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مع السلامة

Our in country time is nearly at its end…The team finished out the trip with another trip out to New Cairo to meet with GE this morning. They rolled out the red carpet for the team, with presentations by the CEO of Northeast Africa, the head of MENAT Legal, and representatives from Healthcare, Transportation, and Energy. Following the presentations, we headed back to the CRS office in regular Cairo for our final presentation.

We presented to representatives of CRS Egypt, as well as the Regional Director and other advisers for the Middle East and North Africa. As requested, the team provided CRS with a number of potential strategies to help reduce the burden of unemployment, focusing in the agriculture sector. As we head back to the states, we will continue to hone in on just one of the strategies with the help of CRS in country.

Following the final presentation, we finished off our experience with a felucca ride on the Nile at sunset. It’s so much quieter on the water than anywhere in the city and the timing of the ride was perfect. 

After 13 days and more than 2,000km traveled in country, 60+ hours sitting in traffic, and unending thoughts about how to solve a terribly important and difficult problem, we’re all pretty exhausted. The full impact of this experience probably won’t hit until we’re back at home and well rested but I’m sure that it will be one that will stay with each of us for the rest of our lives. A big thank you to everyone at CRS both here in Egypt and at home for all the hard work and support of our efforts! Also thank you especially to the donors who help make it possible to send nearly 30 people from Notre Dame to the far reaches of the globe in the pursuit of learning and service!

On the ground in Chicago in less than 24 hours…Go Irish!

Lessons from the Land of 13 Months of Sunshine

Today, which marks our last day in the country of 13 months of sunshine, has been filled with goodbyes to new ጛደኛ (ggaa-da-nyaa, or friends), last sips of Fanta (the orange delicacy that is enjoying a second coming outside of America) and much delight in thinking about all that we have seen, heard and experienced over the past two weeks. This diverse University of Notre Dame team, whose countries of origin include Africa itself (Liberia), Columbia, Mexico, Canada and the United States has experienced in Ethiopia a culture that is prouder than any we’ve known and had our hearts warmed by the magnanimous hospitality that drove our host organizations ((Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and Hararghe Catholic Secretariat (HCS)) to make us feel not like the outsiders we are, but rather family.

We quickly learned as our inaugural days working with CRS and HCS hosts stretched beyond the planned 8am to 6pm office time to include friendly late night noshings on injera, pizza and spaghetti (Italy briefly occupied Ethiopia in the 1930s and its culinary influence remains strong) that this was more than a service/business consulting engagement.  Rather, this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to truly understand what serving your country, community and fellow men and women is truly about. To understand what drives NGO workers to accept jobs that pay less and sometimes prove thankless to give back through their work, and what it means to make lifelong friends and empower a people out of poverty in the process.

Community members that benefit from a water security project hard at work digging a well.

Our visits to development and food aid project sites (see pics above), conversations via more than 70 interviews with NGO workers, the Ethiopian government and community partners, and the review of 50 plus business documents kept us busy, while hugs with camels and close encounters with hyenas kept us smiling. We’ve loved and spat with our Notre Dame team mates in the process, and will take home countless memories.

To conclude this trip diary, we’ve included below our most memorable moments, as well as a few notable pics. Thanks for following us in this adventure… we hope you’ve enjoyed reading as much as we’ve enjoyed sharing.

Notable Moments:

  • Ashley Bernard (MBA Student): The realization that no matter what country you call home or what religion you’re called to honor, the drive to serve weaves a common thread that binds… and that I’m moderate to high in neuroticism and appreciate an occasional sense of urgency.
  • Emily Block (Faculty Advisor): When one of our fearless HCS hosts noticed a booger in the nose of our Notre Dame teammate Mary Claire and ferociously picked it out for her so she would avoid embarrassment.
  • Mary Claire Sullivan (MBA Student): Our experiences in the field, in the communities that housed HCS’ and CRS’ work. The extent of collaboration between HCS, the Ethiopian government and community members was beyond impressive. These collaborations, combined with the passion of the HCS staff and its communities’ desire to improve impacted me deeply.
  • Ezekiel Freeman (Masters in International Peace Studies Student): Lime has a health value beyond that previously known…
  • Adlo Leal (MBA Student): Visiting the Notre Dame K-12th grade school and meeting the children that attended it. We visited twice and it reminded me of my school in Columbia. I learned from speaking with the children that, although we come from different countries, we have much in common. We laugh, share jokes and dream just the same.
  • Jose Luis (MBA Student): I loved how people at HCS were so motivated about their work. We have the opportunity to see their results on the field and they were impressive. On one of the field visits, we experienced how they created an oasis in the middle of the dessert to cultivate potatoes, onions and even papayas. They are really helping people find their own route out of poverty!

 Friends we made along the way…







The End of the Road

[To properly enjoy this post you should be singing Boyz II Men – End of the Road in your head]

Here we are at last, after meeting with 30 organizations over a total of more than 43 hours, we have reached the end of the road here in Manila. Today we gave our final presentation to the CRS colleagues we have come to think of as dear friends.  Afterwards we shared a short lunch and joked about the cherished moments of the past two weeks as we visited a variety of metropolitan and rural areas.  It was hard to say goodbye but we were comforted by the fact that one of our new friends will be coming to visit Notre Dame soon.

So many

'Thank You' Cards Galore!

My favorite memory of the trip was meeting with the Bishop Dela Cruz in Kidapawan. After having heard so much about how anti-mining the church was, it was a pleasant surprise to find that our assumptions around the stance of the various clergy were not only challenged but proven false. For me (and our team), the Bishop represents more of what is needed here in the Philippines: moderation.  People to take the middle ground and approach issues with open minds and ears.  People who aren’t afraid to talk to both sides without fear of being labeled as pro or anti.  People who make smart, fact-based decisions.  Team Philippines felt this was the greatest weakness in the process but was also an area where CRS can contribute much through its networks and dialogue engagement capacities.

Our group also identified a real need for alternative business opportunities beyond the current agriculture vs mining debate. We still felt like the key was empowering local communities to make well-informed, smart decisions. For a lot of the people we came to serve, identifying opportunities outside of farming can be difficult because it’s all they’ve ever known. Since they only see two options, the decision is often black and white.  Alternative businesses such as eco-tourism and agricultural support services/processing, among others, can provide those options that empower communities to make better choices about how they leverage the resources they have.  The key here is to identify those businesses most appropriate to each community and provide them with the support services, such as financing and training, that will enable these communities to reach their potential.  Again CRS is nicely positioned within the NGO space to bring in the proper actors to help.

Over the last two weeks we got a little taste of not only the Philippines and the passionate, vibrant Filipinos but also what it’s like to operate in and face the challenges of doing Business on the Frontlines.  Far from being easy or simple, the issues here tend to be complex with hidden actors and long histories as well as many competing and often entrenched interests.  While  it would be easy to get mired in the turmoil, we sensed that there is much hope here that things can and will get better.  People are active and passionate about what’s going on in their country and view the future optimistically. It’s an exciting time to be in the Philippines.

Check out how excited we were at Karaoke!

Team Philippines out.

When does a road turn into a pile of rocks?

75% of roads in Guatemala are not quite roads.

Today was our last bumpy ride in the big green van. We’ll miss the van (and our heroic driver), but not the bumps…

Now we are preparing for our presentation to CRS tomorrow morning.

On the home stretch!

As is often the case, we discovered our real project (hidden inside our initial assignment) just 24 hrs. ago, so wish us luck!

Tomorrow night we will be celebrating so thank you for following us on this adventure – Adios Amigos!

Almost the End & Just the Beginning

Team Egypt’s field visit is almost at its end; we leave tomorrow night to fly back to Chicago.  So, this might be our final post on the travel blog!

However, the work is just beginning.  As our posts have reflected for the past two weeks, the Team has meet with different people and organizations, in NGOs, education, and the public and private sectors.

Our meetings today were some of the most important and influential: USAID and the Freedom and Justice Party (the political party of the Muslim Brotherhood).  USAID is a major source of funding for CRS in some of its current programs, such as a very successful Cash-for-Work initiative, as well as a potential source of funding for future projects.  USAID is also one of the best aid organizations in the agriculture sector, doing everything from irrigation to credit and training. The FJP is the leading party in the Egyptian parliament (with 47.5% of the seats in the Lower House), and will most likely shape the future of Egypt.

The Q&A sessions during these meetings were insightful and help to shape our in-country presentation to CRS tomorrow.  We are really excited to have this conversation with CRS tomorrow, of our findings on the problems facing Egypt and some of our ideas on how CRS can effect them.  We then hope to take feedback from this conversation back to class and work on our final recommendations!

A Country of Contrasts

Today we were back in the big green van for another “2.5 hour” (read: 5+ hour) drive on roads destroyed by landslides to the Western side of Guatemala. It’s quite a bit different from Zacapa, it feels much more like the jungle we were expecting coming into the trip.

The road into the plantation.

We are visiting a banana/coffee multicropping plantation called Finca Santa Elena, which has been family owned since 1936. The plantation consists of 74 hectares of fertile land, which reminds Chris of the Garden of Eden. We met Abel, who happens to know a lot about growing bananas in Guatemala (a first in our interviews, and much appreciated).

This plantation uses some of its banana crop to produce dehydrated bananas (which Holly thinks taste like Fig Newtons). We are investigating the market opportunity for such a project and it might be a little dicey…

Bananas in the solar dehydrater. Anton: "It's like a banana sauna..."

We’ve had two great meals courtesy of the co-owner/manager of the plantation, Rene, and are getting as much information from Emilio as possible before we leave. Today we got his perspective on the violence in the region, and we were inspired by his commitment to the co-op’s future.

Tomorrow it’s back to Guatemala City for our final meeting before we present to CRS on Thursday!

Tastes Like Chicken…

While half of our team visited production facilities and NGOs in Upper Egypt (Assiut), Cory, Joe and I remained in Cairo to hold down the fort.  We spent the last three days conducting interviews with NGOs and chicken farmers, visiting a juice and jam processing plant, and a holding a focus group with women entrepreneurs (who are quite rare in Egypt).  As has been echoed constantly throughout the trip – we’re continuing to learn A LOT…

Cory & Joe dressed and ready for our tour of Vitrac's juice and jam plant

Note the women are holding ND pins - they were really thankful for their little gifts (despite initially thinking we gave them one earring...)

The most interesting part of our last three days has definitely been our visit to the chicken farms.  Chicken farms, we’ve since learned, are not the most glamourous of places – our interviews were conducted in the presence of noisy squawking and scratching with the delicious smell of chicken ‘waste’ wafting past our noses.  The farmers, however, were very generous about providing information (through a translator) about the challenges they are facing and changes that have occurred in the industry since the revolution – low barriers to entry, expired medicines, high cost of importing feed, and little oversight provide farmers with a grim outlook on the future.

holy chickens.

Cory, chicken farmer, and Rosalie, our CRS hero (and translator)

baby chicks! so so many!

Tomorrow our team is reunited just in time for some of our most anticipated meetings of our trip – USAID and the Freedom and Justice Party.  More to come…


(from yesterday)

Yesterday morning, Rob, Manasi, and I headed south to Assiut in Upper Egypt. That’s where we met our Egyptian grandmother. Nagwa Abdalla is the head of the Assiut Business Women’s Association who has ceaselessly facilitated us and stuffed us with food. We met first for lunch and later were treated to a wealth of traditional Egyptian desserts (including some of the best baklava I’ve ever had), and then she refused to let us leave the office without taking fresh falafel for the road. Today featured more of the same with tours at a juice bottler, a biscuit manufacturer, and an ice cream manufacturer, all before another generous Egyptian lunch.


Don’t get the wrong impression. Grandma Nagwa is no pushover; she’s the power in the room. We’ve been rolling into every meeting 11 deep and they’ve all pretty much gone the same way. We start asking questions with Hani translating for us and sooner or later, the entire  conversation switches into Arabic and it’s all about Nagwa’s wasta. She always takes care of us, but then she’s off wheeling and dealing and building relationships. It’s easy to see why NBWA’s micro-finance arm has over 20,000 clients, including over 17,000 women.

Nagwa (second from the left) doing her thing

This trip has also reinforced that Egyptians love their ringtone. I’m not sure anyone here knows how to put their phones on silent. One of my favorite moments of the Assiut trip so far was in a meeting where a face-melting guitar riff started peeling out of someone’s phone, only to have the secretary of the board of NBWA, who is old enough to be my grandma, answer her phone…

Tomorrow (Today), we’ll finish up our meetings down south and head back to Cairo (probably loaded down with snacks courtesy of our new grandma!)

Bad News, Good News

Bad News: All of the bananas in CENMA (the central wholesale distribution center in Guatemala City) are from Honduras.  They are stronger, cleaner, and cheaper.  We only found one person who bought bananas from Olopa (the main town near the co-op), and he only bought them when he ran out of Honduran bananas.  Three points.

Our Competition: Honduran Bananas

Good News: Walmart in Guatemala City sells criollo bananas!  And judging by the amount left, they are in high demand . . .

An everyday low price of Q. 1.95 / lb for criollo bananas.

Researching other banana products Walmart sells

In addition to the CENMA and Walmart, we also visited the Terminal (the huge central market in Guatemala City) and the Mercado Central.  After learning the price at which bananas are bought and sold at these stages we have developed a stronger understanding of the latter part of the banana value chain.  The value chain we drew on a table cloth during dinner:

Buenas noches, amigos.