MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

Building Resilient Livelihoods

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

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

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Impact Assessment Intern at the UHDP

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

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

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Habia Una Vez...

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At this point in my Nica story, I have already learned that this internship is proving to be one of the most challenging and rewarding adventures that I have been blessed to embark on. Not only am I gaining important skills that I can take with me throughout my career, but the things I have already learned about myself make every cross-cultural challenge, language miscommunication and personal struggle worthwhile.Habia una vez... For the first month and a half of my time in Nicaragua I lived near Masaya, in a small pueblo named San Juan de la Conception (La Concha), with an amazingly kind Nicaraguan family. While attending La Mariposa Spanish School, the family opened their home to me and shared with me their food, time, knowledge and most importantly, patience. Knowing absolutely zero Spanish before coming here made the first few weeks (correction: entire trip thus far) a little bit difficult. However, poco a poco, I have learned how to communicate, though their remains many times at which, I smile and pretend to understand what is happening... (more often than I would like to admit, actually..)By the time I left La Concha and my Nicaraguan Family, I felt like I was leaving the nest for the first time. Driving away in a half battered RAM truck, I looked behind me through the dust to see my family waving, worried. I was off to the big, scary city of Managua; and now, after living in Managua for about a month and a half, I see where its reputation originated from...The Big, Scary Managua...If you speak to most Nicaraguan's about Managua -those living in or outside of the city – few kind words are shared. The general perception of Managua encompasses three Spanish words, whose meanings I learned quickly: lleno, sucio and peligroso. AKA busy, dirty and dangerous. Part of this perception is routed in truth, but I also believe that most Nicaraguans are biased. And how could they not be? Nicaragua (outside of Managua) is one of the most naturally beautiful countries I have ever been blessed to visit. Rich, full of beautiful jungles, volcanoes, islands, beaches, and mountains; it is understandable that when knowing Nicaragua can offer these things, Managua may seem like quite the dump. With this realization came a very real truth in my life, something that I knew before, but limited the amount of weight I associated to it: What makes or breaks a place is its people; and Managua is not short of great people.Work LifeI work in a small office, with one of MEDA's partner organizations: MiCrédito. This microfinance bank is blessed to have a hard working, talented and kind staff, complete with patience and open arms. Though my understanding of the Spanish language falls short, I feel that I have been able to make real connections, possibly in despite of or beyond the barriers of language. Though my conversations may move at the speed of a tortoise and involve a lot of "Como?" or "Que?" real depth exists and it has proven to be my inspiration and motivation, while living here.Every city has its draw – its value, which at times, may be hidden. The rich history in Rome, the Culture of Art in Paris, the beauty of Multiculturalism in Toronto and what I can now see as Managua's draw – its soft hearted, good-spirited people, complete with a rough exterior and what can seem at times, an abrasive approach. With the good and the bad that Managua brings, it is where I am calling home for the next 4 months and I am happy to do so!

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I love my job

I find the intricate details of the world fascinating.I like reading stories of how humanity has investigated these details and learned to harness the power of nature.Theories of how the ancients might have birthed mathematics.Sometimes I enjoy just pondering the miracle of mathematics.It’s nothing short of a miracle that mathematics makes contact with reality – that it can be used to accurately define rules which the universe obeys.I like the stories of humankind creatively devising experiments to validate their conjectures.And how the journey has led to the creation of amazing technological tools, which have transformed our interactions with the world and even our interactions with each other. But I know the stereotypes about the Information Technology field.Countless times I’ve seen first interest and then consciousness itself drain from people’s faces when they’ve unwittingly asked me what I do. That’s probably why I shy away from talking about it…even though I absolutely love my job. However, a number of friends have asked me for some sort of description of what I’m doing in Africa.Perhaps the fact that I’m applying my training to international development will make the story a little more interesting.So I’ll keep the technological part to a minimum, and I’ll go in stages…leaving you with plenty of exit points as I drill into the details.

Okay. The big picture. If there’s only two concepts you remember from this entry, I’d hope that they are “malaria prevention” and “long lasting insecticide-treated nets (LLIN)”.Those are the end and the means of the Tanzania National Voucher Scheme (TNVS), which I am involved in.TNVS, as the name suggests, implements a voucher system.When a pregnant woman or infant (the ones at highest risk of contracting malaria) visit a health clinic, the health worker issues them a voucher.This voucher can be taken to a retailer to obtain a LLIN at a subsidized cost (funding by USAID and DFID).The price paid by the beneficiary is very affordable, and I think it’s more of a token amount just so that they have some skin in the game. Besides malaria prevention, the program also aims to jumpstart the market for mosquito nets.This includes creating both an awareness of and the demand for mosquito nets.In addition to driving down net prices through economies of scale, there is a second strategy.Initially, the program partnered with a single net manufacturer.However, we are currently working on introducing a second supplier into the program. The hope is that providing the beneficiary with a choice in net type will create a little competition between the manufacturers.This will motivate manufacturers to make better nets at lower costs.Don’t worry, LLINs must be inspected and certified which ensures no sacrifice in quality.The desire to drive down net prices stems from a desire to make nets more affordable to low income families after the voucher system is removed.The hope is that the LLIN market will remain even after TNVS shuts down.If it all works according to plan…net manufacturers will be creating more jobs and income, retailers will also have an increased income from selling nets, and the general public will have an opportunity to better protect themselves against malaria. Okay, now for some of the challenges.I’ll give just two examples of the types of projects I have been working on.The first one is automated reporting.The second is market actor profiling.Grab a coffee!!TNVS is a nation-wide program with around 5,000 clinics and 6,000 retailers redeemingjust over 370,000 vouchers every month.MEDA TZ handles the logistics of the entire program.MEDA TZ only has about 25 employees in the office (there is also another 10 field officers with drivers scattered throughout Tanzania conducting training).It’s a great opportunity for technology to help ease the workload! In order for a program like TNVS to thrive, it’s important to know which locations are succeeding and which ones are failing.This feedback is extremely useful to learn from success and nurse weaknesses.It’s kind of like a strategy game.MEDA TZ keeps a pulse on the health of the program through weekly reports.Weekly reports guide field officers to the locations which require attention. Performance indicators in the weekly report include figures like the number of issued vouchers, the number of redeemed vouchers, and the percentage of issued vouchers which were redeemed.Manually gathering and summarizing this information for all the clinics and retailers can easily take a half day of work. Every week.Similarly, the payment report, which tallies the number of nets distributed and the money owed to the net supplier, will take a half day to compile.It’s done every other week.To put it in perspective, one employee (I think it was supposed to be me) can spend well over a week of every month compiling reports.My first project was to automate the process so that the reports could be generated by a button click and save a lot of time and manual work. But IT skills can do much more than just improve the efficiency of report generation. The paper voucher system suffers from a problem. The problem is its limited visibility of what’s actually taking place in the field.For instance, we are unaware when a clinic runs out of voucher stock and stops issuing vouchers to patients.We are unaware when a retailer stops redeeming vouchers because they have run out of nets.Furthermore, we can’t detect if a clinic worker and retailer are colluding together to steal nets – they could get together and make up fictitious beneficiaries to issue vouchers to and redeem vouchers from…and then keep the nets for themselves.The voucher system needs a way to extend its sense organs into market actor transactions. This was the motivation behind the eVoucher system.It is an sms based tracking system which documents market transactions.Clinic workers must use a cellphone (everyone’s got one!) to text MEDA’s shortcode when issuing a voucher.Retailers do the same to inform MEDA of a voucher redemption.A retailer will only be restocked with nets for voucher redemptions which were reported.A voucher redemption will only be successfully reported if its issuance was also reported.Basically, the system works…and we have information about the time and location of every issuance and redemption.Information which allows us to profile clinic/retailer behaviour.This is known as data mining, and it’s another project that I’ve been involved in.I create algorithms which try to determine when a retailer is out of net stock.I also create algorithms which try to determine when a retailer or clinic is engaging in fraud. Okay okay, I’m beginning to realize how incredibly long this story is.I’m curious how many people made it to the end.Anyway, I hope I’ve given you a taste of my work and satisfied some of the curiosities floating around.Let it be known that it’s not ONLY exploratory adventures for me.I work hard too!
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Memorable Meskel

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Meskel Demera Bonfire
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Meskel demera bonfire

Here are my brightest memories of Meskel...

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Delicious fall

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Dear friends of the e-world! The time has come for my fairy rants to materialize into photographs! Here is some eye candy (well, more like eye veggies) that I hope will tide you over until I have to unleash my next tidal wave of 'WOW-LIFE IS-GREAT-THANK-YOU-WORLD- LOOK-AT-ME-GO!' Without further ado I would like to present the piece de resistence of my experience here! Bon apetit!This is Natasha, one of the lead farmers of the project. She is walking us through her abundant and organized greenhouse (huge!). Hard to tell from the back, of course, but she looks to be in her mid-late twenties. It is a leap for young people to get involved in farming but I think they will be the ones that push Ukrainian horticulture forward-- there are a lot of innovations to be captured, money to be made, (and people to be fed!) , and Ukraine has some of the best natural resources out there. My hope is that there will be more young people like Natasha realizing that farming is a business, not an image. Round table at the International Day of Rural Women. This was very cool to sit-in on. The speakers consisted of representatives from oblast-level government (sidenote, an oblast is like a province), CIDA representatives that are in charge of all the projects in Ukraine, members of large NGOs here, financial sector representatives, and of course some of our staff at MEDA (our Project manager, Stephen Wright is on the left). In the audience were many of the lead farmers of project, who also didn't shy away from adding their '5 kopeks' to the discussion.Skipping now from purpose to pleasure, this is one of my off-the-beaten path weekend activities that I've enjoyed in the past weeks. There was a re-creation of a battle in 1943 between the Soviets and the Germans -- drew a HUGE crowd (think several thousand in a city of only 150 000!) They didn't skimp on anything-- all the equipment was in place (tanks, planes, war cars, canons, and more) and there were full-out explosions with dirt and debris flying everywhere!Melitopol's Central Park, one of my favourite spots in the city. My Sunday morning stroll has become a ritual!The park is complete with a 'Story Land', a gated 'happy place' for kids and grown-ups alike. (Grown ups get charged more because they assume you have a camera and aren't just there to daydream.) These are the bears from Goldilocks and the 3 bears if I'm not mistaken! Actually most of the characters I didn't know, since they came from Soviet stories. It was interesting to note that a few fairytales made it across the iron curtain: Goldilocks, the Little Mermaid, and the Three Little Pigs.I had a magical time here, soaking up the incredible fall lighting and watching kids and parents play together. This is what I wrote in my all-purpose moleskin when I stopped for a rest on a nearby toadstool:"It is the calm after the storm. Rediscovering your childhood playland after being trapped in grown up chaos. It is so beautiful that a place like this exists. And that it was funded by the public sector. I think that part of the joy of having children is that you get to be a kid again yourself. Even if you fake it at first to be a good playmate and parent, that sense of wonder, discovery and non-judgement comes back in a real way. I see it now." The following weekend in Yalta, the idea of 'play' got taken to the next level. Although I'll confidently say that dress up is a game fit for all ages! Also the whole thing felt very appropriate given the setting -- much of the old nobility and royalty used to have summer homes in these parts. Dreaming of having my own place by the Black Sea one day... although I'll enjoy it in slightly different attire, I think!Last but not least a shot of the Chrysanthemum festival at one of the botanical gardens in Crimea. Went here with Meghan and my coworker, Vika, who walked my steps last year as an intern and stayed on the Project full time. Through a series of unfortunate-turned-fortunate events, we became flatmates (and partners in crime) just a few days ago! I like to think of her as the wiser more lady-like version of me. Lots to learn and share and laugh about. Couldn't ask for more!

 

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RIVAS & RAMA - Al Campo Take 2

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Upon the realization that we were lacking our required quota of small-scale farmers from each client, it was time for Roger (coworker and business consultant here in Nicaragua for MEDA) and I to embark on another adventure into the rural expanses of Nicaragua's countryside. The first two days would be spent in and around the municipality of Rivas, where we would gather information on 5 more farmers by means of a lengthy questionnaire taking approximately 1 hour. The clients were all very friendly and helpful with giving us all the information that we needed, and at the one farm we needed to park Roger's car and head to a different part of his farm by motorbike, as it was the only vehicle that would fit through certain areas and tiny dirt roads.

The best part about this was that the guy I was doubling with carried a shotgun strapped around his body, meaning it was literally pressed in-between us on the motorbike.

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Diwali

Yesterday, Marie (my colleague, housemate, and honorary little sister) and I traveled to the city centre, home of Dar’s skyscrapers.Diwali, the festival of lights, has enticed us downtown with the promise of fireworks.We were on an adventure to find “the courtyard beside the Indian temple”.And although we have become quite talented at using creative landmarks to find our way through Dar’s unlabeled streets, there are still other challenges which can confront us on our journey.

For instance, this evening one of the streets we need to travel is unlit…pitch black unlit.But seeing that the darkness only lasts 100 feet, we decide to brave the abyss.A mistake.About 50 feet into the blackness, my left foot disappears into the pavement.Of course it has to be the unlit street which is missing a storm sewer cover. My entire left leg was swallowed by the sewer.My right leg and both hands hit pavement."Pole!" Marie hands me a sock and wetnap to help clean the dirty water off…then we continue on our way.

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I am in DAR

I’m in Dar es Salaam. I’m typing from my posh office in possibly the nicest neighbourhood in the country. It’s populated with embassies and residences for said ambassadors and their families. It`s my second day at work and I’m supposed to be reading background documents to prepare for my impact assessment job. I’m too distracted. This is the third country/ continent I’ve stepped on the past 3 days, Canada, England, now I’m in Tanzania!

So much is going on here. It’s busy, it’s noisy, it’s exciting, it’s beautiful. There are hustlers weaving in and out of stalled traffic, hawking hangers, cigarettes, and inflatable beach floaties all at once. Conductors hanging out of dala dalas (public busses) yelling out their destinations as people jump on the vehicle mid-motion. Ladies by the roadsides crouch by their deep fryers, flipping chapatis and vitombua (rice flour balls). This article written by a longtime resident of East Africa gives a vivid sense of a drive through Dar’s asphalt arteries.

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Chickens, Children, and The Call to Prayer


Chickens, children, and the call to prayer. These are the reasons I can't sleep. Nope, it's not because of deep philosophical matters. Just the practical.

The call to prayer is trumpeted from Islamic mosques five times a day. There is a mosque just down the street from my apartment which has provided me with a piercing education that one of these calls happens at dawn. Every morning. Recently, however, I have stopped waking up to the call and continue sleeping.

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Business Plans in Bahir Dar

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

Desset restaurant on Lake Tana

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Chaza Mwamba & Bondwa

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The African dust stirred up by my hop across the ocean is beginning to settle.What was once so unfamiliar is swiftly becoming the familiar.Yesterday I noticed that my office was finally air conditioned to a habitable temperature. Walking over to the thermostat, I was surprised to find that the office was still being cooled to 28°C as it always was…and then I realized that it was me, I was finally acclimatizing to the heat. I feel only vaguely aware of a metamorphosis I'm going through.It's becoming more difficult to pinpoint the things which once seemed so foreign, now they are camouflaged in the normal activities of life.

Chaza Mwamba

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Second Month: It's all about Peruvian Gastronomy




When I mentioned to friends and family that I had the opportunity to live in Peru for 6 months, the first and the most frequent comment I received was: "Be prepared to gain weight". I am beginning to understand what they meant...especially with the most delicious "churros" I have ever tried in my entire life! and the worst of it all is that they are sold for only s/.1.20 each.

Peruvian Gastronomy House - Historical Center of Lima

Peruvian gastronomy is a booming sector. It has become a national symbol of pride, and such that this gorgeous building (which used to be National Post/Telegraph building), is now the Peruvian Gastronomy House.

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Village Savings in Action

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Village savings and lending association promoter training
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Village Savings and Lending Association in Mizan Group Picture

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

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

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First week impressions

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Dar es Salaam, like any city, is a maze of streets packed with buildings and people. It's just that the packing is a little tighter than Canadian cities and there aren't any parks to escape to. None of the roads have signs, and only the main roads have referable names. Also, it's only the major roads which are paved. The rest of the dirt roads constantly kick dust up into the air making things…well…dusty. Poorer quality side roads frequently instigate meetings between you and your vehicle's ceiling. While particularly deep holes in the road are usually repaired with a couple bricks and some dirt, in desperate situations they are just filled with garbage...and sometimes a metal pipe is implanted across the chasm for support. Some side streets are peppered with chickens, others with cats and dogs, and still others with goats. But every street, no matter how remote or at what time of day, will have people on it. People walking to work or school, people carrying outrageously large amounts of materials on their head, people yelling about the football match, people playing checkers, people sweeping the front of their shop, people buying food, people selling food. If you are stopped on Bogamoyo road, people will run up to your car and try to sell you a coat rack. Yes, an entire coat rack. Or a skipping rope, or hangers, or sunglasses, or any one of a hundred other trinkets. And if you are one of these pedestrians on the Dar streets, you better watch out - motors always, always have the right of way! I'm not sure if all these people filling the streets have a permanent residence. It doesn't always seem that there are enough houses to fit everybody. And yet, people are constantly stepping in and out of the small huts and shops. These buildings are moderate and simple…built from cement…or sometimes from sticks, mud, and bricks…and topped off with a roof of sheet metal or clay tile, but I've also seen roofs made from palm branches. I'm eager to explore some places further outside the city...and maybe spend some time on the coast. I wonder what the islands are like! And where do I find some mountains?!Coconut CrabPlease meet my friend the coconut crab. Locals tell me that his kind are the largest crabs in the entire world. The name is appropriate because this guy loves climbing palm trees to feast on coconuts, which he can open with his bare claws. Being a hermit crab, he probably used a coconut for his protective shell when he was younger… and he will sometimes even mimic being a coconut. If he tries to take my finger, or grabs a hold of anything else he shouldn't, the locals have a secret way of rubbing his tummy to loosen his gripThe BajajiI can't think of a better way to be introduced to Dar than by Bajaji. Soon after my arrival in the city, I had the pleasure of riding in one of these three-wheeled vehicles and quickly realized that this would be my main mode of transport. There is a single seat in the front for the driver and a seat in the back which can fit 2 people comfortably. But the driver will often have a friend or two along, and we will often try to pile 3 or 4 in the back to make the whole thing a wonderful entanglement of limbs. Smaller than cars and trucks, the Bajaji is free to weave in and out of traffic and often bypasses traffic by making its own path in between oncoming traffic and the proper lane…or by simply driving half on the road and half on the pedestrian walkways. Due to the absence of doors, it is not out of the ordinary to white knuckle the seats in order to prevent ejection from the vehicle. It's also prudent to keep appendages inside the vehicle during the numerous close encounters you are bound to have with other vehicles. Bajajis are a cheaper alternative to taxis, but it is important that the Bajaji customer be a quick judge of character – to be able to look a driver in the eye and predict exactly what level of rationality he is willing to show on the road. I have been using the same driver every day to get to and from work. I feel Siprian has found a good balance between making the trip exciting and taking relatively few gambles with my life.IntersectionsDar es Salaam can be translated from Arabic as "haven of peace", although when you travel through its streets you might find the name slightly misleading. The trick to being a good driver here is to have the bigger vehicle - it's a constant game of chicken. There are no speed limits and no traffic enforcement…in fact, I have not yet been able to deduce any rules beyond the suggestion that you should try to drive on the right (as in "not left") side of the road. And although Dar is Tanzania's largest city, there are only a couple traffic lights. And so, it is standard procedure when approaching an intersection to just inch into the cross traffic, get the timing, and then make a move to squeeze through – it's like playing a high stakes version of skip rope. Master Facility ListThe end of my first week at work has been extremely exciting. After a tour of the office on Monday morning (followed by some jet lag naps at my desk), MEDA asked me to attend a 3 day conference put on by the Tanzania Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. The goal of the conference was to outline the technical requirements in developing an online registry of all the health facilities in the country. A number of stakeholders were contacted and about 25 people attended to give their input on what was required from the "Master Facility List". I felt very privileged having a front row seat to watch the beginning stages of what I feel is a very significant project. It would be so useful for Tanzania to have a centralized and reliable list of hospitals with their provided services. And to make the information available to other health projects and to the general public, well that would just be a great thing. Mostly I sat back and enjoyed the experience, letting the more experienced members discuss what shape the project should take. However I did get a chance to chip in when I noticed some flaws in the chosen database constraints. And boy was my heart pounding when I said my piece. After being understood, I promptly sat down and returned to my more comfortable role of observing.

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It's all about the ladies!

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Under the theme of 'love,' it is perfectly fitting that I share with you my impressions from the celebration for International Day of Rural Women (a United Nations day of recognition). The celebration spearheaded by our Project was held in Zaporizhzhya, the main city in the area we serve, on October 15 and drew 1000 attendees from near and far!

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.

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Patience is a virtue that I am working on…

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Maybe I can place some of the blame on my investment banking roots, but I know that even apart from that training, patience is a virtue that I have in short supply for most things (somehow this impatience does not extend to my ability to wait for hours to stream TV on our slow internet connection...go figure :)). During my MEDA orientation we discussed a lot about culture shock and adapting to being in a new environment. Although I was definitely concerned about living in Africa for the first time ever, I was confident that my previous experiences abroad would help me along in this process. This is of course not to say that I don't have my moments when I am missing my loved ones and my life in New York/Washington DC, especially being away while friends and family are dealing with turmoil in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. I also am now equipped with some wonderful strategies to cope with homesickness and culture shock that I learned during the MEDA orientation, which certainly adds to my confidence. Nevertheless, what I am writing about today is the thing I was/am most concerned about (even back in that conference room in Waterloo) during this experience - the adjustment required when working in a different culture. Though I have had some experience in this area (working on project finance deals in Mexico, traveling to Russia to do financial and organizational capacity assessments for the SEEP Network; working remotely to gather indicator information from partners in Africa and Latin America, or doing online webinar trainings for microfinance associations) I have always found it the most challenging of development work. Whether it is coordinating different work styles, working with different time lines, terminology, wait times or simply put, work hours, it takes a while to figure out how things run or what is appropriate work behavior in the country you are working in. About me - I am definitely used to a "time is money" mentality, meaning that I am used to running around in crisis mode, all the while trying to maximize my efficiency... mean, I worked at a firm where the CEO wrote a book on how paperclips were wasteful.Since arriving here in Zambia I am very much of aware of the clash of work cultures I am experiencing. Some of things I have noticed: #1) it is not uncommon to have to ask someone to do something several times before they will actually do it. I don't think this is actually considered rude, though, which is nice. It does make crossing things off on your to do list a little difficult, though :). #2) Face time is also not a requirement here...therefore it is also not uncommon for people to make their own work hours, as long as they get their work done (although deadlines don't appear to be that formal either). #3) Healthy fear of the boss doesn't exist here - people don't seem to be intimidated or alter their behavior based on their manager's presence. #4) There is a more laid back sense to things getting done...you almost never see anybody rushing around to get something done. In fact, I think they find me quite strange since I do that already quite frequently here. Simply put, if something doesn't get done today, there is always time for it tomorrow. And finally #5) people don't appear to get flustered, frustrated or worked up when something is done incorrectly. They simply just say oh well and move on from there. I often get stressed out when I am the one finding the errors in things since I am the newest person here and probably the least qualified at this point to do so. However, people here would just say "good thing we have you" and move on, which just may be the most healthy approach to life there is instead of stressing out about it :) Other work differences I have noticed - generally, customer service in Zambia is very different than in the U.S. Here, you often enter a business and can wait around for a long time, watching people make coffee, staple things, or sit at their desk doing nothing, before they will ask you if you need assistance. For instance, the other day I walked into the bank to get a check cut and ended up standing in the lobby for about 20 minutes since the people at the desks in the front of the bank would not engage me. I finally had to approach a teller to ask if there was anyone who could help me with a bank check. When they told me the branch manager had gone and no one else could help me, and was told that the Bank Manager wasn't there and nobody knew where she was, so I needed to go to a different branch. Compared to many banks in the U.S. where the second you walk in, there is either a sign up sheet or a person to greet you and ask you if you need help. It could just be that many of these services are still luxuries and so it is not like the businesses are competing for customer attention. I think customer service is understood as tending to a customer's needs, but it certainly does not mean approaching someone in a lobby to ask if they need help when they walk into an office.In fact, the mentality is much more like you should be thanking the person for their help, which definitely may take some getting used to.[1] For me going forward I think I will try to take a step back and maintain a sense of perspective, especially when I realize any of these things are happening. Come to think of it, the work culture clash from the U.S. to Zambia is probably not unlike the work culture clash between the U.S. and Italy, France or Spain. People aren't living for their work, but working so they can live. Suffice it to say that apart from the material knowledge related to mobile banking, I am looking forward to growing my patience in the months to come! Do you have a good way of dealing with cultural work differences that you want to share?
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Al Campo!

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My life in Nicaragua is starting to sink in. Not only have I had the opportunity to see so much more of this city and country,but I have also gained a much more intimate understanding of what my job will entail. This truly was the busiest I have been in a long time, with the Friday and Saturday being spent driving around to different towns to visit small scale farmers working with our first-round grant recipients of the Techno-Links project.

Three businesses had been selected as the grant winners from the first-round: Burke Agro, who works with drying and packaging fruits for export to buyers such as Whole Foods in the United States; EIAG (Escuela Interamericano de Agricultura y Ganaderia – Interamerican School of Agriculture and Livestock), which is a post-secondary institution in the southern region of Rivas, that works with educating farmers about using their new "vitroplantas", a selected strain of in vitro plants that are a more versatile, healthy, and resistant plantain crop. From this the farmer can use less fertilizer and pesticides because the plantain is already at a greater advantage from the previous in vitro process. The final winner we went to visit on the following Wednesday was that of Tecnosol, a company working to provide biogas from manure through the installment of biodigesters, of many uses in the house including cooking and a lesser need for fuel woods, while also simultaneously creating fertilizer to be used on the farmers' crops. For Tecnosol we needed to drive up into the mountains of Matagalpa, the coffee growing region of Nicaragua to the north. Here we performed a similar task as to the others, performing questionnaires with the farmers who are working in partnership with Tecnosol to improve their crops through the said technology they work with and promote.

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Happy New Year!

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

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

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

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Packing

It's a difficult thing to do – leaving everything you love.I love home.I love my grandparents, my parents and siblings and extended family.I love my friends. I love my bedroom and my pet dog.I love road trips and weekend adventures. But it’s probably that appetite for adventure which allowed the whispers of flight to materialize into action. So where did the whispers come from? By nature I’m an incredibly curious person.I often find myself wondering how things work.I find delight in exploring and discovering.Naturally this leads me to sometimes wonder what the lives of other people around the world might be like.What’s happening in the developing world?What is their culture like? What are the people like? Why don’t they have what I have?Do they even need or want what I have in Canada? Why are things unbalanced?And why is humanity so broken anyway?I’m not naive enough to think I will find answers to all these questions.Nonetheless, it was time for me to find a way into the developing world and scratch the surface.So now I’m on my way to work with Mennonite Economic Development Associates doing an IT internship in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.The project I will be involved in is the Tanzania National Voucher Scheme, but I’m sure I’ll have plenty of opportunity to discuss the details of my job position in future entries.Today I’m focusing on what it’s like to leave.And of course the emotions are intermingled…yet I find that when I suppress my apprehension, I’m excited to live in a new culture. When I suppress the sadness of leaving family, I find I hope to make new friendships.I hope to find creative and practical ways to serve the local community.I hope that I will find my work meaningful.I hope that the sacrifice will be worth it.

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