Global Leadership Team strengthens FCA partnerships in US and Canada 

FCA Global Leadership Team strengthens partnerships in US and Canada 

Five people pose for a photo in a car park in front of the White House in Washington, DC, USA
From left to right: Dr. Mohamed Elsanousi, Executive Director of the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers; Wycliffe Nsheka, FCA Uganda Country Director; Ikali Karvinen, FCA Deputy Executive Director; Patricia Maruschak, FCA Ukraine Country Director; Berhanu Haile, FCA Somalia Country Director.

Finn Church Aid America welcomed the five members of the FCA Global Leadership Team to Washington, DC and Toronto, Canada. The team met with leading government agencies and partner organisations supporting global peace and development. 

THE WEEK-LONG MISSION sought to foster collaboration; promote FCA expertise in the areas of education, livelihood and peace; and advocate for continued resourcing in development aid. 

The mission presented an opportunity for FCA to engage with the US government in Washington DC, including with the White House National Security Council and US Agency for International Development (USAID). FCA presented on its work on its thematic focus areas and engaged in lively discussions on innovative mechanisms to solve some of the most pressing challenges in fragile contexts.

A smiling man in a suit carrying a rucksack poses for a photo in a hallway in front of a wooden door, which is flanked by the US flag and the flag of the Vice President of the United States.
Ikali Karvinen, Deputy Executive Director of FCA stands in the halls of the National Security Council at the White House in Washington, DC.

The mission involved engaging with US-based foundations, including Global Partnership for Education, DAI Global, Creative Associates and Dexis Consulting, emphasising FCA’s strengths in creative industries, localisation agendas, and country-specific programming, such as its programming in Ukraine, Somalia and Uganda.

During the week, the Embassy of Finland in Washington, DC worked with FCA and the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers (Peacemakers Network) to host a joint event titled, ‘Getting Peace Right: Strategies for Sustainable Peacebuilding and Community Development’.

Convening stakeholders from the United States Governments, DC-based embassies and broader civil society, this event underscored the importance of education, inclusion and innovative partnerships to strengthen sustainable peace and development around the world.

A man with a microphone speaks at a podium bearing the logo of the Embassy of Finland.
Mikko Hautala, Ambassador of Finland to the United States, opened the joint event. Photo: Embassy of Finland in Washington, DC.

Foundation of sustainable development

“FCA sees quality education as the foundation of sustainable development. It sustains democracy, provides the keys to solving the climate crisis and getting a decent job, and it is the cornerstone of sustainable peace efforts,” remarked Dr. Tomi Jarvinen, Executive Director of FCA, at the event.

A panel of five people sit on a stage taking part in a discussion. The flags of Finland, the US, the EU and NATO are behind them. An audience sits in front.
A panel of FCA experts, academics and US government officials gathered for a special event at the Finnish embassy in Washington, DC.

Meanwhile, representatives from the US government were keen to learn about FCA’s and the Peacemakers Network’s experience in investing in partnerships, especially in fragile contexts.

“Under the nexus approach, we need to think about new partnerships to invest in fragile economies and build sustainable infrastructures to support sustainable peace,” shared Director Elizabeth Pelletreau, Director of the Office of Assistance for Africa of the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration at the U.S. Department of State.

Canada meetings supported education, peace work

A number of smiling people pose for a photo on a staircase
In Canada, FCA’s Global Leadership Team met members of the ACT Canada Forum.

In Canada, the team met with members of the ACT Canada Forum. Finn Church Aid is a founding member of the ACT Alliance and the team welcomed the opportunity to touch base with Alliance partners like the Primate’s World Relief and Development Foundation (PWRDF), United Church of Canada (UCC) and Canadian Lutheran World Relief (CLWR).  Canadian donors like the Canadian Foodgrains Bank are essential in our lifesaving cash support programmes in South Sudan and elsewhere.

At a meeting with the Canada Ukraine Foundation, the Leadership Team were able to present and discuss ongoing work in Ukraine supporting safe access to quality education, while also exchanging ideas on wider education in emergencies work.

Meeting with War Child Canada, the teams found many common interests, especially in South Sudan and Uganda where both organisations work with education and livelihood projects.

FCA’s global network is a crucial keystone to the success of not only active peace, livelihood and education projects, but wider collaboration through sister organisations like the Network for Traditional and Religious Peacemakers, Women’s Bank and Teachers Without Borders.

Thanks to robust support from our North American partners and donors, we are able to leverage these networks to continue our work to support the most vulnerable people.

Read more about FCA programming in Uganda, Ukraine, South Sudan and Somalia

FCA will continue development cooperation operations, despite cuts

Finn Church Aid’s work continues in Kenya and Myanmar, which are the targets of development cooperation cuts

Ville Tavio, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development, recently presented cuts to Finland’s development cooperation.

VERY SIGNIFICANT CUTS are planned for development cooperation, according to Finland’s new minister for development cooperation. During the term of the government, which was inaugurated in June 2023, Finland will end the country programmes for Kenya, Myanmar, Afghanistan and Mozambique. After the cuts, in 2027 Finland will spend up to 280 million euros less than previously planned for actual development cooperation.

FCA continues its work in Kenya and Myanmar, partly with the support of Finland, but mainly with the support of other financiers.

“At FCA we are saddened to see that Finland is cutting support from precisely those countries where the need for development cooperation and aid is great. The countries in question are either very fragile themselves or, like Kenya, bear the burden of refugees from other countries,” says FCA’s Deputy Executive Director, Ikali Karvinen.

“We are committed to continuing our work in Myanmar and Kenya, where we work in many different ways to promote education, livelihood and stability.”

FCA’s work in Kenya and Myanmar focuses on strengthening quality education, livelihoods and peace, as well as humanitarian aid. While Kenya’s economic development in the region has been positive, the country is a significant recipient of refugees. FCA supports access to primary education in Turkana, Garissa and Marsabit, Kenya’s poorest counties, which host a large number of refguees.

Development cooperation is effective and is still needed

Tapio Laakso, head of Advocacy at FCA, says that the cuts demonstrated how Finland’s presence in the world is weakening.

“Development cooperation is part of Finland’s foreign and security policy. With the cuts, Finland’s presence and opportunities for influence in the world will decrease,” he says.

Mr Karvinen adds how even distant problems ultimately affect the stability of Finland and the safety of its citizens.

“We have seen that international solidarity is in danger at this time. In a networked world, we will encounter even distant problems at our doorstep eventually, if we do not react to them where they first appear. Climate change, refugees and difficult development issues are issues that affect all of us.”

“Of course, it is positive that civil society is still seen as an important actor in these countries.”

At the beginning of 2024, there will be 300 million people in the world relying on humanitarian aid. Before the beginning of this decade, the number was decreasing, but the situation has been dramatically worsened by the Coronavirus pandemic, the climate crisis and events such as the war in Ukraine and the conflict in Gaza.

Mr Laakso states that a humanitarian crisis is an extreme situation that can be prevented precisely through development cooperation.

“It is often said that nothing can be accomplished with development cooperation, but that is not true. Compared to the beginning of the 1990s, global extreme poverty has decreased, more and more children – and especially girls – go to school and, looking at the big picture, the world is doing much better. It is worrisome how many of the long-term development indicators mentioned above have declined while conflicts are also increasing,” he says.

More information and contacts:

FCA Deputy Executive Director, Ikali Karvinen
+358 40 509 8050

FCA Head of Advocacy Tapio Laakso
+358 50 536 3280

Not feeling alone is crucial for survivors of gender-based violence

Not feeling alone is crucial for survivors of gender-based violence

Finn Church Aid (FCA) works against gender-based violence in the Central African Republic by connecting survivors to healthcare services and psychosocial counselling.

WHEN ZITA KOUALET started her work as FCA’s psychosocial counsellor in Baboua, the hardest part was getting survivors of gender-based violence to consider sharing what they had gone through.

Koualet and her colleagues provide the first response in cases of rape, sexual harassment, or domestic violence in Baboua, Central African Republic. The project has been running for three years with UN Refugee Agency UNHCR funding. After careful awareness-raising in the community, people know how to approach Koualet in cases of violence or abuse.

“We pay for any transport or medical needs and provide counselling that focuses on the mental well-being. We can also help people file cases when they have been wronged”, she says.

“After that, the survivors are offered counselling. The more they feel they are supported, the more comfortable they are opening up about their experience and feel how it helps them move forward.”

Koulaet and her team also record the cases from their area in UNHCR’s database. Based on the countrywide data, NGOs know the needs and can tailor their responses nationwide.

Early marriage a key issue that leads to violence

Koualet mentions that early marriage is one of the core issues that leads to violence against women. When women are married off young, they are forced to interrupt their education – if they were in school in the first place. If women do not receive an education, they often end up staying at home doing housework and taking care of children, making them dependent on their husbands.

If a girl and her family refuse a marriage proposal, they might face consequences. In many cases of sexual violence, the perpetrator is someone they know from before, Koualet explains.

Usually, women with their own income suffer less from gender-based violence, which is why education is critical to preventing cases.

“Early marriage greatly slows down the development of young girls here. We work hard to discourage this custom and promote the benefits of education instead”, Koualet says.

After careful awareness-raising in the community in Baboua in Central African Republic, people know how to approach Zita Koualet in cases of violence or abuse.

Several of Koualet’s clients in Baboua, near the border to Cameroon, are only teenagers. One of them is 14-year-old Sylvaine. She was raped on her way home from an early evening event in her village. The assailant was a man who had earlier proposed to marry her, but Sylvaine and her family had declined.

“I had refused to marry because I wanted to continue my studies. Not too much later, I met the man when I was on my way home in the dark, and he assaulted me”, she says.

Sylvaine was first afraid to speak about the rape with anyone, but when she started feeling sick, she decided to confide in her sister. Her sister persuaded Sylvaine to talk to her mother, who had heard about FCA through an awareness campaign. FCA’s staff immediately took her to the hospital.

The doctor who treated her injuries quickly told Sylvaine she was pregnant.

“Our first thought was that we wanted to press charges against the perpetrator, but we decided that it would be disadvantageous for my future, my studies and marriage potential”, Syvlaine says.

Counselling comforts and helps building a way forward 

The mental health consequences of gender-based violence are often paralysing. Ana is a 30-year-old single mother who takes care of her five children alone after divorcing her husband a few years earlier. Ana used to run a successful business as a vendor at the weekly market near the town of Bouar.

One day, she was assaulted and robbed by members of an armed group. They beat Ana and took all her possessions. Forced down on the ground, the men accused her of collaborating with another armed group. After driving over her with their motorcycles, they left her lying on the road.

“I lost all the money I had for supporting my children. They are now out of school, and during the month after the assault, I have not been able to work”, she says.

Some materials from FCA's and UNHCR's dignity kit in are spread on the table. There is a bucket, a box with a picture of a torch, a whistle, a paper bag, two pairs of women's underwear and a white mosquito net on the table.
A dignity kit distributed to women in Baboua, Central African Republic contains a mosquito net, torch, underwear and other necessities, including a whistle to raise alarm in case of an attack.

The people who found Ana referred her to FCA, who took her to treatment for her injuries and covered her hospital costs. Ana still feels pain in her ribs and back but is able to walk. While still fearing to visit the local market, Ana feels grateful for the psychosocial support she receives weekly.

“Thanks to that, I have been able to live, and the hospital helped me back on my feet”, she says.

Ana and Sylvaine say that the most important reason for their recovery is understanding that they are not alone. Sylvaine also says that the counselling has been comforting and helped her realise that what happened to her was not her fault. Her goal is now to go back to school and continue her education.

“Speaking with the counsellors has made me realise I also want to work with something that makes a difference. Caring for my child does not stop me. My siblings and mother will support me”, Sylvaine says.

The names of the survivors of gender-based violence have been changed due to the sensitive nature of their stories.

Text: Erik Nyström
Photos: Björn Udd

FCA closes its operations in Cambodia

FCA closes its operations in Cambodia

The decision is based on the changing geopolitical situation, such as the war in Ukraine, which has widely impacted the funding of NGOs like FCA in recent years.

FOLLOWING A DECISION from its Board of Directors, Finn Church Aid (FCA) closes its operations in Cambodia at the end of the year. FCA has had a Country Office in Cambodia since 2011.

“During the exit process, FCA continues to work with key stakeholders and partners to complete the program implementation to fulfil its accountability for the beneficiaries and toward its donors”, says Marja Jörgensen, Director of International Programmes.

The decision is based on the changing geopolitical situation, such as the war in Ukraine, which has widely impacted the funding of NGOs like FCA in recent years. This has put traditional long-term development funders under increasing pressure to cut development funding or direct Overseas Development Aid (ODA) towards refugees and asylum seekers on their own soil.

While the overall financial situation of FCA is solid in 2023, there are challenges facing funding in 2024 and onwards. Long-term, predictable funding is decreasing, and unearmarked funding available is becoming limited. Growth in international funding sources brings, however, its own challenges, such as securing staff when funding fluctuates. This also affects efforts to strengthen our core functions, which traditionally have been financed by unearmarked funding sources.

“To face these realities, it financially makes sense to exit from Cambodia in a well-organised manner, allowing FCA to reallocate the available resources efficiently whilst reducing its operational complexity. Therefore, it requires the cooperation and understanding from all relevant stakeholders to support this exit process and possibly take over the responsibilities to contribute to building local ownership and sustainability in Cambodia,” says Jörgensen.

Though the decision to commence an exit process is largely the consequence of the changing geopolitical situation, Jörgensen highlights the sustainable impact of FCA’s work and wants to thank all FCA’s stakeholders who have been working torward assisiting those people whose human rights have not been fully realised in Cambodia.

“The impact of FCA’s work on the right to quality education, right to livelihood and right to peace in Cambodia for more than a decade is considered a solid base for a positive change that is no longer acutely dependent on FCA.”

In the last 12 years, FCA has supported the Cambodian Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MoEYS) in creating Cambodia’s career counselling system. The work led to career counselling being included in the national curriculum, and career counsellors are now trained for nationwide needs. Youth have also gained skills and participated in development work and the labour force. Communities have been supported in the sustainable management of natural resources and in alleviating and adapting to the consequences of climate change.

The Poorest Countries in the World: 10+1 Things to Know

The Poorest Countries in the World: 10+1 Things to Know

The poorest countries of the world remain poor year after year,decade after decade – or so it might seem. What do these countries have in common? Why are they stuck in the mire of poverty – and what can we do about it?


What are the poorest countries in the world?One way to define them is the UN’s list of Least Developed Countries (LDCs). The list, updated every three years, currently includes 46 countries, mostly in Africa, some in the Asia/Pacific region and one, Haiti, in the Caribbean. The LDCs are ranked on the list according to factors like income levels, health, and education.


Over a tenth of the world’s population lives in a country classified as “fragile” and, according to the World Bank, around eight per cent of people face extreme poverty. Signs of dire poverty include high maternal and infant mortality rates, low status of women and low levels of education. Most of the work performed in such countries takes place outside the formal labor market, such as in domestic labor. Tax revenues are thus inadequate for providing government services, and basic services like education and health care remain lacking.


The legacy of colonialism continues to cast a shadow over many poor countries. The borders of modern-day states, once artificially drawn by their former colonial masters, frequently do not follow patterns like ethnic lines or traditional settlements. Natural resources have been made into a tool for accumulating wealth for a small proportion of the population. Societies maldeveloped in this way are prone to conflict, ethnic violence, and undeveloped governance, rife with practices such as corruption and misuse of funds that clash with the idea of good government.


Poor countries’ development may be hindered by conflict, poor governance (especially in small countries) or resource-based economies. The neighbourhoods of the countries also play a large role, especially for countries that do not have a ready connection to the ocean. Access to world markets and secure transportation of goods are important requirements for maintaining a growing economy.


Botswana and Vanuatu demonstrate that leaving the UN’s LDC list is possible. Even in the most fragile of countries education offers one pathway to development, and developing vocational training can be an effective way to provide routes to employment and sustenance. Nevertheless, even when development happens, women, people with disabilities and marginalized ethnic groups often face exclusion. It is important to keep everyone on board in order for progress to reach the whole of society.


We say that development must reach the entire society, but what kind of development are we talking about? As ways to define development, measures like the gross domestic product (GDP) and life expectancy are fundamentally based on the Western mindset. A current trend in development cooperation, though, is a shift towards primarily local ownership, with local people themselves defining the agenda of development. In this process, in addition to GDP and other indicators, the status of individuals and their opportunities to live their own lives are also of fundamental importance.


Humanitarian aid is seen as immediate disaster relief, but it is also acutely needed for protracted conflicts and for refugees. Focusing only on acute relief is short-sighted – raising people up from poverty requires education, jobs, and other opportunities for livelihood. The best way to help fragile countries is combining different forms of aid and thinking beyond what is acute; casting an eye to the future and visualising the permanent eradication of poverty. In this process, peacebuilding plays a crucial role.


This, we know already; development should not be a byword for a consumption-centered Western lifestyle, unsustainable both in terms of nature and the climate. When defining our preferred model of development, we must also always keep this in mind; Western lifestyle also needs changing. A consumption-centered, exploitative model of development is fundamentally not an option.


Development cooperation gets a lot of criticism, and its controversial aspects were also highlighted in Finland’s recent government negotiations. Giving aid is not only a moral and ethical obligation, but also something that can advance a better life for all. Trade relations, innovation, and the promotion of technology, for example, impact the entire world positively.


Education and jobs – these are the best ways to keep destitute people from negative pathways like joining extremist groups. Just as conflicts can spread from one country to another, the stabilisation of one country also increases stability in neighboring countries. Thus, foreign aid is also in the interests of the donor countries. Development cooperation also helps rectify past errors, including in the case of Finland, a country that has – like others – grown from the exploitation of the global South’s resources.


Thework of Finn Church Aid and the wishes of our donors highlight the importance of women and youth in development. Enabling the participation of women and young people in decision-making and governance allows positive changes to occur in entire societies. Educated women also want their children to be educated, and this fosters the development of the whole local community.

Sources: interview with Ikali Karvinen, Executive Vice President of KUA, and UNCTAD, UNDP, World Bank and Paul Collier’s book The Bottom Billion.

Text by Anne Salomäki
Illustration: Carla Ladau

Across the world, FCA’s local workers come face to face with catastrophes both in their work and in their personal lives 

Across the world, FCA’s local workers come face to face with catastrophes both in their work and in their personal lives 

Karam woke up when the earth started to shake. Marianna fled a war. Susan skips workdays to fetch water. These FCA workers now tell us what it’s like to live in the middle of a catastrophe. 

DID YOU KNOW that Finn Church Aid employs over 3 000 people? Or that 95 % of them are locally hired experts? Our local workers are the most crucial part of our relief work. For many people, catastrophes are a remote affair – for them, they’re a part of everyday life. 

In this article we meet some FCA experts who have lived through the war in Ukraine, the drought in East Africa and a devastating earthquake in Syria. They don’t see their work as just a job. What is at stake for them is the future – for their families and for their countries.

A man poses for a photograph.
Syrian Karam Sharouf has lived his entire adult life surrounded by catastrophes: a decade of war, pandemic and in February 2023, a devastating earthquake tore down thousands of homes and schools in North Syria. PHOTO: KARAM SHAROUF / FCA

Karam Sharouf from Syria has lived through a variety of catastrophes for his entire adult life. Still, he sees light at the end of the tunnel.  

“It started with a bomb-like sound, just like what we have been hearing throughout the war. I thought we were under attack again. Eventually, I realized that the earth was shaking. 

It was the morning of February 6, 2023. I was asleep in our home, on the fourth floor of a building, in the Syrian capital Damascus. In a state of shock, I grabbed my wife and child. Things were falling and breaking apart around us, but fortunately there were no injuries.  

I am Syrian. I am 33 years old. I have lived my entire adult life surrounded by catastrophes: a decade of war, then the pandemic, now a devastating earthquake. Our country is going from a crisis to crisis, and many Syrians are just waiting for a chance to get out.  

I have been working with FCA since 2019, when I became FCA’s first local worker in Syria. Even before that, however, I had ten years of experience in the organization. The earthquake has kept us extremely busy. In Syria, we have not had the opportunity to prepare for catastrophes like the earthquake and the pandemic, since we have dealing with bombs and attacks for the last decade. How to deal with something like an earthquake? We have had no idea.  

Just before the quake, Finn Church Aid had expanded its reach to Aleppo, as well as Raqqa, often remembered as the capital of ISIS. People in these cities have been living under enormous pressure and, after all the bad things that have happened, all they have wanted is a moment of calm. What they did not need was another catastrophe, like this earthquake – causing many to lose their homes or families. 

So, all things considered, it’s all very difficult, but I still see light at the end of the tunnel for us Syrians. That’s what keeps me going. After all, our mission is making people feel empowered. 

The future of Syria depends first on us, the locals, even if the international community’s help is also necessary. When people work hard for their country, this creates a sense of togetherness and unity. What annoys me is how white people treat us Middle-Easterners. I’ve seen none of that while at FCA, even though we are in constant contact with Finland and our other countries of operation. Almost all of the staff at FCA’s Syria office are Syrian. That is quite exceptional and gets us a lot of positive feedback. 

Marianna Zhurbenko, who has fled the war in Ukraine, would not hesitate to open her home to other refugees. 

A Ukrainian woman sits by a desk. There is a laptop on the desk.
Marianna Zhurbenko fled the war herself before becoming a humanitarian worker. She now works as planning coordinator in FCA. PHOTO: Antti Yrjönen / FCA

“I remember staring incredulously at the sky from the window of my home in Gostomel, west of Kiev. It was 24 February 2022, helicopters were flying overhead, and my phone kept ringing incessantly as my friends called in distress, telling me and my family to flee. All the sudden the war had started, and the front line was only 500 metres from our home. It felt like they were playing a movie just outside our window. 

The artillery fire started in the evening. That’s when my husband and I decided to flee. We packed our 9-year-old son, our six-month-old baby, and our dog into the car. We fled first to Kyiv and then to western Ukraine.  

I and my sons lived there for the next few months. I stayed awake, listened to my 9-year-old crying. Fortunately, the baby didn’t understand anything about the situation.  

Unknown families took us in to live with them. We tried to offer them payment for water and electricity, and they refused to accept it. The war has united us Ukrainians like never before. I, too, would open the door to other families if they were facing such a situation.  

My own values have also been changed by the war. Material goods no longer matter to me, while life, health, family, and love are vastly more important than before. 

We were able to return home in May 2022. Kyiv was empty and our yard was full of mines and ammo fragments. The mines were cleared, and now our children can play there safely again. 

Before the war, I was a supervisor in a sewing company. After we returned home, it soon became clear that this couldn’t continue. Although my workplace had not been destroyed in the fighting, all the workers had fled elsewhere and had no intention of returning.  

I started in June as a planning coordinator at the Finn Church Aid. I’m in charge of obtaining aid and making sure that all aid going to FCA’s schools, for example, finds its way there.  

I was an internally displaced person and I know how that makes people feel. It’s great to be able to help children, and I like what I’m doing here.” 

A Kenyan woman poses for a photograph.
Susan Abuba Jackson fled to Kenya from South Sudan in 2017. She now works in a refugee camp as a teacher. PHOTO: BJÖRN UDD / FCA

Susan Abuba Jackson, living in a Kenyan refugee camp, is a teacher. Sometimes, however, she must spend a whole working day just fetching water. 

“I am a teacher. The ongoing drought makes life hard for my students, but also for me. I have five children at home. Some days, instead of going to work, I must fetch water to keep my children from suffering. If I can’t feed myself, I don’t have the energy to teach. There are four of us teachers in the school. The class sizes are so huge that teaching while hungry and thirsty becomes impossible. 

I came to Kenya from South Sudan in 2017, fleeing the war. I remember seeing one person shot I fled with my children here to Kenya while my husband stayed in South Sudan as a soldier. 

I worked as a teacher in South Sudan for 12 years. Upon arrival here, I started as a primary school teacher. For the last two years, I have been working as a kindergarten teacher in a school run by Finn Church Aid in the Kalobeyei refugee camp. 

I like working with children. They are flexible, they learn quickly and are very outspoken. Early education is also especially important for children. It is foundational to all sorts of learning.  

The drought is currently our biggest problem. Normally we have 500 pupils, but many are dropping out of school because there is no water in the school, either. We can’t even offer them food if there is no water. 

The children here have a lot of special needs. Many have seen war, have been traumatized. Their parents may have died, and they may be living alone with older siblings. It is up to us to look after these children and make sure they get a good education, but in a situation like this, that is very difficult.” 

Text: Björn Udd
Translation: Tatu Ahponen

Who can help the helpers?

Who can help the helpers?

At the Kakuma-Kalobeyei refugee camp in northern Kenya, mental health services are in short supply. The residents of the camp have fled murder and rape only to find that the daily life of the camp poses its own challenges. Working as a psychologist among people whose acute need of help is overwhelming takes its toll. What are some good ways to maintain resilience in the face of such challenges? 

“REMEMBER: it’s important to have a life goal,” the teacher says, speaking to approximately forty students. The students listen intently, even though the classroom is over 30 degrees hot.

“What would be an example of a good life goal?”

“A nice house,” says one student.

“Eating sweets,” says another. “A good wife,” third one exclaims, and everyone bursts out laughing.

IN KENYA, SCHOOLS were closed for two weeks in May. Nevertheless, at the Kalobeyei refugee camp, kids were learning skills like self-esteem, setting goals for oneself, and conflict resolution at a life-skills camp.

The refugee camp is one of the largest in the world, housing around 300 000 refugees, mostly children and youth. Many live alone or with their siblings, as their parents have disappeared or died.

200 youth who have regularly attended school during the last term have been invited to participate. The invitation not only serves as a reward – the camp offers the kids meals, like in school – but also helps pass the message onwards. The youth attending the camp are likely to teach their skills to their friends in future.

“During the holidays, youth often get into trouble. Some join gangs, others get pregnant. That’s why we decided to organise a camp for teaching life skills,” says Maureen Achieng, 25.

A full class of students sit in a class room in Kenya. There is a teacher in front of the class.

Kakuma Kalobeyei refugee camp in Kenya is one of the largest in the world, housing around 300 000 refugees, mostly children and youth. Many live alone or with their siblings, as their parents have disappeared or died. Every week, there are new people arriving to the camp from neighbouring countries.

Maureen Achieng is a psychologist at the Finn Church Aid field office in Kakuma-Kalobeyei, Kenya. Her role is supporting the psychosocial well-being of children and youth and offering counselling for difficult situations.

EVERY WEEK, there are new people arriving to the camp from neighbouring countries. Currently, the biggest source of refugees is violence in Burundi. Some are fleeing for the second time. At the same time, the camp is waiting to see the effects of the conflict in Sudan for Kenya.

“Children here have all sorts of problems: serious trauma in their home country or from being on the run, abuse at home, teenage pregnancies. On top of that come the normal young people problems, such as school or heartbreaks,” Achieng says.

A Burundian school girl speaks in front of a class.
Burundian 15-year-old Nelly Havariyamana arrived to Kenya as a refugee in 2017 with her family. Photo: Björn Udd / FCA

Dealing with these problems happens step by step. Achieng recommends young people set themselves goals and celebrate small achievements. Stressing the benefits of education is particularly important to girls, who are usually pressured into an early marriage. Nelly Havyarimana, 15, from Burundi, knows this very well personally.

“My mother and sisters and I came to Kenya in 2017. We had to leave home when my father died. As I had no brothers, our relatives wanted to marry us girls off. My mother thought that we should complete our studies, however, so we fled here.”

Havyarimana has learned about the importance of goals at the life skills camp.

“When I grow up, I want to be a surgeon. This can only happen through hard work – making decisions for the future and setting goals along the way. But I’m hopeful.”

Another useful skill that Havyarimana has learned in the camp: conflict resolution. The camp hosts people from many different nationalities, often without a common language. Conflicts are often inevitable.

“I’ve learned that I need to seek support from other communities. If, for example, Burundians and Sudanese are squabbling, I should at least get one person from the Sudanese side to support me, maybe some others, too. The parties to the conflict generally calm down when they realise that everyone wants them to stop.”

PSYCHOLOGIST Maureen Achieng also has other responsibilities at the camp, as she offers psychosocial support to students. In practice, this means problem-solving, therapy, academic counselling and much more. All of this is mentally taxing, even for a professional.

“I have often put myself in the shoes of a child who has had their parents murdered or a loved one raped in front of their eyes. They have had to walk to safety for days on end – without sleep, food or water.”

Achieng is also involved in an inter-organisational suicide prevention group. Both drug use and suicide attempts have recently increased alarmingly at the camp.

A woman sits on a bed reading in a dark room in Kenya.

Maureen Achieng and other members of the staff live in relatively modest conditions and with little personal space in Kalobeyei refugee camp.

“Even if one tries to take time off, conversations with colleagues always circle back to work,” Achieng says. PHOTO: BJÖRN UDD / FCA

“The main reason is definitely the oppressive living conditions. Up to 70% of suicidal people give the living conditions as the reason of their suicidal tendencies. The same goes for drug use. It’s a way of escaping reality and hopelessness.”

The team searches for people at risk and harnesses the whole community to recognise the surrounding warning signs.

“For example, we made an agreement with the camp’s traders: if someone wants to buy a rope, a few follow-up questions are needed. What is the purpose of their purchase? All right, they want to tie up an animal. What kind of an animal? And so on. Many people give up their intentions after this sort of a thing, at least for a time.”

It is still difficult, coming to grips with things like suicide each and every day. Achieng considers it important to be able to get away from work in her free time. It’s never easy, though. There are many needing help and never enough time to help them all. On top of that, the staff live in relatively modest conditions and with little personal space.

“Even if one tries to take time off, conversations with colleagues always circle back to work. And it’s hard to avoid your colleagues if they live next door!”

IT THUS BECOMES necessary to working through the issues causing distress in others. Achieng is lucky, as she has an older colleague outside the camp for discussing ideas and getting good advice on how to solve difficult cases.

For Achieng, who is originally from Nairobi, moving to the small-scale environment of the refugee camp was also a challenge. A key part of addressing this was making their home more homelike.

“Personally, my most important household item is the video gaming console, which I take with me everywhere I go,” laughs Achieng. She admits to being a big racing game fan, but also plays other games. In addition to the console, Achieng has brought home her favourite treats, and has also taken up painting.

“Sometimes we organise art workshops for the children. Art therapy works – I have first-hand experience!” she says, smiling.

Achieng is working on a rotating schedule. In addition to the normal holidays, she has a week off after seven working weeks.

“Write this one in your story in capital letters: THE ROTATING LEAVE IS A MUST!”, Achieng urges.

“It is easy to notice that five weeks is all it takes for my colleagues to exhausted, as they start becoming very irritable easily. Especially those who have families miss their loved ones, because you can’t bring husbands, wives, or children here. A week off helps a lot.”

A woman and two school girls sit on a porch in front of a building in Kenya.
The psychologists in the refugee camp’s schools are casually offering their help to the students. Lilian Akinyi was discussing with two students.

PSYCHOLOGISTS ARE NOT the only ones who have to think about how to deal with the stories students tell. Teachers hear them regularly too, and it’s possible for traumas to trigger for teachers, especially those with a refugee background. This is why peer support circles are organised for teachers to talk through their experiences.

This monthly ritual is particularly important for teachers. In an empty classroom, about ten people sit in a circle. Taking turns, they tell each other what’s on the top of their minds.

“This is an opportunity for us to talk openly about our problems and discuss how best to manage our classes,” says Edward Festo, who teaches English and Social Studies.

And a necessary opportunity it is. Class sizes can easily be around 200 pupils, making the teacher’s job difficult.

A Kenyan man.
Edward Festo is a refugee himself now teaching English and Social studies in Kalobeyei refugee camp.

“Every day, I come home with a hoarse voice. Usually, I’m also mentally dead tired.”

Festo, from South Sudan, decided to flee the civil war in 2016 at the age of 19, after some of his siblings were killed.

“I lived in the north of the country, so making my escape through a country fighting a civil war was difficult. Many lives were lost on the way,” Festo says.

Many schoolchildren have similar backgrounds, so their stories can bring old feelings to the surface.

“We have received a lot of support in dealing with our traumas. It is our responsibility to be the professionals and adults, always and in every situation. Therapy and comprehensive training make it easier to keep it cool when things become heated,” says Festo.

He also understands the younger generation’s situation.

“Everything is more difficult nowadays. When we arrived, we were given schoolbooks, school uniforms and free education. Now the kids have to pay for books and uniforms themselves.”

Therapy has helped Festo to work through other issues.

“Living during a civil war is terrible. One must do bad things and link up with bad groups to survive. Therapy has been a life changer for me.”

TEACHERS are not the only ones getting help from therapy. Sixth grader Rashidi Shabani, 16, says he used to be very short-tempered.

“I got angry very easily. When I was out with my friends, I would get upset and start intense arguments with them. Therapy has helped me process these feelings. We’ve gone through what makes me get upset and evaluated my feelings generally. “

“Nowadays, if I find myself in a difficult situation, I take a deep breath or talk to others about my feelings. My anger dissipates and I feel free of stress.”

Shabani fled the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo with his mother and siblings in 2016. In the future, he wants to also be able to help his friends manage their emotions. He hopes to turn helping others into a career.

“When I grow up, I would like to be a psychologist. I’ve had a lot of help from psychologists, they do so much good. I would like to be like them as an adult.”

Text and photos by Björn Udd

Three schoolgirls in Kenya.

Nelly Havyarimana (middle) is happy to ask her friends for help in case of any conflict or crisis in her life. PHOTO: Björn Udd / FCA

“Finns should just stay out of Kenya’s conflicts” – is that so, Alexon Mwasi?

“Finns should just stay out of Kenya’s conflicts” – is that so, Alexon Mwasi?

Alexon Mwasi, the Programme Manager of Finn Church Aid’s Kenya Country Office, is a huge fan of kotikalja, a home-brewed non-alcoholic beer popular in Finland. It is also his opinion that Western media presents an incomplete picture of Africa. In our hot seat feature, it is our turn to ask him some tough questions about foreign aid and local work. 

The European stereotype is that Africans grow up surrounded by nature and wildlife. Did elephants roam in your backyard when you were a child, Alexon Mwasi? 

Applies to me, at least! My family lives next to the Tsavo National Park, so wild animals showing up in our backyard was a common thing. You better believe it was at times terrifying to walk several kilometers to school and back! When we grew up and started hunting antelope, however, this fear quickly turned into rousing fun.  

After studying international development cooperation, you have worked in this field since 2004. But has the world become a better place during your career? 

A tricky question. It is true that it is not easy for Kenyans to influence climate change and the related challenges, but there are things are better now than back then. The wells we drill are a lifesaver for countless people, for instance, and will be for a long time to come.  

Kenya has been in turmoil lately. There are the cattle rustling issues and the related conflicts, as well as protests and political instability. Would you agree with the following statement? “It would be better if Finns did not get involved in Kenyan conflicts at all.”  

Partly true. Some local conflicts are so complex that it is hard for outsiders to understand them, let alone find a resolution. On the other hand, outsiders can often help us greatly and offer fresh ideas for solving our problems.  

What about these statements? “It is true that foreign aid workers just do a better job than locals.” 

Absolutely untrue. Cooperation is the key. Local people and institutions know what is wrong and sometimes have the solutions, but experts from outside bring in a lot of new knowledge. In farming, for example, the locals are usually the best experts on which crop variants grow the best and sell the most. However, external help can still help improve their methods of farming and increase their water-use efficiency.  

 “It is time for Africans to help each other.” 

True enough, but as I said, some problems, like climate change, are plain difficult for Africans to influence. There is no-one less responsible for climate emissions than Africans, but they are still very vulnerable to droughts, for example. There are issues where we need to help ourselves, but also issues where humanity needs to stand together. 

“The Western media presents a balanced picture of Africa.” 

The ongoing drought is something the Western media has mostly ignored, for example, though this might be because of the war in Ukraine and other major recent events. When it came to the recent protests in Kenya, though, the media was there, portraying them as enormous and violent. One might have been left with the impression that the whole country was burning, though the protests were, in the end, a minor affair. 

“The war in Ukraine does not affect lives in East Africa.” 

Completely untrue. We are very dependent on Ukraine. The crucial grain and cooking oil imports stopped completely when the war started, accelerating the food crisis and the inflation. Thankfully – and surprisingly – Ukraine managed to negotiate a deal that allowed them to start exporting grain to East Africa again, but the imports are still scarce. As a result, we are suffering. 

You recently visited Finland and fell in love with the taste of kotikalja. Is it true that you are now making your own batches in the cleaning closet of FCA’s Nairobi office?  

Ha ha! That sure is an interesting idea. I loved the taste of kotikalja! If I had the chance to brew more myself, one or two batches would not be enough.  

Text by Björn Udd 
Translation by Tatu Ahponen 

10+1 ways we’re acting on the climate crisis

10+1 ways we’re acting on the climate crisis

The climate crisis is real and happening now. The people we support are often at the frontline of the climate emergency. The effects of climate change impact on their access to education and increases conflict over disappearing natural resources. Here are 10+1 ways we’re acting on the climate crisis by taking responsibility to mitigate, adapt and transform.

1. Measure our impact.

The first step is to take a long hard look at ourselves. What is our own environmental impact, for example in terms of emissions caused by travel? What stress are we causing to land, communities and nature in general by developing new projects? What about the resources we use – are our procurement chains sustainable?   
We are committing to a thorough analysis of our operations, identifying ways we can make better and more sustainable use of our resources. We include environmental impact monitoring as part of our project planning and are constantly looking for new ways to adapt to the climate crisis. WWF’s Green Office certification granted to KUA already in 2008 obliges us to consider our carbon footprint, from reducing the amount of paper to be printed to compensating for mandatory business flights

2. Reduce land use change.

Building a new school is something everyone can get onboard with, right? But we need to be careful when we’re erecting new structures to be sure we’re not building in an area of natural importance. Similarly, when developing agricultural projects, we need to be aware of the land’s biodiversity and its function in the ecosystem before changing that equation.   
That’s why we try to rehabilitate schools before building new ones. And when we do build new, we make a detailed assessment of the impact on the environment, and identifying ways to reduce pollution in air, soil and water.

3. Mitigate.

We’re actively designing projects that break the cycle of consumption and waste, helping to address the root causes of the climate crisis. One way is to develop circular economy projects, which aim to decouple economic growth from the use of finite resources by designing waste out of the system.   
Developed with our sister organisation, Women’s Bank, our innovative BUZZ project in Nepal trains women farmers to cultivate larvae from the black soldier fly as animal feed, biofuel and compost. The larvae themselves feed on waste, both from animals and humans making it a self-sustainable, no-waste product.

4. The right to a clean environment is a human right .

Climate action should not stand apart from other development interventions. In fact, it should be considered a central part of all rights-based work. As part of our Right to Livelihood work, we’ve partnered with Taka Taka Solutions, a waste management company in Kenya. Funded by Women’s Bank, the project aims at improving the livelihoods of women by creating jobs with the company, while also providing them a package of employment benefits, medical cover and childcare. So far 261 women have been supported through the scheme.  
Taka Taka Solutions estimates that its work saves about 100 tons of greenhouse emissions per month by reducing landfill waste. Landfills are currently the largest source of methane, which is 23 times more potent than CO2. The company are also looking to switch to solar power in the longterm.  

5. Consider all environmental pressures, not just the hot topics.

The climate emergency has a high profile, and rightfully so. But that doesn’t mean we should deprioritise other environmental pressures, like pollution, biodiversity loss or nitrogen loading.  

In fact, while we can arguably adapt to climate change within a certain limit, environmental damage like ocean acidification or extinction events are irreversible and with the potential to cause catastrophic consequences. That’s why we consider all environmental pressures when we look at our development projects.

6. Localise.

Sustainability means different things not just to different people, but in different places. We listen to communities and invite local expertise when we develop projects. Our staff are 90 per cent from the country they work in, so they can properly understand and engage.  
Too often, research and solutions by the global minority into environmental impact is prioritised. While we have a responsibility to share technology and resources, we also have a lot to learn from other ways of living and doing.

7. Listen and learn from those at the frontline.

The climate crisis is happening now and many of the world’s most vulnerable people are seeing the effects in real time, although they are the least responsible for the problem. We must make space for those at the frontlines to be heard. They are the people who are best placed to guide our climate policies and inform our actions.  
In Kenya and Somalia, the worst drought in decades is destroying people’s lives and livelihoods. The cause is manmade climate change, made worse by manmade conflicts. We are acting on the everyday experiences of our staff and beneficiaries in these areas, changing our strategies to make sure we can adapt to the new reality on the ground.  

8. Be realistic.

In an emergency, speed saves lives. If, for example, we are offered plastic water bottles to distribute in the middle of a crisis, we accept them, because both the water and bottles are useful in helping people. 

But at the same time, we can identify how we can improve over time, changing our emergency responses and policies to benefit both people and the environment. Part of acting on the climate crisis is learning as organisation and as a sector to improve our practices.

9. Build resilience, adapt and transform.

Every time a disaster happens, we can learn from it and be better prepared for next time. In the jargon, it’s called resilience. We believe we can do better than that – we can adapt and transform, so that we are not just ready to brace for the next disaster, we can actively prevent it or develop new ways of living so that it hardly impacts at all.  
That’s why we are constantly assessing how we can diversify people’s livelihoods and develop flexible ways to access education or the employment market.

10. Look into the future.

We know what’s coming. Over the next few years, we will see more extreme weather events, more water scarcity and more conflict over natural resources. That will lead to more forced migration, inflation and food shortages.  
Our climate strategy is constantly evolving with the realities on the ground. We’re acting on the climate crisis today while looking at the future to better prepare for tomorrow.

+1 Our secret weapon: education

Education is not only our greatest passion, but also a great tool to mitigate climate change and create more sustainable societies. We can offer resources, support and technology, but ultimately, it’s people in their communities that can make changes. Providing them access to quality education will give the springboard to make those changes.

Text: Aly Cabrera, Ruth Owen and Elisa Rimaila
Illustration: Carla Ladau

Repairing schools in the midst of war is useless, isn’t it?

Repairing schools in the midst of war is useless, isn’t it? FCA’s education specialist Pauliina Kemppainen responds to 13 tough claims.

In front of 200 first graders in Uganda, Pauliina Kemppainen understands that it’s not always possible to complain about class size. Now, the senior education expert answers a numbers of comments that pop up on FCA’s social media. This is how Kemppainen survived on the spot.

“All children should be in school”

You’ve previously worked as a teacher, volunteered for Teachers Without Borders, and have plenty of international experience in education. You think the best thing in the world is children getting to go to school.
Absolutely. Children have the right to go to school everywhere in the world, regardless of their background.

“Teachers carry a great responsibility”

Finn Church Aid trains teachers. That’s important, because teachers are raising a new generation.
Most kids and young people attending education spend more time at school and with the adults at school than with their parents. The more competent and better educated the teachers are, the better their opportunities are to support the kids and adolescents they spend their days with.

“Best way to help children in developing countries is to donate notebooks and pens”

The best way to help school children is to provide schools with materials such as notebooks, pencil cases, and ABC books.
The materials are a part of school, but ABC books and pencils don’t do much teaching without a trained teacher. If I had to choose between a teacher and a pencil, I’d go for a teacher every time.

“Building schools in war zones is a waste of money”

Finn Church Aid repairs schools in conflict zones. That’s not very smart, because war can damage the schools again.
We use fields to grow the grain we eat. Is it smart to grow grain again? I’d say it is. Similarly, there’s a reason to repair the schools, because there will always be new children and young people who need a school to support their growth and development.

“Why only girls’ education gets support?”

At least in Finland boys are doing worse at school than girls. It’s odd that Finn Church Aid focuses so strongly on girls’ education.
We focus on everyone’s education. It’s just as important for boys and men to go to school as it for is girls and women. However, girls are in a weaker position than boys to start with: their education is still obstructed in various places. In order to reach the same starting point as boys, girls need an extra boost, which we are trying to give them without hindering boys’ opportunities.

“There are children in need in Finland, too”

Why are you training people abroad? There are plenty of children and young people in Finland who need support in school.
Each and every Finnish child and adolescent has the right to go to school just like children and young people in Central African Republic, Kenya, and Myanmar. In Finland, there are resources and opportunities for education even without Finn Church Aid.

“Education gets wasted if people live in mudhuts”

It makes no sense to train people living in mudhuts without a livelihood. The basics should be sorted out first.
Whether the person wakes up in the morning in a house made of mud, brick, or wood has nothing to do with how skilled they are or how productive they are for society. Education is a human right and the first basic thing that needs to be fixed. Hence, we at Finn Church Aid invest in vocational training in the fields that are in demand in our regions of operation.

“Those educated with development aid never get a job”

Development co-operation is only used to train mechanics, carpenters, and hairdressers. Some of them will never be employed.
Planning vocational training always begins with a market analysis, so we can outline the fields of expertise that are required locally. If the region really needs more carpenters, we’ll train carpenters – but just as many as are needed. We won’t train a thousand, if there is only need for ten. In addition to traditional professions, there is also demand for digital-based professions such as graphic designers, photographers, and web designers, which are part of today’s world but also the future.

“The use of cash distributions should be strictly decided by aid organisations”

FCA has distributed cash allowances to families. Cash is important, and it can be used to cover expenses like school transport.
Cash allowances are an important form of aid, because they give families the opportunity the decide what to spend the money on. It’s part of a humane life to be able to make decisions as to how to use one’s money and be an active agent instead of a passive aid recipient.

“Wrong things are taught in schools in the developing countries”

In many schools supported by FCA the only point for education is to study the Quran or the Bible.
We don’t do missionary work. We always try and co-operate with local education authorities, if it’s ethically possible and in line with international law. If we were to build a parallel education system, it would collapse after we leave. If the local curriculum contains lessons of Quran or, for example, a Buddhist faith, it’s our responsibility to enable teaching them in school. We have no right to decide what religions are taught.

“Education is important to children living in the middle of conflicts”

Education plays a significant role in rebuilding Syria and Ukraine, for example.
Yes. Education is a human right, whatever the surrounding situation is. It’s not the fault of the children and young people if there’s a war raging around them. Education and going to school are important not only from an educational perspective but also for providing psychological support. Going back to school creates and re-establishes routines, brings back memories from life before war, and adds meaning to the day by offering something meaningful to do. Through vocational education we can train people in professions that are especially needed in reconstruction.

“It’s more safe to stay home in the developing countries”

Many children in developing countries must travel long and unsafe distances to attend school. It would be safer to stay home.
Things can happen during school journeys – in Finland, too. Do we still choose not to send our children to school, or do we try to improve the safety of the route? People everywhere in the world think the same and aim to ensure the safety of their children’s schooling. With the help of education, people learn to read and write, which helps them be better off in the world.

Again and again, studies show that the most efficient way for families to rise from poverty is educating women. In comparison to uneducated women, educated women are more likely to send their children to school. Yes, there are risks, but are they big enough to make education not worth it?

“Finns can’t learn anything from the developing countries”

The Finnish education system is so superior in comparison to others that there’s nothing we can learn from anyone else.
That’s a bold statement! Are we Finns overall so superior next to others that there are no lessons we could learn from anyone? Have we, completely on our own, created the large school reforms that form the basis of our success? Or have we maybe learned something from somewhere in order to be able to make these changes? I spent a year in Uganda as a volunteer for Teachers Without Borders. I had been trained in Finland, and I was shocked. Previously I had complained about having 24 kids in class, but in a refugee centre in Uganda, teachers had up to 200 first graders in a classroom. I had to rethink teaching entirely. For me, it was a huge learning process.

Text: Elisa Rimaila
Photo: Antti Yrjönen