Promising Practices Program

Administering Organization

World Relief-Chicago (WR-C)

Program Name

Pambazuka Project

Program Objectives and Unique Needs Addressed

Successful integration of refugee families in the U.S. is often tied to their children's academic success. Refugee children are expected to do well in school, learn English quickly, and contribute to the family's successful adjustment. This focus makes the services provided through WR-C for children ages 0-18 vital. Many of WR-C's current refugee children have received minimal, if any, formal education in a refugee camp, resulting in children who are far behind their grade level and need extra attention to catch up and succeed academically. The programs of WR-C aim to build upon community strengths to help families succeed. Pambazuka is a Swahili term used to symbolize the dawning of a new day or light. The project's name acknowledges that refugee families bring great strengths and hope for their futures, and greatly add to the wonderful diversity of the Chicago community. WR-C's Pambazuka Project has two programs that support and facilitate refugee parents' involvement in their children's education: a family literacy program and the youth program. While each program has its own goals and activities, these WR-C programs work closely together to provide comprehensive services for refugee families with children. The two programs are housed in WR-C's Education and Youth Services Departments, allowing expertise from both fields to inform program practices.

Family Literacy Program Goals

  1. To help refugee parents become active participants in their children's education and development
  2. To prepare refugee children for academic success in the U.S. school system
  3. To help facilitate the growth of a healthy parent-child bond
  4. To improve the literacy skills of parents
  5. To equip families to utilize the resources of their local public library

Youth Program Goals

  1. To bridge the gap between the cultures from which refugee children have come, to the places that they now find themselves in
  2. To provide refugee children and families with culturally and linguistically appropriate educational support services, parent education, and psycho-social activities.
  3. To link parents to their children's schools and to educate school personnel on the unique needs of refugee children

Program Description

Family Literacy Program: While parents attend intensive adult ESL (English as a Second Language) classes at World Relief (Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.), their children ages 1-5 attend the early childhood education program, which includes age appropriate pre-literacy activities as well as art and play therapy. Once a week, parents attend family literacy activities instead of regular English classes. This includes a parenting group, parent-and-child together activities, and trips to the local branch of the Chicago Public Library. Once per quarter, the parents and children also take an educational field trip within the Chicago area. 

Youth Program: This program provides comprehensive and individualized case management services for school aged children. WR-C staff completes an individualized education assessment and plan for all newly-arrived refugee children. Once children have completed all necessary medical screenings, WR-C staff assists families with the school enrollment procedures. After children are enrolled in school, WR-C provides supportive services to both families and school to aide in the transition process. WR-C provides twice weekly after-school programming, focusing on developing academic and social skills in a safe and nurturing environment. Monthly fieldtrips to cultural and educational establishments give parents and children the opportunity to explore the new community in which they now live.

Resource Materials Used in Program

  • Parenting Materials: Due to working with parents from various cultures and with a variety of English level proficiencies, WR-C staff members developed their own parenting materials that cover topics related to nutrition, health, safety, reading with children, and participating in children's educational development by using hands-on ESL activities such as role playing. Topics are introduced using vocabulary words, pictures, and handouts in the parent's native language (when available). 
  • Parent-and-Child Together Activities: Parent-and-Child Together activities are related to the parenting topic and developed in-house. They usually include crafts, games, reading, and other group activities to foster parent-child bonding.
  • Early Childhood Classroom Materials: The early childhood curriculum is compiled from a variety of sources.  Sources of curriculum include "Instant Curriculum" by Schiller and Rossano and "Letter of the Day" worksheets taken from First School Preschool Activities and Crafts (
  • Library Materials: At the library, WR-C staff leads parents through an orientation to show them the various resources available to them.  There is group story time using the books from Eric Carle and Sandra Boynton and then parents and children choose their activities, including reading together, listening to books on tape, or playing educational games on the internet.   WR-C staff has developed simple library scavenger hunts where parents and children find various books or locations in the library. These have been successful in making the library visits more meaningful for parents with varying English language proficiencies.

Groups Served by Program

WR-C serves over 80 refugee children in grades K-12 in over 25 Chicago Public Schools each year. In addition, approximately 30 refugee and immigrant parents with children ages 1-5 are served through the Family Literacy program each year. Populations served include: Iraqi, Bhutanese, Burmese, Eritrean and Hispanic.

Program Funding

The Family Literacy Program is made possible through a grant awarded by the Illinois State Library, a Division of the Office of the Secretary of State, using state funds designated for literacy. Funding also comes through the Illinois Community College Board. The Youth Program is primarily funded through the Refugee Children School Impact Grant.

Program Staffing and Required Staff Training

Program Staffing: Early Childhood Education Instructor/Coordinator, Sr. Youth Services Coordinator/Children's Social Worker, Director of Education, Adult ESL Instructors (4), and Early Childhood Education Assistant

Staff Training: WR-C Social Workers and ESL Instructors are required to attend professional workshops each year to maintain licensure and credentials.  Staff members are also encouraged to attend local, regional, and state conferences, as the National Refugee and Immigrant Conference held in Chicago.   In addition, ESL Instructors attend workshops put on by Literacy Works Chicago and the Adult Learning Resource Center.  Lastly, the Sr. Youth Services Coordinator/Children's Social Worker facilitates workshops for teachers in Chicago Public Schools.   

Program Evaluation

All written materials, such as surveys, are translated into parents' primary languages as often as possible to ensure accurate feedback. Volunteers and staff members provide the translation.

Parenting education: At the end of each group session, each parent shares what he or she learned and writes it in his or her journal. Parents complete quarterly surveys about parenting classes.

Parent-and-Child Together activities: Program staff observes parents and children during activities. Parents complete quarterly surveys about Parent-Child activities.

Library: Staff keeps weekly records on attendance, topics covered, and methodology used. Parents complete library journals to record what books they checked out from the library to read with their children. Parents complete quarterly survey about library activities.

Early Childhood Education: The Early Childhood Education Coordinator uses a developmental skills checklist to track children's progress. Samples of the children's work are kept in their files. 

Program Outcomes

From February 3, 2011- August 31, 2011, program outcomes included:

  • 100% of parents have obtained library cards
  • 95% of parents are familiar with age-appropriate books for their children
  • 100 % of children ages 3-5 have accessed educational games on the internet at the library
  • 79% of parents who have attended (1) eight week ESL class sessions gained at least one SPL
  • 100% of parents participated in parenting lessons on the importance of reading to children
  • 100% of parents have learned ways to participate in their child's educational development through games that use common household objects
  • 100% of parents learned how to access educational and community resources.
  • 100% of parents learned how to identify developmental skills in young children
  • 100% of parents learned health and nutrition guidelines and resources for their children
  • 100% of parents learned about safety in the home and community and how to handle emergency situations in the U.S
  • 100% of children ages 1-2 have participated in reading readiness activities and developed age appropriate social skills appropriate for a U.S. classroom setting
  • 83% of children ages 3-5 have developed age appropriate pre-literacy, social, and pre-math skills. They have also learned to identify body parts, days of the week, and types of weather in English

Additional Comments

The majority of the family literacy activities meet on-site. There are three adult ESL classrooms, an early childhood classroom, and a conference room that is used for the parenting groups. The library is located less than a mile from the WR-C office.

Program Contact

Mike Moline, Director of Education
773.583-9191 x8560

Program Dates

The Pambazuka Project began in 1999 (with the Family Literacy program beginning in 2004); it is still operating year round as of October 2011.