From Sweden to Savannakhet #2: Anything can happen
Liyen Chin is doing an internship with SNV Laos for five months, as part of her Master's degree in International Development and Management at Lund University, Sweden. The 25 years old student has planned and performs research on Menstrual Hygiene Management in rural Savannakhet.
One week has passed since I embarked on my journey out to the field. During this time, I have done focus group discussions and interviews with women and girls out in the villages, asking them about their knowledge concerning menstruation and menstrual hygiene management. Dressed in my traditional Lao skirt (sinh), I went out to my first village eager and filled with energy.
Sitting on rattan mats under the trees of the local temple, my first focus group discussion began. In front of me, I had eight women of different ages, all with a smile on their lips. Their eyes however, showed some glimpse of uncertainty as what is about to happen. Having to rely on an interpreter has had its disadvantages as well as advantages.
At many times, I had to rely more on my other senses; observe and read their body language which helped me to get a fuller picture of the interviews. Although we were a bunch of women talking, getting them to open up and talk about something considered so personal is hard. It has been even harder when it comes to schoolgirls that do not possess the same experiences yet.
"Having been told by women that they do not use menstrual pads because they cannot afford it, really puts your own situation in perspective."
At the university we were taught how to prepare theoretically; our methodologies for research, how to reflect and how to find our ontological standpoint. Being out in the field however has so many more dimensions. Every single day your senses are filled with new impressions. Working in a new environment and far away from home really takes a toll on you mentally as well as physically.
Despite all the planning done in beforehand, fieldwork has its charm of that anything can happen. No one can plan ahead for bad road conditions and that we would have to change our plans, drive back to the guesthouse and choose another village to target.
So far, I have found a lot of useful material for my report and thesis. Getting a glimpse of some of the challenges these females face is such a humble experience. It drives and motivates my work and reminds me of why I chose this profession. Having been told by women that they do not use menstrual pads because they cannot afford it, really puts your own situation in perspective. Girls that choose not to use the school toilets during their menses although the facilities are well functioning because they feel ashamed and dirty makes you reflect on your own feelings related to menstruation.
So, although doing fieldwork is a tiring task that easily drains your energy, it is also a once in a lifetime experience - something I would not change for anything in the world.