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RYVU: Meet Dr Cuthbert Tukundane, Uganda Martyrs University

23rd June 2022

Refugee Youth Volunteering Uganda (RYVU) is an international research project looking at how volunteering affects skills, employability and inequalities experienced by young refugees in Uganda.

The project is led by Northumbria University in collaboration with Loughborough University, Uganda Martyrs University and Mbarara University of Science and Technology in Uganda.

To mark Refugee Week 2022, we’ve taken the opportunity to catch up with members of the research team and find out about their contribution to the study, which has explored the relationship between volunteering and livelihoods for young refugees.

Please tell us about yourself, your research interests and how you became involved with the RYVU project.

Caption: Dr Cuthbert Tukundane.I am currently a Senior Lecturer in the school of Arts and Social Sciences at Uganda Martyrs University. My research interests are in the areas of youth, education, and the labour market. In the beginning of 2018 I received an email from Professor Matt Baillie Smith asking me if I was interested in working with him and other researchers on a Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) grant proposal. He had come across some of my publications online which addressed issues to do with vocational skills development for young people in Uganda. Since Matt and his team were working on a proposal addressing an area in line with my research interests – volunteering, skills and employability – I immediately said yes. It’s been a great pleasure working with the RYVU team over the past three years.

Outline your contribution to the research and the most important thing you have learned.

My contribution to the research has been to bring in my research experience of skills development and making connections with relevant stakeholders in my existing networks. I have also been doing some project administrative work as project Co-Investigator and coordinator at my university. I am currently involved in the writing of academic papers which we will use to disseminate the findings of our study to the members of the academic community. The most important thing I have learned from this research is that working in a multidisciplinary team helps to get the work done easily because of a combination of diverse skills and experiences.

Tell us how the young refugees involved in this research negotiate acquiring new skills and participating in their communities, the challenges they face and the role volunteering opportunities play in improving their future prospects.

I find the young refugees involved in this study a very fascinating group. In spite of being displaced and facing a lot of challenges, they are full of potential, resilience and hope for a better future. They like to volunteer to help their communities but also to acquire some skills to enable them find a livelihood.

However, though they like to volunteer, the volunteering opportunities aren’t that many and so some cannot find a volunteering opportunity. Also, some volunteering opportunities require certain skills e.g. language, technical skills, which some young refugees do not have. Nonetheless, a majority of those who volunteer do acquire some skills and connections that eventually lead to job or other source of livelihood.

What is the most important thing you feel we can all learn from this research?

The most important thing that we can all learn from this research is that besides formal volunteering, that is always talked about and written about, there are different kinds of ‘everyday’ volunteering that need to be valued as well. Everyday volunteering activities such as helping with food distribution, babysitting a neighbour’s child and helping out in the garden are common in the Ugandan/African context. However, they are rarely studied and sometimes not even recognised as volunteering.

How would you like to see the RYVU project facilitate change for the better?

I think RYVU has made significant findings which should help stakeholders in humanitarian assistance and refugee programming to look at volunteering, skills acquisition and employability from a new perspective. Accordingly, armed with these new findings, RYVU should find avenues to engage stakeholders in refugee work to disseminate the findings and to offer recommendations for change. Making presentations at stakeholder workshops, writing policy briefs and toolkits will make a good contribution to the fulfilment of the desired change.

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