14 December 2016

What is life like for refugee single fathers?

Keri Baughman (MA Development Studies 2016) is one of two recipients of the 2016 Global Migration Award for her master’s thesis on refugee single fathers in Africa.  

My thesis explored the challenges and coping strategies of 27 single fathers living in Kyaka II, a Ugandan refugee settlement where I worked as an intern. I became interested in this subject after I met a refugee single father from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and I spent some time with him and his 3 children. He explained to me how his wife had been killed during a violent episode in the DRC, making him a single father, and how he was also severely wounded, leaving him unable to farm. He managed to flee with his three children and has been living in Kyaka II ever since. He asked me if I was aware of any services in the settlement that target single fathers, and at that moment I decided to focus my thesis on this area, under the supervision of Dr. Fenneke Reysoo.

Unfortunately there has been very little research conducted among single fathers in refugee settings. In other contexts, researchers have tended to homogenise the experiences of single mothers and single fathers, but I argued that local masculinity norms translate into gender-specific challenges for single fathers. Through an interdisciplinary lens, mainly drawing on theories of hegemonic masculinity, I analysed the challenges the 27 single fathers are facing, including doing “women’s work”; raising children, especially adolescent daughters; time poverty; health issues; and poverty. My research methodology included interviews, extensive observation, and participative photography.

After finishing my thesis, I kept in contact with many of the single fathers via WhatsApp and decided that I wanted to give something back to them, since they had so warmly welcomed me into their homes and shared their life stories with me. As a researcher I think this is very important. So I started a blog in order to share, in a more informal manner, the single fathers’ narratives. My blog posts are intended to raise awareness about their situation.

In addition, the blog is also linked to a GoFundMe account where I am trying to raise some funds to send to them. My goal is modest at $540, or $20 for each of the 27 single fathers. Many of them told me they will use the money I collect to pay school fees, buy medicine, food, clothes, or even to start a small business. I have already raised around $300, so I am more than halfway to my goal!

Keri’s full thesis will be published in the Global Migration Research Paper Series.