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A significant impact on shattered lives

June 10, 2012


So far, we’ve mentioned a bit about Bukavu in general and how incredibly nice it is here.

But fortunately, location is not the only awesome thing about living here.  Just as important (possibly even more so), my job is also really, really awesome.

I had heard a lot of great things about the International Rescue Committee and their work from others who worked with them before.  I’m happy to report that so far, the organization itself and especially my job have been wonderful, even better than I had been (cautiously optimistically) expecting.

IRC has a little intro video that they sent to me when I was hired.  Yes, it is shameless publicity/propaganda material… but I like it.  It makes me tear up a little.  And so I’m sharing it here.

Among the many programs that IRC has going in eastern Congo, there are 2 programs designed for women who are survivors of sexual violence: 

  1. a psycho-social group counseling program called cognitive processing therapy.  It’s been used in the past to help people recover from PTSD, and it’s a new approach that’s been adapted for survivors of violence
  2. a village savings and loan program, which puts groups of women together and gives support and trainings for them to create their own micro-loan program.  Each woman contributes a certain amount to a common pot with her group, then members of the group can take out loans and repay them with interest. At the end of about a year, they collect all the money back and redistribute each woman’s share with the interest that she earned.

My job is to help find out if these programs work or not.

We want to know if these programs reduce symptoms of trauma and improve daily functioning of survivors of violence.

How do we find out?

We’re doing an impact evaluation.  In this case, we’re doing what’s often considered the gold standard of impact evaluations: a randomized control trial.

There are several things that are really awesome about this.  First of all…

  • Learning is good

But sometimes organizations don’t take the time to find out if their programs really, truly work the way they should.  And when you’re spending a bunch of time and money on a program that you don’t know works… well, that could just be a big fat waste of time and money.

To be fair, impact evaluations like randomized control trials are expensive and time consuming, so they may not be feasible for every program.  However, sometimes organizations don’t evaluate their programs on this level simply because they’re not required to and/or they’re not held accountable for whether the programs actually really work or not…

So, the first thing that’s awesome about this impact evaluation is that it’s happening at all, and that it’s happening for 2 new programs that have a lot of potential.

It’s a great opportunity to learn if these programs have the effect that we hope they’ll have for survivors of sexual violence in this context.  If they do, great- we’ll share these results and hopefully these programs will be scaled-up to help even more women.  And if they don’t work the way we hoped, we can try to learn why and what we might change to make them better.

Hooray for learning so we don’t waste time and money on stuff that doesn’t work!

The next awesome thing about working on randomized control trial impact evaluation is that it means I get to work with my two favorite (work-related) things ever:

  • Scientific research and data

I can’t really go into further detail about how much I love these two things without sounding like a complete nerd, and I don’t know many others out there who get as thoroughly ecstatic about the infinity of unsolved mysteries lying within a seemingly unassuming numerical database, just waiting to be unlocked by the magical keys of statistical software… I’m really not joking.

And although I can spend hours in front of my computer screen happily running logistical regression after logistical regression, I didn’t choose to work abroad so that I could sit at a desk all day.  Which brings me to my next awesome thing:

  • Time in the field

This means I get to go out to the sites, the rural villages, where these programs are happening.  I get to see the programs in action and meet the women participating.  I get to be there leading the teams as we interview each woman about changes in her life over the past year.

This information eventually gets entered into into a database and officially becomes data (see above), but being present for the data collection in the field makes the scientific analysis even more interesting.

This is awesome because it gives my job a wonderful balance between desk and field, and between numerical codes and the real people and lives that they represent.

And I’m not the only one that thinks this stuff is awesome.

So does BBC… (click the image below to watch the BBC news clip)

So, this is one of two the programs that I am helping to evaluate.

And if you listen closely at the end of the video, they mention (a bit theatrically) my awesome job:

…part of the IRC’s work is to find out whether participation in the savings and loan association has a significant impact on their shattered lives.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. Aunt Melodee permalink
    June 10, 2012 6:13 am

    Wow. Thanks for sharing your work with us. I knew about the projects, but seeing the video makes it real.

  2. Glyn Goodall permalink
    June 10, 2012 9:15 am

    I love your blog, Katie – and seeing how you’ve managed to construct such a meaningful life is wonderful…

    • Katie R permalink*
      August 5, 2012 6:12 pm

      Hi Glyn, thanks so much for your comment. I’m glad you like the blog!

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