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BRAC Humanitarian Play Labs
What are Humanitarian Play Labs?
Hamida Akhter Jahan, BRAC Psychosocial Counselor
Nearly one million displaced Rohingya are living in crowded settlements in the Cox’s Bazar district of southern Bangladesh, having fled persecution in Myanmar. Violence against the Rohingya has persisted for decades, but following the mass exodus that began in August 2017, Cox's Bazar has become the site of the largest refugee settlement in the world, affecting hundreds of thousands of children and their families.
The majority of the newly displaced Rohingya are children, and almost 20 percent are under the age of five. Many of these children arrived in Cox’s Bazar unaccompanied.
In emergency and humanitarian contexts like Cox’s Bazar, children are extremely vulnerable to abuse, violence, and trafficking. It is vital to provide these children – and their caregivers – with psychosocial support, safe spaces, and playful early learning and stimulation opportunities that help address trauma, support healthy development, provide a sense of routine and normalcy, and restore cultural pride.
To address some of these children’s most pressing needs, BRAC has established Humanitarian Play Labs, which adapt BRAC's signature low cost, high quality early learning model, Play Labs, to the unique needs and constraints of the humanitarian context in both the Rohingya settlements and the host communities surrounding the settlements. The Play Lab model is an innovative play-based learning model for children aged 3-5, created in partnership with the LEGO Foundation. Designed to be adapted and scaled across a number of low-resource contexts, BRAC currently operates a network of Play Labs across Bangladesh, Uganda, and Tanzania. The Humanitarian Play Lab model builds on the success of Play Labs, refining and expanding the model to reach a wider age range of children in more challenging humanitarian contexts.
In order to build resilience and establish a sense of normalcy for children and adolescents in this fragile setting, Humanitarian Play Labs offer a play-based curriculum that incorporates instructional scaffolding to reach children aged 0-14. For many Rohingya children, the Humanitarian Play Labs are their first opportunity to gain access to education, or their first chance to be in a learning environment where educators are attentive to their individualized needs. Lessons incorporate physical play, rhymes, stories, dance, art, and more as tools for learning and healing.
Humanitarian Play Labs also pay homage to Rohingya cultural heritage by utilizing traditional Rohingya songs, games, and activities and engaging mothers and community members in creating low-cost, culturally relevant play materials to support children’s language, motor, cognitive, and socio-emotional development.
In addition to education, Humanitarian Play Labs provide holistic support for Rohingya children. They incorporate child protection measures; link children to health, nutrition, and other services; and host parenting sessions that do the same. They also link children and their families to psychosocial support through group sessions and individual home visits conducted by barefoot counselors and para-counselors.
Each session in a Humanitarian Play Lab is jointly led by a woman from the Rohingya community and a woman from the host community, who speaks a dialect of Bangla similar to the Rohingya language. This model trains and empowers Rohingya women, and promotes person-to-person peacebuilding between the communities, which is critical in addressing tensions that are arising over strained resources.
A new, $100 million partnership with LEGO Foundation, Sesame Workshop, and International Rescue Committee will innovate upon the Humanitarian Play Lab model to incorporate Sesame Street's world-class multi-media learning content into BRAC's existing network of nearly 400 Humanitarian Play Labs and double the network to reach an additional 50,000 children. It will also bring learnings from BRAC's groundbreaking Humanitarian Play Lab model to inform work that Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee are doing with refugee children in the Syrian response region.
Founded in Bangladesh in 1972 as a small relief effort, BRAC is now a world-class global development organization, and was ranked the number one NGO in the world for the fifth time in 2019. Humanitarian Play Labs build on the organization's expertise as one of the world’s leading education providers for marginalized children, with more than 11 million graduates and over a million current learners.
With over four decades of experience working in nearly every corner of Bangladesh, BRAC has a deep knowledge of the context and strong relationships with local communities. As a result, when the refugee crisis began, BRAC mobilized resources from across the country in a matter of days. Currently, its more than 2,500 staff in Cox’s Bazar provide a range of services in addition to Humanitarian Play Labs including shelter, nutrition, health, water, sanitation, protection, and skills training, working in collaboration with UN agencies, governments, and other NGOs.
BRAC has identified the need for a long-term, sustainable model of child protection and education across multiple humanitarian contexts, and is currently creating a toolkit that will enable its Play Lab model to be contextualized and adapted for other resource-poor, post-disaster, and humanitarian contexts around the globe.
BRAC Humanitarian Play Labs take an innovative approach to education in humanitarian contexts by centering learning around play for improved educational and socio-emotional outcomes.
Learners in Humanitarian Play Labs are empowered with a supportive, engaging, and joyful learning environment that enables them to be resilient and build better futures for themselves.
Designed to use materials and manpower that are readily available in low-resource, rapidly changing environments, the Humanitarian Play Lab model can be flexibly and inexpensively adapted and scaled across various humanitarian contexts.