By Laura Costica, Research Associate, ICTPH and
Sangeetha Lakshmanan, Research Analyst, ICTPH
The second week of the survey form training saw the SughaVazhvu Guides (SVGs) apply their learnings from the previous week’s mock sessions, as they made household visits in their respective villages. The field training was carried out in groups of 2-3 SVGs, who administered survey forms under the watchful eye of their supervisors.
We accompanied the SVGs as they knocked on peoples’ doors in an attempt to gauge the response of the community to the data collection instrument. Many of our ground level staff feared that they would not encounter the same level of openness as the nurses had during the questionnaire pre-testing phase. Their worries proved unfounded as people gladly welcomed them and spoke openly about themselves or their children’s health. Respondents also cooperated during physical tests – blood pressure, height, weight and visual acuity measurements – and were clearly intrigued by our SVGs and their ‘gizmos’ (sphygmomanometer, Snellen’s Chart, weighing scale, stethoscope). Some people even offered soft drinks and snacks that the SVGs politely refused, remembering to follow the professional code of conduct.
The biggest challenge we encountered was finding people in their homes, as many were out – children at school, and adults (mainly men) at work. One old man playing cards with his friends asked: “Madam, who are you looking for at this hour? Everyone’s gone for work, only we elders are left behind”. Adults who were away from home during working hours proved to be more of a problem in the main village, Karambayam, which appears to be the centre of economic activity for a catchment area totalling 5 villages. Keeping this in mind, we will need to set up flexible working hours for SVGs to get around this problem. In this case, however, we were on a mission: practicing survey forms on the field; if there was no one in pre-selected households we had to find alternatives. The afternoon heat and the almost empty village did not dishearten our little groups though. Our SVGs, being ‘informed” inhabitants of the villages, quickly recollected names of those who had delivered in the past couple of years (and were thus likely to be at home) and we marched right up to meet welcoming women who were more than happy to get their little ones screened.
The SughaVazhvu brand, literally translating to ‘A good Life’ in Tamil, aims to transform the lives of people in the villages it serves. However, as we take the first steps along that path, we’ve already achieved a transformation in the lives of our SVGs. As Prema, one of our enthusiastic SVGs, confessed to us, her job with SughaVazhvu has turned her life around: “Before I used to sit at home and do nothing the whole day … it would take me half an hour to prepare food and the rest of the day I would spend sleeping; now my husband says I’m a very active woman”.