Anthropology Faculty Featured in ‘Fighting For’ Series

Author: Arts and Letters

Encouraging a culture of self-reliance in refugee camps. Giving young people the tools to build peace in war-torn countries.

Notre Dame anthropologists Rahul Oka and Catherine Bolten—and the students they inspire—are researching ways to improve life for displaced and marginalized populations around the globe. The results were showcased in the University’s award-winning “What Would You Fight For?” series.

The videos originally aired during home football games broadcast on NBC and tell the stories of members of the Notre Dame family who fight to bring solutions to a world in need.


There are 60 million displaced people in the world, and every day, an estimated 40,000 people flee their homes in search of safety elsewhere. For many, a temporary stop in a refugee camp becomes a lifetime of dependency and desolation.

Ford Family Assistant Professor Rahul Oka believes there is a better way to provide aid to these residents. For several years, with colleagues in the Department of Anthropology, the Interdisciplinary Center for Network Science and Applications and the Ford Family Program, he has studied the evolution of trade and commerce, focusing on the formal and informal economies that develop within these camps.

Much of Oka’s research is done in Kenya at Kakuma refugee camp, one of the largest in the world. Working with the United Nations and the World Bank, his analysis suggests that when refugees can be self-reliant, they may have significantly better long-term outcomes.

Catherine Bolten, an assistant professor of anthropology and peace studies, has been researching issues of morality, development, and youth activism in Sierra Leone since 2003.

She is featured in a video highlighting the work of Prashan de Visser, one of her former students in Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.

De Visser, who grew up in the midst of a decades-long civil war, founded “Global Unites” while at Notre Dame, with the help of fellow classmates from around the world. The organization expanded upon de Visser’s “Sri Lanka Unites” youth movement. Its goal is to stomp out terrorism and extremism by giving young people options for peace in countries like Congo, Myanmar, Pakistan, Kenya, Uganda, Afghanistan, Somalia, Nepal, South Sudan, Cambodia, Sierra Leone, and Egypt.