Room to Read is committed to tracking results and improving programming. Our monitoring and evaluations team conducts studies on an on-going basis, and this year, we are conducting a post-secondary school transition study of our Girls’ Education program participants. In November 2010, Kirsten Anderson joined Room to Read as the Girls’ Education Program Fellow to conduct this study. She began research in India and shares her thoughts and experiences of conducting fieldwork with our inspiring girls. Stay tuned for updates from Kirsten’s research in India, Nepal, Vietnam and Cambodia over the next several months.
Weaving in and out of Delhi’s traffic on dusty streets, the research assistants and I finally arrived at our destination—a poor urban community located on the back side of an old fort wall. We had scheduled a focus group with four young women, each the first person in their family to graduate from 12th grade. This was our first day of research and our task was to make sure our freshly translated interview questions made sense for the young women we were interviewing.
The day was bitterly cold, and fifteen minutes into our first focus group, the power went out. For the young women we were interviewing, power cuts are a common occurrence. They didn’t even flinch and continued to talk about their financial struggles and having to balance work with university courses. For the research team, the darkness was a frustrating disruption. Not only is it hard to take notes and refer to the list of interview questions, reading facial expressions and body language in the dark is next to impossible. But the darkness was also a blessing, as it allowed us to really focus on the women’s voices—to listen to the details of their stories and feel what they were saying.
As of December 2010, 234 of Room to Read's Girls’ Education program scholars from India, Nepal, Vietnam and Cambodia have graduated from secondary school. This number will quickly multiply as the Girls’ Education program provides scholarships and material support to more than 10,000 girls across eight countries. What are the young women doing now? What do they plan to do in the next ten years? How has Room to Read influenced their lives and their goals?
For the next four months, the research team and I will conduct interviews and focus groups with the program’s recent and upcoming graduates. The purpose of this study is to learn more about how these young women navigate this time of transition and opportunity. How do they make decisions about higher education, employment, as well as marriage and possibly parenthood? What are their challenges? What are their success stories? The stories they share of their struggles, accomplishments and ambitions will teach us and inform our current and future programming, and give us insight as to how we can better prepare future graduates.
Collecting these stories, however, requires constantly balancing the rigors of research and the realities of the field. It means listening intently, asking the right questions and learning about the whole person and her story.
We recently met with a young woman who had just graduated from 12th grade. Her shaky hands and quick, quivering voice were not the results of the Delhi winter, but of an obvious sense of shyness and nervousness. Midway through, she stopped to tell us that she did not usually develop bonds with adults so easily, but she felt comfortable with us and wanted to share her story. She talked about her future ambition: to study English, to get a job and to support her family. She described her family and how her parents have supported her education—sometimes giving up meals to pay additional fees for her and her sister. Wanting to maintain an objective distance, the research assistant and I quickly busied ourselves with our notes so as not to show our eyes tearing.
As we presented her with a small thank you gift—a notebook and pen—she thanked us for giving her the opportunity to share her story. Yet, I am the thankful one. I am humbled and honored to spend time with these young women—so full of courage, strength and determination.
Every day, we emerge from our interviews to a different Delhi—warmer as the days grow longer. We have adjusted our vision, as these young women do every day when they think about and plan for their future. We anticipate our next interviews with a renewed sense of hope and focus.
Read more about how Room to Read tracks results in its programs.