iACT continues its support of early childhood education for children of the Central African Republic
The Central African Republic (CAR) is among the world’s 10 poorest countries and has been rife with conflict for over 60 years. Disruption of familial and community structures, psychological trauma, acute shortage of resources, and lack of educational opportunities deeply affects the wellbeing of young children and youth whose futures will be shaped by their experiences in conflict and displacement.
Since 2013, CAR’s Prefecture of Ouaka has experienced repeated episodes of violence and conflict, including in its capital, Bambari. Although peace is being restored, children continue to be the most impacted by the conflict.
In 2017, iACT and Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) formed a partnership to support young children affected by conflict across CAR. Together with local actors, including the Enseignement Catholique Associé de Centrafique, we began by focusing on strengthening the capacity of community-based teachers working in preschool centers in Bangui and Bambari. iACT’s role was to facilitate our Little Ripples teacher training with teachers from these centers and to begin to establish a train-the-trainers model to scale the training long-term. Little Ripples teacher training is a four-day, experiential training that guides teachers through understanding the unique needs of children affected by conflict and displacement and how to respond with trauma-informed care, and play-based learning, storytelling, mindfulness, and positive behavior management.
We completed teacher training in Bangui in 2017 and in 2021 with a group of 30 teachers, and this March, with support from the Bainum Family Foundation, an iACT team went back to CAR to continue the series of training with the teachers from 2021, as well as start trainings with a new group in Bambari. In March, we trained 26 teachers in Little Ripples Teacher Training II, and 30 teachers in Little Ripples Teacher Training I. Collectively, these teachers are reaching nearly 4,000 children. The plan is to return again in the fall and continue with both groups of teachers. The hope is that through a train-the-trainers model, iACT can pass along the Little Ripples methodology to even more teachers who are leading classrooms in other areas of CAR.
Getting Creative With Resources
The Little Ripples training emphasizes creative sustainability and how education can happen for young children regardless of resources. The teachers in CAR are learning to become masters of creativity, an invaluable skill when faced with challenges and limited access to resources. With little government support, the people of CAR struggle for basic necessities; and preschools are often dependent on the stretched budgets of NGOs which make books and other educational items a luxury many teachers cannot provide.
During brainstorming discussions about learning materials, the teachers in Bangui and Bambari offered ideas of items they could use in their classrooms: from things found in the natural environment—such as sticks, leaves, and flowers—to reusable household items—such as bottle caps, string, and matchbooks. They also learned there are many ways to tell a story, and in groups created new stories together.
Potential Opportunities in CAR
Between Bambari’s closest airport (called an “aerodrome”) and the edge of town is a string of camps for internally displaced people. The camps do not have much open space and are filled with mud-and-straw structures. There is a nice-looking, one-building school in one of the camps, with one small preschool nearby.
While in Bambari, we were able to visit a recently established village called Pladama. This village of approximately 1,800 residents was formed in January 2022 by internally displaced people who had previously been living in Bambari proper for about 10 years, due to instability and conflict that has occurred in various parts of the country since achieving independence in 1960. In Pladama, we learned that the only school was a primary school located two villages and four kilometers away. Students walked to this school if they wanted to attend. There were no other educational opportunities, nor was there access to any kind of organized activity for children and youth.
After its observance of iACT training in Bangui, CAR’s Episcopal Commission for Migrants and Refugees (CEMIR) requested to partner with iACT in expanding our work to other areas of CAR with high numbers of internally displaced people and with great need for training for preschool educators. We hope to find funding to be able to partner with CEMIR and address this need.
Our Hope for CAR
Our hope is that every child in the Central African Republic spends time each week playing and experiencing joy in a safe space promoting peace, helping, and sharing; and where creativity, problem-solving, compassion, and empathy are nurtured.
Imagine how that changes the future for those children, their communities, and their country.