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In the early planning stages of the Palestinian study, all of the team leaders agreed to use a similar research methodology. This included:

  • 1) An initial Participatory Research Approach (PRA) to gather basic socioeconomic data and to identify potential households with children between the ages of 8 and 18 to take part in the study. This included the administration of a participatory psychosocial "worry questionnaire" in classrooms.

  • 2) An in-depth household approach in order to generate data with children and their families through a variety of anthropological techniques, including :

    • a) semi-structured interviews and the collection of life histories

    • b) natural and focus-group interviews

    • c) social mapping

    • d) participant-observation

The household approach was chosen because it moved away from studying 'the child' in isolation by situating their narratives and experiences in a tangible, yet dynamic, social unit. Households were selected purposively to be reasonably representative of the socio-economic range present in the refugee populations. The narratives and life histories that were collected focused on critical incidents from children and adults of different generations within the same households. The team leaders and their assistants also carried out participant-observation in order to place the narratives and other interviews within the contexts of coping, forced migration, and generational and household dynamics.

The Sahrawi and Afghan studies intended to use a similar core methodology in order to promote the possibilities for comparison across the three groups of youth.

In each of the Palestinian field sites, approximately twenty households were sampled (totalling around 100 households), while the Sahrawi and Afghan studies each focused on fifty households.

The process of 'selecting' households was shaped by social and political factors specific to each site. Access to the Palestinian families was negotiated through contacts established with local participants and, in some cases, through rapid participatory appraisals. The individuals who attended these exercises were asked to help the research teams identify families they were familiar with who they thought would fit the selection criteria 1) households of three generations, 2) with at least one member of the 1948 'Nakbah', and 3) and with children between the ages of 8 and 18.

The Sahrawi government-in-exile, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), provided research clearance for the Sahrawi study and facilitated access to the schools where much of the interaction with children took place. Each of the camps had a resident research assistant. The latter relied on snowball sampling to contact households and interview their members.

The Afghan research was based primarily in informal Afghan schools where after-school youth clubs were formed, in keeping with the participative approach of the overall study. These clubs facilitated participant-observation, extended contact with the youth, and eventual access to the participants' families. The research committees formed in the clubs decided who would be interviewed for the research and therefore whose families would be asked to participate in the study.


Photo: The youth club’s “volleyball team of the future-building girls of Afghanistan” on their final day.

A number of researchers have begun to explore the way participatory methods can be applied to studies and programs that focus on children.

See, for example Boyden 2001; Boyden and de Berry 2004; Boyden and Ennew 1997; Chalwa 2001; de Berry 2003; de la Cruz et al. 2002; Hart 2002; Protacio-de Castro et al 2002; West 2001; Wilkinson 2000. While promoting participatory methods, Boyden (2001) and Hart (2002) have also written about the limitations and challenges of children’s participation in the context of forced migration. Kapoor (2002) explores the theoretical limitations of Chambers’ work on participatory development.

Such methods encourage the vocality and visibility of refugee youth, which is especially important in social and political contexts where they feel marginalized.


A participatory approach with youth assumes and promotes their agency within the research process. This requires the researchers to relinquish a certain degree of control over some aspects of the project if the specific concerns and priorities of the youth are to be reflected in the research. Thus, in their espousal of participatory methods, the research teams came up against numerous challenges in their quest for a degree of methodological-commonality.

Box 2: Research Questions
The following questions were based on insights gained from the Palestinian study and guided the subsequent research with young Sahrawi and Afghan refugees:
  • 1) Do the experiences of girls differ from those of boys in terms of exposure, opportunities, constraints and responsibilities within the household and the community?

  • 2) What impact does legal status have on the lives of refugee youth and how is that mediated by gender?

  • 3) Do age, birth order, and sibling composition affect the experience and coping strategies of children and youth?

  • 4) How do the past experiences of forced migration amongst the older generations impact on children and youth?

  • 5) What impact does religious commonality (Islam) and past livelihood (pastoral and agrarian lifestyles) have on children and adolescents as refugees? How do children and youth from societies that have a tradition of mobility integrate the experience of forced migration in their current circumstances?

  • 6) How and when do children and youth involve themselves in political causes and what mechanisms are involved?

  • 7) What impact does formal, recognised education and non-formal, generally community organised education have on children and adolescents?

  • 8) What roles do children and adolescents play in the informal economy and how is that mediated by gender?

  • 9) What differentiation in terms of the ability to cope with forced migration can be made between the protection and services of UNHCR (Sahrawi), the services of UNRWA (Palestinian) and the charity of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Afghan refugees)?

Last updated Sep 25, 2011