Sarah and girls discussing what they had learned
This spring, I had the opportunity to step outside my role of supporting our Title II food security programs to conduct a qualitative assessment for Kishoree Kontha (KK), a four-year project in Bangladesh funded by the Nike Foundation. KK, meaning “Adolescent Girls’ Voices” in Bangla, focused on developing the social and financial competency of adolescent girls, empowering them to develop strong voices and shape a bright and healthy future for themselves through four key strategies: 1) community mobilization; 2) peer education; 3) parental education; and 4) post-learning cycle practice. Working with rural communities in three coastal districts in south central Bangladesh, Save the Children established “safe spaces” within villages to enable 10-19 year girls to come together and learn about a range of topics including personal hygiene, health, early marriage, critical thinking skills, disaster preparedness and financial literacy. In addition, the project piloted group savings with a select number of the safe space groups to test the impact of operationalizing the project’s financial education and open up opportunities for girls to contribute to their families’ livelihoods strategies.
The purpose of the qualitative assessment was to enable Save the Children to gain a deeper understanding of the activities, accomplishments and challenges of the project and contribute to the learning through this pilot program. The qualitative assessment provides the insight and detail that complements quantitative methods and assists in triangulating findings. I reviewed project reports and materials, conducted focus-group discussions with project girls, parents and community members, and interviewed project staff and individual beneficiaries. The focus group discussions used participatory and exploratory methods to collect details to build a picture of the communities in which KK operated and the impact of the work on the people in these communities. Additionally, because I was dealing with young girls and some sensitive topics (e.g., early marriage, traditional women’s roles, personal hygiene), I used a lot of storytelling and alternative techniques (drawing pictures, ranking exercises) to allow the girls to distance themselves from the information if they wished.
The information I gathered from the focus group discussions, interviews, and meetings with staff painted a rich picture of the impact of the project on the beneficiaries and their communities. The girls had learned a great deal from participating in safe space activities ranging from proper nutrition to how to budget and save and, most importantly (from their perspective), about the physical and psychological dangers of early marriage and pregnancy. The girls demonstrated a new confidence, reported feeling more respected within their families and communities, and related a new desire to be more independent, to continue schooling and to demonstrate their ability to contribute to the household income. The girls and their mothers also recounted a number of stories in which group members had supported each other to delay an early marriage or postpone pregnancy.
The chance to meet with project staff and beneficiaries in the field was invaluable. I now have a first-hand understanding of the impact of our programs, the many challenges facing Save the Children staff during program implementation, and the importance of documentation and sharing lessons learned.