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Little Ripples: refugee-led early childhood education

Builds the longterm capacity of communities and supports the social-emotional, cognitive, and physical development of children ages 3 to 5.

Photo of iACT
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Written by

What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

The problem: According to the UNHCR, there are currently 77,500 registered refugees in Greece, 14,650 on the islands and 62,500 on the mainland, the majority of which are women and children. A report published by the Greece Education Sector Working Group found that more than 50% of refugee children ages 3 to 5 surveyed (of 1,047) did not have access to any type of education--leaving a generation of children vulnerable to irreversible long term damages. The root causes: The importance of early childhood development is profound; yet, innovative and comprehensive early learning opportunities for this age group are not prioritized or sustained within the global refugee response. Furthermore, existing services offered are fragmented and maintain the longstanding top-down humanitarian aid and services that disenfranchise refugee beneficiaries and fail to address the unique and comprehensive needs and opportunities within each refugee community. Little Ripples (LR) is an early childhood education program that builds the long-term capacity and addresses the unique needs of young children and refugee communities. iACT recruits, trains, and employs refugee community members to serve as the LR camp coordinators, education directors, teachers, and cooks. iACT provides them the tools and co-creates the program structure with them to foster true program ownership. Community members learn the LR curriculum and approach through three in-depth, participatory trainings and adapt the curriculum and program structure to their culture and context. Following the completion of one teacher training, community members implement LR and directly manage physical learning spaces, daily schedules, relationships with parents and the wider community, program resources and materials, weekly monitoring and reporting, and coordination with other organizations and agencies. Over 18 months, community members are considered “fully” trained and ready to peer-train others and scale the program.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

The idea targets refugees living in Katsikas Camp in Ioannina, Greece. Katsikas Camp hosts approximately 1,000 people from Syria, Kuwait, Somalia, Iraqi Kurdistan, Afghanistan, and several other countries. During meetings with community members, we learned gaps in services are wide and include for employment for men and women and very limited to no opportunities for young children, despite the desire and needs of the community.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

The way in which iACT engages and brings together community members to adapt and implement Little Ripples builds community buy-in, trust, relationships, and bonds. Little Ripples approach focuses on how the community members feel, how they are included, how they are heard, that they gain immediate skills and tools for self-care and to bring to their home, family, and employability, and begin to imagine their roles as educators and leaders with others in their community for a shared future.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

Little Ripples program goes beyond meeting the basic needs by applying a trauma-informed approach: Compassionate listening: Little Ripples model begins with listening and creating purposeful spaces where individuals can share. Helping to restore dignity by listening is essential for individuals and communities to recover from the effects of trauma to live more joyful and dignified lives. Mindfulness and choice: By integrating tools like mindfulness and mindful movement into Little Ripples, choice can be reclaimed by an individual and the community. Restoring relationships and community: Central to restoring a person’s well-being is rebuilding relationships and community. Little Ripples offers opportunities for communities affected by trauma to gather, learn, work, and grow together. Purpose: Purpose, participation, and contribution are some of the universal human needs. Little Ripples integrates that understanding by co-creating opportunities for individuals to move forward.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

Actionable impact: 1) Up to 200 children ages, three to five will be receiving trauma-informed, play-based care and education from trained caregivers in their community. 2) Community members trained and employed, receiving a salary, gaining tools and information to support their own self-care, trauma recovery, and development of their children as well as the skills necessary to adapt, implement, and manage a comprehensive early childhood education program in their camp, and beyond. 3) Little Ripples adapted with community members and uniquely designed to meet their immediate and longterm needs as well as build upon the existing community strengths, ideas, and resources. 4) Community members connected to experts, resources and a growing community of Little Ripples educators globally. Implementing Little Ripples is an iterative process: Positive change will be assessed through ongoing quantitative and qualitative measures and evaluated with community members and stakeholders.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

Our idea to expand Little Ripples to Katsikas Camp is inspired by the impact the program has demonstrated with refugee communities in Chad, Cameroon, and Tanzania and informed by our learning trip to Katsikas Camp in March 2019. Refugees have been traumatized by conflicts, violence, and displacement. In Greece, they endure the added stress of uncertainty, constant waiting, and government-led closing and opening of camps and accommodations. Parents in Katsikas Camp report feeling very high levels of stress and unable to address the needs of their children. When we asked mothers how they cope with stress, responses included: I cry, I break things, chores, avoid children, I talk to myself, sleep, take medicine, yell at my children. When asked how their children cope with stress, responses included: - She bangs her head on the wall and no one can stop her - He picks up a shoe and eats it - Screams and screams - Shuts down and doesn’t talk - Fights with others

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

“We have been here for two years and we have not benefited from anything in our lives.” The community of refugees living in Katsikas Camp is diverse, including people from Syria, Kuwait, Somalia, Iraqi Kurdistan, Afghanistan, and several other countries. The live in ISOBOXES and are a 30-minute bus ride from Ioannina and encircled by farmland. Women reported our listening circle was the first time they were asked for their opinion. There is no psychosocial support for anyone. The community lives in limbo and uncertainty: many in the camp do not know or trust each other; they receive a stipend which may soon be cut; the majority do not want to stay in Greece; the majority do not speak or are not learning Greek; parents report feeling very stressed and observe their children displaying symptoms of high stress; there are very limited opportunities for employment; and, even if people are able to find work they do not know where to leave their young children while they're at work.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

To create a healthier humanitarian system, refugee and displaced communities must have ownership, agency, and voice over the decisions and actions that affect their lives and futures. In implementing Little Ripples, iACT does this through listening to the communities we work with, co-creating programs and services in collaboration with them (the program looks different in every location), delivering training and tools needed for them to manage programs themselves, and empowering them to do so with ongoing support and follow-up training. This refugee-led process works to break the cycle of violence by shifting the traditional system of top-down aid to one that cultivates a new way of thinking about how beneficiaries are their own greatest assets. The community in Katsikas Camp (and partner organizations) is open and ready for opportunities to address the needs of their youngest children while simultaneously gaining skills and tools for their own self-care and employability in Europe.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

iACT is working in partnership with Second Tree and the residents of Katsikas Camp. Second Tree is an organization based in Ioannina and provides needs-based programs to hundreds of refugees in Northern Greece and gives refugees the opportunity to share their existing skills and build new ones. From early childhood education to opportunities for language accreditation, Second Tree aims to fill the most-needed gaps that exist on the ground. Beyond Katsikas Camp, iACT is working with Refugee Trauma Initiative in Thessaloniki, Greece, Jesuit Refugee Services in Cameroon and Chad, and Plan International in Tanzania. In the future, iACT aspires to continue to partner with small and large organizations to leverage the resources and expertise of iACT and partner organizations, avoid duplication, and create a humanitarian system whereby refugees and displaced communities have ownership, agency, and voice over the decisions and actions that affect their lives and futures.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Arriving and settling at a destination community

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Systems design: Solutions that target changing larger system

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Majority Adoption: We have expanded the pilot significantly and the program product or service has been adopted by the majority of our intended user base (i.e. 50% to 83% of the target population or 50,000 to 1,000,000 users).

Group or Organization Name


Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

iACT is a Los Angeles-based organization whose mission is to aid, empower, and extend hope to those affected by mass atrocities. iACT was established in 2009 in response to the Darfur crisis and since then has grown into a team of experts providing humanitarian action. In the U.S., we implement campaigns and leadership development in the U.S., iACT provides tools and training necessary to create a new culture of participation for people facing and responding to humanitarian crises. Globally, iACT believes that to create a healthier humanitarian system, displaced communities must have ownership, agency, and voice over the daily decisions, programs, and solutions that affect their lives and futures. iACT education, sports, leadership, and livelihoods programs are led by trained refugee men and women and adapted by each community. Through this model of empowerment, iACT programs create lasting and sustainable impact and can be replicated around the world.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country

United States

Organization Headquarters: City / State

Los Angeles


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