Reach Up and the International Rescue Committee

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is the implementing organization for the Reach Up program in humanitarian settings in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, and most recently in Bangladesh and Venezuela. The implementation of the program in the Middle East began with a pilot in Jordan in December 2016, following research to identify programs that could address the needs of caregivers of young children who were impacted by the Syrian refugee crisis. The pilot was conducted over a two-month period with 16 families in the Azraq refugee camp in northern Jordan, to determine (1) feasibility and acceptability of the model and (2) adaptations that would be required. Home visits to raise awareness about child protection services were ongoing by IRC outreach volunteers in the camp. Following the success of the pilot, the intervention was expanded through the child-protection sector to the wider population in the Azraq camp. In mid-2018, it was further expanded through collaboration with the Mafraq governate’s health sector, as an integrated ECD and community health home-visiting model.

In Lebanon, a three-month pilot in 201 was also conducted through the education sector of the Akkar and Beka governates.  The program was launched in camps at Al Hassekah and Ar Raqqa camps in Northeastern Syria in mid-2017, by the Ahlan Simsim ECD project. Rohingya refuges in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh (in 2020) and the Wayuu indigenous population living near the Colombian border in Venezuela (in 2021), have also benefited from the implementation of Reach Up through partnerships with other entities and the International Rescue Committee.

Country team

Katelin Swing Wilton

Former Technical Advisor, Early Childhood Development, International Rescue Committee, New York, USA

Ayat Al Aqra

Early Grade Curriculum and TLM Manager, International Rescue Committee, Amman, Jordan

Katie Maeve Murphy

Director, Early Childhood Development and Strategic Initiatives, International Rescue Committee, New York, USA

Dr. Jena Derakhshani Hamadani

Emeritus Scientist, Maternal and Child Health Division, International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh Dhaka, Bangladesh

Dr Syeda Fardina Mehrin

Assistat Scientist, Maternal and Child Health Division, International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh Dhaka, Bangladesh

Implementation partners

Ahlan Simsim is an early childhood intervention program that combines on-the-ground services for families in crisis with engaging educational media.

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The International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b), in Bangladesh is a world-renowned health research institute committed to solving a wide range of public health problems through innovative scientific research. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the IRC worked with the icddr,b to design a remote intervention that used phone calls and interactive voice response (IVR) messages for displaced Rohingya refugees from Myanmar living in Cox Bazaar, Bangladesh.

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Communities we serve

Through the IRC, Reach Up has been implemented in communities and camps in the Middle East countries of Jordan (Mafraq Governate, Azraq camp), Lebanon (Bekka Governate, Aakkar Governate) and Syria (Ar Raqqah, Al-Hasakah).

Rohingya refuges in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh and the Wayuu indigenous population living near the Colombian border in Venezuela have also benefited from the implementation of Reach Up through partnerships with other entities and the International Rescue Committee.

Our Approach

The intervention served the camps and communities through home visits. 

According to Vachon, Wilton, et al (2020), scaling the original Reach Up intervention is a priority and has been maintained throughout the IRC’s adaptations of the model. And so far, scaling plans were drafted by Ahlan Simsim teams in Jordan and Lebanon to outline potential strategies for scaling Reach Up through partnership with national NGOs and governments.

In 2022 – 2023 the Ahlan Simsim ECD project trained volunteers from five local NGOs to implement Reach Up in group sessions.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the IRC Ahlan Simsim adapted and developed new content to meet the need for remote interventions, including text, audio and visual contents (phone calls, Whatsapp, pre-recorded audio messages). The team adapted Reach Up to be effectively delivered over the phone by community health volunteers using scripts targeted to specific age groups in Jordan.

Key Stats

Reach Up was implemented through the Child Protection and Health sectors in Jordan, Education in Lebanon and Child Protection in Syria. The programs which began in 2018 reached 926, 1,530 and 2,241 households in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, respectively. The intervention in Jordan, through the Child Protection sector began in 2016.

The home visits, targeting families with children aged 0 – 36 months, lasted about one hour and was delivered fortnightly in Lebanon, weekly in Syria, and weekly or fortnightly in Jordan.

In partnership with the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b), the IRC implemented the Reach Up program for 2,834 displaced Rohingya families in the host community of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. The program targeted pregnant women and lactating women with infants aged less than 6 months. And was delivered through weekly SMS messages, pre-recorded audio messages and the provision of play kits.

In Venezuela, the IRC implemented the program for an indigenous population affected by the socioeconomic crisis, living near the Colombian border. The home visiting program lasted 9 months and reached 743 families, with children aged 0 – 36 months.

Organisational Structure

In all implementation sites, home visitors are local community members who have various educational backgrounds trained by the IRC team.

Program managers supervise the home visitors.  They are from the respective sector which implements the program in each country.

Cultural Adaptations

A weekly visiting schedule was added to the implementation for the Middle East countries. Translation of the curriculum into Modern Standard Arabic for technical accuracy, regional dialect, tone and cultural relevance, was done.

Inclusion resources were added to the Reach Up material. This included the production of illustrated booklets for parents, which depicted the home-visiting curriculum using almost no words, for adaptation in low literacy settings and a series of booklets on adapting the program for children with disabilities.

Adaptations to the other resources were as follows:
• Training Manual – added (1) guidance on working with large families who had multiple children in the home, (2) caregiver wellbeing (stress management, coping strategies, and self-care messaging) and (3) safeguarding children,
• Pictures and storybooks – changed illustrations to feature locally relevant objects and environments – tent-like accommodations and apartment living, desert vegetation, and local animals and products.
• Toymaking – used local materials to make rattles (hair gel containers), trucks (cardboard), and sheep dolls (cotton and cardboard).
• Local songs were added.
• In Jordan – the use of a tablet-based software to deliver Reach Up

Drs. Jena Hamadani, Shamima Shiraj and Syeda Mehrin from the icddr,b, provided technical support and content development for the remote response adaptation for Rohingya refuges in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

For the implementation of the program for the Wayuu community in Venezuela, IRC adapted Reach Up’s books to reflect their setting. For example, the book “Baby is Hungry” shows a picture of a mother washing her infant’s hands before eating and a second caregiver helping keep the infant away from the open cooking fire. The content was also expanded to include Hygiene/sanitation, nutrition, breastfeeding, discipline, safety and caregiver well-being.


On child development:
As reported in the study by Wilton, et al (2021) - 92% of the children in Lebanon and 82% of the children in Jordan, showed improved CREDI scores between baseline and endline.
Expressive and receptive language
Outcomes - Fine and gross motor skills
Impact on caregivers
According to Vachon, Wilton, et al (2020), anecdotal caregiver feedback and qualitative research reported that caregivers believed their children were learning from the program (shapes, animals, colors), that it helped to alleviated their stress and allow them to interact with their children more. Some examples of comments made by caregivers were as follows:

“This program has contributed in the development of my child’s social, emotional, cognitive, and motor skills. It also helped me understand Mohamad’s capabilities and how to deal with him in a positive attitude, while providing him with the needed support. I really hope for the continuation of the Reach Up project.” - Khitam, a mother’s voice on Reach Up

“I used to not sit with my daughter often, but now I do, I sit with her and I teach her a song for example, and after a while she can sing it on her own.” - 21-year-old mother with two children

“I talk to him, I play with him and teach him words like mama and dad.” - 23-year-old mother with two children

“I started to care about my son more. I became interested to be the first one who finds out what he has of hidden talents or skills I do not know of, instead of a stranger!” 40-year-old father with four children

Research & Publications

Swing Wilton, K., Murphy, K., Mahmud, A, et al (2023). Adapting Reach Up and Learn in Crisis and Conflict Settings: An Exploratory Multiple Case Study. Pediatrics May 2023; 151 (Supplement 2): e2023060221K. 10.1542/peds.2023-060221K

Wilton, K., Vachon, A., Murphy, K., et al (2021). Home Visiting in the Middle East: Reflections on the Implementation of Reach Up and Learn. Journal on Education in Emergencies 2021;7:42.

Wilton, K., Murphy, K, Mahmud, A, et al (2021). Gindegi Goron: Results from IRC’s audio initiative to support nurturing care for early childhood development in Cox’s Bazar during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vachon, L. Wilton, K., et al (2020). Reach Up and Learn in the Syria Response: Adapting and