Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Starting the PRA

It's been an amazingly full week last week and I haven't had a chance to catch up with the Blog, which, as everyone has said how much they had the word, I shall now refer to as "Betty the" or just Betty.

All last week, every night from 5-7 we were supposed to go to the village and do our data collection. Well of course, being India, that only partially happened. Sickness, weddings, elections and thunderstorms made it difficult for us to go every day so we went on two nights, but the process was fascinating.

First we went to the village and sat around in the dwindling light waiting for the villagers to arrive. The combined draw of RUHSA (somewhat of a legend in the community) and the rumour of a few foreigners (there were three) was enough to get the grapevine buzzing vigorously and the road was soon filled with locals. The women were keen and disciplined and the men, mostly teenagers and young adult, hung around, leaning on their Hero bikes, trying to look nochalant and uninterested. the women sat round in a circle and listened to a member of the project team explaining what we wanted to do.

PRA (participatory rural analysis) is a fully dynamic process to gather qualitative data and is therefore a very different experience to gathering quantitative data. Initially, I was uncomfortable about how loose and fluid everything seemed. I wanted to impose rigidity, to ensure that the same things were asked and standards set, but the entire principle of it is to access what people really find important and not what researchers want to hear, and so, making it rigid, destroys that process, by imposing researchers priorities above the locals. It is meant to be flexible. Threads which become apparent can be enlarged upon and issues which the villagers are not intersted in can be dropped.

After the introduction, one of the women started drawing a map of part of the village on the road. Each house was included and the name of the head of the household & an identifying number was written on a piece of paper and weighted down by a stone. Here is one of our most enthusiastic helpers.

As the light faded and the map was completed, by candle light and, later, the car headlights the women discussed which households were the poorest and placed a pink piece of paper in the corresponding chalk square.

It is very difficult to assess wealth, especially as RUHSA has a reputation for helping the poorest. Several times people were volunteering to put pink paper in their own square only to be told by the other women that they didn't qualify. It seems an arbitrary distinction to make, when the difference might be only whether or no they have a cow, or irrigation in their paddy fields, not whether they have a Mercedes or can take a family vacation in Tenerife.

After assessing wealth, we then asked about neediness in the village, related to aving to care for elderly relatives, whther bedridden, about physical disabilty, mental impairment, destitute or abandoned. We tried also to ask about mental health, but this is a very difficult subject to get information on, even in developed countries which are supposed to be aware of mental illness. But we did ask about villagers who were socially withdrawn, or experiencing extremely difficult times. It yielded up a few names which was intersting to know. I think we shall ask about sadness on another occasion.

Of course, I wasn't very useful in this process except to entertain the children and keep them occupied, a job I did with great enthusiasm, dedication and help from my digital camera.

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