I was invited to speak briefly at Chemonics last week on what I thought was an important component to support youth enterprise development. As one of MEDA's core areas of experience, I decided to talk about providing access to appropriate financial services for youth. Here's why I think this is one crucial component to enable youth enterprise development...
Global youth dominate the ranks of the unemployed. Demographic challenges, gender barriers, education or skill mismatch, and unsafe or poorly paid work are among the many difficulties that youth face in the search for economic opportunities. This is something we saw clearly illustrated in the Arab Spring. Compounding these challenges, entrepreneurial youth typically have limited access to financial services that meet their business development needs – this can be because their loan requests are often small and too costly for Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) to administer.
International development work has it perks for sure, but one of its downfalls is that you are often away from your loved ones for quite some time and are out of the loop with what is going on back at home. I try not to dwell on what I am missing and try and live in the present, soaking up as much of this experience as I can, but there are times when it is difficult. I'm sure we have all been there and being away from my family for Christmas was one of those times for me. For some, missing Christmas may not be a big deal, but in my family, it is probably the biggest event of the year. There is tons of food, music, and it really is the only time family from all over the globe can be together. This was my first Christmas away from home.Thankfully, (in ways) work was hectic, so I really did not have much time to think about it and before I knew it, Christmas was only days away. It was strange for Clara and I – we were not only in a tropical climate away from home, but Ethiopia does not celebrated Christmas the same time we do. They celebrate Orthodox Christmas, which is about two weeks later, so not much was going on for our Christmas. With that being said, we still tried to make the best of it. We decorated our home with Christmas lights and ornaments, and blasted Christmas songs while at home. We both managed to get Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off, so we had time to relax and watch an abundance of Christmas movies.On Christmas day, our work invited us for a special Christmas coffee ceremony and even gave us adorable Christmas buddies (a reindeer and a snowman). I truly appreciated their effort to make our Christmas as special as they could for us, especially since it wasn't their own Christmas. Even though we were far away from home, it helped to be around friends.Perhaps the highlight of the day (besides saying Merry Christmas to our family back at home) was going to the movie theatre to watch the new Hobbit movie! Clara and I did a marathon that week and were ecstatic that it was actually showing at the movie theatre here. We thought it was a pretty great way to spend Christmas.Even though I was not with back at home with my family this Christmas, I wouldn't say I was alone. MEDA and Clara were my family this year and I am so grateful to have celebrated Christmas with them. It is times like these that you really appreciate the relationships you've created and realize that family can come in different forms.I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and New Year's. Thank you to everyone who made mine special and unforgettable.
Check out what MEDA's Women's Economic Opportunities team has to say about Inclusive Market systems. Introducing guest blogger Christine Faveri, Director of Women's Economic Opportunities.
New tools to integrate gender equality into market systems thinking.
Having worked both as an advocate for gender equality and as a development practitioner for over 20 years, I know how hard it can be to translate concepts such as gender analysis and empowerment into practical tools that people can use in their work. Although many would now agree with Robert Zoellick that "gender equality is smart economics," many of us are aware that showing this to be true is easier said than done.
In Ethiopia, Christmas is celebrated at the beginning of January, because of the Orthodox Calendar. While Steph and I could have had two Christmases, we took a trip to Mombasa, Kenya to take advantage of our extended holiday. I'm not really the spontaneous type – but it was a worthwhile and refreshing trip. We planned it pretty last minute, but in the end, everything worked out and we had many good memories.Mombasa is a coastal city on the Indian Ocean and is the second largest city in Kenya. Historically it was a vital port city for trade. We had to adjust quickly to a new language (Swahili), currency (Kenyan Shillings), transportation (Kenyans drive on the other side of the road) and so on. Our first time in one of the grocery stores was eye-opening. There was much more variety and selection compared to what's available in Addis. We were also very excited about the nice cafes, restaurants, and the mall in Nyali. From a development perspective, I began to notice quickly the differences between Ethiopia and Kenya. Ethiopia follows a state-led development model, and the government protects the economy from foreign franchises. Kenya, on the other hand, has scaled back the role of the state, liberalized markets and embraced a Western model of development.Our time in Mombasa was short and sweet. We didn't travel around too much, but mainly relaxed by the beach, ate food we can't find in Addis, and spent time getting to know the guests at our hostel. Our stay at the hostel was pretty unique. The owner recently moved into the current house a few months ago, so it didn't feel like home yet and was missing her personal touches. We were there when artwork, curtains, and the like were being put up. To see her and express that she was coming alive again, was something that excited me. I'm all for pursuing things, opportunities and people in life that make you come alive. Of course we all go through different seasons, some much more difficult than others. But ensuring that there's life in what you do, is vital.During our trip, I was reading a book called "The Me I Want To Be" by John Ortberg. It's a timely read, because I've experienced many challenges, opportunities to grow and self-discover throughout this internship. If there's one thing that I realized recently, it's this: for some time I got lost in questions and uncertainty about the future, which made me doubt my dreams, passions and capabilities. It's a downward spiral if you don't quickly realize there's a process to figuring it all out. And answers don't always come quickly or conveniently. Being confident and certain in who I am in my faith in the Lord, regardless of circumstances, is what will keep me grounded. A quote from the book that I love is this, "life is not about any particular achievement or experience. The most important task of your life is not what you do, but who you become."It's already nearing the end of January, which means I have less than two months left. It feels like there isn't enough time to get everything done, so it's crunch time! I'm excited to go to the field next week and spend time collecting most significant change (MSC) stories from our clients. My sister wrote in her Christmas card to me: "There's no CAP to what you can learn there." I want to hold onto this. Each day, there are new things to learn from different people, opportunities, and situations. There is no cap!
From 2008 to 2011, MEDA implemented the Afghan Secure Futures project (ASF) in Kabul. ASF focused on improving the lives of as many as 1,000 vulnerable boys, mainly between the ages of 14 and 18, who were living in Kabul and working as apprentices in the construction sector.
Why take an indirect approach?
Many economic strengthening (ES) projects use indirect approaches. Some seek to benefit youth through one of the social units to which they belong, such as their family1. Family-focused projects typically focus on increasing the earnings of children's parents with the assumption that this will be partly spent to benefit children. Seeking to benefit children and younger youth through their workplaces is less common among ES programming.
An Overview of MEDA's Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Intervention for Working Youth in Ethiopia
A little under one-third of Ethiopia's population is currently living in extreme poverty. In many of these cases, households withdraw their children from school and put them to work in order to supplement the family income. While the government of Ethiopia has made great effort to element the worst forms of child labor, enforcement of laws and consistent prosecution of violators has not yet reached an ideal level.
To address this gap, MEDA's E-FACE project implements various livelihood strengthening interventions that tackle the issue of child exploitation due to reduced livelihood. E-FACE targets households at-risk of or engaged in the worst forms of child labor in the Ethiopian textile and agriculture sectors, as well as young workers under the age of 18.
I spent the two-week Christmas/New Years break in Lomé, the capital of Togo. I couchsurfed while I was there – a website that connects travellers to locals who open up their homes and allow that person to crash or "surf" on their couch or any sleeping surface. There is no expectation of payment, and depending on the host, lifelong friends can be made in a matter of a few days.I had done this many times before but all in Europe and North America, pretty much all were great and memorable, but all were in situations and cultures that were at least vaguely familiar to me as a middle-class Canadian. This was certainly not the case in Togo. For two weeks I got the full experience of living like a typical Togolese with my Togolese peers. I slept on the floor sometimes, had bucket showers, didn't go on the internet, ate what my hosts ate, drank what my hosts drank, hung out with their friends, went to their spots, and lived life at their pace.Sometimes there were long periods where nothing really happened, we lazed about and didn't really do anything. No electronic devices to distract, or appointments, or things coming at you. Constant stimuli are a luxury of developed countries or of the wealthy. In underdeveloped parts of the world, you have to just pass the time with nothing but the people around you. I came to appreciate these moments; this is when you just need to chill out, and be centered in yourself. It builds trust in those around you. I really had to learn how to just "be", and hang out with your friends doing nothing. You have to lose that nagging flighty-ness, not think about what others are doing or thinking, not think about what you should be doing, and not worry about the future.These were contrasted by periods of fast action and intense stimulation of the senses: Fast nights jumping from place to place, all on the back of motorcycles weaving in and out of traffic. Walking through jam-packed markets where every sight, sound, and smell is new. The constant bartering over prices, and everyday tasks that require so much more than this North American could ever have thought.All this reinforced a few things...1. You have to take life it as it comes; planning and the future are luxuries. Live in the present. Eat when there is food in front of you, drink when you have drink, and sleep when you have a bed.2. You have to be capable. For example, fetching water from the well for the first time, I felt so helpless; I couldn't get the technique to fill the bucket and could only retrieve a small amount each time. If you can't do something, learn fast, because as a grown person, you don't want to be a burden on others.3. Saving doesn't happen. If you have money, spend it. If you have food or water, you consume it now, because if you wait, there is a good chance it won't be there in the future, just due to the uncertainties and precariousness of life.4. Reciprocation and sharing are hugely important and reinforce bonds in a powerful way. Because the typical Togolese (or African for that matter) won't always have money or food, you have to rely on others. Sometimes you pay, other times your friends pay. That way you won't ever go hungry when others are eating.5. When the good times roll, jump in with both feet because there's no guarantee tomorrow will offer you the same opportunity that you have now.It really was a life-changing experience. It changed me by showing me a different way of living, with new rules, new social norms, new burdens and new rewards. I gained broader perspective on what life is for a large part of humanity and will carry those lessons and experiences with me. I loved it all.
This blog series was sent courtesy of Microlinks, part of the Feed the Future Knowledge-Driven Agricultural Development project. Its contents were produced under United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Cooperative Agreement No. AID-OAA-LA-13-00001. The contents are the responsibility of FHI 360 and its partner, the International Rescue Committee, and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States GovernmentPromising Practices
In 2008, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) defined economic strengthening (ES) as "[t]he portfolio of strategies and interventions that supply, protect, and/or grow physical, natural, financial, human, and social assets aimed at improving vulnerable households cope [sic] with the exogenous shocks they face and improve their economic resilience to future shocks." That is a tall order; however, we are seeing an increasing demand for holistic programming to respond to the needs of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC). A growing body of evidence points to risky behavior by orphans and vulnerable children seeking to meet immediate livelihood needs, such as accepting "gifts" from older males in return for sexual favors and migration.
Here, we can begin to understand what the problem is. We know there is a call for an innovative "portfolio of strategies and interventions" aimed at improving vulnerable households' ability to cope with shocks, but what are they? What evidence is there to prove that ES models and approaches even work? Well, the jury is still out; however, we will explore a few areas that have seen promising practices for OVC and where these ES trends may take programming in the future.
This year, I spent my holidays at a beautiful beach surrounded by good friends in Lome, Togo. Although of course I missed celebrating Christmas with my family, the alternative wasn't too shabby.Four friends and I flew from Tamale to Accra on the early morning flight, then took a car for about three hours to reach the boarder, and then ended up at our bungalow on the beach by late afternoon. We spent our time on an almost empty beach- swimming, playing Frisbee, listening to music, eating delicious food and playing lots of card games in the evenings. It was the perfect antidote to the busy pre-holiday stress we had left behind.On Christmas, we played and relaxed on the beach all day, and then met Kevin, the other GROW MEDA intern who was also traveling in Lome, for dinner at a little Bavarian and French restaurant. Taking me back to my Bavarian roots, I was beyond excited to have discovered a German restaurant in Lome. The six of us shared a delightful Christmas feast that reminded me of celebrating the holidays as a child in Germany. We had a truly wonderful time and it was great alternative way to celebrate the holidays.One of the perks of returning to Tamale was that everyone else was traveling, so I had been asked to house and dog-sit for two adorable puppies at a friend's nice house with a pool. In a way my vacation continued with lots of dog walking and pool time. And I also looked after a friend's horses, so I got to go horseback riding a few times, which made my break even better. It was a really great holiday break and I was happy to ring in the New Year's in Tamale celebrating here with friends and fireworks.The last year brought many new firsts and special memories for me. Moving to Ghana and being part of the GROW team has been such an incredible experience so far. I feel very privileged to be able to travel to the villages to meet our women farmers, continue learning from our skillful staff here and be part of this meaningful work to help make a difference for these women and their families in Ghana. The GROW team is really a family and after three short months it feels like home here. I'm truly grateful for an amazing 2014 and I can't wait to see what 2015 has in store.
Merry Christmas from Ethiopia! Without the snow and festivities, it was definitely a different kind of Christmas for me this year. But I'm thankful to have had a new experience celebrating Christmas in a different country. I learned how to make the best of my circumstances and enjoyed the two days off to rest and celebrate. I'm thankful for the Christmas season because I'm always reminded and humbled by the birth of Jesus and all the blessings I have in my life.Back at home, the month of December is usually filled with reflection, travel, and celebration. I usually travel to the US to visit family and friends or attend a church retreat to conclude the year. My family usually doesn't have extravagant Christmas traditions, we just enjoy each other's presence.Over the month of December, Steph and I decorated our house with lights, paper trees, and ornaments. And this past Tuesday, I had some friends over for a Christmas dinner party. I made pork chops, sausages, mashed potatoes, and roasted vegetables. It was nice having company over for the first time. Some of my friends said that they felt like they weren't in Ethiopia with the food, decorations, and Christmas music. The next day, Christmas Eve, Steph and I were off work. We got two days off to celebrate our holiday, but technically Christmas in Ethiopia is in January. We had a nice Christmas Eve dinner and watched the Hobbit at home. Waking up on Christmas morning, I had a nice post-it note stuck on my door from Steph, reading, "Merry Christmas!" with a cute reindeer doodled on it. We had pancakes and fruit for brunch, exchanged gifts, and watched Home Alone – a classic. In the afternoon we went to the office for a nice Christmas coffee ceremony our staff had put together for us. We had coffee, cake, and received a nice gift from our staff. I really appreciate their thoughtfulness and for celebrating Christmas with us, even though they celebrate in January. Our evening was spent calling home to say Merry Christmas. We also watched the Hobbit at the movie theatre and had a nice Christmas dinner in Bole.I'm really thankful to be in country with Steph – we made Christmas the best we could, even though we're both far from our families. There's just a few months left of this internship, and I don't think I would have made it this far without her support and friendship. As we near the end of 2014, a new year is just around the corner. I'm always excited for a new year, because it's a fresh start and I gather together hopes and dreams for another year. The year 2014 has had its ups and downs, and at the beginning of the year I never would've thought I'd be in Ethiopia working with MEDA. Now that it's the end of the year, I can say that despite this year's challenges, all of the obstacles and experiences have helped me grow as a person – and being on this internship has contributed much to this growth.
Forging the right partnerships between Financial Service Providers (FSPs), Youth Serving Organizations (YSOs), and other key stakeholders, such as schools and local government, can be a key factor to successfully and sustainably serving youth clients.However, partnerships are not always the answer.This blog explores whether or not to partner, as well as the nature of partnerships themselves, and is targeted to FSPs and YSOs, which deliver youth savings programs.
By Nicki Post and Ryan Newton (Women's World Banking)
After the week of work visiting clients in Bahir Dar, Clara joined me and we did some touristy things...First Stop: Blue Nile FallsAlso known as "Tis Isat, the "Smoke of Fire" waterfall is near the Tis Abay town situated about 30 km downstream from the town of Bahir Dar and Lake Tana. The Blue Nile Falls are considered one of Ethiopia's greatest natural spectacles and is the second largest waterfall in Africa (next to Victoria Falls).The town was busy when we arrived late that Saturday morning. It was Market Day. Once we got through the crowds we trekked 1.5 hours up the mountain to the falls. I don't hike, not alone with high altitude, the scorching sun and sharing the path with dozens of cows. Needless to say, it was a mission and it would not have been complete without stepping in cow dung and nearly being trampled a few times. Haha – it was still worth it. Even though it was very busy, we got to see the falls in its full form (sometimes there is little water, due to the dam). I was so hot, I seriously considered jumping in it, but I refrained, knowing it would not end well.Second Stop: The Lalibela ChurchesOn the Sunday, we boarded a plane for Lalibela to see the UNESCO heritage site of the 11 monotheistic rock-hewn churches.These churches were attributed to King Lalibela who, in the 12th century, set out to construct a 'New Jerusalem', after Muslim conquests halted Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land. Due to this, Lalibela is one of Ethiopia's holiest cities, especially for the Ethiopian Orthodox community.The churches were not constructed — they were excavated. Each church was created by carving into the ground to form the churches from the inside and out. The largest church is 40 feet high.Going from Bahir Dar, a lush, green paradise to Lalibela, a rocky, mountainous desert was quite a drastic change, but not any less spectacular.The churches of Lalibela are unlike anything I have ever seen. The most impressive was Bet Giorgis (St. George) church. It is cut 40 feet down and its roof forms the shape of a Greek cross. It was built after Lalibela's death (c.1220) by his widow as a memorial to the saint-king. It was breathtaking... no, literally! All the walking, up and down stone hills, through caves and across bridges nearly killed me. That weekend was a work out.All the churches were so beautiful and it really was a privilege to witness something so sacred to the Ethiopian Orthodox Christians and Orthodox Christians around the world.This weekend was the first major touristy trip we did and I am glad we did it. Ethiopia is often not given much thought, but it truly has a lot to offer, you just have to look for it.
It's the holiday season back in Canada and I'm trying my best to be present and thankful in my current circumstances here in Ethiopia. While I could compare and wish that I was back at home, there are so many things to be thankful for! I am part of a really great project (E-FACE) and am loving the work that I get to do. Here's a little snippet of what I did a few weeks ago:I went on a field visit in the South for a few days with Lauren Good from MEDA's DC office and an E-FACE colleague, Wondwossen. It was a really eye-opening trip. I learned so much from working and traveling with Lauren, Wondwossen and the field staff. And of course our wonderful clients always teach me so much. After a 7-hour car ride, we finally arrived in Wolaita. We then drove to Sibaye Korke kebele (kebele = municipality) in Damot Gale woreda (woreda = district) to meet with a potato producer cooperative and a group of youth sales agents. We were warmly welcomed by one of our female clients, a member of the potato producer cooperative, who had prepared tasty potatoes for us! Lauren and Wondwossen facilitated a focus group discussion, verifying information and data for our project's potato intervention. I couldn't help but notice all the kids in the area sneaking up around us to see what was going on.After this discussion, we met with six youth sales agents who participated in the Building Skills for Life program. They each shared about their businesses (used clothing, sugar cane, butter, coffee, cereals and seed, teff) and what their future aspirations are. It was refreshing to hear about their dreams and how the training they received changed their mindsets. I interviewed one client named Aynalem and I was so encouraged by her story. Despite a difficult life growing up, she has worked hard to provide for herself and support her mother. As we were leaving, I encouraged her to study hard and chase after her dreams.The next day we visited more youth in Humbo Woreda. In this group, two youth stood out to me. They were on time and one brought his record book to show how he keeps track of his expenses, sales and savings. I could tell they were very serious about their future dreams: one wants to become an engineer and the other wants to become a doctor. This really amazed me. Through their current businesses, they know if they work hard, continue to save and maximize their profits, they can attain their dreams.Another theme I noticed among the youth was a sense of empowerment. They felt empowered because they were no longer burdening their families. They were earning their own income through their respective businesses and can now pay for their own expenses. I have no doubt in my mind that these youth will go on to be successful and influential leaders in Ethiopia. I have a few months left of my internship, so I'm eager to meet more clients, hear their stories, and document how the project facilitated positive change in their lives.
MEDA's Youth team are learning from their past work and applying it to MEDA's new youth projects. Director of Youth Economic Opportunities, Jennifer Denomy, and senior project manager, Farah Chandani, presented at MEDA's annual convention, held Nov 6-9 in Winnipeg, MB.
The term "youth" can encompass many different ages depending on who's defining it, though MEDA typically works with those 15-24 years old. Youth are also labelled the "demographic dividend" – so many are coming of age simultaneously and with this increase of youth entering the workforce, access to employment becomes a problem.
In early November, I woke bright and early to catch a seven AM flight. When I arrived at the airport, I traveled 1.5 hours to visit three EDGET clients; a Farmers Field Schools Group and 2 rice processors. Each had a different story to tell about their progress, challenges and success. It was amazing to finally be able to connect the information I gathered for reports and see how the project is impacting client's lives first hand.Knowledge is Power- Farmers Field School GroupIn a town called Libo, I walked through hectares and hectares of farmland for what seemed to be hours. I almost stepped on a snake and screamed really loud, which provided entertainment for the rest of the staff. Eventually, I reach a series of huts and the group of farmers. This was one of EDGET's Farmer Field School (FFS) Groups.Farmers Field Schools is an EDGET initiative that gives farmers the opportunity to view demonstrations and experiment of improved farming techniques. Members then share what they learned and their results with their Farmers Field School group members and neighbouring farmers.Even though they were shy at first, the men opened up to me about their experiences with FFS and described how they have used the new technologies to improve their rice production, increase their businesses and ultimately create a better life for themselves and their families.Balay- Improved Technologies= Increased SuccessAfter the farmers group, I visited a processor named Balay. Balay provides a rice processing service for neighbouring farmers. Due to the training sessions and opportunities he has received from MEDA through the EDGET program, his business is a huge success. He also recently bought a rice processing machine on a cost-sharing basis with MEDA – it combines a number of steps into one. The machine produces higher quality rice, which increases the value and ultimately the profit.Balay believes this machine will be a great investment for his business and his future."This machine will not only benefit me as a processor, but because it increases the quality of rice, the farmers will benefit as well by receiving a greater income for the rice they produced."From Fields to MarketsThe last person we visited was Momina, a rice processor, turned parboiler turned business woman. Momina has been a rice processor with EDGET for a number of years but in 2013, she decided to parboil rice as well. Parboiling is an additional step in processing rice that increases the nutritional value and quality.Momina has used EDGET's training on market linkages to sell her rice in local markets and several supermarkets in Addis. She has not only put parboiled rice on the market but has also shown the value of women as key players and entrepreneurs in the rice industry.
Empowering Youth: Building Skills For Life for Youth in Ethiopa
Building Skills for Life is a training program tailored for young workers (ages 14 -17) in Ethiopia. It is one aspect of a multi-pronged approach to supporting youth in the E-FACE project (Ethiopians Fighting Against Child Exploitation).
The program is based on MEDA's previous experiences with providing life skills and financial literacy training for youth in Morocco and Egypt through the YouthInvest project. The training encourages young people to understand themselves, to develop decision-making capacity, and improve their communication skills – in order to develop the required business skills to become entrepreneurs. It is designed to empower youth and to help them create further opportunities for their lives. In Ethiopia, the training is focussed on young weavers in the textile industry; hence a practical aspect that provides technical training and know-how on weaving techniques is also included. The diagram below illustrates the six core areas covered by the 100-hour training program.
The MEDA Youth Economic Opportunities (YEO) team is pleased to be launching our blog, where we will be sharing our experiences working with young people around the world and our thoughts on current issues in youth development.
What do we do?
For over a decade, MEDA has been developing targeted solutions that support youth in accessing appropriate financial services, securing safe and meaningful employment and becoming entrepreneurs. These youth experience reduced vulnerability, increased economic activity, and enhanced hope for their future.We combine our expertise in technologies, value chains, agribusiness, financial services and gender to bring catalytic assistance to our clients - those marginalized youth populations in poor and fragile states.
I'm nearing the end of my third month in Ghana, and am still learning and doing something new every day. Overall, I absolutely love my life and work here. Whether I'm learning how to build keyhole gardens in the villages for the dry season, or documenting our semi-annual Project Advisory Committee meeting to get insights into the GROW strategies, I'm constantly growing professionally and personally as well as getting my daily dose of inspiration.Recently I had one of these moments of absolute admiration and inspiration in Maase village. Jalal, my GROW team member, and I had an early morning and a bumpy ride to this village in Upper West District. I was taking pictures, videos and interviewing Mary, the proud new owner of a keyhole garden. Her GROW group of women farmers had come to help with the construction and to learn how to build the gardens for themselves from Jalal's demonstration.Several layers into the construction, the garden was starting to come together, but needed more top soil. The women had to gather additional soil from outside of Mary's fenced in property. So, the women and some men formed an assembly line to pass bucket of top soil to the construction site of the keyhole garden. A true testament to teamwork and support, but more than that, despite the fact they had been working in the heat all morning to build this garden for their group member, they started singing songs, laughing and smiling as they were passing buckets of soil along the assembly line. I was so touched and impressed by this beautiful display of community. The women showed so much strength, unity and joy- with access to opportunities their potential to change their communities, Ghana and the world is endless.My time here in Ghana hasn't been without its challenges, but getting to work in this area of my passion, women's empowerment, is really all I need to relight my motivation. I'm truly inspired every day being surrounded by strong women. Whether it's through these incredible moments with the women in the villages, or by the strong female leaders on our MEDA team- it serves as a constant reminder as to why this work is so important.
This week we had a Project Advisory Committee, or PAC meeting in Wa. The meeting was attended by a majority of MEDA Ghana country staff, MEDA staff from HQ in Canada, representatives from our five key facilitating partners (KFPs), folks from the Canadian embassy in Accra and Global Affairs Canada, as well as a representatives from the Ghana Health Service and the Ministry of Food and Agriculture.This was my first PAC meeting. What I was able to take away is that things seem to be on the up and up. There was a great deal of optimism for year three of the project, and I feel like things have improved in that regard since the last PAC meeting in June.This optimism will surely be necessary. The project has ambitious targets and the rate of uptake by the clients (i.e. the number of women planting soybeans within the GROW project) must increase drastically for next year's planting season and in subsequent years for these targets to be met.I have two thoughts on this. Initially I fear that the low hanging fruit has already been targeted so to speak; that it will be difficult to convince the remaining women who are enrolled in GROW but aren't yet planting, to plant next season. These remaining women are perhaps more risk averse and will be very hesitant to try something new making achieving the targets set for the number of women planting a tall order.Countering this is that the initial work put in with the other value chain actors will hopefully yield more reliable service and more stronger linkages after a longer duration relationship has developed, enabling more women to access these crucial services and inputs when they need them and allow more to plant. This will work in the project's favour going forward and be a positive factor in the following years that was not present at the outset.I think it will come down to whether or not women who have planted in the past were successful. In groups where women have been successful and have earned a decent income from their crop it will encourage more women from those groups to plant next year. However, in groups where women encountered problems and were unable to earn an income, or a high enough income to justify their efforts, it will be very hard to convince additional women from those groups to try planting, and indeed it may be hard to retain the numbers we do have.The abilities and strengths of our field officers will affect this to a degree, but I have learned that it is very hard to change people's perceptions and change ideas that have been long held and are entrenched. Some of the shortfalls from last season were due to bad luck, such as poor weather. In some of these communities successes will beget more success, but in communities that experienced difficulties, we will certainly have our work cut out for us.
On Thursday November 6th, 2014 I flew into Winnipeg for the first time. I had never been to a MEDA Convention and had never met any MEDA members. I was excited and nervous. I've met staff members from my internship in Nicaragua and other interns from the first week of orientation in Waterloo.I need to start at the end of this story for you to understand why I was sad after Convention. I came home Sunday night, not technically home because I am currently living in Quebec City to improve my French. When the plane was landing there was snow falling. It was 1am, cold outside and no one was waiting for me at the airport. I took a taxi home and this was the start of me feeling sad. Monday I was on the brink of tears all day. I immediately missed all the connections I had made at the MEDA Convention. I didn't want to be far away from this positive energy. I found compassion and such admiration for members and staff.I wasn't as sad on Tuesday and I am personally uplifted from the weekend. I want to be closer to God based on the passion I saw from individuals at convention. For example, Mary and I were talking on the last day about the plenary talk Laura Ling had given the night before. When Laura was in detainment in North Korea, she had paced around her room for exercise and also meditated. What hit home for me in Laura's talk was that she gave thanks for something before she went to bed, "Thank you for letting me see this butterfly today." How can someone stuck in North Korea and being isolated for 140 days have the energy to be so positive? Mary and I decided that during the bike tour that we would say what we were thankful for at the end of each day. As well, after my day of mopping around the house on Monday, I realized that I need to have a positive outlook and good things will come. In Matthew 21:22 it says, "And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive." I can still keep this positive energy from the MEDA Convention and spread it to others."Never judge a book by its cover" should be the MEDA slogan. No offence, but it didn't initially occur to me to ask MEDA members questions about their lives. I couldn't have been more wrong. I am not exaggerating when I say I met the most interesting people at MEDA that I have ever met in my life.First, I need to say that I am amazed by all the work that MEDA staff does. To work somewhere, continuously traveling to different places for some, and still be energetic about the work you do is astounding. I also met many MEDA members who own businesses, have demanding jobs, and families to look after all at once. Yet, they make the time to come to the Convention and be apart of it through giving their time, effort, and donations.I am an early bird, so I have no idea where I got the energy, but I was running on 5 hours of sleep a night at Convention. I never wanted to go to bed because I was so genuinely intrigued by people's lives and I was mesmerized when they talked. Saturday night I decided I would have an early night. Thursday I had gone out with the students and Friday I had some amazing bonding time with my mini Bike to Grow Team, Ethan and Mary. I would have a relaxing Saturday night. There was a group sitting in the lobby area. I pulled up a seat and joined the conversation. I was the last person to leave with Lisa and Abe, Mary's parents, at 1:30 am. I don't know how I can explain how greatly intrigued I was by the conversations that night. Since the Convention, I repeatedly refer to one individual, Wilmer Otto. I believe everyone to have such stories and I want to use Wilmer as an example. He owns companies in the States and Ukraine. When he was 18 he decided he was going to drive from Illinois to Costa Rica. We were talking with two other men all night about history in Ukraine, trips, and good jokes. They all asked me questions about the tour, how I was preparing, why I'm doing it, and when I will go. Out of nowhere Wilmer says, "and after your bike trip I'm inviting you to stay at my hotel in Romania. It is my gift to you and Mary for doing the tour." First of all who has a hotel in Transylvania? It was surprising news, but he explained why he bought the place and what there is to do there. He sounds like he is in love with the country.There were 500 people who attended the MEDA Convention and each individual was as interesting as Wilmer and had an open heart, which was shown through their interest and generosity. An example of this is when Mary and I did our Bike to Grow seminar on Friday morning. Ethan Eshbach led a Q & A with us and thanks to him, it flowed perfectly. Afterwards, everyone came up to us and offered us their home or contact information for someone they knew in the area where we were biking through. People did this throughout convention. Some people had biking experience and gave us tips and advice. Keith Kuhl from Winnipeg took us to Bikes and Beyond where we spend a few hours getting information on clothing and gear. It was nice of Keith to take time to give us advice and take us to the store. The staff was wonderful help! Also another lady named Agnes got my email and gave it to someone she knew in Winnipeg who has biking experience, Arvid Loewen. Arvid is in the book of Guinness World Records for being the fastest cyclist across Canada in 13 days and 6 hours. Agnes gave my email to Arvid and he contacted me the very next day. Now, someone in Guinness World Records has been emailing back and forth with me the last few days with tips.I'm still amazed and somewhat shocked by everyone's love and generosity. To illustrate this a great example is Andrew and Jim who are MEDA members in Pennsylvania. Jim came up to me on Thursday and said "See you in April." I had no idea what he was talking about and I had to ask Ethan, our liaison with MEDA. "Oh ya, what are you doing in April?" he asked. Andrew and Jim have planned a fundraising event for Bike to Grow. People will bike 32 kms (20miles) together and then have dinner and a bonfire. They have decided that we need to be there and are paying for our flights and for our bikes to be there so that we can bike with everyone and then give a talk.I wrote out this summary of Convention because it is incredible the amount of loving people there can be altogether. It was perfect that Ziauddin Yousafzai talked Friday night at the Human Rights Museum. To me, he brought together the whole weekend and represented everyone. He is a humble man with a passion to make a difference. This can be said for everyone may they be MEDA staff or members. Thank you so much for showing us your kindness and the wonderful potential of human beings.