Community-based reintegration of war affected young mothers: participatory action research (PAR) in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Northern Uganda

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McKay, Susan
Veale, Angela
Worthen, Miranda
Wessells, Michael G.
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University of Wyoming: Child Rights Information Network (CRIN)
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In this report, we describe a community-based participatory action research (PAR) project involving approximately 658 young mothers and over 1200 of their children living in the three war-torn countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Northern Uganda. Instead of using internationally-defined notions and adult-centric statements about what reintegration is, we sought to understand reintegration from the young mothers’ perspectives, learning from them about what constitutes successful reintegration for themselves and their children. The project supported the young mothers in implementing actions that they thought would assist them in achieving their notion of successful reintegration. The project was implemented through an academic-NGO partnership that brought together a team from 10 non-governmental organizations, three African academics and four Western academics collaborating on the project over the course of nearly four years. A central goal of the project was to support the implementation of the Paris Principles by providing inputs from the field about how to do reintegration with a strong emphasis on participation in different country contexts. The project centrally involves young mothers as highly-active participants who take leadership roles in program development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation, working to reduce the powerful stigma they face through their garnering of local resources. The project works to develop organizational capacity to implement programs using highly participatory approaches. Underpinning all our work was the principle of “Do No Harm.” Operationally, the project took place in twenty field sites in the three countries. At each field site, agency partners established groups of approximately thirty young mothers who joined together to work collaboratively to identify the problems they and their children were facing and implement initiatives to try and mitigate those problems. Problems identified across the twenty sites were remarkably similar, reflecting difficulties with social stigma, access to education for the participants and their children, access to affordable medical care, and sustainable livelihoods. With local supports and social action funds, young mothers’ groups prioritized their problems and came up with ways of addressing these challenges. Creative social action initiatives included hiring a nurse to teach about hygiene and sanitation, micro-credit to support individual petty trading, opening group businesses like a restaurant or a weaving cooperative, and building a collective groundnut farm on land donated by community members. In addition to the support experienced through the group process, these actions worked to increase the well being of the young mothers and their children and to bring them into the fold of the community. The findings of this multi-year project are highlighted below, followed by recommendations to practitioners, donors, and policy makers operating in the field of reintegration and post-conflict child protection. Multi-media presentations are available on the project’s website:
Social reintegration , Participatory , Peer group , Community , Economic livelihood
McKay, S., Veale, A., Worthen, M., Wessells, M. (2010) ‘Community-based reintegration of war-affected young mothers: participatory action research (PAR) in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Northern Uganda’. University of Wyoming: Child Rights Information Network (CRIN).
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