MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

GROWing Women’s Empowerment in Northern Ghana

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Hello MEDA Family!My name is Clarissa, I'm the new communications intern for the MEDA GROW Project (Greater Rural Opportunities for Women) in Tamale, Ghana. I arrived in here about two weeks ago and it's been a busy, exciting and fun ride so far!I had my first field visit to Wa last week, where our other MEDA office is, just about 4 hours from Tamale. I truly enjoyed meeting the MEDA field staff and our partner NGOs there. Although I have to admit that my favorite part was getting to visit two of the GROW communities in upper west region, Tanziri and Penetobo.In true Ghanaian fashion, we were so kindly welcomed with much singing and dancing, which was such a blast! We got to see the women's soybean fields, listen the groups' challenges and successes, and thank them abundantly for having us, which was of course followed by more dancing!I am so impressed by these incredible women. And here's why: Part of GROW is that our partner NGOs implement gender trainings in these communities. For one activity they have each the men and the women list their daily tasks.Here's what they found:The men on average had 2 tasks, one of which is riding their bicycle to sit under a tree and play a board game with their friends.The women on the other hand had 18 tasks including cooking, cleaning, farming, getting water, caring for the children, just to name a few. . .Although I have known about the unequal work distribution of women and seen it in similar communities in other parts of the world, it still blows my mind every time.I inquired if there was any progress as a result of these gender trainings. Here are some of these results they shared: Listing the tasks out helped some of the men see that the work distributions was unfair, so they consented to help the women (who usually walk to carry water) to bring the water on their bicycle on their way home. Other men now understand that the women have been working all day and sometimes it takes longer to finish their tasks. Finally, some men decided to take their dishes to the women after they finished eating so that these can be washed.Clearly we have a long way to go toward gender equality, but change in these rural communities happens slowly and at least these little steps are progress in the right direction. Plus because of the GROW project, women have been growing and selling soybeans and now are able to contribute financially to the household, which helps to raise their status and financial decision making power. Mostly women use their earnings to purchase food and send their children to school.I will never be able to understand what it is like to be born here in Tanziri or Penetobo, but I am so inspired by the incredible strength, selflessness, perseverance, warmth and work ethic these women have. I am grateful and excited to have the opportunity to contribute to the GROW project, to learn from MEDA and these women, to share their stories and see how the spark of empowerment will slowly but surely spread through their communities.
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Salam from Addis Ababa!

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Steph and I arrived safely last Wednesday and are enjoying our first few days here in Ethiopia. Upon our arrival at our place in Sarbet, our landlady prepared a coffee ceremony for us. Both Steph and I love coffee, so it was a really nice welcome. After resting up for a few hours, we had lunch with Doris (our country manager) and had our security briefing. Then we went to the MEDA office, met our supervisors and other staff members. It was a 13.5 hour flight, so I was pretty exhausted by the end of our first day.While it wasn't intentionally planned, we arrived during the major holiday in Ethiopia, New Year. It was Ethiopian New Year last Thursday, so it is now the year 2007 in Ethiopia because their calendar is 7 years behind the Western calendar. We were invited to spend an afternoon with Balay (Steph's supervisor) and his family, had lots of food, and was welcomed warmly. I've been really touched to experience such generosity over the past few days from our staff here, including Doris and our respective supervisors. We also went to Lafto mall on New Years with my supervisor, Meron, to bowl at the bowling alley. I've never had to manually keep my score, so that was a fun learning experience. The following day, we were invited to have a turkey lunch at Doris' place. We had a wonderful afternoon, heard stories about adjusting to life in Ethiopia and enjoyed really amazing food.If I were to sum up a few initial thoughts and impressions, here they are:Rain - Lots and lots of it. We arrived at the end of the rainy season, so good thing I brought rain boots and a rain jacket!Prices - Some things like eating out, bread, vegetables, and fruit cost very little, while household items like a kettle or strainer, have turned out to be much more expensive than we thought.People - Our landlady and MEDA staff have also been so generous and welcoming. And most people we walk by and encounter have been very friendly. Since I haven't been in a country where people tend to notice you and seem to be talking about you, it's something I'm still adjusting to. However, for the most part, when we walk around, there are folks who say 'Hi' and mean no harm at all.High altitude - I didn't notice it at first, but when walking up hills, it was hard to breath. So it's going to be a few days to get adjusted.Today, will be our first day at work! I'm really excited to be here and be part of the E-FACE (Ethiopians Fighting Against Child Exploitation) team. It's been fascinating reading about the program, which makes it even more exciting to start this week. I am a little bit nervous, but also ready to take on new challenges and lessons that I'll gain through this internship with MEDA. Stay tuned for more updates soon!Ciao,Clara(We've picked up on how Ethiopians say "Hi" and "Bye"
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Welcoming the 2014 MEDA Interns

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For the past 17 years, MEDA has sent over 110 young professionals in 20 countries around the world to give them the opportunity to gain experience in the field and discover their career interests.This fall 4 new interns embark on a 6-month international development Internship. The interns will be heading to Ethiopia and Ghana helping MEDA fulfill its overall mission of creating business solutions to poverty for families around the world.Check back on this blog frequently to stay tuned as the 4 interns uncover unique experiences, gain new skills and change lives. Bringing different skills and life experiences to their position will no doubt make for varying perspectives on the realities of their internship and of international development as a whole.Now let's meet the 2014 cohort of MEDA Interns...EthiopiaEDGET (Ethiopians Driving Growth through Entrepreneurship and Trade)Stephanie Puras - Communication and Program Support InternE-FACE (Ethiopians Fighting Against Child Exploitation)Clara Yoon - Communication and Program Support InternGhanaGROW (Greater Rural Opportunities for Women)Kevin Linklater - Program Support/ Enterprise Development InternClarissa Heger- Communications Intern

Visit MEDA Internships for more information on our internship program and to read the biographies of the 2014 interns.We encourage you to keep coming back to this blog to stay informed on the latest news about the interns's field experiences. Whether you're someone who knows one of the interns personally or someone who just discovered this blog, we hope you will find some truthful insight into the international development world and begin to connect with the people behind this posts. If you don't get the opportunity to travel to these places yourself to explore the food, culture and stories of our clients, let these interns' personal tales serve as a window to MEDA's work in the field.

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My MEDA Internship Reflection: "I feel extremely grateful"

What initially drew me into applying for a MEDA internship revolved around wanting to work abroad again and see if I could find a placement that would give me the skills and opportunities to transition into a career with international development work. However, after applying and having my first interview with MEDA I realized this internship program was not like many of the other I had applied for in the past. The level of professionalism and care by the staff members and the investment MEDA made to provide the necessary resources for us to be most effective in our roles was evident to me from the start. This really drew me into the MEDA internship program and I was lucky enough to be selected.

I had previously served a nine month fellowship for an NGO in Rwanda working at a partner microfinance institution so this was not my first experience living/working in sub-Saharan Africa. I think I went into the internship with realistic expectations of what was expected of me, and what I could contribute during my time frame. So I think having previous experience can be very helpful in the first month of your placement.

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Why I love Zoona

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Now, almost a year after my initially arrival for a six month internship in Zambia with MEDA techno-links partner, Zoona I find myself sitting in front of the mighty Zambezi river writing this final blog post. I find it hard to begin where to start when recapping my MEDA internship experience. My time in Zambia had a profound impact on me both professionally and personally. For starters, my goal of hoping this internship would provide me an opportunity to get a full-time role in sub-Saharan Africa played out well. After my six month internship was completed I was given a full-time three year contract with my placement organization, Zoona as the Agent Training Officer. This is a role that previously did not exist but during my placement I was able to show the value created by having a more robust training program that focused on many aspects of what will improve agent performance.

The skills I have developed since stepping off the plane nearly a year ago up to present day would take pages to explain. To keep things simple I will touch on a few that resonate with me.

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My MEDA Internship Reflection: "I learned so much"

I decided to apply for CIDA's internship program as I was looking to start a career in international development. The program seemed like a great opportunity to gain field experience and contacts which could help me launch my career. MEDA specifically appealed to me as I loved the organization's business approach which I believe is a very sustainable and practical approach to development. I also wanted to gain more experience in microfinance which was the area of focus for my internship with MEDA.

I had worked abroad prior to my internship with MEDA but this experience really offered me the opportunity to gain a ton of professional experience and skills. I learned so much from my fellow MEDA staff and partner organization staff in Nicaragua which really complemented my academic knowledge of development issues.

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My MEDA Internship Reflection: "Expect the unexpected"

In my fourth and last year as a Political Science student specializing in International Relations, I was beginning to worry what the next steps in my life would be. I was applying to a variety of internships and job applications when I came across MEDA. To be honest, I was drawn to MEDA because I was able to not only improve my professional skills, but also to travel abroad. I had no idea that MEDA would become my backbone in strong morals and the ideal view of a non-governmental organization.

In arriving to Nicaragua, I was completely lost, to say the least. I had volunteered continuously throughout my high school and university career and had already lived abroad, but MEDA provided a unique opportunity in becoming comfortable within a career setting. MEDA sparked my individual strengths and gave me a strong voice within a well known international organization where I was able to view my point and use creativity in projects.

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My MEDA Internship Reflection: "So many opportunities"

Graduating with marketing, I knew I didn't want to go into the advertising world, I wanted to market something I truly believed in, I wanted to use my business knowledge for something more then just making money. I had heard about the MEDA internships recently and for me the chance abroad, as well as the work experience was perfect.

No, it wasn't really what I thought it would be, it is actually a lot faster pace. I had assumed that everything would move at a really slow pace, not truly preparing me for work when I move back home but it was quite the opposite. Everyday presented a new opportunity and new challenge. The staff was incredible, inviting you into many discussions that are both a learning experience and a chance for you to share your own ideas. The office culture was as close to a family as you could get, not a day went by without laughing here. I had so many opportunities to be involved with so many more departments of the organization learning new skills every time.

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My MEDA Internship Reflection: "It was a great organization"

I decided to apply for a MEDA internship as it was an opportunity to branch out in my career goals. I had previously been working in a provincial government desk job for 5 years and thought it was time for a change to implement my background with mapping GIS/ and international development and it seemed like a great opportunity.

I was most interested in MEDA's wide variety of economic development ideas on how they take grassroots steps in order to help out the people and the countries they are working in. They don't give handouts and instead empower the citizens to reach their highest potential on their own. It was a great organization right from the orientation week to work for, and be a part of. The standards are very high and the organization is well known and respected in developing countries they do work in.

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Don’t Be Sad, Just be Glad

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It's the last day of work, don't be sad just be glad, it's the last day of work. All you Silver Lakers know exactly what I'm talking about... that silly song we sing so we can deal with the sad feelings of leaving camp for the summer. I sang that song as I walked to find a bijaji today, my last day of work at MEDA Tanzania.I cannot believe it has been nine months, that is absolutely wild to me. The time has flown by. I find myself thinking about the beginning a lot, when I was so incredibly homesick, I considered packing my bag right then and there and flying back to Canada. I remember thinking about how I didn't think I could do this; that I did not have what it takes to live abroad for six months, nevermind extending the time for nine months. Those thoughts seem so silly to me now.The office here in Tanzania has set seriously high standards for future offices I may work in. The environment here, is exactly what I always hoped for, a place where people not only work together but grow together. Whether it's Goodluck singing to the whole M&E department with Irene and Ngowi joining in, Mwinyi trying to confuse me with people by using their surnames, Lorraine checking in to make sure I was safe on the weekend or while travelling, others teaching me more Swahili phrases that I can never remember that really are just another way to say, "Hey, what's up?" or simply having hilarious conversations over the cubicles that I cannot help but giggle at. Those moments I will take with me always. This is not only an office but it is a family. A family I was lucky enough to be apart of.I was able to complete my internship with a few days in the field taking pictures of the beneficiaries receiving their vouchers and nets. These are the people and the reasons why we continue to do the work for, these are the people that make every stressful day worth it and the people that are making the most out of the opportunities we are able to provide:Asante Sana (A great thank you) to all you at MEDA for making my experience every bit as great as it has been. This year has completely surpassed my expectations and I as I leave the office today, I will never forget all of your happy faces.ASANTE SANA
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Happy Birthday Redo

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Continuing on this crazy roller coaster of emotions, nights like last night happen and I never want to leave Dar es Salaam. The thing I'm learning about the friends you make abroad is they become your family so quickly. Everyone is so desperate for that community that we all have this instant connection and care for each other. I care so much about all of the people I have met in the past nine months.A few girlfriends and I had planned dinner for last night. As I was getting ready, I said to Marine..."I don't even really feel like a dinner party tonight!" Honestly, I just wanted to be home, I want to sleep as much time as I could away so I could be back in Canada but I would deal with it and go. We start walking up the stairs and now that I think back about the night, Marine was being SO WEIRD! When I tried to wear yoga pants to the party, she suggested I wear a necklace, she was just so bubbly and weird and as we went to the door, she sort of moved to the side; Why didn't I figure it out?I walk up the MANY stairs to Madeline's apartment, open the door and was sprayed with an unbelievable amount of silly string!! I was in literal shock. Why were all these people here? Who are all these people? Why are they screaming at me? What do I look like?! My eyes, as per usual, started to fill up, all these people are looking at me and I just want to cry.My unbelievably, amazing friends had planned a birthday redo surprise party! I had told them about how my birthday was the first weekend in Dar, where I knew no one, did nothing and wanted to fly home. Wow, am I glad I didn't. They went above and beyond to make me feel special and to share a special day with me.I cannot explain how much last night meant to me. In a short time they went from being people I have dinner with so I don't have to eat alone to people I look up to, people I am inspired by and people I truly care about. It is going to extremely hard to say goodbye to all of these people, and let's be real... I probably won't even do it because it is just too hard but I'm not so scared because I know that with the power of social media (at least) I will be able to keep in touch and watch these magnificent people do incredible things in this world. I can't wait to some day say... "That's my friend!"
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Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda

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Good news. I made it to Rwanda, after the longest journey I was finally able to step onto Rwandan soil. The first words when I got into the taxi were, "How was the flight?" All I could do was laugh and reply, "A little long but good."The beauty in Rwanda is undeniable. I can tell you about the lush, green rolling hills or the clean streets of Kigali but the true beauty lies in the hearts of the people. As frustrated I became with the Airport Authorities, I certainly did not expect the warm welcome I received from the Rwandan people. Every interaction I had with a Rwandan person, I find myself leaving with such a huge smile, from taxi drivers to mamas in the village to the kids on the streets, I loved all of them. Every single person was able to show and teach me about their life with nothing but kindness.We were all lucky enough to have my friend, Marine with us on the trip. Marine works for the Rwandan Development Board and Gorilla Conservation, she was so gracious to plan many cultural activities for all of us to enjoy throughout the trip. We watched some Rwandan dancers entertain a crowd of people, had a city tour of Gisenyi, checked out the local hot springs, made banana beer and so much more. Between her and Chrissy, I was free from all planning, which for those of you who know me, understand how much of a dream this was for me. I was able to sit back and enjoy every second of it.The highlight of the trip was without a doubt going to see the Gorillas. Every time I try something new here, I find myself saying I have never experience something so amazing, which isn't quite the case but they all have their very unique qualities that make it so extra special, this one was no expectation. We had a short hike into the mountains before we approached the Gorillas, 100 meters from them we prepared, leaving all of our bags, walking sticks and basically everything but our cameras with the guards. We slowly walked past the great Silver back to get a better view of all of them enjoying their daily activities. With two short grunts the guards were able communicate with the Silverback to assure him we were harmless, simply their to observe. Learning to speak gorilla was MUCH easier then my attempt at learning Swahili.We were only allowed one hour with the gorillas, so we did our best to make it count. Yes, we took as many pictures of possible, on our cameras, our phones, anything that could capture that image but by now I have definitely learned that no matter how great the image nothing can beat the real experience. So remembering, the importance of taking it all in from my picture scare after the safari, I made sure I took a few moments to put down the camera and enjoy the moment. These creatures were incredible. So humanlike in every aspect; the young ones rambunctiously wrestling with each other or imitating the Silverbacks chest pounds, the teen adults lazily laying in the sun wanting nothing to do with the others, the parents so lustfully looking after the young ones. Everything about them was amazing.On Monday, it was time to go back to Dar es Salaam. After a nightmare of a trip down, I ended up having one of the most amazing experiences with some of the most wonderful people. Then, they hit me with the news... I had no return ticket. I couldn't even believe my ears, I knew it was all good to be true.Even with the stress I once again had to deal with at the airport, I was not going to let it bring down the trip. After some back and fourth banter, and pulling up every email I could find to help me, I was finally able to convince them to give me a ticket. Yes, of course there were a few tears... but come on, you can't even deny it doesn't help me. I think tears my be my superpower... at least to some heartwarming Africans.
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Boom, Snap, Clap

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If I had one wish, I would wish for life to be a musical. For anyone who knows me, also knows my love for musicals, although I have less then zero musical talent... I do LOVE it. So many times in life, I have thought, Man, wouldn't it be great if everyone just break out into song right now. Well, it took me 8 and a half months to realize that I am living in just that. Africa, the musical.It was on my hike through different rural villages up to the waterfall on Mt. Meru that I finally noticed it. Every corner we turn there was a new village home blasting music out of these giant speakers, occasionally with the remix of a Cow's Moo, a Chicken's Cluck and the children's laughter. Tanzania is full of life and showing it through the songs they sing everyday.When arriving at the waterfall, it was one of those moments where you can feel your soul taking a step back and realizing all that you have been experiencing and for me realizing that my time in Africa was starting to come to an end. Coming to the conclusion that I have made some of the best friends I could ever have imagined, I have learned so much more then ever expected and I have grown incredibly from the first day I arrived here. As we enjoyed the view, Chrissy and I talked about our experiences and what we were both excited and scared for when we got home. It is these moments that make me never want to leave.The next morning, we wake up early to head out to a horse safari. Riding on the back of College (Yes, that was my horse's name), through the large green grass fields, past the zebras and wildebeests, as I listen to the footsteps of the horses my mind began to wander. Starting to imagine all the people I would see at home and thinking about what activities I will get to enjoy this summer. I tried making the day go by faster and faster, which of course only makes it crawl by even slower.After the horse safari, we were going to make a trip over to a friend's orphanage. Our guide was so gracious to guide us on which dala dala (local bus) to take and where to get off... too bad he didn't' know where he was going. We rode on the first dala dala, being charged mzungu (foreigner) prices for about 30 minutes, when we get off and our guide shows us the school, we realize we are at the completely wrong place. Trying not to waste too much time, we cram into the next dala dala, and I literally mean cram, there were 26 people in this dala dala, which let's be real... it's a 12 person van with a few extra seats. After all these frustrations, we finally make it to the meeting spot, there are the only two other Mzungus, so we know we are in the right place!Maureen, works a Havila Children's Orphanage in Arusha for kids 3-18 years old. She is an absolutely remarkable, inspiring woman dedicating her life to these children and showing them unbelievable love and kindness which was demonstrated as we walked through the gates. Each child came up to introduce themselves to us and welcome us to their home. The kids spoke excellent English and we're full of joy and laughter.We spent the afternoon listening to them singing a few songs their pastor had taught them as the younger ones show off their dance moves, the kids taking so MANY pictures as they were fascinated with cameras and just hanging around the courtyard getting to enjoy their wonderful personalities. They took us for a walk around the area to the children's library and another children's home. As we're walking, playing the 'Don't step on the Lava game' and learning more about each other, it wasn't too long until the movie 'Frozen' came up and they090 (2) asked me to sing my favourite song. For all of those who know me, again know that there is no chance of me signing in front of them. I tell them, I don't sing but I know this really cool beat, and again... it's the only beat I know. As we're walking back to the village, I teach them the Boom, snap, clap, boom boom, snap, clap and of course, they pick it up way quicker than I ever did. It was an all over, incredible afternoon.On the walk to meet our driver, my favourite little three year old, comes up beside me and although he can speak barely any English says, "Miss Mary" and puts his tiny arms in the air. I pick him up, holding him so tightly. During that walk to our driver, I cannot help but think about how I never want to leave, this little three year, Sammy has stolen my heart along with all the other children. Every single child, so full of life and so full of laughter, singing their song every step of the way sharing their love with anyone they meet. With Sammy clutching my neck, while I listen to kids shout ' Boom, snap, clap, boom boom, snap, clap' it hits me again... I never want to leave.My emotions are on the biggest, fastest, scariest roller coaster ride, one minute I'm ready to be on the plane home and the next, I never want to leave. I'm trying my best to enjoy every last second of my time in Tanzania because I know as soon as I leave, I will miss all that I have come to love here but I do have so much to look forward to as soon as I get back into North America. Doing my best to sit back and listen to the whole song before simply skipping to the next track.
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My MEDA Internship Reflection: "I really felt fulfilled"

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

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

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A Sense of Empowerment

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One of the main objectives of the GROW project is to build the capacities of our Lead Farmers – female farmers who are chosen to represent their women's groups – so that they will have the skills to maintain their practices as entrepreneurs even after the project is completed in their communities.This process can also be very empowering for the women: teaching agricultural practices to ensure their soybean crops produce good yields, providing communities with gender sensitization to avoid stereotypes, demonstrating different ways of using soybean to benefit their families, and promoting group savings accounts so women can manage their own funds.One of the most recent examples of both capacity building and empowerment was last week – a select number of Lead Farmers were brought to Tamale for two days to participate in the Pre-Season Forum, an agricultural event that brings together different actors in the soybean value chain. The Lead Farmers were able to attend discussions, network, and observe demonstrations of farming technology.The following day, the group was taken to meet with a shea processor, and learn about the details of collecting the fruit, making it into butter, packaging it and selling it to buyers. Although the GROW project focusses on soybean production, an important element is maintaining the farmers' businesses throughout the year – this may mean engaging in other income generating activities, especially during the dry season, after soy is cultivated.After these two days of introducing the farmers to different people, as well as new agricultural innovations, MEDA held a small reception at the office. Over biscuits and juice, the women were asked what their most memorable moment was during their stay, or something interesting they had learned. For many women, visiting Tamale was their favourite part – some of them had never travelled from their communities to the town. For others, the highlight was attending an event with different people involved in agriculture. Many Lead Farmers left with contacts of other farmers and links to input suppliers. Another element they enjoyed was meeting each other. Although they are all part of the GROW project, the selected Lead Farmers were from different communities of the Upper West Region. They were happy to meet other women like themselves and share their experiences.Regardless of what their most memorable experience was, the emphasis lies in the fact that the women were chosen to participate because MEDA believes in them – in their skills and capabilities, both as farmers and as women. Providing them this sense of accomplishment is almost more important than providing them with something tangible. It is with this confidence that the Lead Farmers will go forward in their communities and truly embrace their multifaceted identities as mother, business person, farmer and woman, and continue to be the role models MEDA knows they are.
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Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda

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Good news! I made it to Rwanda, after the longest journey I was finally able to step onto Rwandan soil. The first words when I got into the taxi were, "How was the flight?" All I could do was laugh and reply, "A little long but good."The beauty in Rwanda is undeniable. I can tell you about the lush, green rolling hills or the clean streets of Kigali but the true beauty lies in the hearts of the people. As frustrated I became with the Airport Authorities, I certainly did not expect the warm welcome I received from the Rwandan people. Every interaction I had with a Rwandan person, I find myself leaving with such a huge smile, from taxi drivers to mamas in the village to the kids on the streets, I loved all of them. Every single person was able to show and teach me about their life with nothing but kindness.We were all lucky enough to have my friend, Marine with us on the trip. Marine works for the Rwandan Development Board and Gorilla Conservation, she was so gracious to plan many cultural activities for all of us to enjoy throughout the trip. We watched some Rwandan dancers entertain a crowd of people, had a city tour of Gisenyi, checked out the local hot springs, made banana beer and so much more. Between her and Chrissy, I was free from all planning, which for those of you who know me, understand how much of a dream this was for me. I was able to sit back and enjoy every second of it.The highlight of the trip was without a doubt going to see the Gorillas. Every time I try something new here, I find myself saying I have never experience something so amazing, which isn't quite the case but they all have their very unique qualities that make it so extra special, this one was no expectation. We had a short hike into the mountains before we approached the Gorillas, 100 meters from them we prepared, leaving all of our bags, walking sticks and basically everything but our cameras with the guards. We slowly walked past the great Silver back to get a better view of all of them enjoying their daily activities. With two short grunts the guards were able communicate with the Silverback to assure him we were harmless, simply their to observe. Learning to speak gorilla was MUCH easier then my attempt at learning Swahili.We were only allowed one hour with the gorillas, so we did our best to make it count. Yes, we took as many pictures of possible, on our cameras, our phones, anything that could capture that image but by now I have definitely learned that no matter how great the image nothing can beat the real experience. So remembering, the importance of taking it all in from my picture scare after the safari, I made sure I took a few moments to put down the camera and enjoy the moment. These creatures were incredible. So humanlike in every aspect; the young ones rambunctiously wrestling with each other or imitating the Silverbacks chest pounds, the teen adults lazily laying in the sun wanting nothing to do with the others, the parents so lustfully looking after the young ones. Everything about them was amazing.On Monday, it was time to go back to Dar es Salaam. After a nightmare of a trip down, I ended up having one of the most amazing experiences with some of the most wonderful people. Then, they hit me with the news... I had no return ticket. I couldn't even believe my ears, I knew it was all good to be true.Even with the stress I once again had to deal with at the airport, I was not going to let it bring down the trip. After some back and fourth banter, and pulling up every email I could find to help me, I was finally able to convince them to give me a ticket. Yes, of course there were a few tears... but come on, you can't even deny it doesn't help me. I think tears my be my superpower... at least to some heartwarming Africans.
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Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda

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Good news. I made it to Rwanda, after the longest journey I was finally able to step onto Rwandan soil. The first words when I got into the taxi were, "How was the flight?" All I could do was laugh and reply, "A little long but good."The beauty in Rwanda is undeniable. I can tell you about the lush, green rolling hills or the clean streets of Kigali but the true beauty lies in the hearts of the people. As frustrated I became with the Airport Authorities, I certainly did not expect the warm welcome I received from the Rwandan people. Every interaction I had with a Rwandan person, I find myself leaving with such a huge smile, from taxi drivers to mamas in the village to the kids on the streets, I loved all of them. Every single person was able to show and teach me about their life with nothing but kindness.We were all lucky enough to have my friend, Marine with us on the trip. Marine works for the Rwandan Development Board and Gorilla Conservation, she was so gracious to plan many cultural activities for all of us to enjoy throughout the trip. We watched some Rwandan dancers entertain a crowd of people, had a city tour of Gisenyi, checked out the local hot springs, made banana beer and so much more. Between her and Chrissy, I was free from all planning, which for those of you who know me, understand how much of a dream this was for me. I was able to sit back and enjoy every second of it.The highlight of the trip was without a doubt going to see the Gorillas. Every time I try something new here, I find myself saying I have never experience something so amazing, which isn't quite the case but they all have their very unique qualities that make it so extra special, this one was no expectation. We had a short hike into the mountains before we approached the Gorillas, 100 meters from them we prepared, leaving all of our bags, walking sticks and basically everything but our cameras with the guards. We slowly walked past the great Silver back to get a better view of all of them enjoying their daily activities. With two short grunts the guards were able communicate with the Silverback to assure him we were harmless, simply their to observe. Learning to speak gorilla was MUCH easier then my attempt at learning Swahili.We were only allowed one hour with the gorillas, so we did our best to make it count. Yes, we took as many pictures of possible, on our cameras, our phones, anything that could capture that image but by now I have definitely learned that no matter how great the image nothing can beat the real experience. So remembering, the importance of taking it all in from my picture scare after the safari, I made sure I took a few moments to put down the camera and enjoy the moment. These creatures were incredible. So humanlike in every aspect; the young ones rambunctiously wrestling with each other or imitating the Silverbacks chest pounds, the teen adults lazily laying in the sun wanting nothing to do with the others, the parents so lustfully looking after the young ones. Everything about them was amazing.On Monday, it was time to go back to Dar es Salaam. After a nightmare of a trip down, I ended up having one of the most amazing experiences with some of the most wonderful people. Then, they hit me with the news... I had no return ticket. I couldn't even believe my ears, I knew it was all good to be true.Even with the stress I once again had to deal with at the airport, I was not going to let it bring down the trip. After some back and fourth banter, and pulling up every email I could find to help me, I was finally able to convince them to give me a ticket. Yes, of course there were a few tears... but come on, you can't even deny it doesn't help me. I think tears my be my superpower... at least to some heartwarming Africans.
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Easter at the Lake

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As Easter came and went, it marked another holiday, along with Thanksgiving and Halloween (a holiday to me!), I spent in Ghana.I left Tamale by bus – after waking up at 5am, eating crackers for breakfast out of my purse, and getting on a vehicle bound for Accra, but realizing it just in time – and headed for Kumasi, 2nd largest city in Ghana and the closest to Lake Bosomtwe, our final destination for the long weekend. I was travelling to meet former MEDA intern Gillian, who was making the trip from Accra, to have yet another adventure together. The 6 hour bus journey went by quickly as I was distracted by Ghanaian soap operas playing on the overhead screen. I'm not sure what exactly was happening, although I know it involved some type of royal family, black magic and a lot of yelling (perhaps this explains my distraction).The two of us arrived in Kumasi minutes apart and set off in a private taxi towards the lake, about an hour away. It was so different to pass by the lush, green terrain and mountainous landscape that is found in the south, as opposed to the dry and dusty northern region I'm used to. It was especially exciting to finally arrive at Lake Bosomtwe, a circular body of water that was created millions of years ago by a meteorite, surrounded by rolling hills.Before long we were settled into our room at The Green Ranch, a small ecolodge that specializes in horseback riding and vegetarian food – two of my favourite things. Our days were spent lounging on the terrace that overlooked the lake, playing scrabble (my first time to play an entire game), eating homemade ice cream/juice/tofu (delicacies!), walking through the nearby village, or watching thunderstorms from our covered porch.Aside from total relaxation, we did do other activities.On our first full day at the ranch we went horseback riding along the lake. It was a beautiful way to see the scenery. Galaxy (the horse, not my nickname for Gillian) and I took the lead, and led the group through villages full of children giggling as we went past, a cacao farm shaded with trees, and along the beach, the horses splashing themselves to cool down. Although I had ridden for many years growing up, I hadn't experienced anything quite like riding on jungle paths and through tiny fishing communities... or getting sunburned on the back of my hands to the extent that I did.We also went swimming. There were rumours about parasites... leeches... worms and other creepy things that you could catch/have stuck on you from swimming in the lake water. After some contemplation I decided to go for it. It was just too hot, and the Ghanaian family that was swimming looked like they were having too much fun. At its deepest point the lake is about 70 metres. Even though I was relatively close to the shore, I could feel cool currents from underneath which felt so refreshing.All too soon the weekend came to an end and I made the bus trip back to Tamale. It was my last vacation here in Ghana, as I'll be leaving shortly, and I'm so glad I could spend it the way I did. As I travel through the different regions, visit different cities and embark on different adventures, I am amazed at both the diversity of each place, but also the similarities all over the country (not only my chances of sunburn which are the same in all regions) – friendly people, good food, natural beauty, and wonderful memories I take away.
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Overflowing with Tears in Rwanda

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This is a story that simply cannot wait. I am in awe of the way life has a funny way of working around us, no matter how hard we try and force it in the direction we would like.I was on my way to Kigali with my friend Chrissy, we were to meet outside the airport, unfortunately the unpredictable traffic in Dar was causing her such an issue that we were not sure she was going to be able to make the trip. I was ready to fly out myself when she was able to show up just in time. As we sat for a few minutes before we boarded the plane laughing about how much someone clearly did not want her to make it to Rwanda to see the Gorillas, the announcement was made and it was time to board. We approached the boarding gate when she realized she could not find her ticket, they would not let her on the plane if she did not have that. We looked through everything, even where we were sitting and nothing, it was looking grim. Then, just in time, magically appears her ticket stub hidden in one of the pages of her passport.As we arrive in Kenya, we are on the bus heading to the terminal when we check the clock, we had just over 5 minutes to get on the next plane. This is unbelievable. We run to the gate when they inform us we still have a little bit of time but now they need to see a printed copy of my visa for Rwanda... only I didn't print it out, I only have it in my email on my computer. That is not acceptable. They inform me of a print shop a few gates down, 8 to be exact. I speed walk across the airport terminal, only to find out the printer is not working. I speed walk back across to the Rwanda Airways gate, the manager is there and gives me the go ahead.As we board the plane take our seats and again, laugh about how Rwanda really must not want us. The plane ride was quick and we were ready for a great vacation in Rwanda, if only it was that easy. After a short flight, the plane lands, quickly gathering our things we head off the plane and onto the bus ready to take us to immigration. Shortly after stepping off the bus, I noticed I was missing something... my passport, I had left my passport on the plane. It wasn't long before I was back on the plane searching for my passport, I knew I left it there but it was absolutely nowhere to be found. Devastated, scared, frustrated, I made my way back to the immigration officers where I tried to work out a way that they would let me into Kigali, no luck.Since Rwanda had never seen my passport, I was technically not even in the country, the only solution was to ship me back to Dar, so I could get it figured out. My heart sunk, I would not be able to explore Rwanda with my friends. For anyone who knows me, understands just how many tears my body produces and that night was no exception.Luckily, I have met so many amazing people out here and Chrissy was just too kind of a person to leave me stranded in the airport alone. She spent the night in the Rwandan airport with me, fighting for me, laughing at the luck we had and comforting me when I just couldn't hold it together anymore. After a long night of arguing and getting further away from a solution, it was time for the daily flight from Kigali to Nairobi. I had to return to Nairobi since that was where I stopped on the way over, half an hour before they were able to give me a boarding pass and I was on my way back to Nairobi.The flight was short, I slept for most of it, cried through the rest but none the less was there before I knew it. Arriving in Nairobi unsure of what was to happen next, I looked around cautiously for someone I could trust to help me. A young lady a few years older then me,had overheard my situation and could see the stress in my face. She came over and checked to see if there was anything she could help me with. Her kindness was incredible, offering her phone so I could call Rwanda (which was now long distance), checking in on me a couple times before she left the airport and a giant hug at the exact moment I was getting overwhelmed again.I was able to find a couple immigration officers that would help me with the next lag of my journey, it was a simple comment that they didn't understand why I had no passport that just had the tears streaming down my face again. They were terrified, doing everything they could to get me to stop crying and even had me laughing with their inspirational speech of how I must learn to be tough if I am going to live in Africa. Eventually, after many chats with the embassy, airlines and the Kigali airport they had booked me a flight back to Dar es Salaam.I had a wonderful escort, who had obviously heard how many tears I had shed in immigration, explaining to me that she is also a 'crybaby'! She did a wonderful job putting a smile on my face and making me feel that everything was going to be okay. I had explained my situation a few more times to the Kenya Airways flight attendants and now was just waiting for a boarding pass to be printed. With a few hours before my flight, I decided it was probably time to eat something and headed for lunch. I had just ordered when I heard, "Mary Catherine, please report to Gate 6, Mary Catherine please find Gate 6." In my head, I thought they must have my boarding pass, so in a rush I asked them to pack up my food and took the long walk back to gate 6.When I got there, the first lady had quite a smile on her face and said she had to call her manager. A few more people passed, all looking at me with these silly grins on their faces, something was up. The Rwanda Air Manager finally walks around the corner and starts with, "You lucky girl." Someone had turned in my passport just a few minutes ago in Kigali!I was in awe. No words were able to explain the relief, excitement and disbelief that I felt. Obviously, I started to cry. The manager of Rwanda Air was so lovely and had already arranged for a free flight back to Kigali and a free flight on Monday. I was going to get my dream vacation yet... well I hope, still sitting in the Nairobi airport waiting to take off to Rwanda. Wish me luck!
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Zanzibar Just Never Gets Old

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Well this past weekend was one more goodbye that had to be made, so for Parneet's last weekend we decided to take a trip to our beloved little paradise, Zanzibar. There is something magical about that place. This was my 5th time in Zanzibar and every time I go it has a completely different feeling, all great in there own way.This time because we were a larger group we all decided to plan our own transport there,which let me tell you is WAY easier. As a resident in Tanzania, I get everything for about the third of the price my non-resident friends would get. The ferry for me is only about $20 dollars, unfortunately I was not able to take work off that early at this time so with a few others we took a quick 30 minute flight over, which for me costs about the same a non-resident would on the ferry.Arriving Friday night, we head over to a beautiful rooftop patio for some dinner and drinks to start off what was sure to be an unforgettable weekend. As we all gather together, watching the most beautiful array of colors painted across the sky from sundown, we catch up on everything, even though I saw most of these people the night before. Our group of friends may not all be quite as much of an extrovert as me, but they are pretty close and it is quite rare that we do not spend every evening together. Never the less, we learn about each others days, the struggles, the successes, the miscommunication we would have encountered with someone that day.After dinner, we all pile into a large van and make our way from Stonetown to Paje, where we will be staying for the weekend. Still not sure of where we are to stay, as if is easier to simply show up and find a place then to book online, well for those who have the extremely useful skill of negotiating, we find a beautiful place on the beach, with enough rooms for all of us and not too pricey, quite the deal. It was a long night full of laughter and many memories created, a great start to the weekend.The morning was a quick clean up, enjoyed some breakfast and we were packed up and ready to head out to the real treat of the weekend. We had recently heard of these private villas you may rent, so on we were, all piled in the van for a short drive down the road to Raha Lodge. After a few minutes of searching for this place through the local village, we spotted a rickety, old wooden sign that pointed us in the right direction. The place was absolutely gorgeous. In Swahili, Raha means happiness, which is definitely the way we all felt exploring our new home for the night.It wasn't long after we got out of the car that thunder and lightning began to shriek through the building and the rain started to downpour. It was that kind of thunderstorm where all you want is to cuddle up under a blanket with a cup of tea and watch the sky light up. It was going to put a hold on swimming, and tanning on the beach for the day but the thing about these friends is that it is almost impossible to have a bad time. As we sat under the roof watching the rain pour down, we exchanged stories, played some games and simply enjoyed each other's company.Shortly after the sky cleared up and the weekend played out exactly how we had hoped, even returning home sunburnt but no matter how the weather would have reacted I am positive we would have made it an unforgettable weekend. It is easy to say that people are the most important thing in my life and I truly don't know what I would do in this country without them. There is something special about connecting with others who are also away from the home they knew before this. Friendships are formed quickly, trust is unbelievably high and boredom is never an issue because there is always something new to learn. It was another great and completely unique weekend in Zanzibar! A little paradise.
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