MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

Exploring the North: Bahir Dar and Lalibela

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Two weeks ago I went on a weekend trip to Bahir Dar and Lalibela, located in northern Ethiopia. Since I went to the south for work about a month ago, I was excited to see different parts of the country again. While I do like Addis, it does get tiring with lots of people, traffic and pollution. It was refreshing to be in more remote parts of the country, especially with beautiful landscapes and sunsets that you just don't get in the city.I met up with Steph in Bahir Dar first since she was there for work. We had dinner along Lake Tana that was lit up by the moonlight. The following day we went to see the Blue Nile Falls. Saturdays are market days, so as we drove one hour to the falls, there were lots of people walking with their cattle or goats. We met up with our tour guide who led us on a 1.5 hour hike. Many times we were face-to-face with cows walking on the path on their way to the market. We saw the Portuguese Bridge and the Blue Nile Falls, and then walked back to finish our tour. There were many kids selling scarves and hand-made crafts along our hike, telling us, "Madam, I'll give you a good price." I eventually caved and bought one even though I've already accumulated so many in Addis!We relaxed for a few hours and then went for dinner along the lake and watched the sunset. In Bahir Dar we took these 3-wheeled scooter-type taxis called "Bajaj's" or "Touk-touk's" – they were super cheap and really easy to use. After dinner we checked out Kuriftu for dessert, along with good talks under a full moon.The next part of our trip was to Lalibela, a town renowned for its rock-hewn churches that were built in the 12th century. The story goes that King Lalibela sought to create a New Jerusalem for those who could not make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The churches were not constructed in a traditional method, rather, they were excavated and carved from the living rock of monolithic blocks. The churches are still used to this day by Orthodox Christians. And now that it is a UNESCO heritage site, tourism has really taken off over the past few years. The landscape in Lalibela reminded me of the Grand Canyon (although I've never been). It's very desert-like with canyons and plateaus all around.After resting up, we went to see the churches. It was really amazing to see the churches, inside and out. My favourite was St. George, the church shaped in a cross. We had a really good guide who showed us all 11 churches within 3.5 hours. It was an exhausting tour, as we walked through passages, trenches, and in-and-out of most of the churches.While it was overall a really good trip, I'm glad to be back in Addis. After a few days of traveling, all you want is the familiarity of your own home and the variety of food options that are available in the city. With about four months left of this internship, I'm hoping to squeeze in a few more trips, to see more of Ethiopia. It really is a beautiful country. I had a few moments throughout this past trip that reminded me that I am very blessed to be here with MEDA and working on a great project that is changing lives.
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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.
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Almost 2 months down!

I cannot believe I have been in Ethiopia for nearly 2 months already. It's crazy! The past few weeks have been pretty uneventful – going out from time to time and working lots. EDGET has been in the middle of report season so the office has been in full swing. I am also excited to report that this week I will going out to Bahir Dar, a city north of Addis to work with MEDA's office there.For those of you who are still a little unsure of what it is exactly I do here, I thought that this would be good opportunity to give you a little more background on EDGET (the project I am working with), as I will be going out to the field and meeting some of our clients in a couple of days.Ethiopians Driving Growth through Entrepreneurship and Trade (EDGET) is a 5-year pro-poor, value chain development project that is funded by Global Affairs Canada (GAC). We aim to increase the income of 10,000 rice farmers and textile artisans by giving improved technologies, training on better farming techniques, business skills and creating access to local markets and business partnerships. Currently we have approximately 8,000 client farmers in the Amhara Region and Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples' Region (SNNPR) and 2,000 textile clients in Addis Ababa and SNNPR.So, what am I going to be doing in Bahir Dar? I am going to be visiting our MEDA office there, which is situated in the Amhara Region, and following up on three of our rice farmer clients in the surrounding villages. Basically, I will visit each site and interview the clients on how their business as rice farmers has been, what are the challenges they have faced and how they have benefited from participating in the EDGET project. With the information gathered, I will then conduct some briefs to explain the situation for some donors visiting MEDA Ethiopia next week.On Friday, Clara is going to come meet me in Bahir Dar and we are going to take this chance to explore a bit of Bahir Dar and some touristy sites: Lake Tana, the origin of the Nile and Blue Nile Falls. Then we are hopping on a plane to Lalibela, home to one of the world's most astounding sacred sites – eleven rock-hewn churches.I have a busy and slightly stressful week ahead, including the dreaded 5am airport visit tomorrow, but hopefully it will be worth it!
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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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Arba Minch: A humbling visit with VSLA groups in Chano Dorga

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

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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.
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I Am Thankful for Canadian Healthcare!

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Thanksgiving weekend...usually a time I would get together with family and stuff my face with way to much turkey, resulting in a comatose state for the next 24 hours. However, this year's Canadian Thanksgiving was a little different and ended up being two polar extremes – as you can probably figure out, it concluded in a not so festive fashion.It started out great, and rather unexpected. As many of my fellow Waterlooers and German friends know, around this time of year, Oktoberfest happens. Oktoberfest is basically a German event focused celebrating German food, music and culture. Being in Waterloo for my undergrad years, which has a huge population of Germans, allowed me to become quite acquainted with this annual celebration.It did not even cross our minds that Oktoberfest would be celebrated here, in Addis of all places! But low and behold, we found out that the Hilton Hotel was organizing an Oktoberfest event on the weekend! Who would have thought?After running around trying to find last minute tickets, we made it. I was ecstatic – it reminded me of being back in Waterloo again. The Hilton set up at tent in the back of the hotel and had different types of vendors, a huge Oktoberfest themed buffet (sausages, pretzels, the works!) and even had a German Polka band! We met up with some friends, enjoyed the event and even danced with some Austrian diplomats till the early hours.Sunday was pretty uneventful, but I cannot say the same for Thanksgiving Monday. My roommate Clara had been pretty weak and out of sorts for a couple days so when she started having pain and could barely stand up, we got worried. On Monday, I left work early to take her to the hospital with Ferkadu. First we went to a Swedish clinic specifically for expats and after several lab tests and hundreds of US dollars later, they still could not figure out what was wrong. To rule out appendix, they sent us to an imaging centre all the way across town to get an ultrasound as they are a very small clinic. After a couple hours, we found out it was not appendix but they still could not figure out what was wrong so we went back to the clinic for further tests. Due to some questionable blood results, the doctors sent us to the Korean Hospital for further investigation. The Korean Hospital is known to be a relatively reputable hospital that many people go to, but it was in the next town over, just outside of Addis. Keep in mind we had been on this quest for already 4 hours and poor Clara was barely surviving.This is where I want to talk a bit about the underdevelopments of Ethiopia's transportation system. There is road construction everywhere and no traffic lights. This can easily make a 30-minute commute a couple of hours, especially at night. After being in bumper to bumper traffic for an hour and a half, we get to the hospital. The Korean Hospital is a large hospital that was built by the South Koreans around 20 or so years ago. Even though it is considered one of the better ones, we were not impressed. Not only had the doctor we were supposed to see already left for the day, but poor Clara had to go through all the lab tests again and then we waited for the results for another 4 or so hours. I was terrified that Clara had to do a procedure there. I tried to keep in mind that this is a developing country, but when I saw ill people waiting around for hours and in less than acceptable sanitary conditions, I was terrified.Several hours later we got the test results (finally!). It was just a bad infection and they sent Clara home with antibiotics. I was thankful that it was nothing serious and Ferkadu drove us home (he stayed with for the entire time!). It was 11 pm by the time we got home, making it 8 hours and countless miles just to find a diagnosis.I have waited longer for medical assistance in a Canadian hospital but just seeing the conditions of the medical facilities, spending hundreds of dollars and driving around Addis for different tests, makes me NEVER want to get sick here. I never thought I would say this but thank goodness for Canadian healthcare.Regardless, Clara got the help she needed. I know it could have been much, much worse. Even though this Thanksgiving turned out to be less than ideal, I am thankful. I am thankful for the amazing friends we met and had a great time with them weekend. I am also eternally grateful for all our amazing MEDA colleagues that helped us make sure that Clara got help on Monday. Ethiopia has its ups and downs, just like any other country (healthcare being a major downfall), but having a support system definitely softens the blow.
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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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E-FACE Site Visit in Addis Ababa

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

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

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

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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.
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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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Setting the Tone: My first two weeks at MEDA Ethiopia

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

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When we arrived in Ethiopia, it was the day before the Ethiopian New Year so the city was in full swing. Ethiopian New Year is celebrated on September 11th. This is because Ethiopia traditionally follows the Coptic calendar that is 7 years and eight months behind the Western Gregorian Calendar, making this year 2007! I know, a little strange to think about, just because it's different. I was taken back when I saw "Happy 2007" flash across the screen!Ethiopian New Year is a national holiday and basically the entire country shuts down for it. It is considered a private event, spent with family and lots of food. Even though this is considered a quite affair, the MEDA staff still wanted us to experience it and introduce us to what this celebration was all about. So my supervisor, Balay, invited Clara and I to his home on New Years to celebrate with his family. Here we experienced an array of different types of traditional Ethiopian food eaten more so on special occasions. It was incredibly special that he invited us to such a private event and his family was so friendly, sharing with us all they love about Ethiopia. We will be forever grateful for being able to be a part of such an eye-opening and wonderful event.On the Saturday, our country director, Doris, invited us for another Ethiopian celebration at her home. It felt like Thanksgiving to me because we had turkey (they call it soft chicken), stuffing and even cranberry sauce. I could not believe it! We were so incredibly spoiled with so much food that weekend – I'm not complaining! This celebration made me feel like I took a piece of home with me, which was very comforting.Skip ahead a week, we experienced our first week working in the MEDA office, getting to know the projects and being introduced to all the staff. It has been information overload! Learning all about the projects, the process of how things are done and actually working an 8-5 job will definitely take getting used to. I know it will certainly take some time to adjust and besides being completely exhausted and ready to crash as soon as we get home, I am enjoying it so far!This past weekend has been low key, which I think we both appreciated. This past Saturday, Fekadu who is one of MEDA's amazing drivers, took us on a tour of the city. I did not realize Addis was as big as it is; granted, we have only really travelled a few blocks around the office and our house. I was just amazed! Addis, which is considered one of the hot spots in Africa for political and economic conversation and development (the African Union headquarters is also station here), also manages to maintain a lot of beauty, history and culture. Probably my highlight of the tour was driving up Mount Entoto, the mountain surrounding the city. Addis is a busy and rapidly developing country but when looking down on it from on top of the mountain provided a different view and pictures just do not do it justice. Addis is beautiful!
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Arrival in Addis Ababa

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Two months ago I had no idea what my next step was going to be as a new professional in international development, not alone what part of the world I was going to end up in! It only really hit me once we landed. All I could see outside the airplane window was large green rolling hills. I knew then that I had definitely left Toronto! I was so relieved that we had arrived safely and was very eager to get off of the plane as I had been sitting for 13.5 hours straight! After exiting the airport, I felt like I was in a completely different world. One thing I automatically noticed is the drastic difference in wealth among the people. Ethiopia has a population of approximately 94 million, making it the most populous landlocked country. Ethiopia is also one of the world's poorest nations. According to the UNDP's 2013 human development index, Ethiopia ranks 173 out of 187 countries and 40% of its population lives on less than US $1.25 a day. Roads are shared with livestock and due to the fast growing economy there is construction in every possible direction. It was especially busy the day we arrived because it was the day before Ethiopian New Year. Even though it is a very busy city, I consider Addis to be very beautiful. There are lush palm trees and when the clouds clear, the view of the hills is beautiful.Once we arrived at our house our lovely landlady, Tsedey had a coffee ceremony for us. I knew that coffee is a staple in Ethiopia but what I did not know is that the coffee ceremony is an integral part of Ethiopian social and cultural life. An invitation to a ceremony is considered a mark of friendship and represents great hospitality. The process consisted of roasting the coffee beans over a tiny charcoal stove, with incense burning. Tsedey then took the beans and let us smell them from the stove before grinding them with a pestle and mortar. After, the grounded coffee beans were put in a special boiling pot called a jebena that strains and boils the coffee and water. Once the coffee was ready, Tsedey served it to us with homemade popcorn (which I later realized is a common part of the coffee ceremony). Some coffee ceremonies may be slightly different from the one I experienced but for the most part, they follow similar steps. One thing is certain, Ethiopian coffee is fantastic!It is a lot cooler here than I expected. September is still considered to be a part of the rainy season so it rains on and off daily while also dropping in temperature, especially at night. In the evening of the day we arrived, the other intern Clara and I woke up freezing and with no electricity (also common). So we had to improvise and make oatmeal over a gas stove and eat it out of mugs while huddled in our blankets. Our first day in Ethiopia was definitely an adventure, to say the least!When I applied for the Communication and Program Support Intern position for MEDA's EDGET program, I had no idea that I would be where I am today. I am very pleasantly surprised that I was offered the position! I am very excited to start this new chapter of my life and to be a part of the amazing work MEDA does. I am truly passionate about working towards sustainable development, creating hope and giving people the skills, resources and opportunities to create positive change for themselves. I hope to not only develop my professional skills but also take this time to reflect on my personal development and growth. This will be one whirlwind of an experience and while it may not be all sunshine and roses, I will give my all and take everything in.
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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.
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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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Salam from Addis Ababa!

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Steph and I arrived safely last Wednesday and are enjoying our first few days here in Ethiopia. Upon our arrival at our place in Sarbet, our landlady prepared a coffee ceremony for us. Both Steph and I love coffee, so it was a really nice welcome. After resting up for a few hours, we had lunch with Doris (our country manager) and had our security briefing. Then we went to the MEDA office, met our supervisors and other staff members. It was a 13.5 hour flight, so I was pretty exhausted by the end of our first day.While it wasn't intentionally planned, we arrived during the major holiday in Ethiopia, New Year. It was Ethiopian New Year last Thursday, so it is now the year 2007 in Ethiopia because their calendar is 7 years behind the Western calendar. We were invited to spend an afternoon with Balay (Steph's supervisor) and his family, had lots of food, and was welcomed warmly. I've been really touched to experience such generosity over the past few days from our staff here, including Doris and our respective supervisors. We also went to Lafto mall on New Years with my supervisor, Meron, to bowl at the bowling alley. I've never had to manually keep my score, so that was a fun learning experience. The following day, we were invited to have a turkey lunch at Doris' place. We had a wonderful afternoon, heard stories about adjusting to life in Ethiopia and enjoyed really amazing food.If I were to sum up a few initial thoughts and impressions, here they are:Rain - Lots and lots of it. We arrived at the end of the rainy season, so good thing I brought rain boots and a rain jacket!Prices - Some things like eating out, bread, vegetables, and fruit cost very little, while household items like a kettle or strainer, have turned out to be much more expensive than we thought.People - Our landlady and MEDA staff have also been so generous and welcoming. And most people we walk by and encounter have been very friendly. Since I haven't been in a country where people tend to notice you and seem to be talking about you, it's something I'm still adjusting to. However, for the most part, when we walk around, there are folks who say 'Hi' and mean no harm at all.High altitude - I didn't notice it at first, but when walking up hills, it was hard to breath. So it's going to be a few days to get adjusted.Today, will be our first day at work! I'm really excited to be here and be part of the E-FACE (Ethiopians Fighting Against Child Exploitation) team. It's been fascinating reading about the program, which makes it even more exciting to start this week. I am a little bit nervous, but also ready to take on new challenges and lessons that I'll gain through this internship with MEDA. Stay tuned for more updates soon!Ciao,Clara(We've picked up on how Ethiopians say "Hi" and "Bye"
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Welcoming the 2014 MEDA Interns

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For the past 17 years, MEDA has sent over 110 young professionals in 20 countries around the world to give them the opportunity to gain experience in the field and discover their career interests.This fall 4 new interns embark on a 6-month international development Internship. The interns will be heading to Ethiopia and Ghana helping MEDA fulfill its overall mission of creating business solutions to poverty for families around the world.Check back on this blog frequently to stay tuned as the 4 interns uncover unique experiences, gain new skills and change lives. Bringing different skills and life experiences to their position will no doubt make for varying perspectives on the realities of their internship and of international development as a whole.Now let's meet the 2014 cohort of MEDA Interns...EthiopiaEDGET (Ethiopians Driving Growth through Entrepreneurship and Trade)Stephanie Puras - Communication and Program Support InternE-FACE (Ethiopians Fighting Against Child Exploitation)Clara Yoon - Communication and Program Support InternGhanaGROW (Greater Rural Opportunities for Women)Kevin Linklater - Program Support/ Enterprise Development InternClarissa Heger- Communications Intern

Visit MEDA Internships for more information on our internship program and to read the biographies of the 2014 interns.We encourage you to keep coming back to this blog to stay informed on the latest news about the interns's field experiences. Whether you're someone who knows one of the interns personally or someone who just discovered this blog, we hope you will find some truthful insight into the international development world and begin to connect with the people behind this posts. If you don't get the opportunity to travel to these places yourself to explore the food, culture and stories of our clients, let these interns' personal tales serve as a window to MEDA's work in the field.

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My MEDA Internship Reflection: "I feel extremely grateful"

What initially drew me into applying for a MEDA internship revolved around wanting to work abroad again and see if I could find a placement that would give me the skills and opportunities to transition into a career with international development work. However, after applying and having my first interview with MEDA I realized this internship program was not like many of the other I had applied for in the past. The level of professionalism and care by the staff members and the investment MEDA made to provide the necessary resources for us to be most effective in our roles was evident to me from the start. This really drew me into the MEDA internship program and I was lucky enough to be selected.

I had previously served a nine month fellowship for an NGO in Rwanda working at a partner microfinance institution so this was not my first experience living/working in sub-Saharan Africa. I think I went into the internship with realistic expectations of what was expected of me, and what I could contribute during my time frame. So I think having previous experience can be very helpful in the first month of your placement.

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