Finn Church Aid celebrated its 70-year history: “Investing in education in the poorest countries is an investment in global wellbeing”

Finn Church Aid (FCA) has become a globally valued expert in education and peace work. At the end of September, the 70 years of FCA’s aid work were celebrated in Helsinki.

FCA’s anniversary year culminated in the #courage2017 seminar held in Helsinki on 27 September. Among the speakers were Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipilä, Archbishop of Finland Kari Mäkinen, the UN Under-Secretary General and Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng, and Alice P. Albright, the Director of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), which is the world’s most important funder of education in developing countries.

“It is admirable, that despite the risks, Finn Church Aid has decided to work in the world’s most fragile countries”, Prime Minister Sipilä said in his speech.

The Prime Minister commended FCA’s practical work in peace mediation and in the fight against violent extremist groups, as well as its courage to open-mindedly try out new methods and partnerships.

“My office receives some of its greatest support from civil society actors like Finn Church Aid”, said UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng.

Partnership with Finn Church Aid, and the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers working in connection with it, has led to concrete results.

Adama Dieng and Baba Lybeck.

UN Special Adviser Adama Dieng answered questions from the audience. The seminar was hosted by Baba Lybeck.

“At the heart of all religions is the belief in our common humanity and respect for others. Together we have succeeded in placing a discussion about the positive power of religion at the heart of the work of the United Nations”, Dieng said.

The importance of education was a recurring theme in the event’s speeches. According to the latest estimates, there are 264 million out-of-school children and youth in the world.

“Hundreds of millions of young people are being left behind. They will never acquire the skills they need to break out of poverty or to compete in an increasingly globalised world. The countries they live in are deprived of their input in the building of economically stable and sustainable societies. As a result, we are all less well off”, said GPE’s Director Alice P. Albright. GPE is working to improve education in developing countries.

Albright reminded the audience that we live in an increasingly interconnected world, and inequality of opportunity leads to discontent and conflict, which in turn can spill over national borders. It is the responsibility of everyone – whether from traditional donor countries, emerging economies, developing countries, foundations, civil society or the private sector – to invest in education.

New direction and a wider reach

Ten years ago, Finn Church Aid completely changed its direction. Where earlier FCA had focused on funding the work carried out by its partner organisations it now decided to specialise in peace work, education and improving livelihoods. It also began sending its own relief workers abroad and set up country offices to manage the implementation of its own projects.

“We wanted to take a bigger responsibility for the results of our work. On a global scale we are a small organisation and it is not sensible for us to seek out projects in areas that already have a large number of actors in them. Our work has its biggest impact in the world’s most fragile countries”, says FCA Director Jouni Hemberg.

In ten year, FCA’s income has doubled, partly as a result of international funding. FCA currently employs 350 people, which is nearly ten times more than a decade ago. Last year, 132,500 children and youth received access to education as a result of FCA’s work.

Among the guests at the anniversary event were representatives from FCA’s Finnish and foreign partners, the Finnish government, the Finnish church, other civil society organisations, the media and parishes.

Deaconess Heidi Karvonen from Oulu has been FCA’s contact point in her parish for 20 years.

“International charity work is important for me and I have always wanted to bring FCA’s work forward in my parish. Initially, disaster relief was closest to my heart, but now I feel most strongly about peace work, about how conflict and human suffering could be avoided. At the event today, we’ve heard a lot of emphasis put on the importance of education as the foundation for peace work”, Karvonen says.

“Finn Church Aid’s courage is a result of it recognising its roots and identity and drawing from them”, said Archbishop Kari Mäkinen.

The Archbishop spoke of how after the Second World War, churches understood that they were part of a reality in which people’s basic security had been shaken. Talk of a loving God rang hollow when people were not fed, clothed or cared for. The foundation of the churches’ work was the principle of mutual dependence and reciprocity. God’s world is one; its hope and despair are common to us all.

“This courage is needed now as Finn Church Aid works around the world from Central Africa to South Sudan, from Syria to Nepal and Europe. The vulnerable must be protected, the hopeless must be afforded hope, peace must be brought to places of violence.”

The theme for FCA’s anniversary is #courage2017.

In the 70 years worship preceding the seminar, the World Council of Churches General Secretary Olav Fykse Tveit thanked FCA for its contribution in the ecumenical movement. In his sermon Tveit said: ”We live in a world that is getting divided, polarized, focusing on the differences and the dividing forces between us as human beings and between us and nature. We need the courage to live with a vision for unity.”