Professor Skran awarded Fulbright

Emily Gonzalez

In fall 2005 Claudena Skran, associate professor of government, will begin a research project on the role of non-governmental organizations with refugee resettlement in Africa. Skran was recently awarded a grant for $60,000 by the Fulbright Scholar Program that will enable her to carry out this international study. The project will take Skran to Sierra Leone – statistically the world’s poorest country – which must now deal with resettling refugees and displaced citizens after a brutal 10-year civil war.
Skran will be investigating how the current NGOs working within Africa – specifically in war-torn Sierra Leone – are addressing four major questions within refugee resettlement: organization, governance, goals and impact. Assisting the return of such large numbers of people in any post-war country is difficult, Skran commented, but with the case of Sierra Leone it will be particularly daunting and extremely vital for the NGOs to help with reintegration.
Already a struggling country – with a literacy rate of just 36 percent, a life expectancy of less than 35 years of age, and 250 out of 1,000 children dying before the age of five – the impact of war on Sierra Leone has been immense. Nearly three-quarters of a million people were forced to flee their homes during the civil war, and an estimated 50,000 citizens died. Though the war ended in 2001 with national elections the following year, the process of rebuilding the country, the homes and lives of its citizens will remain ongoing. Since the war’s end, an estimated 445,000 refugees and displaced citizens have returned to Sierra Leone.
The impact of NGOs on the returning citizens is a major issue that Skran will be closely examining; she’s particularly interested in how the NGOs have helped those with special needs – specifically child soldiers, female victims of sexual abuse, amputees and orphans. In addition to researching the organization and impact of the NGOs, Skran will also study how Sierra Leone’s NGOs interact with and work to create stronger links with local governments, local affiliates and national governments.
A member of the Lawrence faculty since 1990, Skran’s work has focused primarily on refugee interests and the history of the “refugee arena,” specifically in European governments. In the past she has conducted research on displaced people in Central America and has also studied the beginnings of private volunteer agencies – which led to current NGOs – and international agencies, such as the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. While recently teaching at Lawrence’s London Centre, Skran was able to meet with natives of Ghana, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and other former British colonies in Africa.
With this new project and the backing of the Sierra Leone Opportunities Industrialization Centre, Skran will be able to change her focus slightly and study the impact of refugee organizations on a more local and national level. The NGO study is particularly important not only for the impact the research might have in government studies later on; but because, as Skran commented, the lack of funding prevents many similar organizations from conducting independent research themselves and thus might help benefit them in future projects.