Project Everest

Work Update

Reflection: The Role of Field Development in Creating Empathy

Belinda Nielsen
Belinda Nielsen | Feb 22, 2018 | in Knowledge Base

The end (of project) is nigh!!!

And much like the end of any good tv show; it’s exciting, scary and you wonder if you’ll be the same when its done; but you really want to see what making it to the end brings.

Although it feels like I’ll always have a musk of goat; and that the dirt under my fingernails will be permanent, I know within a few days of being back home the experiences that I’ve had will fade a little and the environment I’m in will never be as unique as it is now.

So I’m taking this time to reflect on the Field Development experience in particular, because I truly believe in how different and valuable it is.

I think a unique aspect about being a part of FieldDev is gaining a sense of real-world empathy. You’ve been on the ground. You know it’s hard work; how frustrating it is when crops don’t work or the weather has a different plan. It’s tough.

But it’s a gift. It gives you things to ask farmers, lets you feel their frustration when they talk about issues they’re facing and motivates you to make real changes that might just make their everyday lives that bit better.

A major block for me before coming on project was this lack of relevant empathy. Sure, I could talk to people and ask them generic questions, but I couldn’t understand the intricacies of every decision made and challenges farmers may face even if they decided to make changes to their land. In Fiji, there are so many cultural, climatic and financial influences that all play a role in determining how a farmer decides to operate.

Very rarely can you take a pre-determined strategy that looks good on paper and apply it on the ground successfully. There are so many considerations that you wouldn’t even think of unless you’d had a lifetime of experience. This is one of the thoughts that has stuck with me throughout the month. There is no logic in telling people how to grow their produce without first trying it myself.

That’s why I found designing the blueprints for our Sigatoka plot a bit daunting; because I had no understanding of how different crops would grow or if farmers would even operate as we expected them to. I’ve realised that although this cautious attitude is valid; it doesn’t really serve you in making change happen. Being bold and taking risks was a cornerstone of our month; backed with confidence by the trust put in us by everyone in leadership. Hopefully we’ll see the payoff in plant growth and crop yields in the future.

Working on the plot is an experience unlike other aspect of project; if you ever get the chance to do so embrace it with all you have; despite the fact that you’ll probably cop extra sunburn and mystery insect bites. It sounds weird but the intense competition behind pulling out the longest root on a weed or finding the biggest slug that day is heated and something you pride yourself on winning.

Coming into the month to work on the plot sounded like a pretty straightforward task- we know a bit about plants right?

But in the end it was so much more than we thought; and the scope of the concept of empathy extended to more than the meaning of the word I thought I knew. Empathising goes far beyond talking to locals at village visits- nodding and smiling when they talk. It involves immersing yourself in the role of who you’re trying to understand, and in giving your all to the experiences you give yourself greater potential to enact change.

edited on 22nd February 2018, 23:02 by Belinda Nielsen
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Dolly Phiri Feb 23, 2018

Hi Belinda, I really like your post because it emphasises the importance of the FieldDev team on FarmED projects. The empathy gained from your hardwork on the plots helps the whole business model to develop and change in ways that would be suitable to the Fijian environment and for the Fijian farmers. If we can’t grow something or if we are also experiencing the same struggles that local farmers face, workshops could be tailored to address these issues and ultimately makes them more effective. One question though, how do you think this empathy can be continued throughout the year when we are not here because these farmers are facing different issues at different times of the year?

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Belinda Nielsen Feb 23, 2018

Hey Dolly,
Honestly, it's really hard to develop this comprehensive empathy because as you say, we aren't here all year. I think it was definitely helpful to be here in the wet season, because it seems more challenging for farmers than the rest of the year. It's so great that the twins will be here for a longer time, maybe then they can further aim to understand the challenges faced by farmers at different times of the year. It would also be interesting to see if the July teams experience different feedback from farmers when they're in country- we'll have to wait see what they say!

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Melissa Lee Feb 23, 2018

Hey Belinda, while most of us empathise through conversation, I like how your team empathise through the hardwork on field, after all, there are no better way to understand the challenges that local Fijian farmers face on daily bases until you have experienced them yourself. Hope that all the hardwork will pay off eventually!

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Wade Tink Jul 1, 2018

Status label added: Work Update

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