Students’ Welfare in the Center: Creating Safe, Inclusive, and Healthy Environments

Students’ Welfare in the Center: Creating Safe, Inclusive, and Healthy Environments

In a Luminos classroom in Ghana, students gather in a circle around the Luminos Program Coordinator, Suwaida Aziz. Students eagerly raise their hands to answer questions as Suwaida leads the class through “Your Promise,” a story for Luminos students to help them understand their rights and what to do if they have any concerns. Today, students listen to the story of Alpha, a child who has learning difficulties and sometimes mixes up his numbers.

“Can we learn if we have trouble writing?” Suwaida asks the class, prompting a series of hands to fly in the air. This short story about Alpha emphasizes inclusive learning and celebrating children’s unique differences.

At Luminos, we have the privilege of supporting vulnerable children every day through our catch-up education programs in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. In just one year, the Luminos program helps formerly out-of-school children learn how to read, write, and do math through a joyful, activity-based curriculum. At the heart of our mission is a firm commitment to protect children from harm. In the Luminos program, we have a zero tolerance policy for abuse of any kind. Students’ well-being is a top priority. Not only is it a fundamental right of all children, but it also helps them to learn effectively.

Topics Covered in “Your Promise,” a Story for Luminos Students About Safeguarding

Corina Wornee leads a session for students on their rights. (Photo: Mara Chan/Luminos Fund) 

“We not only teach and support students, but we also train and engage teachers, parents, and community members to ensure all students have a safe and inclusive environment and experience joyful learning,” says Corina Wornee, Luminos Global Safeguarding Lead and Liberia Senior Program Manager.

“By including the entire community, we ensure that everyone is more mindful of the well-being of their children. And Luminos is ensuring that learning is happening in a safe, joyful, and welcoming environment.”

Luminos takes a three-fold approach to ensure our student’s well-being: 1) safeguarding students’ welfare through extensive child protection training, 2) creating inclusive classrooms, and 3) supporting students’ health.

1. Safeguarding Student’s Welfare

We prioritize the well-being of our students by ensuring that staff are well-trained, students are educated about their rights, and there is a well-defined process to address any concerns. In all Luminos program locations, staff and teachers receive child protection and safeguarding training created by local and international specialists.

In these training sessions, we thoroughly review the Luminos Child Protection and Safeguarding Policy, covering topics such as child rights, classroom management, types of abuse, inclusive and gender-responsive teaching, and safeguarding with parents and the community. These sessions are designed to be interactive, providing teachers with frequent opportunities to apply new knowledge through case studies and role plays.

We also involve parents and community members as a holistic part of our child safeguarding strategy. Relevant topics are addressed in initial meetings with parent engagement groups before the school year starts and are woven into monthly meetings that teachers hold with parents throughout the year. Luminos strives to ensure all parents have a clear understanding of our safeguarding policy and their roles, and that they feel that the Luminos team respects their culture and rights to guide their child.

Finally, we make sure our students are educated about their rights so that they can build the confidence and skills to help protect themselves and their peers. Lessons are delivered throughout the year through a narrative format, using “Your Promise.”  Lessons are reinforced throughout the year.

2. Inclusive Classrooms

All children learn best when they are happy. Ensuring all students feel included and able to fully participate in class is essential for providing a joyful learning experience. To that end, we prioritize inclusion in every facet of the Luminos program, from teacher recruiting and training to classroom instruction. Reinforcing the belief that all children are capable of learning is critical. We also train teachers in gender-responsive teaching and work with parents to support girls’ learning by addressing gender-related topics in our parent engagement meetings. Our pedagogy intentionally includes using multiple techniques to engage students and present information in a variety of ways, maximizing learning for all students, regardless of background and learning needs.

Luminos students in Konso, Ethiopia, enjoying their hot lunch. (Photo: Michael Stulman/Luminos Fund) 

3. Healthy Students

We recognize that good health supports students in having enjoyable and successful learning experiences. Health information is often limited in the communities where we work, so Luminos integrates some health education into our daily curriculum. Topics include common diseases, hygiene, nutrition, the human body, and substance abuse, among others. In places where there is significant food insecurity, Luminos also provides a free hot lunch to our students, helping them stay healthy, concentrate better on their lessons, and serving as an additional incentive for enrollment and attendance.

Through this three-fold approach, we prioritize our students’ safety and well-being, allowing them to fully engage in our classrooms and experience joyful learning firsthand.

“Placing student welfare at the center of everything we do is part of Luminos’ DNA,” Corina notes. “It is only after ensuring students feel safe and included that joyful learning can occur, allowing students to build foundational reading, writing, and math skills.”

To learn more about Luminos’ approach to making learning joyful in our classrooms, explore the full Joyful Learning element of the Luminos Method!

“Placing student welfare at the center of everything we do is part of Luminos’ DNA. It is only after ensuring students feel safe and included that joyful learning can occur, allowing students to build foundational reading, writing, and math skills.”

Corina Wornee, Luminos Global Safeguarding Lead and Liberia Senior Program Manager

Melvina, a Luminos student in Liberia, chants along with her peers during a lesson on child rights using an early version of “Your Promise.” (Photo: Mara Chan/Luminos Fund) 

Supporting Children’s Psychosocial Well-Being in Ethiopia

Supporting Children’s Psychosocial Well-Being in Ethiopia

Amidst years of conflict, displacement, and compounding socio-economic challenges that threaten children’s well-being, Luminos classrooms in Ethiopia provide a haven for students—a space for healing to begin.

Since late 2020, inter-communal conflict in the Konso Zone of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR) of Ethiopia has displaced more than 200,000 people. As a result, thousands of children have had their lives uprooted and their education disrupted. Compounding these challenges, recent years of drought and food insecurity have exacerbated tensions and increased barriers to education, forcing many parents to make difficult decisions about how many children they can afford to send to school.

In addition to delivering urgent humanitarian aid, ensuring children’s psychosocial well-being is imperative. With limited access to basic services, far too often, these children are denied the social and emotional support needed to ensure their success.

With cornerstone support from the LEGO Foundation, Luminos expanded to Konso in the 2022-23 school year, placing children’s psychosocial well-being at the center. The Luminos program helps out-of-school children catch-up on the first three grades of school, building foundational reading, writing, and math skills in a safe, inclusive, and joyful learning environment. This emphasis on a joyful and activity-based pedagogy has been proven to support the development of important Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) skills.

In contexts like Konso, where food insecurity creates significant barriers to learning, providing a safe and nurturing learning environment for children is critical to ensuring that no child is left behind. Luminos students in Konso receive free midday meals as part of their participation in the program. (Photo: Michael Stulman/Luminos Fund) 

In Konso, the Luminos curriculum includes an explicit emphasis on SEL, which is incorporated into daily classroom instruction alongside our core model that focuses on foundational reading, writing, and math skills. Each day, Luminos teachers lead dedicated lessons that engage students on topics like building self-awareness, managing emotions, dealing with disappointment, promoting confidence towards reaching goals, creating empathy, and respecting differences. These sessions are participatory and collaborative, and students are encouraged to share, learn from each other, and use their experiences to develop solutions and new ways of thinking. 

The SEL components of the curriculum were developed in close collaboration with our community partner in Konso, SIL Ethiopia, who are experts in SEL and supporting children experiencing trauma.

Luminos classrooms use a wide range of activity-based teaching methods that are interactive and engaging, collaborative, physical, and build students’ skills and confidence. These methods include group work, role play, physical and tactile activities, and the use of local songs, dances, and handicrafts among others. (Photo: Michael Stulman/Luminos Fund) 

Recognizing the diverse needs of each child, our program in Konso provides Luminos teachers with training and materials on understanding trauma and its impacts on children, as well as the use of therapeutic skills such as effective listening, music and art therapy, and sharing stories to facilitate healing. Equipped with these basic tools, our teachers are able to better support children exhibiting more serious signs of trauma or distress by providing children with counsel and a safe space to share their own experiences, process their emotions, and reflect using positive coping mechanisms.

At the end of the 2022-23 school year, teachers and parents noted significant improvements in communication and collaboration among students, as well as an increase in students’ self-confidence. Nearly 90% of students qualified to transition into Grade 4 to continue their education at the local government school with peers. Despite the trauma they experienced, students remain hopeful and proudly express their aspirations for their futures and careers.

Luminos students in Konso engaged in a lesson. (Photo: Michael Stulman/Luminos Fund) 

In the 2023-24 school year, we are reaching over 700 out-of-school children in Konso with transformative education. We are also scaling our program to Tigray, Ethiopia, where children have been out of school for three years due to COVID-19 and conflict, and where findings from a Luminos-commissioned study revealed that children have experienced significant learning loss and psychological trauma. The Luminos program in Tigray is informed by learnings from Konso and includes a structured pedagogy, comprehensive trauma healing training for teachers, daily SEL sessions, and an emphasis on play-based learning.

Luminos recognizes the profound impact a classroom can have in providing a sense of stability, hope, and community for children displaced by conflict and experiencing trauma. For many of our students, Luminos classrooms provide a much-needed space for joy and healing.

“There is no doubt that this work is important. For the children we serve in Tigray, life is not back to normal and there is a lot of work to be done,” says Luminos Ethiopia Education Program Manager, Lula Yibaleh. “My hope for students is that they overcome the psychological burdens they face and become positive agents of change in their communities. I hope that these children’s hopes and dreams are restored through the power of transformative education programs, such as the Luminos program.”

“There is no doubt that this work is important.”

Lula Yibaleh, Luminos Education Program Manager, Ethiopia

New Summary Report: Examining Levels of Learning Loss, Trauma, and Resilience in Children, Parents, and Teachers in Tigray, Ethiopia

New Summary Report: Examining Levels of Learning Loss, Trauma, and Resilience in Children, Parents, and Teachers in Tigray, Ethiopia

The Luminos Fund commissioned an independent study to examine learning loss, trauma, and resilience among primary-school-aged children in Tigray, a region in northern Ethiopia, in the wake of COVID-19 school closures and two years of civil war.

The study, led by Dr. Belay Hagos from the Institute for Education, Health, and Development (IEHD) in collaboration with a team of researchers from Mekelle University, surveyed 600 internally displaced children who were enrolled in Grades 2, 3, and 4 at the time of school closures in 2020. It also included 450 parents and 400 teachers. Due to ongoing security concerns in various parts of Tigray, participants were selected from temporary shelters located in and around Mekelle.

The following findings are deeply alarming, indicating that children have experienced significant learning loss, and there is evidence of substantial psychological trauma affecting children, parents, and teachers. Our latest report, “Examining Levels of Learning Loss, Trauma, and Resilience in Children, Parents, and Teachers in Tigray, Ethiopia,” summarizes the findings of this independent study.

“The findings of our study are a stark reminder of the devastating toll that war takes on children. It’s not just the physical destruction and loss of life – it’s the psychological trauma.”

Dr. Belay Hagos Hailu, Associate Professor of Education and Director of the Institute of Educational Research, Addis Ababa University

Key Findings

Infographic depicting six key findings from the the summary report on learning loss, trauma, and resilience in Tigray, Ethiopia.

Context

Over the past two years, the war between the Ethiopian government and the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) devastated the education of millions of children in Ethiopia. The conflict affected over 20 million people, closed over 7,000 schools, and shut almost 1.5 million children out of school. The World Health Organization’s Director-General, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, referred to the war as “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.” It came directly on the heels of earlier school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Map of Ethiopia depicting the Tigray region in the north of the country.

After the Ethiopian government and TPLF announced a peace agreement, Luminos moved to re-establish our education program in Tigray, in partnership with communities and government. In early 2023, Luminos commissioned this study to inform a variation of our core program model that is customized to the unique needs of children in Tigray.

Key Recommendations

Based on the comprehensive findings of this study, several key recommendations emerge:

  • Provide comprehensive psychosocial support services for children, their families, and teachers to address the emotional and psychological needs resulting from the crisis.
  • Implement an accelerated learning model that targets missed or disrupted learning and embeds Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) approaches, offering tailored interventions to facilitate catch-up and bridge the learning gap.
  • Create and maintain conditions that encourage and support children’s continued attendance and engagement in learning, addressing potential barriers to ensure their sustained participation.
  • Prioritize collaboration between relevant stakeholders, including educators, parents, community-based organizations, and policymakers, to collectively address the challenges and develop effective strategies for educational recovery.

By implementing these recommendations, it is possible to address the critical needs identified in the study and work towards mitigating the impact of the pandemic and war on children’s education and well-being.

To read the full report summary, including further data on learning loss, trauma, and resilience, and a more detailed overview of the evaluation and methods used, click here. The full independent study is available upon request.

Luminos is mobilizing support and making urgent plans to relaunch our accelerated education program in Tigray in autumn 2023. To learn more, please email .

To learn more about our Ethiopia program, click here.

Konjit: Journeying through Conflict to Education in Ethiopia

Konjit: Journeying through Conflict to Education in Ethiopia

Konjit lives with her family in Konso, a small farming town in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR) of Ethiopia.

She loves writing and excels in reading. When Konjit grows up, she wants to be a doctor so that she can help people. But five years ago, Konjit’s life was upended when her family was forced to flee their home.

“Everything was stolen and burned,” says Konjit. “We started from nothing here.”

Since late 2020, inter-communal conflict in the region has displaced more than 228,000 people, and thousands of children are out of school.

Konjit had never been to school, but along with her guardian, Abebe, the stabilizing force in her young life has become a Luminos classroom.

“Education is important for changing my future. If I’m educated now, I will get a job and help my family.”

Konjit, Luminos student in Ethiopia

Konjit (right) plays a clapping game outside the classroom with her friend. (Photo: Michael Stulman for the Luminos Fund)

“Everybody welcomed me,” she says warmly. In just one school year, Konjit is learning to read, write, and do math in a joyful and safe learning environment.

“At first, Konjit was shy, but now she has confidence in herself,” says Konjit’s teacher, Tiblet.

Last year, Luminos expanded to Konso to serve children displaced by violence, like Konjit, who face numerous barriers to education. In recent years, drought has brought an additional challenge by exacerbating food insecurity in the region. As part of our Konso effort, Luminos provides a free lunch for students.

“This might be the only meal they have today,” explains Tiblet. In addition to Konjit, Abebe has two other children in the Luminos program: Andinet, age 10, and Ashalo, age 8. He recognizes their family is unfortunately still an outlier.

Konjit (left) and her classmates enjoy the free lunch Luminos provides to students in Konso. (Photo: Michael Stulman for the Luminos Fund)

“Education is key to all growth… This is an important program, and I hope the government can expand it. If all schools had this approach, a generation with concrete knowledge can be created.”

Abebe, guardian of Luminos student Konjit

“The conflict has a big impact on education. Many children have no second chance at education because of conflict,” says Abebe. “There’s only a small portion of displaced children who are in school.”

Providing a safe and nurturing learning environment for children like Konjit is critical to ensuring that they are not left behind. The Luminos program not only offers education and nourishment but also instills a sense of hope and possibility for a better future.

“Education is important for changing my future. If I’m educated now, I will get a job and help my family,” says Konjit.

“Education is key to all growth,” Abebe agrees. He is committed to supporting Konjit’s learning journey.

“When Konjit comes home, I help her with her assignments. I want her to have a good education to get a job and I’m willing to help her all the way,” he says. “This is an important program, and I hope the government can expand it. If all schools had this approach, a generation with concrete knowledge can be created.”

Luminos is working with the Ethiopian government to do just that. Since 2017, the Ministry of Education has been rolling out the Luminos model nationally to reach out-of-school children, through a program known as the Accelerated Learning Program (ALP), reaching over 65,000 children.

Konjit (right) studies in class. (Photo: Michael Stulman for the Luminos Fund)

Read this story and others from our various country programs in our 2022 Annual Report!

To learn more about our Ethiopia program, click here.

The Luminos Fund's 2022 Annual Report spread on a wooden table.

Photo credit for this story: Michael Stulman

Ethiopia: Tsigereda’s Journey Into the Light of Learning

Ethiopia: Tsigereda’s Journey Into the Light of Learning

Set in the rolling green hills of southern Ethiopia, Tsigereda’s village is a patchwork quilt of carefully tended fields, forest, and traditional homes made of earth and wood.

Nestled between the fields and the forest is a Luminos classroom full of brightly colored posters, handmade clay letters, and songs. This is where Tsigereda began her first steps towards lifelong learning—but it wasn’t always this way.

Tsigereda had spent earlier years of her life out of school, helping raise younger relatives about 124 miles away in a bustling fishing town called Ziway.

“Since she spent a lot of time in Ziway, it was hard for her to get used to rural life,” says Tsigereda’s teacher, Konjit.

Help children like Tsigereda get a second chance at education

Journey to the Classroom

After the death of her parents, Tsigereda’s grandmother became her caregiver, but with extra children to feed in her household, Adnaech had no money left over to send Tsigereda to school. Instead, she sent Tsigereda to Ziway to look after their relatives’ children. Child labor in Ethiopia can often take innocuous forms like this: caring for the children of relatives, tending to livestock, or simply helping around the home. Yet all of these tasks keep children out of the classroom, pulling them off the path of learning.

Tsigereda with her grandmother, Adnaech

Tsigereda with her grandmother Adnaech outside their home. (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)

This year, at age 11, Tsigereda’s uncle brought her back to her rural home village to be raised alongside her cousins. Shortly after Tsigereda’s homecoming, her grandmother learned about Luminos’ free catch-up education program for out-of-school children like Tsigereda and enrolled her.

“My favorite activity is learning by songs! Because the songs we sing have a lot of knowledge in them,” says Tsigereda earnestly. Songs in the Luminos program help students internalize lessons on a variety of topics from the sounds vowels make to the importance of learning. These activity-based lessons are core to the Luminos curriculum, allowing formerly out-of-school students to catch up on the content of three years of school in just 10 months.

Emersed in a joyful learning environment, Tsigereda was thriving—and it didn’t take long for her teacher and family to notice. “Tsigereda has shown a lot of change,” says her teacher, Konjit. “Now she enjoys learning and spending time with her friends. She loves to read and lead activities.” For Konjit, seeing students like Tsigereda improve is her favorite part of being a teacher. “I feel like all my work pays off when I see them read and write,” she says.

Tsigereda sings about the importance of school and learning alongside her classmates as they begin the day’s lessons. (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)

The walls of Tsigereda’s classroom are decorated with colorful posters from past lessons, and handmade teaching materials. (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)

Outside the classroom, Tsigereda takes a turn reading to her small group, supervised by teacher Konjit. (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)

In addition to her love of singing, Tsigereda proudly shares that her favorite subject is math: “I like working with numbers—it’s so much fun to add and subtract numbers!”

Tsigereda’s grandmother, Adnaech, observed Tsigereda’s rapid progress with pride saying, “They told me at her school that she is very clever—I have seen her improvement myself. She helps out others as well.” Adnaech is now very intentional about ensuring that Tsigereda has enough time for studying when she gets home. “I love to see her when she is studying, reading, writing, doing her homework at home,” Adnaech notes. “A person can only live a better life if they get an education—education is important for life.”

Tsigereda doing her homework after school. “Education is very important, because without education, you cannot get knowledge,” says Tsigereda. “Getting knowledge will broaden your mind, and you will be able to do good things for your community.” (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)

Looking to the Future

Tsigereda’s teacher, Konjit, goes one step further in describing the power of education: “Education is what brings you out of darkness and into the light.”

“Education is what brings you out of darkness and into the light.”

Konjit, Luminos teacher in Ethiopia

Konjit, Tsigereda’s teacher in the Luminos program. “I like teacher Konjit because she explains everything very well,” says Tsigereda. “There’s nothing I don’t understand when she teaches us!” (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)

That light is shining in Tsigereda as she takes the next steps on her learning journey. After gaining the foundation skills in reading, writing, and math through Luminos’ program, Tsigereda recently transitioned into 5th grade at her local government school where her teachers report she’s at the top of her class.

When asked about the future, Tsigereda confidently replies that she wants to continue her education “until I get a degree from a big university.” After that, she is of two minds—on the one hand she would love to become a teacher like Konjit “because I want everyone to learn!” On the other hand, perhaps Tsigereda will go on to become a doctor “because I want to save the lives of people.”

Whatever path she chooses, Tsigereda’s heart for helping those around her is clear and her future is bright.

Walk with Tsigereda on her way home from school!

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The Luminos Fund is a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt charitable organization registered in the United States (EIN 36-4817073).

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