Since 2008 I have been engaged in the development sector, primarily child protection, and my work has taken me across all of Nepal. While working for the Government Central Child Welfare Board I monitored homes for orphaned and abandoned children and I became closely involved with child protection. In 2014, I authored the first report on the state of Nepal’s Children. Since then I have spent over 4 years working with World Vision Nepal, and one of my tasks has been to ensure that child protection is incorporated in project design, and to develop multiple tools to engage with and advocate for children.
Through working in the development sector I also became more and more involved in data analysis, and this increased my appetite for research. When the opportunity arose to work with the Child Friendly Space (CFS) Impact Evaluation project, I was incredibly happy to be involved in a high-level research project, and to have the opportunity to expand my skills.
From the onset of this project right after the earthquake we faced many challenges in implementing field data collection. Nepal is home to the world’s tallest peaks, and a majority of the earthquake-affected population lives in remote villages in mountain areas near the Tibetan border with severe seasonal weather. Due to the nature of an emergency response we could not seasonally plan our work like we would have done in a development project, but rather had to get out into affected areas immediately. This was extremely difficult especially during the rainy season, when roads were washed out and mountainous towns were only accessible through 8 hours or more of uphill hiking.
We had to face these geographical challenges with a team of 24 enumerators and support team members. Due to tough weather and a grueling schedule many of our enumerators became physically sick, and it was a challenge to handle complex logistics and still keep up the morale. Since this inter-agency project is unique in terms of funding and logistics, we faced coordination challenges as well as having to balance the desires of external agencies, implementing partners and communities. Another challenge is that it was necessary to carry huge amounts of money after the emergency… for security reasons, while sleeping in tents I had to line my hiking pants with cash!
At the onset of the disaster it was also hard to manage community expectations. Although it had been discussed many times people still felt they had to register for CFS to receive benefits, and this issue persisted until the end of the project. As we were the first team in the field in many locations, community members would come to us with grievances regarding CFS – and were frustrated when we did not have the answers and were unable to remedy the problem. This was compounded by the fact that we were the only ones ‘taking’ something during this period, while other organizations were all distributing items. When community members walked long distances and did not receive anything they were frustrated, and in later data collection periods once the CFS had closed it was a challenge to access them at all. Even though coordination improved through building strong local partnerships, the challenges of achieving a high response rate and managing community expectations never ceased.
Although we faced many challenges in the field there were good times as well. The team spirit has been amazing, as our enumerators are primarily university age they are high energy and love interacting with kids, bringing positivity to the work by singing, dancing and, laughing with the children. Even in observations and in talking to people, noticing small improvements made us happy, too. When we heard that children who attended CFS became more active in school, these moments made us happy, even though we were not the CFS-implementers. The relationships formed with other staff and researchers, while closely coordinating with other agencies, and the trust that was built was also a great experience. I was unbelievably happy that the team fully trusted in me, and gave me the responsibility of running the research without second guessing my management. I now know the reality and challenges of a successful research project both at the high and low level. As a researcher you are always curious what the findings will be, and as we near the completion of data collection we are excited and feel like we have achieved a great deal.
Unfortunately, in Nepal research in the development sectors is taken very lightly. Organizations often treat only the symptoms of problems without identifying the root causes. Research is critical, as it gives you an understanding of reality. Not only does research help to identify the problem but it also recommends possible solutions. As this research has a global impact beyond the context of Nepal, our findings will be useful to improve CFS effectiveness in worldwide disasters. We can look at the data and genuinely explore the impact of CFS – is it really sustainable? Are we getting good value for money? If CFS is not having a sizeable impact in certain contexts, then it is perhaps time to look into alternative interventions.
Author: Yogendra Napit
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