Corey writes:

Last Thursday, I made my fourth visit to the field. Four visits in 15 months isn't much, especially since SOVA's field workers actually live in "the field". However, for me to go, it takes a lot of begging, planning, re-planning, and hand-holding. After all that work, though, I'm always glad I went.

The day started with me and my coworker Jassy bumping over dirt roads in the back of an SUV to the village of Pondi. There we met one of the SOVA field workers (who lives there) and soon Padlam, another field worker joined us. I was there for another NGO-IDEAs session. If you didn't read the previous blog entry, please check it out for an overview of the NGO-IDEAs project. The purpose of this session was to field-test a new process that the regional coordinator in Coimbatore is recommending for us folks working in the education sector.

The session involved asking the parents and the children to think about the current status of education in the village (school, teachers, children, parents, etc.) and make plans for how to improve it in the future. In addition, we tried to set specific actions for everyone in the village to take to improve education and metrics that we would use to measure the village's education status over time. However, during the course of these exercises a number of interesting things happened.

One of the biggest challenges for this field visit was scheduling. We needed to get the maximum number of children and their parents together at the same time. Many children in rural India only attend school 2-3 days per week and spend 3-4 days working. For the parents, whether they are farmers or daily laborers, getting them together during the daylight hours is also a challenge. In the end, we were able to pick a time and place that allowed 17 parents and 19 children to participate.

Another interesting thing about this and most field visits is that you really just have to go with the flow. For the meeting with the parents, we ended up sitting on the porch of someone's house. For the children, we had to wait until they were finished eating their lunch. One of my favorite moments was when the parents had to draw some illustrations as part of the exercise. They weren't comfortable using pen and paper, so they ended up drawing on the cement porch with chalk.

The last experience I want to share is how visiting the field can give you a good reality check. This is one of the unfortunate trends I have observed with some development organizations. "The field" is the lowest level of the organization and everyone works their way up from there. When we visited this village and facilitated this session on education, the parents told us outright that child labour is prevalent, but is not considered to be a problem to them. To them, it was important for their children to learn how to earn money by doing labour like cattle grazing or catching and selling fish. It's also deeply engrained in their culture. Which is not something that can change overnight. Or over a decade. At least not in Koraput.