Living, Eating and Learning: Children’s Experiences of Change and Life in a Refugee Camp
Atkinson, Lucy C
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This is a study about children living in an unusual setting, a refugee camp. It recognizes that this situation causes disruption to children’s lives but rather than focusing exclusively on this disruption, emphasizes the children’s everyday experiences of continuity and change as interpreted through their position as social actors. The study is based on 2 years of fieldwork conducted in Kala refugee camp in Zambia using participatory and child-centred research techniques. It studies the children’s everyday lives in order to gain a picture of continuity and change, and in particular, how these are experienced by the children. Going to school, working and playing remain central to children’s lives but these are experienced differently in the camp. By locating children as agents within their social context, this study considers the wider impact of the camp setting on children’s experience of growing up. Children’s preoccupations reflect those of the social group but include a unique child perspective on these issues. Dependency on NGO provision of food is a key defining characteristic of their refugee experience. The impact of this reaches beyond provision of nutrition due to the importance of food in economic and social transactions, as a means of defining social relations and its symbolic role in everyday conversation. These combine to provide a forum for the negotiation of power relations between refugees and with the NGOs. The study concludes that changes to lifestyle affect the way that children grow up and therefore have an impact on their ideas of identity and what is acceptable or desirable behaviour. Adults, who aim to ‘socialise’ children into appropriate behaviour, affect this, but ultimately children are active in authoring their own experiences, drawing influences from every aspect of their environment.