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Reflections from the field: Kifah Bani Odeh

I spoke with Kifah about her experience doing research with adolescents, including adolescents with a disability, in the Jordan Valley in the West Bank. We spoke about how it is to work in a conflict affected setting, explored some top tips and tricks to build report with adolescents and their parents and discussed how a new tablet-based survey could help with the process.

Q: Good evening, Kifah. Could you tell me about the work you do?

A: Working as a researcher means to be in their place, to touch their reality, and see people’s lives as they experience it. You can’t help but become fascinated by the people you meet.

Working with adolescents in general is so much fun, but more of a challenge because you too are an adult and they look to you as their mother or father. They see you as someone they have to fight with – because you have a different opinion.

Q: How do you build rapport with adolescents? Is it different from doing research with adults?

A: It helps to use words as they are – I don’t place taboos on any issues – when we talk to girls about friendships with boys, I talk about that. So they feel free to have an open conversation as well. They like that. For example, when I meet a girl I ask them about their hijab or scarf and ask them if they like it. Then they become happy and we can start discussing this… The girl then feels like someone close to her accepts her and listens to her. I also trained myself to use their own popular words that they use in their conversation. For example, I use words like “chatting” and “Facebook”.

Q: And what about research with adolescents with disabilities?

A: When you work with adolescents with disabilities: it is most important not to look at them with pity but to have an open discussion about their rights and tell them that I have come to their house to listen. Do not push them to talk!

When you do research with girls with disabilities – going to their house is better as you save the efforts of their families arranging transport. It helps. With these girls you need to build trust and stress that the interview is confidential especially if you work in a conservative community. It is challenging to get the girls alone so they can talk more freely – the mothers never leave the girls alone. And particularly not those with a disability.

Q: And what about their parents?

A: You have to spend time with them. They are so lonely often. One time, the mother even started crying when I asked who taught her daughter to play on the tablet. She said that her father and grandfather refused to acknowledge her daughter and that they did not like to send her to the school. They refused to spend any money, they ignored her.

Q: How have you found doing research with a tablet? Does it help young people to express themselves?

A: If you have a tablet, that works well, they like to touch it. I use it as a tool to strengthen their self-confidence – they were able to sign the consent form in the tablet. And I praised them when they tried, even if they did not succeed. Pictures also work well – it helps them to reflect on their answers. But of course, it does not work with all children with disabilities – some find it difficult to read the tablet as they have had only limited education. Most children with disabilities here in the West Bank don’t go to school and those who do go just sit there. The teacher does not mind them…

Q: is it stressful working in a conflict affected context?

A: Yes, it is. I remembered many times when I finished the interviews, interviewees told me, “please daughter, write what you heard honestly, we need someone who takes care about us”. I left them there but they look at me with hope, they hope that my work will bring change to them. To cope with the challenging experiences, I hear about, I keep a diary about my reflections. I keep in touch with some of the participants and follow their lives. I have big faith inside – someday their situation will change.

Q: What are your recommendations for programme implementers working with adolescents with disabilities, based on your research for GAGE?

A: One thing that really make me feel bad is when they are in school and no one pays attention to them. They just sit in front of their desk and they can’t read. They like to go to the school to be around other children, yet they don’t benefit from the school. Particularly girls. Give them time, they are smart even if they might answer questions in a different way.

About the QuickTap tablet based survey

The aim of the exercise was to have adolescent research participants reflect on the availability and quality of services by scoring services in an interactive manner making use of the QuickTap Survey Tool. This tool will also support researchers qualitative interviewing capabilities by promoting specific questions on the table to ensure adequate probing.

Read more about the tool in the GAGE Participatory Research Toolkit.