Pre-departure learning – Part Two

Working hard at pre-dep

One thing that most JF’s find themselves doing at some point throughout their placement is interviewing people who work in the field. In our workshop we discussed the importance of thinking about the questions you ask and framing them in the right way. If you ask too many leading questions, it is quite likely that you will simply receive the answer that you are looking for, but is maybe not the truth or entirely accurate. Finding the right open-ended questions to ask can give you a better idea of how things actually work in the field. To practice our questions we went around downtown Toronto for an hour to question people on the street on homelessness. It was a really interesting experience for me. Once I stepped a little bit outside of my comfort zone and talked to perfect strangers, I realized that most people were pretty willing to talk to me and had really interesting stories themselves! One of the most important things I noted was that people were usually more engaged in the conversation if I started the discussion with simply asking them about themselves and how their day was going. It was much easier to connect with someone once you know a little bit about them.

Ann mapping our case study on sorghum

We ended off the week with a case study on growing sorghum in Zambia. Sorghum is a cereal crop that grows really well in areas prone to drought. We started off by reading about an initiative that aimed to get farmers to diversify their crops by growing sorghum in addition to maize; we then had to evaluate the project, identify parts of the project that were essential to “get right” and parts of the project that were pretty risky. Then we had to interview farmers who had taken part in the project and evaluate what key things were hindering them from producing a grade A product instead of grade B. It was another opportunity to practice asking questions. While we learned a lot from the farmers and discovered some things that were not working, we still missed a lot of information from the farmers. Looking back on the experience I think we weren’t really listening hard enough to the farmers and what they had to say. After completing the case study and after talking to 2 or 3 of the farmers I think I had already decided in my mind what wasn’t working and why some farmers were only producing Grade B sorghum and I stopped listening to some extent. Discussing with the group after made me realize all the things I had missed and important questions I hadn’t asked. It definitely made me think about how to frame my questions better and to really focus on listening.

Finally, stay tuned, I should have some idea what I am going to be doing on my placement by the end of the month!

Love Maria