MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

My Arrival in Zambia

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It felt wonderful to arrive in Lusaka, Zambia after 31 hours in transit from San Francisco to Washington D.C. to Addis Ababa to Harare to Lusaka. After waiting in the long line for an entry visa I was welcomed by the Zoona driver, Maxwell, holding a sign with my name on it. Talk about service! On the 25km drive to the Zoona office he pointed out some of the major points in the city as we passed them. Although I was jetlagged, it felt great to be back in Africa after a one year break where I was working in Phoenix, Arizona for the International Rescue Committee.  The partner agency I will be working with in Lusaka is the mobile money transaction company, Zoona. Recently, Zoona developed a one page summary of the company that I find helpful. Not only does it explain Zoona’s purpose, values, and vision but also its corporate strategy, goals, and business KPI’s. You can view a scanned copy of it here. With a rapidly growing agent base, superior access to working capital finance, and real-time payments for customers Zoona has its sights set on providing cashless services to help businesses grow in emerging markets.  Housing has proved to be a bit more difficult to find than I was anticipating. Zoona has been kind enough to let me stay at their company 2 bedroom flat about 200 meters from the office while I lock in a place to live for the next six months. Having some cross over with the current MEDA intern, Jenn Ferreri, has been very helpful in helping me meet people in the community as well as getting up to speed with everything Zoona and MEDA.  In my first week I have been learning about the Zoona business model, what my role will be in helping add value to the company during my time, and visiting local agents to work in performing transactions with customers. This was helpful to understand the process of sending/receiving money via one of Zoona’s agents. I was placed on the busy Cairo Rd. near the city center with Zoona agent, Misozi. It was a lot of fun hanging out with her four tellers and learning the ins and outs of Zoona transactions. I was a little slow at the start, but was getting the hang of it after a few hours behind the booth.  Thus far things have been splendid in Lusaka. The weather is also a nice plus coming from Phoenix in August. I am excited to be working with MEDA to help scale a growing entrepreneurial business with a bold vision of a “cashless Africa.” In my next entry I will go into more detail as to what my role will be with Zoona as I am now beginning to finalize my TOR (terms of reference) for the upcoming six months. 

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¡Bienvenidos a Nicaragua!

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I have arrived in Managua, Nicaragua and begun my 6-month internship with MEDA working with its partner organization MiCrédito as a Rural Microfinance intern. I am lucky enough to be overlapping with fellow MEDA intern Katherine who has been working in the MiCrédito office for the past 10 months. I’m very grateful to have someone to show me the ropes and introduce me to Nicaragua. I’ve been here for just over a week and have had a great experience so far. I have had the opportunity to meet most of MiCrédito’s lovely staff members and everyone has been extremely welcoming and helpful. Although things have been a little confusing having two MEDA interns with the same name working side by side. Often people have to differentiate between la nueva (the new) Catherine and la vieja (the old) Katherine. But at least there is only one name for everyone to remember.   I was also lucky enough to spend some time with the President of MiCrédito’s Board of Directors Fred Wall who was in Managua for the quarterly board meeting. Fred was kind enough to take Katherine and me out for dinner to share his experiences and spend some time getting to know me and catching up with Katherine. I am already hard at work and trying to absorb as much information as I can about MiCrédito and its work. Last week I wrote my first news article about MiCrédito’s search for a new branch location in Rivas which it plans to open in the next few months. I’m excited that I will be here for the opening and am looking forward to working with MiCrédito staff to help get this and other projects going.  I am also really looking forward to exploring Nicaragua! It is such a beautiful country with so much to see and I am hoping to fit in a lot of weekend trips to cities like Leon, Granada and San Juan del Sur. I am especially looking forward to getting to Ometepe – Lake Managua’s volcanic island.Over the weekend I took my first trip with fellow MEDA intern Sarah (who is based in Leon also working on MEDA’s Techno-Links project) to visit Granada. Granada is a beautiful colonial city about an hour south of Managua. We had a great time exploring the city and even took a boat tour of the more than 360 islands which sit in Lake Managua – my personal favourite was the monkey island where we got to visit Panchito the monkey and his family. On the way back to Managua we visited the Masaya Volcano. I am looking forward to exploring more of Nicaragua and working with MEDA and MiCrédito staff for the next six months here in Managua.    

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Steve Sugrim
Awesome blog Catherine and I love the pictures of Panchito
Tuesday, 27 August 2013 15:41
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Road Trip to Kintampo Falls

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On a cloudy Sunday morning, wanting to explore the Ghanaian countryside, we boarded a tro-tro to Kintampo Falls.Let me begin by explaining our means of transportation. A tro-tro, or 'tro' as it is affectionately called, is a minibus that you can flag down and jump on with other passengers who are travelling in the same direction. Due to their more than rickety conditions and number of passengers riding along side you, the tros are much cheaper than buses or taxis. Another option, which is what we did on this particular Sunday, is get a group together and rent one (equip with a driver) for a day. Kintampo Falls, only three hours away, seemed doable.No experience in Africa, or in other parts of the world, is complete without travelling like the locals do. We managed to squeeze 19 people, including the driver and his assistant, into this tro-tro. The quarter-sized hole in the floor of the vehicle, giving us a view to the pavement below, didn't even deter us. It may not have been the most comfortable 3 hours (6 hours round trip) but it was a great journey. We passed many different landscapes, bought snacks out of the window from local vendors running along side as we slowed down to go through toll gates, and saw how people live outside of Tamale, 'the capital of the north,' the sizeable town we have already grown so accustomed to. Going through a community, one child on the side of the road did a double take and then pointed to the tro-tro saying "Woooowwwww." I like to think she was also impressed at how many people we were able to fit inside. I sure was.After a few hours, we finally made it to Kintampo Falls. Walking through a wooded setting, we could hear rushing water as we got closer. We passed by the various stages of the waterfall, starting at the top where the water raged down over the rocks, and finally descended 152 stairs (not that I was counting) to the base of the waterfall where it was safe to swim. Although it was overcast, the group of us peeled off our layers and jumped in. The brave ones climbed right under the waterfall where the water poured over from above. We had heard that there was another waterfall close by, Fuller Falls, and decided to check that out as well. Drying ourselves off to the extent that it wouldn't be overly gross to be crammed against one another in the tro again, we hit the road. We were confidently driving along, and even saw a signpost for the falls which reaffirmed we were going in the right direction, when we came to a dirt road, jutted and uneven. The driver stopped and asked a shepherd if we were still going in the right direction. To our dismay, he told us to go back the way we came. How our tro-tro driver managed to pull a three point turn on that narrow road, I will never know.After driving for several kilometres we were nearly back where we had started from. Once again, the driver pulled over to ask for directions. The men who assisted us assured us that, no, the waterfall was back the way we came from – we had been previously travelling the right way. Exasperated, we turned around a second time (waved to the shepherd as we passed him again) and finally came to the entrance of Fuller Falls.Instead of swimming here, we walked up the side of the waterfall to the very top where we were able to sit and look down at the rapids below. I was surprised to see how lush and green the surroundings were, especially considering how dry the weather has been, despite it being the rainy season. We spotted a few creepy crawlies in the brush, including two long and fat centipedes. Or were they millipedes? Some sort of insect with a great number of legs.After taking in the scenery from the top of the falls, we decided it was time to head back to Tamale. It was fantastic to get in touch with nature again and escape the busy city life for an afternoon. Getting out and seeing more of the country we are living and working in, setting the context for our work here, really excited me. I'm looking forward to more local travelling in the future, all for research purposes, of course…

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A short buy very sweet (and packed) trip

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I got to spend two of the busiest days of my post graduated life during my training at MEDA’s headquarters in Waterloo, Ontario; getting ready for my value chain development internship in Peru.  I have to confess that I am feeling a little dizzy after having over 10 meetings in only 2 days. However, it is a little price to pay for all the knowledge I’ve acquired in such a short time, I truly went from zero to hero!I was able to learn much more about MEDA. I honestly feel privileged to be part of such a noble organization. What a pleasure to be able to work in a place where I deeply identify myself with their mission and their faith.I also got the opportunity to personally meet the passionate team members of MEDA.  I was impressed to see their impeccable work and discipline. You are all fabulous and generous of you time! I specially want to thank Sheila Mei for organizing this trip for me.My heart beats faster and louder every second that gets me closer to the day of my departure to Peru (Time left: 5 days, 3 hours, 25 seconds) I can’t imagine a better place to start my career than my beloved country.Let the internship begin!

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For Generations to Come…

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Field TripOn our way to the Verimpere community of the Wa West district, many things were racing through my mind. I was highly anticipating my first trip to the field, in a community where the GROW (Greater Rural Opportunities for Women) project is active. Days leading up to our journey, MEDA’s Gender Specialists facilitated gender sensitization and analysis training for our staff and partner organizations. Now more than fifteen of us were heading to the field, some to participate and others to observe the gender sensitization pilot activity for women and their husbands. Many things in that hour-long visit were unforgettable; the women gathered under a large tree awaiting our arrival, their singing and dancing to celebrate our presence in the community, and the attentiveness and involvement exhibited by women and men alike. But the enthusiasm and pleasantness of the children were what really captivated me. Family MattersOnce adults of the community broke off into groups, each settling under a tree, children gradually started congregating nearby. Starting with a few, it soon became over a dozen little ones circling our group. Of course, we were a sight to see for them, dressed differently and speaking a foreign language. Yet, they were sincerely engaged in their parent’s discussion, keeping a keen eye on everyone involved and quietly giggling when something unexpected was said. During the activity, gender roles and responsibilities were being discussed or rather, negotiated. I imagine this was the first time these children heard this subject talked about so openly. I was moved by the children’s curiosity and interest, eagerly soaking up every word.Plant a Seed and Watch it GROWAnd then, “Eureka!” (I really had one of those eureka moments). I was already very familiar with MEDA’s values to ensure sustainability in their projects. Most projects truly provide business opportunities, incredible, sustainable solutions to poverty. But I was now seeing with my own eyes the impact these projects have on the next generation! Because many of these children do not attend school, their attitudes and behaviours are modeled after the only leaders they see, i.e. parents and caregivers. GROW is helping to increase food security for women farmers and their families. Importantly, it’s not only the women involved now, but also generations to come, that will benefit from improved health and development, resources and skills to generate and manage income, and the countless education and business opportunities that result from those. I am so proud to be a part of the GROW project and a representative of MEDA, contributing to and witnessing history in the making.

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THIS is why I'm here

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Since arriving here in Tamale, I have been helping to prepare and facilitate workshops focussed on gender sensitization and awareness. Along with Faustina from the Tamale office, and Yasir who has been visiting from Waterloo, we have conducted these trainings for MEDA staff, as well the local partners involved in the GROW project.Admittedly, it was a little daunting to imagine myself training a conference room full of people, some who have more experience than I did in the field of gender. Now that we're nearly done with the training sessions I can say that I am so grateful for having the experience of participating in the planning and execution of these sessions. Sharing thoughts and ideas with others, meeting colleagues whom I will continue to work with during my time here, and listening to different cultural perspectives has taught me so much.However, today's session taught me the most.In the afternoon our group of local partners and facilitators got into a mini bus and drove 30 minutes outside of Wa, where our field office is located, to one of the participating communities. I was excited to finally see the people who were benefitting from the GROW (Greater Rural Opportunities for Women) project, and knew I would enjoy myself. The experience, however, was above and beyond my expectations.When we pulled up we were surrounded by women and children clapping, singing and dancing. (I told myself I would practice my dance moves in order to join in  next time!) We enjoyed this warm welcome for a few minutes before separating into groups in order to lead an activity based on community roles of men and women.This interactive session with the community members was great to see: men and women sharing their views, laughing, listening to differing opinions, coming to the agreement that women are just as capable as men, and acknowledging their support of the project. Our goal of raising gender awareness and making an entry into the community was a huge success.My favourite participants in this activity were the children who had gathered around the tree under which we were holding our meeting, listening in on the conversation, laughing along with their parents, and catching our eye to smile and wave. Although most of them were too young to realize what exactly we were doing there, it was wonderful to have them present – we really felt like we were reaching out to the community as a whole.After our session, as we made our way back to the minibus, the children were fascinated by our digital cameras and seeing their own faces in the pictures we took. I was soon approached by an unsmiling women who began speaking to me in the local language. I couldn't understand a word, but assumed she was telling me to stop taking pictures. As I was putting my camera away, someone came over to translate: "No, no, she wants you to take a picture of HER!" She struck a pose, quickly grabbing a wooden stool to balance on her head for this photo-op.Heading back Wa, I reflected on the experience. There were so many highlights – meeting the community members, seeing where they live, playing with the children, and witnessing, on a small scale, changes beginning to happen for the better. I've enjoyed all my adventures here in Ghana so far, from trying the different foods to seeing local sights and making new friends. But after this trip to the field I realized – THIS is why I'm here.

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6 Dishes from the ‘Gold Coast’ of Africa

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Greetings from Wa, Ghana…This is my first blog post! And not just for MEDA, but in the history of my Generation Y lifetime. I must admit that I brainstormed about this first topic for a while. I’ve been in Ghana for just over 2 weeks and ‘culture shock’ is an understatement to explain my feelings. I do mean that in the most positive way! The people, culture, and landscape have been nothing short of beautiful, intriguing, and unique for me. There are so many things I can talk about in my first post but seeing as I am the Nutrition/Food Security Intern, I think it is most fitting I introduce you to Ghanaian Cuisine.By no means am I a ‘foodie’. I don’t post pictures of my meals on Instagram, nor do I regularly ‘check in’ to restaurants on Yelp (although I do read the reviews ☺). However, I would say I am a food lover. I appreciate dishes from all over the world and always willing to try everything at least once! It is normal for me to eat Indian, Japanese, Korean, Trinidadian and Lebanese dishes all in a week of being home in Toronto. With that being said, I was open and eager to try the traditional foods of Ghana. Below are dishes I’ve already eaten and are very common in Northern Ghana, specifically Tamale and Wa. Depending where you are from or have travelled, some of these ingredients may be familiar:1. ‘Banku’ and Okra Soup – Banku is really a large, doughy ball of fermented maize (aka corn) that is served in a bowl of soup. Traditionally, it’s eaten with your hands; pieces of banku are pinched off and dipped in the soup. Okra is a green pod-like vegetable with many seeds and quite slimy inside. It’s commonly grown in tropical and sub-tropical climates.2. TZ (pronounced tee-zed which stands for ‘Tuo Zaafi’) and Groundnut Soup – TZ looks similar to banku and eaten in the same way. However, it's made from corn flour and has a much milder taste. It can also be made from cassava flour or a mixture of the two. I had it served in groundnut soup. Groundnuts are essentially the same as peanuts, just a bit smaller. TZ can also be served with ‘green green’, a stew of moringa or cassava leaves, mixed into a soup with pieces of goat and/or fish.3. Red Fish with ‘Palaba’ Sauce and Boiled Yam – Most often, all meals are served with fish or chicken (even if only tiny pieces in soups and stews). ‘Red fish’, as Ghanaian’s call it, is the common saltwater red snapper fish. It is fried and served with slices of boiled yam and palaba sauce made from stewed ‘green leaves’.4. ‘Wachey’ with Grilled Tilapia – Wachey is white rice cooked with beans, specifically ‘cowpea’ bean (aka black-eyed pea). It is much like the Caribbean-style of ‘rice and peas’ or ‘rice and beans’. It was served with grilled tilapia and salad but can be paired with any meat. Tilapia is farmed throughout the country and regularly served.5. Jollof Rice with Fried Chicken – Jollof is a popular West African dish. It’s cooked with tomato paste, peppers, seasonings, and pieces of meat among other ingredients. It is spicy and full of flavour! It’s really a go-to dish, especially in fast food restaurants. And fried chicken is pretty much universal of course. 6. Red Red and Fried Plantain – Red Red is a bean stew made with cowpeas. It’s characteristic red colour comes from the palm oil it’s cooked in. Served alongside, are pieces of ripe plantain, fried until golden. Not sure how to traditionally eat this, but I dipped the plantain in the stew and it was great.Side note: Although I didn’t mention many vegetables here, they’re usually cooked and incorporated into soups and stews. Salads and raw vegetables are not always served but if they are it usually consists of shredded lettuce, cabbage, carrots, sliced tomatoes, cucumbers and red onion topped with mayonnaise or salad cream. Second side note: Ghanaians use plenty of seasonings and love their food spicy!Thanks for reading my first blog post EVER! Until next time readers…

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On language and identity

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So, apparently, I’m Moroccan. No one could ever tell that I’m Canadian by my appearance alone. Due to my French and Indian background, I guess I could look like a great many things. I remember people in Uzbekistan thought I was Uzbek, in China I looked as though I was from the Xinjiang (East Turkestan) Autonomous Region, and Caucasians (from the Caucasus mountains) think I’m Azeri. It’s pretty practical. Even when I do tell someone, such as my cab driver on my first day, that I am from Montreal (I flew from Montreal, but I’m actually from Brampton, Ontario), he assumed I was one of those 60,000 young Moroccans who study abroad. Awesomeness. But… when I don’t speak French, and switch to Arabic I pass for any other Arab, but definitely not Moroccan. I spent the past year studying Fusha (literal) Arabic and a bit of Egyptian dialect. When I talk to people I do so in Fusha. I don’t really fear being made fun of – as I’ve been told I would –; the important thing is to be able to communicate. And frankly, I never get any remarks. People usually ask whether I’m Syrian or Egyptian. I tell that I’m Indian – a habit I’ve acquired in my travels in Central Asia, where your ethnicity is of utmost importance and is determined by your father’s background. Saying that I’m Indian also helps me avoid the temptation of speaking in French – my mother tongue. I’m in part here to improve my Arabic skills, after all. I have Satellite TV with over 700 channels in Arabic from all over the Arab world. It’s pretty cool to have been able to follow political events in Egypt on an Egyptian channel, and watch Turkish soap operas in Syrian dialect. I’m impressed with the fact that many Moroccans understand these dialects. In general, I find Moroccans are gifted with languages. At work The staff at MEDA Maroc is very friendly. Colleagues have helped me buy, and then, repair my bike. They made me try couscous, tagine and other local goodies. I am definitely a fan of Moroccan cuisine now. At the office, I’ve mainly been working on building the MEDA MENA website for Morocco and Egypt, translating a newsletter from Arabic to English and doing other communications tasks. This week, I’ll be going to Oujda to conduct a few interviews with program beneficiaries. It should be interesting.

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The COLWOD boutique - a hidden gem

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Having just arrived in Tamale, in the Northern Region of Ghana, Gillian and I got a city tour from another Canadian friend living here. We walked through the market and visited stalls selling everything from cows feet to toilet paper and pineapples to insect spray; ate a lunch of 'red red', a typical Ghanian dish of friend plantain and beans; scoped out the nearest grocery stores and bought 'fan ice' - ice cream in a bag – from a boy selling it on his bicycle.Nearing the end of our tour, we were led down an alley, off the main street, to a tiny shop that stood alone – we were introduced to the hidden gem that is the COLWOD boutique.COLWOD, the Collaboration with Women in Distress, is a charitable organization which was started in 1995 to help abandoned and abused women. COLWOD teaches these women skills like sewing, tie-dye and batik in order for them to gain economic independence and support themselves.Not only can you purchase fabric by the yard for 7 cedi, or roughly $3.50 Canadian dollars, there are handcrafts like purses, clothing and home décor for sale. The proceeds go back to the women, providing an income.Since arriving in Ghana, we had noticed the beautiful prints of the women's clothing. Now we know the secret! It's common here to simply buy the fabric of your choice and take it to a local seamstress and have clothing, usually skirts or dresses, made to order. Outside some of the seamstress' shops are photos showing the various designs and styles of dress you can choose from.With this in mind, Gillian and I perused the fabrics, taking some off the rack and holding them up to ourselves, imagining what we'd look like in a dress of that material. What a challenge! There were so many interesting patterns and prints it was hard to finally decide. I walked around the shop with two different materials on my arm thinking they were the ones I was going home with… until I spotted others that I liked even more (repeating this cycle twice). There was even a fabric with Canadian maple leaves printed in red – being eyed by a man in search of something for his wife.The three of us Canadians were browsing alongside other shoppers – another young woman trying on a long robe, and the local man contemplating fabrics. Seeing the others provided a small insight into the reception in Tamale of women's organizations. Knowing that COLWOD has existed since 1995, we can assume there has been enough local support for it to thrive here.The atmosphere in the shop was cheerful and bright, run by a smiling young woman who was quiet but eager to help. In one entertaining scene, the young woman (still wearing the robe she had tried on) asked the man if he would try on a shirt she was hoping to buy for her father back home. She handed it to him, and he struggled to pull it on over his glasses and dress shirt. After he had successfully managed to get into the shirt, he stood awkwardly, waiting for her response. The girl looked him over and said, "You know, you're much more fit than my dad. He has a pretty big belly."It was touching to see how an organization founded to help women in distress could bring people together – both locals and people from abroad – in order to support those in need and help them create a new life for themselves through economic independence.  In exchange, the women's work  serves as a reminder that we can help others in even small ways and adds some colour to our lives.

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My Story

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I have just graduated from American University with a Master in International Development at American University. I did my freshmen year of college in Dakar, Senegal and at the time, my major was undecided. In others words, I knew I wanted to study in the international field but I did not know what exactly. I decided to study in development because at an early age, I was exposed to the field as a result of my mothers’ professional career as a human right’s activist. Without a doubt, my mother’s career was my true inspiration. In fact, hearing stories about places like Darfur, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and many other African countries in crisis, made me realize that this is what I wanted to do. I want to contribute to the economical, political and social development of developing countries like my home country, Burkina Faso. I transferred to Suffolk University in Boston in 2006 for my sophomore year and despite some initials struggles with English language, I caught up really fast. After one year in at Suffolk University I decided to relocate to La Roche in Pittsburgh, a smaller city and smaller educational environment where I could focus more on my studies. After my graduation in May 2009, I thought getting a job would be easy, but reality taught me otherwise. In fact, finding an internship or a job is not simple. However, during my program at American University, I had the opportunity to intern with two great two great organizations but I was still looking for an internship that would tie everything together and put me in a position where I could really use what I have learned in the last two. MEDA’s Project Coordinator internship came at the right time. I have been with MEDA for just a month and I am already impressed. Unlike many internships where you are just sitting by the copy machine, I get to work on ongoing projects and attend staff meetings. Right now, I’m working on developing and updating MEDA’s entrepreneurship toolkit for the financial services. I have learned so much already and I am looking forward to the rest of my experience with MEDA.

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First impressions in Morocco

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I can still remember how excited I felt on the Royal Air Maroc plane as we flew over the Atlantic Ocean. I was thrilled to finally set foot in Africa, and after a year of intensive study of the Arabic language, being able to work and live in the Arab world as well. It felt surreal. Then, I arrived. The airport felt pretty international (as they all tend to be) but very African as well. Mohammed V airport in Casablanca wants to become – and to some extent already is – a hub for flights to and from Sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and North America. I have often been told that Moroccans don’t see themselves as African (that could in fact be said of many North African countries) – and I believe it’s a question I will try exploring over the next few months. I took a train to Gare Oasis, then a taxi to my apartment. It’s located in the south of the city, in Ain Chock. I wanted to get to know another side of the city and it’s people, away from the downtown glitter. Most of my colleagues were surprised at my choice – I live 9 km away from the MEDA Maroc office, which means, depending on Casablanca traffic, from 38 minutes to over an hour in the bus. It’s hot, sweaty, crowded, and quite frankly – though I’m usually a fan of intense travel experiences such as feeling like cattle at the back of a truck – I’m really not that fond of such promiscuity two hours a day for six months. So, naturally, I bought a bike. My best time so far is 24 minutes to get to the office. And I dare say it’s a great way of keeping fit. It also allows for more mobility and freedom. I never like being at the mercy of cab drivers in any place and have always valued bikes in cities that have no efficient public transport. I can pretty much go wherever I want to, when I want to – provided my legs have it in them for the extra kilometer or two. Rabat My first weekend in Morocco was spent in Rabat. I took the train a Saturday morning from the Casa Voyageurs train station and arrived in Rabat an hour later. I visited Rabat with a Moroccan friend of mine that I had met three years ago in Delhi! The city is so much quieter than Casablanca. To be honest, I felt a bit overwhelmed by the traffic and expanse of Casablanca. It was nice to see something more low-key and relaxed. It’s a nice capital with the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, a nice medina (old city) overlooking the sea, the Kasbah of the Oudaias, and nice restaurants and shops. I really do feel that I’m just scratching the surface as there is so much more to be seen and done. I plan on climbing the Jebel Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa, sometime in August. I also want to see Marrakech, Fez, Meknes, Chefchaouen, the Atlas moutains and the dessert.

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Safe Travels to the 2013 MEDA Interns!

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For the past 16 years, MEDA has sent over 100 young professionals in total to 20 countries around the world to give them the opportunity to gain experience in the field and discover their career interests. This summer, 14 new interns visted MEDA head offices for a week-long orientation to learn about the organization and meet staff members before they embark on their 6-month international development internships. While not all of the interns will be in the same country or working on the same project, each of them will be helping MEDA fulfill its overall mission of creating business solutions to poverty for families around the world. Check back on this blog regularly to read their stories about how they are building new skills, uncovering unique experiences and changing the lives of those around them. Bringing different skills and life experiences to their position will no doubt make for varying perspectives on the realities of their internship and of international development as a whole. Let us now introduce the 2013 cohort of MEDA Interns...EthiopiaEDGET (Ethiopians Driving Growth through Entrepreneurship and Trade)Emma Harris – Rural Microfinance InternShaunet Lewinson – Business Development Advisor

GhanaGROW (Greater Rural Opportunities for Women)Daniel Penner – Communications/Impact Assessment InternGillian Perera - Nutrition/Food Security InternJessica Adach - Gender InternMoroccoYouthInvestJeelan Syed – Communication Development InternSanae Elamrani – Impact Assessment InternNicaraguaMiCredito & Techno-Links (Technology Links for Improved Access and Incomes)Catherine Walker – Rural Microfinance InternSarah French – Impact Assessment InternPeruTechno-Links (Technology Links for Improved Access and Incomes)Stefanie Santana – Value Chain Development InternTanzaniaTNVS (Tanzania National Voucher Scheme)Curtis Shane – I.T. Development Intern Mary Fehr – Impact Assessment InternUnited StatesInes Sawadogo – Project Coordinator InternZambiaTechno-Links (Technology Links for Improved Access and Incomes)Jared Worley – Rural Microfinance InternVisit MEDA Internships for more information on our internship program and to read the biographies of the 2013 interns.

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Time Flies By!

I realized just the other day that I only have three months left of my just over a year term in Nicaragua. I have no idea where the time has gone! It amazes me that this can happen but it happens every time I am abroad – the time flies!Projects have slowed down a bit here in the MiCrédito office, as internal transition has put a hold on some of my projects while I wait for information to be gathered and pass along to me to work with. This slow-down has given me some time to think and reflect on my time here and my upcoming trip home to visit friends and family, which will be in a month.People here keep asking me what I miss the most about Canada or what is the first thing I am going to eat, for example. So, in honour of Canada Day this Monday, I thought I would reflect this post on Canada and what it is that I miss the most from the motherland... And the answer? Bubble tea. Bubble tea is a delicious drink with a cold tea or juice base liquid and tapioca bubble-balls that float around at the bottom. It is served with an enormous straw you can use to sip up the bubbles! It is DELICIOUS. Every Sunday when I lived in Ottawa for school I would make my way down to the Korean area with some of my friends and we would indulge in Vietnamese pho and bubble tea for dessert. Afterwards, my Chinese friends would educate me about all of the different things you can find at the local Chinese grocery store. I loved a Sunday afternoon in Korea Town.I realized that the thing I missed most from home was not exactly bubble tea, itself, but the multiculturalism and diversity that can be found in Canada and in particular, cities like Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Vancouver. On any given night of the week, my friends could be faced with the tough decision of which restaurant to visit. Here in Managua, we do have several options: the local fritanga stand, the more “upscale” Nicaraguan food, a Peruvian restaurant (which I am in love with), various American food chains, French, Mexican, and a few others. Managua does offer a varying amount and therefore, I cannot complain. However, I still can’t quick that longing desire to debate with my friends the classic “sushi” or “pho”. Italian? Thai?What I also look forward to seeing is a sea of faces from hundreds of countries living together in one city; enjoying the hot Toronto sun, partaking in one another’s culture and appreciating the unique cultural aspects each person can bring to the community.

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Meghan's Most Significant Change Story

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As part of her internship, Meghan interviewed over 20 clients of the UHDP project to learn what impact MEDA's work was having on them, their business and their families. The method they used to measure their life changes is called Most Significant Change (MSC). At the end of her internship, Meghan decided to complete the exercise herself to see what she was able to achieve, how has she changed and what she has learned most from the experience. To read her MSC story, click here or on the photo.

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Ola's Most Significant Change Story

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As part of her internship, Ola interviewed over 20 clients of the UHDP project to learn what impact MEDA's work was having on them, their business and their families. The method they used to measure their life changes is called Most Significant Change (MSC). At the end of her internship, Ola decided to complete the exercise herself to see what she was able to achieve, how has she changed and what she has learned most from the experience. To read her MSC story, click here or on the photo.

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Walking the talk in impact investing

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My first visit to the Centre for Social Innovation at Regent Park was uplifting. I’d arrived at the first community Impact Investing Fair, a room brimming with smiling faces and glowing with slight perspiration, thanks to Toronto’s infamous humidity.The evening began with a presentation from the charismatic “Sustainable Economist,” Tim Nash, who dispelled the mysteries behind impact investing. Swiftly cutting through clunky terms like portfolio, market risk and liquidity, Nash boiled down the essence of impact investing. Afterwards, a number of entrepreneurial investment funds pitched their cause and expected returns to the crowd.There were many conversations that night that I would have loved to continue for lengthy coffee breaks. Though from different backgrounds, the people present spoke a common language, one that understood the value of putting their money into something worth investing for. Sure, your own financial security is important – but at what economic benefit are you willing to allocate your funds to blue chips or off to mutual funds? I feel that it is much like the clothes we buy, never once contemplating the supply chains of our jeans and jackets. Where is our money going?Ignorance is bliss, but meaningful investment is better.The term impact investing started to gain traction in 2009, with the establishment of the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN). Since then, leading publications and groups have jumped in.Dipping my toes in the waterWith all this discourse on the glorious frontier of Impact Investing, I craved a reduction in talk and uptake in action. And this started with myself. Several months ago I finally stumbled upon an impact investment opportunity that met my investment needs. It happened serendipitously through a conversation with the CFO of MEDA (my previous employer) that they had a Risk Capital Fund. With a low minimum investment of $1000, returns of 2 – 4%, and high social-environmental investment standards, I had found my match.Agro Capital Management (ACM), one of MEDA’s investments. ACM sells and finances agricultural equipment to small farmers to help create more profitable operations in the Ukraine.My relationship with impact investing has mostly been rocky, a lot of talk and little action. I’ve learned that I need to be thorough and patient in my search. Impact investments do exist, and there is no shortage of places where money is needed. Investing safely and wisely means due diligence plays a serious role at this stage. Until impact investing becomes a staple in mutual funds, us investors will have to take a more active stance, and spend more time and resources understanding, supporting and promoting the industry. As difficult as my impact investment pursuits are, I’m in it for the long haul. Are you?

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Those who can't post...link to other people's blogs?

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Ok so I know that my next blog is long overdue, but it is definitely a testament to how much I have been enjoying myself in Zambia!  Since you heard from me last I have been to Chobe National Park in Botswana for a camping trip/safari, Livingstone twice (still without mustering up the courage to do the bungee jump), the Harare International Festival of Arts in Zimbabwe for music/arts and horseracing, and to South Luangwa National Park in Zambia to see the Mzungu All Stars football team take on the local Zambian team, raise money for conservation projects and not see any leopard upclose.  All in all, not too shabby. I have had the opportunity to see more of the amazing countryside in this part of the world. 

On my non-weekends, I have been working on training materials and editing videos while are nearly done. Stay tuned as I will share a bit more about the process of editing and developing training materials next.  But to wet the appetites, I thought I would share a post from Michelle, our visiting Kiva fellow, documenting one of the amazing success stories of Zoona.

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One Door Closes and Another Door Opens!

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It is hard to believe I am writing this post from my new desk, in my new office in my new home!  I cannot believe my internship is over and that I am back on Canadian soil!  I think my last month in Crimea was probably the best of them all, which made it hard to leave, but none-the-less I am happy to be back in my home and native land!Everything at the UHDP wrapped up wonderfully.  Olya and I went full throttle finishing up our MSC stories.  In the last month we conducted 8 interviews and wrote 8 stories bringing us to our goal of 20!  Each story was as heartwarming as the last.  Each person we interviewed, no matter their age, gender, background, crop, or size of their farm, has had great results from working with the UHDP.  It just goes to show how great the Ukraine Horticulture Project is to be able to produce such great results for such a variety of different clients.As a small parting gift for the UHDP offices, Olya and I wrote Most Significant change stories about ourselves to share with everyone how the Project impacted us as interns. You can find mine here: Meghan Denega MSC StoryNot only was work the busiest in the last month, but I also travelled the most too!  Although I had been taking advantage of the interesting and beautiful natural and historic sights of Crimea the whole time I was there, in the last month I managed to squeeze in a bunch of great trips with great friends! I have so many great memories from hiking in the mountains, exploring ancient Byzantine settlements, visiting residencies of the tsars and other nobles of the Russian empire, and meeting and getting to know so many great people along the way!  I was even able to meet and spend some magical times by the sea and at the top of Crimea’s highest mountain, Ai Petri, with my now colleague Susan and a volunteer auditor Dale! On my last full day in Ukraine I climbed the mountain Djimerji, had dinner in a lovley cottage restaurant in the forest and enjoyed another Russian sauna- complete with oak branch beatings!  Here are a few photos from my last few adventures including the UHDP Simferopol Staff (left), Ai Petri (middle), Rock City (right):

Although my time at the UHDP has come to an end, my time with MEDA is just beginning.  I am now located in Waterloo at MEDA’s headquarters, working as the new Project Coordinator/Junior Consult in the Financial Services department.  It is true what they say that when one door closes, another door opens! Al though I will miss the staff in Simferopol, my first week at the Waterloo office has been wonderful.  The staff is friendly and very welcoming.  I can tell that this next leg of my journey with MEDA will prove to be as impactful as my last and I look forward to all that is to come my way!

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A Clipboard, a Nissan Pickup, and a Very Bumpy Road

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These three essential components describe well the first week of my most recent field work, through the east-coast's rugged region of Nicaragua's RAAS (Region Autonoma de Atlantico Sur). The RAAS region of Nicaragua is very unique from the middle and western parts of Nicaragua, which are primarily inhabited by the Spanish-speaking population of the country, and many more of the country's larger urban centres. RAAS is one of the two autonomous regions of Nicaragua, with distinct cultures and populations from the rest of the country. One of the major distinctions is the rich cultural mix and backgrounds present within this region, ranging from native groups of the Miskito and the Mayangna, to the Creole African population, speaking a heavy creole Afro-Caribbean English. The degree of influence and presence of the Afro-Caribbean culture and language becomes stronger as one approaches the east coast of the nation, with the Corn Islands (60 kilometres into the Caribbean sea; and highly recommended) exhibiting the extremes of this culture, with the absence of Spanish speakers a regular occurrence. The field work did not take us to the islands however, but it did bring us right to the coast, and to many hidden, small communities along the way, granting us glimpses into peoples' highly isolated lifestyles.The purpose of the trip was to follow up on some of Techno-Links' end clients; users of the technologies that the grant-winning businesses produce and distribute. The first week was working with clients of Tecnosol, the first round winner that is working to distribute bio-digesters to small rural cattle farmers in order to improve their sustainability and independence from commercial suppliers of fertilizers and propane kitchen gas. By use of the bio-digesters the farmer is able to utilize the manure from the cattle to produce bio-gas, a sustainable alternative to propane. The gas is produced from manure, water, and nothing more. After the gas exits the bio-digester and is piped to the kitchen for kitchen use, the bi-product produced ("biol") is deposited at the opposite end, leaving a potent fertilizer.Juan Humberto is one of the project's very successful farmers, who has worked with the bio-digester for some time now and has employed the use of the biol effectively as well, creating his own compost and fertilizer uses for other plants around his farm. Juan no longer needs to purchase propane gas from town and has cut down his costs greatly.The calm and collected participants of Tecnosol's initiative continue to look onward, to the future of sustainable farming and alternative agricultural energy methods. These brilliant bovine have little idea as to the difference they are making for the farmers of Nicaragua and other proponents of bio-digesters around the world.The first of the two weeks in the field was no easy feat, as many of the roads to access the farmers were barely roads at all. The pathways were merely washed out dirt/rock pathways that have faced the severe climate alternations of the rainy season, switching with the desert-like dry seasons of the country's summer months. This back and forth pattern leaves a not-so-pleasant trail of scattered rocks, semi-submerged in the hardened soils, at times resembling the shape of sharp and bloated footballs. Travelling for hours across these roads lends chance the truck may glide across the broadside of the football with relative ease and smoothness, but also brings the probable passing that the nearly completely exposed football could have one pointed end highly exposed from the earth, waiting to send the passengers of the truck flying into the ceiling of the cab. The challenge for the driver is to cross the 20 km stretch of road within the allotted 3 hours, as to not fall behind and arrive home late at night (returning on the same quality road), while the passengers' goal is to find a position and manner to sit throughout the journey that leaves the least bodily damage. Riding without a safety belt poses the risk of launching one's self into the ceiling, and enduring a good blow to the head/neck, while fastening the safety belt eventually leaves bruises and lacerations across the shoulders and chest, where the "said" safety belt has repeatedly attempted to keep you "safe", every 10 seconds, for the past 3 hours of being launched around the cabin of the truck like a can of paint in the motorized shaker at home depot. Needless to say, after a few days on these roads, my upper torso felt like I had undergone some sort of military training with intensive workouts and all-day fitness drills. The following is a quick screen capture of the map where we traveled, with the original Google Map accessible in the link to follow:The journey was extremely enduring but full of adventure. Working the long days and crossing hundreds of kilometres on back-country roads really summons feelings of unique opportunity and the gift of experience. Meeting and talking with the farmers that MEDA works with in the small communities of Kukra Hill, and Laguna de Perla (both communities within the RAAS region of Nicaragua), helps one to understand the extreme disparities between how some families live in Nicaragua, and how families live in Canada. Although these differences are acknowledged and common fact to most, even those not working in development work or overseas, seeing the lives of those living in Managua and other urban centres of Nicaragua still appear significantly different than those in the remote communities of RAAS on the east coast, often in deeper levels of poverty due to remote locales. These individuals are exceptionally isolated and bringing in the technology of bio-digesters to create a cooking fuel from on site natural resources (besides burning firewood), presents a superior alternative to purchasing propane gas tanks from the nearest towns and villages. Passing 6 months with MEDA as an Impact Assessment Intern with the Techno-Links project was an excellent opportunity to become increasingly exposed to developing-world conditions, but in addition to this, proved to be a pivotal learning stage in my life to witness business connections made between local businesses and the small rural farmers of Nicaragua. Given the gift to work and live abroad is a pivotal time in one's life, to learn about culture, language, mannerisms, and all things different, that invigorate and awaken one to the vibrancy and reality of life outside of North America. It was a pleasure to work with MEDA and serve in the monitoring and evaluation of the Tecno-Links program. I would recommend this internship with MEDA to anyone interested and would love to tell you more and answer questions if you would like to contact me (arifriesen@gmail.com). God Bless, and continue serving and exploring the wonders of the World.

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mHealth Meeting in Dar

Describing MEDA Tanzania’s transition to the eVoucher channel from a paper voucher for subsidized bednet distribution, never fails to interest an audience. As MEDA’s eVoucher uses a USSD platform, the simplest of feature phones, allow vouchers to be issued and redeemed by beneficiaries. It also makes it a lot easier for MEDA to track and measure trends to inform future decisions about the program.

Using ICTs and mobile phones in particular as part of health and development solutions are not new, and their applications are countless: SMS scratch codes are used to verify the authenticity of certain drugs, mobile phones are used to monitor and record data on teacher attendance etc.

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