MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

The Legendary 26


On Friday, June 19th, I had my 26th birthday in Regina, Saskatchewan. The day before was the hardest day I had ever had on this trip.We faced the strongest head winds when we were heading from Saskatoon to Davidson: We were biking 15km/hr when normally we average 25-30km/hr. Having heads winds rather than tail winds can really make a big difference. After seven hours in strong winds, we had biked 115km; in comparison, another day we did 160km in six hours with the wind in our favour.I was extremely exhausted the next day, my birthday. I didn’t feel like riding the 130km to Regina at all. On the bike ride, I received numerous amounts of birthday wishes from my family, friends, MEDA staff and individuals from Ghana. These I remember quite vividly as, “Our Ghana Family wishes you a happy birthday.” The encouraging wishes helped me push through to Regina and I was then greeted by the wonderful Good family.I was already feeling pretty excited to get to Regina, not only to relax. We had met Jen Good this past November at the MEDA Convention in Winnipeg and I had stayed in contact with her during the year. I was eager to get to her home as she had planned many things for us. Jen, Shawn, Dawson, Natasha, and Mitchel opened their home to us.Once we had our heavenly showers, we ate and then we were off to a Saskatchewan Riders football game. It was the last exhibition game and was against Calgary. The Good family prepared us for the game with Riders t-shirts. Thank goodness we had them because we would have been the only ones not wearing green.I’m so thankful for all the wonderful messages and calls I received from everyone. These kind words of encouragement help to push me through the difficult bike days.
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Prairie Times: Mary Fehr

MEDA followed up with Bike to GROW to find out how they’re fairing at the end of the Prairies– Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. This time, Mary shares her insights...How did biking in the Prairies compare to biking in the Rockies?It was wonderful. I finally feel I have a rhythm. I get into my cadence and I can just cruise and let my mind wander. I now feel at peace enough that my bike is going to hold together and I can enjoy the beauty of the fields around me.How well has your body and mind adjusted to this daily physical endurance?My body has been feel great, a few sore knees and a few scrapes but nothing to complain about. My mind is loving it. The prairies may get boring in a car but on a bike, each new field is a new excitement and the sky is forever changing and shaping in different ways.What has it been like spending every day for almost two months with Sarah?Amazing. I don’t know that there is anyone else I could do this ride with. We don’t get along and agree with each other every step of the way, but we work through and communicate about everything. We are aware of each other’s moods and are learning what we both need in different situations. For instance, I know that Sarah’s mood is directly correlated to the speed she is biking: When she is in a good mood, I can never catch her, but when she is tired or hungry or frustrated, I am able to stick with her or even worse... pass her.How has it been connecting with MEDA supporters and introducing others to MEDA?I don’t know what were going to do after this trip because no one will be asking what we are doing and why. I love when I get to share the work of MEDA and my personal experience as a previous intern. It is so easy to share our goal and look to get others involved because I am so passionate and confident that the money is going to improve so many women’s lives.How is cooking for yourselves on the road?This is interesting. We are very different eaters. So far, there has been many small towns that we can usually plan lunch around but come Northern Ontario, we will be doing much more of the cooking ourselves. I am sure we will have many conversations about what we both need to function in the best possible way. We will both compromise so that each of us has the fuel we need to get through the next day. Then, when we see a restaurant, we’ll indulge.Is it hard biking carrying all of your own gear and belongings?At the beginning, I couldn’t believe how heavy it was but now, I feel empty without it! It has become so natural that I don’t even notice it anymore, unless I pack up to quickly – in which case I am usually heavily left or right sided, and I notice that almost immediately.How often do you stop for breaks during the day?We try to stop every hour just to stand up, maybe eat a snack and make a little pit stop on the side of the highway. So in the Prairies, it has been every 25km.What do you do when you don’t have a pre-arranged place to stay?We would camp but more often then not, we have met people along the way that have offered us a place to stay or to connect us with someone in a future town. We are incredibly lucky and supported!What do you do on your days off?Laundry and rest. We are usually pretty exhausted on our days off that we don’t have much time for other activities but we did get to a Rodeo in Regina that was amazing!What is one new thing you’ve learned about yourself?I have learned that my mood is determined based on my electrolyte level. As I become dehydrated, I find myself getting upset at things that are really not an issue. As soon as I am able to get some electrolytes back in my body, those same issues no longer frustrate me. I am sure Sarah has learned this about me far quicker then I did but we both have an understanding. There is “hangry” and there is “angry” – both are valid emotions.
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Praxis Series - Entry 3: Is there a business case for youth services? – We think so!

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Youth under the age of 30 comprise over 50% of the global population. However, when thinking about offering financial services targeted at this age group, financial service providers (FSPs) often overlook this up-tapped reservoir, particularly in rural areas.

MEDA's YouthInvest project worked closely with Moroccan Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) – Fondation Ardi, Attadamoune and INMAA – to explore questions around the feasibility of integrating youth into their portfolios and whether this made good business sense. Through intensive discussions with MFI management and tailored frontline staff training, we discussed the benefits of working with youth, as well designing new financial credit products that would enhance the MFIs' bottom line.

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The Summits and the Wind


We hit a milestone two days ago when we reached the British Columbia and Alberta border. To reach this goal, we had one last summit to climb.We like being mentally prepared – we always ask people how the summits are and what the elevation levels will be like. For example, will we have gradual climbs, steep climbs, or rollercoaster hills? Could it all be flat (not likely)? Usually, people warned us about large climbs that would take us most of the day, Coquihalla Summit being one of them.In total, we had three summits. Don't get me wrong, most days in the Rockies were a struggle, but at the end we always reached our goal and were on time with our schedule. Once we got to our location, we were filled with happiness and we always appreciate the beauty of the surrounding area. There is something about manpower and sweat that makes the end goal that much more awarding. Out of the three summits, we didn't hit our last one until our last day in BC, coming out of Fernie.Crowsnest Pass Summit is a mountain pass across the Continental Divide of the Canadian Rockies on the Alberta/British Columbia border. The elevation of Crowsnest is 1, 358 meters. Everyday we try to be mentally prepared for the toughest day. We were also not avid cyclists beforehand (even though we trained for a year), thus some climbs and routes are harder for us sometimes. It also helps to be prepared so that you're not disappointed when you see a 7km, 15km, or 30km climb ahead of you that could take you 4 hours. Each summit limit has a description with the name of the mountain and the elevation level. This is when we know we've done the hardest work there is to do in the day and then we can celebrate.We crossed the Crowsnest Pass and then 2km later we were in Alberta. I didn't believe that that was it and we were done. Either the climb wasn't hard, or we have become stronger and have dealt with a lot harder climbs. I think it's a combination of everything. This is a large milestone for us – we learned how to cycle in the Rockies. Now we are happy we are in the Praries where the terrain is a lot easier, however we have a new challenge. Someone in Alberta told us a joke that "everyone walks sideways here." They were referring to the wind. Our first day in Alberta, yesterday, coming into Lethbridge, had 22km winds against us. Lethbridge is known for being one of the windiest cities. We cycled 99km into Lethbridge from Pincher Creek, just outside the BC border in Alberta. I struggled a lot mentally and physically too. I'm not use to the wind and cycling continuously, at least in the Rockies we had a 20km break when we went down the mountains. Alberta and Saskcatchewan will be a new challenge, but I look forward to the new scenery and continuing to meet new people.One province down, nine to go!
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Tent poles


Riding away from Kelowna was a bittersweet experience. After enjoying a wonderful day off, it was incredibly hard to leave. However, Sarah and I were both incredibly excited to spend the next few days camping. British Columbia is well known for their beautiful provincial parks and we wanted to experience the province at its best.After much discussion as to where we should ride, we rode off from the Kettle Valley Trail that goes from Kelowna to Castlegar. The Kettle Valley Rail Trail is an old railroad that takes you on a journey with breath-taking views while following Highway #33. We were overwhelmed with so much joy on the start of our ride. It was a perfect start to the day.As we rode, the trail started to get a little tougher and a little wet from the rainfall the night before. Even though we had to walk through some big puddles and our tires slipped in the sand every so often, we were still having a generally positive day. I mean, we were surrounded by nature and what else could we ask for? The first 40km, that took us most of the morning, was much slower than our normal pace, so it seemed the only logical thing was to find a way back to the main highway. After a few wrong turns and some wasted time, we changed our minds again and decided to continue on the Kettle Valley Trail. It would simply be a few more hours of grinding it out, but we would get there.I jumped ahead of Sarah to avoid a big puddle when I heard Sarah shout, "Mary! You're missing a bag!" As I checked my panniers and my dry bag, I noticed our red tent pole bag was missing and I had no idea when I last heard the rattling. There was no other option – we would have to retrace our steps to find the bag. We were getting flustered and I could not believe how careless I could have been. We rode 20km back on the trail, stopped a group of four wheelers and asked for them to look for tent poles on the trail. They agreed to run them back to us if they found them. It had been a while so our hope that they would find them had quickly disappeared, right as we heard the first few claps of thunder. The perfect start to the day shifted very quickly.We went back to an intersection, to flag down a car for some help and some options. As we told him our situation, he informed us that he was a manager of a local resort. He explained he was setting out signs for a group of students who were biking down the Kettle Valley Trail today and staying at his resort. Hoping they would find the tent poles, I gave him my number to get in contact if that was the case. We then continued to the next closest town, Beaverdell, now in pouring rain.Feeling completed defeated and overwhelmed, we finally arrived in Beaverdell. We quickly found a place to stay, as there were only two options and we couldn't make it to the next town until the following morning. We sat down to eat the last of our food and talk about the frustrations of the day – communication is key.Our new plan was to order some new poles and have them shipped to the next destination we could get them. As I called our tent company, they let me know a new set of poles would be $195.00, much more than either of us anticipated. I hung up the phone, unimpressed that I would probably just have to accept the charge to get some new poles if we wanted to camp at all this summer. I went back to the table with Sarah and told her the unfortunate news when I noticed a voicemail – it was the kind fellow we had met on the side of the road. After much too long of an introduction, he finally announced the tent poles had been found!!The support vehicle for the teachers had wanted a little exercise after waiting for their students all day and decided to go look for them! They found them about 10km up from the road where we turned back and would come early to Beaverdell the next day to give them to us. I was in touch and so thankful to the staff in the support vehicle and we made plans to meet the following morning.As we waited at the local ice cream parlor/coffee shop, we couldn't believe how lucky we have been this whole trip. We are overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of others. I cannot thank all of you enough who have prayed for us over the past few weeks on the start of our journey. I have no idea where we would be if it weren't for the incredible power of prayer.The past few days camping have been an adventure all on their own, with so many great stories. We have met incredible people, enjoyed some quality time with nature and loved every second of it. Oh, and now we put our tent poles in Sarah's bag...
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Up to Coquihalla Summit


The bike ride started on May 18th, at Mile 0 in Victoria British Columbia, where the Terry Fox monument is located. Starting off here is a beautiful location with the Pacific Ocean in the background. Our small "possy" did the trick of boosting the atmosphere. They included a couple I had met in Nicaragua; Mary's parents, Abe and Lisa; the Rotarian President in Victoria; Ethan Eshbach, MEDA's Young Adult Engagement Coordinator; our hosts, whom we had just met, and our hosts' parents. They sent us off with a warm departure.The bicycle route to cross from Vancouver Island into the Tsawwassen Harbour is easily accessible by the Lochside Trail. Once in Delta, BC, we were fortunate enough to have Ethan follow us and be our support vehicle for a week. His last stop with us was in Hope, which was also our first day of cycling 100km. We hadn't quite hit the Rockies yet – thus, we weren't prepared for the following day.Coquihalla Summit is highway 5, or the Coquihalla Highway. It's the highest point on the highway between the cities of Hope and Merritt, which is an altitude of 1,244m or 4,081ft. To be honest, we were underprepared for this undertaking. The climb is 15km, so being us, we thought no problem. The day of the trip didn't start till noon since we had a flat tire. We finished just as the sun was setting, putting in about 8 hours that day. The ride was extremely tolling on our mental and physical stamina. At one point, I was crying and I was tired of transport trucks slowly pulling beside us. I then looked back and saw the gorgeous snow covered mountain peaks. I sound corny, but I realized how truly blessed I was at that point: That my biggest problem IN MY LIFE at that moment was getting up that mountain. In reality, I'm the luckiest person to be able to see this country.We were searching for the recreational area for camping, but it was hard to find. We saw a tow truck pulled over and asked how far it was away while on the summit. He made a horrible joke, "Still 100 miles away." Remember how I said we weren't prepared? By this time, we had run out of water. I asked the driver when the next service station was. He went into his car and gave us six water bottles. The campground was only 2km away, but after thinking 15km would be easy for a climb, we were dreading the last 2km. When we got to the campground, the sun was already setting behind a mountain. To get to the campground you need to hike a few more kilometers. Needless to say, we were tired. We set up our tent right in the parking lot and had a campfire there.I am proud that I was able to pass the Coquihalla Summit. The running joke is.."Is it as big as Coquihalla Summit? No problem."
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Assessing micro-finance institutions in Cross River State

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This blog is an update on the previous entry on the Financial Inclusion for Nigerian Youth, dated February 9, 2015.

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.

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Oversized awkward box

I had a month and a half home to complete last minute details for Bike to GROW. I'm happy I had that time to prepare in more detail and to use the time to promote the fundraiser in my hometown, Picton, Ontario. My former employer called me one afternoon and told me they're donating a brunch for Bike to GROW, with all ticket proceeds going towards the initiative. I went around on the refreshment cart and talked with golfers about the event and MEDA's GROW project in Ghana. I went to coffee shops, stores and public areas to put up event posters and Bike to GROW postcards.On my last day home, I went out for coffee with my dad. A couple came up and put a check made out to Bike to GROW in the middle of our table. They had been reading the postcard and noticed me when I came in with my dad. When I went to deposit the check, the bank teller asked me about the bike trip and automatically added a donation. Not only was I able to be home and promote Bike to GROW, I saw the love and support all communities have the potential to share. I'm one lucky girl to grow up where I did.Another amazing connection I made at home was with a local radio station, 99.3 FM. I will be calling them every Monday at 10am EST to discuss the route and how the tour has been going. This is a fun way to get people more involved and informed on what we're doing.This past year has been a great experience in and of itself. I can't believe how fast the time did pass though. This past month I felt like crying constantly, not because I was sad, but because of overwhelming joy. I'm not a person with much patience so planning for a year is hard. Well, it's all been worth it and I'm now embarking on a trip of a lifetime, not only for myself, but for a community in Ghana.Mary and I are now in Victoria. We arrived on Thursday and it's astoundingly beautiful here. We came a few days early before we start our trip to prepare last minute details. For example, getting our bikes reassembled and buying bear spray.The process of getting sport gear on and off of an airplane is quite funny. I brought my bike to Doug's Bicycle in Belleville, where they took apart the bike and packed it into a large box. We arrived at the airport and left our things at the luggage check-in. In Victoria, we got in at 10:20am and had a Rotary meeting in Victoria at 11:30am. We brought our oversized boxes into the meeting and afterwards, the bikes needed reassembling. We had to walk a few blocks with our oversized and awkward boxes filled with bicycle parts to a bike shop. To say the least, it was a good conversation starter in downtown Victoria.
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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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Meet the Riders: Mary Fehr


MEDA recently asked both Bike to GROW cyclists 10 questions about themselves, their fellow rider and the upcoming experience. This time, Mary shares her answers...What place are you eager to see?Nova Scotia/ the East – it will be my first time out east.What are you not looking forward to doing?Biking in traffic in the Prairies.What are five words you'd use to describe Sarah?Optimistic, energetic, thoughtful, lovely and hangry.What's your favourite thing about Sarah?Her big and many dreams!!What's one thing Sarah doesn't know about you?Nothing... we have pillow talk every night... we talk about everything!What's your go-to pre-ride snack?PB&B (Peanut butter and banana).What's one piece of equipment you can't bike without?Bike shorts!What's one new thing you've learned about biking?How to cross the road when riding with clips.... And not fall in the middle of the intersection.Who's your biggest supporter?My family – both my parents and siblings have been giving me unbelievable support that makes me excited everyday to conquer this challenge!What are you most excited about for Bike to GROW?To be continually inspired by everyone I meet along the way. Everyone has their own story and their own challenges. Hearing how they overcame or learned from them always motivates me to do and learn more.
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Meet the Riders: Sarah French


MEDA recently asked both Bike to GROW cyclists 10 questions about themselves, their fellow rider and the upcoming experience. This time, Sarah shares her thoughts...What place are you eager to see?When I was researching the route more in-depth, I came across Manitoulin Island and the Grotto. I didn't even know that existed in Ontario.What are you not looking forward to doing?Running into a bear.What are five words you'd use to describe Mary?Surprising, funny, humble, generous and loving.What's your favourite thing about Mary?She tries to protect me when she's driving. Every time she hits the break, she puts her arm out to make sure I don't go flying forward. I thought the first time she was trying to give me a high five or hold my hand.What's one thing Mary doesn't know about you?I snore like Darth Vader, and I am a fan of Star Wars. A few years ago, I attended a comicon for it.What's your go-to pre-ride snack?I love mixing frozen fruit with hardboiled eggs, flax seed, hemp hearts and a sliced banana.What's one piece of equipment you can't bike without?Chamois pads, the padding for your derriere.What's one new thing you've learned about biking?A bicycle can stay upright without a rider as long as it's moving 8mph or faster.Who's your biggest supporter?Anthony, my boyfriend, has to be my biggest supporter. As a boyfriend, I am always surprised that he supports this trip. He has actually connected me to a local business club, where I was able to give a presentation. He plans on joining us at some point.What are you most excited about for Bike to GROW?I'm excited to spread the word to people about MEDA outside Mennonite communities.
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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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Pre-ride jitters

The knots in my stomach have taken away my appetite. My head spinning with thoughts about biking and packing have made it difficult to have conversation about anything other then biking. My legs are full of energy that it makes it hard to sit still for even a small amount of time. It's safe to say my pre-ride jitters have set in.I had a coach once tell me, "It's okay to get nervous because it simply means you care." That statement has never felt truer in my life. As I gear up to leave for Victoria, I find myself thinking more and more about those women in Ghana; the women that fight everyday, working long hours and under the hot sun all day to provide for their families. Compared to all the work they do, biking across Canada doesn't seem like that big of a task. Focusing on these women allows me to push the nerves down and find the courage to make this happen.My life has been full of calculated risks; I have never been challenged in a way that I actually questioned whether or not I could accomplish my goal. Biking across Canada is different – I have to find a way to get my legs to continue pushing me across the country for that is the only way I will get from Victoria to St. John's. The thought is scary, and makes me question whether it is actually possible. Yet, this is also what makes it exciting. I am motivated by the fact that I'm in control of my own future. I will find a way to get my legs to push me across the country.I am, however, not alone. I have found the most incredible support system throughout this journey. For an extrovert like myself, this is what keeps me going day to day...it keeps me putting on my cycling shoes everyday and getting on my bike. I have said it again and again but I have this gut feeling of confidence. I am confident Sarah and I will find our way to push ourselves across the country because we have so many people believing in us from all over the world. We have been blessed with inspiration from so many and encouraged from everyone's kind words. It helps us to remember we're not biking for only ourselves, but for something so much greater. We are biking for the women in Ghana because it is their hard work that has empowered us to make a difference.So yes, I have quite the pre-ride jitters, but I have no doubt that Sarah and I will bike across Canada. After all, we have the support of MEDA and all that comes with it drafting the wind in front of us. I am so proud to be apart of this amazing team all working towards the common goal of women economic development.
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Praxis Series - Entry 1: Financial Capability at Work in Morocco

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Youth unemployment in countries like Morocco rank as one of the largest development obstacles. Demographic challenges, gender barriers, and education/skill mismatch are among some of the problems that youth face searching for economic opportunities. To exacerbate these challenges, Moroccan youth have limited access to financial services that can help address their unique needs. According to the World Bank, only 12.3% of youth aged 15-24 in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region have a formal bank account, the lowest rate in the world.[1] In this context, access to appropriate financial services has the potential to lead to many positive outcomes for youth, including a heightened capacity to manage money and build assets, as well as increased opportunities for entrepreneurship, employment and future education.YouthInvest (2008-2014) a six-year, five million dollar initiative in which MEDA partnered with leading microfinance institutions (MFIs) and Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) with the generous support of The MasterCard Foundation; to develop innovative financial and non-financial products and services tailored to the needs of economically active youth in Morocco and Egypt.

In Morocco, young people constitute 30% of Morocco's population and one tenth of the region's total youth population[1]. This youth segment serves as a platform for opportunity and has proven through the Arab Spring that they are ripe for growth and are an important source of entrepreneurship, development and innovation. Yet in many MENA (Middle East and North Africa) countries including Morocco, these energies are not harnessed or cultivated to create active contributors to a dynamic economy. According to the New America Foundation's research on the Effectiveness of Youth Financial Education, results have emerged on the necessity of effective training programs:

 

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A lot of research and planning

I've been in Quebec City the past six months and I am getting ready to go home Friday. During my time in Quebec I have been training at the gym, but when I get home I will start to ride my bike outside. I'm aiming for 12 hours a week on the bike right now to try and get my bum use to the seat.There is a Louis Garneau, Quebecois cycling gear, outlet in Quebec City where I just purchased a bib and a windbreaker. Bib shorts are cycling shorts that have suspenders to hold up the shorts during intense physical activity. It's also important to look at the fabric in the chamois depending on the type of cycling you are doing. Chamois is the padding in the bike shorts. For example, there is 5 motion, 4 motion, and air gel. Air gel is supposed to be used for long rides. I was looking at different bibs at the Louis Garneau factory and I liked one that had a lot of colors and the employee said, "No, those are for triathlons, not long rides like yours."It really takes a lot to research bike attire and bike equipment, but Mary and I have had wonderful support. In Winnipeg, we went to Bikes and Beyond with a fellow MEDA member who took us there. There we met Jon who was kind enough to keep in touch with us when we returned to Ontario and send a list of items we will need for our bikes. Some of the things include: lights, panniers, chain oil, 2 extra tubes, co2 inflator with 2 cartridges each, metric allen keys, 2 tire levers each, 2 patch kits, 1 pump, and the list goes on. Mary and I have been spending the year slowly gaining these items and still need to get a few. The whole experience has been fun. I'm getting anxious to get home and start riding.I've also been in touch with Doug's Bicycle Shop, which is located in a town near mine, Belleville, Ontario. Last summer they helped me, free of charge, to fix broken chains and practicing changing flat tires. When I get home, I will be spending time in the Doug's to continue to practice these things.I'm quite lucky to come from a small town because everyone wants to help out. The following week that I am home, I will be attending a Picton Rotary meeting to accept a $500 check for GROW. As well, I will be on the radio March 23rd in my hometown to discuss more about Bike to Grow. They have already had me on the radio and have asked me to come back on. I will be going to different newspapers and radio stations around my surrounding area to spread the word about Bike to Grow. I hope with these media outlets that many new people will hear about the project.There are also individuals in my community that have donated their time to help me out. Artists in the local community, such as drawing comics, want to assist me in promoting the bike trip by doing a pamphlet. I have been in touch with band groups and my past bosses who would like to put together events. These will all come into place when I return to my hometown Picton next week. The countdown has really begun now for the trip.
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Saving(s) the Future!

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Savings has been lauded as one of the strongest levers of financial inclusion. Grounding itself in this scholarship, from the outset of the project, YouthInvest has made savings one of the pillars of its financial inclusion strategy in Morocco.

YouthInvest has encouraged youth to save by providing them with training on financial education as well as enabling them to access a low-minimum balance savings account made possible through a partnership with Al Barid Bank in Morocco. (The YouthInvest team managed to decrease the minimum deposit amount from 100 MAD to 5 MAD by negotiating with the banking institution).

While the savings component was incorporated into most aspects of YouthInvest's programming in Morocco, two particular initiatives made education on savings behaviour their tenants:

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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

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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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Bike to GROW

Je vous écris parce que je vais voyager à travers tout le Canada en vélo pendant 4 mois et je vais commencer le 15 mai, 2015. Mon nom est Sarah French et je viens de Picton Ontario. Je suis déménagée à Québec pour améliorer mon français. J'ai étudiée les relations internationales à l'université Carleton en Ottawa. Après mes études j'ai gagnée une bourse avec le gouvernement. La bourse consistait à travailler avec l'organisation Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) qui est située à Waterloo, Ontario et Lancaster Pennsylvanie. J'habitais au Nicaragua pour 7 mois en 2013/2014 ou je travaillais en agriculture et développement durable. Je vais faire ce voyage de 8,710 km parce que je crois en MEDA.J'ai déjà habitée en Argentina avec Rotary en 2007/2008 et en Espagne en 2011/2012 comme étudiante d'échange, mais au Nicaragua j'ai vu la pauvreté pour la première fois. J'ai voyagée dans les endroits éloignes pour faire des entrevues avec des agriculteurs pour le projet MEDA. Aussi, j'ai louée une chambre à une famille Nicaragua. La situation de monétaire était touchante. Concernant la pauvreté j'ai vu une différence entre les hommes et les femmes. Mary, mon amie qui va voyager avec moi, était en Tanzanie avec MEDA et nous avons parlée pendant nos stages. Nous avons parlée de type de questions. Nous pensons que c'est symbolique avec deux filles qui vont voyager travers le Canada en soutien un autre projet de MEDA que de se concentre sur l'Independence des femmes. Ce projet s'appelle Greater Rural Opportunities for Women (GROW) en Ghana. J'ai deux liens pour vous. Le premier lien montre nos stages et le deuxième représente GROW :www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRs81QwUZAvimeo.com/78859325Aussi vous pouvez chercher MEDA : biketogrow.com. Nous sommes sur Facebook, Instagram et Twitter sous Bike to Grow.A cent pour cent des dons va directement au projet GROW et nous avons la confiance en MEDA parce que nous avons déjà travaillée pour eux. Moi et Mary avons économisée notre argent grâce à notre travail. Nous faisons de l'entrainement toute l'année. Je fais yoga, cardio, et de la musculation pour me préparer.Je veux que plus de monde sachent savoir de notre voyage. Nous allons travers à Montréal (7 aout), Trois Rivières (9 aout), ville Québec (10 aout), Montmagny (12 aout), et Rivière-du-Loup (13 aout).
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8,710km

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"Failing to prepare is preparing to fail." Of all the times in my life my coaches have said that to me and my teammates, it has never rung truer then today. Biking across Canada it by far the most challenging thing I have ever embarked on, a large part of the reason I decided to join Sarah on the trip. However, recently this challenge is working up my nervous energy more than ever before. I worry about the Rockies and how were ever going to get up it. I worry about those days where it feels like just nothing is going right and I worry that Sarah is going to blow me out of the water! With all these worries, the only thing that keeps me moving forward is the many people helping and supporting me with my training.I wanted to get an early start to the training, so last August I joined a local "spin class" lead by Dan Quick. My friend, Kate Wiens, had been going for a year before that and had already learned so much. So every Tuesday, we meet up and sweat more in one hour than I thought was ever possible. Dan is working so hard to teach me the proper form for maximum efficiency. As he has done many tours before, he knows the many challenges and mental deficiencies that one must train for and learn to overcome. Each week when we arrive, he has a different ride mapped out – many are from the tour de France, where we learn what it's like to ride far and straight, then take a turn and conquer a steep climb. Many of which, make me wonder, what in the world I was thinking when I decided to take a bicycle across Canada...8710km.Before Christmas, I was taking the spin class and simply trying to stay in shape. Instead of a New Year's Resolution, I knew the start of the New Year was the start of my focused training. I signed up for a gym membership, which I knew had a professional cyclist as one of their trainers. Once signing up, I looked into getting a few personal training sessions where she could show me effective ways to build up the most important muscles for a cyclist. After a consultation with the manager, he told me that Sue, a professional cyclist, was extremely busy but would find a way to make it work because she was so excited about the project. Sue has been an excellent motivation for both fitness and mental toughness. She pushes me hard to work through an extra set, or shortens the break time between sets, all while taking the moments to talk through some emotions I may feel and ways to cope with the long silence giving me nothing but time to talk myself out of it. We work through the fears, anticipation and societal expectations that women cannot train as hard as men. In only a few sessions, I have already noticed myself stronger physically and emotionally.The best way to build that confidence is to actually do what you are afraid of. Since it is too cold to bike outside right now, I have a trainer set up in my basement so I may actually ride my own bike and get used to that saddle. I try to get on it at least three times a week, to get adjusted to using my own bike. Thanks to Kate and her family who let me borrow it during this training period. I'm looking forward to getting to ride outside a few times before we leave.With the lessons and support from Dan and Sue, as well as the encouragement and support from friends and family like Kate and my parents, I am able to push aside those fears and worries. Cycling is 5% physical and 95% mental toughness – learning to clear the negative and make room for the positive is half the battle. As I spend these last three months gaining strength and preparing to bike across Canada, I'm building the confidence that will only prepare us to conquer this challenge. I mean, really... 8,710km, that's only 100km per day, 20km per hour for 5 hours.
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