MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

Country Living in Ethiopia

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This weekend I was invited to the family reunion of my colleague Mekdim. She grew up in a small farming town called Asgori (50 km west of Addis Ababa) where most of her family still lives to this day. I was eager to witness how life is for farmers in Ethiopia, especially because some of the E-FACE clients are farmers themselves. So I accepted her invite and we arranged to meet on Sunday morning.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.
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From Dar with love

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After four months of living and working in Ethiopia, I was presented with an amazing opportunity to visit Tanzania. Without hesitation, I jumped at the idea of travelling to Dar Es Salaam and working from the MEDA Tanzania office for the week. In the days before my trip, I attempted to memorize as many Swahili words as possible – I wanted to impress the office with my extensive Swahili vocabulary. In reality, I ended up learning only 3 phrases: Habari (hello), Asante Sana (thank you very much) and Rafiki (friend). It was enough for me and the next week I was off to Dar Es Salaam.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.
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E-FACE Field Visit in Arba Minch Part Two: Agricultural Intervention and School Visit

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The next day the E-FACE team headed out to an agricultural intervention site in Gamo Gofa. You may be wondering what agriculture has to do with child exploitation and the weaving industry. Well, not much actually. However, the aim of the agricultural intervention is to help households that are at-risk of having their children engage in child labour improve their livelihood and income through other means. In this case, potato is the chosen commodity and will provide the targeted households with options (i.e. supplemental income for school tuition) besides child labour. During the visit, the farmers explained their excitement in the project and the techniques they learned from the E-FACE facilitated agronomy training sessions. The excitement of the farmers was contagious and I found myself eager to see the results of the hard work when harvest time arrived. Down the hill from the potato farm was the village school facilitated by World Vision. E-FACE in partnership with World Vision, provides the livelihood programs for the working youth and households involved in the textile industry. World Vision provides the education portion of the project, ensuring that the at-risk children are in school. The visit to the school was by far the most rewarding and inspirational part of the entire trip. When we arrived, we were immediately greeted by children eager to have their picture taken during lunch break.  I happily obliged and held an impromptu photo shoot. We were then lead to a classroom to view the improvements being made to the structure. The school had recently added educational paintings, improved lighting and better desks to encourage the students to learn.  It was amazing to observe the difference between a rural Ethiopian classroom versus the Canadian classrooms I have grown accustomed to seeing. I experienced a major wakeup call about the importance of education and how difficult it can be to access a proper education for some communities.

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E-FACE Field Visit in Arba Minch Part One: Textile Intervention

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After a month of anticipation, I was finally able to go to on my first site visit for the MEDA E-FACE project. To give a bit of background, E-FACE (Ethiopians Fighting Against Child Exploitation) aims to reduce exploitative child labour by improving market access to textile and agricultural markets for vulnerable families and improve working conditions for working youth. Having worked on many of the contracts for the programs being implemented, I was excited to see my contribution to the project in action.  During our nine-hour car ride, the first thing that stood out to me the most was the abundance of cattle, donkeys and goats in the road. In past posts I have mentioned animals in the road but the trip to Arba Minch was by far the craziest. Our wonderful driver Mekdem did an amazing job avoiding each donkey or goat that decided to wander into our path. Although bumpy and extremely long, the trip was so beautiful that I am now certain the Garden of Eden is lost somewhere in Ethiopia. We arrived at the hotel very late so we decided to rest and start very early the next day. After a nice breakfast we headed to the first site, a textile intervention undergoing technology upgrading. With a portion of their own savings, the weavers were provided spinning tools to help boost their productivity. During the meeting, the weavers discussed their progress, their expectations for the coming project phases and how the project has impacted their lives. A few of the weavers even mentioned being able to afford school tuition for their children and medicine for sick family members since starting with E-FACE. At that moment, I felt extremely proud to be a part of the MEDA E-FACE team. My small contributions to the project were helping someone to make a difference in their life. After a month of doing assignments, reports and contracts, it was all starting to make sense and I was finally starting to see the bigger picture. On the way back to the hotel, the team got together to discuss the day’s events. Using the feedback from the weavers, we were already making adjustments to the program. At that point I realized that the process of improving lives is not something that can be done overnight. It requires effort from every individual involved in the project. It takes a lot of time but, in the end, it really does make a difference.

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First Impressions of Addis Ababa

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After stepping off my 14 hour flight from Ottawa to Addis Ababa, I am in utter amazement. I cannot believe I have finally arrived.  I am immediately overwhelmed by the stark contrast between rich and poor.  Shiny skyscrapers housing international organizations of all kinds are scattered throughout the city. At the same time, impromptu fruit stands and tiny businesses operate only steps away.  The roads are filled with foreign vehicles but must share with the locals and animals that are walking to their destinations. Construction is going on everywhere –signs of a city quickly developing. I could go on about the disparities surrounding me, but I am content to just take it all in and revel in the fact that I am in Addis Ababa. The weather is colder than I expected for an African nation (a curt reminder to never assume). I was told at the airport that the Ethiopian rainy season is in the final weeks. I am extremely excited for the sunny weather as it is pretty dark and damp. However, I am still impressed with the palm trees and overall tropical feel to the city. I am ready to explore but I have to keep reminding myself that I have six months to do this. At the moment, I just need to get settled and collect my thoughts. When I applied for the position of Business Development Advisor intern, I never imagined I would get this far. Despite my lack of confidence, here I am, ready to see what the next six months has in store for me. What do I want out of this experience? First and foremost, I want to leave Addis knowing that I made a difference in someone’s life, regardless of how small of an impact. I want to bring hope to people and change their outlook on life.  I want to make great friends, discover this side of the world and take the time to get to know myself better. In the meantime, I will try and figure out how to get around using the minibus taxis and communicate with my limited Amharic vocabulary.

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Welcome to Addis – Why I am here?


Why am I in Addis Ababa? Good question – sometimes I ask myself the same thing, just because I am no where near fully adjusted to calling this city home for the next six months (or 24 weeks – yes, I am keeping count).

Pictured left: A view of Addis from our hotelIt all started with an application to an internship I heard about through university. This application was followed by two interviews – the second of which I totally thought I botched. I guess my interviews weren’t epic fails as to my very pleasant surprise I ended up getting the internship as a business development intern with MEDA (Mennonite Economic Development Associates) for six months in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. After a week of orientation in Waterloo, Ontario (where MEDA’s head quarters are) and a month filled with a mix of emotions.. anxiety, pure panic and excitement to name a few.. I was on a 13-hour flight from Toronto to Addis!I’ll briefly explain the projects MEDA is working on in Ethiopia. MEDA is currently working on two projects in the country, which are being jointly funded by MEDA and donor partners.The first project, EDGET (Ethiopians Driving Growth, Entrepreneurship and Trade), is working with two crucial value chains in the country – rice and textiles – with the ultimate objection being to increase household income by 50% for 10,000 families over the next four years. To accomplish this, MEDA will facilitate the improvement of client household’s capacity to access the domestic markets for their goods. This will be accomplished through an enhancement of production techniques, appropriate technologies as well as several support services.The second project, E-FACE (Ethiopians Fighting Against Child Exploitation), is a joint partnership with World Vision Ethiopia to reduce child labor in the country. E-FACE will target 20,000 youth (17 and under) involved in exploitative working conditions and 7,000 vulnerable households in the country to improve both the incomes and overall livelihoods of these families and youth. MEDA’s role in E-FACE will directly target 3,250 youth (between 14 and 17 years old) while World Vision will target 16,750 children (between 5 and 13 years old). MEDA will also focus its efforts on reaching 7,000 families involved in the E-FACE project and facilitate their improved access to textile and agricultural markets in the country.Overall, I am very excited to be a part of MEDA’s work in Ethiopia, even if my time here will be brief.

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