The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when someone asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.

Henry David Thoreau

In the previous section, we looked at how we ask wise questions to help young women tell us authentic stories. Here, we explore how we can give them the chance to tell us, in their own words, and from their own perspectives, the conditions of their lives in a way that recognises their dignity and allows them to inspire funders and donors.

Asking “what did you like about the youth club programme”, typically leads to answers like “I like baking” or “I was happy to learn new skills”. These are true, they are positive, but they are not exciting. Be as specific as you can, without telling them what to think, or making them assume there is a ‘correct’ answer. Asking them what they have learnt that they have shared with a friend, and why they shared it, for example, tells you much more.  

  • You see how she is part of a community. 
  • You have given her the chance to show what has inspired her to be generous – this sets her apart from her peers. 
  • Giving her the chance to explain why the youth club has inspired her, and why she wanted her friend to know about it, should give you some information on their living situations, hopes and dreams. 

You may want to know about her living conditions so as to tell a funder. You probably already know a lot about this, so you may be able to explain it without asking her difficult questions. If you do still need to ask the girls, instead of saying, “what difficulties do you face at home that make it hard for you to study”, you could ask:  

  • What tips would you give to someone else in your neighbourhood about finding a place where you can study after school? 
  • How do you plan your household chores so that you have time to attend our girl’s clubs?
  • You are doing so well in your studies and in our youth club. What are your parents most proud of? What difference have they seen in you? Would they encourage your sisters or cousins to join the programme? Can you explain why?

If a teacher asks us, “why are you doing that?” we usually know that she isn’t interested in the answer; she just wants us to stop. Many of the girls we work with are not used to being told that their lives and opinions matter. If we ask them questions with the aim of learning ourselves, so that we can help them better, we will ask wiser questions.  

  • We have this opportunity to be inspired by the bravery, perseverance, diligence and generosity of these young women, if only we let them share those experiences with us. 

Find a method that works for your youth club

  • You know your young people best. You know that different circumstances could lead to more detailed answers, and help girls to feel happier when they tell youth workers their stories:
    • Will they be most comfortable if they talk to you, and you write notes as they do?
    • Or are they happier with more time to think, and independence, asking each other, or answering questionnaires? 
    • Do they prefer anonymity, or are they proud to show off their success? 
  • You also need to think about how you will use this information, and what work it will require from your youth club leaders: 
    • Do you have time to listen and write up their stories for them? 
    • Does paper help you? How and where do you file it? How will you be sending these stories to your funders and supporters?

Reflection Questions

  1. How do your stories currently ensure that your girls shine?
  2. How do we tell their stories in ways that give them a chance not just to be recipients of others’ generosity, but to demonstrate their roles as contributors to society?
  3. Think about your current youth project. Write three questions (including sub-questions, if you need them) that aim to understand the impact it is having on young women’s lives. Think about how to make each question as straightforward as possible.

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