In the summer of 2007, focus groups and in-depth interviews were conducted with Liberian refugee women living in the Buduburam Refugee Camp in Ghana. The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the means through which Liberian families were able to cope with the persistent challenges of living and raising children as protracted1 refugees in a camp environment. The aim was to understand the refugees’ perceived needs and resources as parents of, or caregivers to, refugee children, as well as their perceptions of return to Liberia.
A significant proportion of the research undertaken with people who have been displaced because of war has focused on mental health outcomes and implications for psychological functioning (see for example de Jong et al. 2000; Mollica et al. 1997; Sabin et al. 2003; Tang and Fox 2001). This academic focus on negative outcomes tends to represent refugees, especially those in camps, as being immobilized victims of psychological trauma whoare helplessly waiting for assistance from the outside world. This prolific research agenda has been challenged by authors who reject these mental health assessments (Summerfield 1999; Bracken et al. 1995). These scholars argue that mental health assessments and outcomes have been taken out of context in the West, and applied poorly and prolifically to refugee and other war affected populations in the developing world. Fewer studies have focused on positive adaptation to life in exile, especially life in a refugee camp. Though studies like those by Miller (1996) and Tribe (2004) offer a glimpse of positive adaptation among refugee children and families, the majority of the literature is concerned with psychological assessment. It is difficult to strike an authentic balance between attending to the genuine suffering of the displaced without presenting them as helpless victims, and recognizing their adaptive capabilities without romanticizing their resilience. Thus, this study was designed to investigate the means through which refugees at Buduburam learned to survive, without assuming trauma and mental illness or sensationalized adaptation to camp life