Hunger, Safety, and Aspirations: New Data on Student Well-Being During COVID-19 from Liberia

Hunger, Safety, and Aspirations: New Data on Student Well-Being During COVID-19 from Liberia

In the past year, COVID-19 has highlighted enormous gaps in our understanding of how best to support learners affected by a health emergency, especially the most vulnerable children. What we know from the Ebola epidemic and emerging evidence from COVID-19 suggests that children living through health emergencies face unique risks to their well-being. Given what we know about the importance of psychosocial well-being as a precursor to learning (especially for children impacted by crisis), what specific well-being risks do children in Liberia face? And how can the Luminos Fund best support students to manage these risks?

To explore these questions and support the Liberian Ministry of Education’s COVID-19 response,  Luminos worked with the Ministry in the fall of 2020 to conduct a needs assessment to better understand the psychosocial needs of vulnerable children living through COVID-19 in Liberia. The assessment included in-depth interviews (conducted in November during the school closures) with approximately 300 Luminos Second Chance students and 100 parents across 26 communities in three counties (Bomi, Montserrado, Grand Cape Mount). Survey instruments were designed in collaboration with the Ministry of Education to collect data across the three major domains of psychosocial well-being: human capacity, social ecology, and culture and values (INEE, 2016). Given that hunger and malnutrition are threats to well-being in the Liberian context, data on children’s physical health was also collected. Below are a few of our learnings from the assessment.

In Liberia, hunger was a problem before the pandemic. Since COVID-19, the situation has gotten a bit worse.

Prior to COVID-19, an estimated 1.6 million Liberians were food insecure, and nearly 1 in 3 children suffered from chronic malnutrition. Estimates from the World Food Program suggest that food insecurity has risen by over 80% since the start of the pandemic due to compounding effects of COVID-19.

Since the start of the pandemic, 54% of Luminos students in Liberia eat just one meal per day (an increase of 16 percentage points compared to pre-COVID-19).

When we spoke with Luminos parents on the topic, the majority (63%) shared that since COVID-19, their family was eating less food (though the vast majority described the change as small). 22% said their family was eating the same amount of food as before COVID-19. When we probed further, we heard that just 13% of Luminos students ate three meals per day prior to the pandemic, and since COVID-19 this has dropped to 5% (Figure 1). Since the start of the pandemic, 54% of Luminos students in Liberia eat just one meal per day (an increase of 16 percentage points compared to pre-COVID-19). The data suggests that the situation may be slightly worse for boys than girls (more girls appear to eat three meals/day as compared to boys, both before and during COVID-19).

Given that COVID-19 has disrupted school meals programs (including ours in Liberia, during the period of school closures), it makes sense that there is a direct link between being out of school and being hungrier. Moreover, given that household income has contracted (80% of Luminos families say they have lost income during COVID-19), the above data suggesting that our students and their families are a bit hungrier since COVID-19 is, sadly, not surprising. To support families through this challenging period, Luminos provided food support (bags of rice) to our students and their families during the school closures. While by no means comprehensive to tackle the challenge of hunger that our families face, we aimed to support Luminos students’ well-being through the pandemic in lieu of school meals. In the wake of COVID-19, the need for holistic learning models that meet students’ academic and broader needs, like our proven Second Chance program, is greater than ever. School feeding programs will play an important role as well. 

Both boys and girls express having felt unsafe during COVID-19 school closures. The data suggest that this manifests differently for boys as compared to girls.

Given that children spent the greater part of the past year at home (as opposed to at school), we were interested to understand student experiences and feelings regarding safety at home and within the community during COVID-19 school closures. When we spoke to Liberian students, 22% reported feeling unsafe at home in the past one month (while schools were closed). Depending on who you spoke to, the degree to which the community was perceived as a safe space for students varied dramatically: nearly all students reported having felt unsafe in the community, while just 20% of parents shared the same view regarding their child’s feeling of safety (nearly 75% of parents said that their child “always felt safe in the community”). This suggests there is a gap between children’s experiences and parental perceptions of safety.

When we asked students why they felt unsafe, 54% shared that it was due to COVID-19 and social distancing. In students’ own words this was expressed as: “Because it’s possible someone has the virus and I don’t know”, and “Most of the time my friends and I are playing, so if they get the Coronavirus, it is possible that I get it too”. Other reasons for feeling unsafe included physical or verbal abuse, traditional and cultural practices in the community (including female genital mutilation, or FGM), and school closures (Figure 2). 

It is worth noting that the data suggests that boys’ and girls’ feelings around safety during the school closures do not appear equal. Of the children who answered our question about safety, six boys and one girl reported physical or verbal abuse, which conveys a disproportionate impact on boys’ feelings of safety in the home. On the other hand, six out of seven students who reported feeling unsafe due to traditional and cultural practices in the community were girls. This is consistent with our understanding of the disproportionate impact of such practices on women, children and the poorest, and supports research on the increased prevalence of violence against girls and women during the pandemic, and the increase in teenage pregnancies we saw following Ebola school closures. Given the small sample size, these points of course merit further study. As a side note, while students did not explicitly reference FGM when describing traditional and ritualistic practices, given that Liberia is one of four countries in Africa where FGM remains legal, the data could provide an early proof point for the anticipated increase in cases of FGM as a result of COVID-19.

Despite living through Ebola and now COVID-19, Luminos students have high aspirations for their future selves, which supports their overall well-being despite the adversities they face.

Based on external evidence from the Second Chance program in Ethiopia, we know that the Second Chance pedagogy is effective in building learners’ confidence in their abilities and capacity to learn. Given the importance of self-concept (the ability to express personal preferences, feelings, thoughts and abilities) to social and emotional development and well-being, we were eager to explore students’ aspirations for their future possible selves. When asked to share one thing they hope or wish will happen in their life in the future, nearly every single student was able to share a hope or aspiration (“I want to travel to America so I can live better and support my family”; “I want to be able to help my mom and make her ok”; “I want to be a business woman”; “I want to finish high school and go to college”). Seventy-nine percent of students surveyed named a specific career or profession they aspired to (doctor, teacher, president, pilot, police officer, entrepreneur, etc.), while 21% named other things, the main themes of which were being educated, financial security, helping others (especially one’s parents), and traveling abroad for a better quality of life. Based on student responses, education was often recognized as the means to achieving other things like becoming a nurse or helping one’s community. It is interesting to note, that when we asked parents about their child’s hopes/aspirations for their futures, 69% of parents were able to identify an aspiration (27% were unsure). This may suggest that parents are less optimistic about their child’s future prospects, as compared to children’s own outlooks.

When asked to share one thing they hope or wish will happen in their life in the future, nearly every single student was able to share a hope or aspiration

64% of students (roughly equal number of girls and boys) were able to name a realistic barrier that could stop them from achieving their aspiration. The main barriers identified by students were not going to school or lack of education (62%) and financial barriers (22%). See Figure 3. Of students that named financial barriers, more often than not this was closely linked to the child’s ability to access education, and in particular, the ability to pay school fees (“If there’s no money to send me to school anymore”; “If my parents don’t have money to pay for my school fees”). It is worth pointing out that girls were 9 percentage points more likely to identify financial barriers as prohibitive to achieving their future self (Figure 3). Given that household education spending may fall as incomes contract in the wake of the pandemic, we may see more girls than boys dropping out of school. At Luminos, we are deeply aware of these constraints on families and our Second Chance program remains free for all students. In addition, each program graduate receives a stipend, which supports their transition into the government school system at the end of our program.

Final thoughts

During COVID-19 school closures, which ran from March to November 2020 in Liberia, the Luminos team, partners, and facilitators worked hard – through food support, physically-distanced home visits, and micro-classes – to ensure that student well-being was our top priority. Now that schools have reopened and Luminos continues to help the most vulnerable children return to school in Liberia and beyond, ensuring that we meet students’ broader well-being needs will be critical to getting children caught up on learning quickly. Our hope is that the data and insights generated through this assessment are useful not only for Liberia’s Ministry of Education as they navigate the return to learning for the country’s two million learners, but for the broader global education community in responding to COVID-19 and future crises.

Program Updates Fall 2020

Program Updates Fall 2020

Click here to read a PDF version of our program updates.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge communities across the globe, the prospects for the world’s most vulnerable children are somber. We know that one third of schoolchildren globally have not been reached by any remote learning during COVID-19 (UNICEF) and even three-month school closures can cause students to fall one year behind (NWEA). New research predicts that COVID-19 school closures will cost students up to $15 trillion in lost future earnings (IZA Institute of Labor Economics). Other new studies predict that at least seven million children are now at risk of dropping out of school completely (World Bank, Save the Children). And this is on top of the fifty-nine million children of primary-school age who were already out of school worldwide prior to the pandemic.

While this year exacerbates inequality across the globe, the Luminos Fund team is more dedicated than ever to our mission helping girls and boys learn to read and do arithmetic in our joyful classrooms, and continue their studies in their local village schools. Our key focus during this crisis is to keep our students safe and connected to learning. Our team never stopped pushing and, this fall, our classrooms are beginning to reopen. Read more about our efforts and plans in Ethiopia, Liberia, and Lebanon on the next pages.

Ethiopia

In Ethiopia, the Luminos Fund is operating micro-classes, supporting distance learning, and partnering with government.

On March 16th, Ethiopia mandated the closure of all schools, impacting more than 26 million learners. Luminos continues to explore all available options for resuming learning safely for our children and understands the need to be agile while adhering to the guidelines laid out by the Ethiopian Ministry of Education (MOE). This year, the MOE’s growing need for proven alternative learning solutions—like Second Chance—is creating an even greater opportunity for the government’s adoption of our model beyond what is underway. There is significant appetite from education stakeholders in Ethiopia for technical expertise from Luminos and its partners on condensing curriculum, teacher training, and improving learning outcomes.

Our 2019-20 cohort of students

When schools closed, Luminos pivoted to supporting students with home-based learning through the distribution of learning resources and the creation of a digital learning portal for Luminos and its partners to share resources across regions. SMS-based contact helped ensure direct communication with families during the pandemic, and from May to July, we ran outdoor micro-classes of 4-6 students. Facilitators received guidance on micro-classes and ongoing virtual training and support from Program Supervisors and Luminos partners. Luminos also supported the MOE’s COVID-19 education response with staff as active participants in the Education Cluster and through one-on-one advising with key MOE officials. We continue to explore MOE partnership opportunities to reach even more children through our Second Chance model. All schools in Ethiopia plan to open by the end of November, and all Ethiopian students—including our 2019-20 cohort—will be promoted to the next grade for the start of the 2020-21 academic year.

Our 2020-21 cohort of students

In the 2020-21 school year, Luminos expects to reach 1,300 children directly through Second Chance education, and thousands more through government adoption. As noted, all schools in Ethiopia plan to open by the end of November. Our staff continues to work extensively with government partners across national, regional, and local levels to finalize plans for the 2020-21 government adoption program, which aims to equip the government to implement Second Chance in conventional government primary schools across Ethiopia.

Liberia

In Liberia, the Luminos Fund is operating micro-classes (up to seven students and a teacher, physically distanced), supporting distance learning, and partnering with government.

Schools across Liberia closed in March. Luminos continues to explore all available options for resuming learning safely for our children. We understand the need to be flexible to respond to students’ and families’ needs while adhering to guidelines laid out by the Ministry of Education (MOE). The Luminos Fund launched in Liberia in the aftermath of Ebola, when approximately one in four Liberian children did not return to school, and we are keen to apply lessons from that time to the current crisis. Strategies like micro-classes keep children engaged in learning and help ensure they enroll when schools resume. As challenging as it has been to get these classes off the ground and ensure learning is happening, we are encouraged that we have positively engaged our children and kept up their enthusiasm for school.

Our 2019-20 cohort of students

Our primary focus has been the safety and health of our children and communities. Our US team actively participates in weekly MOE, Education in Emergencies Zoom meetings. Given only 12% of the Liberian population has access to electricity, we adopted a low-tech approach to ensure our 2019-20 students remain connected to the learning process by distributing worksheets, English readers, writing materials, and workbooks. Currently, Luminos is running outdoor micro-classes of 6-7 children, covering key foundational literacy and numeracy concepts. We anticipate students will transition to government school for the start of the 2020-21 school year in December. Since March 2020, Luminos has also supported its communities with WASH stations and food supplies. Even procuring basic items such as bags of rice proved challenging as most of the stores had run out of supplies. Our team worked incredibly hard on the ground to source the required permissions to cross county borders during lockdown and complete the necessary distributions.

Our 2020-21 cohort of students

We are planning for the 2020-21 cohort and forecast that we will be able to resume classes, with certain restrictions, in January 2021. Luminos will reach 2,400-2,800 children across Bomi, Montserrado, and Grand Cape Mount counties. We are updating our curriculum for the new school year to include psycho-social support for children, both in school and at home, in response to COVID-19. We anticipate continuing to support students with an element of home-based learning in the 2020-21 academic year.

Lebanon

In Lebanon, the Luminos Fund provides educational programs for Syrian refugees.

This year has been uniquely challenging in Lebanon, between political and economic strife, COVID-19, and the massive explosion that shook Beirut in August. Lebanon is dependent on imports and the destruction of the port has led to widespread shortages of medicines, baby formula, and other essentials. Luminos continues to explore all available options to help our students learn safely. We are working to be flexible and agile to respond to students’ and families’ needs while, at the same time, adhering to guidelines laid out by the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE).

Our 2019-20 cohort of students

Luminos pivoted to providing e-learning options to children within a few weeks of school closures. Curriculum-aligned educational videos, including lesson explanations, stories, rhymes, and songs, were shared 3-4 times per week. These videos covered the core subjects Science, Math, English, and Arabic. Teachers shared videos with learners through WhatsApp groups and followed up directly with learners through phone calls and WhatsApp messages.

While dealing with the macro-challenges in Lebanon, the team on the ground has been trying to find the best possible means to remain connected with children and their families. Our partners have responded nimbly to the Beirut blast by supporting children with school supplies, volunteering to clear the rubble, and providing emergency relief materials to effected communities. We’re incredibly grateful for their hard work.

Our 2020-21 cohort of students

We are planning for the 2020-21 cohort on the assumption that we will be able to resume classes, with certain restrictions, starting in November. We have invested in more established e-learning platforms to better structure the remote learning process for 2020-21. MEHE published an academic calendar that states that schools will reopen by first week of November for all grades in regions where there is no lockdown. Currently, student registration for the 2020-21 school year is ongoing for both Lebanese and Syrian children in public schools. In the 2020-21 school year, Luminos expects to reach 1,300 children across Mt. Lebanon, Beqaa Valley, and Beirut. We anticipate all students being promoted to further education.

Note: COVID-19 data as of Oct. 29 from the WHO

HundrED Honors Luminos as a Global Education Innovator for the Fourth Time

HundrED Honors Luminos as a Global Education Innovator for the Fourth Time

The Luminos Fund’s Second Chance  program, an accelerated learning program for out-of-school children also known as Speed School, is one of the world’s leading innovations in K12 education according to Finnish education nonprofit, HundrED. During this week’s HundrED Innovation Summit, Luminos was selected as a member of the HundrED 2021 Global Collection.

The annual Global Collection highlights 100 of the most impactful innovations in K12 education from around the world. HundrED’s goal is to help pedagogically-sound, ambitious innovations spread and adapt to multiple contexts across the globe. While there has been remarkable disruption in global education this year due to COVID-19, we at Luminos are inspired by our fellow education nonprofits across the globe as they have rapidly developed new ways of teaching and learning. This marks the fourth consecutive year that the Luminos Fund has been honored by HundrED, starting in 2017.

This year’s HundrED Global Collection includes innovations from thirty-eight countries. To make the Global Collection, the HundrED research team compiled a list of over 5,000 innovations from over 110 countries. After this initial survey, 150 Academy Members—consisting of academics, educators, innovators, funders, and leaders from over 50 countries—reviewed a shortlist of innovations. In total, there were 3,404 reviews by the Academy based on each innovation’s impact and scalability that were then evaluated by HundrED’s Research Team to make the final selection.

In the words of Luminos CEO Caitlin Baron, “Over this past year, the hard work and creative problem solving of our staff to ensure children still get a second chance to learn has been truly humbling and inspiring. We are honored to be a part of the HundrED Global Collection for the fourth year running.”

Once again, the Luminos Fund’s program was chosen due to its pioneering status and ability to create a scalable impact. Since 2011, Speed School (known outside of Ethiopia as Second Chance) has worked in partnership with Ethiopian NGOs to enable more than 122,062 children in Ethiopia to get a second chance at education. Over 90% of the children who start the Luminos program transition successfully to their local village school. External evaluations show that graduates of our program complete primary school at twice the rate of their peers. In 2016, the program expanded to Liberia where it reaches thousands more children every year. During COVID-19, Luminos pivoted our programs quickly to support our students learning at home with remote learning resources and through “micro-classes” (small, distanced groups of students). In addition, Luminos is providing relief to vulnerable families and communities and strengthening our collaboration with Ministries of Education.

To learn more, view the Luminos Fund 2021 Innovation page on Hundred.org and explore the profiles of our fellow innovators!

Video: The Luminos Fund Innovation

Related Links

The Luminos Fund 2021 Innovation Page on HundrED.org, 2020

HundrED honors Luminos as a Global Education Innovator for the Third Time, The Luminos Fund, 2019

Last Mile Teachers

Last Mile Teachers

This Opinion was posted originally on Inter Press Service at http://www.ipsnews.net/2020/07/last-mile-teachers/.


By George K. Werner and Caitlin Baron

George K. Werner served as Minister of Education in Liberia from 2015 to 2018. Caitlin Baron is CEO of the Luminos Fund, a non-profit working in Liberia and across Africa to bring a second chance at education to out-of-school children.

“It has gotten really tough for us,” says James, a father in rural Liberia, of COVID-19 lockdown and school closures. “My son is trying but he is missing his friends and teachers. Children want to be in school.”

“When Coronavirus passes, will your school still be there to help us with our children?” asks Fatu, a Liberian mother of six.

Around the world, over one billion children are out of school. All will face learning losses (data from World War II and other crises offer grim indications on this) and far too many will be lost to learning forever. Estimates suggest the COVID-19 pandemic will cause this generation to lose $10 trillion in future earnings.

Headlines exclaim that the global education system has never seen a moment like this and, in some sense, that is true. However, in Liberia, where we work, this is the second pandemic in six years. Our experiences in Liberia provide important lessons for COVID-19 education system recovery in low-income countries – and the uniquely important role of “last mile teachers.”

In 2014, the Ebola crisis closed schools across Liberia for six months to a year. One and a half million children were excluded from school, in addition to 500,000 children who were already excluded before Ebola roared through the country. As Liberia’s Minister of Education, I led the country’s education response. I traveled with my team to schools across Liberia, speaking with teachers, parents, and children to assess the magnitude of the task to bring children back to learning. I concluded that the education system was failing and bold reform was needed urgently: the Ministry of Education needed to rethink everything about its education delivery system for post-Ebola Liberia. The Luminos Fund, where Caitlin is CEO, was one of several education organizations that launched operations in Liberia as part of the recovery journey following Ebola.

Reflecting on past school closures in Liberia and beyond, and our experience educating vulnerable children, we identify three key steps for education systems to come back strong after a crisis like COVID-19. First, targeted outreach must be conducted to bring the most vulnerable and older students back to school. Next, each child should be assessed to understand the extent of their learning loss, and to meet students where they are in the curriculum. Finally, remediation should be provided to bring students who have fallen behind back up to grade level.

Here is the key, and challenge: all of these steps rely on the efforts and tenacity of frontline educators, but low-income countries do not have nearly enough teachers. UNESCO estimates a global shortage of nearly 69 million teachers, 70% of whom are needed in sub-Saharan Africa. Furthermore, many countries cannot graduate teachers fast enough to fill the shortfall. South Sudan, for example, would need all of its projected graduates from higher education – twice over – to become teachers to fill its gap. Traditional teacher training alone is insufficient to meet demand, even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some non-government organizations are helping address the need. The Luminos Fund manages an education program in Liberia that has achieved powerful success with a different model of teacher preparation (James’s son and Fatu’s daughter are students this year). Luminos recruits local, motivated, high potential young people with minimal qualifications as teachers. The program has shown that, with an intensive three-week training followed by ongoing classroom-based coaching, these recruits deliver transformative learning for children who are often the first in their family to learn to read. Luminos teachers are so successful that, in less than one year, their students advance from still learning the alphabet to reading 39 words a minute. After one year of schooling, Luminos students read at a rate that only 15% of Liberian third graders can match. 

Today, school systems across Africa and beyond must think expansively about the assets they can deploy to respond to the current crisis – and take action. Status quo thinking is inadequate to respond to the moment.

Here Liberia has another powerful lesson to share with this world. In the provision of basic healthcare, Liberia hosts perhaps the world’s most famous example of the creative extension of government delivery capacity through collaboration with civil society: Last Mile Health. Last Mile Health has reached over 1.2 million of the poorest Liberians through a network of 3,600 community and frontline health workers. Community health workers are paid professionals, recruited from these same poor communities and empowered to provide basic healthcare in consultation with the formal system. This model is now being scaled to reach nine million people with primary care services globally by 2030. Last Mile Health has created a model community health system in Liberia and marshalled a movement to develop the global workforce of community and frontline health workers. The same approach could be used in education and is not dissimilar to how Luminos operates. Far too often, though, the global education sector has viewed community-based educators as a threat, unlike global health’s careful but open-minded exploration of alternative models.

The world may never see another global school closure like the one we are experiencing, but in Liberia, COVID-19 is the second pandemic in six years. Low-income countries – and countries everywhere – need to build resilient school systems that can weather periodic closures and still deliver transformative learning for students. Building a global workforce of frontline education staff from remote communities to serve remote communities – last mile teachers – is a critical part of the formula.

Emmanuel, a Luminos teacher, with his class in Loweh, Liberia (2019)
Our 2019 Annual Report has arrived

Our 2019 Annual Report has arrived

The Luminos Fund is delighted to publish our 2019 Annual Report. To date, we’ve enabled 136,502 vulnerable children to receive a second chance at education – and this year was unlike any other. Our team is more committed than ever to ensuring children everywhere have the opportunity to learn and thrive, and to helping educators and governments in low-income countries develop the resiliency to weather powerful storms like COVID-19.

With over 1 billion youths out of school globally due to the pandemic, the Luminos Fund’s mission to help children get back to school is more important than ever. Our work was made for the task ahead.

Click here to read the 2019 Annual Report.

Click here for a printer-friendly version of the Annual Report.


In spring 2020, schools closed across our program countries due to COVID-19. The Luminos Fund pivoted quickly to provide distance learning for students.

Additional Resources:
The Luminos Fund 2018 Annual Report
The Luminos Fund 2017 Annual Report

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The END Fund and the Luminos Fund Align Efforts to Fight COVID-19

The END Fund and the Luminos Fund Align Efforts to Fight COVID-19

“We’re still focused on our core education mandate, but we felt we had to reach further to help during this crisis. We’re thrilled to receive this grant from the END Fund to provide essential relief to more communities.”

Nikita Khosla, Senior Director of Programs at the Luminos Fund

By James Porter and Maretta Silverman

The END Fund works to end the five most common neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), which together affect 1.7 billion people worldwide. A group of parasitic and bacterial diseases, NTDs trap people in the cycle of poverty and, among children, infection leads to malnutrition, cognitive impairment, stunted growth, and the inability to attend school. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the END Fund is allocating grants from its COVID-19 Response Fund to assist communities affected by the virus in Africa. The Luminos Fund’s mission is to educate the world’s most vulnerable out-of-school children, but the organization has shifted during COVID-19 to provide relief, too. In this interview, Warren Lancaster, Senior Vice President of Programs at the END Fund, and Nikita Khosla, Senior Director of Programs at the Luminos Fund, discuss how the END Fund is supporting the Luminos Fund’s efforts in rural Liberia through its COVID-19 Response Fund — and what makes this collaboration unique.

Q. How did the grant to the Luminos Fund come about? How does the grant fit in with the END Fund’s COVID-19 Response Fund?

Warren Lancaster: Since I was familiar with the Luminos Fund’s Second Chance program being embedded in communities, I thought it was an ideal platform for community-level COVID-19 mitigation interventions especially hand washing and community information.

Rural villages are the communities most affected by intestinal worms (soil-transmitted helminths) and schistosomiasis. Breaking the fecal-oral route is a key strategy to break the transmission of intestinal worms. However, behavior change around sanitation practices can be very challenging due to constraints in poor, rural villages (e.g. no running water or electricity). Intervening to help directly with a perceived need where hand washing is suddenly seen as a positive community good contributed to an immediate need — COVID-19 — and a longer-term one as well — ending neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).

Q. The Luminos Fund’s mission is to help vulnerable and out-of-school children with education. How does this COVID-19 Response funding align with your work?

Nikita Khosla: It’s true: at Luminos, our mission is to ensure no child is ever denied an education, whether by poverty, crisis, or discrimination. It has come as a surprise to everyone at Luminos that we would face one of our busiest moments when all our classrooms are closed due to this pandemic. We’re now providing distance learning and relief.

My colleague Abba Karnga Jr., who manages our program in Liberia, might have explained our pivot best so I’ll quote him: “We’re reaching children who never went to school before and getting them to a level where they want to keep going. That’s humanitarian. So, when an emergency arises like COVID-19, it’s important that we step up and revise. Providing relief during COVID isn’t strange. It’s what we have to do.”

We’ve been staying in close contact with colleagues and partners in the countries where we work, and even surveying teachers and students’ families on the frontline to stay abreast of the crisis. It’s been both inspiring and heartbreaking to see how communities are coping. We’re still focused on our core education mandate, but we felt we had to reach further to help during this crisis. We’re thrilled to receive this grant from the END Fund to provide essential relief to more communities.

Q. What was the END Fund’s motivation to provide COVID Response funding in Liberia?  

Warren: Liberia requires treatment for four of the five NTDs we work on, including schistosomiasis and intestinal worms. We used to be very involved in NTD programming in Liberia but that project came to an end. With hand washing having a dual benefit for NTDs and COVID-19, the funding fit in with our COVID-19 Response Fund in a country we were already familiar with. 

From left: A girl uses a hand washing station during COVID-19, thanks to the END Fund grant. A Luminos student and her mother receive relief, like soap and other supplies.

Q. What does this funding from the END Fund mean for the Luminos Fund’s COVID-19 response in Liberia?

Nikita: Thanks to the END Fund’s grant, Luminos is providing 37 hand washing stations, buckets, soap, and bleach to remote villages, as well as mobilizing and training community teams to carry out monthly door-to-door awareness efforts regarding hand washing. The community teams will speak to families and hand out printed health flyers that have text and visuals. These are communities without running water or electricity and many adults who cannot read, so these efforts will have a material positive impact. In fact, we’ve already begun this work. The first supplies were distributed, and a second round of supplies was distributed the second week of June. We’re receiving very positive feedback from families and our team in Liberia.

Q. Given the END Fund and Luminos Fund’s roots with Legatum, what makes this grant unique? Why are you excited for your organizations to work together on this? 

Warren: The motto of Legatum is to look for the great beyond the good. The Luminos Fund’s program is already great; this just makes it “greater!” We were excited to bring two members of the Legatum family together in a way that adds value to the missions of both organizations. 

Nikita: I know I speak for the Luminos team when I say we’re thrilled to have this opportunity to partner with the END Fund, especially on something as important as COVID relief for vulnerable communities. I’ve been at Luminos over four years and, in the back of my mind, I feel I’ve been looking for ways to work with the other wonderful organizations — like the END Fund and Freedom Fund — that were initially funded by Legatum. 

Legatum focuses on unlocking human potential and creating sustainable prosperity. Helping Liberian families sustain through this dire crisis so they can continue their education and livelihoods on the other side feels very aligned with Legatum’s mission — and our missions at Luminos and END. So, while the circumstances are somber, this is a pivotal moment to align our efforts.


To learn more about the END Fund’s work to end neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), visit https://end.org.

To learn more about the Luminos Fund’s work ensuring no child is ever denied the chance to learn, whether by poverty, crisis, or discrimination, visit https://luminosfund.org.

71 Commercial Street, #232 | Boston, MA 02109 |  USA
+1 781 333 8317   info@luminosfund.org

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

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