I’m on my way to Cameroon for the third time. The travel feels familiar. I feel at ease and eager to arrive.
The first time I visited was June 2016. iACT Founder, Gabriel Stauring, and I had spent a few weeks in refugee camps in eastern Chad, and we extended our trip to visit refugee sites in southeastern Cameroon hosting thousands of refugees from the Central African Republic. iACT had been invited by Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) to see if there was a need to implement our Little Ripples and Refugees United Soccer Academy programs. I remember feeling struck by the lush scenery, energy, and liveliness of Cameroon as we drove eight hours from Yaounde to Batouri. Cameroon was a stark contrast to the isolated Sahel of eastern Chad. It was this June trip that solidified our commitment to work with and support refugee communities from CAR. In short, we knew we had to come back. At the time, very few refugee children across the refugee sites we visited were accessing any sort of preschool or early childhood support — not surprising since early childhood education is rarely a priority in global humanitarian response.
We worked hard to find the means to come back, but it wasn’t until 2019 that we were finally able to return. This past January, with support from a foundation, myself and our then Education in Emergencies Specialist, Kelsey Dalrymple, returned on behalf of iACT. JRS had received the funds to support 16 community-based preschools across four refugee sites in southeastern Cameroon.
However, their preschool program faced low levels of enrollment and JRS did not have the capacity to provide early childhood education teacher training to their employed teachers. Our aim was to serve as technical advisors by providing teacher training to JRS teachers, to work with JRS and their teachers to identify ways to improve the quality of the preschool program, and to shift more ownership of the program to the community. Over one week, we facilitated Little Ripples Teacher Training I. It was an exciting trip. We were adapting the Little Ripples refugee-led model to a completely new context and a new community and sharing our approaches and tools with JRS.
Now, months later, I’m returning to follow-up on our January trip and training. I’m with Traca Gress, one of our iACT Mindfulness Advisors, and together we will be facilitating the Little Ripples Teacher Training. Over the summer, JRS experienced a very high turnover of teachers, so we will again cover Teacher Training I. It will be a mostly new group of 48 men and women teachers and cooks working across 16 community-based preschool centers, reaching more than 1,200 boys and girls. We’ll also be delivering our iACT LEAD with EMPATHY curriculum—a peer-taught curriculum, grounded in mindfulness, empathy and restorative justice, to support the leadership development of men and women.
Then, following the six days of training, Traca and I will be visiting four refugee sites and meeting with the parent committees of the 16 community-based preschools at each site. These parent committees are a mix of Cameroonian and refugee parents who are responsible for managing each preschool. We will introduce Little Ripples to each committee and engage them in learning and practicing key aspects of the Little Ripples curriculum and pedagogy. We believe it’s important that we support and strengthen every component of the preschool program and the capacity of the community to lead early childhood education. That is why we invite cooks to participate in our Teacher Training and why we’re going to be sharing the Little Ripples approach with the parent committees.
At iACT we believe that every refugee boy and girl deserves to be uniquely seen for who they are. They deserve to attend a preschool program where teachers are trained and equipped to cultivate their learning, development, well-being, and dreams. And so, we pour ourselves into every trip, every training, every interaction, and we look for every opportunity to return. I’m so grateful that I get to be here once again, doing this work.