed, more uncles, aunts and their children continued to show up to the reunion. At one point, a wedding party showed and dancing broke out during lunch.
The day was extremely exciting and as the sun went down we all gathered outside and drank Kineto (a traditional fermented drink that tastes like Pepsi and chocolate). I said my goodbyes and promised to visit again before I left for Canada. As we headed back to Addis, the family sang traditional Oromio songs, clapped and just enjoyed the little time left we had together. It was the perfect ending to an amazing day.
When I arrived I was immediately greeted by an intense humidity. Living in Addis, the weather is generally windy and cool, so I was not prepared for the weather. I grabbed my bags and met Mary, the Tanzania Intern, at the front. We hopped into the bajaj and that began my adventures in Tanzania.
During my week, I was tasked with writing a report about the wildly successful Tanzania bed net voucher scheme. As the E-FACE project in Ethiopia uses voucher schemes for their own interventions, I was sent to analyze the Tanzania voucher system and suggest ways to incorporate a similar system into the E-FACE project. This required me to spend a lot of time with the IT department, who also happened to have amazing air conditioning in their work space. By the end of the information gathering sessions, I felt like a part the team and I knew I would have a difficult time saying goodbye at the end of the week.
That weekend, I was able to visit Zanzibar, with Mary and Curtis as my personal tour guides. We flew in by plane, which allowed me to view the beautiful island from above. The best way to describe Zanzibar is paradise on earth. The blue/turquoise waters, the beautiful white sands and the lush palm trees all left me speechless. We were able to explore the eastern side of the island as well as the beautiful Stone Town. The entire trip lasted a few days but it felt like a second, and by the time we took the ferry back to Dar, I was already missing Zanzibar.
To say I was spoiled during this trip would be the understatement of the century. I was so well taken care of by the MEDA Tanzania office, my fellow interns (Mary and Curtis) and the people I met throughout the trip. I wish I could have stayed A LOT longer but it was time to go back to Addis. I will definitely be returning in the future, hopefully sooner rather than later.