Ever sit in class or in a meeting and ask yourself, “Why am I here?”. The facilitator is covering a topic that you already know so much about and you feel there isn’t possibly anything else you could learn. I had this feeling many times during my first week of classes and then I realized that if I was already so knowledgeable in development topics, I would not have chosen to participate in the program.
In this first week, we began preparations for our first field visit, so our classes focused on qualitative research methods and quantitative evaluation methods, as well as an introduction to poverty and development in India. A couple of points resonated with me in the skills courses that I believe all researchers should keep in mind. In qualitative research, there is an emphasis on acknowledging your biases before conducting research. It is natural that we all have perceptions of others before we have even engaged with them. We make assumptions based on past interactions and stories, and we create an image in our mind of people we have never met. We also enter spaces with our own set definitions and intentions and don’t deviate from that. However, we must remain open. Open to learning and unlearning, opening to meeting people where they are in thought, open to different definitions and intentions, open to changing our own thoughts and perceptions. This is something that I try to do every day, but often struggle with. As I continue to take classes and visit my research village, I aim to remain open as to not allow my experiences to preclude my learning.
Another component of our development classes has been critically re-thinking poverty and development. Despite being practitioners and students of development, we all struggled to answer basic questions. What is poverty? How do you know poverty when you see it? What is development? Is poverty a necessity of development? Who is in charge of development?
One of the most engaging conversations this week has been about grassroots development. The whole purpose of this program is to employ a bottom-up approach to development. Instead of coming in with a solution, we will speak with villagers to understand what they believe is their greatest unmet need and work with them to propose a feasible solution. In one case study we read, in an urban slum in Pakistan, residents worked together to create sanitation systems in their communities. They pooled their money to buy materials and built the systems themselves. When the scale became too large, they demanded that the local government provide the service that they needed. The whole class agreed that this was a good method of addressing a problem. Instead of waiting for the government to step in, residents fixed their own problem. On the surface, this seems like a victory for the residents. However, the question proposed by our professor was does people coming together to solve a problem ignored by the government represent a good thing? Yes and no, right? A community coming together to solve a problem is a good thing. However, being ignored by the government in its development schemes is certainly not a good thing. So in essence, communities coming together indicate a failure by the government. This point is where I felt that wave of humility hit. Of course, this makes sense and I can point to examples in my own life where this fact is true; however, in class, I cannot articulate such realities. So, I am reminded that these classes are way for me to refresh and build my knowledge of development. I have an incredible opportunity to understand new developments in the field and learn from the experience of my colleagues, professors, NGO mentors, and other practitioners.
All work and no play, I don’t think so! I also spent some of this week exploring Udaipur, my home for the next 2 months. So far, I have gone shopping three times – twice at a huge mall and once at a local market. I’ve eaten out and enjoyed some seriously sweet views. Pictures are below for proof!