Blog post by Sara-Christine Dallain MPH, Director of Programs, iACT. First featured on iACT's website

Recently, our early childhood education program, Little Ripples, was selected by the Promising Practices in Refugee Education initiative as one of twenty innovative, efficient, and quality education programs for refugee children globally. Launched in March 2017, the Promising Practices in Refugee Education initiative set out to identify, document, and promote innovative ways to efficiently reach refugee children and young people with quality education opportunities. This blog is first of a series of blogs that will share content from PPIRE and discuss some of the ten recommendations summarized by the Synthesis Report and how iACT’s Little Ripples early childhood education program is addressing some of the key recommendations.

This week’s blog focuses on recommendation #4: Adopt user-centered design and empowering approaches.

When working in refugee education, it’s important to remember that each refugee child arrives with unique experiences and needs, all of which require distinct responses. However, as the Promising Practices in Refugee Education initiative stated in their Synthesis Report, the rush by the international community to provide services to refugee beneficiaries—especially in emergencies—combined with a perceived lack of expertise at the local level, means that the actual participation of beneficiaries in education solutions is not realized or carried out in a meaningful way, leaving the unique needs of young children and their community unaddressed.

Failing to place refugee beneficiaries at the heart of solutions is a missed opportunity. A shift of perspective needs to take place when responding to refugee crises—emergency or protracted. We believe it is not about providing services to refugees but rather with refugee beneficiaries. Refugees arrive with their skills, experiences, cultures, and ideas. Those need to be heard, understood, and incorporated into humanitarian solutions and programs right away. Our Little Ripples early childhood education program does just that. Little Ripples demonstrates a shift in perspective, built on working with beneficiaries to design and bring an education program that meets the needs of each community and child.

Our model—what we refer to as our refugee-led approach—ensures the equal participation of refugee beneficiaries in adapting and implementing the program, including the curriculum and program structure, and also provides the tools, space, and support for refugees to become the leaders of Little Ripples in their community. Through our approach, the presence and management of international actors on the ground—our team members and our NGO partners—are limited, and instead, the refugee community is empowered to take the lead in the day-to-day operations. It’s the Little Ripples employed refugee camp coordinators, education directors, teachers, and cooks that fill the curriculum with their cultural stories, songs, and games, conduct Little Ripples program monitoring, facilitate parent and community meetings, make operating adjustments and decisions, scale the program within their community, and learn and grow from challenges along the way.

Through our approach, we’ve found that investing time and resources upfront in working with refugees and empowering individuals from the outset leads to more efficient, relevant, and sustainable education outcomes. To-date, iACT has trained 55 women as education directors, teachers, and cooks in refugee camps Goz Amer and Djabal, eastern Chad. In refugee camp Goz Amer, Little Ripples has been effectively operating since 2013, nurturing the development of 1,050 children ages three to five. Furthermore, veteran Little Ripples staff have led the expansion of the program within their camp community and to neighboring refugee camp Djabal, demonstrating ownership of the program and effectively maintaining quality early childhood development and education.

To learn more about Little Ripples, our approach, and resulting impact on children’s educational milestones and development, you can view the  iACT's Little Ripples case-study here or reach out to us for more information!