Virtual and in-person fieldwork for contextual inquiry: An atypical case of YUWA School in rural Jharkhand

The journey of the first ever Banyan Impact Fellowship cohort began in December 2021 with a virtual orientation, designed to prepare the fellows for a smooth transition into their host organization’s culture and project. However, the beginning of my journey was far from smooth. My sister got married a day before the first day of orientation and I was still recovering from the wedding shenanigans. By the end of the orientation week, the third wave of Covid began rising, precluding travel to my host organization and postponing my on-site research. Hence, I did what was in my hand – ADAPT! I decided to begin my fieldwork in a virtual capacity and move on-site whenever feasible.

About Yuwa India Trust

Inside Yuwa School. Source: Author
Inside Yuwa School. Source: Author

My host organization is Yuwa India Trust based in Ranchi. Jharkhand ranks among the worst states in India in female literacy rate, human trafficking, and the ratio of teachers per government school in India. In addition, 6 out of 10 girls drop out of school and become child brides. Yuwa is an internationally acclaimed non-profit organization, which empowers girls in rural Jharkhand using sports and education. Yuwa uses three participatory and inter-connected programs – sports for development, education, and life-skills workshops – as a strategy to provide girls with a positive environment,  strong inter-personal development, skills, and tools they need to break out of poverty permanently. My work at the organization involved assessing and improving the monitoring, evaluation, and learning framework of these programs to measure their impact and aid in program improvement. 

Yuwa has a long history. It has taken various shapes and paths to evolve into its current programmatic state. Founded in 2009, Yuwa started as a football program for adolescent girls to foster self-confidence, leadership skills, and social network. Then in 2015, Yuwa school was founded to teach girls academic and critical-thinking skills that will open up higher education and career opportunities for them. The school initially was up to 8th grade and it has been adding a grade every year since then. In 2020, Yuwa had its first graduating class of nine young women who had come up through Yuwa’s programs since adolescence. You can read more about Yuwa’s founding story here. In this blog, I would specifically discuss my interactions and engagement with Yuwa School.

Understanding collaboration and adaptability at Yuwa through virtual observation

“We do not want competition. We want to provide space for everyone to share their creative ideas without inhibition”, the 16-year-old Secretary of Student Council pointed this out as she politely turned down my suggestion of making a school event competitive. I was awed by the confidence and clarity that the Secretary and other Student Council members were exuding.   They also exhibited a spirit of inclusion and accountability for the well-being of their fellow students. This was one of my first encounters with Yuwa girls when I began attending school activities online. The Student Council met regularly to discuss and implement school-based projects even during virtual studies. 

I attended the classes for 5th – 12th standard as a silent observer and I occasionally participated in non-class activities to get familiar with the students and to get them comfortable with me. Teachers organized classes on Google Meet and used Google Classroom for keeping track of the courses and assignments. What surprised me was the format and teaching style of the classes. They were tailored as per the needs of the subject, availability of digital resources, and the skill level of the students. For example, Yuwa’s Maths teacher used mixed media for classes – giving instructions on Google Meet and doing assignments on WhatsApp group. Because of lack of or limited access to mobile phones, students often joined classes in groups. There was even a Physics class with only one student, who wanted to learn the subject to be able to pursue her dream job. 

Online English Class on Google Meet. Source: Author
Online English Class on Google Meet. Source: Author
Online Maths Class on WhatsApp. Source: Author
Online Maths Class on WhatsApp. Source: Author

 

 

 

 

Upon interviewing some teachers, I realized that the virtual classes were made asynchronous (to complete their work on their own time) to accommodate the lack of digital resources among students. The combination of class and non-class activities (such as weekly class meetings, career talks etc.) encouraged participation and collaboration to make the girls confident to talk and share their opinions even in difficult situations. This is very relevant to Yuwa’s mission because most of the girls are not allowed to share their opinion or sometimes even speak up on the household affairs that directly affect them. 

Learning Yuwa’s culture of sharing and reflection through onsite observation

I traveled to Ranchi in February after the Covid wave subsided and since then, visited the school campus regularly. 

“I lost my mother when I was very young. Then, my aunt got married and I was the only female left in the family. There were days when I worked day and night to finish household work. It was a very difficult time in my life”, a 9th class Yuwa student shared this during a speech competition while sobbing in front of the entire school. Despite being a child, the fact that she was female burdened her with household chores and responsibilities. She spoke further how a former Yuwa staff emotionally supported her through this difficult time and helped her continue her education. 

This story had a deep impact on me. There are around 120 girls studying in Yuwa school and every girl has a story to share. I was able to “see” gender-based discrimination through someone else’s lived experience. Most importantly, I was struck by the fact that young girls were openly sharing and being vulnerable in front of a large number of people. School acted as a positive and affirmative space for her with access to positive relationships, which made her persevere and believe in herself, or else she could have been in a very different situation. 

Morning assembly at Yuwa School. Source: Yuwa India Trust
Morning assembly at Yuwa School. Source: Yuwa India Trust
Extra learning sessions designed and implemented by teachers. Source: Author
Extra learning sessions designed and implemented by teachers. Source: Author

Yuwa also provides space for its teachers to explore their interests outside of teaching class subjects. At the beginning of an academic term, the teachers come together for a preparation week where they reflect on the previous term and set expectations for the upcoming term. Self-reflection and evaluation are very crucial for the long-term sustainability of any organization. This culture helped me in the active restructuring of the monitoring and evaluation framework with the teachers over focus group discussions. The teachers also got opportunities to organize extra sessions during school hours, where they conducted exercises with students on topics such as mind mapping, self-awareness etc.  These were designed by the teachers to help improve the ways students learn and perceive the world within and outside the classroom.

Integrating with Yuwa community

When I began my fieldwork, I faced two main challenges –  conducting successful fieldwork online and engaging with adolescents for the first time for project work. I was able to investigate the virtual education system at Yuwa that emerged out of challenges that Yuwa’s girls faced – digital illiteracy, lack of resources, and parents’ skepticism about online learning. When working on-site, I found myself first understanding and then gradually integrating into Yuwa’s culture. I participated in morning assembly exercises with teachers where we shared personal words of wisdom that help us get through difficult situations. I also gave a career talk where I shared my professional journey and challenges with Yuwa girls. I eventually leveraged my professional network to identify speakers and organize up to 7 career talks. I even conducted classes on “Online Tools and Resources” for up to 10 students during Yuwa’s Summer School. 

Conducting extra class during summer school at Yuwa. Source: Yuwa India Trust
Conducting extra class at Yuwa summer school. Source: Yuwa India Trust
Lunch with Yuwa school teachers. Source: Yuwa India Trust
Lunch with Yuwa school teachers. Source: Yuwa India Trust

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I learned the importance of sharing ideas and interests, fostering partnerships and nurturing positive spaces for the growth of community and organizations. I can confidently say that engagement with Yuwa school has provided me with an opportunity for personal growth.

Resources:

After finishing her undergraduate in architecture, Vaishali worked in a non-profit trust that specializes in designing and building dignified housing for the urban and rural poor. She created a development plan for rehabilitating a village destroyed by a 100-year flood through a collective decision-making approach, making her realize the importance of dialogue between various stakeholders and the value of everyone’s contributions. She then served as a fellow at the Charles Correa Foundation in Goa, where she developed a system of unified signages for the historic downtown of Panaji. In initiating the signage plan, she realized the value of taking a
multi-disciplinary approach and how the application of that wide-reaching knowledge ultimately comes down to effective communication and organization. Mastering the strategies for maintaining and improving communication channels with larger scale projects became her primary motivation when she applied for graduate program in the Netherlands. She then worked on multiple European Union funded projects at the Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Science, consulting on inclusive strategies for societal and environmental challenges. She also designed and facilitated over ten sustainability and social justice focused events, webinars, and workshops with policy makers, government officials, and social entrepreneurs.

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