MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field
Clara is from Waterloo, Ontario and holds a Master of Arts in Global Governance from the University of Waterloo. Clara's interests and experiences over the past few years have ranged from volunteering with children and women in Kampala, Uganda; interning with a North Korean human rights organization in Seoul, South Korea; conducting a Junior Fellowship in Asia-Pacific Security issues; and tutoring high school students at an after-school program in her local community in Kitchener-Waterloo. Clara's current interest and passion is in the field of education and the importance of providing opportunities for youth to develop their passions and talents. She is excited to be joining MEDA as the Communication and Program Support Intern for the E-FACE program in Ethiopia.

A trip to the ocean, a time to reflect

b2ap3_thumbnail_Mombasa-Old-Town.jpg
b2ap3_thumbnail_How-Ive-missed-tex-mex.jpg
b2ap3_thumbnail_Our-last-day-in-Mombasa.jpg
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.Mombasa 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.Our 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 coming 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!
Continue reading
5133 Hits

Christmas in Ethiopia

b2ap3_thumbnail_Christmas-Eve-dinner--my-first-time-making-pork-chops.jpg
b2ap3_thumbnail_Christmas-morning-brunch--pancakes-.jpg
b2ap3_thumbnail_The-office-held-a-lovely-Christmas-coffee-ceremony-for-Steph-Doris-and-I.jpg
Merry 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 work. 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, all of the obstacles and experiences have helped me grow as a person – and being on this internship has contributed much to this growth.
Continue reading
4753 Hits

Young Entrepreneurs, Big Dreams

b2ap3_thumbnail_Selfie-with-Aynalem.png
b2ap3_thumbnail_Youth-sales-agents-in-Humbo-Woreda.png
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:I 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.The 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.
Continue reading
5049 Hits

Exploring the North: Bahir Dar and Lalibela

b2ap3_thumbnail_The-Blue-Nile-Falls-are-no-Niagara-Falls-but-still-was-nice-to-see_20141209-213251_1.jpg
b2ap3_thumbnail_The-many-goats-we-encountered-on-our-way-to-the-Falls_20141209-213250_1.jpg
b2ap3_thumbnail_Steph-and-I-in-front-of-the-Portuguese-Bridge_20141209-213253_1.jpg
b2ap3_thumbnail_St.-George-Church_20141209-213252_1.jpg
Two weeks ago I went on a weekend trip to Bahir Dar and Lalibela, located in northern Ethiopia. Since I went to the south for work about a month ago, I was excited to see different parts of the country again. While I do like Addis, it does get tiring with lots of people, traffic and pollution. It was refreshing to be in more remote parts of the country, especially with beautiful landscapes and sunsets that you just don't get in the city.I met up with Steph in Bahir Dar first since she was there for work. We had dinner along Lake Tana that was lit up by the moonlight. The following day we went to see the Blue Nile Falls. Saturdays are market days, so as we drove one hour to the falls, there were lots of people walking with their cattle or goats. We met up with our tour guide who led us on a 1.5 hour hike. Many times we were face-to-face with cows walking on the path on their way to the market. We saw the Portuguese Bridge and the Blue Nile Falls, and then walked back to finish our tour. There were many kids selling scarves and hand-made crafts along our hike, telling us, "Madam, I'll give you a good price." I eventually caved and bought one even though I've already accumulated so many in Addis!We relaxed for a few hours and then went for dinner along the lake and watched the sunset. In Bahir Dar we took these 3-wheeled scooter-type taxis called "Bajaj's" or "Touk-touk's" – they were super cheap and really easy to use. After dinner we checked out Kuriftu for dessert, along with good talks under a full moon.The next part of our trip was to Lalibela, a town renowned for its rock-hewn churches that were built in the 12th century. The story goes that King Lalibela sought to create a New Jerusalem for those who could not make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The churches were not constructed in a traditional method, rather, they were excavated and carved from the living rock of monolithic blocks. The churches are still used to this day by Orthodox Christians. And now that it is a UNESCO heritage site, tourism has really taken off over the past few years. The landscape in Lalibela reminded me of the Grand Canyon (although I've never been). It's very desert-like with canyons and plateaus all around.After resting up, we went to see the churches. It was really amazing to see the churches, inside and out. My favourite was St. George, the church shaped in a cross. We had a really good guide who showed us all 11 churches within 3.5 hours. It was an exhausting tour, as we walked through passages, trenches, and in-and-out of most of the churches.While it was overall a really good trip, I'm glad to be back in Addis. After a few days of traveling, all you want is the familiarity of your own home and the variety of food options that are available in the city. With about four months left of this internship, I'm hoping to squeeze in a few more trips, to see more of Ethiopia. It really is a beautiful country. I had a few moments throughout this past trip that reminded me that I am very blessed to be here with MEDA and working on a great project that is changing lives.
Continue reading
4479 Hits

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

b2ap3_thumbnail_A-beautiful-view-of-Arba-Minch.jpg
b2ap3_thumbnail_The-different-colors-represent-different-funds--blue-principal-from-a-loan-orange-interest-fees-green-savings-and-red-penalties.jpg
b2ap3_thumbnail_Each-member-has-a-notebook-to-keep-track-of-their-weekly-savings.jpg
b2ap3_thumbnail_An-E-FACE-weaver-working-in-a-shed-that-was-established-through-the-project.jpg
I recently traveled to Arba Minch for my first field visit in southern Ethiopia. The main purpose of the trip was to visit clients and collect information to write up briefs for an donor tour that's taking place here in a few weeks. Spending a few days out of the city was refreshing. I especially appreciated meeting various clients, hearing from them personally how they have been positively impacted by the project. I also gained a new appreciation for our field staff in Arba Minch who are vital to the project. They hosted me very well in the midst of their busy schedules.The highlight of the trip was our first site visit. We went to a village called Chano Dorga to meet with 2 Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) groups. I'm thankful to have been there for the first 1.5 days with Doris, our country manager. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience in micro-finance and international development. Doris asked the questions and then the clients' responses were translated. I wrote down everything as fast as I could. The members of both VSLA groups were eager to speak and share their successes with us. They were also very thankful to the project, as I often heard "ameseginalehu" which means "thank you".While Ethiopians living in rural parts of the country have awareness of traditional saving methods, it's still difficult to save. Generally, saving habits are poor due to low levels of income or lack of financial literacy. However, through the project, clients training and education on financial literacy – how to save, budget and access credit. Through this training they can take steps to start improving their household income. When target households experience livelihood improvements, their vulnerability to resorting to child labor decreases. This is huge.When I first read about E-FACE, I didn't quite understand the connection of why our project was working in the South. Yet I learned that traditional weaving is originally from the South and there is a growing demand for hand-woven textile products. This is why child labor and child trafficking are such big issues in Ethiopia.The diligence of these savings groups really amazed me. They initially started out saving 5 ETB (25 cents USD) a week, and now they save 10 ETB (50 cents USD). Some members even save two-fold, in which they receive more in dividends. It was humbling to sit with them in their village and hear their stories. Saving a small amount of money each week has opened up opportunities that they otherwise would not have had. This is why the successes and life changes of our E-FACE clients are very inspiring. They save each week for the sake of their families and communities. They also took the knowledge and skills offered through the project and put them into practice to bring positive change to their families and communities.I don't think the issue of financial illiteracy is isolated to developing countries. In North America, debt is a really big problem. It may be a different strand of financial issues, but perhaps reveals learning about finance and money is needed back at home as well. I personally would like to learn more about personal finances, how to budget and how to save. These are skills and habits that require training, awareness and self-discipline.It's really exciting to hear about our clients' future plans and aspirations, as they have set goals to save more and expand their business endeavours. I hope to have another opportunity to visit the field, meet more clients and capture more of their success stories to demonstrate the amazing work being done through E-FACE.
Continue reading
5171 Hits

E-FACE Site Visit in Addis Ababa

b2ap3_thumbnail_An-intricate-weaving-design-that-one-of-E-FACEs-youth-is-working-on.gif
I had the pleasant surprise of being able to join our team on today's site visits, which included various interventions such as: Business Owners (BOs) and Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA), Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET), and Building Skills for Life. The day started out driving across the city to an area called Shiro Meda where we visited the first intervention of BOs and VSLA. The youth representatives seemed to get a kick out of seeing me there – I'm guessing they weren't expecting me to be there. While I didn't understand most of the conversations, my colleague, Tsedey translated what one of the youth shared: she spoke about the valuable lessons and training received in the area of saving. Through their weekly savings, the youth gain capacity to purchase their own notebooks – something I wouldn't even have to think twice about back at home.Our second visit was to a TVET site, where youth received training at a hair salon school. When I entered the building, the youth were busy working away at doing people's hair. It was interesting to see a fair amount of males receiving this training, whereas at most hair schools in Canada, the students are mostly female.My highlight of the entire day was the last site. We drove down a very bumpy road to a government work space, where youth participants in the Building Skills for Life program were working with weaving looms. Building Skills for Life targets young workers (ages 14-17) and provides them with practical education and training, so that the youth can be empowered to create opportunities for themselves. The program also includes technical training on traditional weaving, which is what I was able to see for myself through the visit. The youth seemed pretty shy as I went around with my camera, but once I started getting a few shots, some of the youth seemed to be alright with me taking pictures of their work. Some of the pieces were very intricate, and it amazes me that they learn and develop these skills in order to make a living for themselves at such a young age.I'm thankful I had the opportunity to join today's site visits. It really brought the past few weeks of what I've been working on in the office to life. It's one thing when you see E-FACE numbers, reports, and documents. It was refreshing to see the clients and get a better understanding of how this project is really impacting lives, especially those in the textile industry. Of course I still have so much to learn and grasp about the project and overall child labor in Ethiopia (especially in traditional weaving), which makes me even more eager to get out into the field and to the sites.In the future, I'll be traveling to Arba Minch to see E-FACE's field work and interventions. I'm really excited to see a different part of Ethiopia, and look forward to meeting more clients.
Continue reading
5924 Hits

One month down, five more to go

b2ap3_thumbnail_Jillian-Steph-and-I-at-Yod-Abyssinia.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_Everyone-has-their-wicks-lit-and-the-entire-square-is-lit-up-for-Meskel.gif
It's been already a month since arriving for my 6-month internship with MEDA Ethiopia. Times flies by! The past month has mainly consisted of adjusting. Adjusting to the climate, adjusting to daily living habits (using bottled water for everything, sanitizing produce, expecting unexpected power outages, and the list goes on), and adjusting to a new work environment and culture. Overall, I am enjoying life in Addis and am looking forward to getting to know the people and city over the next 5 months.A few things I've been able to do over the past month have included...City Tour: It was great to see more of Addis a few weeks ago. We saw different parts of the city (mainly from the car), but got to see a nice city view from Entoto Mountain, and visited Lucy at the National Museum. Addis is a pretty big city, compared to where I'm from (Waterloo, ON). But it's not as overwhelming as somewhere like Seoul, South Korea. I have yet to ride a 'blue donkey' (16-passenger vans) or they call them taxis, but am hoping to soon. They're way cheaper than cabs, but obviously less comfortable. I used to ride them all the time when I spent 2 months in Uganda (they call them matatoo), so I'm guessing it's pretty much the same thing here. That way, I feel like I'll get to know the city more, if I get familiar with local transportation.Traditional Dancing: Jillian from HQ was in Addis for a few weeks, so Steph and I had the chance to go to Yod Abyssinia for Ethiopian traditional dancing and food. It was a fun night! I got pulled up on stage to dance, and while dancing isn't my forte, I gave it a shot. My brother is an amazing dancer (he dances competitively), so I did it for him. He would have been proud! The dance moves weren't too difficult, but I still probably looked so bad compared to the Ethiopian dancers.Meskel: It was Meskel a few weeks ago. 'Meskel' means cross in Amharic, or the holiday is also known as 'Finding the True Cross'. Steph and I went to Meskel Square with our colleague, Wondwossen. There were thousands and thousands of people there. It was quite the experience. We managed to find a place to stand at the way back, and heard several people speak, along with many songs. Once it was dusk, people started lighting these little wicks. It was really amazing how the place just lit up so fast! And after much anticipation, the huge tower of wood and grass, was lit on fire. We waited about 2 hours for it to finally happen. Everyone was singing and cheering once it was lit, and there were fireworks too! Leaving the ceremony... was crazy though! We were squished in a sea of people, and eventually managed to get out. For the rest of the night on our way home, you could see and hear people celebrating in their neighborhoods.

Life in Addis is really starting to grow on me. Since I don't have that much time here, I want to do more exploring. Already, we've been to Bole a few times, checked out Piazza for shopping and the Stadium for great leather. In the midst of poverty/begging being very in your face, there are things that make me laugh and remind me of why I'm here. Whether it's the smiles and laughs of little kids when I wave, or when people are pleased to hear I'm Korean (Ethiopia and Korea are friends – I just learned recently that Ethiopia sent troops to South Korea's aid during the Korean War), or getting to know my colleagues at the office, these are all things that make it fun and rewarding to be here. I definitely feel like the next 5 months are going to fly by, so I don't want to waste any time!

Continue reading
4190 Hits

Setting the Tone: My first two weeks at MEDA Ethiopia

b2ap3_thumbnail_Daily-coffee-brought-to-our-desks-while-we-work.gif
A few words that sum up my first two weeks in the MEDA Ethiopia office are "challenging, timely, and demanding!" I arrived last week at an extremely busy time for the E-FACE (Ethiopians Fighting Against Child Exploitation) team. It's reporting season, so the entire team has been consumed with working on various reports for our donor, the government, MEDA HQ and so on. I've seen a glimpse of how MEDA, as a non-governmental organization, operates with a corporate mindset. Details matter, activities and results matter, and there is definitely no room for slacking! I see this internship as a great opportunity to learn from experts in the field of international and business development, move away from the theory-side of things (of course theory is still important), and witness how practical training and business skills building can dramatically change people's lives.While reading through various client success stories, I noticed there was a general theme of the long-term benefits clients received through good financial habits such as saving, or joining a Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA). The idea of a VSLA is to reach the very poor (typically in remote areas) who are unable to or unwilling to receive loans from formal financial institutions such as microfinance Institutions (MFIs). Thus, VSLAs operate as community-based saving and credit groups, composed of about 10-20 members. Each member makes a contribution to a loan fund, helping the fund to grow by borrowing from it and paying back the loans with a service charge. Based on the E-FACE success stories collected so far, it helped me realize these kinds of financial decisions can open doors for clients that prior to being part of a VSLA were unimaginable. These 'open doors' can range from opening up a shop to sell various goods and products, to buy a goat or chicken, or to see an increase in income so that children can go to school.Although I haven't been out to the field yet, I'm thankful to have these first few weeks in the office. It was a bit overwhelming at first, because everyone was so busy. But it also gave me assurance that there may very few dull moments throughout my internship, because there's always something to do, something to read, or something to help out with. I've also realized it's really important to remember why I'm here and seek out opportunities to grow professionally and personally in-and-outside of the office. Whether it's trying something new or taking initiative to work on a specific skill, my work is definitely cut out for me over the next few months. I'm hoping that this current outlook and perspective will set the tone for this internship. Again, I'm very excited to be here and extremely grateful for the opportunity.
Continue reading
4483 Hits

Salam from Addis Ababa!

b2ap3_thumbnail_First-coffee-ceremony-with-our-landlady.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_Ethiopian-New-Year-and-Ethiopian-Food.gif
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"
Continue reading
4482 Hits