What’s Caimito?

b2ap3_thumbnail_Here-is-an-example-of-how-big-papaya-is-in-Nicaragua.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail__Domingo-and-his-son-with-some-caimito.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_Chepe-is-showing-me-a-bee-hive-column-he-uses.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_Domingo-showing-me-what-chocolate-looks-like-before-its-made.gif
The joys I get from meeting people when I travel never cease to amaze me. I hear amazing stories that I learn from and am usually shocked, in a good way; to hear of the profound different lifestyles people lead. From working and travelling in Nicaragua I have met these incredible people and I would like to share some of their stories. This first person I had previously met during my Case Study with the International School of Agriculture and Livestock (EIAG) in Rivas. Domingo Tuerno grows plantains with EIAG and he continues to welcome me to his field while he works rigorously. He grows plantains with Techno-Links technology and aside from this crop he also grows papaya and coco beans. On top of all of this, he is a promoter of EIAG and the Techno-Links program, where he goes around his community discussing the benefits of plantain in-vitro plants. I found it astounding that he had any time to do an hour interview with me and then provide me with some extra timbit information. After sitting in Domingo’s field for an hour doing an interview, Domingo introduced my co-worker and myself to his son Alejandro, who was using a stick to try to get something out of a tree. I was a little confused. After a few minutes, he handed me a green fruit, which turned out to be called caimito, which is green on the outside and white and mushy on the inside. You cannot get caimito in Canada, but it grows in South Asia and in Central America. After I told them it was delicious, Alejandro hit off a few more caimito for me and then walked over with a large papaya to give me! Domingo then wanted to show off his other products to me. We walked a few hectares over to where another field was. Here he showed me another large green fruit. He told me it was cocoa. He wanted to show me the inside of the cocoa, but it wasn’t ripe for harvest. I will have to visit Domingo another time. I interviewed Joseph Barnett who works with Dulce Miel and Techno-Links. The name Joseph has an English ring to it, usually Nicaraguans use common English names to give their children, but Joseph, also known as Chepe, is originally from the United States. He has now lived and worked in Nicaragua for over 30 years. He not only works with Dulce Miel in producing honey and is a technician for helping fellow farmers, but is also a founder of Dulce Miel. As well, he is apart of a monk community in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. During an interview with Chepe he showed us his spare hobbies, which include creating crème out of honey and selling separate bottles of honey. We can see that Chepe is extremely busy, but he continues to use any spare time doing volunteer work with other non-governmental organizations.
Continue reading
5592 Hits

Just Flabbergasted

b2ap3_thumbnail_Irrigation-system-loaned-out-by-IDEAL.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_The-well-CARITAS-put-in.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_Jiro-with-his-very-first-crops.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_Jiros-Home.gif
This is Jiro de Carmen Altamiran. His home is located in rural Santa Barbara, a region in Jinotega, as he put it "from the Santa Barbara school, 300 blocks north, is my house." He works with IDEAL, a Techno-Links partner that works with low-pressure micro-irrigation systems for small producers. Additionally, the technology package includes seed, fertilizer, financing, technical assistance and monitoring. CARITAS, another non-governmental organization in Jinotega, recommended Jiro to IDEAL.Jiro has never had a farm before and now he has 0.7 hectares of land. Before he thought the irrigation system would not work because water in his region is contaminated. However, CARITAS built a well for Jiro to use his irrigation system, which also blocks out debris. He now grows yucca, cucumbers, malanga (a tropical vegetable) and onions with the irrigation system.This is a flabbergast kind of story because I saw a real change in the client and their family. Jiro is now 58 with a wife, who is a preschool teacher attending school again, and a daughter who will begin preschool soon. He was saving money to buy products to burn the ground around him to create space for growing products. However, IDEAL recommended not to do this because it contaminates the air with chemicals. Now he's using that saved money to buy pencils and paper for his daughter when she attends school.Jiro has not only saved money by using the irrigation system, but he has also been able to save time. Having to only turn on the irrigation system, Jiro waits an hour while plants are being watered but spends this time with his wife and daughter, which he previously could not do.I was not able to gain more information about how Jiro was doing with his crops because his first-ever harvest is still coming up but I wish him all the best!
Continue reading
4826 Hits

Country Living in Ethiopia

b2ap3_thumbnail_Inside-the-guest-house.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_The-guest-house.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_Coffee-ceremony.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_The-younger-cousins-must-still-complete-the-chores-evening-during-the-festivities.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_Tour-of-the-compound-and-fields-by-Ato.-Abenezer.gif
This weekend I was invited to the family reunion of my colleague Mekdim. She grew up in a small farming town called Asgori (50 km west of Addis Ababa) where most of her family still lives to this day. I was eager to witness how life is for farmers in Ethiopia, especially because some of the E-FACE clients are farmers themselves. So I accepted her invite and we arranged to meet on Sunday morning.The day began very early as Mekdim and I met at 7am to begin the drive to Asgori. As we drove along the countryside, we would stop every 15 minutes to pick up a cousin, aunt or other family member to accompany us on the trip. When we arrived to the farm, I was amazed at the amount of land they owned. This was also my first time on a farm so I couldn't contain m excitement seeing the horses and cows up close and personal. Before too much time had passed, I was ushered into the main guest house. Having travelled to the south of Ethiopia, I was familiar with the traditional huts but I had never had the opportunity to go inside. Well, that day I was lucky enough to enter one and a coffee ceremony was being prepared. It is customary in all Ethiopian households to perform a coffee ceremony at least once a day; however, Mekdim informed me that the family had never had a Canadian guest before and this ceremony was especially important for them.After the coffee was poured, I was introduced to the patriarch of the family, great grandfather Abenezer. We shook hands, pressed our cheeks together three times and then he asked if he could give me the tour of his property. Hand in hand, he brought me to each of the fields he owned (i.e. teff, wheat and chick pea). He then had a demonstration of the grinding process. Finally, he took me to see his cattle field where I was offered fresh yogurt. As the day progressed, more uncles, aunts and their children continued to show up to the reunion. At one point, a wedding party showed and dancing broke out during lunch.The day was extremely exciting and as the sun went down we all gathered outside and drank Kineto (a traditional fermented drink that tastes like Pepsi and chocolate). I said my goodbyes and promised to visit again before I left for Canada. As we headed back to Addis, the family sang traditional Oromio songs, clapped and just enjoyed the little time left we had together. It was the perfect ending to an amazing day.
Continue reading
4949 Hits

Winds of change

b2ap3_thumbnail_Banana-crop-improved.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_Fertilizers-provided-by-CAC-Divisoria.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_Coffee-toaster.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_Jungle-Food.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_Members-of-CIED-in-Puno-at-3800-meter-above-the-sea-level.gif
A month ago, I started the most demanding, harder and amazing part of my internship. I was assigned to conduct final interviews to Techno-Links farmer clients' in Peru, visiting almost 10 different cities all over the country. Today, the visits have come to an end. I believe it is the right time to look back at this great experience.I consider myself very lucky as I got to see that our work in Techno-Links is actually bringing a REAL positive change into farmer clients' lives. Gaining access to agricultural technology and training has been a great step towards modernity and profitability. For example, farmers which are members of CAC Divisoria in Tingo Maria are able to prevent plagues and improve their coffee crops by using ecological fertilizers. In Piura, farmers working with Hualtaco have improved their revenue as their banana crops improved in quality thanks to agricultural techniques never used before in their communities. In Moyobamaba, members of Aproeco are able to add value to their coffee thanks to an industrial toaster machine. These facilities have created a feeling of empowerment in farmers, their aspirations have grown, and they want to become the best in their regions, to export their products, to compete with the biggest of the market. It was the effect Techno-Links aimed to create, to give that little push for them to reach new and greater markets.In a personal aspect, it was very rewarding to meet each farmer. I might forget their names eventually, but I will never forget the determination I saw in their eyes, their happiness and hospitality. They treated me with all kinds of gifts. Many said: "I am sorry to be offering you this small present" while giving me 10 kilos of fresh bananas or two liters of extra virgin olive oil! My heart was deeply touched by their genuine actions. This has also been a journey of food. I have tried the best food of my entire life, no exaggerating. Peru is the first gourmet destination in the world for a reason, and I was not going to waste this opportunity to prove it!I want to thank Techno-Links for this life experience and God for have giving me the strength to take the plane 14 times in a single month and not to count the dozens of hours spent in buses getting to my destinations. I passed from the deepest jungle to the desert and then to highlands at 3800 meters above the sea all this in only 30 days! No wonder why I feel a little dizzy right now, but I wouldn't want in any other way!
Continue reading
4951 Hits

From Dar with love

b2ap3_thumbnail_First-morning-in-Zanzibar-at-a-hotel-overlooking-the-fish-market.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_View-from-above-of-Dar-.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_Exploring-Stone-Town-markets.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_On-the-beach-in-Zanzibar.gif
After four months of living and working in Ethiopia, I was presented with an amazing opportunity to visit Tanzania. Without hesitation, I jumped at the idea of travelling to Dar Es Salaam and working from the MEDA Tanzania office for the week. In the days before my trip, I attempted to memorize as many Swahili words as possible – I wanted to impress the office with my extensive Swahili vocabulary. In reality, I ended up learning only 3 phrases: Habari (hello), Asante Sana (thank you very much) and Rafiki (friend). It was enough for me and the next week I was off to Dar Es Salaam.When I arrived I was immediately greeted by an intense humidity. Living in Addis, the weather is generally windy and cool, so I was not prepared for the weather. I grabbed my bags and met Mary, the Tanzania Intern, at the front. We hopped into the bajaj and that began my adventures in Tanzania.During my week, I was tasked with writing a report about the wildly successful Tanzania bed net voucher scheme. As the E-FACE project in Ethiopia uses voucher schemes for their own interventions, I was sent to analyze the Tanzania voucher system and suggest ways to incorporate a similar system into the E-FACE project. This required me to spend a lot of time with the IT department, who also happened to have amazing air conditioning in their work space. By the end of the information gathering sessions, I felt like a part the team and I knew I would have a difficult time saying goodbye at the end of the week.That weekend, I was able to visit Zanzibar, with Mary and Curtis as my personal tour guides. We flew in by plane, which allowed me to view the beautiful island from above. The best way to describe Zanzibar is paradise on earth. The blue/turquoise waters, the beautiful white sands and the lush palm trees all left me speechless. We were able to explore the eastern side of the island as well as the beautiful Stone Town. The entire trip lasted a few days but it felt like a second, and by the time we took the ferry back to Dar, I was already missing Zanzibar.To say I was spoiled during this trip would be the understatement of the century. I was so well taken care of by the MEDA Tanzania office, my fellow interns (Mary and Curtis) and the people I met throughout the trip. I wish I could have stayed A LOT longer but it was time to go back to Addis. I will definitely be returning in the future, hopefully sooner rather than later.
Continue reading
4762 Hits

QUE RICO MIEL!

b2ap3_thumbnail_This-is-called-a-Finished-Successor-Hive-this-is-where-the-Queen-bees-are-born.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_Heres-a-healthy-bee-hive.-A-healthy-bee-hive-always-has-a-crown-which-you-see-in-the-top-corners-of-the-hive.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_They-found-the-one-Queen-Bee-out-of-thousands-of-bees-to-show-me.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_We-are-using-a-smoker-to-get-the-bees-away-from-the-hive.gif
This week I had a little taste of what it was like to be a beekeeper, known as an apiarist, for INGEMANN FOOD in the region of Boaco, Nicaragua. INGEMANN is a grant recipient of a MEDA program called Techno-Links. They are an exporter of organic honey.Local beekeepers were loosing honey and panels were being broken when they were manually being taken out of the bee box. Throughout Canada and Central America there is an external parasite mite called Varroa Destructor. This mite attacks honeybees and causes a disease called varroatosis. This disease spreads throughout the colony causing bees to be weak and have infections that ultimately kills the hive.To improve these challenges INGEMANN has been producing queen bees in their bee yard to sell to local beekeepers in Boaca. Every two years beekeepers need to switch out the old queen bee for a new one. The queen cleans the hive consistently, doing 99% of cleaning compared to the other bees, and this leaves no room for the Varroa mite. This increases productivity through beekeeping because bees aren't dying and farmers can have higher production and increased quality of honey. I tried the honey and the technology is worth it.I also got to see how they use their technology for producing Queen bees and even wear a beekeeper suit! However, the first time I was going to go into the apiary, which is a bee yard, I was wearing all black. Bees see black and think of dark fur and think a bear is coming to take their honey. I didn't feel like being attacked by bees, so I waited till the next day to put on something a little brighter. Once I was prepared with my bee suit and double-checked and then double-checked again that no part of my skin was showing, I was taken into the bee yard. The apiarists were nice enough to look in a bee box to find a Queen bee to show me. Each bee box has 15,000 to 20,000 bees with only one Queen bee.
Continue reading
4639 Hits

Field Visits - Techno-Links

It is my second week in the field, visiting Techno-Links' farmer clients from our 10 different partners in Peru. My mandate is to conduct final surveys in order to measure impact of new agricultural technologies. This is definitely the best part of my internship, as I get to meet these amazing people and acquire great knowledge. Everyone has an impressive story to tell. They have so little, yet so much. Their houses might not be the most elegant and stylish, but their back yards are the wide fields, filled with fruits trees and beautiful flowers. They might not afford to eat gourmet meals, but they are always ready to share food from their plates, their generosity has no boundaries.This week, I got to visit coffee producers from 3 partners: BioCafe, CAC Perene and CAC La Florida. Last year was particularly difficult for coffee producers in Peru as pests damaged their crops, leaving them with minimal profit. However, they are hard workers and optimistic about the future. As one member of CAC Perene said, "As long I have strength in my muscles, my family will never starve". Thanks to Techno-Links, they will be able to improve their situation by using the different technologies implemented for them.I feel proud and satisfied to be working to allow them to improve their efficiency and their earnings. I want to thank them for teaching me so much about values, hard work and life.
Continue reading
4205 Hits

Domingo: using innovative technology

b2ap3_thumbnail_Domingo-a-plantain-farmer.gif
The growth of agricultural technology has grown at an incredible rate within Nicaragua that has helped improve and change the quality of production. One example is Domingo Antonio Tigerino Acevedo. Domingo and his family live in the Potasi neighborhood of Rivas, located in southwestern Nicaragua. He has 9.1 hectares of plantains, with one hectare consisting of 100 plantain in-vitro plants, which are seed tissues that have been combined from different plantain seedlings in the lab from the International School of Agriculture and Cattle (EIAG) to fight diseases and improve quality of plants.Domingo Antonio was having trouble with his plantains with the lack of water during the rainy season and the spread of diseases and insects. This reduced yields and impacted the quality of his crop.He heard from APLARI, an organization of plantain farmers in Rivas, that EIAG had a new modified plantain that would solve his problems.Due to his position of influence in the community, Domingo Antonio is a lead promoter of the Techno-Links program, which has the goal to increase the productivity and income generating opportunities of 5, 000 small scale farmers by improving the capacity of agriculture technology suppliers.He was eager to participate, especially since this innovative technology could solve his problem of lack of quality. He has talked with other farmers and friends about the benefits of this technology. He sees this as a smart and innovative idea. He has told 10 other producers and continues to spread the word about the in-vitro plants using the EIAG manual. Five of these producers have bought in-vitro plants from the university. He likes to visit these farmers and see how their production process is going.He has noticed a radical change in his crops due to the use of the technology. The in-vitro corms offer an improved variety of plantain that means higher quality, better clusters and greatest number of fingers on the plants."The change was significant because with in-vitro plants there is a more marketable number of fingers to sell."He was excited when describing the differences between his hectare of in-vitro plants and the normal plantain. He said there was an increase from 30 fingers to between 40 to 55 fingers per branch.The most exciting difference was an immediate decrease in his use of pesticides. For the next cycle of plantains, Domingo plans to buy 200 more in-vitro plants so that he doesn't have to spend money on pesticides. By not having to apply pesticides, Domingo will have more free time to plant more crops and spend time with his family.Innovative technology continues to grow throughout Nicaragua and is changing the way farmers see and work with agriculture.
Continue reading
4134 Hits

Nidia: promoting sustainable development

b2ap3_thumbnail_Nidia-stands-in-front-of-her-house-which-is-flanked-by-her-plantain-crops.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_One-of-Nidias-sons-and-an-employee-describing-the-benefits-of-the-new-technology-on-their-plantains.gif
In November, I had the opportunity to interview plantain farmers for a week in Rivas, Nicaragua to do a case study on the University of Agriculture and Livestock (EIAG), a partner of MEDA. Nidia de Carmen Yescas is a lead farmer that uses her farmer as a demonstration for other local farmers to see the progress of the technology she uses. Nidia, her husband and her five grown children live on the farm alongside a highway on the outskirts of Rivas, which is located in southwestern Nicaragua. Nidia and her family had problems with disease in their plantains, which meant little income due to poor quality. The plantain had no resistance to the black weevil and black sigatoka disease. Sometimes it was hard for Nidia to find markets for her plantain and it sold at poor prices. Nidia Yescas heard about technological development through APLARI, an organization of farmers in Rivas. She decided to try new agro bio-technology being developed at a nearby university lab. Vitro selection screens plants for certain characteristics. With plantains, it selects for tolerance to diseases, insects and soil adaptability. Nidia decided to try this new technology after seeing the demonstration plot at the university. These new technological alternatives have increased yields and plant quality. Nidia said the in-vitro plant resolved her problems. "It was a huge progress for me. The plants aren't sick and now I don't use pesticides." The new plant is resistant to pests and disease, making for a more productive plant anchor with a more competitive context in an increasingly demanding market. As well, Nidia doesn't spend money on pesticides and is able to save this money to spend on household needs. With the help of her sons, she has been able to produce healthy plantains. With the outcomes she's seen of the in-vitro plants she is now a promoter of reference for the university. She uses her farm as a model for planting in-vitro plants that other farmers can come see as an example. She's excited to see the profits that the plantains will now bring in and she's happy for the help that the technicians gave her from EIAG.
Continue reading
4519 Hits

The Christmas that wasn’t?

Normally around this time of year, I am battling snowy driveways, piling on the layers of clothing, and cursing the wind chill. I am also sipping on hot chocolate, pulling out the downhill skis, and decorating a Christmas tree. Despite the odd winter-related inconvenience, I really do love this time of year. But what happens when “this” time of year no longer exists?

Being in the middle of Africa in December, it doesn’t really feel like Christmas. While I complain about the “frigid” morning temperatures (of 5 degrees – I’ve become weak), it’s usually close to 30 degrees here in the afternoon. Even though I don’t have to worry about frost bite, I can honestly admit I miss the snow.

Continue reading
5097 Hits

When you are the only forenji…

b2ap3_thumbnail_the-path-I-walk.jpg

This is the path I walk up and down every morning and every evening. Despite the personal trials I have dealt with as of late, I still find humour and amusement in this daily walk. I’ve become familiar along this path, and as a result have formed the most unique relationships. And to put it bluntly, it’s because I’m the only “forenji” (aka white person).When you are the only forenji… your name is no longer Emma, it’s “forenj!!!”When you are the only forenji… it is easy to become friends with the local injera maker, who just happens to be a very sweet, old lady who invites you for a coffee every evening.When you are the only forenji… the woman selling vegetables and herbs, who also happens to be old and sweet, insists you take some herbs for free, even though you have no idea what to use them for.When you are the only forenji… the beggars who you give to begin to depend on your donation, which isn’t good.When you are the only forenji… the woman who sells corn, once again old and sweet, kisses your hand when she sees you after the work day has ended (and it’s really adorable!).When you are the only forenji… you are kind of like a local celebrity! I better not get used to it.

Continue reading
2902 Hits

The Love for Food, Science, and Word of Mouth

b2ap3_thumbnail_Nydia-Yescas-switched-to-the-plantain-vitro-plant.JPG
b2ap3_thumbnail_different-stages-of-the-plantain-in-the-lab.JPG
b2ap3_thumbnail_Farmers-notice-the-increase-of-plantains-and-improved-quality-of-product.jpg
b2ap3_thumbnail_First-time-ever-planting-plantains-and-using-the-vitro-plant.jpg

I love food! One of my favorite side dishes in Nicaragua is tostones, fried plantains. Lucky me because I got to eat all the tostones I wanted by doing a case study in Rivas.I visited the International School of Livestock and Agriculture in Rivas (EIAG in Spanish) where MEDA has supported the lab at the university to combine different plantain seeds to create a vitro plant that won’t be affected by disease or insects. In past years, plantain production has been low due to the spread of an insect pest known as black weevil, which feeds on the leaves, and black sigatoka disease, which causes yield losses. I went into the lab and saw the whole process of the vitro plant. I interviewed twenty male and female farmers to see their progress with the technology. Farmers said the planting of the plantain (vitro plant) was exactly the same as the normal plantain they used before. The only difference was that they didn’t have to use any or few pesticides, a happy side fact. They noted that they had more production and the leaves were bigger and healthier. One farmer had no experience in planting plantains and said it was quite easy with the help of EIAG technicians. One of the most amazing indications found in the case study that I witnessed with talking to local farmers was their desire to help one another. EIAG has a methodology of the Waterfall Method to spread information about the vitro plant, in other words spreading information with the word of mouth. Many farmers, like Norbin Abel, said he likes the innovation and helping farmers with a new level of knowledge. Junior, one of the technicians that explains the vitro plants to farmers, said he was helping farmers to be more stable in their production. The overall objective of farmers, technicians and the university was to help one another in the community. The goal of MEDA and EIAG is to have efficient production and incorporate small producers into the equation with the national and international market. Carl Sagan in Science as a Candle in the Dark (1997) stated, “Advances in medicine and agriculture have saved vastly more lives than have been lost in all the wars in history.”

Continue reading
4953 Hits

E-FACE Field Visit in Arba Minch Part Two: Agricultural Intervention and School Visit

b2ap3_thumbnail_Children-from-the-E-FACE-project.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_A-potato-farmer-in-Gamo-Gofa.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_Inside-the-classroom.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_Gamo-Gofa-village-school.gif

The next day the E-FACE team headed out to an agricultural intervention site in Gamo Gofa. You may be wondering what agriculture has to do with child exploitation and the weaving industry. Well, not much actually. However, the aim of the agricultural intervention is to help households that are at-risk of having their children engage in child labour improve their livelihood and income through other means. In this case, potato is the chosen commodity and will provide the targeted households with options (i.e. supplemental income for school tuition) besides child labour. During the visit, the farmers explained their excitement in the project and the techniques they learned from the E-FACE facilitated agronomy training sessions. The excitement of the farmers was contagious and I found myself eager to see the results of the hard work when harvest time arrived. Down the hill from the potato farm was the village school facilitated by World Vision. E-FACE in partnership with World Vision, provides the livelihood programs for the working youth and households involved in the textile industry. World Vision provides the education portion of the project, ensuring that the at-risk children are in school. The visit to the school was by far the most rewarding and inspirational part of the entire trip. When we arrived, we were immediately greeted by children eager to have their picture taken during lunch break.  I happily obliged and held an impromptu photo shoot. We were then lead to a classroom to view the improvements being made to the structure. The school had recently added educational paintings, improved lighting and better desks to encourage the students to learn.  It was amazing to observe the difference between a rural Ethiopian classroom versus the Canadian classrooms I have grown accustomed to seeing. I experienced a major wakeup call about the importance of education and how difficult it can be to access a proper education for some communities.

Continue reading
4851 Hits

The Great Ethiopian Run 2013

b2ap3_thumbnail_My-friend-Fantahun-and-I-post-race.jpg
b2ap3_thumbnail_In-the-middle-of-the-water-fight.jpg

I participated in the Great Ethiopian Run last Sunday – and what a blast it was! Originally a few of my colleagues and I were supposed to run it together, but life got in the way and I ended up running it with a friend of mine from the local gym!While there were a minority of runners who were racing, this event is much more of a “fun run” than a race. The course was 10km in total, and there were tons of great distractions throughout. We were drenched with water multiple times, which I really appreciated considering the heat! At the halfway mark there were huge speakers playing popular Ethiopian music, and massive trucks were handing out water balloons. As you can probably guess, a massive water balloon fight broke out!IMG_1228 My friend, Fantahun, and I post-race!The course was flat in some places, but very hilly in others. The sheer quantity of people (40,000 in total!!), combined with the narrow roads (often plagued with pot holes) and (fantastic) distractions actually prevented running in certain stretches of the course, at least for us middle-of-the-pack runners. I really didn’t mind the odd walk break though – racing at this elevation and heat was a bit of a shock!The race wasn’t timed, but I’m guessing we finished in an hour or so. It was tons of fun and I’m so thankful my friend from the gym ran it with me!

Continue reading
4829 Hits

E-FACE Field Visit in Arba Minch Part One: Textile Intervention

b2ap3_thumbnail_Animals-were-a-normal-occurance-on-the-road.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_Is-this-Eden-or-Ethiopia-.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_Some-of-the-new-spinnng-tools.gif
b2ap3_thumbnail_One-of-the-weavers-in-Arba-Minch-busy-at-work.gif

After a month of anticipation, I was finally able to go to on my first site visit for the MEDA E-FACE project. To give a bit of background, E-FACE (Ethiopians Fighting Against Child Exploitation) aims to reduce exploitative child labour by improving market access to textile and agricultural markets for vulnerable families and improve working conditions for working youth. Having worked on many of the contracts for the programs being implemented, I was excited to see my contribution to the project in action.  During our nine-hour car ride, the first thing that stood out to me the most was the abundance of cattle, donkeys and goats in the road. In past posts I have mentioned animals in the road but the trip to Arba Minch was by far the craziest. Our wonderful driver Mekdem did an amazing job avoiding each donkey or goat that decided to wander into our path. Although bumpy and extremely long, the trip was so beautiful that I am now certain the Garden of Eden is lost somewhere in Ethiopia. We arrived at the hotel very late so we decided to rest and start very early the next day. After a nice breakfast we headed to the first site, a textile intervention undergoing technology upgrading. With a portion of their own savings, the weavers were provided spinning tools to help boost their productivity. During the meeting, the weavers discussed their progress, their expectations for the coming project phases and how the project has impacted their lives. A few of the weavers even mentioned being able to afford school tuition for their children and medicine for sick family members since starting with E-FACE. At that moment, I felt extremely proud to be a part of the MEDA E-FACE team. My small contributions to the project were helping someone to make a difference in their life. After a month of doing assignments, reports and contracts, it was all starting to make sense and I was finally starting to see the bigger picture. On the way back to the hotel, the team got together to discuss the day’s events. Using the feedback from the weavers, we were already making adjustments to the program. At that point I realized that the process of improving lives is not something that can be done overnight. It requires effort from every individual involved in the project. It takes a lot of time but, in the end, it really does make a difference.

Continue reading
4904 Hits

What does a ride with some nice police officers and a mud bath have anything to do with renewing my passport?

b2ap3_thumbnail_El-Rincon-del-Viejo.png
b2ap3_thumbnail_Monkey-Friends.png
b2ap3_thumbnail_Our-private-hot-springs.png
b2ap3_thumbnail_Mud-bath-with-nice-French-couple.png

A few weeks ago I had an unforgettable experience in renewing my visa in Costa Rica. Catherine, the other intern with Mi Credito, and I went to Liberia, about an hour from the Nicaraguan border. The first experience I had was seeing the economic gap between the two countries, and it was hard to miss. The living standards in Costa Rica are higher and the country uses 95% renewable energy. Based on the history in Nicaragua it hasn’t been able to develop as Costa Rica has, but it has potential that it’s sometimes hard to comprehend that it isn’t a developed country yet. Nicaragua has rich and varied land, with different soil, climatological, and altitude characteristics. The country’s many rivers and volcanoes offer easily exploitable sources of both hydroelectric and geothermal energy, and internal waterways facilitate inexpensive domestic transportation. As well, the Atlantic and Caribbean Sea over international importation and exportation. This was the first part of the experience that I thought was interesting.The second part of the experience in Costa Rica was Liberia itself. From Managua to Liberia it takes 6 hours, including stopping at the border and going through customs. We arrived mid-day and wanted to do something relaxing after sitting on a bus for so long. We went to a beautiful waterfall, Llano de Cortes. However, our relaxing tropical waterfall didn’t turn out as we had hoped; my passport was stolen. It did, on the other hand, create an amazing story that will never be forgotten.

To begin the new passport process we hopped on a bus at 3am to head to the capital of Costa Rica, San Jose. By 7:30 am we were in the Canadian embassy. Even with all the stress, it felt nice to be in the embassy, a reminder of my country with French and English signs everywhere and the Canadian flag decorating the office. Everyone was extremely friendly and helpful; I got a new passport the same day! We then travelled back to Liberia, a 4 hour bus ride from San Jose. After this very long amusing and frustrating day, it was kind of like it never happened.  The next day we went to a national park, El Rincon del Viejo (Old Corner), which has fumarillos (steam vents) and paillas (mud pots). We hiked for three hours with monkeys jumping over us and we were surrounded by hundreds of Coatis, the cousin of the raccoon. We met a nice French couple that knew all about different species of plants and animals, they were pretty much our own private tour guides. After the hike, we were taken to a hot springs that included a mud bath. I might as well have owned the hot springs because there was no one else there. It was paradise and losing my passport was like a dream (or nightmare, depends how you look at it). It was definitely a week that I’ll never forget, that’s for sure! Through all my amazing and sometimes frustrating experiences with travelling, I have incredible memories and an understanding of new and different cultures that could never be replaced.

Continue reading
4265 Hits

Hiking through the Blue Nile Falls!

b2ap3_thumbnail_En-route-to-the-top.jpg
b2ap3_thumbnail_What-a-beautiful-view.jpg
b2ap3_thumbnail_I-can-see-why-Ethiopians-refer-to-these-falls-as-smoking-water-.jpg

My time in Bahar Dar came to an end on Saturday evening. I was back in Addis by 9 pm, and while already missing the lush vegetation, I was more than happy to be back in my own bed.I took advantage of an empty Saturday morning and arranged to join a tour group to the Blue Nile Falls, a beautiful waterfall connected to the Nile river. The Blue Nile Falls is known as “Tis Abay” in Amharic, which means “smoking water”.I was picked up in the early morning, and we began our adventure with a 45 minute drive over the bumpy roads of the outskirts of Bahar Dar. From there we began our trek throughout the surrounding mountains, which I LOVED! Hiking is definitely one of my favourite outdoor activities.It took us about an hour to reach our destination. And then we were able to get a bit closer!After passing the falls we hiked some ways longer in order to reach a traditional (read: rocky!!) boat to take us to the other side of the shore. After a short walk back to the car, we were on our way back to the city center.A quick costume change later and I was on my way to an afternoon conference, and shortly thereafter I was boarding my flight home. Overall, I’d say I enjoyed one awesome weekend!

Continue reading
4921 Hits

The power of microfinance

b2ap3_thumbnail_Belay-and-his-son.jpg
b2ap3_thumbnail_Egowetet-outside-of-the-cooperative.jpg
b2ap3_thumbnail_7-am-member-meeting.jpg
b2ap3_thumbnail_Having-fun-with-the-local-children.jpg
b2ap3_thumbnail_Comparison-of-the-quality-versus-non-quality-rice-grain-at-the-FFS.jpg
b2ap3_thumbnail_Addis-Alem-VSLA.jpg

My feet are muddy, my legs are tired, and the bags under my eyes are growing increasingly visible, but these physical flaws are proof of the incredible (albeit exhausting) four days I have spent in Bahar Dar thus far. As I sit here typing these words in my tiny hotel room, I feel fulfilled.Throughout this week I have spent an incredible amount of time “on the field”, which basically means visiting our clients in their homes, at their workplaces, or even their place of meeting.Boardrooms are completely unnecessary when you can circulate under the heavenly shade provided by an overarching tree. And shade really is heavenly when the mid-day African sun is otherwise beating down upon you.On Tuesday I visited 6 different clients, all of whom have benefited in one way or another from the microfinancial services provided by my organization. Needs are diverse and varied, and may include facilitation of a cooperative or a village saving and loan association (VSLA), or access to an existing bank or local partner microfinance institution (MFI) for access to working capital.While the benefits our clients receive from these services are also diverse, they can be summed up into two words: improved livelihood.Take Egowetet, for example. She is a member of a women-only rice cooperative, and her membership has provided her with the ability to wear shoes and send her two children to school (which is imperative to end the cycle of poverty).Or Belay, who, relatively speaking, is financially well-off. Belay has already acquired the resources required to run a successful rice business. He has recently been linked with poor women farmers, and now provides them with the tools they need to produce quality product, which Belay then stores for them until the ideal time for product purchase. It is a win-win situation for all.This morning I was on the road by 6 am in order to make a 7 am meeting with another VSLA. This 11 member group has learned the importance of savings through training provided by their group facilitator (who formed the group after receiving training from my organization). While they were previously renting the equipment required to produce local rice seed, their accumulated savings allowed them to become proud owners of this prized asset.Before we moved on to our next meeting, some local children and I started playing with my camera. These kids are too poor to attend school, and even though they aren’t usually much older than 7 or 8, they are responsible for herding livestock for up to twelve hours per day. Despite the fact it was only early morning, we enjoyed a quick work break together. Their facial expressions transformed from curiosity, to joy, to complete chaotic enthusiasm as we took our photos together, and it was hilarious to watch. It’s moments like these that truly make the loneliness and difficulty involved with packing up and leaving your home behind worthwhile.The rest of the day was spent visiting another VSLA and Farmers Field School (FFS). This VSLA, known as Addis Alem (meaning “new world”), have managed to save over 10,000 birr (divide by 18 for a Canadian currency conversion) in two years.The FFS is a group formed to share knowledge of best practices and to support one another in times of difficulty. This 24 person group was formed in July, but is already experiencing great success.The power of microfinance has the ability to change lives for the better using a variety of methods, and the impacts are incredible to witness. The ultimate goal is clear: eliminate poverty – and while quite a feat, it is possible.

Continue reading
5127 Hits

Ox, Donkeys, and Umbrellas in Church… or, how I spend my weekends

b2ap3_thumbnail_Shaunet--I-in-Bole.jpg
b2ap3_thumbnail_10000-feet-above-sea-level-This-is-where-Ethiopian-runners-train.jpg
b2ap3_thumbnail_beautifully-coloured-church.jpg
b2ap3_thumbnail_delicate-umbrellas.jpg
b2ap3_thumbnail_Donkeys-and-mules.jpg
b2ap3_thumbnail_dinner-party.jpg

I’ve had many people ask me what life looks like over on this side of the pond, so I figured a few of you would be curious to read it! While my weekdays are pretty busy, my weekends are typically just as filled… mind you, with a little more fun stuff. That being said, other than my visit to the National Museum, I haven’t really mentioned what I’ve been up to during my weekends! I try and get out to experience something Addis has to offer every Saturday...

 

Continue reading
4546 Hits

Field Trip

b2ap3_thumbnail_collection-of-hand-woven-scarves-and-shawls.jpg
b2ap3_thumbnail_Weaver-busy-completing-an-order.jpg

Shortly after I got to work yesterday morning, I was offered the opportunity to spend a half day visiting some clients. For those of you not familiar with the concept behind microfinance, basically, our clients are poor workers, primarily women, who work in the textile or weaving industry. In order to grow their business and ultimately improve their livelihoods, they need access to fair and secure financial capital, as well as financial literacy training in most cases. In third-world countries, this is not so easy to come by – and this is where an organization like mine comes in.A colleague of mine took me to visit a cooperative of 50 weavers in the nearby village of Shiro Meda. These weavers make beautiful textile products, and on display at the time was a collection of hand woven scarves and shawls.We interviewed four male weavers to discuss their progress with a new project. Due to a market linkage initiative within my organization, they have recently been linked with a new designer who has access to the U.S. market. Her business is granting them an income increase of up to 75% – 75%!!!!!!!! Imagine how your life would change if your income jumped that drastically from one day to the next. Unfortunately for these weavers however, it means their average pay is so low that one additional contract can make such a difference.On the flipside, the loss of one contract can also have an equal impact, but in a devastating way. Thankfully, these weavers are living up to the designers’ expectations. They are able to buy quality input supplies in bulk (input prices can fluctuate dramatically by the hour, so it is imperative to buy affordable inputs when available) thanks to secure access to capital, and are meeting the designers’ standards thanks to training.Even though their dependence on this one contract is high, this is progress being made and a step in the right direction. It is now up to us to continue to source new market linkages and provide additional financial services. In a few years, the savings allocated from this additional income will alleviate these four weavers, and hopefully the entire cooperative, from poverty. It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?! While there are billions of people still living in poverty, progress is still progress, even if it’s 50 weavers at a time.Yesterday was pretty amazing. I usually spend my days writing about how my organization strives to eliminate poverty, but yesterday I got to witness it first-hand. And let me tell you, it certainly reinforced my conviction for what I do.Oh, and I couldn’t not support the weavers so I had to purchase a half-dozen scarves ;) .

Continue reading
5013 Hits