Little Ripples: Culturally Inspired Pre-School

About the Project

This project is one of the 2016 WISE Awards winners.

Little Ripples (LR) provides a cost-effective and replicable early childhood education and care (ECEC) in emergencies program that trains and employs refugees to support the social, emotional, cognitive, and physical development of refugee children ages three to six. iACT partners directly with forcibly displaced communities to lead, manage, and expand programs. The program was first launched in 2013 in refugee camp Goz Amer, eastern Chad, one of twelve refugee camps hosting over 330,000 refugees from Darfur, Sudan. Since 2016,  the LR program has been successfully replicated in neighboring refugee camps in Chad and several refugee communities in other countries. LR is led by: Burundian refugees in Tanzania, in partnership with Plan International; Central African refugees in Cameroon, through our partner the Jesuit Refugee Service; and refugee communities in Greece with support from Second Tree. 

The program is based upon utilizing the structures and human resources at hand, thereby eliminating the need for costly construction and instead focusing on providing refugees with substantial access to expertise, resources, curriculum, and training. The LR skeleton curriculum is introduced to teachers during a comprehensive, participatory training. Upon completion of training, teachers adapt and implement the curriculum with activities, songs, and stories reflecting their culture, context, experiences, and the needs of the children. The LR model has been recognized as an outstanding, cost-effective community-based solution by UNHCR, JRS, OpenIDEO, and UK Aid. iACT has been asked by organizations to expand LR in eastern Chad, and into South Sudan, Jordan, and Cameroon.

Context and Issue

Since 2003, the international humanitarian community has provided basic services – food, water, shelter, primary school education – in response to the displacement of Darfuri refugees. With budget cuts and challenges of implementing on the edge of conflict, UNHCR and implementing partners now only provide bare minimum primary and secondary school education. For ECEC, the resources given were even more limited. Before LR, the only early childhood program was underfunded, teachers received little training, and did not have a curriculum. This left a huge gap in early childhood education despite the immense need. Today, despite the increasing recognition of the critical importance of ECEC in the first five years of development, a critical gap remains in the humanitarian response system to mitigate the adverse consequences of emergency settings on young children’s development.

Early childhood is considered the most important stage of development. The first five years of development create brain pathways that help the child develop critical connections used in future situations. These characteristics include curiosity, dexterity, and socialization. Consequently, the quality of early experiences can either determine a solid or a fragile foundation for future development. Hence, a brain with fewer positive connections made in the critical years can affect one’s abilities to function in life. Connections that fail to form may always remain as such. ECEC can provide stability, safety, and a place for children to heal from trauma and cultivate a strong developmental foundation for years to come. Research also shows that empowering women is proven critical for successful education and child health initiatives.

Solution and Impact

Little Ripples (LR)’s refugee-led program design, methodology and tools which promote the social- emotional learning of refugee children. The project does not compromise quality education and child development, despite being implemented with a hard-to-reach population in isolated refugee camps. Traditional refugee education programs are siloed to only focus on teaching educational milestones such as literacy and numeracy through rote learning; they do not focus on dynamic training and professional development of refugee teachers or the social-emotional learning, empathy, and nutrition of refugee children.

In contrast to other actors and traditional refugee education, LR is designed to be co-developed with, and completely led by the refugees. iACT employs refugee women to serve as the teachers and leaders; gives them access to expertise, resources, curriculum, and training; and supports them in managing all aspects of the program. iACT does not remain in the camps to micromanage. The program is built on the trust and belief that, given the right tools and ownership, the refugees are capable of implementing and managing the program.

The LR skeleton curriculum is uniquely co-created by experts in early childhood development, trauma recovery, mindfulness, and preschool education, ensuring the program includes best practices of early childhood development for refugee children. The curriculum teaches literacy and numeracy, but more importantly, it is built on play-based and social-emotional learning, empathy development, positive behavior management, peace building, and mindfulness. Teachers learn this curriculum through participatory training and then adapt the curriculum to their culture and context, adding activities, stories, and games. The program also provides a daily meal to each student, managed by mothers from the community.

iACT also found an increase in children’s cognitive development. In our first year of implementation in Chad, the number of students who were able to count to five or higher increased from 43 % to 73 %; the number of students who were able to recite ten letters of the alphabet increased from 45% to 83%; and the number of students who were able to identify four or more animals from pictures increased from 21 % to 63 %. In our camps in Mile and Kounoungou, Chad, 63% of children could recite up to, or more than, the 10th letter of the Arabic alphabet, and 64% of children were able to count to 10. At follow-up, in total from both camps, more than 50% of students in the LR program were able to identify 4 to 5 colors. More recently, in Tanzania, 90% of all LR students passed their end-of-year academic assessment.

Future Developments

With an increased interest by funders, NGOs, and governments to support ECEC, iACT seeks to scale the impact of LR through a consultancy-based partnership model with NGOs seeking to provide ECEC in emergencies and at the point of transition between the emergency and development phases in conflict-affected contexts. iACT would like to offer NGOs and governments a suite of core resources for LR, a globally recognized ECEC intervention:

  1. Community-led program design
  2. Curriculum, LRTTs, and a train-the-trainer model (where appropriate)
  3. Procuring LR Box materials and translation of materials
  4. Providing ongoing research & development for a cutting-edge early learning program
  5. Remote program support 

Finally, iACT will facilitate the refugee-led expansion of the LR program and livelihood solutions in eastern Chad camps. The refugee camp-based staff will independently scale the program in two new camps in eastern Chad. In an effort to support the long-term sustainability of the program, iACT will also facilitate the creation and implementation of livelihood solutions that fit each unique community in all six camps. This expansion could allow LR to reach other 800 new children in 18 new in-home centers. iACT also plans to return to CAR and work with education partners to train more teachers, directors, and parents. 

May 26, 2016 (last update 02-14-2021)