I took a class over the last summer regarding management and development of international non-governmental organizations. One of the things that my professor spoke in depth about with regards to work in difficult or impoverished areas is that one has to manage expectations and what those working with/for you will present. I recall him saying something to the effect of: you get into the field and then your pre-conceived notions get trashed and you have to start from scratch. He also talked quite a bit about needing to manage those who volunteer and interpret for you.
In my pre-trip paper, one of the things I spoke extensively about was coming into a situation about which I am very interested and have done somewhat substantial research but have very little practical knowledge. Today was very interesting to me because it was the first time I had an opportunity to see firsthand the challenges entities face when they are in the social enterprise space. We worked with our interpreter Banu for the whole day. I truly appreciated the work he did to enable us to speak with so many people, but at the same time it was very interesting to watch and react to the dynamics of the work we did. There were times where I felt the agenda was not being driven by the data we needed to gather or by the people I felt a need/desire to interview but was instead being driven by the Bhimaravam that we were “supposed” to see and experience. I have to ensure that I am conscientious of this potential interaction style so that I can attempt to ensure I am being provided information that I truly need and not what someone else believes I need.
All in all the experience today was excellent. We had some wonderful conversations with a wide variety of people who were willing to answer questions which I would NEVER answer back home. People were so gracious with their time and their answers. I was particularly struck by our interaction with Mani. Mani lives with her husband and 2 sons in Vempadu. She tends to the house and also takes care of the cow, the family’s only cash creating asset. It took us a while to get through the filters but she was more than willing to answer our questions, even when her husband showed up halfway through the interview. Her family makes about $2-3 per day and yet her main priority is to ensure her children and family are taken care of. The desire to care for others is so prevalent even when those with whom we spoke have so little.
Even though my ideal about field research was a bit shattered today and reality has kicked in, the graciousness of those around us is refreshing and encourages me that we’ll get what we need to be effective in our consulting projects. I am so very impressed with people and their spirit here, I can’t wait to continue being amazed.