In the past couple of decades, the importance of community-based participatory programs have been highlighted through scores of research articles and publications and is now widely accepted as a fundamental principle of good public health practice. The main concept behind community-based participatory programs is that the community is recognized as an entity and involved throughout all aspects of the planning, implementation, and evaluation process. This is especially true for vulnerable people and populations, as they are too often and too easily pigeonholed into the simple role of the beneficiaries and rarely invited to join as a collaborative partner on the other side of the process. However, including the perspective and feedback of the community from the very beginning of program planning will allow for the most effective and efficient services tailored to a specific population.
i-ACT has been taking trips out the the Darfuri refugee camps since 2005 and at first started with advocacy missions to bring awareness to the the situation in Darfur. Over the years, as the i-ACT trips continued, i-ACT team members developed longterm friendships with refugees and leaders of the refugee communities and also gained a broader understanding of what life is like in these camps. Through many conversations with many refugee friends, the lack of quality preschool education and sports programming came up as recurring themes.
Truly, the call for Little Ripples and Darfur United Soccer Academy was driven by refugee voices. On a trip to the camps in 2010, Gabe and Katie-Jay were taking a walk around Camp Goz Amer with longtime i-ACT friend Umda Tarbosh. There was a group of young children singing in the shade in Arabic. When asked what they were singing about, Umda Tarbosh responded, “They are singing, ‘We need preschool, we need preschool!’”
Just as the inkling for Little Ripples and DUSA was generated through conversations within the community, one of i-ACT’s greatest strengths is our ability and ambition to constantly reconnect and communicate with the refugees to include their much needed perspective and feedback in program development. We know that no other programs have taken on this approach in the Darfuri refugee camps. For example, with the first Little Ripples teacher training, the teacher trainees were not used to being asked for their ideas in helping to co-create a curriculum – so many were used to being told how to do things in a preset condition.
In the next few months, i-ACT will be launching two amazingly innovative programs – novel in concept (although preschools and youth soccer academies are widespread throughout the world the Darfuri refugees have never had such programs in the camps) as well as how the programs are being constructed. These programs are pioneering a community-based participatory approach and collaborating with the Darfuri refugees in all aspects – from curriculum development to program infrastructure development to evaluation and data assessment.
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