MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

Meghan Denega has just completed her Master’s Degree in International Development Studies from York University. Her  research focus was on microfinance in Uganda, comparing formal and informal micro financial institutions. In the summer of 2011, she spent four months in Uganda collecting the primary data required for her thesis and participating in an internship at Kabale University. Meghan completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Alberta with a major in Political Science and a French Minor. During her undergrad she spent a year abroad at the Universidad de Guadalajara in Guadalajara, Mexico. Languages are a passion of hers: She speaks English, Spanish, French, Ukrainian and she is currently learning Russian. She looks forward to everything about her internship with MEDA at the UDHP project in Ukraine.

Meghan's Most Significant Change Story

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As part of her internship, Meghan interviewed over 20 clients of the UHDP project to learn what impact MEDA's work was having on them, their business and their families. The method they used to measure their life changes is called Most Significant Change (MSC). At the end of her internship, Meghan decided to complete the exercise herself to see what she was able to achieve, how has she changed and what she has learned most from the experience. To read her MSC story, click here or on the photo.

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One Door Closes and Another Door Opens!

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It is hard to believe I am writing this post from my new desk, in my new office in my new home!  I cannot believe my internship is over and that I am back on Canadian soil!  I think my last month in Crimea was probably the best of them all, which made it hard to leave, but none-the-less I am happy to be back in my home and native land!Everything at the UHDP wrapped up wonderfully.  Olya and I went full throttle finishing up our MSC stories.  In the last month we conducted 8 interviews and wrote 8 stories bringing us to our goal of 20!  Each story was as heartwarming as the last.  Each person we interviewed, no matter their age, gender, background, crop, or size of their farm, has had great results from working with the UHDP.  It just goes to show how great the Ukraine Horticulture Project is to be able to produce such great results for such a variety of different clients.As a small parting gift for the UHDP offices, Olya and I wrote Most Significant change stories about ourselves to share with everyone how the Project impacted us as interns. You can find mine here: Meghan Denega MSC StoryNot only was work the busiest in the last month, but I also travelled the most too!  Although I had been taking advantage of the interesting and beautiful natural and historic sights of Crimea the whole time I was there, in the last month I managed to squeeze in a bunch of great trips with great friends! I have so many great memories from hiking in the mountains, exploring ancient Byzantine settlements, visiting residencies of the tsars and other nobles of the Russian empire, and meeting and getting to know so many great people along the way!  I was even able to meet and spend some magical times by the sea and at the top of Crimea’s highest mountain, Ai Petri, with my now colleague Susan and a volunteer auditor Dale! On my last full day in Ukraine I climbed the mountain Djimerji, had dinner in a lovley cottage restaurant in the forest and enjoyed another Russian sauna- complete with oak branch beatings!  Here are a few photos from my last few adventures including the UHDP Simferopol Staff (left), Ai Petri (middle), Rock City (right):

Although my time at the UHDP has come to an end, my time with MEDA is just beginning.  I am now located in Waterloo at MEDA’s headquarters, working as the new Project Coordinator/Junior Consult in the Financial Services department.  It is true what they say that when one door closes, another door opens! Al though I will miss the staff in Simferopol, my first week at the Waterloo office has been wonderful.  The staff is friendly and very welcoming.  I can tell that this next leg of my journey with MEDA will prove to be as impactful as my last and I look forward to all that is to come my way!

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Go west…To Lviv!

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Only a 24-hour train ride from Simferopol and I arrive in Lviv.  Lviv is the second biggest city in Ukraine.  It was founded in 1240 by Daniel, the leader of Galicia (an Austrian province), and named after his son Lev; which means Lion.  Having been a part of 4 different nations throughout history, Lviv is now part of Ukraine and is considered to be its cultural capital. Lviv has a population of approximately 1.5 million and the residents are predominantly Ukrainian (and very friendly!).  Finally, in Ukraine I heard Ukrainian, I saw embroidered blouses, Ukrainian dancing and heard my favorite Ukrainian song Chervonu Rutu (not sung by me)!What I found especially interesting about Lviv, as I mentioned, is that over the course of history, it has belonged to 4 different nations. Lviv belonged to the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland from 1349–1772, the Austrian Empire from 1772–1918 and the Second Polish Republic 1918–1945.  At the outbreak of World War II, the city of Lviv was occupied and annexed by the Soviet Union and with the Collapse of the Soviet Union, Lviv became a part of Ukraine.  (This is especially interesting to me, because recently I saw that my great grandfather’s birthcertificat and in said he was born in Austria; for the longest time I was sure he was Ukrainian, but now that I know this about the history of the area, it all makes sense.  He was Ukraianian, but he was born in a part of Ukraine that at the time belonged to Austria!)Most of Lviv’s archtitecture is still intact, unlike many other Eastern European cities that have been damaged by both World Wars.  Lviv’s historic churches, buildings and relics date from the 13th century. As a result, Lviv’s historic centre is on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage list. While I was in Lviv, I was fortunate to visit a number of Cathedrals, maybe too many to keep them all straight!  If I had to choose, I think my favorite would be St. George’s Cathedral (pictured right).  While its interior was not as extravagant as some of the others I visited, I liked it mostly because of it’s location; it is situated high on a hill that offers an impressive view of the city.

In 1903 the Lviv National Opera House was built and remains one of the most beautiful in Europe- it actually emulates the Vienna State Opera house. I was fortunate enough to see two performances here- one opera and one ballet (pictured left).  Both were very impressive, and I was pleasantly surprised when in one scene of the opera Ukrainian folk dancers took the stage; reminding me of my past as a Ukrainian dancer and also making me think of many of my friends back home!Another beauty Lviv has to offer is the Lychesivsky Cemetary (pictured right).  Since its creation in 1787 Łyczakowski Cemetery has been the main necropolis of the city’s inteligentsia, middle and upper classes, and apparently it has the same sort of overgrown grounds and Gothic aura as the famous Parisian necropolis.  I spent a lot of time wandering here.  It was one of the highlights of my trip.My last day in Lviv was extremely cold (well extremely cold compared to Simferopol), so I decided to take a bus tour of the city and save myself from freezing!  The bus tour was very informational and I learned not only about the history of Lviv but also about the many influential people to have lived there.  One of the coolest things they pointed out was the former KGB head-quarters. There is a joke that the KGB- building is the highest point in Eastern Europe, because from its basements you can see all the way to Siberia!It was a quick trip, but well worth the two 24-hour train rides!  After the cold weather, I was definitely happy to get back to the mild temperatures and sunny skies of Simferopol.  Funny thing, this time when I returned to Simferopol, it really felt like I was coming home! Too bad it will only be home for one more month and then I head back to Canada!  Seriously, where has the time gone?

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С Новым Годом!

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Happy New Year!Wow! Is it 2013?  Did we survive the 2012 doomsday fears? Looks like we did!  Well, from what I understood of the Mayan prophecy anyway, it wasn’t supposed to be the end of the world, but rather the end of the world as we know it.  I heard December 21 corresponded with a shift to a new “world”; one characterized by a greater common consciousness.  I believe that we are experiencing such a shift, whether we realize it or not. I know that, I, personally, feel much more aware of my self and my body, the people around me and our connections to one another,  and also of our connections to what is greater.  Although this could be a result of me growing older and wiser, I like to think it has more to do with something grander!So how did I celebrate this New Year?  Introspectively, as per my tradition.  This year, I welcomed the new and said goodbye to the old at a Russian Banya.  And what is a Russian Banya you ask?  It is a Russian Suana.  And what can I tell you about a Russian Banya?  It is a Russian tradition that has been enjoyed by people in Eastern Europe and Russia for centuries.  For me, it was a little piece of heaven for my body and soul, and I am so grateful for such an amazing experience…..I started my day with an athletic massage, this is not really a part of the tradition, but it felt so good and it got all the knots out of my body before heading to the sauna floor.  The reason I say sauna floor, is because it was a whole level of different types of saunas.  There were dry saunas, and steam rooms, saunas with therapeutic herbs smouldering, different steam rooms with steam coming from all directions, different temperatures, and of course cold pools to jump into!  By far my favourite was the Russian Sauna.  I decided to pay extra and receive a treatment from the therapist, and I am so glad I did…..My ‘ritual’, as Edick (the therapist called it), involved lying on a large ceremonial/offering type bed of wood, in front of a wood-burning stove, inside a large oak sauna.  Edick, who was interestingly, a former military officer, put fresh oak logs into the stove and threw water over the stove.  The smell of the steam this created was woody and wonderful.  By my face, he placed a small towel of crushed ice; which made it nice to feel some coolness in the midst of the hot steamy room. Then came the ‘massage’.  This was done with large oak branches.  The massage involved various techniques, like beating, hitting and scratching my entire body with them.  In between the beating, he would let the braches hug my body, which felt so comforting- it was like being hugged by Mother Earth Herself! It was so hot and the branches stung, but then being embraced by the branches felt so comforting. Next, it was time to go into the freezing cold pool. This first time, I was allowed to ease myself in slowly. After a few moments in the freezing water, it was back in the sauna.  The branches came out again, and I got the beatings and the embraces from the oak branches. This time after the beatings, Edick threw crushed ice all over my body and scrubbed my skin with the ice.  It was amazing, it was like hot and cold and pain and pleasure all at once.  Once the ice melted, it was back into the cold pool, but this time I had to jump in!  Then, it was back to the sauna.  Another beating, more hugs from mother earth, another crushed ice exfoliation massage and a few minutes to relax in the heat.  I could have stayed in there all day, but obviously this is not possible and my prescription was to dry off and rehydrate with green tea with lemon and honey!  Like I said, absolutely heavenly!This was such a great New Year’s experience for me.  It felt good to do something so nice for my body.  After the banya, my body was begging for rest, and I gladly took it!  During the next couple days, I spent time to focus on my mind and my soul and I set the goals I would like to achieve in the coming years.  This year, however, I did my goal-setting in a very different way from what I am used to.  Based on the advice of a friend, I changed my goals from being mostly concrete, to being mostly abstract.  In the past, my goals have all been very definite attainable things ie) I want to do a master’s degree, I want to work in foreign affairs, I want to buy a house, I want to get married, ect, ect.  The problem with this is that now that I am close to achieving  of these concrete goals, I still felt unsatisfied.  My friend recommended that I change my goals to feelings rather than to accomplishments, which is pretty much the best advice I have ever received!  Now instead of saying: ‘I want to this kind of job’,  I say: ‘I want to feel successful, challenged and appreciated in my work’.  Not only have I applied this way of thinking to my career goals, but I have done it for physical, emotional, financial and spiritual goals as well.  So far it has proved to beneficial to my overall well-being and I look forward to a great year, professionally and personally!It has definitely been a learning experience here in Ukraine, both on the job and off.  It seems that I get very self-reflexive living in another place amongst a different culture. It is like you are given a different lens from which to view yourself.  My experience here in Ukraine has provided me with a very different lens from which to view myself and the society I grew up in.  I have come up with some interesting observations that I would like to share with you… but in the next post! I will leave with this for now, and some photos from Simferopol and around Crimea.  Wishing you all a very Happy New Year! С Новым Годом!

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Impact Assessment Intern at the UHDP

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So what exactly does the Impact Assessment Intern at the Ukraine Horticulture Development Project do? Please allow me to explain in this next post… ( ha! Like how formal my English has gotten? Tends to happen when you speak mostly to non-native English Speakers or in your non-native language!) Anyhow, basically my job is to create a series of Most Significant Change Stories on the project's participants. For anyone who has ever done any sort of research project, you will know that even though what is most valued is the outcome or the final product, the process is equally important and just as valuable (at least for the researcher anyway!). So I will share both the process and the (still not quite finished) product with you with the hopes that you will get a better understanding not only of what I do here, but what the project does as well. To start the whole process, the clients that were going to be highlighted needed to be chosen. This was done by going through all of the project's newsletters searching for clients who have experienced significant change since starting with the project. The data was coded according to the aspect of the project that impacted the clients' Most Significant Change. A database was created and all relevant information on the clients was imported from other existing databases. Interview guides were created and translated. Prior to interviewing the clients themselves, preliminary interviews were conducted with project specialists to gather more background information on the clients. And finally, the first round of interviews were conducted. None of this would have been possible were it not for Ola, the other intern working for the UHDP- who unlike me, is fluent in Russian!

We have completed our first round of 5 interviews and are working on creating the finished the project. Let me share with you Esma Khalilova's Story:

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International Development 101

I suppose it would be a good idea to tell you what it is that brings me here to Ukraine! For those of you who don’t know, I am participating in an internship sponsored by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). CIDA is a branch of the Canadian Federal Government, and as the name dictates, it deals with International Development.

People often ask, “What is International Development?” This is a funny question for me, because even though I did my Master’s in Development Studies, I still have a hard time defining it! There are many definitions and debates surrounding development, but I think a practical definition- and the definition most prevalent to my internship, would be that International Development is/are deliberate attempts by foreign actors, working with local partners to assist in the economic/social/political development of a country or a specific group of people.

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Welcome to Simferopol!

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I made it…. I’m in Ukraine! From the emergency row seating on the 9 hour flight, to my pick up at the airport, everything about my trip was smooth sailing! A little piece of traveller’s advice: Ask for emergency row seating, it’s like free first class!

Because my flight arrived so late, it was decided that I should spend my first night in Simferopol in a hotel so that I could rest and recover from the long trip. Special thanks to my supervisor Irina’s mom for coming to pick me up from the airport and taking me to my hotel! The next morning, my first full day in Ukraine, my supervisor -Irina Antonovskaya (the Monitoring and Evaluations Manager at the Ukraine Horticulture Development Project) came to pick me up and take me to my temporary apartment.

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