Documentation of Co-researcher Interaction

Thursday, November 3


This was the first day that we worked in Langrug with our co researchers. After a little bit of discussion, as there was a simultaneous meeting going on that some of our co-researchers had to attend, my team set off with Scott and Trevor (the chairman of the informal settlement) to explore the community. We focused mainly on the toilet blocks; we travelled to two and talked to community members surrounding them. There was some discrepancy between what was said by the co-researchers or the community members, and so we’ll have to investigate that further. We did this for about two hours, before stopping to eat lunch with the co-researchers. Afterwards we continued our walk around the community as a whole group.

Co-Researcher-WPI Student Interactions

There was minimal small talk and we mostly travelled in separate groups. Scott was very good at eliciting comments from the co researchers, but when not directly asked questions they were silent.

Friday, November 4


This was another full day in Langrug, one slightly less productive than the day before. The language barrier with the co-researchers is pretty strong, and Scott wasn’t there to facilitate conversation as he was on Thursday. We did gain some useful information though, and then called the day a little early as it was cold and rainy outside.

Co-Reseacher-WPI Student Interactions

Today was a continuation of stiff conversation. The co researchers are either unaware of what our project is aimed at or too hesitant to offer suggestions, so when our team does not have a specific agenda works grinds to a stop.

Wednesday, November 9

Although no direct interaction occurred between us and our co researchers, I believe that today was critical in determining how best to advance our relationship with them. The entire two Langrug teams had dinner with Scott and Sizwe, respectively our advisor and a CORC representative familiar with the community. We expressed our fears on the slowness of our interactions, and the lack of interest we felt the co researchers were expressing. We were hoping to clarify whether this was Sizwe’s impression of the situation, or whether we were missing some crucial component necessary to effectively communicate. His was response was that there was not so much a lack of interest or language barrier, but that our relationship was just progressing at a slow rate, most likely due to cultural differences. He offered many suggestions on how best to improve that, among them:  asking for the co researchers to repeat anything they say in Xhosa to English, being sure to include them in lunch, share information about ourselves, and take the time to draw our their opinions on work related matters. Some of these were actions that we had been hesitant to do for fear of giving offense, and I think our entire team was grateful for the guidance.

Thursday, November 10


Today, we brainstormed ideas for community spaces with our co-researchers in the morning, and helped to paint a play park/finish the grey water channel in the afternoon.

Co-Researcher-WPI Student Interactions

On Thursday, our relationship with our co-researchers began to change, and it was amazing.  There are three things I noted that we did differently that may have helped this change occur.

First, we prefaced the day with an introduction. We explained to our co-researchers what it is we were trying to do for the day – put together a design for a community space around a tap or toilet – and we explained that their input was essential. We told them that this was their project as much (if not more) as ours, and that they would be the ones to continue it after we left. I believe that explaining to them that this was their project as much as it was ours definitely helped us interact collaboratively.

Second we all did an exercise. We each drew five ideas that we thought would be successful in a community space. All of us needed to make suggestions for children and adults. As we were drawing, there was conversation among all of us. It was exciting. We were finally relaxed and working together like we should be – as colleagues. Nyameka in particular was excited. While explaining her ideas, she drew a street game in the sand and showed us how to play it. She got even more enthusiastic when we told her that the game she drew could be painted at the play park. I think that she felt empowered – her vision was actually going to be implemented in the community. That was exciting for her, I believe. It looked as if she was glowing the rest of the day.

Once we drew our ideas, each of us took turns explaining them. Afterwards, we had the co-researchers choose which idea they liked best from each person (which further stimulated conversation). After this discussion period, we all walked to an empty space and imagined the possibilities for it. We (WaSH team) pretended as if we were objects (Macauley was a table, Justin a tetherball pole) and the co-researchers moved us to where they thought these objects could be.

This brainstorming exercise helped because it was far more participatory than what we had done before. Previously, all we really did was walk around the community. We involved the co-researchers during the land audit by asking them to measure and take photos, but really we were still telling them what to do. Here, they played as big a role in directing the conversation and our work as we did.

The final strategy I noticed that helped to improve our relationship with our co-researchers was doing physical work alongside them. After we finished the brainstorming exercise, we moved on to the play park and worked there for the rest of the day. I think that working with them really helped to improve our relationship because when you are doing manual labour, everyone is on the same playing field. It helped to make us all more comfortable around each other. Also, it gave our co-researchers a concrete example of how a community space could be transformed. It was empowering, as I believed it showed our co-researchers how capable they were of making change within their own community. I am excited to meet with them again next week to discuss the future of our project and of their community.

I believe that these three things – clarifying the role the co-researchers should play, participatory engagement, and field work – really helped to change the way we interacted with our co-researchers.

Monday, November 14


We had hoped to go over a community space design the three co researchers had created in our time apart, but there was a surprise meeting that occurred with the Ward 2 Councillor that sprang up and we were forced to push all work back to the next day.

Co-Researcher-WPI Student Interaction

There is definitely an increased amount of familiarity between the seven of us. Although I have no doubt that each group is more comfortable among their respective peers (us with our teammates and the co researchers with members of their community), there is definitely more conversation and ease when we work together. I think that this is the work of both our parts as well as simply and elevated level of time together.  One sign that I really thought marked a big change in our relationship was that the ladies were the ones to initiate saying hello, and that they started with the boys of our team when they did so. Previously it had been as if our groups slowly merged once we had to head out to the field for work, and not earlier, whereas today they walked up to us upon sight.

Tuesday, November 15


Work with the co researchers improved noticeably, and this was perhaps one of the most productive days thus far.  We spent the first part of the morning designing community spaces that could occupy the open spaces, and then played games with all of the co researchers as we waited for the bus.

Co-Researcher-WPI Student Interaction

We began the day by asking to see the design the three co researchers had draw up for one of the open spaces, as discussed the previous Thursday.  Perhaps due to a misinterpretation, instead of a literally drawing of a playground, they had instead made a list of all of the elements they wanted to include in each of the six possible sites. While unexpected, it was certainly useful, and we quickly switched tactics and began depicting their ideas to scale on a white board. One the crucial factors we were trying to consider was interaction, and so we did almost all of our work on a large whiteboard that was centered between the seven of us and easily viewed. As often as possible we had the co researchers take up the markers or decide where to place objects in the design.

This process continued for much of the morning, with the co researchers gradually taking a larger role with each step under our encouragement. We did three sites in total, and graduated from the co researchers verbalizing their ideas for us to depict them to them actually creating the grid and laying out their thoughts themselves.  It was encouraging to see how fast the learning curve was, and that the co researchers understood and became very involved in the process. We ended the day by asking them to do an entire design by themselves, from the initial grid to the decisions and placement of site elements, and they seemed assured that they could accomplish that.

On a slight side note, one thing that I have noticed during meetings is that occasionally Alfred begins to overpower Nyameka and Siyanda. They are both more reserved by nature, and with his enthusiasm it is easy for him to dominate the discussion. To counteract that and try to get an equal level of involvement I have begun jokingly reminding him to let the others speak too, or directing asking Nyameka and Siyanda questions, as if I simply ask a general question Alfred will be the first to respond.

Wednesday, November 23th


The entire group and our three co researchers spent the majority of the day working to create the process of ablution block improvement. In the remaining time we worked with each of them personally on our laptops to show them basic computer skills and finish creating their CVs.

Co-Researcher-WPI Student Interaction

This was perhaps the most frustrating day in Langrug thus far, and I would not be surprised to find that the co researchers felt the same. Previously, the other group had created a step-by-step process outlining how to go about fixing the greywater situation and we had thought that it would be valuable to create one for improving ablution blocks. We described this to our co researchers, showed them the other group’s process, and brought out the white board for us to write out on. I am not sure whether there was a lack of communication, or a disagreement with our tactics, but the ensuing interaction was less like a discussion and more like pulling answers from a petulant child.  The co researchers were unable to generate ideas for the vast majority of the steps, demonstrated no interest in the work, and questions on their comprehension or thoughts were met with one to two syllable answers.

After we had left Langrug our team discussed what could have caused this struggle, and our only thought was that the obvious inequality between groups hindered communication.  Despite our team’s best efforts it was clear that we had a certain image of what we were trying to generate, and the co researchers might have been more reluctant to speak for fear giving an incorrect answer. Needless to say it was extremely tiring for both parties, and I do not believe that any of us felt productive at the completion of the process.

Wednesday, December 30th


The first half of the day was spent organising the construction of the tap and getting paint so we could start work on D-Section toilets. The remainder of the time was used paint the alphabet and shapes along a line of wash basins in the ablution block.

Co-Researcher-WPI Student Interaction

I really feel that today was a really great experience of us and the co-researchers working in tandem towards a common goal. Particularly because of the difficulties we experienced last week in developing the process, I feel that it was really beneficial for us to physically work on something together in an environment in which we were all clearly equals. Nyameka and Siyanda especially seemed to enjoy this, and the two of them spent a great amount of time involving the children that had gathered around us in the painting process and getting them to recite the ABCs.

Thursday, December 8th

Today our co-researchers and we stood up in front of external corporations and the officials of the Stellenbosch municipality to present the work that we have accomplished in the past six weeks. Alfred, Nyameka, and Siyanda were visibly nervous; Nyameka in particular, but when their turn to speak came they did so in English in a professional and articulate manner. It was a really great moment, and I’m so incredibly proud of them and our team.