MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field
Clarissa was born and raised in Germany, but spent the latter part of her life in the United States. She holds a Master’s in Public Administration with a specialization in Non-profit Management and Global Leadership and Management from Portland State University, Oregon. In 2014, Clarissa began as MEDA’s Communications Intern for the GROW project in Northern Ghana. Clarissa is now a Gender Strategist Consultant at Global Communities in Ghana.

Women as Catalysts for Change: Reflections from a former GROW intern in Ghana

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Why do you focus on women?

Over the last year, living here in Tamale, Ghana, and working with rural women farmers on our Greater Rural Opportunities for Women (GROW) project- I’ve expanded my understanding of the gender issues in northern Ghana drastically. Here, women and men face many cultural barriers, social expectations and a lack of opportunities due to poverty. In short, gender issues here are complex, messy and deeply rooted in daily routines.

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Top 5 reasons why I love my job

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After 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...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!Our 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!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.GROWing 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.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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Sunny Holidays in Togo and Ghana

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This 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. In 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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Leadership and Inspiration in Everyday Life

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I'm nearing the end of my third month in Ghana, and am still learning and doing something new every day. Overall, I absolutely love my life and work here. Whether I'm learning how to build keyhole gardens in the villages for the dry season, or documenting our semi-annual Project Advisory Committee meeting to get insights into the GROW strategies, I'm constantly growing professionally and personally as well as getting my daily dose of inspiration.Recently I had one of these moments of absolute admiration and inspiration in Maase village. Jalal, my GROW team member, and I had an early morning and a bumpy ride to this village in Upper West District. I was taking pictures, videos and interviewing Mary, the proud new owner of a keyhole garden. Her GROW group of women farmers had come to help with the construction and to learn how to build the gardens for themselves from Jalal's demonstration.Several layers into the construction, the garden was starting to come together, but needed more top soil. The women had to gather additional soil from outside of Mary's fenced in property. So, the women and some men formed an assembly line to pass bucket of top soil to the construction site of the keyhole garden. A true testament to teamwork and support, but more than that, despite the fact they had been working in the heat all morning to build this garden for their group member, they started singing songs, laughing and smiling as they were passing buckets of soil along the assembly line. I was so touched and impressed by this beautiful display of community. The women showed so much strength, unity and joy- with access to opportunities their potential to change their communities, Ghana and the world is endless.My time here in Ghana hasn't been without its challenges, but getting to work in this area of my passion, women's empowerment, is really all I need to relight my motivation. I'm truly inspired every day being surrounded by strong women. Whether it's through these incredible moments with the women in the villages, or by the strong female leaders on our MEDA team- it serves as a constant reminder as to why this work is so important.
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Beyond the Rough Bumpy Roads . . .

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I love being a communications intern, because it allows me to learn about all different aspects of the GROW project- agriculture, gender, nutrition, monitoring and evaluation, and much, much more. I'm always buzzing around partner NGO meetings, community visits, donor tours, staff trainings, etc. taking tons of pictures and notes to share.But, I have to say, my favorite part of the job is doing field work. As part of my responsibilities, I have the honor of reporting on the significant changes that are taking part in women farmer's lives due to the GROW project.Together with our MEDA team and partner NGOs, we identify several women that have become empowered through being part of the GROW project. After our field staff preliminarily interviews them, I have the great pleasure of doing in depth follow-up interviews, taking pictures and sharing their stories with people from around the world as well as getting them back to the women and their communities.Travel to these rural villages usually requires a start in the early morning hours and what seems like endless driving along rough, bumpy and often unpaved roads- I can't even tell you how impressed and grateful I am for our drivers, they are incredible!When we finally make it to the communities, I have the privilege of meeting these amazing women. Then, we find a shady spot under a tree or around their house, and with translation assistance of the field staff; they share their stories about their soybean fields, their families, their ambitions, and their concerns.As is common when you have foreign visitors, generally a crowd of curious neighborhood children accumulates within minutes of starting the interview and it has usually tripled in size by the time we finish. Then after many thanks and smiles, we all pile into the car or walk to the women's soybean fields. Here I photograph the women proudly showing their crops and ask a few last questions that come up. Then after many more thank you's, we pile everyone back in the car, and drop them back at home.On the ride back, I generally find myself reflecting on the women's stories. I'm always blown away at the strength, determination and selflessness of the women I meet. Farming is very difficult work, but beyond that, many of these women lack formal education, and to see them decide to switch to growing soybeans so they can for feed and educate their children- is inspiring, humbling and beyond impressive.And that pretty much concludes a typical field visit, as you can see, there's really nothing typical about them, which is why I enjoy them so much. Keep an eye out for our newest client stories; they'll be coming your way soon!
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Morning Runs, Red Red and Lovely People

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These are some of my favorite things.I'm happy to report that these past couple of weeks, I've finally been settling in. After almost a month of searching, I finally found an awesome roommate and a safe apartment. A little two bedroom off a main road with electricity, running water and even has AC (pretty fancy!).I've been taking full advantage of having a kitchen again. Traditional Ghanaian food is not very vegetarian friendly; most dishes have meat, so it can be challenging finding something veggie on the menu when you're eating out. I must say, one of my favorite traditional dishes is "red red" and luckily vegetarian! It's fried plantains with beans (and veggies when I make it at home, which makes it even better!).Our neighborhood is nice and quiet, with lots of rural roads nearby that are prefect for peaceful trail runs. I've even formed a little running group with my roommate and another girl nearby. Morning runs are one of my absolute favorite things here. The sun is just rising and it's still cool enough to run, plus you I get to watch the whole world wake up. Usually we just encounter goats and chickens on the roads with the occasional motorbike or women carrying a load on her head, passing by. Then on the way back on our loop, we are greeted by eager, smiling children in their uniforms walking and riding bikes to school. They're always enthusiastically waving and yelling "hello salaminga (foreigner)" on top of their lungs. You can't help but smile, wave, and repeat, "hello" back to them as many times as they say it to us.On days that we don't run, my roommate and I have started doing yoga together in our living room. I was pretty excited when we found yoga mats at the grocery store. With large windows that overlook the main road, we get some beautiful views in the morning. It's been a great way to get centered before diving into a busy day at the office.It's been a few busy weeks for the GROW project and my internship. Last week, our first press release for the new soy processing plant was published and we also launched our Facebook and Twitter sites. (Don't forget to like and follow us!) We've been moving at a very fast pace, but it's been a lot of fun and I'm learning constantly- and getting to know my amazing coworkers better, is just another bonus! Speaking of them, I'd like to give a shout to all of the wonderful people I've met here that have welcomed me and supported me. My boss and coworkers, who have helped me get settled in: From fixing things in the apartment, to taking me on errands, getting us a security guard and much more- they've been there for me very step of the way. I've also been fortunate to meet some awesome expats that have provided helpful advice and shown me the magical cheese and yoghurt shop! I'm truly grateful to be surrounded by some many lovely people, thank you.
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Fadila’s Story: Soybeans for School Fees

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This past week I had the pleasure of joining a wonderful, passionate and committed group of MEDA supporters visiting us from Canada for a MEDA field experience. It was a jam-packed schedule with lots of meetings, village visits, cultural excursions and new adventures. We had so many inspiring highlights, fun experiences and moments of growth, but today I want to tell you about one encounter that stood out to me above all others. About half way into the field experience, we visited a little village called Tampala, where with the help of our NGO partner PRONET, MEDA started the GROW project. We were so warmly welcomed by the women farmers, their families and the village chiefs, which even included one female chief! It was moving to see so many women successfully growing soybeans, hear about how they’re able to make more household decisions and better support their children. While intently listening to the achievements and challenges of the women GROW groups, I was circling the group to document our visit with lots of pictures. I found myself standing next to a young woman in a pink shirt. She had shared her perspective to a few of the group’s questions, and her natural leadership, charismatic personality and vibrancy came across clearly, despite the language barrier. I asked her if I could take her picture and we got to talking. To my surprise, my new friend Fadila spoke very good English. So, with her permission, I’d like to tell you her story. Fadila is eighteen years old and was born and raised in Tampala. She lives with her mother, father, her father’s second wife (his third wife has passed away), four brothers and four sisters. Unfortunately, Fadila was just six months shy of finishing senior high school, when due to family’s inability to pay for school fees, she was forced to drop out. As is sadly often the case, her brothers’ education was prioritized (all four are still in school), but none of the girls in her family are. That’s not going to stop Fadila though— she’s growing an acre of soybeans and plans to use her proceeds from selling the crop to go back to school. Fadila wants to be a nurse. It’s not easy to grow soybeans, she mentioned harvesting the crop “destroys your hands,” but she’s determined and I have no doubt that she’ll achieve her goals. Plus she’s already experimented with soybeans by incorporating them into local dishes, such as paola (by making a boiled soybean dumpling) and tambra (adding soybeans to a maize, beans and rice dish). I didn’t get a chance to try these, but as soy loving vegetarian, they sound delicious! Fadila and I got along so well that she suggested I marry one of her brothers, so I could come live in Tampala with her, which made us both laugh. I am so impressed by Fadila’s strength, resolve and positivity, and will definitely visit her again during my time here so we can catch up about this year’s harvest and how she’s progressing in school.
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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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