MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

Empowering Women – Changing Lives

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MEDA’s Women’s Economic Opportunities team knows how money in the hands of a woman can change lives. This blog has been created to share the learnings, ideas and the insights from our projects that excite and energize us in our work.Our team has close to a decade of experience working alongside women producers and entrepreneurs to grow their incomes and businesses. We support them in strengthening their business and leadership skills and help to build social, business and financial networks. To date, we have worked with over 100,000 women and have learned much along the way.We designed and piloted new methodologies for empowering and connecting women entrepreneurs to markets in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In recent years, we have adapted and expanded our women’s economic empowerment programming into Ghana, Libya, Haiti and Burma (Myanmar). New projects will be starting soon in Jordan and Ethiopia that will challenge us to work at different levels in the market system. We continue to work at innovating new information communication technology (ICT) and appropriate technology solutions for women, and on building our private sector and university partnerships.

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MEDA values the learning that we gain from working with others. Beyond helping us to understand gender relations and socio-cultural dynamics in different country contexts, our work with local and private sector organisations helps to build their capacity in value chain analysis and market based approaches. Strong partnerships ensure that our women’s economic empowerment programming is scalable, replicable and sustainable, and that the learning continues even beyond the life of our projects. I invite you to check in for our monthly posts. We look forward to sharing and learning with you.

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Praxis Series - Entry 4: Designing youth friendly products and services: An approach

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In our last blog, we looked at making the business case to MFIs to integrate financial (and non-financial) services for young people into their portfolios. One of the drivers we looked at was the need for said products to be low cost. “The cost of youth clients (and youth-friendly products) are comparable to the cost of adult clients. Loan Officers are able to integrate youth into their client portfolios without additional costs.” So how do you do that?

We developed an approach that takes 12 steps or 4 phases to build MFI capacity to offer a new youth-friendly product. In the product development (PD) cycle, we begin with phase 1 – the identify phase – to support partner MFIs in identifying the needs of their new target client. This is accomplished through targeted information gathering, analysis and conducting interviews with current clients and non-client to discern their needs and wants from a new product.

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Picton Golf Club & Grill

Here’s a shout out to the most amazing community I could ever ask for. Today was the Picton event, in my hometown. I am blessed to have people in my life that are so generous and loving. Before this bike trip, my old boss called me to confirm an event at the golf course. On top of this, she also told me that her and her husband were donating the whole buffet breakfast, which included a speech and slideshow. All donations were to go to Bike to Grow. I was pretty nervous to host the event because I never know how many people are going to attend. Before today, only 7 people had actually bought tickets. The lack of attendance made me nervous. At the beginning of the event only four tables were present and we began with an introduction and a Q&A. I was nervous and felt awkward. However, my mood changed as people kept strolling in and we ended up with a full house! I saw people I hadn’t seen since high school and people I didn’t necessarily expect to come. Today we raised $1,300 by family and friends who came out to support Mary and myself. Mary’s parents and a MEDA staff member, Helen, were able to join us and added to our stories throughout the event. The event was supposed to end at 10 and we ended up staying there until noon. My dad and a friend cycled out with us on County Road 49 to wish us off. It started raining, but by the time we put on our rain jackets the rained stopped. As we rode into Desert Lake Campground, 70km from Picton, there were clear skies. To top off the day, an exciting thing happened as we approached the registration desk to pay for our campsite. The owners saw us stroll in with our bikes and gear and after we told them the GROW story, they offered us a complimentary hotel room. To come back after a one week holiday, I couldn’t be happier to start riding again. Family, friends, and strangers continue to support us in our every day adventures.
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MEDA: Modelling mission and stewardship for the 21st century

Wally Kroeker, MEDA's director of publications, wrote the following to present last week in Harrisburg, PA, at a Mennonite World Conference seminar. Unfortunately, he couldn't make it, so we share it with you here today.    For more than 60 years MEDA has been a mechanism for Mennonite businessfolk and others to share their skills and resources with the less fortunate. We have sometimes been described as a “mission arm” of the Mennonite business community. Perhaps it is bold to say so, but I believe we have redefined the nature of ministry and whole-life stewardship as we’ve helped people in poverty to build livelihoods that last.    If you look through our early archives you’ll see photos of white-faced (maybe sunburned) Mennonite men riding around on the backs of pickups, trudging through jungles, and sitting under trees eating watermelon with indigenous Paraguayans. Back home in California and Ohio these men ran large companies and employed hundreds, maybe thousands, of people. Ed Peters, our first president, was described by Life magazine as a “shirtsleeve millionaire.”     We began in 1953, a time when Mennonite refugees from Russia and Europe had been dislocated following the Second World War and had ended up in Paraguay. MCC had generously provided them with food and shelter. But those who had left trades behind could not get the working capital to build businesses to provide goods and services in the Mennonite colonies. The local banks wanted exorbitant interest rates because they had no collateral or credit history.    Orie Miller, the head of MCC, knew all about business and the need for working capital. He worked for a successful shoe business back in Pennsylvania. He knew how important it was to have productive enterprises to provide an economic foundation for a community. He decided to recruit other Mennonite businessfolk from North America. He organized trips for several of them to visit Paraguay and see for themselves what could be done. These visitors immediately saw the need, and just as quickly saw a way for them to fit in.     They formed a new organization – called MEDA – that would provide not only capital funds but also personal engagement to develop enterprises.     Loans and investments were made. Members were assigned to sponsor certain projects and to visit their partners to provide ongoing encouragement. As the loans were repaid, other projects were proposed and new loans were made.     The first project was the Sarona Dairy in Paraguay’s Fernheim Colony. Native Paraguayan bush cattle produced only a couple of quarts of milk per day. MEDA formed a partnership with local farmers to clear some bushland and import a high-grade bull for cross-breeding. Before long, milk production was boosted to several gallons a day. If you go to Paraguay today, and eat breakfast at a four-star hotel in Asuncion, you may be served yogurt or chocolate milk from one of the numerous Mennonite-owned dairies. Today, two-thirds of Paraguay’s dairy production comes from the Mennonite colonies.     The next project was to help a small undercapitalized tannery make leather from cattle hides. Erie Sauder recalled that before the tannery was built the people used to stretch out cattle hides to dry in the sun, but wild animals would come at night and chew them up.    A cattle operation and a tannery led quite logically to MEDA’s third project, a shoe factory to make shoes, boots, saddles and motorcycle seats from the leather from the tannery. You can see they had a few ideas about vertical integration. By the late 1970s the factory was producing more than 600 pairs of shoes a month.     And so it went.

     The need for MEDA’s brand of help was immense, and invitations came from all over the globe. Soon MEDA found itself working in Africa. Eventually there would be more than 100 projects in places like Tanzania, Zaire, Somalia, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria, working with the poorest of the economically active.     Along with its success, MEDA learned important lessons.     One painful discovery was that loans were often made by local committees on the basis of family ties, or friendship, or even to augment authority. We learned that if you give a village pastor the combination to the safe you are combining spiritual power with economic power. When this combination is abused, it is a very potent brew. MEDA learned to practice sound lending based on business criteria.     The Africa years also taught important lessons about dependency – lessons that not enough well-meaning agencies have learned. Some borrowers thought North American money was a magic currency that did not have to be repaid. Debts were seen as an imposition rather than as an obligation. Sometimes tough love was needed – “If you don’t repay, we can’t lend to your neighbors.” MEDA had to convey what some of us learned as children – there is no Santa Claus.     Today we are known worldwide for, among other things, micro-enterprise development, having been a pioneer of this movement. We helped prove that the poor are bankable.     One of my favorite client stories is of Vincenta Pacheco of Bolivia. I met her twice – first in 1990, and then 10 years later. She had been injured in a kitchen fire and needed money to pay her medical bills. A small loan from MEDA enabled her to buy sewing equipment so she could set up shop as a tailor. The additional income covered her medical costs and eventually enabled her to create some jobs for her neighbors.     A decade later I went back to Bolivia on an evaluation mission. I asked the local staff if Vincenta was still around. Yes, she was. I went to visit her. Her little shop had expanded and she had created more jobs. I asked if she still needed microfinance loans. “Oh no,” she said, proudly. “Now when I need to upgrade equipment or buy fabric, I use my savings.”    That is music to our ears. We like to work ourselves out of a client.

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Improving Workplaces and Working Conditions for Young Employees

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This blog is a follow-up to one posted on 13 January 2015 titled “One Workplace At A Time” by Shaunet Lewinson featuring the E-FACE project.

The Ethiopians Fighting Against Child Exploitation (E-FACE) implements various livelihood strengthening interventions that tackle the issue of child exploitation due to reduced livelihoods. E-FACE targets households at-risk of or engaged in the worst forms of child labor in the Ethiopian textile and agriculture sectors, as well as young workers under the age of 18. One E-FACE intervention focuses on improving workspaces and working conditions for young workers using a three-component system that places young workers rights and safety at the forefront, while creating a participatory environment for both the young employees and their employers to get involved in the development of a safe workplace. The diagram below provides an overview of the 3 components (also referenced in previous blog).

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The Northern Myth

This past week and a half I took holiday to attend weddings, and it was great to catch up with everyone from back home. I come from a small town, so I received numerous questions about the bike trip. Some examples include: “What is your average km per day?” “What were the biggest challenges you faced?” “Where do you go to the washroom?” “Have you seen any wildlife?” Presumptions also arise, “The Prairies are flat,” “Northern Ontario is desolate,” “You must have a support vehicle.” It’s surprising the angst I had before this trip. One example is how scared I was of Northern Ontario before, and during, the trip up until arriving in the province. I was scared that we wouldn’t find towns, cafes, or any sort of food. Bears, wolves, and moose petrified me. I thought we would be cycling for days without seeing people. I was utterly and completely wrong. Northern Ontario has been my favorite part of this trip and created many dear memories. I am a proud Canadian and extremely proud to now say I am from Ontario. Coming from the Sandbanks, I personally believed I was spoiled, and I am, but there are many more beaches across Ontario. In Terrace Bay we set up our tents on the beach and swam in Lake Superior. In White River, where Winnie the Pooh originated, we took a five-hour break from cycling to enjoy the sandy beach of White Lake Provincial Park. In Marathon, we camped right on the water. The beauty of Tobermory shocks me. I have pictures on social media, and its beauty blows everyone away. It is a gorgeous, turquoise area on Lake Ontario with caves and cliff jumping. What’s more surprising is that I never knew of Tobermory even though it isn’t that far from me. It took us a month to get across Northern Ontario, and WE ARE STILL HERE. The majority of the time we camped along beaches like these. There have been a few milestones on this trip: finishing the Rockies, going over Summits, and detouring to Saskatoon, among others. One milestone that was extremely important was arriving in Thunder Bay. This is the halfway mark across Canada, as well as where Terry Fox decided to end his run to fight cancer. When we went to the monument, overlooking the sleeping giant, I was deeply touched and felt a wave of emotions. I had goose bumps on my arms. What Terry Fox did was extraordinary, and I am only getting a glimpse of his trip from this ride. I felt like crying because I was so overwhelmed with emotions standing there and looking at the statue. Another epic achievement for me was going across the Che Cheman Ferry from Manitoulin Island to Tobermory. This signified that the hardest parts of the trip were over, conquering the mountains, facing headwinds (sometimes for days) in the Prairies, and going through the hilly Canadian Shield in Northern Ontario. We took the night ferry at 10pm so that we were able to stay outside and look at the stars while we talked about our accomplishments and how surreal it was that we had made it this far. Now we are headed out East, and there is less than a month left of the trip. I look forward to its beauty, and I recommend all Ontarians, and the rest of Canadians, to visit North West Ontario and take your time to see it.
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Northern Ontario

As we sit here looking at Georgian Bay, I am in disbelief that I made it through Northern Ontario. For me, the ferry from Manitoulin Island to Tobermory was a major milestone in this journey. I thought if I could just make it there, I could see myself making it to St. John’s. We will still have challenges and we will still have hard days, but from here on out, I can look back and remember all that I have overcome thus far.As we enjoy a much-needed day off at Cyprus Lake in Tobermory, listening to the waves crashing against the shore, I reflect on so many amazing experiences I have had in the last three weeks. As we crossed the border to Northern Ontario, I felt my stomach tighten into a million knots. We had been warned about the shoulders on the road, the bugs that never go away and the crazy truck drivers that will drive us right off the road.Somehow though, they forgot to tell us about the unimaginable beauty of Lake Superior and Lake Huron. There was beauty in the natural scenery we were surrounded by, there was beauty in the hearts of everyone we met and there was beauty in the company of our fellow cyclists.Through Northern Ontario, there are not too many choices of routes to take, so we seemed to run into different cyclists, all with their own story. The most amazing part of this whole journey to me is how everything seems to happen exactly when it is supposed to. There is no question that God is listening to everyone praying for us. As we were entering into what I expected to be the scariest part of the whole trip, we connected with the perfect people to keep our spirits high.First, it starts with a plan of where to camp for the night, then a spot to meet up for the next night. Suddenly, we’re figuring out what our next week will look like together. Surrounded by beautiful, inspiring people, the days seem to fly by and before we knew it, we were on the ferry to Tobermory.With too many stories to tell, all I can do is thank all of those people that I met along way who kept me going one more hour, one more day and one more province. The closer we felt to each other, the more we were able to open up. All of us needed to find this new community for different reasons: Some for a day, some for a week and some for the whole province. The goodbyes were never fun, but the memories made are ones that are making this into the summer I had always imagined...full of funny stories, tough challenges and new friends from all over.The hills were big, there were a lot of bugs and the shoulders weren’t great, but none of that seems to bring us down from the best summer of our lives. Northern Ontario has taught me to be patient, to let go of what I cannot change and to trust that I will be okay. When I am able to let go of my fears and worries, I find ways to overcome challenges that I never thought imaginable. As we treat ourselves to a day off in Tobermory, suddenly St. John’s doesn’t seem so far away.
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Can MEDA’s Approach Reduce Child, Early and Forced Marriage?

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There are nearly 70 million child brides worldwide and if current trends continue, 142 million more will join them in the coming decade.1 Married adolescent girls are among the most vulnerable groups in society. They face numerous risks, including early pregnancy, higher maternal mortality and heightened risk of domestic violence and sexually transmitted disease. Their future potential and that of their community and nation, are cut short.

Early and forced marriage usually marks the end of a girl’s education, diminishing her long-term opportunities and sentencing her and her children to lifelong hardships. Often isolated to the domestic sphere, married girls may be able to engage in income generating activity, but will have no control over their income, no awareness of market systems, and no buffer for weathering economic shocks.

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From Nicaragua to a Hutterite Colony

In 2013, I was in Nicaragua as an Impact Assessment Intern with MEDA. Near the end of my internship, I went to Little Corn Island on the Atlantic Ocean. This is where I met Colleen and Glen from Vancouver Island. There were kind and generous and took me out for meals. Last year, they returned to Nicaragua and they contacted me with advice on where to go.When Mary and I started our bike trip at Mile 0 in Victoria, they came to support us and wish us well. Along our route we stay with people we know, sometimes people we don’t know, and camp. We were going through Elrose, Saskatchewan where Colleen is originally from. There is a Hutterite Colony in Kyle, a town a few kilometers south of Elrose.For those of you who don’t know what Hutterite is, like myself before, it is a community that has an average of 130 members who live and work together in a community farming, raising livestock and producing manufactured goods. Their daily life centers around community. For example, when we were eating, it is with the whole community in a large dining hall. They attend church every day for half an hour and for two hours on Sundays. Hutterites have a typical dress that they wear – you can see the women’s outfit in our picture of Mary and I.Colleen grew up as a family friend of members of this colony and had called the Pastor to see if it would be okay if we visited. It was such an amazing experience. They gave us a tour of the farm, fed us and dressed us up as Hutterites.While we were visiting, the colony was building a separate colony. Hutterites have up to 100 people in their colony and once they reach this point, they separate. There are two different pastors and a certain name is chosen from the two. Whoever is in that group with the pastor goes to the new colony.I had a million questions and was amazed how they were almost self- sustaining and had learned different skills within the community. The Hutterites were welcoming and generous. One of the men had a golf cart and he toured us around the whole community. Sometimes I found it hard to understand anything. They speak low- German and it was the first time I had ever heard this type of accent. I tried speaking with the children, but kids under the age of six don’t speak any English – I didn’t realize this and had spent a while trying to talk to them.We spent four hours with the colony and then we were off to Elrose, where they connected us with a family to stay with. All of the girls around our age walked our bikes to the entrance to wish us good luck.
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Child Safe Certification

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Using social-impact certification to reduce child labor in the traditional textile industry of Ethiopia

The use of social-impact certification as a marketing tool to entice consumers into making purchasing choices that are sensitive to social and environmental issues is a growing trend. The E-FACE1 project's 'child safe' certification is geared towards this trend in an effort to reduce child labour and promote change in the traditional textile industry. Although laws are in place to protect Ethiopian children engaged in labor, enforcement of these regulations is inconsistent, meaning many children and youth are left to be exploited.

E-FACE has assisted a group of designers, retailers, and traders in creating a certification standard and establishing a business model that promotes sustainability in the textile production process. Establishing a child safe certification exposed MEDA clients to a formal and internationally recognized certification system, similar to other popular social marketing programs, such as The World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), Good Weave, and Fair for Life. This exposure created the necessary peer network and support for the promotion of 'child safe' textiles as a competitive marketing edge for E-FACE clients.

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The Legendary 26

On Friday, June 19th, I had my 26th birthday in Regina, Saskatchewan. The day before was the hardest day I had ever had on this trip.We faced the strongest head winds when we were heading from Saskatoon to Davidson: We were biking 15km/hr when normally we average 25-30km/hr. Having heads winds rather than tail winds can really make a big difference. After seven hours in strong winds, we had biked 115km; in comparison, another day we did 160km in six hours with the wind in our favour.I was extremely exhausted the next day, my birthday. I didn’t feel like riding the 130km to Regina at all. On the bike ride, I received numerous amounts of birthday wishes from my family, friends, MEDA staff and individuals from Ghana. These I remember quite vividly as, “Our Ghana Family wishes you a happy birthday.” The encouraging wishes helped me push through to Regina and I was then greeted by the wonderful Good family.I was already feeling pretty excited to get to Regina, not only to relax. We had met Jen Good this past November at the MEDA Convention in Winnipeg and I had stayed in contact with her during the year. I was eager to get to her home as she had planned many things for us. Jen, Shawn, Dawson, Natasha, and Mitchel opened their home to us.Once we had our heavenly showers, we ate and then we were off to a Saskatchewan Riders football game. It was the last exhibition game and was against Calgary. The Good family prepared us for the game with Riders t-shirts. Thank goodness we had them because we would have been the only ones not wearing green.I’m so thankful for all the wonderful messages and calls I received from everyone. These kind words of encouragement help to push me through the difficult bike days.
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Prairie Times: Mary Fehr

MEDA followed up with Bike to GROW to find out how they’re fairing at the end of the Prairies– Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. This time, Mary shares her insights...How did biking in the Prairies compare to biking in the Rockies?It was wonderful. I finally feel I have a rhythm. I get into my cadence and I can just cruise and let my mind wander. I now feel at peace enough that my bike is going to hold together and I can enjoy the beauty of the fields around me.How well has your body and mind adjusted to this daily physical endurance?My body has been feel great, a few sore knees and a few scrapes but nothing to complain about. My mind is loving it. The prairies may get boring in a car but on a bike, each new field is a new excitement and the sky is forever changing and shaping in different ways.What has it been like spending every day for almost two months with Sarah?Amazing. I don’t know that there is anyone else I could do this ride with. We don’t get along and agree with each other every step of the way, but we work through and communicate about everything. We are aware of each other’s moods and are learning what we both need in different situations. For instance, I know that Sarah’s mood is directly correlated to the speed she is biking: When she is in a good mood, I can never catch her, but when she is tired or hungry or frustrated, I am able to stick with her or even worse... pass her.How has it been connecting with MEDA supporters and introducing others to MEDA?I don’t know what were going to do after this trip because no one will be asking what we are doing and why. I love when I get to share the work of MEDA and my personal experience as a previous intern. It is so easy to share our goal and look to get others involved because I am so passionate and confident that the money is going to improve so many women’s lives.How is cooking for yourselves on the road?This is interesting. We are very different eaters. So far, there has been many small towns that we can usually plan lunch around but come Northern Ontario, we will be doing much more of the cooking ourselves. I am sure we will have many conversations about what we both need to function in the best possible way. We will both compromise so that each of us has the fuel we need to get through the next day. Then, when we see a restaurant, we’ll indulge.Is it hard biking carrying all of your own gear and belongings?At the beginning, I couldn’t believe how heavy it was but now, I feel empty without it! It has become so natural that I don’t even notice it anymore, unless I pack up to quickly – in which case I am usually heavily left or right sided, and I notice that almost immediately.How often do you stop for breaks during the day?We try to stop every hour just to stand up, maybe eat a snack and make a little pit stop on the side of the highway. So in the Prairies, it has been every 25km.What do you do when you don’t have a pre-arranged place to stay?We would camp but more often then not, we have met people along the way that have offered us a place to stay or to connect us with someone in a future town. We are incredibly lucky and supported!What do you do on your days off?Laundry and rest. We are usually pretty exhausted on our days off that we don’t have much time for other activities but we did get to a Rodeo in Regina that was amazing!What is one new thing you’ve learned about yourself?I have learned that my mood is determined based on my electrolyte level. As I become dehydrated, I find myself getting upset at things that are really not an issue. As soon as I am able to get some electrolytes back in my body, those same issues no longer frustrate me. I am sure Sarah has learned this about me far quicker then I did but we both have an understanding. There is “hangry” and there is “angry” – both are valid emotions.
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Praxis Series - Entry 3: Is there a business case for youth services? – We think so!


Youth under the age of 30 comprise over 50% of the global population. However, when thinking about offering financial services targeted at this age group, financial service providers (FSPs) often overlook this up-tapped reservoir, particularly in rural areas.

MEDA's YouthInvest project worked closely with Moroccan Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) – Fondation Ardi, Attadamoune and INMAA – to explore questions around the feasibility of integrating youth into their portfolios and whether this made good business sense. Through intensive discussions with MFI management and tailored frontline staff training, we discussed the benefits of working with youth, as well designing new financial credit products that would enhance the MFIs' bottom line.

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The Summits and the Wind

We hit a milestone two days ago when we reached the British Columbia and Alberta border. To reach this goal, we had one last summit to climb.We like being mentally prepared – we always ask people how the summits are and what the elevation levels will be like. For example, will we have gradual climbs, steep climbs, or rollercoaster hills? Could it all be flat (not likely)? Usually, people warned us about large climbs that would take us most of the day, Coquihalla Summit being one of them.In total, we had three summits. Don't get me wrong, most days in the Rockies were a struggle, but at the end we always reached our goal and were on time with our schedule. Once we got to our location, we were filled with happiness and we always appreciate the beauty of the surrounding area. There is something about manpower and sweat that makes the end goal that much more awarding. Out of the three summits, we didn't hit our last one until our last day in BC, coming out of Fernie.Crowsnest Pass Summit is a mountain pass across the Continental Divide of the Canadian Rockies on the Alberta/British Columbia border. The elevation of Crowsnest is 1, 358 meters. Everyday we try to be mentally prepared for the toughest day. We were also not avid cyclists beforehand (even though we trained for a year), thus some climbs and routes are harder for us sometimes. It also helps to be prepared so that you're not disappointed when you see a 7km, 15km, or 30km climb ahead of you that could take you 4 hours. Each summit limit has a description with the name of the mountain and the elevation level. This is when we know we've done the hardest work there is to do in the day and then we can celebrate.We crossed the Crowsnest Pass and then 2km later we were in Alberta. I didn't believe that that was it and we were done. Either the climb wasn't hard, or we have become stronger and have dealt with a lot harder climbs. I think it's a combination of everything. This is a large milestone for us – we learned how to cycle in the Rockies. Now we are happy we are in the Praries where the terrain is a lot easier, however we have a new challenge. Someone in Alberta told us a joke that "everyone walks sideways here." They were referring to the wind. Our first day in Alberta, yesterday, coming into Lethbridge, had 22km winds against us. Lethbridge is known for being one of the windiest cities. We cycled 99km into Lethbridge from Pincher Creek, just outside the BC border in Alberta. I struggled a lot mentally and physically too. I'm not use to the wind and cycling continuously, at least in the Rockies we had a 20km break when we went down the mountains. Alberta and Saskcatchewan will be a new challenge, but I look forward to the new scenery and continuing to meet new people.One province down, nine to go!
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Tent poles

Riding away from Kelowna was a bittersweet experience. After enjoying a wonderful day off, it was incredibly hard to leave. However, Sarah and I were both incredibly excited to spend the next few days camping. British Columbia is well known for their beautiful provincial parks and we wanted to experience the province at its best.After much discussion as to where we should ride, we rode off from the Kettle Valley Trail that goes from Kelowna to Castlegar. The Kettle Valley Rail Trail is an old railroad that takes you on a journey with breath-taking views while following Highway #33. We were overwhelmed with so much joy on the start of our ride. It was a perfect start to the day.As we rode, the trail started to get a little tougher and a little wet from the rainfall the night before. Even though we had to walk through some big puddles and our tires slipped in the sand every so often, we were still having a generally positive day. I mean, we were surrounded by nature and what else could we ask for? The first 40km, that took us most of the morning, was much slower than our normal pace, so it seemed the only logical thing was to find a way back to the main highway. After a few wrong turns and some wasted time, we changed our minds again and decided to continue on the Kettle Valley Trail. It would simply be a few more hours of grinding it out, but we would get there.I jumped ahead of Sarah to avoid a big puddle when I heard Sarah shout, "Mary! You're missing a bag!" As I checked my panniers and my dry bag, I noticed our red tent pole bag was missing and I had no idea when I last heard the rattling. There was no other option – we would have to retrace our steps to find the bag. We were getting flustered and I could not believe how careless I could have been. We rode 20km back on the trail, stopped a group of four wheelers and asked for them to look for tent poles on the trail. They agreed to run them back to us if they found them. It had been a while so our hope that they would find them had quickly disappeared, right as we heard the first few claps of thunder. The perfect start to the day shifted very quickly.We went back to an intersection, to flag down a car for some help and some options. As we told him our situation, he informed us that he was a manager of a local resort. He explained he was setting out signs for a group of students who were biking down the Kettle Valley Trail today and staying at his resort. Hoping they would find the tent poles, I gave him my number to get in contact if that was the case. We then continued to the next closest town, Beaverdell, now in pouring rain.Feeling completed defeated and overwhelmed, we finally arrived in Beaverdell. We quickly found a place to stay, as there were only two options and we couldn't make it to the next town until the following morning. We sat down to eat the last of our food and talk about the frustrations of the day – communication is key.Our new plan was to order some new poles and have them shipped to the next destination we could get them. As I called our tent company, they let me know a new set of poles would be $195.00, much more than either of us anticipated. I hung up the phone, unimpressed that I would probably just have to accept the charge to get some new poles if we wanted to camp at all this summer. I went back to the table with Sarah and told her the unfortunate news when I noticed a voicemail – it was the kind fellow we had met on the side of the road. After much too long of an introduction, he finally announced the tent poles had been found!!The support vehicle for the teachers had wanted a little exercise after waiting for their students all day and decided to go look for them! They found them about 10km up from the road where we turned back and would come early to Beaverdell the next day to give them to us. I was in touch and so thankful to the staff in the support vehicle and we made plans to meet the following morning.As we waited at the local ice cream parlor/coffee shop, we couldn't believe how lucky we have been this whole trip. We are overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of others. I cannot thank all of you enough who have prayed for us over the past few weeks on the start of our journey. I have no idea where we would be if it weren't for the incredible power of prayer.The past few days camping have been an adventure all on their own, with so many great stories. We have met incredible people, enjoyed some quality time with nature and loved every second of it. Oh, and now we put our tent poles in Sarah's bag...
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Up to Coquihalla Summit

The bike ride started on May 18th, at Mile 0 in Victoria British Columbia, where the Terry Fox monument is located. Starting off here is a beautiful location with the Pacific Ocean in the background. Our small "possy" did the trick of boosting the atmosphere. They included a couple I had met in Nicaragua; Mary's parents, Abe and Lisa; the Rotarian President in Victoria; Ethan Eshbach, MEDA's Young Adult Engagement Coordinator; our hosts, whom we had just met, and our hosts' parents. They sent us off with a warm departure.The bicycle route to cross from Vancouver Island into the Tsawwassen Harbour is easily accessible by the Lochside Trail. Once in Delta, BC, we were fortunate enough to have Ethan follow us and be our support vehicle for a week. His last stop with us was in Hope, which was also our first day of cycling 100km. We hadn't quite hit the Rockies yet – thus, we weren't prepared for the following day.Coquihalla Summit is highway 5, or the Coquihalla Highway. It's the highest point on the highway between the cities of Hope and Merritt, which is an altitude of 1,244m or 4,081ft. To be honest, we were underprepared for this undertaking. The climb is 15km, so being us, we thought no problem. The day of the trip didn't start till noon since we had a flat tire. We finished just as the sun was setting, putting in about 8 hours that day. The ride was extremely tolling on our mental and physical stamina. At one point, I was crying and I was tired of transport trucks slowly pulling beside us. I then looked back and saw the gorgeous snow covered mountain peaks. I sound corny, but I realized how truly blessed I was at that point: That my biggest problem IN MY LIFE at that moment was getting up that mountain. In reality, I'm the luckiest person to be able to see this country.We were searching for the recreational area for camping, but it was hard to find. We saw a tow truck pulled over and asked how far it was away while on the summit. He made a horrible joke, "Still 100 miles away." Remember how I said we weren't prepared? By this time, we had run out of water. I asked the driver when the next service station was. He went into his car and gave us six water bottles. The campground was only 2km away, but after thinking 15km would be easy for a climb, we were dreading the last 2km. When we got to the campground, the sun was already setting behind a mountain. To get to the campground you need to hike a few more kilometers. Needless to say, we were tired. We set up our tent right in the parking lot and had a campfire there.I am proud that I was able to pass the Coquihalla Summit. The running joke is.."Is it as big as Coquihalla Summit? No problem."
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Assessing micro-finance institutions in Cross River State

YouLead Blog 2 Picture

This blog is an update on the previous entry on the Financial Inclusion for Nigerian Youth, dated February 9, 2015.

MEDA is partnering with Cuso International to improve financial inclusion for youth in Nigeria. The project titled Youth Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Access and Development (YouLead) works with young women and men in Cross River State, Nigeria.

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Oversized awkward box

I had a month and a half home to complete last minute details for Bike to GROW. I'm happy I had that time to prepare in more detail and to use the time to promote the fundraiser in my hometown, Picton, Ontario. My former employer called me one afternoon and told me they're donating a brunch for Bike to GROW, with all ticket proceeds going towards the initiative. I went around on the refreshment cart and talked with golfers about the event and MEDA's GROW project in Ghana. I went to coffee shops, stores and public areas to put up event posters and Bike to GROW postcards.On my last day home, I went out for coffee with my dad. A couple came up and put a check made out to Bike to GROW in the middle of our table. They had been reading the postcard and noticed me when I came in with my dad. When I went to deposit the check, the bank teller asked me about the bike trip and automatically added a donation. Not only was I able to be home and promote Bike to GROW, I saw the love and support all communities have the potential to share. I'm one lucky girl to grow up where I did.Another amazing connection I made at home was with a local radio station, 99.3 FM. I will be calling them every Monday at 10am EST to discuss the route and how the tour has been going. This is a fun way to get people more involved and informed on what we're doing.This past year has been a great experience in and of itself. I can't believe how fast the time did pass though. This past month I felt like crying constantly, not because I was sad, but because of overwhelming joy. I'm not a person with much patience so planning for a year is hard. Well, it's all been worth it and I'm now embarking on a trip of a lifetime, not only for myself, but for a community in Ghana.Mary and I are now in Victoria. We arrived on Thursday and it's astoundingly beautiful here. We came a few days early before we start our trip to prepare last minute details. For example, getting our bikes reassembled and buying bear spray.The process of getting sport gear on and off of an airplane is quite funny. I brought my bike to Doug's Bicycle in Belleville, where they took apart the bike and packed it into a large box. We arrived at the airport and left our things at the luggage check-in. In Victoria, we got in at 10:20am and had a Rotary meeting in Victoria at 11:30am. We brought our oversized boxes into the meeting and afterwards, the bikes needed reassembling. We had to walk a few blocks with our oversized and awkward boxes filled with bicycle parts to a bike shop. To say the least, it was a good conversation starter in downtown Victoria.
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Youth Savings Association: Not Just About Developing A Savings Culture

VSAY Group in Addis
VSAY Group in Addis 1

Research1 has shown that benefits from savings groups can go beyond asset building and savings for youth, and provide working youth with their own solidarity groups in which they find peer support and social security. They can also expose youth members to other financial service concepts, such as borrowing, banking, and income generating activities, which are taught through orientations and workshops. This blog seeks to further strengthen existing research on youth savings by showcasing MEDA's project titled Ethiopians Fighting Against Child Exploitation (E-FACE).

Village Savings Associations for Youth (VSAYs) are one aspect of a multi-pronged approach to supporting Ethiopian youth in the E-FACE project. MEDA's youth team recently undertook a visit to Addis Ababa to explore savings behavior among youth, including changes in their livelihoods, behaviors and working environment as a result of their participation in savings groups. Field observations, interviews and focus group discussions with VSAY members and their parents revealed a number of important changes.

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Meet the Riders: Mary Fehr

MEDA recently asked both Bike to GROW cyclists 10 questions about themselves, their fellow rider and the upcoming experience. This time, Mary shares her answers...What place are you eager to see?Nova Scotia/ the East – it will be my first time out east.What are you not looking forward to doing?Biking in traffic in the Prairies.What are five words you'd use to describe Sarah?Optimistic, energetic, thoughtful, lovely and hangry.What's your favourite thing about Sarah?Her big and many dreams!!What's one thing Sarah doesn't know about you?Nothing... we have pillow talk every night... we talk about everything!What's your go-to pre-ride snack?PB&B (Peanut butter and banana).What's one piece of equipment you can't bike without?Bike shorts!What's one new thing you've learned about biking?How to cross the road when riding with clips.... And not fall in the middle of the intersection.Who's your biggest supporter?My family – both my parents and siblings have been giving me unbelievable support that makes me excited everyday to conquer this challenge!What are you most excited about for Bike to GROW?To be continually inspired by everyone I meet along the way. Everyone has their own story and their own challenges. Hearing how they overcame or learned from them always motivates me to do and learn more.
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