Why are you here?

Crysta HighfieldUniversity of California, Berkeley

A week and a half into my study I was asked a question I did not have an answer for. I should have, but as the sincere question was asked and my brain searched for an equally sincere answer, I realized I truly was not sure. “Why are you here?” I was asked. “Why are you studying us?” I was in the village to create resource maps and seasonality calendars, and administer questionnaires geared at assessing water needs in the area. The questioner already knew this, however. It did not get to the root of the question: “Why?” I wanted to tell her that it would guide future projects and lead to the development of solutions to the problems described to me, but all of that is out of my hands. In fact, while I hope these reports help guide future projects the uncertainty of it is such that I’ve been warned against giving this impression, to avoid unreasonable expectations and disappointment. I am just here to study. So that is what I said, feeling how inadequate the words were even as they left my mouth. “I am here to practice research techniques and learn about your village.” It was perfectly true, despite my hopes for future projects, and it made me confront the fact that there is an ethical quandary in doing research that may not bring about any benefits. The women and men I will work with over the next month are giving me the most valuable thing they have: their time. The time they could be working, doing chores, or rearing their children. If I cannot promise anything in return, am I, in effect, stealing from the already impoverished? This is the kind of dilemma my fellow students and I talk about, but cannot learn to navigate without experiences in the field prompting us to examine our immediate actions and goals rather than far-future career paths. After thinking it through I decided that there is value in delivering research to a company with such a strong track record in CSR, even when an upcoming project is not guaranteed. I cannot promise that a specific project will be started because of this research, but I can feel confident that I am working for a company that is committed to good works, and anything that moves their work forward has great potential to deliver on the promises I cannot.