The value of volunteering: Loughborough researcher to explore the experiences of young refugees in new project

Artwork by refugees at the Antonio Guterres Urban Refugee Community Centre in Kampala, Uganda.

A Loughborough University academic has been awarded funding to examine the role and impact of volunteering on the lives of young African refugees.

Human Geographer Dr Sarah Mills, of the School of Social Sciences and Humanities, and a team of international researchers will explore whether volunteering can build skills and reduce inequalities among young refugees in Uganda.

The two-year project, which is being led by Professor Matt Baillie Smith of Northumbria University, is being funded through a grant of more than £860,000 from the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

There are currently more than 70.8 million people displaced around the world, with 1.2 million of those seeking refuge in Uganda – the majority of them children.

It is hoped the project will highlight the volunteering roles these young refugees are currently involved with, and the impact such volunteering has, both on local communities and the refugees themselves.

The research team will work closely with young people based in four settlements across Uganda, which are home to refugees from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and Somalia. All have fled their home countries due to conflict, disease and economic hardship.

Over the coming months, the researchers will be carrying out interviews with the refugees and the organisations that work with them, as well as conducting group workshops and surveys.

They will also be asking the young people to document their experiences of volunteering through participatory photography – giving them cameras and asking them to photograph their day-to-day lives.

These photos will then go on display to the public as part of a travelling exhibition, allowing the results of the research to be communicated across the world.

As well as working directly with young refugees, the team will also collaborate with global South refugee NGOs, volunteers and leading global volunteering and development organisations.

Project co-investigator Dr Mills, whose previous research at Loughborough University has explored youth volunteering in the UK and the National Citizen Service, commented: “This new research will highlight the range of volunteering activities undertaken by young refugees in Uganda and the difference it makes to their everyday lives.

“We hope the project will help to share these experiences with a number of important audiences.”

She continued: “I’m delighted to be working as part of this large international team on such a timely issue. This new ESRC-funded research involves a range of stakeholders from the outset, and I am very excited about its potential future impact.”

The project team includes Dr Aisling O’Loghlen of Northumbria University; Dr Frank Ahimbisibwe and Dr Robert Turyamureeba of Mbarara University of Science and Technology, Uganda; Professor Peter Kanyandago, Dr Cuthbert Tukundane and Dr Moses Okech of Uganda Martyrs University.

More information on the ‘Refugee Youth Volunteering Uganda’ project can be found at

The research team also run a blog on volunteering, which can be found here.