Ashlen Nimmo, MSW ‘16 — Reporting from Panajachel, Guatemala
This semester, Innovate@BCSW is following the experiences of four BC Social Work students who have embarked on international field education placements in Latin America, Europe, and Africa. Stay tuned during the spring for ongoing updates through student-crafted blog posts, video diaries, and photography.
Blog 2: The Placement
By Ashlen Nimmo
Nobody likes to fail. As a perfectionist by nature, I loathe failing. It sticks with me for a long time. I play things over and over in my mind, and the “shoulds” set in- as in I should have done this or that. So it is no surprise that the weight of a recent failure still lingers.
One of my roles as an intern has been assisting with evaluation activities. As such, I helped develop an intake survey for the women in the nutrition and health & hygiene programs that included demographic information, a section on leadership, and then a brief needs assessment. I knew that there was a dual barrier I was up against though, namely the small staff and low literacy rates in certain communities. Therefore, I opted for a verbally administered survey where the women had to mark on their paper a particular shape based on their response, as this was similar to an approach my coworker had used in the past.
I thought I had done due diligence taking into account the different barriers, but upon arrival, it became painfully obvious that that was not actually the case. We had grossly underestimated how many preferred the language of Quiche rather than Spanish. Additionally, we had been counting on more participants being able to fill out the demographic portion. Then there was the printing debacle, where the numbers did not perfectly line up with the shapes, which was confusing. Also, the questions were too complex, especially given the need for translation. As my colleagues and I tried to weave through the tight rows translating, explaining, and attempting to simplify the questionnaire, it became increasingly clearer that the activity was not going to be successful, so we stopped midway through. I was disappointed and embarrassed.
I have spent a substantial amount of time reflecting on this incident since, and I debriefed with my coworkers who had a lot of great suggestions. I felt terribly, but they were supportive and affirming. Each day I spend in the communities I learn more about what is or is not feasible in the context. I also learned that just running ideas by my coworkers will not suffice. Instead, I need to integrate them in a more profound way into the development of evaluation activities. I had not fully understood previously just how much culture plays a role in evaluation, but I now know that I must rely more on my Guatemalan counterparts’ insight and experience.
I am aware that is in those moments that we fail or come up short that some of the greatest lessons can be learned. It is unfortunate that the women in the group had to be subjected to the unsuccessful implementation of the survey, but luckily the women were patient and gracious. It is my hope therefore that this particular failure does not just remain a source of “shoulds”, but that the lessons will be valuable and help inform my work at Mil Milagros and beyond.
Ashlen Nimmo is spending the semester working for Mil Milagros (A Thousand Miracles), an organization based in Panajachel, Guatemala that partners with mothers, grandmothers, and teachers to improve children’s health and education in that country.