J. Boulet - June 22, 2021

Author(s): Samier Mansur
Source: Journal on Education in Emergencies, Vol. 7 No. 1 (June 2021), pp. 150-163

Fifty Rohingya girls and boys from Myanmar sat packed under the shade of a
makeshift tent, unsure how to respond to the question I asked them: “What do
you want to be when you grow up?” It dawned on me in that moment that no
one had asked them this question since they arrived in their new surroundings.
Indeed, perhaps no one had ever asked them this question.
One year earlier, these children’s lives were violently uprooted. Their homes
and villages were burned down, their fathers were executed and their mothers
gang-raped by soldiers at gunpoint, and their siblings were flung into burning
huts. As Rohingya refugees fled into Bangladesh, humanitarian agencies were
overwhelmed by what they called a children’s crisis, as more than 60 percent of
the nearly one million Rohingya refugees were children (Alexander 2017). With
refugee displacement around the world currently lasting an average of 25 years
(“Contribution to the Fifteenth” 2017), these Rohingya children are likely to reach
adulthood in the camps.
When they first arrived in the camps, it quickly became clear what these children
had endured. Clutching crayons in their tiny hands, they expressed on paper
what they were battling within, using green for army uniforms, orange for fire,
black for machine guns, brown for lifeless bodies, and red for blood. I had never
seen crayons used in this way until that day. I was in the tent with the children
because it was a part of a child-friendly space (CFS) I founded in partnership
with the JAAGO Foundation, a local Bangladeshi organization dedicated to the
education and welfare of underserved children, whose name means “WAKE UP!”
in Bengali. JAAGO Foundation provides schooling for children in the slums and
remote parts of the country who historically have fallen outside the jurisdiction
of government schools. We named this place the Safe Haven and designed it as
a space of protection, learning, and healing for 500 Rohingya refugee children
ages 4 to 15 who were survivors of genocide.
My task as a founder and initial trustee of Safe Haven was to ensure that local aid
workers and facility coordinators received the necessary mental health training
to play a healing role in the children’s lives. During this process, I made the
startling observation that aid workers, parents, and caregivers (the adults who

play the most influential role in a child’s life) on the front lines of conflict and
crisis zones do not have adequate access to training or the resources they need
to help children—especially the youngest—work through the unique challenges
to their mental health and wellbeing.
I sought to learn more about early childhood development (ECD) training
approaches and the accessibility gap by conducting a series of interviews and focus
groups with members of leading humanitarian agencies and local nongovernmental
organizations (NGOs). Thus I learned the true extent of the problem—or, indeed,
the open secret that this challenge is not unique to the Rohingya refugee camps
but a systemic global challenge with far-reaching consequences. Fortunately, we
now have an opportunity to address it in a meaningful way.
After founding Safe Haven, I launched No Limit Generation (NLG), a global
platform to provide aid workers, ECD professionals, educators, parents, and
youth-serving professionals the critical training and resources they need to
address child wellbeing. NLG partnered with JAAGO Foundation and global
humanitarian organizations to implement training programs. NLG works with
leading professionals to create engaging video training curricula designed to
help local and international organizations respond more effectively to the mental
health and ECD needs of children, both broadly and specifically, and to address
the most pressing issues faced by children. NLG’s pilot launched in May 2019, and
its open-access platform has had promising results with frontline aid workers,
parents, and caregivers. Based on the pilot results (detailed below), the NLG
platform has helped its partner organizations in the Rohingya refugee camps in
Bangladesh develop literacy in child wellbeing and mental health. To date, the
platform has been accessed in 100 countries by approximately 15,000 frontline
professionals, parents, and other caregivers.
This field note, a contribution to the field of ECD in emergencies in which I
share my team’s research, experience, and insights, provides a snapshot of my key
takeaways from our work on the ground from my perspective as the organization’s
founder. I describe NLG’s innovative approach to training practitioners and how it
emerged from field research that included interviews and focus group discussions
with frontline humanitarian agencies and local NGOs working in the Rohingya
refugee camps in Bangladesh. I also offer practical insights for practitioners
who support ECD in emergency contexts, including the untapped potential of
using technology to provide staff training, the effectiveness of a human-centered
communications approach to enhance training outcomes, and key challenges to
consider for future programming.