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Preventing Another Lost Generation - Tent Schools for Refugee Children

Help ensure thousands of Afghanistan refugee children continue down a path of education over a life of extremism and early marriages

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What problem does your innovation solve?

The estimated 2 million Afghan citizens who fled to Pakistan between 1979 and 2001 are now streaming back across the border into Afghanistan with their families due to growing tensions between the two countries and increased police harassment to leave. Violence and insecurity are preventing these now twice displaced people from returning to their homes. Most have no choice but to settle across the border around Jalalabad, stretching the capacity of the already stressed and overcrowded areas.

Explain your innovation.

Human Rights Watch is calling this crisis, “the world’s largest unlawful mass forced return of refugees in recent times.” Many of the children coming across the border were attending school before they left Pakistan but over half of them may lose their access to education, as few resources for food and shelter exist, let alone education. These children are in great danger of being left behind. Last year, CAI and our Afghanistan based implementing partner, Star of Knowledge Organization (SKO) began developing an intervention and provided nearly 5,000 returned refugee children the opportunity to continue their studies by setting up tent classrooms around schools. However, these newly expanded schools are already under strain from even more children resettling and there are scores of children coming behind them. We are afraid that many of them will have to watch from outside the school tents, as the opportunity for education passes them by. Determined to provide access to education for as many refugee children as possible, our plan is to create an additional 107 classrooms at existing CAI-supported schools using tents, water systems, school supplies and additional teachers for roughly 5,500 students at 19 different schools across 8 provinces. If these children miss out on education now, they are not likely to ever return.

Who benefits?

Our beneficiary group is male and female students (special focus on girls), ages 5 to 18 in Afghanistan’s Jalalabad province. All of our participants are refugee children whose families are displaced, impoverished and suffer from limited access to vital resources. In addition to the refugee crisis, exacerbated gender disparities, extreme poverty, insecurity, cultural barriers and extremist views against women play a large role in missed learning opportunities for children in this region. This project’s immediate success will be measured by its ability to decrease the number of refugee children without access to education. Its long-term success will be measured by increases in the well-being of refugee children due to reducing the deprivations caused by social, economic and institutional disparities. We believe the long-term solution to terrorism and militancy is education and that the ideas of freedom, human rights and peace excite the imagination and brighten hope for the future.

How is your innovation unique?

When CAI began working in Afghanistan there was no framework or formula in place and no infrastructure to support it. Over the last 21 years, we have fine-tuned our ability to bring together disparate groups with varying agendas around a singular objective – the education of women and children. Despite the overwhelming need for aid in this region, security concerns and a lack of support from the international community are preventing other organizations from focusing their efforts here. Our project is unique simply because we are the only NGO actively working to address the lack of education for Eastern Afghanistan’s growing refugee population. CAI’s years of successful involvement with these communities and our in-depth knowledge of the region’s politics and history put us in a unique position to help.

What are some of your unanswered questions about the idea?

With such a fast increasing problem, our international program managers are still trying to find suppliers and find enough teachers to fully support the program.

Tell us more about you.

After witnessing the overwhelming need for education in Central Asia, Greg Mortenson founded Central Asia Institute (CAI) in 1996. Since then, CAI has been working to empower communities in Central Asia through literacy and education, especially for girls, to promote peace through education and to convey the importance of these activities globally. Wakil Karimi, director of SKO is the lead team member for this project and is diligently working to galvanize support for this crisis.

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

  • Armed conflict

Emergency Setting - Elaborate

According to a 2015 United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) study, refugee children are 5 times more likely to be out of school than non-refugee children. This is stark news for refugees in a country where 40% of the children are already out of school. Children in these circumstances are at a higher risk for dangerous jobs, recruitment into militant groups, child marriage and teen pregnancy. Fortunately, schools provide children a safe place to go during the day and a brighter future.

Where will your innovation be implemented?

Our project will take place in Eastern Afghanistan, specifically the province of Jalalabad, near the Pakistan border.

Experience in Implementation Country(ies)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

In-country Networks

Afghanistan currently has very few human rights mechanisms and an overwhelming lack of support around education. To address this, CAI is partnered with SKO, an exceptional though under-sourced local organization, as part of our efforts to form a strong network of independent NGO’s around Central Asia. For the last 6 years, our partnership has increased the amount of work being done towards education and we hope to continue this success as we turn our attention to the urgent refugee crisis.

Sector Expertise

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

Sector Expertise - Elaborate

Our ten staff members and twelve board members manage projects that repair and build new schools, award advanced-education scholarships, organize teacher trainings and pay teacher salaries. We also provide disaster relief assistance and clean water systems. Our numbers prove our impact: implementation of nearly 491 projects, including 193 schools, enrollment rates of around 100,000 students in CAI schools and hundreds of girls attending higher education on CAI scholarships each year.

Innovation Maturity

  • Roll-out/Ready to Scale: I have completed a pilot and am ready or in the process of expanding.

Organization Status

  • We are a registered non-profit, charity, NGO, or community-based organization.

Organization Location

CAI is registered in the U.S., based in Bozeman, Montana. SKO is registered in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, based in Kabul.


CAI works diligently to increase public awareness of the importance of education through its website, social media and publications. Website: Blog: Facebook: Twitter:

How has your Idea changed based on feedback?

Based on feedback, people were concerned how this project would work in such an unstable environment and how it differentiated from other efforts to bring education. To answer these questions, we really felt it was necessary to do a risk barrier analysis to ensure we had a plan to overcome all obstacles that might hinder our impact. Our team gathered together in a room and listed all of the barriers we thought we might face and changed our plan according to those barriers.

Who will implement this Idea?

CAI as lead partner will ensure the project’s success from a programmatic and managerial perspective. It will control all aspects of financial management, control expenses, and produce all narrative reports. This work will be done by our Development Director, International Director, and International Coordinator from the United Sates. SKO will lead the day-to-day implementation of activities. Program implementation will be done in Afghanistan by Country Director and Program Field Officer. The Ministry of Education in Afghanistan will assist in the development and approval of the curriculum.

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?

CAI conducted a risk assessment, user experience map, and stakeholder analysis which are all attached. The three highest risks to CAI are 1) security/conflict 2) attitudes and concerns from family 3) children not attending due to higher priorities like food and money. To combat these risks SKO will: • work with community elders to secure operational permission for the project from various local authorities and warring factions. • create Community Education Committees to outreach and encourage them to support girls’ education, and engage community leaders to reinforce this attitude change. • provide food during lessons and will provide staple food items at the end of the week for the entire family if attendance is high for the week.

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

A five-year business plan for 2015-2020 was developed to respond to the growing need and position ourselves for sustainable growth. It outlines how CAI will monitor the strategic situation, manage risk, and ensure efforts have the most impact. This plan encompasses methods to raise funds through mail and email campaigns, grants, and major donor appeals. Our goal for FY17/18 is to raise $3 million. We are fortunate to have a reserve fund, in case, unexpectedly, revenue is down or expenses are up. In FY15-16, CAI had $8.8 in reserves, guaranteeing CAI 5.67 years of operations.

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?

IMPACT: By 2020, we aim to bring tent schools to all of the 89 urgent requests from community leaders and district education departments, reaching 28,000+ refugee children, providing the gift of education, water, and food. QUESTION: With Human Rights Watch calling this, “the world’s largest unlawful mass forced return of refugees in recent time,”- How can CAI shed more attention to this issue, in hopes of providing more long term solutions to this crisis, which is only expected to get worse?

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

Two levels of monitoring are planned for the proposed project: internal and external. The internal monitoring will be done by the program staff and the external monitoring by Rahman Safi International Consulting, a consultancy firm with extensive experience in Afghanistan. This internal monitoring will be complemented with external monitoring by RSI, with the former collecting the information and the latter verifying it. This will expedite the collection process and keep M&E costs down.

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

CAI will manage the grant administration and reporting, coordination and communication of efforts, providing oversight to all the project’s activities, including the monitoring and evaluation, and securing of future funding. CAI will also use a learning-by-doing capacity building approach with partners and communities. This work will be done by our Development Director, International Director, and International Coordinator from the United Sates. CAI as lead partner will ensure the project’s succ

My organization's operational budget for 2016 was:

  • Above $1,000,000 USD

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

  • No paid, full-time staff

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

  • We are registered in all countries where we plan to implement.

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

  • More than 2 years

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

  • Business Model Support


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