Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Somebody Almost Walked Off with All of My Stuff

Balaka, Malawi
Kwitanda, Malawi

Don’t worry. I didn’t get robbed. The title of this post is a nod to Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem, for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf.  In it, the Lady in Green tells us “somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff…what I got to do/ I gotta get my stuff to do it to/ why don’t ya find yr own things/ & leave this package of me for my destiny”. Lady in Green calls this stuff “the anonymous ripped off treasure of the year”, her “memories”, “calloused feet”, “laugh”, “chewed up fingernails” and “poems in the pot”. Lady in Green’s stuff isn’t just stuff. It’s a euphemism for identity.

While journaling one morning, I looked down at my watch to confirm the date. August 11, 2014. Time is moving quicker than it did ten weeks ago.

I examined the sports watch/heart rate monitor I bought for $20 over six years ago. Though retrieving it from my Junk Draw of Doom (you know you have one too), this plastic and rubber watch has been incredibly handy throughout my time in Malawi. Why don’t I wear this watch more often, I genuinely thought to myself. Oh yes, I remembered, because I have a super fancy, super shiny designer watch waiting for me at home.

Nowadays, fancy watches are no longer used for telling time. Fancy watches are used to signify status. Fancy watches signify wealth. Fancy watches signify importance, as in, “I’m super important and can wear a fortune on my wrist to remind me that I have to be somewhere at a certain time because I’m so important”. Fancy watches tell people that not only are you important, but your time itself is important. Your time is expensive. Fancy watch wearers don’t wait 5 hours at an antenatal care clinic after walking over an hour on a dirt road just to see the one nurse in the village. The one nurse who, one this particular day, neglected to tell the clinician she was staying home even though she lives next door. No, fancy watch wearers don’t wait. Fancy watch wearers have appointments.

Fancy watch wearers don’t queue at a borehole to collect water for their homes. They have faucets (that don’t get shut off like they do in Detroit).
Borehole to collect water
Fancy watch wearers don’t walk. They have cars. Really fancy watch wearers have drivers.
Women leaving the ANC clinic. I am unsure if they received treatment.
Fancy watch wearers don’t carry their own medical records on a flimsy paper card titled, “Health Passport”. They have doctors with offices that keep their records for them.
Woman waiting and holding her Health Passport.
My fancy watch is not just a watch. It’s evidence of opportunity. Of possibility.
Let me be clear. This is NOT a reflection on the burden and/or privilege of First World materialism. This reflection is about stuff. Real stuff. Real stuff like status. Real stuff like access. Real stuff like privilege. Real stuff like choice. Real stuff like survival.

I visited Kwitanda last month. This small impoverished village near Balaka has stuff. It has electricity poles and cables…that aren’t connected to any homes. It has a motorbike ambulance…that doesn’t work. It has health centers… that are understaffed. It has pharmacies… that are out of stock of antimalarials.
Inoperable Motorcycle Ambulance
Kwitanda has real stuff, too. Real stuff like lack of infrastructure. Real stuff like scapegoating. Real stuff like indifference. Real stuff like classism. Real stuff like poverty.

These things, this stuff, isn’t just stuff. They’re powerful indicators of health status, educational attainment, and life expectancy. Like your zip code in the States, this stuff determines your future. To make it, you need the right stuff.

So what should we do?

It’s hard work getting people the stuff that they need instead of the stuff that gets our names on organizations and buildings. Hand soap is not sexy. National ID system? Takes too long. Waste management infrastructure? Next! An emergency response system that doesn’t require you to drive to the station to pick up the police so they can attend to your emergency (that is, if you have a car)? Well, that’s just a mouthful. Tablet computers? Yes please!

I believe VillageReach, my host organization, has found that critical balance. One of our projects, Chipitala Cha Pa Foni (Health Center by Phone), is an mHealth solution for providing women and mothers with important maternal, newborn and child health information. The project offers two services: a toll free hotline offering health information, advice and referrals and a Tips & Reminders service that sends voice or SMS messages to registered pregnant women, women of childbearing age and guardians of children under one year of age. The Kwitanda Community Health Project, the other Balaka based project, entails a multipronged approach to improving health outcomes in the Kwitanda village through health education in water and sanitation, child health, reproductive health, nutrition, and so much more.

VillageReach implements “innovative” public health solutions in last mile communities. “Innovative” is often code for eHealth, mHealth or multidisciplinary approaches. VillageReach does this. But most critically, VillageReach also shows that sometimes the most innovative solution is to simply give people what they need. Sometimes you need a fully staffed hotline that provides critical health information to callers. And then sometimes you just need a razor to cut your umbilical cord. Sometimes you need a text messaging system to encourage expectant mothers to deliver at a health facility instead of at home. And then other times you just need lid on your toilet.

At this point in the summer, I am preparing to present on my organizational assessment at VillageReach’s Seattle headquarters. No organization is perfect, but the folks at VillageReach are a hardworking group. As the organization grows, I feel confident that VillageReach will also continue to grow their capacity to provide the right stuff that will truly make a measureable impact on improving health outcomes throughout Malawi.

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I want to thank WDI and VillageReach for an amazing summer (or winter according to Malawi’s seasons). What I wanted out of my internship is exactly what I got— an incredible opportunity to stretch myself both professionally and personally, increase my knowledge about public health and health-related systems and challenge my assumptions about, well, pretty much everything.

This marks the end of WDI posting for this summer. To continue following my musings about international travel, as well as read some unpublished posts about my time in Malawi, subscribe to my blog For Colored Girls Who Travel ,“Like” my Facebook page, For Colored Girls Who Travel, or email me at forcoloredgirlswhotravel@gmail.com.

Zikomo! Thanks again for reading my posts!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Empowering farmers to improve their livelihood

Krishi Star’s mission is "to empower farmers to improve their livelihood". It seems like a daunting task to solve this huge problem and seems too easy to fall into trap, raise the white flag and call it quits. The persistence and courage of Krishi Star to shoulder this responsibility is one that I admired most working in this company and this is clear from the passionate work and dedication from its founders and directors.

To alleviate poor farmers out of poverty, I first tried to understand what role and position farmer holds in the value chain. One of my first tasks is to map out the value chain analysis for the vegetable market in India. Getting credible data and information is a challenging hindrance, as I needed to cross-checked multiple resources to ensure the credibility of the information obtained. Primary research conducted by fellow team members revealed themes: contract farming and hoarding at mandis, which spurred my interest to learn more. By understanding the roles taken by various multinational and local agri companies, I was able to map out my analysis of the vegetable value chain in India.


 Vegetable Value Chain Analysis
Figure 1: Vegetable Value Chain Analysis in India

Figure 1 summarized my findings. Seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides are crucial inputs to farmers by an Input supplier. Farmers then provides labor inputs, plough the land, tender to the vegetables over a duration of time, and doing whatever necessary to ensure good harvesting and healthy produce outputs. Upon harvesting, traditionally, farmers then sell produce to small village traders, who then aggregate, sort, grade, package, and transport to the designate Mandi. Mandis are auction houses that facilitate vegetable trade for a designated geographic area. It is where sale activities and price negotiations of produce takes place. Commission agents, large traders, and wholesalers are primary actors in every Mandi. From here, produce are then sold to wholesalers, retailers, and food processors before reaching the final consumer. As can be seen from the diagram, a certain produce goes through a long chain of actors before reaching the final consumer. Farmers have option to sell directly to retail consumers for a higher margin, but this only exists in small percentage in localized market. A more progressive option is via contract farming,  where farmers can directly sell to food processing companies at an agreeable price and quantity without going through any middle men. In contract farming, farmers are given a guarantee of produce purchase at a certain agreed price. However this alternate guaranteed option is not widespread and still remains a progressive option. And here is to why this is the case.
 


What is Mandi and who governs it?
So just who are the Mandis and who governs it? My analysis took a dive into the controversies clouding Mandi government off late. Mandis are created to prevent produce being sold at throwaway prices at the farm gate to intermediaries. Every state is divided into market areas, which are declared as Mandis. Mandis are governed by the Agricultural Product Market Committee (APMC) and <the government mandated all produce to be sold there>. Some notable problems are:
  • APMC committee are too bureaucratic and auctions are not entirely fair
  • There are no minimum support prices for fruits and vegetables
  • Farmers payment were often delayed
  • Market cess money collected from sale transactions were not used for its purpose to improve infrastructure-sorting, grading and storage
  • Hoarding by large traders and agents, who buy from farmers at low prices and stored in large hoarding houses
In 2003, the Agricultural Produce Marketing (Development and Regulation) Act was established by the government to address problems above. It contained provision for direct marketing, contract farming, and setting up of marketing in private and cooperative sectors. States are encouraged to adopt the Act into State rules governing its respective Mandis. The new rule also called upon public-private partnership to develop post-harvest handling, cold storage, and packing facilities. It also held the APMC committee liable for paying farmers on the same day, publishing data on arrivals, promoting transparency in pricing systems, and promoting public-private partnerships. Although the government has taken the first step to give farmers more options, state Mandis are slow to integrate the new system. Some states went as far as repealing the new rule. The following news is an example of protests and resistance from traders at Azadpur Mandi in New Delhi. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/indiahome/indianews/article-2551129/Delhi-fruit-veg-sellers-launch-indefinite-strike.html
 
Who takes the most money? Produce price fluctuation
Figure 2: Headlines of Tomato price-hike
Farmers put in their laborious work to use to plant and harvest fruits and vegetables, but are they getting enough returns for the hard work? With the traditional long value chain involving layers of middlemen, farmers earnings are squeezed. There are no shortfall of farmers committing suicide reports because they could not earn enough to pay back their loans. Some lost their lands, their only source of cultivation to money lenders. To further exacerbate the situation, produce price is unpredictable. Just this summer, tomato prices skyrocketed to RS100 per kg due to weather reasons and shortfall. Tomato is not the only crop affected by price fluctuations. Although India is a net exporter of onion, it has to import from Pakistan in 2011 and from both China and Egypt in 2013 due to domestic shortages. Price-hike to Rs60-70 per kg (As comparison, local market in Mumbai sells for Rs20-30 per kg) have also forced government to imposed minimum export price on export of onions to discourage overseas shipments.
 
My research has opened my eyes to the difficult issue the company is working to address. As daunting as the task can be, the progress that Krishi Star is making this summer assured me that the company may someday live up to its dreams to become the "Amul of Vegetables" in India.
 
Note to future interns #3:
  1. Be prepared to be flexible with your work plan as the environment in startup can be unpredictable and work can be re-allocated very quickly.
  2. Monsoon season is excellent time for mosquitoes to breed, so always have a mosquito repellent handy.

Thanks to Mumbai, Wello and WDI!

After spending ~7 weeks in the field, Mumbai  was my home for next 5 weeks. Crazy rain and high tide of Mumbai welcomed me.  Small tea stall near Wello Mumbai office was my morning destination for every day. It was a completely different experience at Wello Mumbai office compared to field experience. We celebrated various occasions with team members. One of such occasions was ice cream week.  On this occasion, entire office celebrated with natural ice cream. This brand is very famous in India. Fig-1 shows combination of yummy coconut tender and chocolate ice-cream.   

Fig-1: Celebrating icecream week at Wello, Mumbai office.
  In Mumbai office, I had to compile all my findings from field and use them to devise pricing strategy. In two weeks time, I was able to complete work on pricing strategy. CEO, Cynthia Koenig, mentored my work personally and guided me as when needed. She also accommodated my request to work on due diligence. Due diligence was an area where I wanted to work. Apart of due diligence, I further worked on financial models developed by previous WDI intern. Overall It was a great learning experience at Mumbai office. 

Logistics experience was also awesome. My residential place was hardly 15 minutes away from the office. Seashore was hardly at 5 minutes walking distance from my residence. Every evening I used to spend near seashore and experience cool sea bridges. However, I couldn’t go to any location within Mumbai or around as I used to return to Delhi on weekend. We also found a good restaurant for a great lunch every day. I was surprised to know the price of lunch that was just USD $0.83 per person. Fig 2 shows my lunch place and a full lunch plate.

On the final day, couple of surprises were awaiting me. A surprise team dinner at awesome place gave me a feeling that I should never leave such a caring and supporting team. Furthermore, a customized t-shirt with Wello logo made me emotional. Fig-3 depicts me before and after joining Wello.

With this, I would like to thank everyone at Wello specially Cynthia, Shradha, and Richard for their awesome support. Additionally, WDI team for their continuous support and reminding me for blogs and deliverables at regular interval of time. My special thanks goes to Sinia for her support from application process to till the end of the internship.

This is not the end of the journey with WDI and Wello but starting of a relationship that will remain for the life. 
Fig-2: My lunch and restaurant in Mumbai

Fig-3: Before and after joining  Wello 
 

Friday, August 22, 2014

The size of your pocketbook determines the length of your life ....

“In India, the size of your pocketbook determines the length of your life” – Nephrologist interviewed in Delhi

Jenny Simonson
 
I know this observation, spoken over a coffee in a New Delhi hospital, likely holds true in many parts of the world, but the disparity in healthcare in India is shocking. I spent my summer as an intern with Baxter Healthcare’s Business Model Innovation group, traveling to India and Indonesia to map the current renal care market. I met with physicians, administrators and dialysis patients to understand how renal care is currently delivered to people with kidney failure – a disease that is growing with the rise in diabetes and hypertension in both countries.

India: What really shocked me were the differences when visiting public and private hospitals. The first hospital I went to in Delhi was a large public institution, and the desperation was palpable. I consider myself fairly well traveled and have seen incredible desperate situations in Central America – particularly in Juarez, Mexico. However, I was almost paralyzed when walking into this public hospital – the dirt, the lines, and the heat scared me. The nephrologist I met with sees up to 100 patients a day; the need is extreme.

In the very same day I traveled to a brand new private hospital in the area where I met with a nephrologist who acknowledged the quote above. Patients waited in chairs in air-conditioned rooms – not on the sidewalks in 117-degree heat as I saw earlier.  The nephrologist in the private hospital understood that his patients could afford a higher quality of care, while the majority in India does not. Current estimates indicate that only about 10% of Indian renal failure patients actually receive treatment.

During my time on the ground, I noticed that India is a country of entrepreneurs. I met with a group of local young college and PhD graduates and all worked at a start up companies The country does not have the same level of government involvement as other large emerging markets, like China. The government institutions really lacked the basic necessities to treat patients most in need. One doctor at a large public hospital in Hyderabad just wanted more hospital beds and a proper way to bring patients into the hospital from stretchers. Standalone clinics, like DaVita clinics in the United States, are growing quite rapidly. These clinics recognize the need to make healthcare more accessible and affordable.

Indonesia: In many ways, Indonesia feels like a completely different world than India. The government just passed universal health coverage in January 2014, so theoretically all citizens will be able to receive care for free or a very low fee (around $1-4/month). However, the infrastructure is not ready to meet the needs of the entire population. Dialysis centers are full in many hospitals, and the only way to get an appointment is to wait until a current patient passes away. I spoke with one patient who cannot get dialysis treatment at his local hospital, so he travels 2 hours each way to a hospital with space. This trip is too costly for him to do the prescribed three times per week, so he only goes in for treatment once a week. His healthcare costs are covered, but he still doesn’t receive optimal treatment.

The challenges in each country are different, but innovative solutions will be required to resolve the challenges in each. Through my primary research, I unveiled a window of opportunity for Baxter to bring new ideas and models to expand care and ultimately treat more people in need. Innovative business models will be critical to improving the current healthcare conditions, and I leave this summer feeling so blessed for the opportunity to use my business skills to help address these issues.

Stories of Change in Rural India – It’s Happening!

I would like to share stories of three rural households that we (I and my teammates at Simpa Networks) visited in summer and how our solar solution made a visible impact in their daily lives.

Ameena Begum (The smart, outspoken family leader)
Customer #1: Ameena Begum (seated on chair) and her kids
Ameena’s husband is a milkman. They are daily wage earners with a small, but steady flow of income along with a small farmland that provides seasonal income from food crops. They have 4 young kids who are enrolled in the village school. Their house has two rooms (brick walls and roof) and an open space split into dining room, kitchen and washroom.

Ameena is a smart outspoken woman who is actively involved with a women empowerment NGO and is the decision-maker in house. She is an informal woman leader in village and is capable of rallying other households if she believes in a cause. For lighting needs, they used kerosene oil lamp at night during dinner. Kids were not able to study at all after dark. Also, they didn't use any fan. Their monthly energy bill was ~4$/month.
When we visited the family, they took keen interest in our solar solution. We explained them the benefits of clean energy and cost economics. They instantly agreed for installation. After couple weeks, we visited them again to understand how they were benefiting from it. Ameena shared that her kids are now able to study at night. She also uses one light as a night bulb. Her kids use fan entire day (10-12 hours), which is a no-brainer given the sweltering 110 F summer heat in UP. Additionally, Ameena is a big supporter of solar energy and actively spreads the word about it in the village. She actually helped us get 3 more customers in her village. Also, she helped us understand psyche of people in her village. She narrated how people in her village are afraid of government instalment schemes (solar energy solutions available on monthly payable instalments that user gets to own after 5-7 years) as they have had incidents of ‘sarkaari log’ (meaning government folks) taking away their belongings and livestock for non-payment of instalments.

Ameena and her kids understanding usage of solar lighting system from our technician
Girija Shankar (Young family bread earner)

Girija Shankar is a young farmer-cum-daily wage earner who supports 6 members, including his parents and family. He is in his early 20’s and has a small 1-acre farm. To boost earnings, he visits Lucknow city once every month for daily wage labor and stays there for 1-2 weeks (Note: Poor people like him stay under bridges or slums in cities to save rental costs and take home maximum earnings). He is the decision maker in house, but is also influenced by Village Pradhan who lives next door to his hut. His house has two rooms, one made of brick and another with thatched roof. His younger brother and uncle live next door in separate houses.
Customer #2: Girija Shankar
Their energy needs were fulfilled by kerosene oil lamp, similar to most poor farmers like him. They use lamp during supper and spend ~4$/month on energy. His story of using solar energy is bit unique. He saw his neighbours (the village Pradhan) use our solar lights and fan for a month, was very impressed by it and came running to us when we visited the village next time. In fact, he was in such dire need for a better energy solution that he started working more hours to afford our solar lighting and fan system. Once installed, his family’s happiness knew no bounds. Now, his parents use a night lamp at night and his wife and son enjoy the fan breeze in daytime (7-8 hours fan use). They also requested for an EVD-DVD player to watch religious CDs and listen to songs.

Girija Shankar's house (two rooms in the enclosure)
Front entrance to his house
Just for comparison, in summers, the temperature inside one of the rooms in his house (see left pic) can go as high as 116 F. We visited his house in July and started sweating in 30 seconds!! Once he got solar powered fan with our system, his wife and son (who usually stay indoors) were overjoyed and greeted us with black plums (‘jaamun’ in Hindi) on our next visit.

RamLakhen (Respected farmer in village)
RamLakhen is a farmer with 4+ acres of land possession. He lives with his wife and 6 kids (5 sons and a daughter). In his mid-30’s, RamLakhen is not much of a speaker and lives simple life. However, his wife is very smart and outspoken home-maker who leads discussions in family and plays an important role in every decision. They have good relations with villagers and everyone in their village respects the family.
Customer # 3: RamLakhen’s wife with kids
Before using solar, they were using kerosene lamp and a portable lead-acid battery that supported mini-led lights. They were already looking for a solar solution when they met us. Hearing the success story of our product from nearby villagers and live demonstration, they agreed for installation. They have a very progressive mindset as they thought of solar energy to help their kids study at night and avoid toxic fumes from kerosene oil. They also wanted to let their neighbors benefit from solar light. However, we couldn't do it as our light wires weren't long enough to go from point A to B in their large house.

They found an ingenious solution to the problem themselves. By erecting a 25 feet pole inside their house, they fixed the solar light at its top and put a plastic cover (supported by a slipper!) to protect it from rain. The pic below demonstrates their ‘jugaad’ solution.

Their own light tower!                                  Close-up view (notice the light protected by slipper/plastic)

Their family now doesn't use the soot-colored kerosene lamp anymore. In his wife’s own words, “Ab humne mitti ka tel istemaal karna chhod diya hai” meaning “Now we have stopped using kerosene oil for good after using your solar powered lights”.

These are among the many success stories that I saw through my journey with Simpa. To sum it up, I am now personally responsible for getting 200+ people out of using dirty kerosene oil. They have now more time to devote to their work and earn more money, their children get to study in daytime/night and their neighbors benefit too from bright lights. There is a significant environmental benefit as well. Collectively, these people have saved 1 ton of CO2 emissions in the last 3 months by quitting dirty kerosene and opting for clean energy.

These people have been living their entire life in sheer darkness. Yet, they took a bold step away from herd mentality to think about their own and family’s future by adopting clean energy. The hard fact is, the villages in which these people live are not known yet to government or local authorities. In web reports and government databases, their villages either don’t exist or are considered electrified. Moreover, we found hundreds of households like Ameena, Girija Shankar and RamLakhen who live in off-grid villages.
 
There could be many reasons why these villages are not reported – poor accessibility, political ignorance by state or weaker sense of community. Nevertheless, the message is clear. There are millions in India who need a better way than toxic kerosene to light up their homes. New government at the helm has recognized their needs and has announced a mission to electrify entire country by 2019. Social enterprises like Simpa, with their innovative business model and passionate entrepreneurs, are working tirelessly in rural areas to complete this mission.

Post and photos by Rahul Tapariya.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

After Africa

 After three months in Dar, I have now made my way back to Ann Arbor.  The timing feels odd as many next steps were just beginning; many of my recommendations revolved around an integrated strategy for the mRDT market, which involved building consensus with other NGOs and the government.  My last afternoon was spent in a government conference room with all the key organizations gaining alignment on the next steps.  It will be exciting to see what occurs next, although most gains are not likely to really be seen for years and maybe even decades.  Motivating individuals to change behavior when the individual benefit is much smaller than the public benefit challenges and requires regulatory change is a goal that will not be solved with a summer’s worth of work.  My appreciation of the complexity around health issues has increased dramatically.  In addition to requiring coordination of many different stakeholders, technology can change much faster than implementation.  Achieving the best health outcomes requires the difficult balancing act of coordinating current products while planning for future changes.  I learned a lot about CHAI’s approach of working with governments and supporting private market and how that contrasts with other NGOs focused on the same outcomes.  My favorite aspect of the CHAI approach is the focus on achieving scale as part of the solution.  By taking a broad approach including governments and other stakeholders, many projects take longer, require more compromise, and change more frequently, but the end result can have a far wider impact.  The policy aspect of the work was the most challenging, but also the area with the most potential for improved outcomes.


So now as I get back to Michigan and gear up for the school year ahead, I am working on processing my summer experience and preparing for the future.  Business school really is incredibly fast-paced with new decisions arriving before everything can be totally processed.  I was able to achieve some of my primary aims in coming to business school in that I was able to stretch my boundaries, experience work life in an emerging market, and work within new business structures-- AND I was able to all of this with my family!  We were able to see many of the positive and negative aspects of living as an expatriate.  My experience this summer has prepared me immensely for the decisions that await me as I make decisions on the next step in my career.  The WDI internship has been a critical step in my step toward becoming a global leader.
1-yr olds can't go on safaris, but a stop at the Amsterdam zoo on the way home meant seeing giraffes up close
Watching the tide go out while in Zanzibar

Monday, August 18, 2014

Emotional Day

I was completely unaware that I had any family in Ethiopia, but I spent a portion of my day today with my oldest “Relative!” Lucy, the famed three million year old fossil of the earliest discovered Hominid is at The National Museum of Ethiopia. Technically Lucy is kept in an air and light free casing in the basement of the museum and I only saw a replica, but I’m alright with that.
Awestruck....
Lucy is estimated to be 3.2 million years old and was located in the Awash Valley of Ethiopia in 1974. There are a number of incredible artifacts at The National Museum of Ethiopia and the lack of funds to keep them protected as they deserve is quite saddening. Any type of casing is only present to keep people out of reach of the items, not for proper preservation. The relics of Haile Selasse and Menelik are covered with dust and visibly deteriorating far too quickly! I was slightly depressed after leaving the main area of the museum, only to receive a great pick-me-up as I was lucky enough to be there for the last day of the "Rastafari: The Majesty & The Movement" exhibit. I could never receive a good answer as to why, but for whatever reason there were no pictures allowed in the exhibit. Interestingly enough, the "No Pictures" rule at the rastafari exhibit was by far the  most strictly enforced rule I have encountered during my entire stay in Ethiopia... 
Habesha people don't smile in pictures
My "Guide" on this day was Yohana, a beautiful young lady that teaches during the day and works at my guesthouse at night. After the museum I she asked me if I wanted to go to the school where she teaches at, I was in for more than a tour! 

March 8 is located in Bole Sub-City of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It is a government-funded school that houses roughly 900 students in Pre-school through 8th grade.  This day ended up being special, it was the end of the year celebration; this includes a kindergarten “graduation” and the passing out of report cards. The report cards, much like in the United States, are signed by respective teachers, district officials and principals. Lacking computer databases and informational support outside of the school itself,  the report card must be produced in order to proceed to the next grade. Since classes are not homogenous in age (they have a crazy idea that students should progress with their abilities, not arbitrarily based on birthday...) the need for physical proof of grade completion holds increased importance. When I was told I would get to hand out the report cards to her class of fourth grade students and their parents I was quite excited... but then...
Kindergarten, or "KG" graduation!
A difference between our system and theirs soon revealed itself. A report card at March 8 actually costs families 150birr (just over $7) to receive. That day in a fourth grade class of 38 students, three families were able to produce what is visually a prohibitive cost in order to receive their child’s ticket to scholastic progression.

The reason for this cost, as with many others, i.e. uniforms, materials, Xeroxed copies of lesson books that are handed down to the point of tatters (only to receive a possible fine for poor condition upon return) is due to trying to make ends meet without sufficient government funding.

The plot again thickened when I found out that in a school of roughly 900 there are around 40 "High need" students that are identified by the staff. The staff then writes fundraising or “sponsorship” letters to local eateries in the attempts to subsidize the cost of food for those in need. The teachers pool their money together in order to provide breakfast and lunch. The combined cost on a daily basis for these students is 15birr. I wish to stress that I use the term “high need” here relative to a student’s peer group. Simply put, these are students that cannot obtain food. There isn’t a cafeteria at March 8 and that may actually make it easier to identify those that do not show up with anything on a daily basis. However, these aren’t the only students that have trouble providing nutrition for themselves, these are the most-vulnerable of a population that is by all metrics, impoverished. Without the personal assistance of teachers who themselves make roughly $110 a month, these children would starve.  

On a much, much lighter note; we decided to make some coffee upon return to the guesthouse and for the first time, I TOOK THE REINS! 
Working the Jebina