MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

Building Resilient Livelihoods

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

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

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Impact Assessment Intern at the UHDP

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

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

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Habia Una Vez...

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

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Marrakech: "the daughter of the desert"

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Last weekend, Elena and I decided to make a day trip to Marrakech (French spelling), the third largest city in Morocco but one that gets millions of visitors every year due to its multiple attractions and unique location at the edge of the Atlas mountains and the desert. By train this was a day-long adventure, trains run every 2 hours from the main Casablanca station, and 2nd class tickets (economy) cost only 90 Dirhams one way, about $10 CAD. The trip is about 3 and 1/4 hours long.

Want to play Sardines?At the train station many travellers, tourists and Moroccans alike, were heading to Marrakech. We'd been warned that there is no limit to the number of 2nd class tickets sold, so it is always possible that you will have to spend the entire journey standing, crammed into the small hallway that edges the compartments in each train car.  It turns out that day was one such day.  We crushed onto the train, peered into already full compartments, then, resigned, settled in for the long journey with little air and nothing to sit on. Despite trying to upgrade to 1st class, we were informed all the tickets there were sold out (limited number of tickets if you're willing to pay more for the privilege). It was so busy because the folks that go home for Eid-ad-Adha return anytime over a period of about 2 weeks surrounding the holiday. Additionally, the term vacation for students happened to coincide with our travel date. Sigh.  Needless to say, Elena and I were very hot and tired by the time we reached Marrakech, although we saw some great scenery on the way there which we would have missed in a squished compartment (the only advantage is sitting). We also played a game of "things that could be worse" which lightened the mood and put things in perspective (ask me if you're curious).Majorelle GardensWe decided our first stop in Marrakech would be the Majorelle Gardens, owned and renovated by Yves Saint-Laurent. Once we got a taxi to the gates we sat down and had lunch at a trendy (read: tourist pricey) restaurant. The chicken tagine was good, but the servings and prices were steep compared to Casa! One of the neat things about Marrakech in general was the massive numbers of tourists present, even this late into the fall. Instead of being "one of these things is not like the others" we actually fit in. Quite different even from Rabat and Casa.  The gardens are beautiful. Upon entering, the peace and quiet of the walled gardens surrounds and washes over you. The winding paths past different types of palm trees, cacti, and calm ponds transport you to a different place. The birds welcome you with their melodies.  There is also a Berber museum within the gardens, a cafe and an exhibit of all of the LOVE card designs YSL sent to his friends and clients each new year. Very pretty!Jemaa-el-FnaaDeciding we could easily walk to the Medina next was not a good idea. Miscalculated that one by a couple kilometers... But we eventually found the Koutoubia Mosque and the Jemaa-el-Fnaa square. Originally the place where public executions were held, it has been a marketplace for hundreds of years. In particular it has an overwhelming number of entertainers (musicians, snake charmers, monkeys in chains, storytellers, folks wearing traditional garb for photos, etc). We quickly bypassed the snake-men, and wandered through some of the narrowstreets of the souks. There are multiple souks specific to each type of good you are looking for, like olives, spices, carpets, jewelry, lanterns, and many more, but right around the square you can find a great variety of stalls. The merchants are impressive polyglots too - perhaps not perfectly fluent, but they can shout their wares in French, English, Arabic, Spanish, even some Italian and German here and there! After a-wandering, we followed sound advice and found a hotel that had a rooftop café overlooking the square where we took a break, watched the sun set and the stalls in the square start to light up.      A bit of purposeful shopping followed, then we had the headache of trying to find a taxi willing to use their meter (required by law, ahem!) to take us to the train station during rush hour. No luck. Ended up getting a grand taxi willing to take us for 30 Dh. It seems food prices aren't the only inflated things in Marrakech. First Class, best choiceWith only a few minutes to spare we decided on first class tickets for the return journey and some surprisingly speedy McDonald's take-out from the train station. It was a pleasant journey back to Casa sharing the compartment with a family and another young woman.
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I love my job

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

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

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Here are my brightest memories of Meskel...

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The beauty's in the breakdown

I was just listening to the call to prayer, and I thought: That's probably something a lot of people at home have never experienced. The call to prayer occurs - well, a bunch of times a day. There's an official schedule, but basically: Dawn, sometime around midday, sometime around the end of work, and dusk. (I'm sure I'm missing a few.) It comes over loudspeakers designed to cut through the city noise - which means, yes, it will wake you up until your body stops responding - and you hear a man singing, sort of. It's not exactly like Moroccan Idol; his voice wavers and drops and rises. Sometimes it goes for a long time, but often it stops just as you're getting used to it. I think it's something I initially had a hard time relating to. Religion, here, is public; it's not that you see mosques everywhere - they are everywhere, but they are private, where churches and temples and mosques in Canada are visible. The expression of religion, on the other hand, is open. Everyone worships the same God, so maybe it's less fraught with the difficulties we'd have back home. We pray in private, but our places of worship are more public. (The exception, of course, is the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, which is enormous, big enough that it eclipses almost every other structure in the city. It is - unlike most of the buildings in Casablanca - new and gleaming, meant to be seen and admired. The contrast between the mosque and the crumbling apartment buildings and shantytowns and ruined sidewalks is incredibly stark; they don't look like they belong in proximity to one another. I'm not trying to say that they should have spent the money on infrastructure instead - just that it's funny, how there always seems to be money for huge monuments, and none for everyday necessities.) * Me, well; my hair is longer, and my bangs are slowly growing out, which is a super irritating process when you don't have a flat-iron or any styling products. I'm sleeping better, although some days I still feel more tired than I should be, and I've more or less figured out what to cook and what to eat, which is awesome. I have moments where I wonder what I've done to my life, and moments where I am genuinely grateful that I did it. I don't love it here yet. I'm not sure I'm going to. Is it okay to say that? I feel like I'm contravening some unspoken etiquette here, but I'm not sure that I've really found my place in Casablanca, and maybe I won't. I have another 3 months left, and I have done a lot and learned a lot and I wouldn't trade it back for anything - but I don't love the city. I love the work - the work is amazing - but I don't really have a place in the city, and I miss having the sense that I have a place. I've come to terms with the harassment - the cat-calling, the men who try to whisper in my ear, the kissing noises when I walk by, the men who slow and literally bend backwards to stare at my chest for another few seconds - but it's tiring, too. I feel like I can't go anywhere without being stared at; whereas at home I can be invisible, unnoticed. Mostly, I miss my friends and family. I'm not constantly homesick anymore, but I miss being able to go out with my friends, or call my dad, or just be there for important things. My best friend from high school is getting married in June, and I find myself wishing I could be there to go dress shopping with her, or to try on the maid of honour dress she ordered for me. There are things like birthday parties and illnesses and funerals that I regret missing. Funnily enough, I miss Canadian weather. I've been away from Canada for (now) nearly five years, and now I daydream about those cold days when it's just snowed and everything is absolutely silent. I think I'm thinking about that now because it's never silent here; you can hear traffic and people and the call to prayer and animals and everything almost all the time. It's not bad, but for me it's not ideal. I love to travel, but I wonder if I'm just too far away for too long to be really happy here in the long-term. Not to worry - I have another 3 months and 1.5 weeks before I'm done, and I'm looking forward to it - but part of my reason for coming here was to see if I wanted to work in the field fulltime, and I'm not sure now that I would be happy doing so. I think a position where I could travel to the field a lot but come back to a home base in Canada or the US would be ideal for me right now.

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Delicious fall

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

 

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RIVAS & RAMA - Al Campo Take 2

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

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

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Diwali

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

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

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I am in DAR

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

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

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Social Media Saavy

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Each year, MEDA hosts its annual convention, Business as a Calling. I had the opportunity to attend this year's events in Niagara Falls, Ontario from November 1-4, 2012. I was excited to learn more about MEDA, contribute to work behind-the-scenes, and meet some of our supporters.

I arrived with the rest of the Marketing team on October 31 to help with registration preparation and logistics. It was a great to be able to meet face-to-face the staff I had been corresponding and working on projects with.

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What's the Attitude

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We went to Rabat on Saturday; what amazed me, after Casablanca, was how clean it seemed. There were still some parts that were less than beautiful, but the streets, the buildings, and the tourist sites were all really well-kept. Casablanca has grown on me a little, in the way that familiarity grows on you, but it's definitely a city in progress, trying to bridge that gap between community and progress, trying to find its character. The city itself is almost bipolar; shantytowns aside clothing stores, major fast-fashion chains on palm-lined boulevards only minutes from boarded-up storefronts, Africa's biggest "destination mall" in a city with crumbling infrastructure. I'm sure all of this is present in Rabat, but it seemed less stark, at least. We saw workers maintaining palm trees, the site of a new café on the waterfront. The royal mausoleum, where guards in full formal dress sat on horses. An art gallery, in the old casbah. * Work has been really great so far this week. We have a contingent of people here from MEDA Waterloo, and one of our staff from MEDA Egypt, and we are doing a clinic on a training that MEDA is developing for creating youth financial products with MFIs and other financial institutions. The idea is to teach staff how to effectively go through the product development cycle in order to offer targeted youth products, which benefits both the youth in question as well as the institution. I don't know much about training, so this has been really interesting to me. There are materials available from places like CGAP, but MEDA adds value to these kinds of trainings by having in-country networks, experts, and the focus on youth that many microfinance organizations lack. Going through all the presentations, both from the perspective of staff and the perspective of trainers and trainees, has been really helpful for me in learning more about MEDA's actual programs – which I know is going to help me do my job in impact assessment! I've really liked getting to know the team better. Also, it's been really nice to work in an English-speaking environment for a few days. * Left:The Royal MausoleumCenter: French protectorate=era achitectureRight: The main boulevard I feel myself changing as I'm here. Parts of me keep chipping away; I'm not sure if it's a good thing, yet, because I don't know what will replace them, but it's an intellectually interesting process. I think it comes from being continually challenged, by losing the context through which I had always defined myself. In Canada and the States, everything visible about me meant something to others, defined my role: My glasses, my hair, my gender, my name, my clothes all spoke to where I belonged – to whom I belonged, my friends and family, my country, my company. Here, those things are true too, but in a completely different way; here, they mean outsider. It's not a loss of internal identity so much as an absence of an external one, which in turn is challenging my internal identity. It's making me question how much of how I act was performative in North America, done because that's how I thought it should be done, and how much is integral to me as a person. It's not that I think of myself as a fake sort of person (actually, I am hilariously transparent most of the time), but I do think that knowing where your 'place' is in a society affects how you behave. In this case, I don't have any idea of where my place is – still – so I'm often at a loss.
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Chickens, Children, and The Call to Prayer


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

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

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The Oriental Express 2.0

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I recently got to experience my first trip on the night train to Oujda, where the satellite office of MEDA Maroc is located. It is a 10 hour overnight trip from Casablanca to Oujda by train, which travels via Rabat, Fes and a few smaller stops before reaching the end of the line in Oujda, a mere 15 kms from the Algerian border, and 60 kms from the Mediterranean. Because it is the easternmost part of Morocco, this region is referred to as the Oriental region - hence the Oriental Express 2.0 title. Not the original, but not inaccurate!

Left: A mural near the Moulay Slimane Foundation centre for sustaining traditional arts I set off on my adventure in good company, one of the other interns from our office was heading up to Oujda along with her YEN supervisor who played a role in starting the impact assessment of the "100 hours to success" program MEDA Maroc has successfully been running since 2009. Other staff had already arrived in Oujda earlier in the week, while we were at the YEN clinic my co-intern co-organized, and the pilot of the impact assessment study was starting the following morning. We boarded the train in the dark - E. and I were lucky to be booked together into a compartment with a small couch to sit on between the beds, rather than the very tight bunk bed set-up in the adjacent compartments. Not to say there was a lot of room to stretch. I tried to get a decent night's sleep but I found the noise and the motion and the foreign-ness of the whole experience too distracting. I think I mostly cat-napped.

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Business Plans in Bahir Dar

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

Desset restaurant on Lake Tana

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Chaza Mwamba & Bondwa

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

Chaza Mwamba

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In the Field: Meeting Clients, Practising my German





The past two weeks have been a flurry of activities throughout MEDA Maroc's offices, which was marked by visits from MEDA staff from Europe and Canada, a Monitoring & Evaluation Clinic organized by the two YEN interns in Morocco (Elena and Rémi, my fellow Canadians), a field trip to Tiflet and Rabat to meet with beneficiaries and partners, and a trip to our Oujda office for interviews and to observe the start of our impact assessment baseline survey. I'll start with the trip to Tiflet and Rabat, and write about the Oujda trip will be my next blog post.Tiflet and Rabat with MEDA Europe

Germans having lunch at Sqala, a Moroccan restaurantTo start off, two weeks ago, I spend Friday and Saturday assisting a small group of Germans engaged in MEDA activities in Europe tour Casablanca, Rabat and Tiflet. The group was led by the main MEDA Europe staffperson, my Communications supervisor, and a tour guide to translate from Arabic to German. We hired a bus to take us around, and late on Friday afternoon, after stopping to ask a dozen people for directions, we arrived at the Tiflet ARDI (one of our partner organizations) office, where the group was introduced to over a dozen beneficiaries of one of our financial services training programs.  We then visited the bakery of one of the beneficiaries, which he learned to better manage and thus make it more profitable, before heading back to Rabat for supper and a good night's rest.  Saturday saw us heading back to Tiflet (about 1 hour from Rabat, further inland) to visit the "kindergarten" and after-school program another client created after his training. The have approximately 50 kids benefiting from the program, from pre-school aged to high school aged children. We also got a magic show from a beneficiary who animates events and birthday parties.   Our next stop was a carpet store, where a brother and sister who took the training do some interesting business. The brother creates contemporary carpet designs, and sends them to women weavers in the area, who produce the carpets. The sister designs and makes clothing as well as household bamboo furniture. The two also source traditional Berber carpets, and sell them. I was very tempted to buy something, but I was too indecisive!    Left: Beneficiaries at the Tiflet ARDI office  Right: Some of the carpet designs the young man created        It was great to see what young people, my contemporaries, are able to do, and how they have created innovative ways to support themselves and their families. They're not rich - but they're not unemployed (unlike 30% of Moroccan youth aged 15-29 according to World Bank estimates) and they're doing something that they enjoy and is productive - that sounds like success! The Germans were very interested in the youths' businesses, and asked tons of questions. Unfortunately (and I must say for the first time really since coming here), I was the person who went around but understood very little - the kids and partners would speak Arabic, then the interpreter would directly translate into German. Since I only know a handful of Arabic, and I seem to have forgotten all the important words I once-upon-a-time knew from two semesters in Herr Schmidt's class, I mostly just followed along and asked for explanations from my co-worker when she was nearby. Since I talk to everyone here in French, I kept trying to ask the Germans questions in French - but mostly they spoke English as a second language, not French, which again was confusing. It felt very odd to be "that person," but the trip was very interesting and gave me a chance to meet youth who benefited from our trainings.  What I found really intriguing was the fact that, of the group of 11 Germans, several of the men had brought their teenaged children along. In fact 4 of the 11 were under the age of 20. One of the dads explained to be on the first day that they had brought them along because they thought it would a good chance for their kids to learn about the lives of youth in another country. To make them aware of the differences in daily life, work, education, life style, everything. For their part, the German teens were great: interested and engaged. They even swapped Facebook contact info with a number of the youth we met.  How many parents take their kids on trips like that? Where they see the end results of MEDA's work firsthand? Very few. Kudos to them for expanding their children's knowledge, while also being engaged enough to care how and where funding is spent (Some visitors were already MEDA donors).
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Second Month: It's all about Peruvian Gastronomy




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

Peruvian Gastronomy House - Historical Center of Lima

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

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Village Savings in Action

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

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

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