On September 6 and 8, 2016, our newly-launched women's groups, Women Empowering Women with MEDA, met in Lancaster and Souderton for the second time! Our second meeting featured MEDA's project in Ukraine, where MEDA is working with women farmers to move them from the country's social and economic margins to mainstream markets.

As MEDA president, Allan Sauder, recently wrote on MEDA's blog, in Ukraine, "farmers face some very real barriers to prosperity, in addition to living with the region’s current political instability." They "often have little in the way of modern tools to help them become more productive... and many lack continual access to markets, selling only periodically to traders who offer lower prices to meet their own margins. But while they face incredible challenges, farmers in Ukraine also see huge opportunities, if they can just learn more about how to reach Middle East and European markets and how to meet the demands of those markets. And that is where MEDA – and you – come in!" You can find more about the Ukraine project here.

At the Women Empowering Women with MEDA meeting, MEDA staff described why the Ukraine project matters for women in Ukraine, and linked this with the discussion at the first meeting, "why women?". At the first meeting we learned that women around the world face challenges related to access, agency and ability. This project addresses all of these challenges. It provides women with access to equipment, training, and technical and financial assistance to grow their businesses. It addresses a lack of agency because it provides women with opportunities to make decisions for themselves that influence their relationships at home and in the community. For example, one aspect of the project is a matching grant business competition where women will submit their business plans for an opportunity to win a grant that will help them to expand their businesses. Finally, the project addresses women's ability to challenge cultural and social barriers to their success. As successful business owners, they contribute to their communities by providing jobs and spending their new incomes in ways that benefit themselves and their families. Economic empowerment helps women to realize their influence on their communities and society as a whole.

Our second meetings ended with prayers circles which one participant, Jane Bishop Halteman, described in her blog, "we were encouraged to join hands and then to lock arms at the wrist and finally at the elbow. Each instruction brought us closer together and strengthened the physical bond, offering one another connection and embrace in the same way MEDA’s projects in the Ukraine support women farmers..." You can read more about her personal experience here.

Both meetings, in Lancaster and Souderton, PA, were a huge success, as is MEDA's Ukraine project. I will end with two client stories that show you how!

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Hello, my name is Olena Steshina and I am a farmer in Ukraine. My farm is right beside Petershagen Church where I grow strawberries, radishes, grapes, raspberries and much more! Radishes are especially nice to grow for the Easter season. As a member of the Ukrainian Women’s Farmers Council, I work with many partners to have a good harvest. I used to be an orchestra conductor, but farming is where my heart is. Ukraine has beautiful land with bright sunlight and lots of manure for fertilizer.

But life has not always been easy for us. Recently, my business partner, Nadia’s daughter got cancer. All of her money went to pay for treatments and medications. This was an extremely hard time for her family and the whole community economically and emotionally. Nadia’s daughter was 19 when she passed away. All of the women in the Farming Council have come together to offer Nadia emotional support during this time.

Just like we are helping Nadia right now, the community recently helped me when I had a good strawberry harvest, but I had no time to sell them. My neighbors were so kind and agreed to organize a pick your own strawberries time. This is not very common where I’m from, but a lot of people came from town to buy them. It was a fun time for everyone!

Life is difficult in Ukraine with political instability, high electric costs and high costs to work on a farm. But, many good things are happening now!

Nadia applied for a grant from the MEDA UHBDP project and she received the grant! It was worth about 2 million Hryvnia, almost 80,000 US dollars! With the money from the grant, we bought a mechanical irrigator which drips water onto the crops. We also bought growing covers to reduce weeds in our gardens. Together we use these resources to grow strong produce.

I really enjoyed attending classes on how to use new agricultural technologies. I met other farmers in my community that are in the Ukrainian Women’s Farmers Council and made new friends. I have worked hard in my studies and in the field to use new technology properly and to expand my fields.

Thanks the Ukrainian Women’s Farmers Council and to MEDA, I now grow products that help the environment. I even am thinking about starting my own agriculture business!

Life has its challenges and there have been many ups and downs recently, but I am grateful for the new tools and information I have to move forward and the supportive friends that I have. Everything is changing for me and my fellow farmers and together we are building a strong community.

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Hello, my name is Vera and I am a farmer from Ukraine. My business partner, Nicholae, daughter, Oksana, and sister Valentine and I work together to farm our land. We started out only growing strawberries, but now we grow peaches, grapes, raspberries, sweet cherries and onions! I love farming, but I also love growing flowers! They are so beautiful this time of year. I’m so excited to tell you that I just bought a new home that houses 3 generations of my family! I love spending time with them and it is also very close to the greenhouse where we work.

My family bought the land in 2012 to build a home and to farm. MEDA helped us from the very beginning by providing us with information about how to grow crops in greenhouses. They also helped us start a credit line so that we could start buying new crops such as grapes.

I like being able to do this work for myself so that I can train other people to do the same. I learned a lot of what I know about farming at field days where I visited other farms to learn how to plant, fertilize, protect plants, to harvest and store crops. I used to go to other people’s farms to learn, but now they are coming to my farm for field days! I am so glad that I can share my knowledge with other hopeful farmers.

I heard about MEDA through the Ukrainian Women’s Farmers Council. My friend Olena told me all about how she was able to buy the equipment that she needed. I was so excited and I bought a rototiller and cultivator! Now we have what we need to farm well. I find myself smiling much more now!

We just recently bought a cow so now I don’t just farm produce, I also sell dairy products. Before this project, my family members worked around the country in various positions. One worked in a state hospital and one worked as a state officer. Now we are all able to work together on the farm. I am very thankful to be able to provide for my family, especially my grandmother who is 84 years old.

My dream is to grow strawberry and grape seedlings because they are cheaper than buying our seedlings. I also dream of buying a tractor. A tractor would be better than diamonds for me! We hope to have more clients soon so that many buyers come to us to buy our produce.