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LEMA -Literacy Education and Math Lab-

LEMAs are learning spaces that take place at homes, parks, shelters, other public spaces; led by community members as Learning Coaches.

Photo of Catalina González
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The Literacy Education and Math Lab -LEMA-, are learning spaces that can take place at homes, parks, shelters, and other agreed upon spaces in the community. LEMA uses play as a catalyst for learning. Using the learning games we have carefully designed, structured and tested across three decades of work, in a variety of social contexts and with diverse populations; children, youth and adults are able to develop literacy and basic math skills, fundamental tools to continue learning. The LEMAs are led by Learning Coaches. These are mothers, community leaders, youth and/or teachers, that are trained in our methodology; enabling community members to take direct action on education issues, promoting community participation and ownership. At the end of the process, participants are encouraged to write their own stories of survival, "Lessons for future generations". These stories are complied and published. The revenue of the sales of these books will be distributed among the protagonists and authors of these book. These books can also be sent to community libraries and schools, providing others with high quality and relevant reading materials.


Children, youth, adults, women, community members, teachers. So far we have developed programs in 10 countries. More specifically, we have worked with communities of returnees in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua between 1997 and 2000; internal displaced communities in Colombia since 1982, including El Salado on 2012; Haitian children in DR in 2013 and Liberian Refugees in the US in 2010.


1. Partner with local organization providing services to refugees 2. Provide training and materials to Learning Coaches 3. Start program to attend children, youth and/or adults


We have been working for over 30 years developing our model. Every experience is different and has particular conditions, our idea is flexible enough to accommodate community needs and challenges. All feedback is used to adapt our model to the conditions of the community we are working with. We pay special attention to the community and beneficiaries feedback. Most of it is used to select learning spaces and schedules, as in most cases they are decided by the learners. We seek collaboration rather than imposition.

SKILL SHARE (optional)

Need> Partnerships. Economic Resources for training and materials. Share> Experience, materials and proven literacy methodology.


We are an independent organization. The methodology was developed by Javier González Quintero, Ashoka Fellow and Schwab Social Entrepreneur. On 2014, LEMA was named pioneer at the "Play to Learn: Reimagine Learning Challenge", organized by the LEGO Foundation and Ashoka.


  • Yes, and I am looking for a partner working with refugee communities to implement this idea.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Mirette Bahgat Eskaros

This looks like a very interesting model Cataline. Have you tried this in Arab countries context before, and can it contextualized to serve different languages such as Arabic? I'm highly interested to try this out in Egypt.

Photo of Amir H. Mazrouei

Hi Catalina and Mirette,
I have the same question.
We are based in North of Iraq and we are working closely with the refugees and community leaders.
Would your product serve Arabic, as Mirette said or other languages such as Kurdish?

Photo of Catalina González

We haven't... yet.

Photo of Chioma Ume

Hi Catalina! Nice to see the LEMA idea back in the challenge. I'm curious to know how LEMA has been adapted to the refugee context in the past and how you might see the your idea changing in order to be applied successfully to refugee communities elsewhere in the world. Looking forward learning more!

Photo of Catalina González

Hi, sorry for my late reply. It has been adapted to refugee communities in Nicaragua and Guatemala, as well as in Colombia and some schools in Dominican Republic that received and adopted children from Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. We approach these programs as we approach others. 1) We train Learning Coaches. In the case of refugee communities we work with community members either mothers, grandmothers or youth. 2) We provide learning materials that use play as catalyst for learning, which can also be adapted to the cultural needs of the communities. 3) LEMA provides services on a continuos basis, no body is late, there are no grades, there is no homework, just playful learning in small groups that can get together in a variety of spaces from parks, to trees, to homes, to shelters. Every community and situation is different. All programs need to adapt to teh particular needs of teh communities and be sensitive to the human situation and conditions. We work with local and donor organizations to develop and implement the program.

Photo of Carole Robertson-Fenn

Ms. Gonzalez,

How may I get more information on this project for my adult immigrant learners in Washington D.C.?

Carole Fenn