Serendipity during the pandemic: Taking a community-partnered study about young, forced migrants online

  • Jessica Ball University of Victoria
  • Debra Torok University of Victoria
  • Suwannimit Foundation Suwannimit Foundation
  • Saw Phoe Khwar Lay Suwannimit Foundation
  • Spring Song Suwannimit Foundation
  • M. Htang Dim Chiang Mai University


This research update describes the transformation of a partnership project between a university-based team in Canada and a migrant-serving community organization in Thailand occasioned by the pandemic. Travel restrictions preventing the Canada-based team from carrying out project activities directly with young, forced migrants provided the impetus to explore an entirely online collaboration over 18 months. This shift flattened what would likely have been a hierarchical role structure, with the Canada-based team members positioned as experts and primary actors in conducting the project. The partners deliberated together about the cultural fit, desirability, feasibility and potential variations of the novel Peer Mediated Story Board Narrative method, which is intended both as a means of data collection and an intervention for migrant youth needing psychosocial support. In consultation with the Canada-based team, the Thailand-based partners undertook participant recruitment and piloted the method with diverse groups of migrant youth living in Myanmar and Thailand, using creative approaches including conducting the method online with groups of youth using smart phones. The serendipitous benefit of moving the partnership online highlights the potential for a more probing, mutually interdependent, less costly collaboration in which partners enter into an ethical space between partners’ worlds. In this space, assumptions, core constructs, and methodological fidelity can be challenged, new understandings can be forged and, in the case of this project, a sustainable approach to psychosocial support for forced migrant youth can be co-created. 


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Author Biographies

Jessica Ball, University of Victoria

Jessica Ball, MPH, PhD, is a professor of Child and Youth Care at the University of Victoria, Canada. She has worked as a researcher and consultant for international organizations, governments, and community organizations in Asia, North America, and Africa to develop and reform policies affecting the well-being of children, youth and families, and to strengthen local capacity to implement policies. Jessica has published over 140 peer reviewed journal articles, chapters, and three books. Her achievements have been recognized by numerous national and international awards.

Jessica leads a multi-sited, community-partnered research program on the experiences of forced migrant youth. The research has generated and evaluated a new method called Storyboard Peers, combining individual self-reflection, visual expression, and narrative accounts of migration related experiences and peer support. The method is effective for youth-centred data collection and for providing psychosocial support for migrant youth as they re-build their identity, belonging and resilience. 

Debra Torok, University of Victoria

Debra Torok is a doctoral candidate in Clinical-Lifespan Psychology at the University of Victoria, Canada. She has her MSc in Clinical Psychology from the University of Victoria. As part of the Youth Migration Project research team, Debra’s research focuses on experiences of forced migrant youth residing in transit in Malaysia and along the Thai-Myanmar border. 

Suwannimit Foundation, Suwannimit Foundation

Suwannimit Foundation is a migrant-led, migrant-serving, non-profit organization based in Mae Sot, Thailand. Its mission is to enhance social and health services to vulnerable children and families living along the border between Thailand and Myanmar (particularly those in Tak province).  It supports the operational capacity and programming impact of its partners and promotes access to services provided by the government of Thailand (  The Suwannimit Foundation partnered with investigators at the University of Victoria to conduct research aimed at understanding the views and experiences of forced migrant youth. A main activity was piloting, evaluating and training others in the use of an innovative, peer-mediated, storyboard narrative method, called Storyboard Peers, to support displaced and refugee youth to generate psychosocial support for one another in contexts where there are few or no mental health or wellness services.

Saw Phoe Khwar Lay, Suwannimit Foundation

Saw Phoe Khwar Lay was forced to migrate from Myanmar to Thailand when he was 12 years old, as a result of civil war. He completed high school in a migrants school, a Graduate Education Diploma in Chiang Mai and majored in education and psychology post-secondary studies at Asia Pacific University. He currently works with the Suwannimit Foundation as a health program specialist. 

Spring Song, Suwannimit Foundation

Spring Song holds a B.A. and is a project office for Suwannimit Foundation in Mae Sot, Thailand. She works with community-based organizations to promote gender equality and child protection. She provides support to organizations on the Thai-Myanmar border that address gender-based violence and child maltreatment.

M. Htang Dim, Chiang Mai University

M. Htang Dim (Angela) is a lecturer in the Department of English at Chiang Mai University, Thailand. She holds an MSc in Counselling from Assumption University and an MA in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from the Payap University in Thailand. She is currently completing doctoral studies in Counselling Psychology and has worked for over two decades with marginalized populations in Thailand.