MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

Top 5 reasons why I love my job

b2ap3_thumbnail_Three-women-GROW-members-at-Klechau-Bao-village.jpg
b2ap3_thumbnail_Our-Wa-GROW-team-at-dinner-with-Dave-and-Kim-from-MEDA-headquarters.jpg
b2ap3_thumbnail_Our-GROW-team-during-the-advanced-value-chain-training-with-Ann.jpg
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.
Continue reading
4816 Hits

A new way of living

b2ap3_thumbnail_Helping-out-with-the-food-preparation.jpg
b2ap3_thumbnail_At-the-market.jpg
I spent the two-week Christmas/New Years break in Lomé, the capital of Togo. I couchsurfed while I was there – a website that connects travellers to locals who open up their homes and allow that person to crash or "surf" on their couch or any sleeping surface. There is no expectation of payment, and depending on the host, lifelong friends can be made in a matter of a few days.I had done this many times before but all in Europe and North America, pretty much all were great and memorable, but all were in situations and cultures that were at least vaguely familiar to me as a middle-class Canadian. This was certainly not the case in Togo. For two weeks I got the full experience of living like a typical Togolese with my Togolese peers. I slept on the floor sometimes, had bucket showers, didn't go on the internet, ate what my hosts ate, drank what my hosts drank, hung out with their friends, went to their spots, and lived life at their pace.Sometimes there were long periods where nothing really happened, we lazed about and didn't really do anything. No electronic devices to distract, or appointments, or things coming at you. Constant stimuli are a luxury of developed countries or of the wealthy. In underdeveloped parts of the world, you have to just pass the time with nothing but the people around you. I came to appreciate these moments; this is when you just need to chill out, and be centered in yourself. It builds trust in those around you. I really had to learn how to just "be", and hang out with your friends doing nothing. You have to lose that nagging flighty-ness, not think about what others are doing or thinking, not think about what you should be doing, and not worry about the future.These were contrasted by periods of fast action and intense stimulation of the senses: Fast nights jumping from place to place, all on the back of motorcycles weaving in and out of traffic. Walking through jam-packed markets where every sight, sound, and smell is new. The constant bartering over prices, and everyday tasks that require so much more than this North American could ever have thought.All this reinforced a few things...1. You have to take life it as it comes; planning and the future are luxuries. Live in the present. Eat when there is food in front of you, drink when you have drink, and sleep when you have a bed.2. You have to be capable. For example, fetching water from the well for the first time, I felt so helpless; I couldn't get the technique to fill the bucket and could only retrieve a small amount each time. If you can't do something, learn fast, because as a grown person, you don't want to be a burden on others.3. Saving doesn't happen. If you have money, spend it. If you have food or water, you consume it now, because if you wait, there is a good chance it won't be there in the future, just due to the uncertainties and precariousness of life.4. Reciprocation and sharing are hugely important and reinforce bonds in a powerful way. Because the typical Togolese (or African for that matter) won't always have money or food, you have to rely on others. Sometimes you pay, other times your friends pay. That way you won't ever go hungry when others are eating.5. When the good times roll, jump in with both feet because there's no guarantee tomorrow will offer you the same opportunity that you have now.It really was a life-changing experience. It changed me by showing me a different way of living, with new rules, new social norms, new burdens and new rewards. I gained broader perspective on what life is for a large part of humanity and will carry those lessons and experiences with me. I loved it all.
Continue reading
4685 Hits

Sunny Holidays in Togo and Ghana

b2ap3_thumbnail_The-beach-in-Lome.jpg
b2ap3_thumbnail_MEDA-interns-at-the-beach.jpg
b2ap3_thumbnail_Christmas-dinner.jpg
b2ap3_thumbnail_The-MEDA-Christmas-party.jpg
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.
Continue reading
5160 Hits

Leadership and Inspiration in Everyday Life

b2ap3_thumbnail_Mary-sitting-on-her-keyhole-garden-with-her-womens-group-in-the-background.jpg
b2ap3_thumbnail_The-women-assembly-line.jpg
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.
Continue reading
4549 Hits

Hard work and a bit of luck

This week we had a Project Advisory Committee, or PAC meeting in Wa. The meeting was attended by a majority of MEDA Ghana country staff, MEDA staff from HQ in Canada, representatives from our five key facilitating partners (KFPs), folks from the Canadian embassy in Accra and Global Affairs Canada, as well as a representatives from the Ghana Health Service and the Ministry of Food and Agriculture.This was my first PAC meeting. What I was able to take away is that things seem to be on the up and up. There was a great deal of optimism for year three of the project, and I feel like things have improved in that regard since the last PAC meeting in June.This optimism will surely be necessary. The project has ambitious targets and the rate of uptake by the clients (i.e. the number of women planting soybeans within the GROW project) must increase drastically for next year's planting season and in subsequent years for these targets to be met.I have two thoughts on this. Initially I fear that the low hanging fruit has already been targeted so to speak; that it will be difficult to convince the remaining women who are enrolled in GROW but aren't yet planting, to plant next season. These remaining women are perhaps more risk averse and will be very hesitant to try something new making achieving the targets set for the number of women planting a tall order.Countering this is that the initial work put in with the other value chain actors will hopefully yield more reliable service and more stronger linkages after a longer duration relationship has developed, enabling more women to access these crucial services and inputs when they need them and allow more to plant. This will work in the project's favour going forward and be a positive factor in the following years that was not present at the outset.I think it will come down to whether or not women who have planted in the past were successful. In groups where women have been successful and have earned a decent income from their crop it will encourage more women from those groups to plant next year. However, in groups where women encountered problems and were unable to earn an income, or a high enough income to justify their efforts, it will be very hard to convince additional women from those groups to try planting, and indeed it may be hard to retain the numbers we do have.The abilities and strengths of our field officers will affect this to a degree, but I have learned that it is very hard to change people's perceptions and change ideas that have been long held and are entrenched. Some of the shortfalls from last season were due to bad luck, such as poor weather. In some of these communities successes will beget more success, but in communities that experienced difficulties, we will certainly have our work cut out for us.
Continue reading
4605 Hits

I believe in what we are doing here

I have now started getting into the "meat and potatoes" of the work. I am meeting regularly with Mr. Baaro, the gentlemen who I am supporting with his soymilk business. I am helping him track his costs, prepare marketing materials, and determine production levels and the selling price.This is as much a learning experience for me as I am not an expert in business. Figuring out when the business will make its return on investment (ROI) is going to be fun to calculate as there are lots of moving parts that go into it and measuring it is not always precise in the best circumstances (let's not forget that pesky Ghanaian inflation). However, I have received good support from the other MEDA staff here and I have a clear goal – which is to see Baaro Enterprise turn a profit from producing and selling soymilk and to therefore become a sustainable and reliable buyer of soybeans from local farmers.I have also been tasked by Catherine, the country manager, to work with the other staff to compile a manual for the field officers. I have now attended 5 meetings with our key facilitating partners (KFPs) – local NGOs that MEDA has partnered with to carry out the GROW project at the community level.From those meetings, I have learned all of the challenges and opportunities that the field officers face in implementing the GROW project in the communities. A myriad of obstacles must be overcome; logistics, social group formation and navigating the web of community relationships, ownership, the availability of financial services, even the weather. But this manual will hopefully smooth out some of these hurdles and support these field officers by providing them with a template for action, including who will be supporting them at each stage of implementation.It also helps that I believe in what we are doing here. I have met many other expats and a few have shrugged their shoulders when I ask what sort of work they are engaged in, saying something to the effect of "well I just do whatever".This was one of my biggest fears in heading overseas to do development work – that I would simply be a "voluntourist", involved in a project with a fuzzy but lofty sounding goal, but with no concrete outcomes that would change anything. If our project is successful it will create meaningful and more importantly long-term and permanent change in the lives poor, rural Ghanaians.
Continue reading
5010 Hits

Beyond the Rough Bumpy Roads . . .

b2ap3_thumbnail_Malia-and-her-children-plus-the-MEDA-team-and-field-staff.jpg
b2ap3_thumbnail_The-road-from-Tumu-to-Nyimati-Village.jpg
b2ap3_thumbnail_A-group-of-neighborhood-kids-in-Nyimati-Village.jpg
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!
Continue reading
4864 Hits

A Canadian Thanksgiving in Ghana

b2ap3_thumbnail_The-buffet-table.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_Enjoying-the-food-and-each-others-company.gif
This past weekend was thanksgiving back home in Canada. One might think that this would make a wayward Canuck passing the holiday thousands of miles away in Northern Ghana a little homesick; missing a nice home-cooked meal, enjoying the company of family and friends, fall leaves crunching under foot. But nothing could be further from the truth.This past weekend was filled with all of those things – minus the crunchy fall leaves part. The expat community here in Tamale rolled up their sleeves and cooked, baked and basted their way to faithfully recreating a North American holiday tradition in the heart of West Africa.There was squash, mashed potatoes, carrot, rice and eggplant dishes, tilapia, salad, couscous, green beans, and of course turkey and stuffing. Dessert included 4 pumpkin pies (made with local squash I am told, although surprisingly indistinguishable from the pumpkin version) apple crisp, chocolate cake, and lots of ice cream.The celebration wasn't confined to Canadians, but included Ghanaians, Danes, French, British, Americans, Nigerians, Dutch, Swedes and others - around 50 or 60 people in total. For some – probably a majority there – this was their first experience with this holiday, and I am sure it left an indelible and positive impression.Sitting along two long tables in the still hot and humid evening, people from all over the world sat and talked, shared their backgrounds, their aspirations, their stories. I met people from everywhere, but was able to connect quickly and meaningfully to all of them. Indeed Tamale seems to attract similarly outward looking, engaged, and thoughtful people.For me the most beautiful aspect of this is that we Canadians were able to share a part of our culture with people from across the globe, and that everyone took part with enthusiasm and zeal and came out with stronger ties to one another. It is my hope that I will be able to take part in many things that are uniquely Ghanaian during my stay, and similarly strengthen my ties with people in the communities I will be working with here.
Continue reading
4837 Hits

Morning Runs, Red Red and Lovely People

b2ap3_thumbnail_Homemade-Red-Red.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_With-my-roommate-Mette.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_On-one-of-my-morning-runs.gif
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.
Continue reading
5054 Hits

More than economics

My second day in Tamale, and I am slowly getting used to the pace of things here.My fellow intern, Clarissa Heger has been an invaluable help, showing me some good spots in Tamale and introducing me to the rest of the staff at the office here. The real work has yet to start, but I have been getting good background information from the office team here.The week before I arrived, some of the office staff attended the opening of a soy processing facility in Wa, which is where I will be doing most of my work.One of the principal tasks I will be engaged with, will be publicizing and explaining the process of producing soy milk so that potential investors will be able to see the opportunities of this particular market. There is an entrepreneur who has already invested in this, and who will be buying soy from the farmers that MEDA has trained.The more buyers and markets that exist for soy, the better, and developing this market will mean more opportunities and earning potential for the smallholder farmers who are producing soy.However, numerous challenges exist. Soy milk is a very foreign product here in Northern Ghana, and creating demand for it will be a challenge. Also, competing with cheap imported soy will be a challenge for producers here.I have just come off of a 3-month contract working in the Department of Agriculture at the provincial legislature in my hometown of Winnipeg. Part of my duties there entailed putting together a daily news briefing for the minister and other staff. I am fairly well versed now in the movement of key commodity prices and trends in agriculture.The world will see a very large soy crop this year, as several key countries including the United States (the world's largest producer) and Brazil are harvesting record crops. The downward pressure this will put on soy prices will be problematic as the soy processors that exist here may look to cheap imports.Conversely, though, the Ghanaian cidi has been depreciating and this makes importing more expensive, which will make domestically produced soy more attractive to processors here.All of this highlights the risks of the marketplace, and doing business in a globally traded commodity. However, the diversification of Ghana's agricultural sector will help mitigate these downside risks. For too long, Ghana's agriculture sector relied on the export of cocoa. With the development of other crops and products, the price swings of one commodity will be mitigated.Furthermore, any displacement of imports with domestically production will improve the country's balance of payments and put the country on a sounder economic footing.This in and of itself is laudable. However, this is only one small aspect of the GROW project. The main goal of GROW is to improve the incomes of rural women and the nutritional outcomes of their families. The benefits this would have are too numerous to mention here and would far outweigh the narrow benefits identified above and I will leave that for a later blog post. Needless to say, this is a very exciting project to be involved with.
Continue reading
4146 Hits

Fadila’s Story: Soybeans for School Fees

b2ap3_thumbnail_Tampala-Women-Farmers-growing-Soybeans.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_MEDA-Tour-Group-MEDA-Staff-and-Partner-NGO-Staff-visiting-Metteu-Village.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_Tampalas-Chiefs.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_Tampala-Women-Farmers-welcoming-us.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_Me-and-Fadila.gif
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.
Continue reading
4216 Hits

What brings me to Ghana

I will start soon start my 6-month internship with MEDA as an Enterprise Development intern with the GROW project in Northern Ghana when I fly from my hometown of Winnipeg to Toronto to Amsterdam to Accra, and finally to Tamale.Like many recent young grads, I came out of university without a definite career path. I studied different subjects and my smattering of volunteer and work experience during and after school has been in a number of different fields. And since entering the job market, it became clear to me that I will likely put in time with many different organizations over the course of my working life.My favorite subjects in university were history and economics and I am a huge news junky and consumer of all things political. What does someone with these interests do? What sort of career should I be looking for? Well, one option is to go to northern Ghana for a 6-month internship doing rural development work in agriculture.I have known for a long time that I am interested in the world; in the people and history of different places. To gain some understanding and appreciation of how different places work or don't work, how people make a living, raise their families, and relate to others.As I enter my late twenties, the devil-may-care adventurism of youth is beginning to fade, and some more practical thoughts are creeping into my head. What kind of job security will be there for me? Will I be able to earn a living to support a family? Will I be able to find work where I can make a difference; work that is fulfilling and enjoyable?But the drive to learn and experience new things is as strong as ever, and I know that by fully immersing myself in new situations and taking advantage of the unique opportunities that come my way, I will be better positioned to handle the ever changing labour market and much more likely to find something that brings me genuine satisfaction, in addition to a paycheck.Will development work be a good fit for me? Probably. Will there be a job that is satisfying, and perhaps more crucially, available to me after this internship? Maybe.One thing seems to be clear for the generations growing up now; the prospect of a "career" or lifelong job with one company is a thing of the past. Young people today (myself included) will likely work in a few different fields, with different companies or organizations in the private and public sectors. The question that the new generation faces is not only will I be able to find a job or career, but will I be able to find a something that is right for me?I am not sure what the next half-year will hold, nor what I will do afterwards. But I do know that this will be an incredible learning experience, and will give me a good taste of what development work at the ground level entails. And this is exactly what I am looking for.
Continue reading
4567 Hits

GROWing Women’s Empowerment in Northern Ghana

b2ap3_thumbnail_MEDA-and-PRONET-Staff-Dancing-with-the-Penetono-GROW-Womens-Group.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_Yelabema-Dakur-a-Penetobo-group-farmer-proudly-showing-us-her-soybean-field.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_Tanziri-GROW-Womens-Groups-with-MEDA-and-CARD-staff.gif
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.
Continue reading
5195 Hits

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.

Continue reading
4803 Hits

A Sense of Empowerment

b2ap3_thumbnail_Meeting-with-processors.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_Looking-at-how-shea-butter-is-packaged.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_At-the-reception-at-the-MEDA-office-talking-about-their-experiences.gif
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.
Continue reading
5061 Hits

Easter at the Lake

b2ap3_thumbnail_View-from-the-terrace-at-the-ranch.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_Scrabble-Easter-message.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_Horses-grazing.gif
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.
Continue reading
5471 Hits

Catching up with Prudence

b2ap3_thumbnail_Prudence-watching-a-demonstration.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_Prudence-leading-a-dance-as-we-finish-our-community-meeting.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_Prudence-outside-her-home-after-our-interview.gif
I have met and interacted with so many women farmers – our targeted clients – during my work in Ghana, and am always interested in learning about their experiences and how they are impacted by MEDA. Recently I sat down with Prudence, a Lead Farmer whose participation I began noticing more and more as she became increasingly active within her community. This is her story within the GROW project!I first met Prudence in September. Visitors from headquarters – Wally and his wife Millie, and Marlin – had come to interview farmers. We learned that Prudence was a mother of two girls, a wife of a trader, and had devoted an acre of land (out of the 6 acres her husband owns) to soybean cultivation. In fact, it was her first year planting soybean. The crop looked lush and she was excited to participate in the project. When asked about how she would spend the income earned from her yield, Prudence said she wanted to be a teacher, and would put the money towards that because she felt with MEDA's help, "in the future she would be someone." Some of Prudence's story was then published in The Marketplace.In October I was pleasantly surprised to see Prudence in Tamale at the pre-harvest forum, a conference that links farmers, buyers, input dealers and other actors in the agricultural value chain together to network. We had asked our partners to choose a representative farmer from their communities to attend the event. Prudence had been selected. She came in a beautiful dress which she quickly traded in favour of a GROW t-shirt she received, and her hair had been nicely done. I watched as she participated in a meeting where the price of soybeans was negotiated amongst processors, asked questions after watching threshing equipment being demonstrated, and tasted soy milk – an example of what she could one day do with her own yields. I asked whether or not she liked Tamale (it was her first time visiting) and she responded with a bright smile and said that she "REALLY REALLY enjoyed Tamale." Now, her friends joke with her – if they don't see her around the compound or in the market, they claim, Oh! She must be in Tamale.Rachel, our senior project manager, and Christine, MEDA's women's economic development director, both came to visit at the end of November. We visited some communities to talk with the women about their experiences so far in the project. Prudence's community was one of those selected, and she was present at the meeting. Her confidence and leadership were apparent as she organized the women, fetched drinking water for the guests, and lead the group in a dance to send us off. Likewise, during a nutrition training session in December, Prudence was eager to participate and share her thoughts on infant and young child nutrition with the other farmers and the male facilitator from Ghana Health Service.After returning to Ghana from the Christmas holidays, I thought it would be nice to touch base with Prudence after not seeing her for several weeks. The first opportunity I was in Wa, I arranged to speak with her. The field officer who organized the visit surprised me by taking me, not to the community meeting place where we usually saw the famers, but to Prudence's home. As we arrived there, she came out of the door laughing, "You're early!" She was still wearing a towel after having just bathed. Once she was dressed, she ran out of the compound and returned minutes later with water for me to drink, and offered me a seat on her plastic furniture in the courtyard.I asked her about her experience after nearly one year with the project. She began by saying "I have changed totally!" She elaborated that she had developed so many new relationships with other farmers, she knew more places now (again referencing her trip to Tamale) and that she can cook at least seven dishes that include soy. She told me about the success of her harvest – one bag she kept for family consumption while the other three she sold at the market for a good price. I was sure to ask what she was doing with this income, and she confirmed that it was in her savings account (which she emphatically stated was her very own – separate from her husband's bank account) so she could take classes to become a teacher. Prudence stated that her husband is "proud of me!" and that she will continue to cultivate soybeans because it is now her best crop.These chats with Prudence I've had over the six months that I've now known her really encapsulate what the GROW project is all about: empowering women economically through the cultivation of soybean, educating clients in the nutritional benefits of the legume, and encouraging women's leadership in order to combat food insecurity. Prudence has proven that she is capable of achieving this in her household, and that she embodies the role of Lead Farmer. My time in Ghana is coming to an end, but before it does I will be sure to speak to Prudence a final time. Although, based on how she's grown throughout the project so far, I think I know how her story will continue.
Continue reading
5010 Hits

Winning Gold from Ghana

b2ap3_thumbnail_The-projector-and-flag-after-womens-gold.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_Streaming-the-game-on-a-laptop.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_Finally-watching-it-on-a-tv.gif
I love the olympics. Nothing makes me more excited than seeing the best athletes in the world participating in different events, hearing motivational stories, seeing examples of sportsmanship, and of course, watching Canadians compete on the world's stage. Trying to watch the olympics in Ghana was a bit of a struggle. That being said, when it comes to hockey, there is no stopping a Canadian from tracking down the game! Three different games, three different means of watching said games, and a various array of Canadian supporters from different countries contributed to one the best olympic experiences.After visiting a number of bars and restaurants that we knew had tv – and finding all of them either broken, without satellite, or not open – some Canadian friends and I ended up at Tamale's newest café which boasts a projector and a large screen. There we were joined by other expats, including several Americans who were supporting for our opponents, the USA, and friends from Ireland, England and Australia who decided to root for the Canadians (hurray for the commonwealth!). Sporting my red and white shirt (unfortunately the only red or white shirt I have is long sleeved, making for a hot and sticky hockey-watching experience) and Canadian flag, I settled down amongst the crowd to watch the game. It started at 5pm in Ghana, and because we were watching a projection outside in the daylight, we couldn't see anything for the first period, and were relying on the commentary alone. This however, didn't bother us too much, as it wasn't until the last period that the tide began to turn. I wish there could have been hidden camera recording our reactions to the game, especially the final Canadian goal – there was always a contingent of people who stood up, cheered, and hugged each other (and others who, before running around the patio waving the flag, jumped up so fast their chair fell over backwards).We thought the procedure for watching the men's semi-final game would be similar because we had found a place that would show the game. This was not the case. Although this café had satellite, the channel was not airing the game. The new found Canadian fans started arriving after us – those who came earlier to stake out the same seats in order to fashion the seating configuration that had proved so lucky the night before – now wearing their red and white (I think they needed to see some proof that Canada could be relied upon to do well before committing to dressing in our colours) only to find that the game wasn't playing. After 2.5 hockey periods, downloading olympic phone apps and radio stations in the hopes of hearing commentary at least, and relentless internet searching, we were able to find a website that was streaming the game and discovered we were about to make our way into the gold medal final. More flag waving ensued.The finale.Before I go into the details, i'll insert my favourite motivational olympic story here. I was amazed to learn that Carey Price, the goalie for Canada, grew up on a reservation located three hours away from where his hockey practice was held. He and his parents made this trek several times a week. When he became a more serious player, they bought a four-seater plane so he could get to practice this way, cutting the commute down to an hour. Stories like these are what make the olympics such a powerful event, inspiring us to fulfill our goals.Back to the game. The owner of the café had, by this time, noticed our dedication and offered us the tv in his (air conditioned) office. The gold medal game deserves only the best viewing conditions! We were ecstatic to be able to see the picture so clearly. All the while, our social media was showing us pictures of friends and family awake at 5am to watch the game and line-ups of hockey-jerseyed fans outside of bars in downtown Toronto. One wall of the owner's office connects to the restaurant with a two-way mirror. Every time we cheered, the guests in the restaurant would all look towards the office, perplexed by what was happening inside. We were told later that they always knew when a goal was scored – they kept track of how many times we'd yell.The principle of the olympics – fair play, sense of community and hard work to achieve our goals as Price reminds us – can be applied to our daily lives. Regardless of where we are in the world, and which countries our colleagues, friends and opponents may be from, there are times when we are unified, making anywhere you find yourself – including Tamale – feel just like home.
Continue reading
5377 Hits

Searching for markets in Ghana's Upper West

Living in rural Africa, it's difficult to connect with sustainable outside markets, especially as a woman. The project that I work on, Greater Rural Opportunities for Women (GROW), looks to link women and their families with markets to develop a lasting income. Here's a brief review of a recent trip in the field. GROW clients are currently at an important stage – it's the first year of harvest and the women farmers are looking for markets to sell their soybeans. Learn about the difficulties of finding markets in Ghana's Upper West – one of poorest and least food secure regions in the country – and what MEDA is doing to help solve this problem...

Continue reading
4701 Hits

Cape Coast and Castles

b2ap3_thumbnail_Me-on-the-beach.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_The-view-overlooking-the-castle-courtyard.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_A-view-of-Cape-Coast-from-our-guesthouse.gif
In before heading back to Canada for Christmas, I joined Daniel and Gillian on a weekend trip to Cape Coast and Elmina, beach locations known for their beautiful scenery and fascinating history.After taking an overnight bus to Accra, on which we endured hours upon hours of Ghanaian soap operas playing at full blast (regardless of the time of night) and surviving a tight tro-tro journey to Elmina, we made it to a quiet and secluded eco-lodge just in time to see the sunrise over the ocean. Though we were tired, we powered on through the day, enjoying coffees on the beach front property, swimming in the ocean and delicious breakfasts. But it wasn't all relaxation and drinking out of coconuts (though that was one of the highlights). Later in the day we walked through the fishing community to Elmina Castle, one of the fortresses that housed Ghanaians and other West African populations before they were shipped to various parts of the world during the slave trade.Passing through the hands of the Portuguese, Dutch and British, this 17th Century castle imprisoned Ghanaians as well as those from Burkina Faso, Mali, the Ivory Coast and other surrounding areas. These prisoners - who would later become slaves in the Americas and other parts of the world - included men, women and children who were separated and contained in different cells. These small rooms were packed, often with hundreds more people than the capacity allowed. We saw the "door of no return," the only exit these prisoners could leave through, that led them directly out into the waiting ships. It was a chilling experience to be guided through the various rooms and cells, hearing these stories of suffering. Nonetheless, we were all glad we took the tour to learn more about this period.After our stay in Elmina, we packed up and made our way back east, stopping in Cape Coast (staying at a cozy vegetarian-friendly guesthouse) to explore the city and it's UNESCO world heritage site, Cape Coast Castle.Many aspects of fortress were similar to what we saw in Elmina - it was built in the same timeframe, had passed through many different hands of ownership and served the same purpose. However the stories we heard of prisoners who had been held captive were different and told individual tales of suffering. There were chains still intact in the cell walls and iron bars covering the few small pockets of light that were allowed in. Although it was a beautiful and warm day, I was chilled walking though the courtyards thinking of the atrocities that had happened here. I'm so glad we had the opportunity to visit the castle - it is an experience I won't soon forget.Leaving our vacation spot and heading to Tamale, I felt extremely fulfilled. Over the weekend I was able to enjoy extravagant meals, campfires by the beach and the ocean waves - things that may mark a typical beach vacation - but I also learned more about Ghanaian history. I certainly left with a tan, but more importantly, I left with an awareness of the past.
Continue reading
5189 Hits