MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

MEDA's Evolving Approach to Youth Financial Inclusion

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On Friday January 22, MEDA is very pleased to be participating in the International Forum, hosted by WUSC and CECI. The theme of the forum is ‘Inclusive Economies, Inclusive Societies: Collaborative Action for Youth and Women.’ We will be presenting a case study on our approach to financial inclusion for youth. This blog gives a preview of what we will be discussing at the event. Hope to see you there!

What is financial inclusion and why is it important?

Financial inclusion means having access to a range of suitable, affordable services, including savings (formal and informal), loans and financial education. Access to youth-appropriate savings and loan products helps young people plan for their future. Youth-friendly financial services can lead to many positive outcomes, including heightened ability to manage money, build assets and improved opportunities for entrepreneurship. And yet, less than 5% of youth (ages 15-24) worldwide are currently being reached by financial services.

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Usage and Dormancy of Youth Accounts

This blog originally appeared on The SEEP Network Blog, co-authored by Jennifer Denomy and Rebecca Hession.

The United Nations Population Fund reports that there are 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24, with 89 percent of them residing in less-developed countries (2014). With appropriate knowledge and tools, youth can be financially empowered to access economic opportunities in a sustainable manner. Although they represent a large potential market, the integration of youth into the formal financial system is still a relatively new concept in many countries. In order to address these operational issues and explore innovations in this area, the SEEP Network’s Youth and Financial Services Working Group commissioned and wrote four Promising Practices Briefs. The topics of the briefs were selected during a series of consultations held with Working Group members in January 2015.

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Assessing Youth Financial Needs in Cross River State

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MEDA is partnering with Cuso International to improve financial inclusion for youth in Nigeria. The project titled Youth Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Access and Development (YouLead) works with young women and men in Cross River State, Nigeria.Following MEDA's detailed institutional assessment of financial sector in Cross River State, five financial inclusion partners were selected for capacity building support. Subsequently, an assessment of Youth Financial Needs was undertaken in May-June 2015. This blog documents the key findings of this assessment.

Why was the assessment needed?

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Improving Workplaces and Working Conditions for Young Employees

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This blog is a follow-up to one posted on 13 January 2015 titled “One Workplace At A Time” by Shaunet Lewinson featuring the E-FACE project.

The Ethiopians Fighting Against Child Exploitation (E-FACE) implements various livelihood strengthening interventions that tackle the issue of child exploitation due to reduced livelihoods. E-FACE targets households at-risk of or engaged in the worst forms of child labor in the Ethiopian textile and agriculture sectors, as well as young workers under the age of 18. One E-FACE intervention focuses on improving workspaces and working conditions for young workers using a three-component system that places young workers rights and safety at the forefront, while creating a participatory environment for both the young employees and their employers to get involved in the development of a safe workplace. The diagram below provides an overview of the 3 components (also referenced in previous blog).

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

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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.

Early 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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Youth Savings Association: Not Just About Developing A Savings Culture

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Research1 has shown that benefits from savings groups can go beyond asset building and savings for youth, and provide working youth with their own solidarity groups in which they find peer support and social security. They can also expose youth members to other financial service concepts, such as borrowing, banking, and income generating activities, which are taught through orientations and workshops. This blog seeks to further strengthen existing research on youth savings by showcasing MEDA's project titled Ethiopians Fighting Against Child Exploitation (E-FACE).

Village Savings Associations for Youth (VSAYs) are one aspect of a multi-pronged approach to supporting Ethiopian youth in the E-FACE project. MEDA's youth team recently undertook a visit to Addis Ababa to explore savings behavior among youth, including changes in their livelihoods, behaviors and working environment as a result of their participation in savings groups. Field observations, interviews and focus group discussions with VSAY members and their parents revealed a number of important changes.

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Praxis Series - Entry 2: Don’t forget the loan officers!

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Although youth between the ages of 18 - 30 often represent between 15 - 30% of total active clients in MFI portfolios, they are often labeled as undesirable and risky and many more youth applicants are turned away by Microfinance institutions (MFIs). MEDA's financial institution partners in Morocco, Attadamoune Microfinance and INMAA, wanted their staff to better engage with youth clients as they saw youth as a segment with great market potential. These innovative MFIs – with MEDA support - developed a training program to train frontline staff better address the financial needs of young clients. MEDA documented the efficacy of this training and explored any stated youth client interaction change amongst loan officers (LOs) and MFI staff in our recent Loan Officer Case Study.

The sessions within the training helped LOs and staff identify new techniques for prospecting potential youth clients and provided fundamental training on financial education (only 34% of LOs had been exposed to financial education sessions previously). The LOs added that due to the training, they would be able to improve their communication with youth, aid in increasing the share of youth in their respective portfolios, be able to better cater to youth clients, and provide them the basic information on budgeting, debt management, savings and financial negotiation (all sessions covered in financial education training).

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MEDA Expert Spotlight: Adam Bramm and Nicki Post

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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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Welcome to our blog

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The MEDA Youth Economic Opportunities (YEO) team is pleased to be launching our blog, where we will be sharing our experiences working with young people around the world and our thoughts on current issues in youth development.

What do we do?

For over a decade, MEDA has been developing targeted solutions that support youth in accessing appropriate financial services, securing safe and meaningful employment and becoming entrepreneurs. These youth experience reduced vulnerability, increased economic activity, and enhanced hope for their future.We combine our expertise in technologies, value chains, agribusiness, financial services and gender to bring catalytic assistance to our clients - those marginalized youth populations in poor and fragile states.

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Arba Minch: A humbling visit with VSLA groups in Chano Dorga

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I recently traveled to Arba Minch for my first field visit in southern Ethiopia. The main purpose of the trip was to visit clients and collect information to write up briefs for an donor tour that's taking place here in a few weeks. Spending a few days out of the city was refreshing. I especially appreciated meeting various clients, hearing from them personally how they have been positively impacted by the project. I also gained a new appreciation for our field staff in Arba Minch who are vital to the project. They hosted me very well in the midst of their busy schedules.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.
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What a long dreadful train ride

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“What a long, dreadful train ride” I heard people shrugging, while I was watching the landscape slip away behind me. We were stopping in the middle of nowhere for long periods of time, in what appeared to be “ghost stations”. I didn’t’ really ask why, I didn’t really care, I was simply enjoying the moment and anticipating my first work related trip. I was heading to Tetouan to assist with a 3 day training session organised and supported by MEDA Maroc, which focalizes on informing credit agents and directors from MFI’s on how to better understand and handle young clients. The train stops yet again, the AC wasn’t working, and some of the windows wouldn’t open, the passengers are all quiet, it was too hot to bother talking. Kids were coming out behind piles of rocks and bushes, running from a distance towards the train, trying to hop on the train for a free ride to the neighboring costal city: Azilal. They were bright eyed boys with big smiles, having the time of their lives while being chased after by the security guards and their dogs. I always enjoy road trips; I lose all concept of time while basking in the images and live portraits surrounding me.After resting in Tangier I hit the road to Tetouan! The development agents I met there were all enthusiastic about the training. Their interest and participation were great, even though the sessions were held during the week-end. We all had a sense of how important it was to provide appropriate financial services to the youth, and countered the multiple stereotypes surrounding young MFI clients. Clients weren’t numbers anymore; they were people from their community that they were eager to help. While I was capturing these moments with my camera, I noticed the same bright eyes and smiles I previously encountered during my train ride. I kept wondering what was so similar between two completely different groups of people. Could it be hope? Hope to reach more clients...hope to reach the beach or hope for improvement...hope for a better future.

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Two words: snail soup

Now that I’ve got your attention, let me make something abundantly clear, snail soup is probably one of the best street foods out there! The moment I stepped foot in Morocco, my thoughts were haunted by the delectable gooey critter. During orientation week in Waterloo, we were taught to examine our surroundings the second we arrive in our residencies; I am a tad bit ashamed to admit that I went snail cart hunting instead, though I promise I promptly scrutinized my environment afterwards. Once I unpacked in Casablanca, I went for an evening walk to get acquainted with my new neighbourhood, and of course track down the “bebouch” (snail) stand. I was able to smell the tempting broth from miles away; sweet scent of herbs and spices such as thyme, oregano, tarragon, mint, peppermint, liquorice roots, anise seeds, and the list of ingredients goes on, and on…and on. For those of you who have an adventurous gastronomic side, I suggest you try some snail, click here  for the recipe or hop on a plane to Morocco.After checking off “bebouch” from my bucket list, my real adventure started: interning as an impact assessment agent with MEDA, in the city of Casablanca. The team here is great! Everyone is eager to help and love to share different information about the area. YouthInvest is the project that MEDA Maroc is currently working on, it’s truly catered to the Moroccan demand; unemployment being a heavy burden, this project facilitates youth access to micro financial services as well as the work market. Next on my bucket list: sheep brain.

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To the field: Oujda, by the Algerian border

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In late July, I was sent to Oujda to interview a few young clients who received “100 hours for success” training from MEDA Maroc. I took the (quite comfortable) overnight train from Casablanca and arrived in Oujda, right by the Algerian border to the East, on the next day. After having checked-in at the hotel, we promptly set off for the MEDA Maroc Oujda office and I met with our local staff. I was soon thereafter interviewing the first client, Fatima Zahra, who plans on opening her own clothing store once she gets enough experience in the field and has put aside enough money.

Later that day, I had a long and engaging two-way discussion with a group of youth after a “100 hours for success” session and was able to gain a lot of mileage as to the real-life skills and the hope MEDA Maroc’s program instills in Moroccan youth, enabling them to reach for their dreams and achieve whatever they set out to do. I’ve met and interviewed a few more youth and was able to collect valuable information and success stories.

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On language and identity

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So, apparently, I’m Moroccan. No one could ever tell that I’m Canadian by my appearance alone. Due to my French and Indian background, I guess I could look like a great many things. I remember people in Uzbekistan thought I was Uzbek, in China I looked as though I was from the Xinjiang (East Turkestan) Autonomous Region, and Caucasians (from the Caucasus mountains) think I’m Azeri. It’s pretty practical. Even when I do tell someone, such as my cab driver on my first day, that I am from Montreal (I flew from Montreal, but I’m actually from Brampton, Ontario), he assumed I was one of those 60,000 young Moroccans who study abroad. Awesomeness. But… when I don’t speak French, and switch to Arabic I pass for any other Arab, but definitely not Moroccan. I spent the past year studying Fusha (literal) Arabic and a bit of Egyptian dialect. When I talk to people I do so in Fusha. I don’t really fear being made fun of – as I’ve been told I would –; the important thing is to be able to communicate. And frankly, I never get any remarks. People usually ask whether I’m Syrian or Egyptian. I tell that I’m Indian – a habit I’ve acquired in my travels in Central Asia, where your ethnicity is of utmost importance and is determined by your father’s background. Saying that I’m Indian also helps me avoid the temptation of speaking in French – my mother tongue. I’m in part here to improve my Arabic skills, after all. I have Satellite TV with over 700 channels in Arabic from all over the Arab world. It’s pretty cool to have been able to follow political events in Egypt on an Egyptian channel, and watch Turkish soap operas in Syrian dialect. I’m impressed with the fact that many Moroccans understand these dialects. In general, I find Moroccans are gifted with languages. At work The staff at MEDA Maroc is very friendly. Colleagues have helped me buy, and then, repair my bike. They made me try couscous, tagine and other local goodies. I am definitely a fan of Moroccan cuisine now. At the office, I’ve mainly been working on building the MEDA MENA website for Morocco and Egypt, translating a newsletter from Arabic to English and doing other communications tasks. This week, I’ll be going to Oujda to conduct a few interviews with program beneficiaries. It should be interesting.

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First impressions in Morocco

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I can still remember how excited I felt on the Royal Air Maroc plane as we flew over the Atlantic Ocean. I was thrilled to finally set foot in Africa, and after a year of intensive study of the Arabic language, being able to work and live in the Arab world as well. It felt surreal. Then, I arrived. The airport felt pretty international (as they all tend to be) but very African as well. Mohammed V airport in Casablanca wants to become – and to some extent already is – a hub for flights to and from Sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and North America. I have often been told that Moroccans don’t see themselves as African (that could in fact be said of many North African countries) – and I believe it’s a question I will try exploring over the next few months. I took a train to Gare Oasis, then a taxi to my apartment. It’s located in the south of the city, in Ain Chock. I wanted to get to know another side of the city and it’s people, away from the downtown glitter. Most of my colleagues were surprised at my choice – I live 9 km away from the MEDA Maroc office, which means, depending on Casablanca traffic, from 38 minutes to over an hour in the bus. It’s hot, sweaty, crowded, and quite frankly – though I’m usually a fan of intense travel experiences such as feeling like cattle at the back of a truck – I’m really not that fond of such promiscuity two hours a day for six months. So, naturally, I bought a bike. My best time so far is 24 minutes to get to the office. And I dare say it’s a great way of keeping fit. It also allows for more mobility and freedom. I never like being at the mercy of cab drivers in any place and have always valued bikes in cities that have no efficient public transport. I can pretty much go wherever I want to, when I want to – provided my legs have it in them for the extra kilometer or two. Rabat My first weekend in Morocco was spent in Rabat. I took the train a Saturday morning from the Casa Voyageurs train station and arrived in Rabat an hour later. I visited Rabat with a Moroccan friend of mine that I had met three years ago in Delhi! The city is so much quieter than Casablanca. To be honest, I felt a bit overwhelmed by the traffic and expanse of Casablanca. It was nice to see something more low-key and relaxed. It’s a nice capital with the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, a nice medina (old city) overlooking the sea, the Kasbah of the Oudaias, and nice restaurants and shops. I really do feel that I’m just scratching the surface as there is so much more to be seen and done. I plan on climbing the Jebel Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa, sometime in August. I also want to see Marrakech, Fez, Meknes, Chefchaouen, the Atlas moutains and the dessert.

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Happy International Women's Day - We are one woman

Today is March 8th so I will start by wishing you a happy International Women's Day.  One thing that I can definitely attribute to my internship experience is a stronger sense of feminism. Seeing the disparity and the double standards women face in Morocco - which on the whole is much better than many developing countries - but still not up to Western standards - has made me feel like I need to do something more. Here's a little description of street culture in the city: Casablanca is a very cosmopolitan city - it certainly doesn't have the traditional old city feel of Fes, or tourist-Mecca feel of Marrakech. But the men still rule the streets, whether it's groups of boys kicking a soccer ball, teenagers loitering, men sitting at sidewalk cafés, or old men playing cards, they are at home in public spaces. The errant (young) woman who proposes to go out alone, (imagine!), especially in the evening or at night (really!) must be inviting these men, aged 15-75, to comment on her appearance or repeatedly try to catch her attention by calling out variations on "bonjour/bonsoir," "Welcome to Morocco" (for foreigners), "Hola" and a variety of catcalling sounds: whistles, "oh-la-la," or my least favourite: kissing sounds. Why else would she try to run an errand or walk somewhere by herself? These catcalls can occur from across the street, but the eager man likes to whisper/shout these directly into the woman's ear or face, to make sure she hears them of course.  Even when the men she passes don't say something, they often stare for an uncomfortably long time, even turning and walking backwards for several paces after passing her. She is a piece of meat to the hungry wolves. The exceptions walk past without a word or a glance, but maybe they were staring too - it's hard for the woman to tell since she keeps her eyes fixed to the sidewalk or the street, avoiding looking at people walking by since that encourages more comments. Of course this doesn't happen to every woman, or women past a certain age, and my Moroccan coworkers tell me that it happens less to them, and that it used to be much worse 10 or 15 years ago. But that reminds me of a phrase from one of my sociology classes about it "getting better." We often do nothing because we argue that things are improving, they are better than they were before, but that rhetoric also implies that women are not yet equals. We don't seem to mind because the disparity isn't as blatant as it was in the past, but that doesn't mean there isn't more work to be done.  This might have sounded like you can't walk down the street in Casa, but that's not the case. You can, and you can go out and meet up with friends, get groceries, do anything you like, and for the most part you never feel unsafe. But you must always be wary, and you must also put on your mask of disinterest to try to curb unwanted attention. And most days you can walk deafly through streets, the comments sluicing off your mental armour. But some days you can't block them out, and you want to say something back, or hit someone particularly offensive.  These tactics help keep women where men think they should be - in the home, or at least not in public, not alone. It is a power thing, and it reflects the fact that these men think they have the right to say whatever they like to women, and that they shouldn't be in the public sphere. Definitely something that Moroccan families need to start teaching their children at an early age: respect for women, all women - not just their mothers. This monologue of sorts doesn't even address the fact that more women are illiterate, are less to be educated for as long as men, are less active in the economy, and are almost absent from positions of political or social importance. The country’s score under the Gender Inequality Index is 0.510 (104 out of 146 countries). And this is one of the better off countries in North Africa.  So, today, on International Women's Day, think about women in countries worse off than your own, and teach your own children/family what equality means. The only way changes will happen is if there is a behavioral shift worldwide. We are one woman, as the new UN Women song says, have a listen and share: http://song.unwomen.org/

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Circling central Morocco: +1600km in 5 days

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My friend Diana from Montreal spent two weeks visiting Morocco, and together we did a 1600+km tour of the country in 5 days. Here are some of the highlights.MarrakechThursday evening, Feb 14th, after I finished work, we headed to Casa Voyageurs and took the evening train to Marrakech. This was quite different than my last train journey there - which you can read about in my November post! We arrived late, and (of course) got ripped off by the train station taxis who over-charged us but also only dropped us off at Djema-el-Fnaa, the square, rather than the street we needed to get to our riad. After some wandering, and glancing confusedly at the map provided by the riad and the poor signage around the square, we were able to get the assistance of a very generous restauranteur, who walked us to our hotel out of the goodness of his heart, down a couple of very seedy-looking medina alleys. Alas we arrived at the hotel and checked in, sometime around 11:30 pm. We spent Friday shopping, touring the Bahia Palace (pictured left), appreciating the Koutoubia Mosque and gardens, and observing the entertainers, monkeys, snake charmers and dentists of Place Djema-el-Fnaa. The tourSaturday morning at 8 a.m. we met our driver, who would take us on a organized tour from Marrakech, through the High Atlas mountains, through to Ouarzazate, Skoura, Kelaat Mgouna, Todra Gorge, Arfoud and Merzouga, where we rode camels out into the Erg Chebbi dunes to spend Sunday night at an oasis camp, guided by a Sahrawi nomad. The tour through the High Atlases (pictured right) provided plenty of great views, although the roads were very winding. Ouarzazate is famous as being the location of film studios and is a popular region to film desert-themed scenes. We also stopped at Ait Ben Haddou, an old Kasbah on the edge of the High Atlases on the road to Ouarzazate, which was a stronghold of the ben haddou tribe for centuries. On our ride from Marrakech to Merzouga we stopped at a women's cooperative to see how Argan oil is made, at a rose distillery and coop in Kelaat Mgouna (in the Valley of the Roses), and went to the source of the river in the Todra Gorge, one of three gorges in the region.The Dar Panorama in Skoura was a great place to stop Saturday night, with excellent food and the guesthouse to ourselves. It had a view over the date palm groves of Skoura which was beautiful at sunset. The camel riding was a fun, once-in-a-lifetime experience. We both had white camels, which is special. We stopped to watch the sunset over the dunes (pictured left), and left early enough to watch the sunrise from a good spot as well. What was more surprising was that there were tons of cats at the oasis camps. There is a Berber family who lives there permanently to watch the camp, so I guess cats are a part of the domestic patchwork, but it is weird to see them in the middle of dunes. Sunday morning we did the long trek from Merzouga to Fes via Ifrane and the Middle Atlases. I forgot to mention that we passed the Anti-Atlases on our way out to Merzouga, so we saw/drove through all three sets of Atlas mountains. We stopped briefly in Midelt, where I ended up buying a Sahrawi carpet of camel hair, in a multitude of colours. I really hadn't planned on getting such a big one, or of this style (described sometimes as painterly or zanafi style). I probably paid too much for it, but I bargained the man down by 3300 dirhams so I thought that was pretty good, and the Morrocans have a saying that the right price is the price you are willing to pay.FesWe got dropped off in Fes on the night of the 18th, and spent the night in a riad in the medina where we met some great fellow travelers. We did a walking tour of the medina the next day, and in the evening I headed back on the train to Casablanca, so I could work on the 20th.Diana stayed in Fes for 2 extra days with her new companions and arrived back in Casa in time for my birthday, which we celebrated by going to the  February Jeudi Casaouis event. All in all I think it was a good trip - although somehow Diana ended up going home with about 20 kgs of extra luggage and a new carry-on to accommodate all the pottery and breakables!

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Training MFIs to improve financial access for youth

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For the past year our project, YouthInvest, has been working to shift strategies to its second phase - training Micro-Finance Institutions (MFIs), commonly referred to as AMCs (Associations de micro-credit) here in Morocco, to improve their services and products to meet the needs of the sizeable youth market. In 2012 MEDA signed an agreement to train credit officers and branch managers for one of the larger MFIs - the Fondation Banque Populaire de Micro-Credit (FBPMC) in cooperation with another NGO that is funding the training on improved customer service for youth clients. MEDA Maroc has been training their staff in week long sessions across the country, With the goal being to train the staff from about 50 branches. The evaluations coming out of these sessions show how successful the program is, and the participants' satisfaction with the content and delivery.This past weekend, February 8-10, 2013, MEDA Maroc offered a short overview training on the "Financial Solutions for Youth" training suite we will be offering to all Moroccan MFIs. There were nearly 20 participants at this select workshop, representing MFIs large and small, as well as a few individuals interested in the sector. Training for Trainers (TOT), Better Customer Service for Youth Clients, Developing Financial Products for Youth, Risk Management for Youth Clients, and Technical Assistance for Product Development are the components of this new YouthInvest phase. MEDA will also be conducting a study of financial products and services currently available to youth, as well as current youth client satisfaction surveys before commencing the training suite for MFIs. A similar study is being conducted in Egypt, where YouthInvest is also active.While this phase has taken some time to get off the ground, partnership agreements are being signed with MFIs presently, and the materials and content for the three training topics are being finalized. A good deal of my time at work has been dedicated to supporting this phase in recent months (helping with customer service materials, translating partnership agreements, and taking photos at the FBPMC training in Khouribga in order to use some shots for upcoming publicity. Included are a few photos from our training on "Financial Solutions for Youth" in Casablanca and the FBPMC training on Improving Customer Service for Youth Clients in Khouribga the last week of January. 

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From Oujda to Essaouira in 1 Week

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I've been a bit silent on here for the last few weeks because I've been travelling quite a bit. First, was a trip to Oujda Jan 2-6 for work, then a weekend road trip to Safi, Essaouira and Sidi Kaouki Jan 11-13. Here I'll paint a bit of a picture of what these regions are like, being found at opposite ends of the country. Oujda and Jerada (oriental Morocco)As I mentioned after my previous visit to Oujda in October, the region in which Oujda is found is referred to as the oriental region, because it is the northeasternmost region of the country, bordered by Algeria and the hemmed in by the Mediterranean Sea. It is hilly and rough around much of the Oujda area - which is the easternmost city in Morocco, a scant few kms from the Algerian border, and home to roughly 800,000 people.Jerada is further South from Oujda, and closely surrounded by mountains and trees. It was a hour from Oujda by grand taxi, and is known for its coal production. Next to the youth centre where my colleagues and I sat in on a "100 hours to success" training session was a mountain of coal waste that overshadowed the surrounding buildings. Jerada is in the Beni Snassen mountains. This time visiting Oujda I had a chance to see more of the city. I went with local extension officers to 4 different centres where they provide training to youth, and although it is hilly and bare around most of the city. From about May to September or October is the driest period here, so when I landed in September everything was reddish-brown, the colour of the earth around Casablanca. When I returned from Berlin in December I was astonished by how green everything had become. SafiOn the 3 hour drive South to along the highway to Safi I noticed that the rolling hills surrounding Casa flattened out onto fertile plains, before approaching mountains and hills once again as we neared the coast of the Atlantic. Safi is set right on the ocean, and has been a popular port for hundreds of years. The red clay of the region makes Safi most well known for its ceramics, of which we bought plenty! Safi is also known for its phosphate production and sardines. The Portuguese held Safi for some time in the middle ages, when they had forts and settlements all down the coast. The Spanish had the North, along the Mediterranean, the Portuguese had the Atlantic coast. The French came later. EssaouiraThe route to Essaouira became a bit unnecessarily long, as we made an unplanned detour through the countryside in our search for the coastal road. It did give us a chance to see some really rural areas. We drove through mountains and woods, and saw some massive waves and dunes along the coast when we finally did get on the right road. The city itself is a popular tourist destination. We stayed in a riad in the old medina so we saw plenty of Euopeans wandering around as well. The sqala de la ville is the fort in the old medina, with great views of the ocean and the sunset. The sqala du port is a short walk away, and is still located at the mouth of the present fishing port. Sidi KaoukiThe length of coast between Essaouira and Agadir is famous for its waves ideal for surfing and windsailing. Sunday morning we went on a short drive through the Argan tree groves to the small community of Sidi Kaouki. We managed to photograph some of the goats that eat the argan fruit - the source of the oil that is so popular in Morocco for cosmetics and cooking. We also hiked up a gravel road to a hill overlooking the ocean and beach. We met some children who were watching their cows and camels when we went back to the car. The area was fairly quiet, but quite rocky. Stopping at the Sidi Kaouki beach for lunch and a chance to dip our feet in the ocean - swimming was not recommended with the 3 metre-high waves - was fantastic. There were some tourists about, but very few people at this time of year, even though it was above 20 degrees. ReflectionsThe abundance of agriculture from Sidi Kaouki all the way back to Casablanca was very evident. Verdant, lush fields hugged the highway once we left the mountainous area that was filled with argan trees, goats and sheep. Often we passed individuals walking along the road, or waiting for a grand taxi. It was difficult to figure out where they had come from, as most often they were far from buildings in any direction. Although I grew up in the country, I can't imagine the isolation that a rural youth would feel in one of the tiny communities we passed through. Illiteracy in rural areas, especially among women is quite high in Morocco - in 2010 only 57% of women (15 years old and over) were illiterate (source: UNESCO), with approximately 80-90% of rural women being illiterate. The related challenges would be staggering. You realize how much you have to be thankful for as a Canadian.   

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Long Time Gone

I'm trying to look back and process the last six months, but it's hard right now to visualize everything together; it comes in bits and pieces, good and bad. I think it's going to take some time to figure out exactly how I've changed because of this experience.*We went to Oujda, one of the towns in northeast Morocco where our programming happens, earlier this month. I had the chance to sit in on youth trainings, which was an amazing, inspiring experience.These are kids who sign up for training to improve their job prospects - kids, I say, but really 14-25 year olds. Every week, they go to sessions on entrepreneurship, money management, and life skills at community centers, where they sit in unheated rooms (and I am here to tell you, it gets cold in Oujda!) and listen to our awesome training staff. They're focused, they're interested, they participate - and these are things I think most Westerners take for granted.How many of us complained about talking CALM 20 (for non-Albertans, this is "Career and Life Management") in high school? How many of us, at, say, age 17, would have sat politely through a presentation on stress management or time management without rolling our eyes, passing notes, or just zoning out? Obviously, there is some self-selection happening, but it was seriously impressive to see young people so engaged.We had staff from MEDA in Oujda help us out by showing us around and translating from Arabic into French. They were some of the absolute nicest people I have ever met in my life, incredibly welcoming, and I'm really grateful that I had the opportunity to hang out with them and see the awesome work they're doing.*I never did figure out how to love Morocco. Deeply respect, yes; the culture and tradition, the focus on family, the art, the amazing people I've met, the amazing things I've seen and done. I like a lot of things about Morocco, but not living here! I love to travel, but I want something to come home to, people to share what I've done with. I miss my family and friends so much that it almost feels physical, sometimes. Six months was enough, for me. I want a home base near the people I love.I've learned a lot about myself from this experience. I'm proud of some of it; other stuff I'd like to work on, like my instinct to retreat inward when I feel stressed or threatened. I never used to consider myself shy, but here I've been different - diffident - and it's definitely been a personal and professional obstacle.The thing is, though - I think I'm learning (slowly, painfully!) to take my personal challenges and view them as challenges, not failures. For everyone who knows me, this is huge! I'm a major perfectionist, super A-type, perhaps slightly OCD - so being able to sit and think, okay, I feel really timid today, but I'm going to do one thing that scares me and I'm going to keep doing it until it doesn't scare me anymore has been a real game-changer.This experience has taught me how to be a stranger, how to be the 'other', how to exist on the outside of a society. I think until you have that experience, you can't fully understand how hard it is to live someplace like Canada and not speak very good English, not understand the customs, not know how to get from place to place. I think of our 'nation of immigrants' and wonder how many people I encounter every day who feel like I often felt here - confused, homesick, out of rhythm, even judged. I only have to do it for another 9 days, but for some people it's just life.Anything that builds your capacity for empathy is a good experience. Even the bad parts of living here - by which I mean the constant street harassment - have taught me a lot about how women in most parts of the world (up to and including many parts of the developed world, absolutely) are adversely affected by outward displays of sexism.I have also had some great professional experience to add to my CV, for which I am super grateful, and I have loved working with the MEDA team and learning about the YouthInvest project. I feel really good about the career I've chosen in development and I think this internship has really solidified it as the right choice for me.I'll leave you with the poem that means the most to me, and the sentiment that has kept me going when the going got rough:    love is a place    & through this place of    love move    (with brightness of peace)    all places     yes is a world    & in this world of    yes live    (skillfully curled)    all worlds     (e.e. cummings)

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