Data Collection in Syria: Interview with Syria Operations Team Member

Our Syria Operation team does incredible work in the face of very difficult circumstances.

This week, we interviewed one member of the operations team about the many challenges facing the teams doing our valuable Third Party Monitoring work in Syria. Here, Maher talks us through the challenges facing the team as they work to ensure that humanitarian projects are being implemented effectively and responsibly.

How many projects does Trust have going in Syria right now?

At the beginning of February we had 12 ongoing projects in Syria, and some in Turkey too. Last week we had 4 new projects with different international organizations. Yeah. It was a tremendous amount of projects. We were working without stopping at all.


Enumerator collecting samples on a WASH project in northern Syria

Can you tell me a bit about your role in the Syria operations department?

I work on communicating with and coordinating the enumerators in Syria. I work very closely with our advisors based in Syria, who coordinate the teams on the ground in different areas. I work on explaining the the kind of data we are trying to collect, the M&E tools that will be used and giving the enumerators the proper training to collect accurate and valuable data. I solve any issues that may come up, and then feedback the cleaned data back to management.


What is the biggest challenge facing the Syria operations team?

The unreliable internet connection is one of the obstacles that we are facing working in Syria. The training that we do is mainly over Skype, and is so important – you should explain the tools and questions to the enumerators, and tell them what they’re going to do in the field, and make sure they understand everything. So yeah, it’s a little bit difficult.

Again, when it is time for them to send the data to to us, sometimes we wait more than two or three days to receive all of that data from them. Sometimes the internet cuts off so we wait until the internet comes back and… you know, that situation. It’s so difficult. And sometimes, when we have a big project, we need to wait for more than 10, or – in one of our projects 40 field researchers that were working on surveys, KII, FGDs and other tools – to feedback that data. It is definitely a big challenge.


How do you work around the security issues in Syria?

Enumerator collecting data for an education project

In the dangerous villages and in unsafe areas it can be so difficult to collect data. Before starting to do any monitoring, we ask our advisers in Syria about the security situation in their areas. If there is active fighting, or there are tanks, we wait for that area to be safe so we can work there. If there is a security issue, we wait until that issue is improved. Because you know, the lives of our field researchers are so precious.


Are people quite open to speaking to Trust’s field researchers, or do you face some issues with this?

In some areas in Syria, interviewing people is so difficult, because you should first gain their trust – many are afraid of speaking to anyone. Because you know, they have been suffering so much because of this war. So they are afraid of meeting people, of being interviewed. So this is very difficult. I can remember one of our projects, we had a lot of surveys to do in a certain area. On the first day we couldn’t do more than 10 surveys, and the reason was that people were afraid of speaking to us. Often we work with community leaders, local authorities or respected people from the community, who understand that Trust has their best interests at heart. This often helps get the cooperation from the community.

But our field researchers have good experience and training in dealing with people, in discussing and explaining things to them. Some people insult our field team, but the team just smiles at them. After that, they agree to do the survey and they finish their job. (laughs)

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