MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

Making a difference in Myanmar

As you know, it is early days for our Myanmar project, Improving Market Opportunities for Women (IMOW). But after a period of dotting i’s and crossing t’s as we built our team and laid our foundation, I am excited that we are beginning the “real work” and seeing areas that, with your generous support, will make a difference for the lives of women in Myanmar.

In June, MEDA helped to support the first-ever vegetable and fruit trade fair in Southern Shan state, where I met a woman grower and mango processing operator. Trade fairs are a great way to network and we made many connections, including one with an organic buyer who has since met with our team to explore opportunities. I saw a lot of potential at this fair, but what I didn’t see were many women farmers! So next year, we want to sponsor women to attend the event, raise their profile, and even create an award for best woman farmer of the year. While other organizations may do similar work to us, no one is focused on women, reminding me of MEDA’s unique opportunity in Myanmar.

Some of IMOW’s work will also focus on women’s savings group. In one village we visited, the first female politician was just elected (pictured below). She attributes her decision to run to the increased confidence and speaking skills she gained from participating in the savings group. MEDA will be working to help groups like hers go to the next level and encourage even more women to take leadership roles. We hope our efforts in villages in other parts of the country where there are no savings groups at all will result in similar stories of confidence-building and empowerment.

Female politician

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Unlocking possibilities for dry season agriculture

Implementing Keyhole Gardens to Improve Food Security for Women in Ghana

When the tropical storms subside and the dust begins to gather, farmers in Ghana become concerned about how to sustain their gardens. With water scarce during the dry season, water retention becomes a challenge. MEDA targeted its keyhole garden project towards women because women produce 70% of Ghana’s food crops. As a result, they have a direct connection with expanding crop cultivation and providing their families with sufficient nutritional needs. Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the project’s goal was to extend the growing season for female farmers.

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Announcing: 10 Young Women Changing the World

Over the last two years MEDA’s 20 under 35: Young Professionals Changing the World Initiative has recognized 40 young professionals under the age of 35 for their demonstrated commitment to faith, service and an entrepreneurial spirit. We've had the opportunity to honor people like Chris Steingart, a web designer from Kitchener, ON, who finds his foundation for business in Mennonite faith values. Economist Kaylie Tiessen was recognized in 2015 for her dedication to improving lives through economic justice and growth.

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Can MEDA’s Approach Reduce Child, Early and Forced Marriage?

There are nearly 70 million child brides worldwide and if current trends continue, 142 million more will join them in the coming decade.1 Married adolescent girls are among the most vulnerable groups in society. They face numerous risks, including early pregnancy, higher maternal mortality and heightened risk of domestic violence and sexually transmitted disease. Their future potential and that of their community and nation, are cut short.

earlychildhoodmariage diagramEarly and forced marriage usually marks the end of a girl’s education, diminishing her long-term opportunities and sentencing her and her children to lifelong hardships. Often isolated to the domestic sphere, married girls may be able to engage in income generating activity, but will have no control over their income, no awareness of market systems, and no buffer for weathering economic shocks.

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The national picture of soy in Ghana

For much of the last month, I have been helping the market linkages team conduct a value chain update. This is part of a mid-way point evaluation of the GROW project to help inform possible future interventions in the remaining three years of the project.

The first two weeks of February were spent undertaking interviews with key actors at various levels of Ghana's soybean value chain, from the small village aggregators and market sellers, to large multinational firms. This saw us travel to border villages with Burkina Faso to the capital of Accra and many points in between.

The team carrying this out consisted of Hilda Abambire and Mohammed Fatawu, our value chain people in the project, myself, and the project manager, Ariane Ryan.

We started in Accra, meeting with equipment suppliers, and an industrial user of soybean oil – the Azar paint company. We then traveled to Ghana's second city of Kumasi and spoke with processing companies, the state seed distributor, financial institutions and poultry operators.

All throughout these interviews, one consistent theme arose: There is not nearly enough soy being produced in Ghana to meet the demand. The huge unmet demand for soybeans and its associated products in Ghana has meant this gap is being filled by imports of raw beans, soy oil and especially soy cake used in animal feeds.

This reliance on imports for a large portion of the country's demand for soybeans is a double negative for Ghana for two reasons. First of all, the country has great potential and many natural advantages to be able to grow substantially more soy. This is a missed opportunity not only for the country's agricultural sector, which could be growing a high value crop, but also for many potential downstream commercial activities – from milling and processing, to end product creation – that create more value. Secondly, importing soy adds to the trade deficit, one of the many large macro-economic difficulties facing the country.

However, there are positive developments. Farmers and other market actors are slowly beginning to realize the great potential in this previously relatively unknown crop. The pace of change is not as fast as we would like: Service providers, seed growers and other key actors are still not able to meet the demands of producers. Although, the market forces and price signals are slowly starting to turn increasing numbers of agriculture value chain actors towards the soybean. This, along with help from projects like GROW, and increasing attention and recognition from government policy makers on the crop, means Ghana's soy production is sure to increase in the coming years.

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MEDA Expert Spotlight: Adam Bramm and Nicki Post

Perceptions & Solutions for Women and Youth in Entrepreneurship

MEDA's Youth Economic Opportunities team is proud to be spotlighting two of our very own MEDA experts who particpated in a Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) discussion hosted by Chemonics.  Adam Bramm, Senior Consultant / Project Manager of Women's Economic Opportunities and Nicki Post, Senior Consultant / Project Manager of Youth Economic Opportunities participated in the event and provided insightful dialogue to further the agenda for women, youth and entrepreneurship. 

This article was developed by Christy Sisko, Manager of Chemonics' Economic Growth and Trade practice. The original article can be accessed here. 

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Top 5 reasons why I love my job

b2ap3_thumbnail_Three-women-GROW-members-at-Klechau-Bao-village.jpgAfter five months in Ghana with the GROW project, it feels like I've really found my stride. I love my job and living in Tamale, not to mention my amazing friends and co-workers that have become more like family to me. Our GROW project has had a busy start to the new year- packed with trainings, field visits and visitors from headquarters on top of the usual work. Luckily when you love what you do- there's a lot of fun involved and working for a good cause always keeps me going.

The New Year also brought great news for me. I'm thrilled to announce that I've been offered an internship extension and I will be continuing my work as part of the GROW team for another six months here! I'm so happy to be able to stay here longer and am really excited to contribute more to the GROW project, embrace new challenges, take more learning opportunities and make deeper connection with people. In celebration of my awesome news, I thought I'd provide a little more insight into why I love my job...

  1. Supporting real change – During my field work, I get chance to meet the rural women soybean farmers and learn about their lives, families, successes and troubles. I can't help but leave completely in awe of their strength, openness and determination- it's incredibly inspiring every time! I feel so fortunate to be able to share their stories and how the GROW project is improving the women's and their families' lives. I really love that part of my job!

  2. b2ap3_thumbnail_Our-Wa-GROW-team-at-dinner-with-Dave-and-Kim-from-MEDA-headquarters.jpgOur MEDA Team – I have the pleasure of being surrounded by very supportive, smart and fun people. For the first day that I arrived, I was warmly welcomed into the GROW family and we've only gotten closer since then. It's a great to be part of the team that works together, grows together and supports one another. Thank you all for being your wonderful selves!

  3. It never gets boring –There are constantly new projects and challenges coming my way. Whether it's working through cross-cultural barriers, figuring out the process of getting marketing materials printed or learning about a new aspect of GROW- I'm constantly solving problems and learning new things.

  4. b2ap3_thumbnail_Our-GROW-team-during-the-advanced-value-chain-training-with-Ann.jpgGROWing professionally – Working for MEDA comes with the perk of being surrounded by some of the best and brightest minds in international development. Just last week, we had MEDA's Ann Gordon take our team through an advanced value chain training that taught us all about value-chain analyses tools and Ghana's soybean industry. Plus, we actually got to practice our new skills in the field.

  5. Making connections – I'm always getting to meet new and interesting people! Just a couple of weeks ago we had the pleasure of hosting Kim Pityn, MEDA's Chief Operations Officer, and Dave Warren, MEDA's Chief Engagement Officer, from MEDA headquarters. It was great to get to know them, learn about their roles, hear about their experiences and exchange ideas with them.

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A new way of living

b2ap3_thumbnail_Helping-out-with-the-food-preparation.jpgI spent the two-week Christmas/New Years break in Lomé, the capital of Togo. I couchsurfed while I was there – a website that connects travellers to locals who open up their homes and allow that person to crash or "surf" on their couch or any sleeping surface. There is no expectation of payment, and depending on the host, lifelong friends can be made in a matter of a few days.

I had done this many times before but all in Europe and North America, pretty much all were great and memorable, but all were in situations and cultures that were at least vaguely familiar to me as a middle-class Canadian. This was certainly not the case in Togo. For two weeks I got the full experience of living like a typical Togolese with my Togolese peers. I slept on the floor sometimes, had bucket showers, didn't go on the internet, ate what my hosts ate, drank what my hosts drank, hung out with their friends, went to their spots, and lived life at their pace.

Sometimes there were long periods where nothing really happened, we lazed about and didn't really do anything. No electronic devices to distract, or appointments, or things coming at you. b2ap3_thumbnail_At-the-market.jpgConstant stimuli are a luxury of developed countries or of the wealthy. In underdeveloped parts of the world, you have to just pass the time with nothing but the people around you. I came to appreciate these moments; this is when you just need to chill out, and be centered in yourself. It builds trust in those around you. I really had to learn how to just "be", and hang out with your friends doing nothing. You have to lose that nagging flighty-ness, not think about what others are doing or thinking, not think about what you should be doing, and not worry about the future.

These were contrasted by periods of fast action and intense stimulation of the senses: Fast nights jumping from place to place, all on the back of motorcycles weaving in and out of traffic. Walking through jam-packed markets where every sight, sound, and smell is new. The constant bartering over prices, and everyday tasks that require so much more than this North American could ever have thought.

All this reinforced a few things...

1. You have to take life it as it comes; planning and the future are luxuries. Live in the present. Eat when there is food in front of you, drink when you have drink, and sleep when you have a bed.

2. You have to be capable. For example, fetching water from the well for the first time, I felt so helpless; I couldn't get the technique to fill the bucket and could only retrieve a small amount each time. If you can't do something, learn fast, because as a grown person, you don't want to be a burden on others.

3. Saving doesn't happen. If you have money, spend it. If you have food or water, you consume it now, because if you wait, there is a good chance it won't be there in the future, just due to the uncertainties and precariousness of life.

4. Reciprocation and sharing are hugely important and reinforce bonds in a powerful way. Because the typical Togolese (or African for that matter) won't always have money or food, you have to rely on others. Sometimes you pay, other times your friends pay. That way you won't ever go hungry when others are eating.

5. When the good times roll, jump in with both feet because there's no guarantee tomorrow will offer you the same opportunity that you have now.

It really was a life-changing experience. It changed me by showing me a different way of living, with new rules, new social norms, new burdens and new rewards. I gained broader perspective on what life is for a large part of humanity and will carry those lessons and experiences with me. I loved it all.

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Sunny Holidays in Togo and Ghana

b2ap3_thumbnail_The-beach-in-Lome.jpgb2ap3_thumbnail_MEDA-interns-at-the-beach.jpgThis year, I spent my holidays at a beautiful beach surrounded by good friends in Lome, Togo. Although of course I missed celebrating Christmas with my family, the alternative wasn't too shabby.

Four friends and I flew from Tamale to Accra on the early morning flight, then took a car for about three hours to reach the boarder, and then ended up at our bungalow on the beach by late afternoon. We spent our time on an almost empty beach- swimming, playing Frisbee, listening to music, eating delicious food and playing lots of card games in the evenings. It was the perfect antidote to the busy pre-holiday stress we had left behind.

On Christmas, we played and relaxed on the beach all day, and then met Kevin, the other GROW MEDA intern who was also traveling in Lome, for dinner at a little Bavarian and French restaurant. Taking me back to my Bavarian roots, I was beyond excited to have discovered a German restaurant in Lome. The six of us shared a delightful Christmas feast that reminded me of celebrating the holidays as a child in Germany. We had a truly wonderful time and it was great alternative way to celebrate the holidays.

One of the perks of returning to Tamale was that everyone else was traveling, so I had been asked to house and dog-sit for two adorable puppies at a friend's nice house with a pool. b2ap3_thumbnail_Christmas-dinner.jpgb2ap3_thumbnail_The-MEDA-Christmas-party.jpgIn a way my vacation continued with lots of dog walking and pool time. And I also looked after a friend's horses, so I got to go horseback riding a few times, which made my break even better. It was a really great holiday break and I was happy to ring in the New Year's in Tamale celebrating here with friends and fireworks.

The last year brought many new firsts and special memories for me. Moving to Ghana and being part of the GROW team has been such an incredible experience so far. I feel very privileged to be able to travel to the villages to meet our women farmers, continue learning from our skillful staff here and be part of this meaningful work to help make a difference for these women and their families in Ghana. The GROW team is really a family and after three short months it feels like home here. I'm truly grateful for an amazing 2014 and I can't wait to see what 2015 has in store.

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Leadership and Inspiration in Everyday Life

b2ap3_thumbnail_Mary-sitting-on-her-keyhole-garden-with-her-womens-group-in-the-background.jpgI'm nearing the end of my third month in Ghana, and am still learning and doing something new every day. Overall, I absolutely love my life and work here. Whether I'm learning how to build keyhole gardens in the villages for the dry season, or documenting our semi-annual Project Advisory Committee meeting to get insights into the GROW strategies, I'm constantly growing professionally and personally as well as getting my daily dose of inspiration.

Recently I had one of these moments of absolute admiration and inspiration in Maase village. Jalal, my GROW team member, and I had an early morning and a bumpy ride to this village in Upper West District. I was taking pictures, videos and interviewing Mary, the proud new owner of a keyhole garden. Her GROW group of women farmers had come to help with the construction and to learn how to build the gardens for themselves from Jalal's demonstration.

Several layers into the construction, the garden was starting to come together, but needed more top soil. The women had to gather additional soil from outside of Mary's fenced in property. So, the women and some men formed an assembly line to pass bucket of top soil to the construction site of the keyhole garden. A true testament to teamwork and support, but more than that, despite the fact they had been working in the heat all morning to build this garden for b2ap3_thumbnail_The-women-assembly-line.jpgtheir group member, they started singing songs, laughing and smiling as they were passing buckets of soil along the assembly line. I was so touched and impressed by this beautiful display of community. The women showed so much strength, unity and joy- with access to opportunities their potential to change their communities, Ghana and the world is endless.

My time here in Ghana hasn't been without its challenges, but getting to work in this area of my passion, women's empowerment, is really all I need to relight my motivation. I'm truly inspired every day being surrounded by strong women. Whether it's through these incredible moments with the women in the villages, or by the strong female leaders on our MEDA team- it serves as a constant reminder as to why this work is so important.
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Hard work and a bit of luck

This week we had a Project Advisory Committee, or PAC meeting in Wa. The meeting was attended by a majority of MEDA Ghana country staff, MEDA staff from HQ in Canada, representatives from our five key facilitating partners (KFPs), folks from the Canadian embassy in Accra and Global Affairs Canada, as well as a representatives from the Ghana Health Service and the Ministry of Food and Agriculture.

This was my first PAC meeting. What I was able to take away is that things seem to be on the up and up. There was a great deal of optimism for year three of the project, and I feel like things have improved in that regard since the last PAC meeting in June.

This optimism will surely be necessary. The project has ambitious targets and the rate of uptake by the clients (i.e. the number of women planting soybeans within the GROW project) must increase drastically for next year's planting season and in subsequent years for these targets to be met.

I have two thoughts on this. Initially I fear that the low hanging fruit has already been targeted so to speak; that it will be difficult to convince the remaining women who are enrolled in GROW but aren't yet planting, to plant next season. These remaining women are perhaps more risk averse and will be very hesitant to try something new making achieving the targets set for the number of women planting a tall order.

Countering this is that the initial work put in with the other value chain actors will hopefully yield more reliable service and more stronger linkages after a longer duration relationship has developed, enabling more women to access these crucial services and inputs when they need them and allow more to plant. This will work in the project's favour going forward and be a positive factor in the following years that was not present at the outset.

I think it will come down to whether or not women who have planted in the past were successful. In groups where women have been successful and have earned a decent income from their crop it will encourage more women from those groups to plant next year. However, in groups where women encountered problems and were unable to earn an income, or a high enough income to justify their efforts, it will be very hard to convince additional women from those groups to try planting, and indeed it may be hard to retain the numbers we do have.

The abilities and strengths of our field officers will affect this to a degree, but I have learned that it is very hard to change people's perceptions and change ideas that have been long held and are entrenched. Some of the shortfalls from last season were due to bad luck, such as poor weather. In some of these communities successes will beget more success, but in communities that experienced difficulties, we will certainly have our work cut out for us.
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I believe in what we are doing here

I have now started getting into the "meat and potatoes" of the work. I am meeting regularly with Mr. Baaro, the gentlemen who I am supporting with his soymilk business. I am helping him track his costs, prepare marketing materials, and determine production levels and the selling price.

This is as much a learning experience for me as I am not an expert in business. Figuring out when the business will make its return on investment (ROI) is going to be fun to calculate as there are lots of moving parts that go into it and measuring it is not always precise in the best circumstances (let's not forget that pesky Ghanaian inflation). However, I have received good support from the other MEDA staff here and I have a clear goal – which is to see Baaro Enterprise turn a profit from producing and selling soymilk and to therefore become a sustainable and reliable buyer of soybeans from local farmers.

I have also been tasked by Catherine, the country manager, to work with the other staff to compile a manual for the field officers. I have now attended 5 meetings with our key facilitating partners (KFPs) – local NGOs that MEDA has partnered with to carry out the GROW project at the community level.

From those meetings, I have learned all of the challenges and opportunities that the field officers face in implementing the GROW project in the communities. A myriad of obstacles must be overcome; logistics, social group formation and navigating the web of community relationships, ownership, the availability of financial services, even the weather. But this manual will hopefully smooth out some of these hurdles and support these field officers by providing them with a template for action, including who will be supporting them at each stage of implementation.

It also helps that I believe in what we are doing here. I have met many other expats and a few have shrugged their shoulders when I ask what sort of work they are engaged in, saying something to the effect of "well I just do whatever".

This was one of my biggest fears in heading overseas to do development work – that I would simply be a "voluntourist", involved in a project with a fuzzy but lofty sounding goal, but with no concrete outcomes that would change anything. If our project is successful it will create meaningful and more importantly long-term and permanent change in the lives poor, rural Ghanaians.

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Beyond the Rough Bumpy Roads . . .

b2ap3_thumbnail_Malia-and-her-children-plus-the-MEDA-team-and-field-staff.jpgI love being a communications intern, because it allows me to learn about all different aspects of the GROW project- agriculture, gender, nutrition, monitoring and evaluation, and much, much more. I'm always buzzing around partner NGO meetings, community visits, donor tours, staff trainings, etc. taking tons of pictures and notes to share.

But, I have to say, my favorite part of the job is doing field work. As part of my responsibilities, I have the honor of reporting on the significant changes that are taking part in women farmer's lives due to the GROW project.

Together with our MEDA team and partner NGOs, we identify several women that have become empowered through being part of the GROW project. After our field staff preliminarily interviews them, I have the great pleasure of doing in depth follow-up interviews, taking pictures and sharing their stories with people from around the world as well as getting them back to the women and b2ap3_thumbnail_The-road-from-Tumu-to-Nyimati-Village.jpgtheir communities.

Travel to these rural villages usually requires a start in the early morning hours and what seems like endless driving along rough, bumpy and often unpaved roads- I can't even tell you how impressed and grateful I am for our drivers, they are incredible!

When we finally make it to the communities, I have the privilege of meeting these amazing women. Then, we find a shady spot under a tree or around their house, and with translation assistance of the field staff; they share their stories about their soybean fields, their families, their ambitions, and their concerns.

As is common when you have foreign visitors, generally a crowd of curious neighborhood children accumulates within b2ap3_thumbnail_A-group-of-neighborhood-kids-in-Nyimati-Village.jpgminutes of starting the interview and it has usually tripled in size by the time we finish. Then after many thanks and smiles, we all pile into the car or walk to the women's soybean fields. Here I photograph the women proudly showing their crops and ask a few last questions that come up. Then after many more thank you's, we pile everyone back in the car, and drop them back at home.

On the ride back, I generally find myself reflecting on the women's stories. I'm always blown away at the strength, determination and selflessness of the women I meet. Farming is very difficult work, but beyond that, many of these women lack formal education, and to see them decide to switch to growing soybeans so they can for feed and educate their children- is inspiring, humbling and beyond impressive.

And that pretty much concludes a typical field visit, as you can see, there's really nothing typical about them, which is why I enjoy them so much. Keep an eye out for our newest client stories; they'll be coming your way soon!

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A Canadian Thanksgiving in Ghana

b2ap3_thumbnail_The-buffet-table.gifb2ap3_thumbnail_Enjoying-the-food-and-each-others-company.gifThis past weekend was thanksgiving back home in Canada. One might think that this would make a wayward Canuck passing the holiday thousands of miles away in Northern Ghana a little homesick; missing a nice home-cooked meal, enjoying the company of family and friends, fall leaves crunching under foot. But nothing could be further from the truth.

This past weekend was filled with all of those things – minus the crunchy fall leaves part. The expat community here in Tamale rolled up their sleeves and cooked, baked and basted their way to faithfully recreating a North American holiday tradition in the heart of West Africa.

There was squash, mashed potatoes, carrot, rice and eggplant dishes, tilapia, salad, couscous, green beans, and of course turkey and stuffing. Dessert included 4 pumpkin pies (made with local squash I am told, although surprisingly indistinguishable from the pumpkin version) apple crisp, chocolate cake, and lots of ice cream.

The celebration wasn't confined to Canadians, but included Ghanaians, Danes, French, British, Americans, Nigerians, Dutch, Swedes and others - around 50 or 60 people in total. For some – probably a majority there – this was their first experience with this holiday, and I am sure it left an indelible and positive impression.

Sitting along two long tables in the still hot and humid evening, people from all over the world sat and talked, shared their backgrounds, their aspirations, their stories. I met people from everywhere, but was able to connect quickly and meaningfully to all of them. Indeed Tamale seems to attract similarly outward looking, engaged, and thoughtful people.

For me the most beautiful aspect of this is that we Canadians were able to share a part of our culture with people from across the globe, and that everyone took part with enthusiasm and zeal and came out with stronger ties to one another. It is my hope that I will be able to take part in many things that are uniquely Ghanaian during my stay, and similarly strengthen my ties with people in the communities I will be working with here.

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Morning Runs, Red Red and Lovely People

b2ap3_thumbnail_Homemade-Red-Red.gifb2ap3_thumbnail_With-my-roommate-Mette.gifThese are some of my favorite things.

I'm happy to report that these past couple of weeks, I've finally been settling in. After almost a month of searching, I finally found an awesome roommate and a safe apartment. A little two bedroom off a main road with electricity, running water and even has AC (pretty fancy!).

I've been taking full advantage of having a kitchen again. Traditional Ghanaian food is not very vegetarian friendly; most dishes have meat, so it can be challenging finding something veggie on the menu when you're eating out. I must say, one of my favorite traditional dishes is "red red" and luckily vegetarian! It's fried plantains with beans (and veggies when I make it at home, which makes it even better!).

b2ap3_thumbnail_On-one-of-my-morning-runs.gifOur neighborhood is nice and quiet, with lots of rural roads nearby that are prefect for peaceful trail runs. I've even formed a little running group with my roommate and another girl nearby. Morning runs are one of my absolute favorite things here. The sun is just rising and it's still cool enough to run, plus you I get to watch the whole world wake up. Usually we just encounter goats and chickens on the roads with the occasional motorbike or women carrying a load on her head, passing by. Then on the way back on our loop, we are greeted by eager, smiling children in their uniforms walking and riding bikes to school. They're always enthusiastically waving and yelling "hello salaminga (foreigner)" on top of their lungs. You can't help but smile, wave, and repeat, "hello" back to them as many times as they say it to us.

On days that we don't run, my roommate and I have started doing yoga together in our living room. I was pretty excited when we found yoga mats at the grocery store. With large windows that overlook the main road, we get some beautiful views in the morning. It's been a great way to get centered before diving into a busy day at the office.

It's been a few busy weeks for the GROW project and my internship. Last week, our first press release for the new soy processing plant was published and we also launched our Facebook and Twitter sites. (Don't forget to like and follow us!) We've been moving at a very fast pace, but it's been a lot of fun and I'm learning constantly- and getting to know my amazing coworkers better, is just another bonus! Speaking of them, I'd like to give a shout to all of the wonderful people I've met here that have welcomed me and supported me. My boss and coworkers, who have helped me get settled in: From fixing things in the apartment, to taking me on errands, getting us a security guard and much more- they've been there for me very step of the way. I've also been fortunate to meet some awesome expats that have provided helpful advice and shown me the magical cheese and yoghurt shop! I'm truly grateful to be surrounded by some many lovely people, thank you.

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More than economics

My second day in Tamale, and I am slowly getting used to the pace of things here.

My fellow intern, Clarissa Heger has been an invaluable help, showing me some good spots in Tamale and introducing me to the rest of the staff at the office here. The real work has yet to start, but I have been getting good background information from the office team here.

The week before I arrived, some of the office staff attended the opening of a soy processing facility in Wa, which is where I will be doing most of my work.

One of the principal tasks I will be engaged with, will be publicizing and explaining the process of producing soy milk so that potential investors will be able to see the opportunities of this particular market. There is an entrepreneur who has already invested in this, and who will be buying soy from the farmers that MEDA has trained.

The more buyers and markets that exist for soy, the better, and developing this market will mean more opportunities and earning potential for the smallholder farmers who are producing soy.

However, numerous challenges exist. Soy milk is a very foreign product here in Northern Ghana, and creating demand for it will be a challenge. Also, competing with cheap imported soy will be a challenge for producers here.

I have just come off of a 3-month contract working in the Department of Agriculture at the provincial legislature in my hometown of Winnipeg. Part of my duties there entailed putting together a daily news briefing for the minister and other staff. I am fairly well versed now in the movement of key commodity prices and trends in agriculture.

The world will see a very large soy crop this year, as several key countries including the United States (the world's largest producer) and Brazil are harvesting record crops. The downward pressure this will put on soy prices will be problematic as the soy processors that exist here may look to cheap imports.

Conversely, though, the Ghanaian cidi has been depreciating and this makes importing more expensive, which will make domestically produced soy more attractive to processors here.

All of this highlights the risks of the marketplace, and doing business in a globally traded commodity. However, the diversification of Ghana's agricultural sector will help mitigate these downside risks. For too long, Ghana's agriculture sector relied on the export of cocoa. With the development of other crops and products, the price swings of one commodity will be mitigated.

Furthermore, any displacement of imports with domestically production will improve the country's balance of payments and put the country on a sounder economic footing.

This in and of itself is laudable. However, this is only one small aspect of the GROW project. The main goal of GROW is to improve the incomes of rural women and the nutritional outcomes of their families. The benefits this would have are too numerous to mention here and would far outweigh the narrow benefits identified above and I will leave that for a later blog post. Needless to say, this is a very exciting project to be involved with.

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Fadila’s Story: Soybeans for School Fees

b2ap3_thumbnail_Tampala-Women-Farmers-growing-Soybeans.gifb2ap3_thumbnail_MEDA-Tour-Group-MEDA-Staff-and-Partner-NGO-Staff-visiting-Metteu-Village.gifThis past week I had the pleasure of joining a wonderful, passionate and committed group of MEDA supporters visiting us from Canada for a MEDA field experience. It was a jam-packed schedule with lots of meetings, village visits, cultural excursions and new adventures. We had so many inspiring highlights, fun experiences and moments of growth, but today I want to tell you about one encounter that stood out to me above all others.

About b2ap3_thumbnail_Tampalas-Chiefs.gifb2ap3_thumbnail_Tampala-Women-Farmers-welcoming-us.gifhalf way into the field experience, we visited a little village called Tampala, where with the help of our NGO partner PRONET, MEDA started the GROW project. We were so warmly welcomed by the women farmers, their families and the village chiefs, which even included one female chief! It was moving to see so many women successfully growing soybeans, hear about how they’re able to make more household decisions and better support their children. While intently listening to the achievements and challenges of the women GROW groups, I was circling the group to document our visit with lots of pictures. I found myself standing next to a young woman in a pink shirt. She had shared her perspective to a few of the group’s questions, and her natural leadership, charismatic personality and vibrancy came across clearly, despite the language barrier. I asked her if I could take her picture and we got to talking. To my surprise, my new friend Fadila spoke very good English. So, with her permission, I’d like to tell you her story.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Me-and-Fadila.gifFadila is eighteen years old and was born and raised in Tampala. She lives with her mother, father, her father’s second wife (his third wife has passed away), four brothers and four sisters. Unfortunately, Fadila was just six months shy of finishing senior high school, when due to family’s inability to pay for school fees, she was forced to drop out. As is sadly often the case, her brothers’ education was prioritized (all four are still in school), but none of the girls in her family are. That’s not going to stop Fadila though— she’s growing an acre of soybeans and plans to use her proceeds from selling the crop to go back to school. Fadila wants to be a nurse.

It’s not easy to grow soybeans, she mentioned harvesting the crop “destroys your hands,” but she’s determined and I have no doubt that she’ll achieve her goals. Plus she’s already experimented with soybeans by incorporating them into local dishes, such as paola (by making a boiled soybean dumpling) and tambra (adding soybeans to a maize, beans and rice dish). I didn’t get a chance to try these, but as soy loving vegetarian, they sound delicious!

Fadila and I got along so well that she suggested I marry one of her brothers, so I could come live in Tampala with her, which made us both laugh. I am so impressed by Fadila’s strength, resolve and positivity, and will definitely visit her again during my time here so we can catch up about this year’s harvest and how she’s progressing in school.

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What brings me to Ghana

I will start soon start my 6-month internship with MEDA as an Enterprise Development intern with the GROW project in Northern Ghana when I fly from my hometown of Winnipeg to Toronto to Amsterdam to Accra, and finally to Tamale.

Like many recent young grads, I came out of university without a definite career path. I studied different subjects and my smattering of volunteer and work experience during and after school has been in a number of different fields. And since entering the job market, it became clear to me that I will likely put in time with many different organizations over the course of my working life.

My favorite subjects in university were history and economics and I am a huge news junky and consumer of all things political. What does someone with these interests do? What sort of career should I be looking for? Well, one option is to go to northern Ghana for a 6-month internship doing rural development work in agriculture.

I have known for a long time that I am interested in the world; in the people and history of different places. To gain some understanding and appreciation of how different places work or don't work, how people make a living, raise their families, and relate to others.

As I enter my late twenties, the devil-may-care adventurism of youth is beginning to fade, and some more practical thoughts are creeping into my head. What kind of job security will be there for me? Will I be able to earn a living to support a family? Will I be able to find work where I can make a difference; work that is fulfilling and enjoyable?

But the drive to learn and experience new things is as strong as ever, and I know that by fully immersing myself in new situations and taking advantage of the unique opportunities that come my way, I will be better positioned to handle the ever changing labour market and much more likely to find something that brings me genuine satisfaction, in addition to a paycheck.

Will development work be a good fit for me? Probably. Will there be a job that is satisfying, and perhaps more crucially, available to me after this internship? Maybe.

One thing seems to be clear for the generations growing up now; the prospect of a "career" or lifelong job with one company is a thing of the past. Young people today (myself included) will likely work in a few different fields, with different companies or organizations in the private and public sectors. The question that the new generation faces is not only will I be able to find a job or career, but will I be able to find a something that is right for me?

I am not sure what the next half-year will hold, nor what I will do afterwards. But I do know that this will be an incredible learning experience, and will give me a good taste of what development work at the ground level entails. And this is exactly what I am looking for.

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GROWing Women’s Empowerment in Northern Ghana

Hello MEDA Family!

My name is Clarissa, I'm the new communications intern for the MEDA GROW Project (Greater Rural Opportunities for Women) in Tamale, Ghana. I arrived in here about two weeks ago and it's been a busy, exciting and fun ride so far!

b2ap3_thumbnail_MEDA-and-PRONET-Staff-Dancing-with-the-Penetono-GROW-Womens-Group.gifI had my first field visit to Wa last week, where our other MEDA office is, just about 4 hours from Tamale. I truly enjoyed meeting the MEDA field staff and our partner NGOs there. Although I have to admit that my favorite part was getting to visit two of the GROW communities in upper west region, Tanziri and Penetobo.

In true Ghanaian fashion, we were so kindly welcomed with much singing and dancing, which was such a blast! We got to see the women's soybean fields, listen the groups' challenges and successes, and thank them abundantly for having us, which was of course followed by more dancing!

I am so impressed by these incredible women. And here's why: Part of GROW is that our partner NGOs implement gender trainings in these communities. For one activity they have each the men and the women list their daily tasks.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Yelabema-Dakur-a-Penetobo-group-farmer-proudly-showing-us-her-soybean-field.gifHere's what they found:

  • The men on average had 2 tasks, one of which is riding their bicycle to sit under a tree and play a board game with their friends.
  • The women on the other hand had 18 tasks including cooking, cleaning, farming, getting water, caring for the children, just to name a few. . .
Although I have known about the unequal work distribution of women and seen it in similar communities in other parts of the world, it still blows my mind every time.

I inquired if there was any progress as a result of these gender trainings. Here are some of these results they shared: Listing the tasks out helped some of the men see that the work distributions was unfair, so they consented to help the women (who usually walk to carry water) to bring the water on their bicycle on their way home. Other men now understand that the women have been working all day and sometimes it takes longer to finish their tasks. Finally, some men decided to take their dishes to the women after they finished eating so that these can be washed.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Tanziri-GROW-Womens-Groups-with-MEDA-and-CARD-staff.gifClearly we have a long way to go toward gender equality, but change in these rural communities happens slowly and at least these little steps are progress in the right direction. Plus because of the GROW project, women have been growing and selling soybeans and now are able to contribute financially to the household, which helps to raise their status and financial decision making power. Mostly women use their earnings to purchase food and send their children to school.

I will never be able to understand what it is like to be born here in Tanziri or Penetobo, but I am so inspired by the incredible strength, selflessness, perseverance, warmth and work ethic these women have. I am grateful and excited to have the opportunity to contribute to the GROW project, to learn from MEDA and these women, to share their stories and see how the spark of empowerment will slowly but surely spread through their communities.

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My MEDA Internship Reflection: "I really felt fulfilled"

I was looking for an internship in a developing country, and knew that GAC partnered with various international organizations in order to provide opportunities for young people. After focusing on human rights and gender issues, I was looking for something in that field. MEDA's listing caught my eye as the position and project really spoke to me. Not only was the role exactly what I was looking for – a gender position in Ghana – but what I read about MEDA's work inspired me to apply. The idea of finding 'business solutions to poverty,' empowering those most vulnerable to create their own change, and working on sustainable projects made me excited to be a part of the team.

Working in international development has really opened my eyes to the process of implementing an intervention. Although I had prior experience traveling and volunteering abroad, nothing can compare to living and working somewhere for an extended period of time. Visiting local communities, meeting clients and their families and seeing the positive results of the project were so rewarding. Something I didn't expect was the extent to which cultural differences played a role in the project. This required an awareness of who I was working with at different times and an understanding that practices I might consider normal may come across as inappropriate to others. I learned a lot about working in different contexts that has been extremely valuable.

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