MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

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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Christmas in Ethiopia

b2ap3_thumbnail_Christmas-Eve-dinner--my-first-time-making-pork-chops.jpgMerry Christmas from Ethiopia! Without the snow and festivities, it was definitely a different kind of Christmas for me this year. But I'm thankful to have had a new experience celebrating Christmas in a different country. I learned how to make the best of my circumstances and enjoyed the two days off to rest and celebrate. I'm thankful for the Christmas season because I'm always reminded and humbled by the birth of Jesus and all the blessings I have in my life.

Back at home, the month of December is usually filled with reflection, travel, and celebration. I usually travel to the US to visit family and friends or attend a church retreat to conclude the year. My family usually doesn't have extravagant Christmas traditions, we just enjoy each other's presence.

Over the month of December, Steph and I decorated our house with lights, paper trees, and ornaments. And this past Tuesday, I had some friends over for a Christmas dinner party. I made pork chops, sausages, mashed potatoes, and roasted vegetables. It was nice having company over for the first time. Some of my friends said that they felt like they weren't in Ethiopia with the food, decorations, and Christmas music. The next day, Christmas Eve, Steph and I were off b2ap3_thumbnail_Christmas-morning-brunch--pancakes-.jpgwork. We got two days off to celebrate our holiday, but technically Christmas in Ethiopia is in January. We had a nice Christmas Eve dinner and watched the Hobbit at home. Waking up on Christmas morning, I had a nice post-it note stuck on my door from Steph, reading, "Merry Christmas!" with a cute reindeer doodled on it. We had pancakes and fruit for brunch, exchanged gifts, and watched Home Alone – a classic. In the afternoon we went to the office for a nice Christmas coffee ceremony our staff had put together for us. We had coffee, cake, and received a nice gift from our staff. I really appreciate their thoughtfulness and for celebrating Christmas with us, even though they celebrate in January. Our evening was spent calling home to say Merry Christmas. We also watched the Hobbit at the movie theatre and had a nice Christmas dinner in Bole.

I'm really thankful to be in country with Steph – we made Christmas the best we could, even though we're both far from our families. There's just a few months left of this internship, and I don't think I would have made it this far without her support and friendship. As we near the end of 2014, a new year is just around the corner. I'm always excited for a new year, because it's a fresh start and I gather together hopes and dreams for another year. The year 2014 has had its ups and downs, and at the beginning of the year I never would've thought I'd be in Ethiopia working with MEDA. Now that it's the end of the year, I can say that despite this year's challenges, b2ap3_thumbnail_The-office-held-a-lovely-Christmas-coffee-ceremony-for-Steph-Doris-and-I.jpgall of the obstacles and experiences have helped me grow as a person – and being on this internship has contributed much to this growth.
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To Partner or Not to Partner When Implementing Youth Financial Programs

Forging the right partnerships between Financial Service Providers (FSPs), Youth Serving Organizations (YSOs), and other key stakeholders, such as schools and local government, can be a key factor to successfully and sustainably serving youth clients.

However, partnerships are not always the answer.

This blog explores whether or not to partner, as well as the nature of partnerships themselves, and is targeted to FSPs and YSOs, which deliver youth savings programs.

By Nicki Post and Ryan Newton (Women's World Banking)

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Travelled Centuries Back In Time

After the week of work visiting clients in Bahir Dar, Clara joined me and we did some touristy things...

b2ap3_thumbnail_At-the-falls.jpgb2ap3_thumbnail_Blue-Nile-Falls.jpgFirst Stop: Blue Nile Falls
Also known as "Tis Isat, the "Smoke of Fire" waterfall is near the Tis Abay town situated about 30 km downstream from the town of Bahir Dar and Lake Tana. The Blue Nile Falls are considered one of Ethiopia's greatest natural spectacles and is the second largest waterfall in Africa (next to Victoria Falls).

The town was busy when we arrived late that Saturday morning. It was Market Day. Once we got through the crowds we trekked 1.5 hours up the mountain to the falls. I don't hike, not alone with high altitude, the scorching sun and sharing the path with dozens of cows. Needless to say, it was a mission and it would not have been complete without stepping in cow dung and nearly being trampled a few times. Haha – it was still worth it. Even though it was very busy, we got to see the falls in its full form (sometimes there is little water, due to the dam). I was so hot, I seriously considered jumping in it, but I refrained, knowing it would not end well.

b2ap3_thumbnail_St.-George-Church_20150127-170508_1.jpgSecond Stop: The Lalibela Churches
On the Sunday, we boarded a plane for Lalibela to see the UNESCO heritage site of the 11 monotheistic rock-hewn churches.

These churches were attributed to King Lalibela who, in the 12th century, set out to construct a 'New Jerusalem', after Muslim conquests halted Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land. Due to this, Lalibela is one of Ethiopia's holiest cities, especially for the Ethiopian Orthodox community.

The churches were not constructed — they were excavated. Each church was created by carving into the ground to form the churches from the inside and out. The largest church is 40 feet high.

Going from Bahir Dar, a lush, green paradise to Lalibela, a rocky, mountainous desert was quite a drastic change, but not any less spectacular.

The churches of Lalibela are unlike anything I have ever seen. The most impressive was Bet Giorgis (St. George) church. It is cut 40 feet down and its roof forms the shape of a Greek cross. It was built after Lalibela's death (c.1220) by his widow as a memorial to the saint-king. It was breathtaking... no, literally! All the walking, up and down stone hills, through caves and across bridges nearly killed me. That weekend was a work out.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Lalibela-sunset.jpgAll the churches were so beautiful and it really was a privilege to witness something so sacred to the Ethiopian Orthodox Christians and Orthodox Christians around the world.

This weekend was the first major touristy trip we did and I am glad we did it. Ethiopia is often not given much thought, but it truly has a lot to offer, you just have to look for it.


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Young Entrepreneurs, Big Dreams

It's the holiday season back in Canada and I'm trying my best to be present and thankful in my current circumstances here in Ethiopia. While I could compare and wish that I was back at home, there are so many things to be thankful for! I am part of a really great project (E-FACE) and am loving the work that I get to do. Here's a little snippet of what I did a few weeks ago:

Ib2ap3_thumbnail_Selfie-with-Aynalem.png went on a field visit in the South for a few days with Lauren Good from MEDA's DC office and an E-FACE colleague, Wondwossen. It was a really eye-opening trip. I learned so much from working and traveling with Lauren, Wondwossen and the field staff. And of course our wonderful clients always teach me so much. After a 7-hour car ride, we finally arrived in Wolaita. We then drove to Sibaye Korke kebele (kebele = municipality) in Damot Gale woreda (woreda = district) to meet with a potato producer cooperative and a group of youth sales agents. We were warmly welcomed by one of our female clients, a member of the potato producer cooperative, who had prepared tasty potatoes for us! Lauren and Wondwossen facilitated a focus group discussion, verifying information and data for our project's potato intervention. I couldn't help but notice all the kids in the area sneaking up around us to see what was going on.

After this discussion, we met with six youth sales agents who participated in the Building Skills for Life program. They each shared about their businesses (used clothing, sugar cane, butter, coffee, cereals and seed, teff) and what their future aspirations are. It was refreshing to hear about their dreams and how the training they received changed their mindsets. I interviewed one client named Aynalem and I was so encouraged by her story. Despite a difficult life growing up, she has worked hard to provide for herself and support her mother. As we were leaving, I encouraged her to study hard and chase after her dreams.

Tb2ap3_thumbnail_Youth-sales-agents-in-Humbo-Woreda.pnghe next day we visited more youth in Humbo Woreda. In this group, two youth stood out to me. They were on time and one brought his record book to show how he keeps track of his expenses, sales and savings. I could tell they were very serious about their future dreams: one wants to become an engineer and the other wants to become a doctor. This really amazed me. Through their current businesses, they know if they work hard, continue to save and maximize their profits, they can attain their dreams.

Another theme I noticed among the youth was a sense of empowerment. They felt empowered because they were no longer burdening their families. They were earning their own income through their respective businesses and can now pay for their own expenses. I have no doubt in my mind that these youth will go on to be successful and influential leaders in Ethiopia. I have a few months left of my internship, so I'm eager to meet more clients, hear their stories, and document how the project facilitated positive change in their lives.
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Looking Back and Leaning Forward

Jen-and-Farah-present-convention-seminar_20150107-163020_1.jpgMEDA's Youth team are learning from their past work and applying it to MEDA's new youth projects. Director of Youth Economic Opportunities, Jennifer Denomy, and senior project manager, Farah Chandani, presented at MEDA's annual convention, held Nov 6-9 in Winnipeg, MB.

The term "youth" can encompass many different ages depending on who's defining it, though MEDA typically works with those 15-24 years old. Youth are also labelled the "demographic dividend" – so many are coming of age simultaneously and with this increase of youth entering the workforce, access to employment becomes a problem.

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Increasing Sustainable Economic Growth = Improved Livelihoods

In early November, I woke bright and early to catch a seven AM flight. When I arrived at the airport, I traveled 1.5 hours to visit three EDGET clients; a Farmers Field Schools Group and 2 rice processors. Each had a different story to tell about their progress, challenges and success. It was amazing to finally be able to connect the information I gathered for reports and see how the project is impacting client's lives first hand.

b2ap3_thumbnail_FFS-Group.jpgKnowledge is Power- Farmers Field School Group
In a town called Libo, I walked through hectares and hectares of farmland for what seemed to be hours. I almost stepped on a snake and screamed really loud, which provided entertainment for the rest of the staff. Eventually, I reach a series of huts and the group of farmers. This was one of EDGET's Farmer Field School (FFS) Groups.

Farmers Field Schools is an EDGET initiative that gives farmers the opportunity to view demonstrations and experiment of improved farming techniques. Members then share what they learned and their results with their Farmers Field School group members and neighbouring farmers.

Even though they were shy at first, the men opened up to me about their experiences with FFS and described how they have used the new technologies to improve their rice production, increase their businesses and ultimately create a better life for themselves and their families.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Gorgeous-view-of-the-hills.jpgBalay- Improved Technologies= Increased Success
After the farmers group, I visited a processor named Balay. Balay provides a rice processing service for neighbouring farmers. Due to the training sessions and opportunities he has received from MEDA through the EDGET program, his business is a huge success. He also recently bought a rice processing machine on a cost-sharing basis with MEDA – it combines a number of steps into one. The machine produces higher quality rice, which increases the value and ultimately the profit.

Balay believes this machine will be a great investment for his business and his future.

"This machine will not only benefit me as a processor, but because it increases the quality of rice, the farmers will benefit as well by receiving a greater income for the rice they produced."

b2ap3_thumbnail_Parboiled-rice.jpgFrom Fields to Markets
The last person we visited was Momina, a rice processor, turned parboiler turned business woman. Momina has been a rice processor with EDGET for a number of years but in 2013, she decided to parboil rice as well. Parboiling is an additional step in processing rice that increases the nutritional value and quality.

Momina has used EDGET's training on market linkages to sell her rice in local markets and several supermarkets in Addis. She has not only put parboiled rice on the market but has also shown the value of women as key players and entrepreneurs in the rice industry.

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Why Include Life Skills in Youth Programming?

Empowering Youth: Building Skills For Life for Youth in Ethiopa

a1sx2_Thumbnail1_youth-twitter-banner-1.jpgBuilding Skills for Life is a training program tailored for young workers (ages 14 -17) in Ethiopia. It is one aspect of a multi-pronged approach to supporting youth in the E-FACE project (Ethiopians Fighting Against Child Exploitation).

The program is based on MEDA's previous experiences with providing life skills and financial literacy training for youth in Morocco and Egypt through the YouthInvest project. The training encourages young people to understand themselves, to develop decision-making capacity, and improve their communication skills – in order to develop the required business skills to become entrepreneurs. It is designed to empower youth and to help them create further opportunities for their lives. In Ethiopia, the training is focussed on young weavers in the textile industry; hence a practical aspect that provides technical training and know-how on weaving techniques is also included. The diagram below illustrates the six core areas covered by the 100-hour training program.

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Welcome to our blog

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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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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MEDA Convention Reflection: I met the most interesting people

On Thursday November 6th, 2014 I flew into Winnipeg for the first time. I had never been to a MEDA Convention and had never met any MEDA members. I was excited and nervous. I've met staff members from my internship in Nicaragua and other interns from the first week of orientation in Waterloo.

I need to start at the end of this story for you to understand why I was sad after Convention. I came home Sunday night, not technically home because I am currently living in Quebec City to improve my French. When the plane was landing there was snow falling. It was 1am, cold outside and no one was waiting for me at the airport. I took a taxi home and this was the start of me feeling sad. Monday I was on the brink of tears all day. I immediately missed all the connections I had made at the MEDA Convention. I didn't want to be far away from this positive energy. I found compassion and such admiration for members and staff.

I wasn't as sad on Tuesday and I am personally uplifted from the weekend. I want to be closer to God based on the passion I saw from individuals at convention. For example, Mary and I were talking on the last day about the plenary talk Laura Ling had given the night before. When Laura was in detainment in North Korea, she had paced around her room for exercise and also meditated. What hit home for me in Laura's talk was that she gave thanks for something before she went to bed, "Thank you for letting me see this butterfly today." How can someone stuck in North Korea and being isolated for 140 days have the energy to be so positive? Mary and I decided that during the bike tour that we would say what we were thankful for at the end of each day. As well, after my day of mopping around the house on Monday, I realized that I need to have a positive outlook and good things will come. In Matthew 21:22 it says, "And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive." I can still keep this positive energy from the MEDA Convention and spread it to others.

"Never judge a book by its cover" should be the MEDA slogan. No offence, but it didn't initially occur to me to ask MEDA members questions about their lives. I couldn't have been more wrong. I am not exaggerating when I say I met the most interesting people at MEDA that I have ever met in my life.

First, I need to say that I am amazed by all the work that MEDA staff does. To work somewhere, continuously traveling to different places for some, and still be energetic about the work you do is astounding. I also met many MEDA members who own businesses, have demanding jobs, and families to look after all at once. Yet, they make the time to come to the Convention and be apart of it through giving their time, effort, and donations.

I am an early bird, so I have no idea where I got the energy, but I was running on 5 hours of sleep a night at Convention. I never wanted to go to bed because I was so genuinely intrigued by people's lives and I was mesmerized when they talked. Saturday night I decided I would have an early night. Thursday I had gone out with the students and Friday I had some amazing bonding time with my mini Bike to Grow Team, Ethan and Mary. I would have a relaxing Saturday night. There was a group sitting in the lobby area. I pulled up a seat and joined the conversation. I was the last person to leave with Lisa and Abe, Mary's parents, at 1:30 am. I don't know how I can explain how greatly intrigued I was by the conversations that night. Since the Convention, I repeatedly refer to one individual, Wilmer Otto. I believe everyone to have such stories and I want to use Wilmer as an example. He owns companies in the States and Ukraine. When he was 18 he decided he was going to drive from Illinois to Costa Rica. We were talking with two other men all night about history in Ukraine, trips, and good jokes. They all asked me questions about the tour, how I was preparing, why I'm doing it, and when I will go. Out of nowhere Wilmer says, "and after your bike trip I'm inviting you to stay at my hotel in Romania. It is my gift to you and Mary for doing the tour." First of all who has a hotel in Transylvania? It was surprising news, but he explained why he bought the place and what there is to do there. He sounds like he is in love with the country.

There were 500 people who attended the MEDA Convention and each individual was as interesting as Wilmer and had an open heart, which was shown through their interest and generosity. An example of this is when Mary and I did our Bike to Grow seminar on Friday morning. Ethan Eshbach led a Q & A with us and thanks to him, it flowed perfectly. Afterwards, everyone came up to us and offered us their home or contact information for someone they knew in the area where we were biking through. People did this throughout convention. Some people had biking experience and gave us tips and advice. Keith Kuhl from Winnipeg took us to Bikes and Beyond where we spend a few hours getting information on clothing and gear. It was nice of Keith to take time to give us advice and take us to the store. The staff was wonderful help! Also another lady named Agnes got my email and gave it to someone she knew in Winnipeg who has biking experience, Arvid Loewen. Arvid is in the book of Guinness World Records for being the fastest cyclist across Canada in 13 days and 6 hours. Agnes gave my email to Arvid and he contacted me the very next day. Now, someone in Guinness World Records has been emailing back and forth with me the last few days with tips.

I'm still amazed and somewhat shocked by everyone's love and generosity. To illustrate this a great example is Andrew and Jim who are MEDA members in Pennsylvania. Jim came up to me on Thursday and said "See you in April." I had no idea what he was talking about and I had to ask Ethan, our liaison with MEDA. "Oh ya, what are you doing in April?" he asked. Andrew and Jim have planned a fundraising event for Bike to Grow. People will bike 32 kms (20miles) together and then have dinner and a bonfire. They have decided that we need to be there and are paying for our flights and for our bikes to be there so that we can bike with everyone and then give a talk.

I wrote out this summary of Convention because it is incredible the amount of loving people there can be altogether. It was perfect that Ziauddin Yousafzai talked Friday night at the Human Rights Museum. To me, he brought together the whole weekend and represented everyone. He is a humble man with a passion to make a difference. This can be said for everyone may they be MEDA staff or members. Thank you so much for showing us your kindness and the wonderful potential of human beings.
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MEDA Convention Reflection: Thank you for the support

I had heard a lot about these "MEDA Conventions" before and after working as a MEDA Intern in Tanzania for 9 months last year, I knew that I wanted to attend. However, I never expected to have that chance to speak at one. So November 13th, 2014, I was off to a place I never thought I would be going in November...Winnipeg!

I arrived a little early, so I had some time to settle in before all the hustle and bustle of the conference began. For once it started, I felt like there was not a minute I was not intrigued by an amazing speaker, listening to some informative seminars, eating with the most interesting people or relaxing with some new friends. I don't think my smile left my face. It was undeniably one of the most highly influential weeks in my life.

When Sarah and I decided to bike across Canada to raise money for a MEDA project, we never expected any of this, that is what is so incredible. The MEDA conference was nothing short of that, absolutely incredible. We were meeting MEDA supporters from all around the world with this undying passion for the work MEDA does every day. As an intern, I was lucky enough to see the work first hand but that is what surprised me so much, most of these people had never even visited a project but yet they trusted their donations and support were being used in the best way possible. I am learning that is what this organization is built on, trust. Trust between the employees and their beneficiaries, trust between the offices and trust between the organization and their supporters. At the MEDA convention, I realized just how much trust everyone had in this amazing organization.

Every time Sarah or I walked to the conference floor, someone introduced themself and wanted to hear about the bike trip, offer us a place to stay, join us for parts of the trip or thank us for what we were doing for MEDA. For me, that was the most memorable part of the conference. The support we received from everyone at the conference and MEDA has been absolutely incredible. I am still in shock about it all. When committing to this bike trip, I thought we would be able to make a small contribution to a MEDA project, this however has turned into a much more than we ever dreamed of all thank you to the support we have been given from MEDA and their supporters. So to all those that we met or haven't met yet, you are giving us the motivation we need that will take us across the country, you are our inspiration. Thank you.

The Friday night, we had the opportunity to listen to Ziauddin Yousafzai speak at Canadian Museum of Human Rights. Sarah and I were so excited, we decided to leave a little early to get the best seats in the house, and that is exactly what we did. Sitting second row, front and center, not only were we able to watch closely as he delivered his message but we also got to see the compassion in his heart as he listened to the Canadian Mennonite University's choir sing, enjoying every single note. I was mesmerized listening to such an inspiring individual with so much to teach us and only an hour to speak, I tried to take in every single word. When Mr. Yousafzai was at the podium, the silence in the room of 500 people gave me goose bumps. It's an incredible thing to see an individual who has been through so much more than I can ever imagine, light up the room with his smile. It was certainly a night I will not forget and he and his family are certainly a family that will continue to inspire me. This was just one of the many moments throughout the MEDA convention that fueled my passion for international development.

I was amazed by the MEDA convention but when I look back on it, I'm not really sure why – that's who MEDA is, that's what MEDA does, they empower people. I will forever be grateful for my opportunity to be a small part in the difference MEDA is making in so many lives both overseas and at home. I want to thank MEDA for continuing to live so passionately. In today's busy society, it's easy to get distracted and focus on small details, the MEDA convention is a reminder to live for the big picture. The MEDA convention left me feeling more inspired and determined than ever. Before the convention, my biggest fear about Bike to Grow was that we would not make it across the country. With the support of MEDA and their community, that is no longer a fear of mine. I am determined, I am inspired and I am passionate about all that MEDA does and that alone will give me the power I need to bike across Canada.

Thank you MEDA and MEDA community, you are fantastic.
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Exploring the North: Bahir Dar and Lalibela

b2ap3_thumbnail_The-Blue-Nile-Falls-are-no-Niagara-Falls-but-still-was-nice-to-see_20141209-213251_1.jpgb2ap3_thumbnail_The-many-goats-we-encountered-on-our-way-to-the-Falls_20141209-213250_1.jpgTwo weeks ago I went on a weekend trip to Bahir Dar and Lalibela, located in northern Ethiopia. Since I went to the south for work about a month ago, I was excited to see different parts of the country again. While I do like Addis, it does get tiring with lots of people, traffic and pollution. It was refreshing to be in more remote parts of the country, especially with beautiful landscapes and sunsets that you just don't get in the city.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Steph-and-I-in-front-of-the-Portuguese-Bridge_20141209-213253_1.jpgI met up with Steph in Bahir Dar first since she was there for work. We had dinner along Lake Tana that was lit up by the moonlight. The following day we went to see the Blue Nile Falls. Saturdays are market days, so as we drove one hour to the falls, there were lots of people walking with their cattle or goats. We met up with our tour guide who led us on a 1.5 hour hike. Many times we were face-to-face with cows walking on the path on their way to the market. We saw the Portuguese Bridge and the Blue Nile Falls, and then walked back to finish our tour. There were many kids selling scarves and hand-made crafts along our hike, telling us, "Madam, I'll give you a good price." I eventually caved and bought one even though I've already accumulated so many in Addis!

We relaxed for a few hours and then went for dinner along the lake and watched the sunset. In Bahir Dar we took these 3-wheeled scooter-type taxis called "Bajaj's" or "Touk-touk's" – they were super cheap and really easy to use. After dinner we checked out Kuriftu for dessert, along with good talks under a full moon.

The next part of our trip was to Lalibela, a town renowned for its rock-hewn churches that were built in the 12th century. The story goes that King Lalibela sought to create a New Jerusalem for those who could not make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The churches were not constructed in a traditional method, rather, they were excavated and carved from the living rock of monolithic blocks. The churches are still used to this day by Orthodox Christians. And now that it is a UNESCO heritage site, tourism has really taken off over the past few years. The landscape in Lalibela reminded me of the Grand Canyon (although I've never been). It's very desert-like with canyons and plateaus all around.

b2ap3_thumbnail_St.-George-Church_20141209-213252_1.jpgAfter resting up, we went to see the churches. It was really amazing to see the churches, inside and out. My favourite was St. George, the church shaped in a cross. We had a really good guide who showed us all 11 churches within 3.5 hours. It was an exhausting tour, as we walked through passages, trenches, and in-and-out of most of the churches.

While it was overall a really good trip, I'm glad to be back in Addis. After a few days of traveling, all you want is the familiarity of your own home and the variety of food options that are available in the city. With about four months left of this internship, I'm hoping to squeeze in a few more trips, to see more of Ethiopia. It really is a beautiful country. I had a few moments throughout this past trip that reminded me that I am very blessed to be here with MEDA and working on a great project that is changing lives.
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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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Almost 2 months down!

I cannot believe I have been in Ethiopia for nearly 2 months already. It's crazy! The past few weeks have been pretty uneventful – going out from time to time and working lots. EDGET has been in the middle of report season so the office has been in full swing. I am also excited to report that this week I will going out to Bahir Dar, a city north of Addis to work with MEDA's office there.

For those of you who are still a little unsure of what it is exactly I do here, I thought that this would be good opportunity to give you a little more background on EDGET (the project I am working with), as I will be going out to the field and meeting some of our clients in a couple of days.

Ethiopians Driving Growth through Entrepreneurship and Trade (EDGET) is a 5-year pro-poor, value chain development project that is funded by Global Affairs Canada (GAC). We aim to increase the income of 10,000 rice farmers and textile artisans by giving improved technologies, training on better farming techniques, business skills and creating access to local markets and business partnerships. Currently we have approximately 8,000 client farmers in the Amhara Region and Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples' Region (SNNPR) and 2,000 textile clients in Addis Ababa and SNNPR.

So, what am I going to be doing in Bahir Dar? I am going to be visiting our MEDA office there, which is situated in the Amhara Region, and following up on three of our rice farmer clients in the surrounding villages. Basically, I will visit each site and interview the clients on how their business as rice farmers has been, what are the challenges they have faced and how they have benefited from participating in the EDGET project. With the information gathered, I will then conduct some briefs to explain the situation for some donors visiting MEDA Ethiopia next week.

On Friday, Clara is going to come meet me in Bahir Dar and we are going to take this chance to explore a bit of Bahir Dar and some touristy sites: Lake Tana, the origin of the Nile and Blue Nile Falls. Then we are hopping on a plane to Lalibela, home to one of the world's most astounding sacred sites – eleven rock-hewn churches.

I have a busy and slightly stressful week ahead, including the dreaded 5am airport visit tomorrow, but hopefully it will be worth it!
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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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Arba Minch: A humbling visit with VSLA groups in Chano Dorga

b2ap3_thumbnail_A-beautiful-view-of-Arba-Minch.jpgI 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".

b2ap3_thumbnail_The-different-colors-represent-different-funds--blue-principal-from-a-loan-orange-interest-fees-green-savings-and-red-penalties.jpgb2ap3_thumbnail_Each-member-has-a-notebook-to-keep-track-of-their-weekly-savings.jpgWhile 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 b2ap3_thumbnail_An-E-FACE-weaver-working-in-a-shed-that-was-established-through-the-project.jpgproject 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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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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I Am Thankful for Canadian Healthcare!

b2ap3_thumbnail_Oktoberfest-in-Ethiopia.gifThanksgiving weekend...usually a time I would get together with family and stuff my face with way to much turkey, resulting in a comatose state for the next 24 hours. However, this year's Canadian Thanksgiving was a little different and ended up being two polar extremes – as you can probably figure out, it concluded in a not so festive fashion.

It started out great, and rather unexpected. As many of my fellow Waterlooers and German friends know, around this time of year, Oktoberfest happens. Oktoberfest is basically a German event focused celebrating German food, music and culture. Being in Waterloo for my undergrad years, which has a huge population of Germans, allowed me to become quite acquainted with this annual celebration.

It did not even cross our minds that Oktoberfest would be celebrated here, in Addis of all places! But low and behold, we found out that the Hilton Hotel was organizing an Oktoberfest event on the weekend! Who would have thought?

After running around trying to find last minute tickets, we made it. I was ecstatic – it reminded me of being back in Waterloo again. The Hilton set up at tent in the back of the hotel and had different types of vendors, a huge Oktoberfest themed buffet (sausages, pretzels, the works!) and even had a German Polka band! We met up with some friends, enjoyed the event and even danced with some Austrian diplomats till the early hours.

Sunday was pretty uneventful, but I cannot say the same for Thanksgiving Monday. My roommate Clara had been pretty weak and out of sorts for a couple days so when she started having pain and could barely stand up, we got worried. On Monday, I left work early to take her to the hospital with Ferkadu. First we went to a Swedish clinic specifically for expats and after several lab tests and hundreds of US dollars later, they still could not figure out what was wrong. To rule out appendix, they sent us to an imaging centre all the way across town to get an ultrasound as they are a very small clinic. After a couple hours, we found out it was not appendix but they still could not figure out what was wrong so we went back to the clinic for further tests. Due to some questionable blood results, the doctors sent us to the Korean Hospital for further investigation. The Korean Hospital is known to be a relatively reputable hospital that many people go to, but it was in the next town over, just outside of Addis. Keep in mind we had been on this quest for already 4 hours and poor Clara was barely surviving.

This is where I want to talk a bit about the underdevelopments of Ethiopia's transportation system. There is road construction everywhere and no traffic lights. This can easily make a 30-minute commute a couple of hours, especially at night. After being in bumper to bumper traffic for an hour and a half, we get to the hospital. The Korean Hospital is a large hospital that was built by the South Koreans around 20 or so years ago. Even though it is considered one of the better ones, we were not impressed. Not only had the doctor we were supposed to see already left for the day, but poor Clara had to go through all the lab tests again and then we waited for the results for another 4 or so hours. I was terrified that Clara had to do a procedure there. I tried to keep in mind that this is a developing country, but when I saw ill people waiting around for hours and in less than acceptable sanitary conditions, I was terrified.

Several hours later we got the test results (finally!). It was just a bad infection and they sent Clara home with antibiotics. I was thankful that it was nothing serious and Ferkadu drove us home (he stayed with for the entire time!). It was 11 pm by the time we got home, making it 8 hours and countless miles just to find a diagnosis.

I have waited longer for medical assistance in a Canadian hospital but just seeing the conditions of the medical facilities, spending hundreds of dollars and driving around Addis for different tests, makes me NEVER want to get sick here. I never thought I would say this but thank goodness for Canadian healthcare.

Regardless, Clara got the help she needed. I know it could have been much, much worse. Even though this Thanksgiving turned out to be less than ideal, I am thankful. I am thankful for the amazing friends we met and had a great time with them weekend. I am also eternally grateful for all our amazing MEDA colleagues that helped us make sure that Clara got help on Monday. Ethiopia has its ups and downs, just like any other country (healthcare being a major downfall), but having a support system definitely softens the blow.

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