MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

8,710km

b2ap3_thumbnail_After-a-spin-class.png"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.

b2ap3_thumbnail_My-bike.pngBefore 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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Financial Inclusion for Nigerian Youth

The start of something new, something based on MEDA's experiences in Morocco

MAP Nigeria Cross RiverMEDA recently launched its partnership with CUSO International to improve financial inclusion for youth in Nigeria. The project titled Youth Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Access and Development (YouLead) will work with young women and men in Cross River State, Nigeria.

Nigeria is Africa's most populous country and the unemployment rate stands at approximately 20%, with youth unemployment at almost double this rate at 35%.

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The generosity of others

This year, while preparing for Bike to Grow, I decided to move to Quebec City to improve my French and see a new part of Canada. While I have some friends from Quebec, I didn't have a job or anything prepared. I handed my resumes out everywhere – I'll admit it was difficult to find a job with my French being at a novice level. Not having a plan and just moving here sounded like a fun idea, but I began to get nervous because I hadn't heard back from anyone.

Finally, after waiting for two weeks, I heard from Société de Cigar. I have become a fluent French speaker that can talk about whiskey and cigars in both languages. I thank staff and regular clients for having patience with me, but I also want to thank everyone for being such an amazing support group with Bike to GROW.

After noting my accent, people ask what I am doing here and what my future plans are. Every chance I get I talk about Bike to GROW. I am constantly astounded by the amount of support I have received. Some of our regular clients help me to spread the news and tourists and others I have never met continue to surprise me with their support.

There are two men, for example, who told me they are going to propel this project forward and they already have. The two men had clients with them last week from Toronto and they said to me "Sarah, get your Bike to GROW postcards for these ladies." They explained everything to them about the project in Ghana and the bike trip across the country before asking me even more questions. The ladies were so enthusiastic, and as strangers, this surprises me every time.

Another man owns a technology consultant agency and he has sat down with me to determine possible connections such as Radio CBC Quebec. Everyone wants to help and I am grateful for this.

I understand that regular clients want to help because they have become my friends, but I'm surprised that complete strangers want to help me too. For example, Corey Thompson and Nash Khushrushai came one night after a long month of working up North in -40C weather on a rig. After I told them my story, they donated to Bike to GROW right on the spot.

On top of all that, a few Quebecois are so inspired that they will be joining us on our bike trip when we head through Quebec in August. This journey preparing for an 8,710km bike ride has opened my world up to the generosity of others.

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Top 5 reasons why I love my job

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why access to financial services can open doors for young entrepreneurs

I was invited to speak briefly at Chemonics last week on what I thought was an important component to support youth enterprise development. As one of MEDA's core areas of experience, I decided to talk about providing access to appropriate financial services for youth. Here's why I think this is one crucial component to enable youth enterprise development...

Global youth dominate the ranks of the unemployed. Demographic challenges, gender barriers, education or skill mismatch, and unsafe or poorly paid work are among the many difficulties that youth face in the search for economic opportunities. This is something we saw clearly illustrated in the Arab Spring. Compounding these challenges, entrepreneurial youth typically have limited access to financial services that meet their business development needs – this can be because their loan requests are often small and too costly for Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) to administer.

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An Interesting Christmas

International development work has it perks for sure, but one of its downfalls is that you are often away from your loved ones for quite some time and are out of the loop with what is going on back at home. I try not to dwell on what I am missing and try and live in the present, soaking up as much of this experience as I can, but there are times when it is difficult. I'm sure we have all been there and being away from my family for Christmas was one of those times for me. For some, missing Christmas may not be a big deal, but in my family, it is probably the biggest event of the year. There is tons of food, music, and it really is the only time family from all over the globe can be together. This was my first Christmas away from home.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Our-Canadian-Christmas-breakfast-complete-with-Canadian-maple-syrup.jpgThankfully, (in ways) work was hectic, so I really did not have much time to think about it and before I knew it, Christmas was only days away. It was strange for Clara and I – we were not only in a tropical climate away from home, but Ethiopia does not celebrated Christmas the same time we do. They celebrate Orthodox Christmas, which is about two weeks later, so not much was going on for our Christmas. With that being said, we still tried to make the best of it. We decorated our home with Christmas lights and ornaments, and blasted Christmas songs while at home. We both managed to get Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off, so we had time to relax and watch an abundance of Christmas movies.

b2ap3_thumbnail_MEDA-Christmas-celebration-with-Frosty-and-Rudolph.jpgOn Christmas day, our work invited us for a special Christmas coffee ceremony and even gave us adorable Christmas buddies (a reindeer and a snowman). I truly appreciated their effort to make our Christmas as special as they could for us, especially since it wasn't their own Christmas. Even though we were far away from home, it helped to be around friends.

Perhaps the highlight of the day (besides saying Merry Christmas to our family back at home) was going to the movie theatre to watch the new Hobbit movie! Clara and I did a marathon that week and were ecstatic that it was actually showing at the movie theatre here. We thought it was a pretty great way to spend Christmas.

Even though I was not with back at home with my family this Christmas, I wouldn't say I was alone. MEDA and Clara were my family this year and I am so grateful to have celebrated Christmas with them. It is times like these that you really appreciate the relationships you've created and realize that family can come in different forms.

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and New Year's. Thank you to everyone who made mine special and unforgettable.

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Back to the Future?

Check out what MEDA's Women's Economic Opportunities team has to say about Inclusive Market systems. Introducing guest blogger Christine Faveri, Director of Women's Economic Opportunities.

New tools to integrate gender equality into market systems thinking.

Having worked both as an advocate for gender equality and as a development practitioner for over 20 years, I know how hard it can be to translate concepts such as gender analysis and empowerment into practical tools that people can use in their work. Although many would now agree with Robert Zoellick that "gender equality is smart economics," many of us are aware that showing this to be true is easier said than done.

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A trip to the ocean, a time to reflect

In Ethiopia, Christmas is celebrated at the beginning of January, because of the Orthodox Calendar. While Steph and I could have had two Christmases, we took a trip to Mombasa, Kenya to take advantage of our extended holiday. I'm not really the spontaneous type – but it was a worthwhile and refreshing trip. We planned it pretty last minute, but in the end, everything worked out and we had many good memories.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Mombasa-Old-Town.jpgMombasa is a coastal city on the Indian Ocean and is the second largest city in Kenya. Historically it was a vital port city for trade. We had to adjust quickly to a new language (Swahili), currency (Kenyan Shillings), transportation (Kenyans drive on the other side of the road) and so on. Our first time in one of the grocery stores was eye-opening. There was much more variety and selection compared to what's available in Addis. We were also very excited about the nice cafes, restaurants, and the mall in Nyali. From a development perspective, I began to notice quickly the differences between Ethiopia and Kenya. Ethiopia follows a state-led development model, and the government protects the economy from foreign franchises. Kenya, on the other hand, has scaled back the role of the state, liberalized markets and embraced a Western model of development.

b2ap3_thumbnail_How-Ive-missed-tex-mex.jpgOur time in Mombasa was short and sweet. We didn't travel around too much, but mainly relaxed by the beach, ate food we can't find in Addis, and spent time getting to know the guests at our hostel. Our stay at the hostel was pretty unique. The owner recently moved into the current house a few months ago, so it didn't feel like home yet and was missing her personal touches. We were there when artwork, curtains, and the like were being put up. To see her and express that she was b2ap3_thumbnail_Our-last-day-in-Mombasa.jpgcoming alive again, was something that excited me. I'm all for pursuing things, opportunities and people in life that make you come alive. Of course we all go through different seasons, some much more difficult than others. But ensuring that there's life in what you do, is vital.

During our trip, I was reading a book called "The Me I Want To Be" by John Ortberg. It's a timely read, because I've experienced many challenges, opportunities to grow and self-discover throughout this internship. If there's one thing that I realized recently, it's this: for some time I got lost in questions and uncertainty about the future, which made me doubt my dreams, passions and capabilities. It's a downward spiral if you don't quickly realize there's a process to figuring it all out. And answers don't always come quickly or conveniently. Being confident and certain in who I am in my faith in the Lord, regardless of circumstances, is what will keep me grounded. A quote from the book that I love is this, "life is not about any particular achievement or experience. The most important task of your life is not what you do, but who you become."

It's already nearing the end of January, which means I have less than two months left. It feels like there isn't enough time to get everything done, so it's crunch time! I'm excited to go to the field next week and spend time collecting most significant change (MSC) stories from our clients. My sister wrote in her Christmas card to me: "There's no CAP to what you can learn there." I want to hold onto this. Each day, there are new things to learn from different people, opportunities, and situations. There is no cap!

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Economic Strengthening: Building Assets for Vulnerable Youth in Afghanistan

From 2008 to 2011, MEDA implemented the Afghan Secure Futures project (ASF) in Kabul. ASF focused on improving the lives of as many as 1,000 vulnerable boys, mainly between the ages of 14 and 18, who were living in Kabul and working as apprentices in the construction sector.

Why take an indirect approach?

Ma1sx2_Thumbnail1_ASF-apprentices-2.jpgany economic strengthening (ES) projects use indirect approaches. Some seek to benefit youth through one of the social units to which they belong, such as their family1. Family-focused projects typically focus on increasing the earnings of children's parents with the assumption that this will be partly spent to benefit children. Seeking to benefit children and younger youth through their workplaces is less common among ES programming.

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One Workplace At A Time

An Overview of MEDA's Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Intervention for Working Youth in Ethiopia

a1sx2_Original4_2014-10-10-06.54.52.jpgA little under one-third of Ethiopia's population is currently living in extreme poverty[1]. In many of these cases, households withdraw their children from school and put them to work in order to supplement the family income. While the government of Ethiopia has made great effort to element the worst forms of child labor, enforcement of laws and consistent prosecution of violators has not yet reached an ideal level.

To address this gap, MEDA's E-FACE project implements various livelihood strengthening interventions that tackle the issue of child exploitation due to reduced livelihood. E-FACE targets households at-risk of or engaged in the worst forms of child labor in the Ethiopian textile and agriculture sectors, as well as young workers under the age of 18[2].

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A new way of living

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

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

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

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

All this reinforced a few things...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Looking Ahead: The Future of Economic Strengthening

This blog series was sent courtesy of Microlinks, part of the Feed the Future Knowledge-Driven Agricultural Development project. Its contents were produced under United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Cooperative Agreement No. AID-OAA-LA-13-00001. The contents are the responsibility of FHI 360 and its partner, the International Rescue Committee, and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government

Promising Practices

In 2008, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) defined economic strengthening (ES) as "[t]he portfolio of strategies and interventions that supply, protect, and/or grow physical, natural, financial, human, and social assets aimed at improving vulnerable households cope [sic] with the exogenous shocks they face and improve their economic resilience to future shocks." That is a tall order; however, we are seeing an increasing demand for holistic programming to respond to the needs of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC). A growing body of evidence points to risky behavior by orphans and vulnerable children seeking to meet immediate livelihood needs, such as accepting "gifts" from older males in return for sexual favors and migration.

Here, we can begin to understand what the problem is. We know there is a call for an innovative "portfolio of strategies and interventions" aimed at improving vulnerable households' ability to cope with shocks, but what are they? What evidence is there to prove that ES models and approaches even work? Well, the jury is still out; however, we will explore a few areas that have seen promising practices for OVC and where these ES trends may take programming in the future.

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Sunny Holidays in Togo and Ghana

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

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

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

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

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

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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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