The beginning of the end – Reflecting on change and the elusivity of impact

The beginning of the end – Reflecting on change and the elusivity of impact
10th May 2018

Final goodbyes with the Teen Voices participants from Townside High School, Busembatia.


I write this blog for the month of May, a little earlier than usual. That is because, this week marks the end of my time in Uganda and the realisation that I am soon to embark on my journey ‘home’, is beginning to set in. Despite three months not being a huge amount of time, I have consolidated my view that development is measured in more than numbers. Change often takes the form of a subtle yet steady ripple, which could eventually break, or manifest into something beautiful. A wave. That wave cannot be guaranteed, but the option and choice are there for disposal and that, is exactly what matters.


It has been an eye opening three months completing the Teen Voices internship here in Uganda. There have been moments where I have questioned impact and receptivity, yet there have also been times where I have beaconed with pride and purpose. For example, when I’ve observed the girls’ passion as they presented their poetry at International Women’s Day celebrations, read articles they’ve written on issues from their heart, watched how they communicate with such honesty and rawness and have just generally enjoyed seeing how much they shine.


In my opinion, social change is tangible and visible, but only if we adapt the way we see it. Sometimes it is necessary to alter our perception. Through previous workings and postings, I have become accustomed to measuring numbers, collating data for impact assessments and presenting both quantitative and qualitative findings – of course they are crucially important and provide huge insight. But, so are the subtle things that are almost so abstract that they are difficult to describe.


I have realised, that far away from implementing monitoring and evaluative tools and gathering case studies and baselines and midlines assessments, despite their importance, impact is an elusive concept, no matter how much we measure it. If I am looking to see change right here and right now, then I must look for the small things, especially with such a local and grassroots organisation. It is then the impact becomes clear, strikingly so.


Change takes time. Perseverance is key, and people must want it in their very core. Not just want it, but crave it, embody it, become it. But there are so many constraints. So many people I have met, whom are dedicated to their education but with little backing and support. That’s what striked me the most, how a participant during a session can lack resources, yet harbour such enthusiasm and a will to achieve and succeed, through any means they can. For me, that’s the beauty about facilitation and non-formal education, creating a safe space for the girls to grow, develop and nurture their passion, their inquisitive minds, their queries. All in a way which operates on mutual respect, mutual drive and mutual desire for positive change, regardless of their background or initial knowledge basis.


Change is there in the way a girl speaks a little louder, it’s there in the way another girl listens, and in the way a classmate encourages her colleague when she’s looking for reassurance. So many articles the girls have written, have been about the importance of girl child education and the obstacles that stand in their way. Yet with the small resources they have, they are dedicated to the progression and fulfilment of their dreams. They write about why they want to stay in school and become teachers, nurses, doctors and lawyers.


Time is a strange concept because it’s always moving. Perhaps because it is so elusive, that’s why we struggle to see and appreciate tangible change and real examples of impact straight away. Indeed, I believe capacity building and skill transfer are longer processes, the impact is small, but it is most definitely there and in the long run, for me it huge and worthy. Like everything in life, nothing is perfect. We learn from our mistakes and we adapt as we go, according to what is needed and prioritisation. I am no stranger to over-analysing, have I done enough? Did I orchestrate that debate in the correct way? What image am I portraying to the young women that look up to me in the sessions?


I have realised that in community development work, we do what we think is best. We do what we hope will have the most and desired impact, informed by needs assessments and tried and tested approaches and knowledge from above. I know in my heart that in a small way, I have made a change. I like to think of the ripple effect in instances like this one.


In total, I have facilitated 17 sessions over the last three months with 25 young women. Session topics have included: Gender equality, Gender-based violence, Girl-child education -Access and Challenges, Assertiveness and training on article writing fundamentals and how to capture impact.


In both schools there are some loyal members whom have attended every session. These are the ones who regularly submit articles, have been published with our blogging partners and in my opinion, have gained the most from the sessions. Then there are the occasional drop-ins, the students who come once a month. Maybe because they are revising for school exams, maybe because their interest and inquisivity is not yet strong enough.


I have consolidated my opinions on the importance of delivery and how a project or programme is implemented – my passion for facilitative delivery remains intact. Like I said in my previous blog, ‘by the people, for the people’. Although I won’t be here to see the long-term change in the girls I have met, or watch them graduate university, or become leaders in their own communities, that is exactly how it should be. The girls making the changes for themselves, for their own benefit, armed with the skills and knowledge to allow them to make educated and informed choices and empower the next generation of young women here in Uganda. The power is in the ability and option, to make a choice. Some will go to university, some won’t. But regardless, they will be there, armed with their knowledge, skills, confidence and inner drive that they have showcased to me during my time here. If the statistics prevail, many might not reach university, and might fall pregnant over the next few years, be hit by the reality of not enough funds to pursue higher education, or early marriage. But, I hope that no matter where they go, what they do, or who they become, they remember their ability to project their voice and its importance.


Final goodbyes with the girls from Standard Secondary School, Busembatia.


Just like that, three months have drawn to a close. I know that as time moves forward, operational challenges such as African time and the sessions’ interruption due to exams, will fade, and the memories will remain. I will conclude this final blog, just like I concluded my final session with the girls. By stressing the importance of three fundamental things in their own development and future, that have been intrinsic to the way I have delivered the Teen Voices programme – Education, Storytelling and Conversation.


In one of the most recently published articles by our international blogging partner, Women’s eNews, one of Teen Voice’s most prominent writer’s and avid participants wrote some profound words, which really resonate with me.It seems only right for it to be their voice that concludes, because the future here in Busembatia, belongs to them: “Equality is important to all of us because we are all human beings. If you are mistreated, please get up and speak out your problems. Through story-telling and conversation, together we can solve our problems. We will show them that as women and girls, we can” (Joanitah, Nankinga, Townside High School).


Written by: Bethan Williams

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