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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Stories in the Data

I’ve been trying for a couple of weeks now to write a compelling post about working for an international nonprofit. The issue isn't that I don't have material; our data speak volumes about peoples' lives here, and every single thing we collect - every survey, every blood sample - tells a unique and often harrowing story. In the questionnaires alone, we can see stories of young couples struggling to make ends meet, couples who walk an hour or more to get to a clinic that provides family planning services, who are raising small children and holding down multiple jobs despite being sick with HIV. In the data we can see stories of thirty-year relationships potentially ruined by infidelity, but more often than that, we see stories of couples who dutifully get tested for HIV on a regular basis, perhaps even annually, but forgo modern contraceptives. I want to talk about individual stories that have emerged from the surveys and lab but I don't want to publicly reveal too much about our research. Sometimes I also struggle to capture raw feelings and thoughts when I'm writing after sending a series of work emails. But I will continue to post, and hopefully some of it will be worth reading.

If there’s one insight worth sharing from the past three weeks, it’s that international nonprofit work and Peace Corps Service aren’t as different as one might think. Projet San Francisco is exceptionally well-organized for an operation its size - internally it is a well-oiled machine - but it is still subject to all the same infrastructural shortcomings and administrative inefficiencies as every other Kigali-based organization. Sometimes the power cuts out. Sometimes the internet doesn’t work. Sometimes things don’t happen on schedule. Sometimes surveys collected from the clinics are missing essential information because everything is painstakingly recorded by hand in multiple languages. Most of the time, things work quite well, and it’s nothing short of miraculous.

This week I will be helping develop a plan for study enrollment. I will be working with Robertine, a formidable woman with such a breadth of responsibilities at PSF, I'm not sure of her job title. She is primarily responsible for working with the nurses who provide couples' counseling and contraceptive promotion services at different clinics. Her counterpart is Jeannine, who basically runs the administrative office and ensures that data collection goes smoothly.  I'm excited to spend more time with them in the coming weeks.  Not only are they incredible at what they do, but they are some of the kindest people I've ever had the privilege of meeting.

More stories from the field forthcoming.  For now, I'm signing off.

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