Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Community needs assessment: household surveys

Part of my job (for both Peace Corps and GACP) is to do a community needs assessment in Kinihira and some of the other villages surrounding Gishwati. The first phase of this is a household survey we designed, featuring questions on education levels, land and animal ownership, house and toilet situations, hygiene, market access and use, nutrition, water access and use, health issues, banking, etc. We ask about the household’s situation and also ask what they would like to improve.

I’m one house away from finishing the survey in Kinihira (we’re targeting about 15% of households; as the houses have numbers on the doors I’ve selected multiples of 6: we’re waiting on #24). It’s been an eye opening experience to be welcomed into so many homes and I’ve gained a much deeper understanding of the poverty that people in my community face.

Some issues have not surprised me: I share their problems with market access, my eyes have told me that many kids have worms, and I strongly suspected that most people don’t regularly use soap when washing hands or boil drinking water.

One issue I knew about in theory have really hit home: talking to many women about poverty, problems paying for school fees and buying food and how little time they have between farming, cooking and fetching water but knowing that their husbands are up on the main road drinking away precious time and money. And as I’ve sat in houses with rusty old tin roofs and packed-dirt floors, on a chair that’s one of just 5 pieces of furniture in the whole house, listening to people talk about how they’d like a bigger house, or a cement floor, or to replace the roof, I realize that as much as it sucks that I’m fighting a mold invasion in my own comfortable house filled with plenty of food and furniture and books, life could be a lot harder.

Among the interesting things I’ve learned: People who can’t afford candles or kerosene to light their houses at night take a burning stick and shake the ashes around (with a packed dirt floor and sparse furniture, this isn’t a fire hazard). Anyone over the age of 25 struggles with the concept of a 1-5 scale to gauge the comparative magnitude of their problems.

Questions that often make people laugh: How often do you eat meat? How do you save money? (“What money?”)

Next steps: input and analyze the data, carry out the household survey in other target villages, and organize focus groups (different groups for men, women, youth, community leaders, etc etc) to do collaborative assessment activities, identify community strengths and prioritize problems.

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