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Why Comics? Educational Charity: Using Comics to Meet the Contextual Needs of Displaced Children's Education

Our educational innovation uses comics to inform displaced children about health, human rights and protection, targeting girls.

Photo of Benjamin Dix
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What problem does your innovation solve?

Displaced children face educational disruption and vulnerability. There's a lack of collaboration between emergency education specialists and tech-savvy communication experts. WCEC combines both, with a wide network, excellent geographical reach and pedagogical innovations, to address: Hygiene: Public health, feminine hygiene Protection: rights of children/girls, gender based violence, psychosocial Rights: Rights of refugees and internally displaced, Geneva Conventions, right of returns

Explain your innovation.

Current humanitarian needs and massive on-going displacements increase the need for emergency education, but a gap exists in appropriate resources linking sensitive, vital topics and remedial education. WCEC use arts-based educational resources to transform learning, for self-directed or teacher facilitated learning. Our ethnographic literary comics are embedded with age-appropriate interactive contextual multimedia links and our free lesson plans are open to access online, download or print. Arts integration in education incorporates cognitive activities shown to improve long-term memory (Rinne et al 2011) and critical thinking (Abrami et al 2008). Students identify with the true stories ensuring relevance and providing emotional support. WCEC has reached over 27,000 schools in 30 countries by Sep 2017. Our innovation is to adapt this format for camps with refugee/displaced children, working with award-winning non-profit PositiveNegatives and Coventry University, UK. The comic format is accessible for any age, language, literacy level or learning ability and complements existing curricula. Children are well-placed to pass on critical information to others: hygiene, self-protection and rights. Specific resources for girls around sensitive subjects will reduce vulnerability. WCEC has pilot tested in over 600 schools in 27 countries and feedback from students teachers and parents is overwhelmingly positive. All our work is freely available on our website and social media.

Who benefits?

The main beneficiaries are tens of thousands of refugee children in Zaatari aged 10-18 who attend school irregularly, or not at all. Children suffer massively in conflict: increased vulnerability in displacement, sexual violence, reduced physical and psycho-social coping skills, and increased stigma for girls. We adopt a ‘whole child’ approach to education to benefit socially and emotionally. UN Security Council Resolutions and Geneva Conventions are rarely understood by civilians, much less by children, and there are no procedures for conveying such information appropriately. Awareness on gender-specific factors and health in emergencies is lacking. Education reduces the impact of interruptions caused by crisis; WCEC enhances awareness of hygiene, self-protection and rights, particularly for girls. Other beneficiaries are teachers and family members. Stress, disruption and lack of resources make teaching difficult, and our downloadable and printable materials address this.

How is your innovation unique?

Comics engage children more than books, fitting around camp duties for self-directed or group study, with/out a teacher or formal learning space. Our comics are based on ethnographic research, using individual stories to convey wider issues. Students identify with the comics, embedding psychosocial learning impact. Our asset-based methodology is culturally and contextually relevant and can be applied to a range of emergencies. For teachers, we provide lesson plans and guidance notes. WCEC supplies both remedial and contextual materials, with low equipment, expenses or expertise requirements. Resources can be viewed online/offline, on a projector or as a hard copy, complement existing camp education, and are easy to take-up for NGOs and educators. Comics are understood by children of mixed abilities, and meet both remedial and contextual education needs for displaced children, especially girls. WCEC adheres to international teaching standards from INEE, UNICEF and Save the Children.

What are some of your unanswered questions about the idea?

1/ How will we effectively monitor, access, take-up and impact in a refugee camp setting? 2/ What are the most culturally sensitive methods to teach children difficult and complex topics, in disruptive and challenging environments? 3/ How can behavioural change among children displaced in camps be effectively measured and assessed? 4/ How can we adapt this idea in future to address the needs of non-static refugees? Particularly in terms of initial research around educational needs and M&E. 5/ When creating resources for other emergency settings how will we efficiently connect with new partner organisations for distribution?

Tell us more about you.

WCEC, UK registered charity 1172791, based at SOAS, Uni of London, is the charitable arm of PositiveNegatives (PosNeg), a non-profit that produces literary comics, animations and podcasts around social and human rights issues. Our team is 90% female, all with relevant Masters Degrees. Collectively we have over 30 years’ experience in international development, communications, art and design. Coventry University (Cov Uni) is a sector leader in crises and emergencies research and education.

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

  • Natural disaster
  • Armed conflict
  • Prolonged displacement
  • Extreme drought

Emergency Setting - Elaborate

Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan houses around 82,000 Syrian refugees, and is a highly insecure environment for children to grow up. Crime, violent demonstrations and general instability all threaten children’s education, compounded by site-specific additional risks. Raising awareness of women and refugees rights is a contentious issue. We will coordinate with local stakeholders and sector specialists like child trauma experts. The tight boundaries of the camp allow us to efficiently conduct M&E.

Where will your innovation be implemented?

Of 660,000 Syrians registered with the United Nations in Jordan, 226,000 are children aged 5-17, and over 80,000 of these did not receive a formal education last year (HRW 2016). With the successful implementation in Za'atari, we will partner with wider stakeholders to adapt our educational resources to other refugee environments. WCEC and Cov Uni have the strong international networks, geographical reach and sector experience to implement such partnerships.

Experience in Implementation Country(ies)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

In-country Networks

Our team have previously worked for the UN, INGOs and academic institutions in various development projects internationally, including Za'atari, and have a vast network of colleagues that can disseminate the work. We will coordinate with the following: Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE), UK Forum for International Education and Training (UKFIET), SOAS, LSTMH, Care International, ActionAid UK, Oxfam, UNHCR, IoE, NPA and ACTED.

Sector Expertise

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

Sector Expertise - Elaborate

WCEC Founder & Director Dr Benjamin Dix worked as Communications Manager and Programme Manager for the UN and various INGOs. He has an MA in Anthropology of Conflict and Violence, and a PhD in Anthropology: ‘Graphic Violence: Representing Conflict and Migration through Narratives and Illustrations’. He is a PRINCE2 Practitioner. The rest of the WC team have MScs in Development Studies, Psychology and Anthropology, with recognised achievements in fieldwork, education, research and communications.

Innovation Maturity

  • Existing Prototype or Pilot: I have tested a part of my solution with users and am iterating.

Organization Status

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

Organization Location

Why Comics? and PositiveNegatives are based at SOAS, University of London, Bloomsbury, Central London.


How has your Idea changed based on feedback?

We prototyped a lesson plan from one of our existing comics. Feedback suggested that the lesson plan structure was more suited for a formal classroom setting, so the material should be tailored. We then consulted experts to meet the correct educational needs of our intended audience. Following OpenIDEO’s feedback, we now focus on impact M&E, as our previous M&E was aimed at initial responses (enjoyment, ease of use and relevance). We will use focus groups and surveys to conduct impact research.

Who will implement this Idea?

PostiveNegatives and WCEC commission a diverse range of artists and animators internationally with suitable gender and cultural / geographical backgrounds (like Syrians). In Za’atari, educators within UNHCR and UNICEF and camp managers will disseminate the comics and incorporate the material into existing education provisions. UN-partner INGOs will support implementation and reach. Cov Uni and WCEC will be responsible for data collection, M&E, impact monitoring and analysing behavioural and awareness change, based around 6-monthly visits to the camp.

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?

In addition to the disruption to education for displaced children, contextual factors compound their vulnerabilities. UN Security Council Resolutions 1325 (2000) and 1820 (2008) seek to increase civilians’ security in conflict, raise awareness of gendered impacts of war and address children’s specific needs like protection, but there are no procedures for conveying such information to children. At a 2016 workshop in Cairo on International Humanitarian Law and sexual violence in conflicts, the need for education was emphasised. Camp sanitation and health are fraught with risks, and girls lack sensitive information on feminine hygiene which doesn’t conflict with religious and cultural values.

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

WCEC, PosNeg & Cov Uni work on research and pedagogical projects funded by universities, research councils, think tanks and INGOs (Peace Research Institute Oslo, UN agencies, GCRF, ERC, RCN, IIED etc.). WCEC are based in SOASUL and assist with compliance for the ‘Impact’ focus for the Research Excellence Framework. We source funding from: grants, trusts and core funding, direct fund-raising activities, donations and investments and gift-aid. Now the ambition is to expand into emergency settings to address identified and reported needs, using and adapting our educational innovations.

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?

By Dec 2019, we plan a demonstrable impact for children in the areas of self-protection, hygiene and human rights awareness in Za’atari, and improved remedial education provision. By mid-2021 we will be replicating this model elsewhere, incorporating the education needs of non-static refugees. Q: After testing with static refugees, how will we meet the needs of migrating refugees and maintain our high quality, tailored educational resources? How will M&E be conducted on transient populations?

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

We measure teacher and student response to our resources (relevance, engagement, ease of use). We will also address impact measurement, setting research aims including behavioural change and awareness of our 3 thematic areas: hygiene, protection and rights. We will conduct M&E using surveys, focus groups and online analytics. Knowledge, attitudes & perceptions of children and their families will be measured before intervention, during and post-project (after 6 months).

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

Months1-6: Fine-tuning content, end-user feedback, comic production & other resources, partner liaison, launch in Za’atari. M 7-24: Roll-out of WCEC pedagogies. Implementation, trouble shooting, incorporation into existing curricula. Iteration and back-stopping support with 6-monthly site visits. M 10-28: Data collection, M&E, impact studies, outreach to wider partner network M 20-30: Adaptation of WCEC model to other environments & populations. Resource development for non-static refugees.

My organization's operational budget for 2016 was:

  • Between $50,000 and $100,000 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 seeking registration in order to implement in additional countries.

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

  • Less than 6 months

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

  • Business Model Support
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Team (2)

Benjamin's profile
Richard's profile
Richard Curtin

Role added on team:

"Why Comics? Education Charity will collaborate with Nucleos local-cloud E-Learning system. WCEC will supply content while NLCES will disseminate online resources."


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Photo of Morgan Harvey

nice topic but i prefer to use it's helping me a lot.

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