As I squeezed into the still-moving jeep one morning in April, feeling eyes roam over my face and whispers buzz around me as usual, I thought about the day ahead. My stomach dropped a bit, and it had nothing to do with the jolting movements of the vehicle. I was headed to ask the children at one of our schools to be assistant researchers in a survey with mothers about nutrition. While struggling to complete the survey in a previous school, I had noticed that children tended to trail behind me after school hours and provide directions to the homes of the women I was looking for. They also sat with me as I was speaking with the mothers and interjected with Rajasthani translations when women did not understand my Hindi. I was apprehensive about asking children to be a part of the work because they are already given so much responsibility despite their youth. They draw water for their households, tend to livestock, and collect firewood for cooking. I did not want to add to this list. However, they seemed to truly enjoy trailing after me; teasing me a bit for my Hindi accent, and discovering what I was asking all of their mothers and aunts. I realized that what I was thinking would be a chore for them was actually an intriguing opportunity to learn.
After reading a wonderful toolkit by Save the Children called “So You Want to Involve Children in Research,” I decided to train interested students in the next school on how to use a survey and ask them to join me officially as assistants. My nerves in the jeep were about whether or not children at this school would actually be interested in participating. Our students at Gramin Shiksha Kendra (GSK) are fiercely independent and hard to impress (something I love deeply about them). I wasn’t sure if they would want to be a part of the project.
With the help of some of our teachers, I introduced the project to the students during morning assembly between songs and rhymes. I asked them to stay behind after school for an information session if interested. Several students came up during school time to ask whether or not I was coming to their village and if they could participate. They were eager for me to see where they lived and meet their families. After school, a sizeable number of children gathered with me in the shade as I explained what nutrition is and why it is important. I told them that surveys are done to try and understand what is happening in a community, and what that community thinks and feels about an issue. They read through the survey tool all together and asked about the significance of certain questions. My heart swelled as I watched them become a part of my work rather than just subjects of it. I wrote down the names for each village as each group pestered me to come to their locale first.
As I headed out with the first group to find the mothers for our survey, one young girl took charge. She led me to the field where one of the women was harvesting wheat, and sat with me to help ensure that she understood all of the questions correctly. Her earnest face and patient tone belied her young age and her maturity took me by surprise. But it shouldn’t have. When we place our confidence in children and ask them to be a part of important work, they see that they too have the ability to excel. Moreover, they feel that they are an important part of building the programs that impact them. As the children waved goodbye to me and ambled home to begin their evening chores, I wished that I had more time to discover what they would choose to research, if given the option. What questions would they ask, and how would they seek to answer them? At the end of my first job in health education, I feel that should be our fundamental task—to work with children to ensure that they have the skills and resources to resolve their own questions.
Laws, Sophie and Gillian Mann. So You Want to Involve Children in Research? A Toolkit Supporting Children’s Meaningful and Ethical Participation in Research Relating to Violence against Children. Stockholm (Sweden): Save the Children, 2004. http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/sites/default/files/docs/So_you_want_to_involve_children_in_research_SC_2004_1.pdf