After having performed her thesis research in Zambia, Vera decided to go abroad again for her internship, to Cambodia this time. Through an advert on the MID website she found an internship spot for SNV, a Dutch NGO that aims to generate and distribute knowledge on development in countries all over the world.
In Cambodia, SNV has been cooperating with an agricultural organization called CFAP for three years. CFAP is a member-based organization, currently representing seventeen CFA (Commune Famers Association) and CBO (Community Based Organisation) in four different provinces of Cambodia. By strengthening CFAP’s capacity, SNV intends to improve the services delivered to CFA/CBOs, and thereby the performance and productivity of smallholder vegetable farmers. So far, SNV and CFAP were not very satisfied with the results of this cooperation, and they wanted research to be performed on the weak points in the cooperation and communication on the four levels, and on how the process could be improved. They accepted me and a classmate of mine, Anna, as interns to take on this job together.
The field research part was a lot of fun. We went out to the villages, for which we had to drive on motor cycles through the rice fields. To get information from the farmers, we used Participatory Rural Appraisal as method, which is an interactive method of doing research. In this method the researcher does not just aim to generate information from research participants. Instead, both the researcher and research participants are supposed to learn from the process. We tried to understand the livelihood experiences of the farmers by using visual representations, such as diagrams and matrixes, and by asking them to place post-its and stones on these representations to indicate for instance the relative workload of men and women in certain activities. Also, we used circles representing organization and knowledge brokers, which the farmers had to place on concentric circles in order to indicate the relative importance and proximity of these sources of information (Venn-diagrams). Using these methods, we asked them questions regarding how working activities are divided within the family; who does what kind of work; how they evaluate the farmers’ associations and their services; whether they had changed their farming methods because of the interaction with the associations, etc. Usually, when you do interviews, people tend to get bored or do not see the point. But in this approach you can see that they really like participating and that they learn from it too. Many of the farmers even thanked us at the end of the meetings and asked us if we could come again because they had learned a lot from the meetings, just like us. That is a big strength of the Participatory Rural Appraisal method.
We performed the research with the help of three Cambodian students and the CFAP staff. I learned a lot from working in this diverse team. Initially, Anna and I were afraid that it would not work out well, as the other team members had a low level of English and were a bit shy of us. However, it was very rewarding to see how we developed as a group throughout the process, and how the other team members became more comfortable to speak up and gives us their opinions and also improved their English. I learned most from the challenge I had set myself to improve my presentation skills—I used to be horribly nervous when I had to present to other people! I asked the SNV if, next to in written form, we could also present our proposal and our findings in the form of a verbal presentation. We also taught English classes to the CFAP members, so I could practice a lot in standing in front of a big group of people. Thus, by the time of the final presentation, I was not even scared, but actually enjoyed giving the presentation, even though there was a big audience present to hear our findings. I also learned about my own capabilities: I noticed that I can do this kind of research in practice, and I discovered that I had more leader skills than I expected. I feel like I am a different person now that I know I can do this, and now that I have this confidence in interpersonal communication. Lastly, during the internship I discovered more about my own interests: I realised that in my future career I want to do something that involves being in the field, being connected to the people you work for, rather than doing a boring desk job.