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Fruits of Literacy: Serving academic and psychosocial needs for recently arrived conflict-affected refugee girls

We seek to provide a safe space for refugee youth with limited/interrupted education to get well-rounded academic & psychosocial competence

Photo of Abel Mucyo
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What problem does your innovation solve?

Refugee youth with interrupted or limited formal education face particular challenges adjusting to U.S. schools. Many refugee youths arrive after lengthy stays in refugee camps where formal schooling is limited or inaccessible. These students are at greater risk for poor academic outcomes, behavioral problems, and high drop-out rates, in addition to language barriers and cultural misunderstandings. This program will equip recently arrived youth with strong academic and psychosocial competence.

Explain your innovation.

Between 2002 and 2013, the United States resettled 644,500 refugees, 24% of whom were school-age children (5-18) and 9% of whom were children under the age 5. Research by the Migration Policy Institute indicates that about 20% of all English language learners (ELLs) in high school and 12% of ELLs in middle school are refugee students who have missed 2 or more years of schooling. These histories have far reaching consequences on the academic and socio-emotional well-being of refugee youth. Although refugee students with limited formal education represent a growing population in U.S. schools and other resettlement countries, there is a gap in programming tailored to the academic and psychosocial needs of these youth. This proposal utilizes the human rights approach as its conceptual framework. From a human rights viewpoint, education is a human right to be realized and cultivated through any situation, including crises; furthermore, education is seen as an “enabling right,” providing “skills that people need to reach their full potential and to exercise their other rights, such as the right to life and health. The primary goal of the Refugee Youth Literacy Center is to offer a safe space for refugee youth, particularly girls with interrupted or limited formal education to develop well-rounded academic and socio-emotional competencies that will propel them to reach their potential, develop leadership skills and become positive role models and change makers in their communities

Who benefits?

The program will serve recently arrived refugee youth, with a focus on girls (age 5 to 19) with limited or interrupted formal education. Specific population characteristics include English Language Leaners, conflict-affected refugee youth, unaccompanied minors and youth affected by family violence. Particular focus will be paid to girls. It is envisaged that girls will constitute 60% of project beneficiaries. The program will complement “in school” learning by offering tailored “out-of-school” tutoring and mentorship to improve academic skills, literacy and promote positive attachment to school, “Youth-to-Youth” peer mentoring and leadership skills, summer targeted enrichment and academic support to keep youth engaged in learning, retain academic skills, develop leadership and healthy habits, and engage in activities that positively contribute to their communities. We will leverage technology to provide a tailored online learning experience.

How is your innovation unique?

Many programs in this space focus only on the academic aspect (cognitive needs). As part of the human-centered approach, and based on the feedback we got from refugee girls, we now know that this is insufficient. Our "comprehensive package" approach is different because we are addressing 2 additional critical aspects: behavioral and relational challenges. The users we spoke to requested for "one-on-one sessions with adults" to help with not just academic work, but emotional and relational support. The immediate phase of the program will be to meet this need for our users by matching them with adult advisors that are committed and experienced to serve this need. We shall leverage our connections and networks in the refugee/immigrant space to identify and recruit suitable advisors with drive and passion for serving refugee youth. Mentorship will be a mutually fulfilling cross-cultural experience. The program will be: Relevant, Measurable and Scalable

What are some of your unanswered questions about the idea?

We know that in the long-term, we want to use interactive online platforms for learning and connecting refugee girls to advisors. There are several options, but we have not narrowed-down yet the most appropriate platform given the unique needs of refugee youths. Another important aspect is ensuring that the program meets all state and federal requirements for working with minors/refugees. We need some legal expertise here, to make sure all requirements and regulations are followed at every step.

Tell us more about you.

I grew up in a refugee camp and experienced firsthand the struggles of refugee life. This is my motivation for wanting to make a difference in the lives of refugee youth. I have seen refugee conditions in Uganda, Burundi, and Congo. I have expertise in programs management, particularly with refugee and immigrant communities. I intend to use this knowledge and connections in the refugee space to coalesce a core team to help the program succeed.

What is the primary type of emergency setting where your innovation would operate?

  • Prolonged displacement
  • Other (please specify in next question)

Emergency Setting - Elaborate

A lot of attention is paid to pre-resettlement barriers to education such as violent conflict and discrimination. Post-resettlement, refugee youth face multiple challenges adapting to school and integrating into U.S. communities. Jenny Miller et al, 2005 reports that teachers working with these youth report difficulties such as withdrawal, aggressiveness, inability to concentrate, anxiety and hyperactivity. This program addresses problems afflicting youth in U.S. resettlement settings.

Where will your innovation be implemented?

Fruits of Literacy is a scalable idea. It will first be implemented in the top refugee-receiving state of the U.S. (California) which takes 10% of all refugee admissions. Specifically, a pilot project will be rolled out in Oakland, and gradually into other Bay Area cities. We envision scaling to Texas which is the second refugee-receiving state. Scaling will be made effective by implementing best practices and lessons learned from the pilot project.

Experience in Implementation Country(ies)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

In-country Networks

Networks and connections that will contribute to program success • African Civil Rights Center – Oakland nonprofit providing free legal services to African immigrants and refugees • Upwardly Global – National nonprofit helping skilled immigrants and refugee find professional jobs • Member of the Young Nonprofits Professionals' Network, San Francisco • City College of San Francisco and University of San Francisco • Plan to expand networks with Alameda County School District staff

Sector Expertise

  • I've worked in a sector related to my innovation for more than a year.

Sector Expertise - Elaborate

I am an International Development professional with 6+ years of programs management experience in the Global South. With a masters’ degree in International Development, I also have expertise in the U.S. nonprofits sector particular immigrant and refugee workforce development. Currently, I work with a U.S. national nonprofit that helps skilled immigrants reintegrate and rebuild their professional careers in the U.S. I intend to use this experience and connections to make the program impactful.

Innovation Maturity

  • Early Stage Innovation: I am exploring my innovation, refining, researching, and gathering inspiration.

Organization Status

  • We are not registered but plan to in the future.

Organization Location

We are based in Oakland, California - USA.

How has your Idea changed based on feedback?

1. Refugee youth struggle a lot with unfamiliar classroom teaching material, which makes basic academic tasks “too hard” – We adjusted our program to incorporate this need. 2. Not knowing appropriate school behavior: We incorporated interactive role-plays to help refugee youth learn and adjust to ‘how to be a student”. 3. We changed our program name to “Fruits of Literacy.” Previous name “refugee youth literacy center” did not resonate, users felt they were being labeled.

Who will implement this Idea?

• Program Director – Abel Mucyo (full time) • Tadios Belya – Legal & Advocacy (full time) • Onboarding & Outreach Associate (full time) • Volunteer and Events Coordinator (full time) • Academic Integration Associates, - 3 positions (part time) • Youth Counselor – 1 position (part-time) • Pool of volunteers – for academic/social/relational support • Leadership Council – Volunteers (unpaid)

What challenges do your end-users face? (1) What is the biggest challenge that your end-users face on a day-to-day, individual level? (2) What is the biggest systems-level challenge that affects your end-users?

Day-to-day refugee youth who are resettled in the U.S.after years of limited education face an immense challenge transitioning into mainstream U.S. schools. They don't know the norms of school behavior & struggle with basic academic tasks like paper and pencil tasks, this affects their behavior, leading to constant anxiety, withdrawal and negative attachment to school. The biggest system-level challenge that affects newly arrived refugee girls, is the "swim or die" approach in the U.S. school system where these students are immediately expected to integrate and adapt to the classroom academic and social culture with very limited one-on-one support from teachers or community support network.

How is your organization considering sustainable growth in order to continue making an impact over time?

At Fruits of Literacy, we will inspire awareness in foundations, businesses, and individual donors to take action and together build a sustainable funding stream that will enable young refugee girls to overcome barriers to education and academic achievement and break out of poverty. We will hold campaigns, host events, use fundraisers, and rally volunteers in communities, schools, workplaces to support our work.

Tell us about your vision for this project: (1) share one sentence about the impact that you would like to see from this project in five years and (2) what is the biggest question/hurdle you need to address to get there?

In situations of emergency, girls suffer most. They go hungry or miss class first. We will provide culturally sensitive academic and social emotional support to 5,000 refugee girls in the U.S. within 5 years and help them realize their potential, and assume leadership roles in their communities. Question: Given that the mentorship will be heavily volunteer driven, how do we recruit and retain a strong volunteer pipeline that is driven, culturally diverse to meet the unique needs of the youth?

How do you currently measure (or plan to measure) outcomes for this project?

We plan to measure outcomes by collecting pre-program data on student academic and classroom behavioral incidents, and then gathering data on the same population post-program, to compare for differences or changes in the success rate of program beneficiaries.

What is the timeline for your project Idea? What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years?

Year 1: Administrative work, legal, stakeholders workshops, pre-program data collection and program rollout. Year 2: Assessment of lessons learned from year one, program tune-up/adjustment and scale-up Year 3: Build on expertise attained for more impactful scale-up & undertake impact assessment

My organization's operational budget for 2016 was:

  • We didn't have an operating budget

How many of your team’s paid, full-time staff are currently based in the location where the beneficiaries of your proposed Idea live?

  • Under 5 paid, full-time staff

Is your organization registered in the country that you intend to implement your Idea in?

  • We are not a registered entity.

How long have you and your colleagues been working on this Idea together?

  • Between 6 months and 1 year

What do you need the most support with for your innovation?

  • Business Development / Partnerships Support
  • Business Model Support
  • Program/Service Design
  • Other Technical Expertise

Attachments (1)

User_Experience_Map_Fruits of Literacy.pdf

User Experience Map, with a scenario on how the program will help refugee girls successfully adapt and transition into the mainstream U.s. school system.

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Hi Horizon#1, great to have you in the Challenge! Just wanted to remind you of the deadline in case you wanted to submit to the Challenge. The Ideas Phase closes June 25 at 11:30PM PST. Make sure your idea is published so others can see it! Only published ideas are eligible.

Also don't forget to answer all of the questions and make your post visual by adding a picture! And here's some tips on adding visual goodness to your idea: plus more on evolving your thought-starter: