Have I told you about my work? I honestly can not remember what I've said and what I haven't and from previous comments, I think some clarity is in order.
Since June of 2006 I have worked as a research assistant on a national research project called Lone Mothers: Building Social Inclusion. Basically, I have a couple of women assigned to me who I periodically interview about their lives. I meet them at their homes with a tape recorder and we sit down for a couple of hours to chat. The interviews are semi-structured which means that I have a basic idea of what the lead researchers are looking to get out of that particular interview and I come prepared with some questions. The really great part is that the participant gets to decide the flow of the conversation. Depending on what she says, I might ask questions from my sheet or I might get her to give me more detail about something she mentioned. The women always end up crying and sometimes I do too. There are strict confidentiality issues involved so I can not really say much about the specific women that I interview, but the stories that we hear are heart-wrenching.
When my co-workers and I were hired for this project we had no idea what to expect. We were hopeful that some sort of good or change would come from it, but we had no idea how. Over and over we asked what the end result would be. A five year project worth one million dollars to find out that the life of a poor single mother is hard? Why not put that money towards some sort of social program to help that mother? There was no way that we could have seen what it would do in our own lives. We sat around that boardroom table with thoughts of the future, but never once did we consider how it would affect us. Now, half way through, the changes are unbelievable.
Last night I spoke in a women's studies class with three of my co-workers. We were there to talk about the effects of single-parenting on the mother's health. I cant tell you how good it felt to be out doing that kind of thing again. The last time I spoke anywhere was October 2007 at a conference about including the voices of those who have experienced whatever a policy or program aims to help, when designing that policy. I've had so many opportunities since then to be a part of talks and papers and various other projects but I've had to turn them all down. Finishing school last year and Josiah's birth in the summer took too much of my time and I couldn't possibly think of adding any more to my already full plate.
But last night? I cant describe how good it felt to be a part of this kind of thing again. The looks on the faces of those young women as we shared our stories and the stories of the participants were enough to tell us that change is being made. Some of them were bored and had an answer for everything, but some of them really got it. I felt useful again. I felt like I was teaching them something that would help others in the future. I felt like I belong there. This is the work and the life that I want. This is what fuels me and drives me and what I get so passionate about.
Our hopes that we had for this project have been realised; we have made a difference. It isn't yet a huge one, but with every shocked face or even raised eye brow, we are creating change. Even bigger than that though the change within our own lives is more than we could have ever imagined. Of the three other ladies that were involved in this with me, two of them have made major life changes because of this project. One, a single mom of two boys (one with Autism) found the courage to enroll in university. She said that if we (about half of the research assistants were single moms in university) could do it, so could she. And she has. When I first met her, there was rarely a smile on her face but now she's always beaming. It makes me proud. The other woman has found herself an amazing job doing something that she loves and was able to move her children out of public housing. She wouldn't have been able to do that without the confidence or the contacts that she has gained through being in this project.
The three of us sat there last night before the class just in awe at how much our lives have all changed because of something as simple as a part time job. And we never would have guessed it.