A Letter From Vinu: Five Months in, Three to go…
I’m currently sitting comfortably on the couch in our Mukono Town FullSoul office, which doubles as our home. I’ve got one steaming cup of coffee on the table, neighboured by a now empty mug of coffee from the morning. The past few days have been full of rain and chilly weather, so I’ve wrapped myself in a blanket to keep warm. This could very well be what I would do in an afternoon at home back in Canada, the resemblance causing me to realize just how ‘at home’ I feel halfway across the world in Uganda.
I feel as if I went to bed in January and I’m waking up to find out that it’s May. I cannot believe all of the events which have transpired over the past months – I have become part of the community here in Mukono, made many friends, and I now go about my daily routines with a nonchalance that comes automatically. It all feels so surreal, yet its a reality that I am proud of as it symbolizes just how strongly I’ve immersed myself into the lifestyle over here. It’s undeniable that I’ve grown as a person through this experience. I’ve realized how adaptable I can be in a new country, how well I’m able to balance my introverted nature with Uganda’s rich social culture, and even how reflective I can be of my own experiences. Adding to those personal accomplishments, I’m equally as proud of my role and progress we’ve made in planning to evaluate the Maternal Medical Kit project.
The past few months have been filled with reviewing FullSoul’s program documents, organizing site visits to our partner healthcare facilities, and engaging with our project stakeholders – all in efforts to conduct an evaluability assessment of FullSoul’s project. Basically, this assessment is meant to identify the enablers and barriers to conducting a project evaluation in a valid and reliable manner. Starting off my term, I’d only known what an evaluability assessment was in theory. However, jumping right into the work in January, I was quickly becoming more familiar to the nitty-gritty of what preparing for an assessment actually entailed such as creating our own assessment tool and systematically collecting data on factors which will influence our future evaluation. To name a few, we explored the availability and quality of existing data collection protocols at partner healthcare facilities, the resources available for the future evaluation, and input on desired information needs and evaluation outputs from facility staff.
Before I knew it, it was May and we had not only finished preparing for the assessment, but we’d collected, cleaned, analyzed, and interpreted our data, eventually pulling it all together into a formal report. We’ve come across some interesting findings in the process such as the importance of selecting data collection approaches in the future that do not contribute to the existing challenge of work overburdening and stress experienced by staff. Knowing this, we’ll need to balance the reporting requirements of our funders with the real life challenges of our local partners, fnding creative ways to capture needed data in a way that does not disrupt the usual activities on the ward. Indeed, there is still a lot of planning left in order for us to execute our evaluation in a respectful and informed manner.
Despite our progress, it definitely wasn’t a smooth journey the entire way. For instance, I distinctly remember the frustration I felt while trying to communicate our findings in our final report – all of our healthcare facility site visits were jumbling together and there were so many findings that I wanted to get across. There were many days where I started my mornings staring at the computer screen, thinking to myself that the report had taken a turn towards becoming a bit Frankenstein-esque. All challenges aside though, FullSoul is now at the point of moving forward with our evaluation planning, and the evaluability assessment was fundamental in better understanding the feasibility of an evaluation within the program context. As for me, I feel as though there is finally an opportunity to take a few breaths after what felt like treading in the deep end for a few months. Soon enough, we will be drafting our evaluation plan which will serve as the guiding document for conducting the evaluation, outlining everything from our key evaluation questions to our proposed data collection tools.
In whole, what’s been the most fulfilling in working towards FullSoul’s project evaluation is the recognition of how fundamental such efforts are in maintaining our accountabilities. Not only are we accountable to ourselves to create a learning culture where we rely on evidence-informed decision-making for program development, but we are also responsible for reporting to our key stakeholders, from partnering healthcare facilities to major funders. Without question, I am looking forward to the challenges and successes the new few months will bring as FullSoul takes on the task of evaluation within the development context for the purpose of better supporting the communities we serve.