Being an outsider in the social development sector and not having a conventional degree in the subject, it excites me a lot to understand NGO talks or “Sanstha Wali Baatein” as I have come to call them. I am an architect by education and have practiced it for 2-3 years. At that time, my life was all about sitting in a 10’x10’ office workspace, in front of my computer and working day and night, on drawings. Now, at grassroots, I’m dealing with people, and have adapted to a simpler lifestyle. It becomes obvious for me to draw comparisons.
Things like humility at workplace, organizations trying to have positive work cultures, informal conversations followed by intense discussions on social issues, people agreeing to disagree, the perception of other people for those working in an NGO, are all different from what I had seen earlier. My perception of a non-profit organization was of a group of people commonly known as activists performing Nukkad Nataks or gathering people, doing strikes and giving speeches at conferences. But I learnt about a lot of skills that can be used here, some of which are training, conducting FGDs (focus group discussions), interviewing and research.
Recently, I got to conduct and manage a baseline survey along with Aajeevika Bureau’s team members in Kushalgarh, Banswara. It was the first project assigned to me and I was fortunate enough to understand the process from the beginning. It was much more than a task. Apart from the Hows and Whats of surveys, I understood that every person involved in it, had a different agenda as well as learning. My organization, the volunteers, community members and I, all of us looked at it differently. For an organization, the purpose of doing a survey could be:
- To plan interventions – It has been two years since Aajeevika Bureau started to develop the understanding of Family migration pattern in Kushalgarh. The survey was the first technical approach as per which most of our interventions will be planned.
- To better understand the community, with quantitative data – Earlier, all the insights about the region were in the form of stories through case studies and community meetings. The objective of doing baseline survey was also to gather evidences to back up those insights with numbers and further use it for advocacy.
- To attract funds from investors – Funders want to know where their money is going, nature of the social problem and how an organization is trying to deal with it. For this, more accurate and consolidated data is required. Such surveys provide a balanced mix of quantitative and qualitative data to propose the plan in a better way.
The survey gives qualitative and quantitative information about the community. It is relevant as it shows the trends. Data analysts dissect this information to see various patterns which would help them understand their current situation as well as reasons for the same. But the perspective of community members, as I have seen, is different. Following were some of the responses I got when I approached them to take surveys:
- “Koi yojana lekar aaye ho?” (Have you come with a government scheme?)
- “Sarkaar ne bheja hai kya? Survey lene ke baad kya hoga?” (Are you a government employee? What will happen after this survey?), to which we say no, and see pity on their faces for us. On explaining our purpose of doing this survey, they don’t look convinced. People want to see immediate changes. So even if we tell them that this is a slow process and we are here to understand issues from you, they don’t show much interest.
- “Lelo survey toh! Par operation nahi karwana hai” (You can take the survey, but we are not going to say yes for the operation). Weird response! Right? In this context, they are worried if we are there for Sterilization operation of women which would mean that she will not be able to work for a while.
One day, when I accompanied our volunteers for the survey, everyone in the village gathered thinking of us as nurses since co-incidentally, all of us were wearing shades of blue. I could see the rage in their eyes. They came to us asking “What are you doing here? Why don’t you visit regularly?” Upon inquiring, we got to know that there is no Aanganwadi in their village and the nearest one in another village does not function properly. We clarified our purpose of visiting but they requested us to look into this matter as well. We had to reiterate that for now, we were there only for the survey, but could try to help them talk to the Sarpanch about this. Taking an example from Kushalgarh, I saw that it has become so normal for people in villages to hear words and terms like survey and community meetings as it happens on an ongoing basis, more than in urban areas. The idea of strangers coming to their house and asking a range of questions is normal which makes them more open to it but at the same time, they lose interest or are sometimes a bit discreet in providing information.
For field teams
- Like a monthly task – The field teams in which most of the members are from the community itself, take it as part of their job. Some of them don’t take the training sessions seriously not because they are not careless about the survey but because they understand the community better. Basic instructions like, “sit at the same level as that of the respondent” and “make an eye-contact”, are known to them as they are familiar with the culture and traditions more than us. They know the ground realities. They know that they will be offered a seat, that women would never sit on the same level as men and sometimes they don’t have a choice but to accept it.
- Gives them power – With surveys, the tables turn around. The field staff members get a sense of importance and feel more confident as they certainly know it better. The ownership of contributing to the organization and helping budding social workers like me learn, comes from them.
- Like a family reunion – I still don’t know how but they find relatives in every corner of each village. One of my colleagues pointed out the houses of her distant relatives in every village where we conducted the surveys. This was the best part as I got to know the community better along with “Chulhe Wali Chai” and fresh fruits from their farms.
For community leaders and/or volunteers
One of the biggest and immediate advantages of doing this survey as I see was that it helped us in understanding our volunteers who have been working with us for more than a year. Surprisingly, we found that more than us, it gave these women a platform to empathize with their community members. As most of them have never migrated themselves, it was hard for them to relate but with this intervention, they now feel more confident and empowered. Here are some insights shared by them:
1. Increased knowledge about the community
- Most of them felt that the process helped them understand parts of their surroundings that they had neglected for years.
- They got to know about the problems people face when they migrate.
- Some of them found it hard to travel from one village to another. Firstly, because of the harsh sun and secondly, because of lack of proper roads. This made them realize that the basic infrastructure is missing in remote areas and the associated issues that occur for people living in those areas.
- They got to know that most of the women in these villages are physically weak and unaware about their health.
- While the volunteers were aware of unfair treatment with women, it got reinforced when most of them were not even left alone with the surveyor and in a lot of cases, their husbands responded on their behalf. They expressed the frustration on failing to create a space for her where she could talk her heart out.
2. A sense of empowerment
One of our volunteers, who is also new, shared that she felt empowered within her family. Since she has started working with us, she is getting respected in her family and has increased participation in decision-making.
3. Standing up for themselves
Volunteers shared their experiences of eve-teasing and misogynistic comments from the community members while they were conducting the surveys. They told that they were able to handle such instances on their own by raising their voice and getting into arguments instead of tolerating or avoiding those shameful acts.
4. Recognition in the community
Each one of them felt proud that their friends, relatives and acquaintances now recognize them by associating them with an organization and the kind of work they’re doing.
For fellows like me
- Tools and processes – The survey gave me a chance to broadly understand the overall purpose and expectations of the organization as well as on-field challenges. My aim was to bridge those gaps and maintain a balance. It introduced me to the entire process including fieldwork, training, documentation and data analysis.
- Community interaction – The best part was to get first hand information about the challenges and issues of the community. Before this, I had only heard stories being passed on from colleagues. It increased my confidence and brought clarity.
- Core work of the organization – I got to know why the organization is doing what they are doing. Being new, it was natural for me to question their ideology and approach. These surveys helped me a lot to understand Aajeevika Bureau’s take on migration.
The process involved traveling, a whole lot of tanning, falling sick, having traditional home-made meals in the community, walking in the harsh sun on rough roads and dry streams, sleeping under a tree, being a facilitator and learning tricks for survival. I pushed myself at each step. Now that I’m halfway through this fellowship journey, it feels like it went just like it should have.