Monthly Archives: August 2012

Packing for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

It’s under a day now until my departure to Addis Ababa. My goal had been to “frontload” my packing for fear of any unwanted popups. I believe I’ve done a semi-successful time of planning ahead. I have moved some times before – to London (Ontario) or Vienna – but preparing for Addis Ababa has its own set of challenges. Entering a developing African country typically means bringing everything with you that you would miss. With that being said, you can probably find the majority of actual necessities in-country. The issue only arises once we have to answer the question: what is a necessity?

So below you will find an extensive list of what I decided to bring. Perhaps this could be of use to future travelers on work placements in Addis Ababa, or a similar developing city with a high-altitude climate. Here it goes!

Important Documents
– Travel Immunization Record
– Extra different sized passport photos (6)
– Proof of graduation (work permit purposes)
– Photo copies of passport, atm/visa cards, birth certificate, sin card, provincial health card, student card, vaccination record
Passport, Vaccination and Flight Information - Important Documents
– Bank, health insurance & emergency contact information
– Reminder cards. Since I have not earned the habit of eating safely in a developing country, I created reminder cards to store in my purse summarizing some key statements.

Reminder Cards

Reminder Cards

– Flight tickets
– Passport
– Select photos of family and friends
– US$

– Camera, memory card reader, extra memory card
– Computer
– Video camera, DV tapes (5) + cleaning tape
– External Hard drives (3)
– Wristwatch with alarm
– Chargers
Adapters (Europlug 2-prong + India/Asia 3-prong) this was a bit of a headache
Electrical adapters for Ethiopia
– Surge Protector
– eReader
– Ethernet Cord
– Mp3 player & headphones

– Mosquito Net (permethrin soaked nets, advised as extremely effective, are not available in Canada)
– Bed sheet
– Towel
– Microfiber towel
– Umbrella
– Hand sanitizer (2)
– Water purification drops
– Emergency blanket
– Mosquito Repellent 30% DEET
– Flashlight
– Moist wipes
– First Aid Kit (assorted bandaids, blister bandaids, tweezers, alcohol pads, polysporin, waterproof matches, clotrimazole topical cream, surgical gloves, adhesive tape, scissors)
– Diarrhea Kit (chicken & beef bouillon, immodium, pepto bismol, gastrolyte, gravol, cipro)
– Laundry Kit (Woolite detergent travel packs, clothes line, sink plug – I’d recommend Austin House, tide to go, laundry bag)
– Kleenex
– Swimsuit
– Sunglasses
– Sunscreen
– Scissors
– Pencil Case
– Double sided tape
– Bandana (for lengthy dusty travel)
– Paperback books (I brought…Richard Dowden’s Africa, Amharic Phrasebook, a book borrowed from a friend – Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis, and a title I sourced in a Veinnese bookshop History of Ethiopia, Paul Henze. And of course, the much-loved Bradt guide on Ethiopia, Philip Briggs)
– Map of Ethiopia
– Blank small notepads
– One checked bag, one 45L carry-on backpack (I love MEC)

Personal Hygiene
– Facial wipes, eye makeup remover pads
– Hairdryer
– Personal medications (advil, caltrate, vitamin D)
– Contacts, solution, eye drops
– Lip balm
– Razors
– Toothpaste
– Preventative blister balm
Favourite shampoo, conditioner, leave-in conditioner
– Face cream, cleanser
– Sanitary napkins

– Parmesan cheese: I’m not sure if this one is allowed but I’m going to claim it and see.
– Peanut butter (750g of Skippy is a true necessity for me!)
Food to pack
– Favourite Teas & Hot chocolate
– Lindt chocolate bars: I read a blog that the chocolate wasn’t very good so just in case I get that craving
– Spices (cumin, mustard, cinnamon, basil, thyme, oregano, salt&pepper)
Sriracha hot sauce – only my staple ingredient in every dinner
– Soy sauce
– Protein bars (Cliff & Luna brand are great)
– Baking powder
– Almonds
– Travel mug: required for my coffee before work every morning

Considering that most Ethiopians dress conservatively, I erred on the side of long-sleeve tops, pants and loose lightweight clothing.
– Variety of work-appropriate collared shirts (preference to long-sleeves)
– Basic tank tops for layering and casual cotton long-sleeve tops
– Slacks (3), capris , long shorts (2) and a pair of jeans
– Long skirt, pencil skirt, knee-length dress
– Cardigans (4), sweaters (4) and blazer (1)
– Footwear: boots, open-toe sandals, black pumps, tan flats, running shoes, walking shoes and flip flops
– Rain jacket, leather jacket
– Scarves (3), tights and leggings
– Gym strip (3)

This list may have been excessively exhaustive in the depth of information I provided. At the very least, it highlights what I perceive I need versus what many other people may require elsewhere.



MEDA Departed.

On July 30, I embarked upon a mental journey at the headquarters of the Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) in Waterloo, Canada. It was only two short months ago that I had accepted an offer to work in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with MEDA. Before departure, interns are required to undergo training at head office. I was thrilled with the opportunity, and had been waiting in quiet anticipation.

During the training, I was forced to face my beliefs and assumptions head on. Envisioning myself in Ethiopia: my hopes and fears were magnified. How was I, an ambitious recent business grad at the naive age of 22, supposed to contribute to a project in a country with $US 800 GDP per capita1? 2.19 dollars a day. Who did I think I was?
Asking these types of questions helped me define my expectations coming into the project. And even now as I prepare for departure, I have recognized that this is an ongoing process of self-awareness, assessment and change. The MEDA training emphasized the significance of reflection. I also gained remarkable relationships, complex insight, and what I believe to be a more sensible and realistic perspective on economic development.

1 At PPP 2008. Statistics vary widely, in part due to differing population estimates – estimates range from 76 – 91 million people.

MEDA Work.

MEDA logo

Dedicated to market-oriented approaches to international economic development, MEDA aims to establish sustainable enterprises for the benefit of the poor.

But what exactly does that mean?

In my limited experience exploring debates in international development, there are many different ways to see an issue. The key question – how do we develop? Especially least developed countries (LDCs2)? – is hotly contested. Some believe that the “west’s” interventions have poorly served LDCs. Fosturing dependence, destroying local industry, perpetuating civil warfare, and so often projecting our idea of development on their communities and governments. The international development world is pretty daunting, which makes it all the more interesting to be involved in!

2 According to the United Nations, LDCs are “low-income countries suffering from the most severe structural impediments to sustainable development”

Pathways to Pursestrings

Pathways to Pursestrings : Market Access Project for Women Producers in Pakistan

For MEDA, a project should…
Benefit the poorest workers [who are economically active]
Address an existing market need [demand-driven]
Continue long after MEDA has left [sustainability]
Reach a significant number of people [scalability]
Create innovative models [replicability]
Work alongside locals [participation]
Partner with local institutions [collaboration]
Invest (typically 10%) directly in the project [shared risk]

Using these core principles allows MEDA to get impact. Each goal speaks to MEDA’s underlying belief in the entrepreneur. If we can unlock the potential of entrepreneurs, we can facilitate community growth. It’s initiated by the locals, for the locals.

MEDA Structure.

MEDA is divided into 3 interrelated branches:
Market Linkages: using business strategies to strengthen supply chains, support health services, and enable female financial empowerment
Financial Services: develop financial institutions
– Investment: Sarona Asset Management

MEDA Learned.

I heard many powerful messages during my training:
1) Be humble
“I came as an intern to save the world, and left hoping I didn’t make it worse.”
2) Be analytic
“Measuring performance against initial donor objectives is critical”
3) Be balanced
In development, some people accuse advanced economies of taking a disproportionate share of the profits generated from the poor. However, “without profit, there is no social outcome.”
4) Be positive & adaptive
“Attitude and flexibility are critical to overseas effectiveness”

Interns at MEDA

Fellow interns after training, sampling some Ethiopian cuisine.

Perhaps the most satisfying part of the training was realizing how strongly my values aligned with MEDAs. Their approach to development is serious, sober and no-nonsense market-oriented. At the center of MEDA’s development approach is the belief that everyone deserves to have choice. And many would agree: without money we do not have choice.

I sincerely look forward to my placement in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where I will observe first-hand if the inspiring mission of MEDA is merely wishful thinking or a reality.


During a three-day excursion in June, I had the opportunity to explore the town of Kötschach-Mauthen (K-M) and meet some of the energizing people who bring K-M to life. With a meager population of 3415, K-M is a model community for sustainability. 100% of its energy consumed is sourced from renewable energy.


Nestled in the Austrian mountains, K-M harnesses hydro, wind, solar & biomass power.

The vitality and liveliness of K-M’s people inspired me. I could see their eyes shine as they shared their personal successes and challenges with me.


Hotel Kurschner with Manager

Barbara Klauss refurbished a 236 year old house into an eco-friendly hotel. The transition from oil to renewable power was Barbara’s first step in the right direction. Although Barbara’s initial energy shift was for financial reasons, she continued to make environmentally conscious changes. She says her growing awareness of a threatened future generation spurred her to make change.

Hotel Kürschner, eco-hotel

Hotel Kürschner

From demanding recycle bins not yet available on the market, to using leftover schnapps alcohol for window cleaner, Klauss embodies resourcefulness. Most often, she explains, there is no fiscal benefit or loss in eco-initiatives. Guests do not readily choose her hotel simply because it preserves the environment.

Josef Kolbitsch owns a mobile camp powered by solar and local biomass wood pellets. What’s remarkable about the camp is its ability to match the energy needs of the guests to the camp’s production capacity. Through investing €130K in a self-optimizing program, Kolbitsch realizes 10K in savings annually.

Alpencamp Biogass Process

Josef with self-optimizing heating system (left); and annual waste from biomass (right)

You can view the system online here (under Demo, select OK within Login box, enter username “demo” and password “solarenlange”)

Another contribution to K-M’s sustainability is the local biogas plant, which uses farmer waste inputs, producing energy and fertile soil.

Biogas Process Diagram

The Biogas Process

Ruth Klauss is a fourth generation employee in the family owned company, Alpen Adria Energie (AAE). AAE builds production plants like hydropower, and supplies energy to regional distributors across Austria.

Through a slow and steady growth strategy, AAE has been strong for 126 years. According to Ruth, cashflow and capital investment constraints, combined with legal barriers, represent key challenges for AAE. Prudence, caution and gradual growth enable AAE to profit in all sectors of energy production, with the exception of biogas.

Alpen Adria Energie Building

Surprisingly, Ruth indicates that their marketing budget is 25 times smaller than one of their competitors. AAE performs minimal marketing and depends on a pull strategy – customers come to them.

In the future, AAE plans to maintain its core competency, while developing joint ventures and greater community engagement through collective financing.
My final encounter in K-M was with Sabrina Barthel. Thanks to Sabrina, my entire trip was made possible. She acts as the coordinator of the K-M renewable energy association, which sees more visitors every year. The association bridges the community’s key environmental partners to host meetings and provide educational programs to the public. These educational programs operate on a fee-for-service revenue model. Consequently, the nonprofit association shows signs of becoming a business.

Play in Learning Garden

I had the opportunity to “play” in the learning garden, where engineers to kindergarteners can participate in interactive experiments.

Increasing the program’s scope to include interactive spaces like the learning garden help boost visitor numbers.

Not only can I appreciate the impressive sustainable practices, but also I am grateful for being allowed to actively learn about K-M.

Learning Garden Exercises

My friends and I hiked to the Austro-Italian Border.

Hiking around K-M

K-M Hike
K-M is a model community for sustainability in action. It takes the collaborative effort of each member to produce such a model entity. I look forward to seeing its environmental initiatives continue to blossom, and perhaps be back for a hike or two!

Sunrise in K-M

Hiking during sunrise