Helping bring together this event marked my first assignment here at MEDA. The team worked like a well-oiled machine, our open-concept office buzzing with phone calls, quick consults, print demos, and the like. While I joined just in the last two weeks of an event that had been in the works for several months, I was happy to be able to contribute actively—feeling a pleasant nostalgia from my conference-planning days.
After a long evening of preparation on-site, and after overstepping some unexpected thorns in our path, at last the unveiling of the big event arrived! I was stationed right at the door to meet and greet along with Meghan, the other CIDA intern working out of the Simferopol office. While it is somewhat draining bending and yelling into the ears of old ladies (bless their hearts!), I really enjoyed the opportunity connect personally with the guests, many of which were clients of the project. Seeing the joy and pride on peoples' faces when they were welcomed to an event that celebrated them – their hardships, their perseverance, and their roles as providers for the people-- was pure inspiration.
The programme was centred around an exhibit and market of the different areas represented by the Ukrainian Women's Farmers Council. Each area proudly stood under a huge colourful banner, and offered or showcased their best handicrafts, produce, medicinal teas, and more. All had made leaps and bounds since connecting with the Project and their gratitude and sense of accomplishment shone brightly. Identified by a green tie with our Project logo, I was greeted especially warmly by the farmers and was indulged with many Ukrainian delicacies—can't complain! Also, given my interest in alternative medicine, I was happy to learn of (and buy!) the many varieties of medicinal teas, oils, and more.
The market and exhibit were complimented by a rich cultural programme, ranging from energetic Ukrainian dance groups, vocal numbers, poetry, and even comedians. When relieved of reception duties, I soaked it all up like a sponge, (and washed it down with varenyeki, pickled vegetables, and stuffed peppers), what a joy!
A strategic element of the event was to generate discussion between the Project, CIDA, local government, and the women farmers themselves—to look at gaps between the local needs, what the project is doing to fill those needs, and what the place and position of both Canadian and Ukrainian government are in the mix. Without saying too much, it is clear that the women are deeply grateful for the support of the project, for how it has uplifted and united them. One issue that remained divided among the women was the involvement of local government in development – some insisting that 'hands off' is best, while others demanded an active role be taken.
As an intern, I had a turning point here. While I have always thought myself a 'high level' thinker, I realized that what happens 'on the ground' is hugely important—and that's exactly where my internship has put me. The goal is to ultimately connect the two—trickle down from higher level goal to what needs to happen in the trainings, seminars, field visits ( and actually understand how to execute the details).
My first such ground level experience is the design and delivery of a 3-day social media training for the Ukrainian Women's Farmers Council (in Russian, on top of it all!). Today was day one—a little rocky on the language front, but all in all not bad for a first. A wise friend recently reminded me that allowing yourself to be uncomfortable is nothing short of a spiritual practice—that feeling is what keeps you changing, learning, developing. Holding that thought close to heart for the coming days and months!