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

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

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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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