Community research is complete!

A couple of weeks ago Martha and I spent a morning training local community members in the art of social surveying. In order to improve on our approach from last year, and avoid the project becoming yet another ‘Mzungu’ led intervention, we wanted to ensure our primary research was led by the community as much as possible. This participatory method, known by those in development circles as ‘enumeration’, allows locals to better engage with the project and promotes a sense of ownership. 11857725_10205046667389207_2032907999_n During the session we worked as a team to adapt the initial set of questions I had drawn up. This exercise turned out to be incredibly useful, when it transpired that asking about the number of meals cooked per day in a household was a rather insensitive question – likely to be met with refusal to answer, or at worst, a slap in the face… With many a potentially awkward situation avoided, it was time to pilot our surveys with a couple of households on the network, before surveying the whole route the following day. The information attained will no doubt be invaluable for many strands of the project, from developing a sustainable biogas business model, to better understanding the motivations for adoption of the system. Later in the week, whilst the rest of the engineering team grafted hard refining the final costs of the system, I continued with some social research and spent the day with a household on the network. The rationale behind this was to better understand day-to-day life in Vingunguti and also to observe daily hygiene practices first hand; research suggests that when data is collected using surveys, answers regarding hygiene matters are often misrepresented. Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 14.15.35 The day started when I was led into a bedroom where a woman named Haleema lived. It was not what I was expecting. A TV in the corner of the room, set at an extremely high volume, played dubbed over Swahili movies. I would see a variety of these as the day went on, each one featuring worse acting and stranger plot twists than the last! Also in the room was a large bed, a fridge and a sofa. I later learnt that despite her young age, Haleema shared the space with her 6-year-old daughter, who was at school when I arrived. As I settled in for the day, we talked of her perceptions of Vingunguti, family life, and her future ambitions. I was somewhat surprised to learn that Haleema felt a strong connection to Vingunguti, despite have only moved there a year previously. All too soon, it was time to prepare lunch. And I was cooking. As Haleema pointed to various vegetables and kitchen implements, I did my best to guess what to do with them. I found myself pulverising a carrot, grating tomatoes, and peeling unripe banana’s – something which I discovered I am particularly talented at. My knife skills, however, were not up to scratch, and Haleema felt it was safer if she chopped up the onions. Nevertheless, the final product, a banana stew, turned out to be an unexpected success, and now I fear I will be asked back to cook every day… (and perhaps to multiple houses as news of my achievement travelled fast throughout Vingunguti) I expected to be continuing with household chores after lunch – but it appeared it was time to relax. Yet another movie was chosen, and the day ended with me watching Haleema and her younger sister having a mid afternoon nap…

Emma Fletcher, Engineering Project Volunteer

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