By Matt Thomas
From the early planning stages of the Voices of Refugee Youth project, the component that I, and many of the team, were most looking forward to was the interaction with the Youth Researchers in Pakistan and Rwanda. The opportunity to hear their stories, to engage with them in their contexts and to listen to them speak about the challenges they face in accessing education and transitioning to employment or further education was, and is, both a privilege and an exciting responsibility.
A central component of the whole study is the training of the Youth Researchers in ‘Social Innovation Research and Analysis’. This training takes place over the lifetime of the study with four focused training weeks at six-monthly intervals. The Youth Researchers then immediately have the opportunity to put the new skills to use in the context of the research study, undertaking data collection, conducting analysis of that data and writing reports on the findings.
My first interaction with some of the Youth Researchers was back in December 2018 when visiting Pakistan and meeting with young refugees in Peshawar to explore the potential of the proposed approach, drawing on their expertise and understanding to improve the design and shape of the study (a colleague of mine did the same in Rwanda). These interactions proved invaluable when it came to finalising and then implementing the study as well as in the recruiting of the Youth Researchers themselves. However, it was not until August 2019 (Pakistan) and January 2020 (Rwanda), when we conducted our first week of training in each country, that I got to meet the Youth Researcher cohorts in their entirety and truly got to know each and every one of them.
For anyone who teaches, delivers training or does any form of facilitation, the dream is always to have an enthusiastic group of people to work with. In both settings we were thrilled to find a group of highly articulate, passionate young people, hungry to learn and driven by a desire to make a positive impact on the communities they are part of. For me, being part of that environment, learning from the experiences of each of the Youth Researchers, and seeing the immediate impact of the training as each of them took the new knowledge, and implemented the learning in the first data collection point, was inspiring.
Having the opportunity to facilitate the training in both country contexts was fascinating. There are many cultural differences between the two and each presented opportunities and challenges for us as facilitators. Whether it was navigating the cultural norms around the interaction between the male and female Youth Researchers in Pakistan, or tailoring the study approach towards both Congolese and Burundian refugees in Rwanda, all hurdles were met with enthusiasm by the Youth Researchers and a willingness to learn and also help to improve the overall approach of the study.
I’m definitely biased, but the training sessions were great, the content was engaging and the participation was fun. However if I were to pick a highlight from each country then it would be sharing a meal and practicing some very poor (on my account!) Afghan dancing with some of the Youth Researchers in Pakistan the night before flying out, and exploring Gihembe refugee camp with two of our Youth Researchers in Rwanda, meeting the parents of one of them and talking about the impact secondary and tertiary education can have on the lives of refugees around the world.
I’m already looking forward to the next one!