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The importance of this research is that it has been conducted by a group of participants who have been/are working with a community drugs project. The findings are drawn from a questionnaire compiled by participants from a community drug project who were also studying a Research Module with Community Technical Aid (CTA).The questionnaire emerged from the group, representing the key questions that are important to them.
This is not an objective piece of research, it is not meant to be. The aim of this research was to educate and empower a group of women in recovery to deepen their understanding of the role and purpose of research and how it might affect their lives. They chose to research something that they are experts on; something that was important to them; something that was accessible and do-able; something that was possible within the financial constraints, that is, that there was no money to conduct the research.
Community education is about building capacity within the community to improve the quality of life of the people taking part. The desire of the group was to name and examine something that they believe has improved the quality of their lives; the SAOL Project. They were not objective about it; they wanted to name SAOL’s value. But neither were they innocent of the demands of research. A review of the questionnaire will show that this research is brief yet thorough. It was open to all sides of experience but it expected positivity, because that is what they were bringing to the research.
It is this positivity and desire to name SAOL’s benefits to them that gives the research its ultimate value. Our client group have articulated things that many researchers ignore; they have named value that is often overlooked; they have pointed out benefits that we in SAOL do not often see, for we are often too close to notice.
So when the respondents talk of value they talk of seeing other people getting clean and wanting that for themselves; when they talk of benefits, they talk of feeling normal again because they usually feel like the ‘other’; when they name how important SAOL is, they talk of feeling stronger, having increased confidence and independence; and they remembered, reflecting over 18 years of experience of SAOL recording the important moments that changed how they see the world, their work on the Muralistas; the Women’s Studies in UCD; Addiction studies in SAOL; and completing ‘their CE’. And the researchers, all women in recovery, did not question these answers, but understood them and agreed. Hence, the inspiration for the title of this research, “I’ll have what she’s having.”
They named the other stuff too, the regular ‘percentage’ stuff, that they were homeless and got off drugs; that they are parents and benefited; that they are drug free or stable and still need regular help.
The research was only possible because of CTA, SAOL and the generosity of the researchers. This three-way relationship provides a model of research of which many in the ‘professional’ world of academia and research will be jealous. Sixty-one women were interviewed by women in recovery. Many desire such access to and involvement from the people about whom the research is focused; this research has it, and that is part of its great worth.
It is useful that it records the successes and value of a small community drug project that works with women. SAOL listens to its participants. The joy at which the provision of ‘aftercare’ is raised in the findings is worthy of note, because this was something the participants had called for, and with NICDTF’s support, was provided.
It is central to good community education and development that participants feel ownership of the projects where they work. This research suggests that this is the case for many of the participants of SAOL; this is a hugely important finding for all involved with the project.