Monday, 1 April 2013

And Finally.... APYN Conference Outcomes!

Greetings Friends and Family!

I’m about a week behind on blogging, but still thrilled to report that the APYN conference went off without a hitch! A total of 60 (out of 66) kitchen members were able to attend both series of three-day workshops. This scale of member participation and interaction is unprecedented for APYN, and all of us here feel as though it made for an exceptionally valuable and memorable event! Yay!  

Conference Room at Kivulini Conference Center

Conference Registration Book

As I indicated in my last blog post, the first two days of workshops were facilitated by a local business consultant named Bernard Makachia, and focused on issues pertaining to business management, entrepreneurship and financial documentation. I now fully understand why APYN staff was so enthusiastic about hiring Mr. Makachia- he was captivating and inspiring beyond expectation, and even managed to hold my attention for six full days despite that he was speaking almost entirely in Swahili! 

Mr. Bernard Makachia

Mr. Makachia leading a discussion on how to set ambitious yet realistic goals for a business

A combination of network-wide and kitchen-specific issues were covered in the workshops facilitated by Mr. Makachia, which were also completely hands-on and participatory. For some of the group activities he had the members work with individuals from their own kitchen, before reconvening to discuss and compare responses as a group. 

Members from Buswelu Kitchen conducting a group exercise on calculating business expenses.

Members from Mahina Kitchen conducting the same exercise

Afterwards all the groups reconvened to discuss and compare their findings and ideas

For other activities he asked the members to move out of their comfort zone and interact with individuals whom they had never met before. It was great to see the kitchen members standing up and speaking in front of the rest of the group, getting excited about different issues, laughing and interacting with one another. 

Members from six different kitchens discussing the various interpersonal and technical challenges their kitchens face on a daily basis.

During the various discussions and group activities, members grew visibly more comfortable and engaged with one another. Being able to witness this growing sense of affection and solidarity among individuals from different kitchens was an unexpected joy for me.

Mr. Makachia leading the members in a memory recall energizer based on the topics covered in the previous day's workshops

At the end of the second day of each workshop (so the Wednesday of each week), I was given one hour to administer my questionnaire on the gender impact of the program. Since many of the kitchen members are only semi-literaite, I made the decision to read aloud my letter of information and consent to the members before administering the questionnaire. This document basically outlined the purpose and objectives of my study, invited the members to participate in the study by filling-out a questionnaire about their experience with the yogurt program, stressed that their participation was completely voluntary, and assured them that all of their responses would remain entirely confidential and anonymous, if it is their preference. This is all fairly standard ethical practice for research affiliated with the university; only I decided that my presentation would be delivered in Swahili!

Now, to be sure, I don’t speak Swahili fluently. I can certainly get myself from place to place, conduct basic conversations with others, and know enough words and verbs to put new sentences together every day. However, I would need to live here for at least two years before ever possessing the linguistic know-how required to write and present this complex a degree of information on my own and not look like a total idiot. But I felt that making the effort to write and deliver the presentation myself in Swahili (with the aid of a translator and constantly help with editing from friends) would be an important show of reciprocity and appreciation for the time and energy required of individuals participating in my study. So, I put my ego and my nerves aside and I went for it! For the sake of full disclosure, I was so nervous the entire afternoon before the presentation that I couldn’t sit still! I even sat alone and rehearsed my presentation all throughout lunch, forcing me to miss out on my favorite dessert here, ndizi (bananas) and honey. 

Turns out it was all worth it because after I finished my first presentation the kitchen members actually stood up and applauded my attempt to speak Swahili! Furthermore, all 60 kitchen members agreed to participate by filling-out a questionnaire on the spot, and 57 members indicated that they would like to participate in a face-to-face interview about their experience with the project! I was truly touched.

Presenting my letter of information and consent to the kitchen members who attended the first workshop

Here is a small segment from an email that I wrote to a friend just hours after administering that first round of questionnaires:

Today went really well. In fact, I feel like I am coasting on a bit of a research high right now. Based on just a preliminary skim of some of the questionnaire responses, there are already so many ideas going through my mind about how to organize it and analyze it all, and what it can reveal about the real, lived impact that the project has been having for women and families and communities in Mwanza… My roommate Susan was laughing at me during the questionnaire session because every time that someone finished a filing theirs out and handed it back to me I exclaimed "Asante sana!" ("Thank you so much"), and apparently looked like an 8 year version of myself who had just been given a pair or rollerblades for her birthday! And in many regards that is exactly how it felt. I know the questionnaire was not the easiest task for members to take on at the end of a long day of other workshops, and I really appreciated their kindness towards me and their willingness to participate in the study. After I introduced the questionnaire, 100% of individuals stayed to participate, and the same number indicated that they would be interested in participating in an individual interview in April/May! Before today I was worried about not having enough interview participants, and now I need to figure out how to fit them all in! This is also a legitimate issue that I will need to sort out, but a much preferable “problem” to be dealing with.

It is evident how thrilled I was with how everything went! You know, I'm actually not sure which night I slept less: the night before I administered the questionnaire or the night afterwards. My mind was racing beyond control in both instances!

The third and final day of the workshops (so Thursday of each week) focused specifically on probiotic health benefits and production processes. The morning session was facilitated by APYN's Community Program Director, Esther, and focused on improving the members' knowledge of the health benefits of probiotics so that they could spread awareness within their own communities.

Esther leading a discussion on the health benefits of the probiotic yogurt

In the afternoon my roommate Shannon came in to demonstrate, in real-time, the correct way to produce the probiotic yogurt at the kitchens each day. A few individuals from each kitchen were able to participate in this activity by stirring, measuring and pouring ingredients into the pot that sat atop the flame from the gas burner. By the end of the day, all ten kitchens working together had produced a delicious batch of probiotic yogurt. I couldn’t help but feel like this creation was a symbol of the solidarity, affection and sense of unity that was fostered throughout the conference. It was a perfect way to cap-off the event. Fortunately for me, I was also then free to go to town devouring the leftovers on Friday morning! Mmmmmm….. symbolic unity yogurt.

Shannon and a member from Tumiani Kitchen during the workshop on probiotic yogurt production

Ultimately, what I enjoyed most about the conference was the experience of getting to know each of the kitchen members more personally, outside of the walls of the kitchens themselves. Spending two full days together participating in icebreakers and energizers, talking and laughing over chai, eating lunch and taking photos together, all of it, really provided an otherwise non-existent opportunity to bond as people, and not as researcher and participant. I realize this might sound like I am being naive, and that the relationship and various power-dynamics between myself and the kitchen members can never be fully removed from any of our minds. But for me there is no doubt that the level of comfort and fondness that I now share with the kitchen members is a direct result of the time that we all spent together participating in the conference workshops. Rather embarrassingly, the opportunity to get to know the kitchen members individually is not something that I planned for or looked forward to while fundraising and organizing the conference. In fact, I could not have planned for or anticipated a better outcome if I tried. Maybe the lack of trying and of planning is what allowed the experience of bonding with the members to occur and to be so genuine- it was in no way premeditated.

Me with two of the members from Tumaini Kitchen

I have been planning this project for over a year now, and this includes reading more than one hundred books and articles on the subject of women and microfinance, writing at least as many pages on my own project, and living and working in Tanzania for nearly two months prior to taking this trip. And now, finally, I have these 60 questionnaires stacked-up on my bed in front of me, containing the actual experiences and perspectives of 60 local women and youth involved in the project, and it's just so… surreal. I realize that sounds cliché but it's the only language I have to describe what I am feeling right now.

I have already coded the questionnaires, created separate word documents for each, and put them on a flash drive so that my translator, Janet, can easily input each individual's translated responses and in doing so create a soft copy of each respondent’s questionnaire. Janet will be working on this task while my mom is here in town visiting me this week. I am so excited to see her! And it’s actually perfect timing for a vacation with mama because I would just be sitting on my hands waiting to see the translated questionnaire responses anyways! It’s also the halfway point in my trip, so a small break to re-boot and gather my thoughts is likely in order. The plan is to revert back into a tourist for the week and do some travelling in the area. First on the list is a two-day safari in the Serengeti, followed by a hot-air balloon ride over the park at dawn! Yup, it’s pretty much the coolest thing I have ever done. Then we are off to Musoma Island to spend two nights relaxing on the beach at Lukuba Lodge. I will upload pictures from our trip in my next blog post!

Until then, I am sending love and hugs to Canada every single day!

No comments:

Post a Comment