Note: The photos for this post were snapped with the help of the interpreter. All permissions to share the photos were obtained from youth above the age of 18. Earlier this year I had the great pleasure of journeying to Manila, Philippines on behalf of a client to conduct an evaluation of a higher education partnership between two tertiary institutions, one in the United States and one in the Philippines. One of the primary aims of the partnership was to facilitate agribusiness skills development among out-of-school youth, or OSY, who live in Mindanao. This particular part of the country has unfortunately been home to an ongoing religious separatist conflict for at least four decades. A number of youth in this region have been affected by the conflict via constant school interruptions. The region's comparative economic depression can be attributed in part to the struggle between local factions and the national government. The need for OSY to engage in income-generating entrepreneurial activities arises from this set of circumstances.
Having the opportunity to work with a group of out-of-school youth from Mindanao in order to understand their (in)tangible takeaways as targeted stakeholders of a skills development intervention was both informative and inspiring. Despite having to balance challenging circumstances such as the duty to provide an income for their family, the wish to gain educational qualifications that cost more than they can afford, and managing life in an environment where power struggles manifested in a number of day-to-day uncertainties, all of the OSY I encountered had a healthy dose of mirth when they discussed the benefits of their project participation.
Fieldwork assignments with youth are undoubtedly the ones that I enjoy the most. The need for the evaluator to quickly build a rapport with youth entails a level of interaction where one must eschew much of the stuffy formality. One might even put on a funny face to show that you can relate to the youth and want to truly understand their perspectives - or at the very least that you're not there just to interrogate them! I have to say that in this case, the ability to collaborate with these OSY from Mindanao was a reminder of the value of human-centered development evaluation: By putting people first and meeting them where they're at, it can help you yield data that is as close as possible to reflecting their realities. In doing so, project implementers will have a more accurate sense of what worked, what can be improved, and what can be replicated or scaled. Given the ends, I recommend that the means definitely doesn't always need to be so serious.