The Joys of Community Work
Community-centred research can be rural and rugged. A life where one cannot always rely on navigators to navigate some roads, since many routes to project sites are off GPS signals. In this life, an average decent and hot lunch can be roasted corn. Of course, there are no restaurants and all the frivolities of city life. A life where the ‘Dr’ title does not count and is not as important as making a difference, one impoverished community at a time.
The tenacity to drive long hours on end to rural communities cannot be sustained in the absence of passion and love for community work, clearly not theory as theory can be very inapplicable where real life impoverishment is concerned. A typical day can revolve around initiating interventions which transcend mere academic research solutions. A socio-economic impact assessment approach is often necessary to deliver monitoring, evaluation, learning and reporting support to local economic development agencies and civil societies which target rural communities.
For example, one of the strategic focus of our work is the critical assessment of situated organisational identity and institutional challenges around how organisational practices and communication create or disrupt social learning systems. Of particular importance is how these systems can be harnessed for inclusive value creation for vulnerable value chain actors such as smallholder farmers.
In addition to gaining consumer insights, brand communication and management consulting, our work also entails co-engagement with all parties involved in farmer development projects, such as sustainability and corporate communication managers, extension officers, training and economic development managers etc. and of course farmers, mostly in co-operatives.
Meet Bongani and Simphiwe (not real names) who couldn’t contain their joy when they saw me at one of their training sessions recently. I last saw these farmers early in the year, during one of our farm visits and preliminary fieldwork. Prior to this meeting, we met with the relevant managers and officers involved in the project and explained our methodology and expected outcome. Like most small-scale farmers, Bongani and Simphiwe had many issues around poor land quality, grazing, lack of irrigation systems, inadequate market access, storage facilities etc.
Farmers: [Brimming with smiles] Helloooo, long time …
Me: [Whispering from the other side of the hall] Yes, long time.
Farmers: [Overjoyed and seemingly eager to share some news] Good to see you again
Me: [Trying very hard to replicate the energy] Yesss, same here
Farmers: [It was finally lunch time] Chichi, thank you so much
Me: [The tight hug was very much unexpected… I wasn’t given the opportunity to change my name from Chichi to Abosede]. Remember I work with the partners of the projects to ensure that we get the best outcome.
Farmers: Oh yes I know, you came with the management team I remember. I think it was in February when you interviewed us…
Me: [Still wondering and very confused but managed to probe to touch base on their excitement] So how is business? I know you had issues with your land and …
Farmers: We now have a 30-meter irrigation system! Everything is going on well now. You won’t believe how many tons of vegetables we now harvest. We were also advised by a specialist on how best to plant, we now plant vertically and not horizontally. That way water flows in from the dam, in the right proportion. They promised to get back to us on the outstanding issues…
Me: Oh wow! Congratulations! I am so happy to hear that. Do you want us to step outside for a short meeting?
Farmers: [Still very excited] Oh sure, let’s go
They granted a short interview before we took a “Victory Picture”
These are the joys of community work. We go about our work, in the hope that our efforts will yield results for the future generation of farmers. But not that long! Results are kicking in already. Many of your struggles may seem futile today, hang in there, results will come. Today is the result of yesterday’s preparation, don’t give-up or give-in, help is not on the way, help is here.
The RRS Team