MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

Building Resilient Livelihoods

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In the rural areas of Amhara, rice farmers live a hand-to-mouth existence. Having enough money to afford inputs for farming, school and household expenditures, particularly before harvest time is a significant challenge. Farmers are often forced to sell rice during harvest season when prices are low, which endangers their livelihood and hinders their income potential. As farmers are without savings habits, any surplus income earned following harvest is squandered at the local Saturday market on drinks. This was the previous experience of thirteen rice farmers who, with the assistance of Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA), formed a group known as Addis Alem Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA).

MEDA's InterventionIn 2011, Gizaw (pictured left), a rice farmer, received MEDA's training on the benefits of saving and how to form a VSLA within his community. The training covered topics on saving, credit, managing risk, and resolving conflict. MEDA also provided Gizaw with the necessary materials to start saving, which included: a savings box with two locks, thirteen passbooks, four plastic plates, and a bookkeeping ledger.

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Memorable Meskel

Meskel celebration priests
meskel celebration priests
Man selling meskel crosses
Meskel Demera Bonfire
Ethiopian friend and canadian
Queen Helena meskel
Meskel crowd with candles
Meskel demera bonfire

Here are my brightest memories of Meskel...

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Business Plans in Bahir Dar

Lake Tana
Lake Tana and garden
Cooked Lamb with Injera
Rural Bahir Dar
Flowers in barbed wire

Last week I had the fortunate opportunity to travel to the orderly and refreshing Bahir Dar. The sweet Lake Tana air and busy Bajajs welcomed me on my drive to the Summerland Hotel.

Desset restaurant on Lake Tana

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Village Savings in Action

village saving and lending association
Village savings and lending association promoter training
registration booklet for attendance
Village Savings and Lending Association in Mizan Group Picture

Working with MEDA has been a busy unpredictable but mostly informative first month. I am interning at the main office for the EDGET project, which stands for Ethiopians Driving Growth Entrepreneurship and Trade, also meaning progress in Amharic. EDGET is a pro-poor five-year project, funded by the Canadian government with the objective of raising the incomes of 10,000 weavers and rice farmers. Theoretically speaking, raising income is a strategy to improve food security. We hope rural Ethiopians will become more resilient against famines and less dependent on food aid programs as a result of EDGET interventions.

There are many different facets to such an ambitious project, and I am primarily focused on financial services. Financial services supports EDGET’s objective by employing financial interventions, like the Village Savings and Lending Associations (VSLAs).

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Happy New Year!

Fresh cut grass
Coffee Ceremony Preparation
Pouring Coffee
Dabo Bread
Injera with national wat

The Ethiopian New Year is marked on September 11. Ethiopians follow a calendar that is slightly different so the year is now 2005. Melkam Addis Amet!

I was fortunate enough to arrive at such an opportune time and experienced a few of the special customs they celebrate.

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The 5 Cs of Credit in Development

Field Staff in the Rice Field
Ethiopian Children
Christian monastery painting
Spices in Bahir Dar Market

Working with consultants has its perks. Not only do they offer a fresh analytic perspective, but they also provide advanced industry knowledge.

Left: In the field, literally

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Welcome to Addis – Why I am here?


Why am I in Addis Ababa? Good question – sometimes I ask myself the same thing, just because I am no where near fully adjusted to calling this city home for the next six months (or 24 weeks – yes, I am keeping count).

Pictured left: A view of Addis from our hotelIt all started with an application to an internship I heard about through university. This application was followed by two interviews – the second of which I totally thought I botched. I guess my interviews weren’t epic fails as to my very pleasant surprise I ended up getting the internship as a business development intern with MEDA (Mennonite Economic Development Associates) for six months in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. After a week of orientation in Waterloo, Ontario (where MEDA’s head quarters are) and a month filled with a mix of emotions.. anxiety, pure panic and excitement to name a few.. I was on a 13-hour flight from Toronto to Addis!I’ll briefly explain the projects MEDA is working on in Ethiopia. MEDA is currently working on two projects in the country, which are being jointly funded by MEDA and donor partners.The first project, EDGET (Ethiopians Driving Growth, Entrepreneurship and Trade), is working with two crucial value chains in the country – rice and textiles – with the ultimate objection being to increase household income by 50% for 10,000 families over the next four years. To accomplish this, MEDA will facilitate the improvement of client household’s capacity to access the domestic markets for their goods. This will be accomplished through an enhancement of production techniques, appropriate technologies as well as several support services.The second project, E-FACE (Ethiopians Fighting Against Child Exploitation), is a joint partnership with World Vision Ethiopia to reduce child labor in the country. E-FACE will target 20,000 youth (17 and under) involved in exploitative working conditions and 7,000 vulnerable households in the country to improve both the incomes and overall livelihoods of these families and youth. MEDA’s role in E-FACE will directly target 3,250 youth (between 14 and 17 years old) while World Vision will target 16,750 children (between 5 and 13 years old). MEDA will also focus its efforts on reaching 7,000 families involved in the E-FACE project and facilitate their improved access to textile and agricultural markets in the country.Overall, I am very excited to be a part of MEDA’s work in Ethiopia, even if my time here will be brief.

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Packing for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia


It’s under a day now until my departure to Addis Ababa. My goal had been to “frontload” my packing for fear of any unwanted popups. I believe I’ve done a semi-successful time of planning ahead. I have moved some times before – to London (Ontario) or Vienna – but preparing for Addis Ababa has its own set of challenges. Entering a developing African country typically means bringing everything with you that you would miss. With that being said, you can probably find the majority of actual necessities in-country. The issue only arises once we have to answer the question: what is a necessity?So below you will find an extensive list of what I decided to bring. Perhaps this could be of use to future travelers on work placements in Addis Ababa, or a similar developing city with a high-altitude climate. Here it goes!Important Documents- Travel Immunization Record- Extra different sized passport photos (6)- Proof of graduation (work permit purposes)- Photo copies of passport, atm/visa cards, birth certificate, sin card, provincial health card, student card, vaccination record- Bank, health insurance & emergency contact information- Reminder cards. Since I have not earned the habit of eating safely in a developing country, I created reminder cards to store in my purse summarizing some key statements.- Flight tickets- Passport- Select photos of family and friends- US$Technology- Camera, memory card reader, extra memory card- Computer- Video camera, DV tapes (5) + cleaning tape- External Hard drives (3)- Wristwatch with alarm- Chargers- Adapters (Europlug 2-prong + India/Asia 3-prong) this was a bit of a headache- Surge Protector- eReader- Ethernet Cord- Mp3 player & headphonesGear- Mosquito Net (permethrin soaked nets, advised as extremely effective, are not available in Canada)- Bed sheet- Towel- Microfiber towel- Umbrella- Hand sanitizer (2)- Water purification drops- Emergency blanket- Mosquito Repellent 30% DEET- Flashlight- Moist wipes- First Aid Kit (assorted bandaids, blister bandaids, tweezers, alcohol pads, polysporin, waterproof matches, clotrimazole topical cream, surgical gloves, adhesive tape, scissors)- Diarrhea Kit (chicken & beef bouillon, immodium, pepto bismol, gastrolyte, gravol, cipro)- Laundry Kit (Woolite detergent travel packs, clothes line, sink plug – I’d recommend Austin House, tide to go, laundry bag)- Kleenex- Swimsuit- Sunglasses- Sunscreen- Scissors- Pencil Case- Double sided tape- Bandana (for lengthy dusty travel)- Paperback books (I brought…Richard Dowden’s Africa, Amharic Phrasebook, a book borrowed from a friend – Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis, and a title I sourced in a Veinnese bookshop History of Ethiopia, Paul Henze. And of course, the much-loved Bradt guide on Ethiopia, Philip Briggs)- Map of Ethiopia- Blank small notepads- One checked bag, one 45L carry-on backpack (I love MEC)Personal Hygiene- Facial wipes, eye makeup remover pads- Hairdryer- Personal medications (advil, caltrate, vitamin D)- Contacts, solution, eye drops- Lip balm- Razors- Toothpaste- Preventative blister balm- Favourite shampoo, conditioner, leave-in conditioner- Face cream, cleanser- Sanitary napkinsFood- Parmesan cheese: I’m not sure if this one is allowed but I’m going to claim it and see.- Peanut butter (750g of Skippy is a true necessity for me!)- Favourite Teas & Hot chocolate- Lindt chocolate bars: I read a blog that the chocolate wasn’t very good so just in case I get that craving- Spices (cumin, mustard, cinnamon, basil, thyme, oregano, salt&pepper)- Sriracha hot sauce – only my staple ingredient in every dinner- Soy sauce- Protein bars (Cliff & Luna brand are great)- Baking powder- Almonds- Travel mug: required for my coffee before work every morningClothingConsidering that most Ethiopians dress conservatively, I erred on the side of long-sleeve tops, pants and loose lightweight clothing.- Variety of work-appropriate collared shirts (preference to long-sleeves)- Basic tank tops for layering and casual cotton long-sleeve tops- Slacks (3), capris , long shorts (2) and a pair of jeans- Long skirt, pencil skirt, knee-length dress- Cardigans (4), sweaters (4) and blazer (1)- Footwear: boots, open-toe sandals, black pumps, tan flats, running shoes, walking shoes and flip flops- Rain jacket, leather jacket- Scarves (3), tights and leggings- Gym strip (3)This list may have been excessively exhaustive in the depth of information I provided. At the very least, it highlights what I perceive I need versus what many other people may require elsewhere.

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Impressions of Addis



Dusty, sprawling streets. The roads may be paved but the sidewalks give way to dirt and rubble. Bare feet to leather boots, Ethiopians share the muddy roadside, as the rainy season showers soak the ochre earth. People swathed in coloured wraps, brilliant white Arab robes, decade-worn western brands, and tattered rags swerve left and right, jumping to the discordant rhythm of traffic.A child leaps forward giggling. Her eyes joyfully fixed on a rubber tire she is rolling forward with a metal rod.A row of small coal fires sizzle freshly husked corn, wafting sweet charcoal smoke.A barren plot of land where sixty sheep are lined up for slaughter. A pile of heads already await market, their opaque eyes glazed blue-white.The sultry aroma of dark roast Ethiopian coffee. Macchiato brimming with bubbling foam.Compounds with barbed wire fences, the paint faded down the forbidding walls. Stray dogs roam the alleys rabid, abandoned or unloved.Cool moist mornings. Icy breath forms in front of faces.The striking African Union building pierces the skyline. Its sophisticated architecture dominating the disorganized clutter of corrugated tin roofs below.A skinny man loosely holds a rifle beside the ATM.Someone grabs my arm with an uncomfortably fierce grip. I look up to see a small woman pulling me away from the aggressive rumble of an oncoming caravan.Genuine smiles from locals.Addis Ababa is sometimes called the City of Africa or New Flower. My boss aptly named it One Big Village. To me, Addis Ababa is a city of juxtaposition. Nothing is segregated, everything mixed into one. Poverty sits next to modernity. Authenticity beside security. Wintry mornings to sweaty afternoons. Affluence and absence. A rustic metropolis.

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