The opportunity to go to Cape Town on placement was a key reason I chose to come to the University of York for my Masters, and the experience did not disappoint. I chose this course because I hoped to gain practical skills for future human rights fieldwork, and this placement allowed me to put into practice what we had been learning in our modules. Being in Cape Town is itself one of the most significant learning experiences of the placement. I gained more from being immersed in the context in which I was working than I could have possibly learned through research or in a classroom.
I, along with two other students, have been working with Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, an organisation focused on providing resources to those affected by sexual violence, and in particular, survivors of sexual assault and rape. Our project was to evaluate three key services Rape Crisis provides: face-to-face counseling at their offices, counseling offered at Thuthuzela Care Centers, and court support. While in Cape Town, we interviewed counselors, court support workers and clients in order to gain a better understanding of how Rape Crisis staff viewed the aims of the services they provided and how clients experienced the services they received. While Rape Crisis gave us some guidance on what kinds of information they hoped to learn, they also gave us the freedom to design our own interview questions, conduct interviews of both staff and clients, and decide on sampling strategies for collecting and assessing other data.
Learning through doing
This was an amazing opportunity to actually evaluate programs — an invaluable skill in human rights work — in an environment in which we were trusted as students and professionals. Although we had read a significant amount of literature on how to do monitoring and evaluation in theory, I learned more about adapting research on the first day of conducting interviews than I did in all of my prior reading on the topic. Evaluation is truly a skill that you learn by doing, and this placement offered me the opportunity to practice designing research and actually conduct it. Furthermore, it was a pleasure to learn from and work with everyone at Rape Crisis. They immediately welcomed us into the organization, and their passion and dedication to empowering survivors is truly inspiring.