24 September 2019
Students going the extra mile

Master’s student Elsemarie visited the Ugandan border area

Elsemarie Jorissen took the expression "Go the extra mile" very literally: in the summer of 2019, she travelled to Uganda, to a place near the border with South Sudan. Not for a holiday, but for field research on a refugee settlement.

Generosity has its drawbacks

Elsemarie's interviews with the refugees establish the impression that the generous policy in Northern Uganda is not working. The plot of land the refugees are given is small, and is also used to live on, leaving little room to grow food. In addition, the land in the north is not owned by the government but by the local population, who often violate the lease agreements and take the land back from the refugees. The land there is also drier and less suited to growing crops than in other parts of Uganda. Her conclusion: it is a national policy, but the implementation does not work in the north of the country.

Elsemarie hopes to complete her master's thesis on this subject in December. She plans to share the results with Ugandan policymakers and the refugees in the settlement where the research was conducted.

Important lesson: preparation is the key to success

Elsemarie discovered that field work mostly involves: preparation, preparation and more preparation. Arranging the possibility for her to work in Uganda took a lot of time (in addition to the usual research activities). This entails arranging things like obtaining permission from the government to research the refugee settlement, funding, transport, accommodation and interpreters. Building and using a network proved essential.

Looking back, she only regrets one thing: that she was unable to obtain more funding. That would have enabled her to better solve unforeseen setbacks, such as the breakdown of the car. However, this also forced her to improvise, which is an important skill in field work: it doesn't matter how good the preparation is, something unexpected always happens.

By: Mai Henckens