Finding purpose through altruism: The potential of ‘doing for others’ during asylum

Helen Claire Smith*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Refugees are increasingly acknowledged as facing significant occupational injustice, and they experience multiple barriers to finding meaningful occupational opportunities. Occupation has enormous potential for enhancing the post migratory experience, but choice of occupation is important. People strive to move beyond simply ‘keeping busy’ to find occupations of real meaning that meet personal and cultural needs. This paper reports selected findings from a phenomenological study exploring the occupational experiences of people seeking asylum in the United Kingdom. Data were gathered through a series of in-depth interviews with 10 participants. The findings reveal that participants held a preference for altruistic occupations, where altruism is the principle or practice of doing for others, which was expressed through, or a motivation for, a range of occupations. These occupational choices were prompted by kinship, empathy, learned behaviour and moral principles. The occupations appeared to promote connectivity, positive sense of self and a connection between past and present occupations, called here ‘occupational constancy’. In seeking occupations rich with meaning and purpose, the drive to ‘do for others’ might provide individuals with opportunities to live well in the here and now, and rise above the hardship and marginalisation of asylum and forced migration. In conclusion, I assert that doing of others can be particularly meaningful, and may provide opportunities for personal, social and cultural rewards.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-99
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Occupational Science
Issue number1
Early online date11 Sept 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2018
Externally publishedYes

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