Little Ripples is a comprehensive early childhood development program implemented in Darfur refugee camps by i-ACT, in partnership with the Jesuit Refugee Service and the refugee community. More than a decade after the start of the Darfur conflict in Sudan, hundreds of thousands of people remain in refugee camps across the border, in Eastern Chad. In Goz Amer and Djabal camps, where i-ACT intervenes, about 7,500 children aged between 3 and 5 years old live without proper care. In an environment with such a lack of resources, parents are forced to leave home every day to find the necessities of living, and children are very often left to themselves. This prevents older siblings — especially girls — from attending school to watch the youngest children, creating a “ripple effect of negativity” across the camp. As importantly, children who are left alone are exposed to life-threatening dangers — from unknowingly starting a fire to falling into the river.
Through the Little Ripples program, i-ACT and partners provide a safe environment for children to thrive, offering them a shelter, an appropriate meal and daily care. Building upon the findings on early childhood education’s key role in a child’s development, the program works toward preparing students for primary school; while taking into account the specific challenges of a community exposed to severe trauma such as the Darfuri refugee community. As no preschools exist in Goz Amer and Djabal, children usually start primary education unprepared, speaking one of the six different languages in the camps, thus putting additional pressure on teachers. To help reduce the burden on them, i-ACT partnered with the community to build a curriculum tailored specifically for the children in Darfur, encompassing their culture and focusing on trauma-healing and peace-building. Little Ripples provides a space and curriculum framework that the trained woman refugees fill in with their own cultural knowledge. Children take part of group activities with a focus on learning through play. Through a comprehensive approach, Little Ripples also ensures that children are properly fed and keeps a close watch on their physical and mental health, as well as their cognitive development. Little Ripples preschools are the main shelter for children during the day, which enhances the importance of having an integrated program that takes into account education, nutrition, and physical and emotional health, as well as water and sanitation.
To reach the goal of building facilities for 7,500 children across the two camps, i-ACT and partners first run a pilot program, serving approximately 400 children. The team built a pre-school with six classrooms, an office, supply rooms and sanitary facilities. i-ACT hired and trained refugee teachers (women aged between 16 and 26) and implemented a volunteer system for future development. Involving refugee parents and the larger community is at the heart of the program, as the goal is to create curricula adapted to the community’s culture and needs. In 2015, the program will implement in-home schools, the “Little Ripples Ponds,” to reach more children in a time-effective manner.
The Little Ripples program takes its name from the ripple effect of sending children to preschool spreading throughout the community. The program will indeed impact older siblings who will be able to go to school instead of tending to the youngest, and the trauma-healing and peace-building efforts at Little Ripples schools will impact the future of the refugee community.
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CEI approaches in action
Two years after the Darfuri refugee community expressed the need of preschools to receive young children in the camps and accompany their development, the Little Ripples program opened its first preschool in Goz Amer camp. The pilot school is destined for 400 children. During this first stage, 21 refugee women between the age of 16 and 26 were trained to become preschool teachers, and 12 of them were actually hired for this pilot program. The first school site consists of 6 classrooms, an office, a kitchen, 5 latrines, and a safe outdoor playground.
In the future, the Little Ripples program aims to build a pilot school in Djabal, the other refugee camp where the program intervenes. This pilot preschool will also be serving 400 students.
By 2017, Little Ripples wants to expand to serve more than 8,000 children aged between 3 and 5 years old. The program's team also wishes to reach the 10 other Darfuri refugee camps in Eastern Chad.
In scaling up, Little Ripples will set a new model to host the classes, the in-home community centers or "Ponds." These "Ponds" will allow the program to serve more children in the camps, while keeping the care and education standards in the Little Ripples main school. The first pilot Ponds were launched in fall 2014.
Eventually, due to increasing food insecurity in the camps, the program will implement a meal program to help children grow and thrive. It will continue expanding, despite the increasing challenges in the refugee camps (fall in humanitarian aid, food insecurity, and reduction of health and education services as administration is integrating into the Chadian system).
Monitoring & Evaluation
Little Ripples partnered with the University of Wisconsin Survey Center to assess the program's impact on the children and community in Goz Amer and Djabal camps. For the pilot program evaluation, assessment team members also worked with relevant experts and specialists, such as doctors, nutritionists, early childhood development researchers, social scientists, emotional health experts, and an international surveillance branch chief at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The program trained a team of Goz Amer refugees to help conduct the evaluation.
1. The physical health of children clearly improved:
- 17% of the caregivers reported that children had persistent rashes, in comparison to 33% at baseline.
- More children always wash their hands after using the latrine, from 59% at baseline to 84% after one year at Little Ripples.
- Washing hands always before meals also increased from 71% at baseline to 97% at follow-up.
- Fewer children experienced diarrhea, from 33% at baseline to 27% of pupils at follow-up, as reported by caregivers.
- Number of children vomiting in the two weeks preceding the survey largely decreased from 46% (baseline) to 12% (follow-up), as reported by caregivers.
2. Peace-building and emotional health improved:
- More children were never or only sometimes unhappy — from 75% (baseline) to 87% (follow-up).
- More children were never or only sometimes nervous — from 73% to 89% .
- More caregivers reported children to be never or only sometimes violent with other children (from 84% to 95%) and with adults (from 82% to 97%).
3. Cognitive and physical abilities of children have developed:
- 51% of children could name colors at follow-up, compared to 27% at baseline.
- The proportion of children able to count to 5 or higher increased from 43% to 73%.
- The proportion of children able to identify 4 or more animals from pictures increased from 21% to 63%.
- The proportion of children able to recite at least the first 10 letters of the alphabet with no mistakes increased from 45% to 83%.
4. Children are less and less often left alone:
- Every day, about half (50%) of the parents leave their children alone or under the responsibility of other children under the age of 10, for 4 or more hours.
- 18% of parents in the community reported to always know where their children are during the day. A large increase was observed, however, in the proportion of parents reporting to sometimes know where their children are, and a decrease in the proportion of parents who said that they never know where their children are during the day.