Why are the surveys so important?
Today I wanted to spend some time talking about a really important topic that is crucial in my line of work – charity work.
In order for us to be able to target specific problems in the society we need some measurement tools. We need to understand where the problem exists; how it was tackled before; how it is “here” in Serbia compared to other countries; what other countries do to overcome that particular problem; what would be the short term solution and the long term solution; how can we encourage more people to join us, raise the awareness and hence increase the probability of eradicating the problem from the society?
There are many questions that need to be answered. Where do we start and where do we find those answers?
Government has some of the answers we seek, but usually, government findings are not regularly updated. We rely on surveys made by other NGOs who invest their time; money and energy in research so we can all benefit from those findings and get proper directions for our work. The results they get for us are like a city map. We would be lost without them, and we wouldn’t know where our help is needed the most.
You might be thinking now “Ok, so what’s the problem? Get the answers you need”.
The trick is – it is hard to get the honest answers from people. Sometimes, it is almost impossible to get the answer at all! The questions we ask are quite personal and many people don’t feel comfortable talking to a stranger, which is absolutely understandable. However, that is the only way.
The way to get the answers is to knock on people’s door and ask them to help out the survey by answering several questions about their household and earnings. Their reactions vary: some say they are too busy, others say they cannot let the stranger in the house; some think this is some kind of a scam. There are also people who decide to open their doors and answer questions but then they give us answers that are not exactly the full truth about their situation. Others, on the other hand, exaggerate and some are honest.
The bottom line is: they do not understand what the survey is all about and what the gathered data is being used for.
So, let me try to explain it better.
Just recently (Feb 1st), UNICEF started doing another survey on the situation and behaviour of children and women in Serbia, called MICS (Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey). This is the only survey that gives us insights into the most vulnerable groups of children, especially the ones living in extreme poverty, such as Roma kids. This survey is done every 5 years.
The results of this survey will help us to better understand how we can help. The data gathered here will be used to formulate policies, strategies and measures on how to improve the lives of those vulnerable groups. Knowing the exact parameters will help us track and monitor the progress and success of the strategies we put in work. We cannot be certain how efficient we are unless we have the statistical records showing us the movements and improvements.
The success of this survey depends on response of households and their willingness to let the UNICEF interviewers in their homes.
So, when you ask me (and many of you do) “why did we choose to focus our work on pre-school education?” The answer is – because that’s where the help is needed but it doesn’t reach these groups because investing in children doesn’t give prompt results. We learned that through the MICS survey.
Here is the key finding about the preschool education drawn from the MICS data for Serbia:
Preschool education. Coverage of children aged three to five years in preschool has increased since 2005. Nevertheless, only 44 per cent of children in Serbia attend the preschool programs. And the gaps are immense: The higher the social status, the higher the percentage of kindergarten attendance. Among poor families, the percentage reaches only a half of the national average, and for Roma children it is extremely low at just 8 per cent.
So, as you can see, this was our map. It helped us understand the big picture so we can focus and contribute by adding small pixels and fixing bit by bit the problem by opening kindergartens where children will have access to free and good quality education.
Also, when we were thinking about helping the orphans, because we thought that is such an important issue, we realized that the way of helping doesn’t lie in enforcing the institutions. It lies in enforcing the families.
The truth is, 95% of the children living in institutions in Serbia -popularly known as orphanages – HAVE parents. Yes, you read it right. 95%! They have parents, either both, or one known parent, who just couldn’t raise their child (poverty, abuse, drugs, mental illness, invalidity…). So, instead of giving money to the institutions – we decided to help those parents and families who are at the risk of being separated. We do that by financing the program called “Family outreach worker” in partnership with UNICEF and Ministry of Social Politics of Republic of Serbia, where social workers from the institutions go out and help families at risk to find a job, clarify some family disputes, get their social benefits, medical support, etc.
Tackling any of the issues in the society without having key data to set up the strategy and later, measure the success rate – wouldn’t give the sustainable, permanent results. As a foundation, we want to leave permanent trail behind us.
We want to see within 5-10 years in the MICS survey that less than 1% of children in Serbia do not attend pre-school programs.
So, please help us by opening the doors OF your home to the interviewers. We cannot help if we don’t know where the help is needed.
Thank you for taking time to learn more about our work.