Thursday, 1 August 2013

Learning By Doing, Asking and Listening

By Stella Rakwach, 1st year MDP Student

Problem tree (causes & effects of financial exclusion) - focus groups results at Ma Mawi
Research is a very important aspect of community development, often providing solutions to challenges affecting them. Such solutions should be context specific, informed by local cultures and world views to improve their acceptance in such communities. One size fits all policies/solutions may not be applicable in addressing modern day development issues. What is considered a problem in one community may not be an issue in another. This is very evident when comparing financial exclusion in different communities for example Canada has three major financial sectors: mainstream financial institutions (MFIs), fringe financial institutions (FFI) & informal borrowing/lending. I was comparing that to my country Kenya which on the contrary only has the MFIs & informal borrowing/ lending. FFIs maybe a problem in Canada but is almost non-existent in Kenya. Hence in terms of financial systems in Canada there could be a middle ground while in Kenya you are either in or out of the system. Recently our team has been working on indigenous financial exclusion (IFE) & literacy research data collection. Finding participants for the research methods has not been very easy but it has worked out well courtesy of partnerships with SEED Winnipeg, Ma Mawi & Fisher River Cree Nation (FRCN). By taking part in various activities at the sites I met new friends who introduced me to potential participants and later made use of the snowball effect to get more.

Money Management Class at SEED Winnipeg

We attended a money management class and had a small exercise dubbed ‘money & me’ which involved writing on a piece of paper about what one would like spend money on. Then we walked around the room as we asked each other questions and it was interesting to find out that people were saving for items like mattresses, glasses, couches, children’s education and cars etc.  SEED is doing a great job through its savings program which helps their participants save to meet their financial objectives and in addition to that an initiative to help parents set up RESP accounts to save towards their children’s education. In one activity, the class was divided into groups and tasked with identifying the challenges facing their community and suggest possible solutions to these challenges. Part of this activity included separating individual and communal solutions to the communities’ problems. I presented for my group and I had a wonderful time sharing especially on the one person solutions as that would be a development practitioner’s main job. So I talked about charity, volunteering, scholarships/sponsorships, voting, keeping rules, reporting crime as these would be key in promoting education, and good leadership and hence better laws and promote security and other areas of community development.

Cooking Class at Ma Mawi (McGregor site)
Lunch is ready! Stella (L) & Grenda (staff member at Ma Mawi)
The cooking began with a short orientation from the lady in charge of the kitchen, I washed my hands and she handed me a pair of gloves and something to cover my hair which I put on then she showed me around the kitchen cabinets to know where to get the cutlery, plates, cups etc. On the menu today is split peas soup & salad and bread.  I helped by dicing some onions and bacon then she put all the ingredients together into a large pot to get the soup boiling. Then we made some caesar salad together as we talked about mainstream banks and fringe banks (pawnshops & payday lenders) and by 12 noon lunch was ready and I put on my name tag and served lunch to the community at the kitchen counter. Later I walked around the dining area with a tray serving fritas for dessert. All that’s well ends well; the staff were very grateful and offered to introduce me to a few people who were interested in participating in the IFE research.

Finding Fisher River

At the beginning of the third week of July, we travelled to Fisher River Cree Nation, as we had completed data collection for the IFE study in Winnipeg. The journey began around 8:30 am after getting directions on Google maps hoping to get there before 11am. All was well till we reached a dead end at a quarry/ construction site, and we had to drive back to the main highway and get new directions from there. We later found our way and arrived safely. We had a wonderful reception courtesy of the band office, the people were nice and respectful. The place was quiet and full of fresh air and it felt so peaceful and refreshing away with no TV and the hustle and bustle of daily life in Winnipeg. In the afternoon of the same day and following days we visited the band office, community store and the Charles Sinclair High school and met a few participants interested in taking part in the resident survey, financial life histories or the focus groups. Therefore for community research & or development to be successful, one must be willing to take part in community activities, exchange knowledge and earn the people’s trust hence learning by doing, asking & listening.

Enjoying some fresh air in Fisher River after a successful day collecting data

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