Finn Church Aid shuts down its Liberia and Sierra Leone country programmes

Finn Church Aid (FCA) has decided to shut down its country programmes in Liberia and Sierra Leone by the end of 2017. Involvement in Liberia led to the founding of the Women’s Bank volunteer network which currently has thousands of volunteers.

“It is always difficult to make a decision like this. Over the past year we have worked hard to find new donors in both Liberia and Sierra Leone, but have not been adequately successful. However, it’s great that the work will continue by a local civil society organisation”, says Jouni Hemberg, FCA’s Executive Director.

Finn Church Aid has operated in both West African countries for ten years. Involvement began with rebuilding efforts after over a decade of civil war and included training on farming methods and provision of psychosocial support and education to former child soldiers, particularly girls.

“After ten years, our work is now picked up by locals. The Liberian staff members of our country office are founding a new, Liberian organisation to continue the work that FCA has done, and this is exactly how it should go”, Hemberg says.

The decision was affected in part by Finnish foreign ministry’s cuts on development funding but also FCA’s shifted focus on the most fragile countries of the world, which Liberia and Sierra Leone no longer are.

“At the moment we are discussing the closure of our programmes with beneficiaries and local partners and planning how we could best support them to ensure that the work remains on a sustainable foundation”, says Marjo Mäenpää, Desk Officer for West and Central Africa.

Income opportunities and Ebola prevention

FCA has maintained a country programme and a country office in Liberia since 2007. In Sierra Leone, FCA has been operating for seven years, and even before that, since 1993, FCA has supported the work of the Lutheran World Federation in both countries. During civil wars, work focused on providing basic necessities at refugee camps.

FCA’s own work has focused on developing village communities and supporting livelihoods in rural areas by organising training on farming methods and supporting youth professional education.

From 2010, FCA assisted refugees who fled violence in Ivory Coast during elections by maintaining schools on Ivorian refugee camps in Liberia.

Omai Toka korjaa riisisatoaan Liberiassa.

During the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, many rural families had to eat their seed corn. Omai Toka is harvesting her rice  in the village Gohn in Grand Cape Mount county in 2015. She bought the seed corn with the support of Finn Church Aid’s food security programme. Photo: Ville Palonen.

During the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, FCA distributed hygiene products – like soap, buckets and chlorine –, organised large-scale awareness campaigns to prevent the spread of Ebola and supported efforts to maintain food security. The latest humanitarian operation was the distribution of relief packages to victims of landslides and floods in Sierra Leone in late 2017.

In Liberia, FCA will conclude its EU-funded project to train prison staff and communities and promote the rights of prisoners to legal counsel. The project will conclude in early 2019.

Women’s Bank volunteer network has its origins in Liberia

In January 2007, FCA invited a group of socially active women from Finland to travel to Liberia and meet local women. The trip inspired the group to act for the benefit of other women in developing countries. On 24 May 2007, Women’s Bank was formed and in ten years, it has grown into a network of over 3,000 volunteers and raised 11 million euros of funds to support more than 40,000 people in the developing world.

In Liberia and Sierra Leone, Women’s Bank supported vulnerable girls and women in obtaining livelihoods, for example by providing vocational education and entrepreneurship training.  Altogether, 12,000 people benefitted from the Women’s Banks’ work in the two countries.