Developing Effective and Inclusive Aid Programs: Outreach to Female Syrian Refugees

Undergraduate Summer Research Grants

For eight weeks over the summer, I worked in Bavaria, Ontario, and Pennsylvania to research programs in these locations that work with and provide aid to their respective refugee communities. Specifically, I aimed to study the efficacy of these organizations in interacting with and providing services to female refugee populations. Additionally, I looked to begin to identify mechanisms and strategies that appear most effective in this pursuit. To this end, I completed 40 semi-structured interviews with aid administrators and practitioners, as well as with members of the refugee communities themselves. I completed all of these interviews in person and, when necessary, with the valuable assistance of a translator. I identified my interview populations using snowball sampling, especially through the connections I built with my partner organizations as each site: the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt in Bavaria, and Ananias Mission in Pennsylvania and Ontario.

In regard to my research, I am most satisfied with the quality of the data I collected and the in-depth interviews I completed, especially with aid program administrators. I believe that their insight and commentary will provide my final product with valuable suggestions and with a strong understanding of the challenges faced by themselves and their peers in developing inclusive aid programming. As this was my first research project or involvement, I was grateful to become comfortable with the individual interview setting and to grow more confident in my rapport with my respondents as my research progressed. I hope that, with the supplementation of a thorough literature review, the data I collected will allow me to produce a final product that addresses all of my initial research interests in some form.

The most challenging portion of my field research was the first few weeks of my stay in Bavaria, as I initially worked to adapt to communication differences and to the region’s holiday schedule. During my first two weeks in Eichstätt, local holidays and celebrations slowed some of my initial efforts to identify and contact respondents. Additionally, in likely a healthy departure from American workplace norms, professional communications are generally postponed until after holidays and weekends. This meant that my conversations with potential respondents took somewhat longer to develop than they might in the United States. In hindsight, and had I had a clearer idea of what to expect in this regard, I would have sent far more emails to potential participants prior to my arrival in Germany.

Another challenge I faced is common to nearly all social science research; my sample population of female members of the refugee community is skewed towards women who have already achieved a meaningful level of empowerment and who have already made contact with aid organizations in their area. Though I foresaw this problem prior to completing my research, I did not see any reasonable action I could take to address this obstacle in this particular project. I did, however, attempt to ask respondents questions about both their own personal experiences, and the experiences of their peers, in an effort to address the challenges facing their communities as a whole.

The most rewarding experience of my research occurred on one of my last nights in the field as I was completing my research in Canada. One of Ananias Mission’s administrators and her extended family held an American-style barbecue on the lake as an occasion to bring everyone involved with the organization together. The attendees included both benefactors of the program and its beneficiaries, who were brought to Canada by Ananias Mission in late 2016. It was an opportunity to celebrate the birthdays of a few of the guests, as well as to offer everyone a chance to connect with each other. I was fortunate enough to have been in the area that night, and it was amazing to have the opportunity to get to know the various families in an informal and joyful setting. At one point, while discussing marriage traditions in different cultures, the Americans learned a traditional Syrian wedding dance, as well as a regional dance from the hometown of the Syrian guests, while the Syrians learned a line dance from a few of the American guests. Later on, after practicing some of my Arabic, a handful of family members started to teach me dialect phrases and pronunciation. Despite the language barrier, we still found a way to communicate each thing we wanted to say. Everyone at the dinner shared the happiness of the food, music, and dancing. It was such a perfect experience to end my fieldwork.

With this data, I plan to complete the senior capstone requirement for my minor in International Development Studies. For this paper, I hope to accomplish a product that explains my data in conjunction with a literature review that focuses on contexts similar to those addressed by my research. Additionally, with explicit permission from the Program of Liberal Studies’s Director of Undergraduate Studies, I will utilize data from my time in Germany and North America to produce a senior thesis project, which will expand upon the ideas broached in my capstone, as well as propose a final recommendation regarding the improvement of NGO outreach and aid to female refugees. This thesis project will also satisfy graduation requirements for my minor in the Glynn Family Honors Program, and I plan to present my work at the 2018 Human Development Conference at Notre Dame. I am looking forward to working with Professor Michael Hoffman in the Political Science Department as my advisor for both the capstone and the thesis project.