How a unique learning program is providing educational opportunities and psychological support for crisis affected children in the Philippines

“It lessens the trauma they experienced during the siege; it encouraged them to go to school even without me accompanying them.”

Ms Akmilah Mira-Ato reflects on the impact the Reach & Match learning program had on her children, following the Marawi siege, a five-month conflict that started in May 2017 to become the longest urban battle in the modern history of The Philippines between the Filipino government security forces and militants affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

The conflict in Southern Philippines killed 1200 people, destroyed buildings and homes and displaced around 100,000 children, many of whom still suffer psychological scars. More than two years on, many displaced families struggle to access potable water, viable job opportunities and permanent shelter.

Young children living in emergency contexts such as post-conflict Marawi City are most at risk of falling behind in their learning and development compared to their peers.

Reach & Match’s learning kits and play-based learning program uniquely supports their learning and improves their wellbeing at a time when they are most vulnerable.

“The use of the Reach & Match materials serve not only for learning but also serve as a psychosocial therapy session,” says Mr John Tamayo, Manager at local partner Plan International Marawi.

“Through the use of the Reach & Match materials we are able to help those children heal from the trauma that they are experiencing,” says Mr Tamayo.


Providing psychological support and learning for all children

In addition to providing psychological support for children facing difficult times, the Reach & Match play-based learning kit helps children of all abilities develop literacy, cognition, sensory integration, language, motor, and social and communication skills through tactile and audio feedback.

The kit, designed through focused research and user testing, is a system of four double-sided sensory play mats and 26 double-sided sensory tiles which also includes braille and distinctive sounds. Therefore, children with and without disabilities can learn together.

It can be used in both 2D and 3D configurations providing over 30 games, focusing on active exploration and interaction.

Ms Norhana Biac Raman, a Grade 1 teacher at Pendolonan Elementary School in Marawi City shares how the Reach & Match program enabled the inclusion of children with disability in her class; “In my grade one class, I had two children with disability. One was mentally challenged, and the other one had a speech difficulty. However, every time we had our Reach & Match activity, they didn’t feel that they had disabilities because they played with their classmates. Because of Reach & Match, their self-esteem improved, they became more active and they don’t feel shy anymore.”

Photo: Children participating in a Reach & Match activity focused on building social interactions amongst classmates with special needs.

A teacher from Ilian Elementary School in Lanao de Sur province echoes a similar sentiment; “Before, [children with disabilities were] just standing around the corner, not joining our class activities, but because of Reach & Match, they are now engaging with their classmates, [reducing their] feeling of isolation.”

Reach & Match is designed to empower children with or without special needs in a mainstream environment; hence it is a social inclusive kit for all children.

Reach & Match’s users include children with sensory impairments, such as vision or hearing impairments, and children with multiple physical and intellectual impairments, including Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy and social and communication barriers such as Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Enabling sustainability and inclusive education

With innovationXchange support, Reach & Match partnered with Save the Children and Plan International to deliver this innovative early intervention program to 10 schools and 10 child care centres in Marawi City and Lanao del Sur province, reaching 2,430 children and 105 teachers.

Reach & Match delivered a multi- day ‘train the trainers’ workshop to educators, including teachers, childcare centre staff and members of local education departments, who would ensure the successful delivery and longevity of the Reach & Match Inclusive Learning program.

The workshop covered inclusive education practices, providing hands-on experience conducting play-based activities using the Reach & Match learning kits, and explored how to implement the inclusive education learning program into local curriculums.

Photo: A classroom teacher describing the shape of the double-sided sensory tile to students

As a result of this support, local partners including Save the Children Philippines, Plan International Philippines and the Departments of Education in Lanao del Sur and Marawi, have now learnt how to design and integrate the Reach & Match program effectively into their curriculum.

Mr Zora Agustin from Save the Children Philippines reflected on his experience following the workshop “Magandang Umaga (Good morning), yesterday was really fun! We were able to unleash our inner childhood behaviour and attitudes, express our emotions, shout, laugh! If us adults enjoyed it, how much more will the children enjoy it!”

“I hope that the Reach & Match activities and learning program can be shared with other areas, not just Marawi or Lanao del Sur, especially those areas that were affected by different emergencies. It’s very helpful because it serves psycho-social support and activities.”

Photo: Children participating in a Reach & Match activity focused on fine motor skills and shape sorting

A global presence

Although Reach & Match has a truly global presence in many contexts, from Solomon Islands to the Netherlands, child care centres to libraries, this is the first time Reach & Match has been successfully applied in an emergency context.

The early results are promising – with monitoring and evaluation activities suggesting an improvement in the classroom participation of children, especially girls, improved teacher confidence in facilitating activities between children with and without disabilities, and improved learning outcomes relating to pattern recognition and numeracy skills.

To explore a partnership with Reach & Match or find out more, contact Reach & Match Founder and Director Mandy Lau at

Reach & Match, an Australian social business that is spearheading a movement for wider social inclusion from early childhood, was one of seven winners of the MIKTA (Mexico, Indonesia, Korea, Turkey, Australia) Education in Emergencies Challenge, which called for new ideas to improve access to education for children in emergency situations, particularly girls. The challenge was delivered with Australian Aid. Winners were announced in December 2017.


Find out more at:

Facebook: @reachandmatch
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