On the day before we were to get on a plane to the Central African Republic (CAR), we received an email from an expert on the armed conflict in the tiny, beautiful country. She told us to hold off and reassess our trip. She had received reliable information that there was a high risk of armed groups moving on the capital, Bangui. Just days before, there were reports of violence that killed more than a dozen people in CAR, in a region far from the capital. Well, nothing is that far from anywhere in CAR, but relatively speaking far from the capital. After more than a year of preparation for this trip, that was an “Oh, s_ _t!” moment.
Our California-based staff members huddled, and we took a breath. We then began to scan the news and social media and emailed our contacts in CAR. By the afternoon, the consensus was encapsulated by what one humanitarian worker in Bangui told us, “This is CAR. It is always high risk.” There could be an attack, and maybe not. It could be the next day, the next week, or the next month. There were no specific reports of armed groups’ movement towards the capital at the moment, so we decided to start our journey towards Bangui. It would take 37 hours and a few stops, so we could always hit “pause,” if we heard any bad news.
We made it to Bangui, and it was an inspiring and productive time working with CAR citizens that want a new future for their children, their communities, and their country.
With Katie-Jay and Felicia, our three-member team, supported by Jesuit Refugee Service staff, ran training sessions concurrently for teachers and prospective coaches in our Little Ripples (LR) and Refugees United Soccer Academy (Academy) models. We also had wonderful support from Sister Jacinthe, the head of the teachers association for the Catholic Church.
For Little Ripples:
4-day training in Bangui, CAR.
Trained 28 teachers from Mbata and Bangui.
Training covered early childhood development; program pillars of peace, helping, sharing; play-based learning including guided play, free play, and games; strength-based teaching and student management, and; mindfulness.
Hired 5 teachers to be the core members of Little Ripples and to begin training others in the model: 3 teachers from Bangui and 2 teachers in Mbata.
Delivered 2 full Ripples Boxes with early learning materials including vehicle counters, animals, mega blocks, books, set of balls, and more!
For the Refugees United Soccer Academy:
4-day training in Bangui, CAR.
Trained 18 coach candidates from three distinct areas of Bangui.
Training covered creating a safe space for children on the football pitch; program pillars of peace, helping, sharing; active warm-up and stretching; skills & drills; fun games and match play; strength-based coaching and student management, and; mindfulness.
Hired 4 coaches, two men and two women, from each of the three areas to launch the first Academy!
Provided additional training on outreach, registration, and conversations with parents.
Equipped coaches with a full Academy kit.
This is just the beginning. iACT is committed to sustained work next to people like our new Little Ripples teachers Fleur, Katidja, Johvana, Jeanne, and Jean-Jacques; and our new Academy coaches Stanislas, Néhémie, Gerard, and Mazva. They have not lost hope. On the contrary. They are ready to double down on hope, despite the high-risk environment CAR currently experiences. They are sad that the children in CAR are growing up with war and violence as a huge influence on their beings. They want to counter this by creating spaces where children can thrive and experience peace and joy. They cannot afford to pause this essential work until there are no risks. As one teacher said, “If you kill education, you kill the nation.”
Our Academy coaches began working immediately. We receive pictures and stories just about every day. It’s amazing and beautiful. Our chosen teachers returned to their classrooms and are going to transition to becoming lead Little Ripples model trainers. They have learning materials and will be visiting different preschool classrooms in Bangui and Mbata to share the materials and their knowledge about play-based learning, mindfulness, and more. We plan on returning to CAR in early 2022 to deepen and expand the impact, supporting our initial core group of coaches and teachers. One teacher said, “Hope has to come from within us. We cannot wait and expect it to come from others.” I feel privileged to be able to support that hope in action.