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 development program that empowers refugee women to implement culturally inspired, play-based education in order to support the social-emotional, cognitive, and physical development of refugee children. Little Ripples operates in refugee camp Goz Amer, eastern Chad, one of twelve refugee camps hosting over 360,000 refugees from Darfur, Sudan.

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 Darfuri refugee crises, but very little purposeful capacity building, resiliency, and peace building initiatives have been built into this response. 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. A huge gap remains in early childhood education despite the large need.

Not only is early childhood considered the most important stage of development, preschool can provide stability, safety, and a place for children to recover from trauma as well as create developmental impact on the community for years to come. The first five years of development create pathways in the brain that help a child develop critical connections used in future situations. Key characteristics developed during this age include curiosity, dexterity, and socialization. Consequently, a brain with fewer positive connections made in the critical years can affect one’s abilities to function in life, and connections that fail to form may always remain as such. Furthermore, empowering women has proven key for successful education and child health initiatives.


The 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.

Evaluations of LR are done yearly, and the first follow-up evaluation of 134 students found impact on key social-emotional, cognitive, and physical development indicators. The number of students reported as never or only sometimes violent with other children (kicking, biting, or hitting) increased by 12 percent from 113 to 127. The number of students able to identify colors increased by 89 percent, able to identify four or more animals from photos increased by 200 percent, able to count to five or higher increased by 69 percent.


Future Developments

iACT is currently creating a “Little Ripples Classroom-to-School” program that will connect communities of preschools, Kindergartens, and primary schools in the U.S. with Little Ripples. The program will include a curriculum that follows the community-based curriculum design and activities, while offering an optional funding support aspect for elements of Little Ripples such as the meal program, teacher salaries, classroom resources and toys, or health and hygiene needs. Further, iACT has recently joined the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) and continues to apply to present at international conferences on education, refugees, and new models of development and capacity building. Lastly, iACT continues to evaluate and show the impact of LR.

Future objectives:

(1) Replicating the LR model in other refugee contexts: In 2016, iACT will partner with organizations in other refugee camps to implement and test the model globally.

(2) Finalizing the model and curriculum documentation so that Little Ripples can be easily replicated: iACT will partner with curriculum and design experts to format and complete the program’s approach and curriculum.

(3) Securing substantial, sustainable funding or partnerships to expand the program in eastern Chad and other global refugee contexts.

May 26, 2016 (last update 12-02-2019)