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 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?
1. SHORTCOMINGS IN HEALTH AND EDUCATION.
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.
2. POVERTY IS A REALITY FOR A VAST SHARE OF THE GLOBAL POPULATION.
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.
3. THE SHADOW OF COLONIALISM STILL PUTS A BRAKE ON DEVELOPMENT.
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.
4. SEVERE OBSTACLES TO GROWTH.
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.
5. OBSTACLES CAN BE CIRCUMVENTED.
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.
6. LOCAL IDEAS ARE IMPORTANT.
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.
7. WHEN AID WORKS, IT IS FUTURE-ORIENTED.
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.
8. ENRICHMENT SHOULD NOT MEAN EXPLOITATION.
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.
9. DEVELOPMENT COOPERATION IS A SOLUTION, NOT A PROBLEM.
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.
10. FOSTERING DEVELOPMENT MEANS A BETTER LIFE FOR ALL.
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.
+ 1: FCA – A DRIVER OF PERMANENT CHANGE.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
“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
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?
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.
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.
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.
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? 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.
In Nepal’s Far West, pig and vegetable farming is the main source of livelihood for former bonded labourers
Former bonded labourers in Nepal’s Far Western Region earn a modest living by raising pigs and growing vegetables. FCA offers support to local people to help them earn a living, but in the most impoverished villages severe drought and all-engulfing fires make life extremely challenging.
IN A NORMAL summer, the Mohana River floods across the flat terrain all the way to the village of Bipatpur. Taking vegetables across the river to India would require a boat and a skipper.
In Nepal’s Far West, the annual monsoon season usually starts in early June, but this year the rains were weeks late. For local women, crossing the border from Nepal to India seems fairly easy; all they have to do is lift up their saris, roll up their trouser legs and wade across the river. It has been scorching hot for nearly two weeks now, with temperature rising above 40 degrees.
The ground is parched, and plants and people are desperate for water. Some of the wells in the village have dried up and there is no point in looking for new ones because finding groundwater is too uncertain and the costs of digging too high.
This has been an exceptional year in more ways than one. This spring, following a disaster in April that destroyed the harvest and stores, the women of Bipatpur had nothing to sell to the Indian vegetable markets across the river.
During a normal summer the water in the Mohana river is much higher by June. The women of Bipatpur village cross the river to sell their vegetables on the Indian side. Photo: Uma Bista
“Only people were saved”
Burning crop residue on the fields to release nutrients is an annual tradition in Bipatpur. This year, an unpredictable and exceptionally strong wind caused the fire to spread quickly and uncontrollably. Houses, food containers, and livestock shelters burned down one after another. The fire destroyed or damaged the homes of 71 families and killed domestic animals.
Villagers cleared away the charred tree trunks, but the sad and disheartened feelings remain.
“Only people were saved,” the women say.
The fire also engulfed a large chunk of the village cooperative’s savings, which were kept in a box. Belmati Devi Chaudhary, 42, looks at the charred remains of her house.
“Everything is gone. All we have is emergency aid.”
A sow the family had bought with financial support from Finn Church Aid died in the fire. Without a mother to care for them, five piglets died, too. This was a huge loss for the Chaudhary family.
The money Belmati Devi Chaudhary had earned from pig farming helped her to pay for her children’s schooling. Standing next to his mother, the family’s eldest son Sanjay Chaudhary, 23, looks helpless.
“I may have to go to Kathmandu to find work. It’s difficult to get a paid job here,” he says.
For many years, scores of young Nepalese men have left for the capital city or for India in search of odd jobs, but Belmati doesn’t want her son to follow in their footsteps.
Like many others in Bipatpur and in the surrounding Kailali District, the Chaudhary family are former bonded labourers. Although Nepal’s 200-year-old Haliya and Kamayia bonded labour systems were abolished in the early 2000s, many former bonded labourers and their descendants are still very vulnerable.
Houses, food containers, and livestock shelters burned down one after another in April in the village of Bipatpur, Far West region of Nepal. The fire destroyed or damaged the homes of 71 families and killed domestic animals. Photo: Uma Bista
Sustainable livelihood with pig farming
Jumani Chaudhary, 50, is one of 29 women in a group supported by FCA. These women run a pig farm in the municipality of Gauriganga. They have learned how to make porridge for pigs from corn and wheat milling byproducts.
“By feeding pigs porridge, we save on feeding costs, and the pigs are healthier and grow faster,” Jumani Chaudhary says.
The women plan to start selling their pig feed to other pig farmers. To safeguard feed production, they would like to set up their own mill.
Gaumati Sunuwar, 56, has received support from FCA on pig farming in Amargadhi, Dadeldhura district. Photo: Uma Bista
In a pig pen, three different-coloured pigs oink and jostle for food. Sows are less than a year old when they produce their first litter. Typically they can produce two litters a year, around ten piglets each time. With the right care and nutrition, pigs grow quickly.
“A full-grown boar is worth up to 30,000 rupees,” says Bishni Chaudhary, 43.
Sanu Chaudhary, 27, who lives next door and is also a member of the women’s group, says she recently sold seven pigs for 50,000 rupees. Converted to euros, the sums seem somewhat modest: a thousand rupees equals roughly seven euros. But in the Far Western Region of Nepal, this money goes a long way. You can buy a school uniform for your child, meals for the entire school year, a water bottle and school supplies.
“Pig farming is easier and requires less work than buffalo farming. Buffaloes only produce milk part of the year, when they nurse their calves,” Jumani Chaudhary explains.
When buffaloes don’t produce milk, they produce nothing, but cost ten times the price of a pig.
“Before, we had to beg for food”
The road further west to the Dadeldhura district twists and turns along the lush green hills. Compared to the flat terrains of Kailali, Dadeldhura is topographically much more uneven. The winding road barely fits our car, giving the scenic drive an extra twist. Finally, we arrive in the village of Ganyapdhura.
We can see hints of green on the terraced farms even though the rains are late. The Dalit community living here grows cauliflower, potatoes and zucchini. Growing vegetables is more than a livelihood; it has given the community a sense of value.
“Before, we had to beg for food, but now we grow vegetables for sale,” says Gita Devi Sarki, 38.
In 2019, Finn Church Aid helped the community further improve its farming efficiency by supporting the Sarki family and 24 other local farmers in the introduction of tunnel farming. The plastic cover of the tunnel protects the vegetables from the elements and retains moisture. The community also received a walk-behind tractor, which makes plowing much easier. Gita Devi Sarki is the only woman who knows how to operate the machine – and even she needs her husband’s help to start it.
Gita Devi Sarki plows a field using a hand tractor to plant vegetables at Kholibasti, Ganyapdhura Rural municipality in Dadeldhura. The couple is now working together and hoping to expand their vegetable farming with the support they receive from FCA. Photo: Uma Bista
“Before, our farm was just big enough to produce corn and wheat for our own family. Now we can save 410 rupees each month by selling some of the vegetables we grow,” she says.
Most importantly, having a more secure livelihood meant that Gita’s husband Padam Bahadur Sarki, 42, was able to return home from India, where he worked for twenty years. The couple have been together for 22 years and have four children. Almost all this time, Gita Devi Sarki was in charge of the family’s day-to-day life, alone.
“I returned to Nepal due to the COVID-19 lockdowns,” he says.
“It’s a good thing you came back,” Gita Devi Sarki says, with a grin.
“Yeah, it’s been OK,” her husband replies, causing the group of women sitting around him to burst into laughter.
Having her husband back has reduced Gita Devi Sarki’s workload in the farms. The family plans to expand their business to raising goats and small-scale fish farming in a small pond in the valley.
Bahadur Damai, 52, (centre) with his family at Ganyapdhura Rural Municipality in Dadeldhura district received support from FCA for chicken farming. In the spring of 2022, Bahadur Damai was elected as a ward member in the local government. Photo: Uma Bista
From bonded labourer to a member of a local government
A pretty little house has a downstairs door open, and a wide-eyed cow peeks through the door. Bahadur Damai, 52, beckons to visitors to join him in the shade under a canopy. Back in the early 2000s, before the abolition of the Haliya system, he was a bonded labourer, mending other people’s clothing. Today, he smiles happily as he talks to us about his chickens and a small tailor’s shop he has opened in a nearby village centre.
Money has given his family a more stable livelihood, allowing him to buy things like a television. He has also been able to pay for the weddings of his two adult daughters, something that clearly makes him very proud.
One of his greatest achievements, however, was being elected a member of the local government in May.
“It’s all thanks to FCA that I am where I am now. I received support for vegetable and chicken farming, and I’ve been able to build relationships that won me votes in the election.” He pauses mid-sentence when a gust of wind tries to rip off the chicken coop’s corrugated iron roof. Bahadur Damai gestures at his son, telling him to put big stones on the roof to keep it in place.
“A new chicken coop would be nice,” he says. Suddenly he becomes serious.
“You know, my wife and I only have one significant difference: she has aged faster.”
The look on his face says this is not a joke.
“Women age faster here because their lives are so much harder that men’s. It is a local tradition that women eat after everyone else, whatever is left. Pregnancies, childbirths, hard physical labour…As an elected member of the local government, I intend to raise awareness of the problems women have in our communities, such as the disproportionate burden of domestic work and domestic violence,” Bahadur Damai says.
But that’s not the only thing he wants to draw attention to. In this district, former bonded labourers are still not eligible for the Nepali government rehabilitation programme, which promises them land ownership, education for children, and employment opportunities for young people.
Charred trees are a reminder of the fire that brought the small village of Bipatpur to its knees in April. Photo: Uma Bista
Bank accounts secure the future
In Bipatpur, the village women have gathered together under a canopy. In fact, this used to be a house, one of the women points out. The charred roof beams have been removed and replaced with new ones. At noon, the sun is beating down, and the temperature in the shade is approaching forty degrees. It turns out that the name of the village, Bipatpur, means disaster in the local language. This village has certainly had its fair share of disasters, from floods to fires.
But perhaps today things will take a turn for the better. Representatives of the local government and the bank will be visiting the village. With support from FCA, every family that lost their house in the spring fire will receive a humanitarian cash transfer. For those whose homes were damaged to some degree, 13,500 rupees, or about 106 euros, will be offered for reconstruction, and those who suffered the greatest losses will receive 34,500 rupees, or 270 euros. Pregnant women, nursing mothers, families and the elderly will receive an additional 500 rupees.
For the first time, cash transfers will be paid to women’s own bank accounts. This ensures that their money is safe, and that even if another disaster strikes the village, not all of their possessions will be gone.
Text: Elisa Rimaila Photos: Uma Bista Translation: Leni Vapaavuori
Finn Church Aid has had a country office in Nepal since 2013. Our work focuses on providing income opportunities for former bonded labourers, on ensuring the realisation of their rights, and on improving women’s livelihoods. After the earthquake in 2015, we built safe school facilities for 44,000 children, trained teachers and supported mental recovery. In 2021, we took action to alleviate the food insecurity affecting nearly 18,000 people as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Elisha Chaudhary sleeps while her mother Sajita Chaudhary is attending a meeting at Bipatpur. Photo: Uma Bista
Various organisations have been engaged in development cooperation for decades; Finn Church Aid for as long as 75 years. While global efforts to reduce child mortality and to increase girls’ access to education have been successful, mistakes have also been made. We listed 10+1 lessons learned in development cooperation over the years.
1. From selfish beginnings.
The 1950s and 1960s were the early days of development cooperation. Back then, Finland’s eagerness to participate stemmed partly from the need to distance ourselves from the Soviet Union and instead be identified as a Western country and as part of the Nordic countries. Over time, development cooperation adopted traits from export promotion: Finland used money intended for development aid to export Finnish machinery and workforce to developing countries, hoping to increase trade in equipment such as forest machines. Many other countries had similar projects.
2. Lack of results necessitated a different approach.
It soon became painfully clear that the modernisation-driven development cooperation model failed miserably, and a new approach was needed. This was when the needs-based approach emerged. But although local beneficiaries were consulted for needs assessment purposes, donors failed to understand the structures and systems that perpetuate poverty and simply saw beneficiaries as passive victims of circumstances.
3. Material assistance is not the way to address inequality.
Today, development cooperation is no longer about addressing poverty as a material need but rather as a human rights issue. Political advocacy can also contribute towards eradicating structural inequality in developing countries, with the objective of creating an effective and informed civil society and an accountable state. Unlike in the early days, the focus is not on supporting industry; instead, social development, health and education are now in the forefront.
4. Strong communities will not depend on external aid.
Perhaps the most valuable lesson we have learned is that there is no point in giving man a fish; you need to teach him how to fish. In other words, our work must be aimed at building on and strengthening local capacities. It is extremely important to discard any forms of aid that create a risk of dependency instead of forging stronger local communities. Paradoxically, however, financing decisions are still made somewhere else. It is funding providers in the western countries who decide how much money will be given to which projects.
5. Giving a voice to the local community.
In some cases, the aid we provide is not what people really need. Sometimes people affected by a crisis may feel that they have not been consulted on what kind of assistance they need, or what would be the best way to channel it. In the worst cases, relief supplies have been unsuitable for the local culture. Modern development cooperation recognises the key importance of local engagement and ownership.
6. Better control and accountability.
Organisations in the development cooperation sector are accountable to their beneficiaries as well as to their funding providers and donors. Recently, there has been much talk about transparency. In the humanitarian sector, the concept of the accountability of aid organisations to their beneficiaries emerged in the 1990s, and the Core Humanitarian Standard on Quality and Accountability (CHS) was published in 2015. Similarly, technical standards for aid work are being developed and monitored more closely.
7. Climate must be a key consideration in development cooperation.
Environmental work has been a part of development cooperation since the 1970s, but more recently climate has begun to dominate public discussion. The loss of biodiversity is now also on the agenda but while the importance of climate work is recognised, so far policymakers have failed to put their money where their mouth is. Another contradiction that characterises climate work is the reluctance of western countries to compromise on their standard of living while they expect climate action from developing countries.
8. Public opinion supports development cooperation.
In the late 1960s, the Vietnam War made Finns realise that we are not an island. Other subsequent events such as the 1990s recession have shaped the opinions and attitudes of citizens, including their support for development cooperation. According to a recent survey by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, two thirds of Finns consider development cooperation very important or fairly important. For Finns, the most important reason for supporting development cooperation is that it offers Finland a way to strengthen global stability.
9. New partners, new tools.
Today, development cooperation cuts across multiple sectors, with more traditional actors working with research and educational institutions to improve effectiveness and outcomes. Another, more recent development is cooperation with the private sector. Corporate social responsibility provides opportunities for employment and education in developing countries.
10. Change must be constant.
We have learned many lessons, but there is still room for improvement. Sometimes organisational and funding silos can negatively affect efficiency, and putting documented commitments and declarations into practice may take years. Staying relevant is another challenge for western development cooperation, as there is no shortage of competitors. China, for instance, provides funding to many developing countries without making any demands on human rights and environmental protection.
+1: CHS certification a compass for FCA’s work.
In 2017, Finn Church Aid received the Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS) certification, which emphasises our human rights-based approach and the quality, transparency, and effectiveness of our programme work. It also proves our commitment to the humanitarian sector’s quality and accountability standards. In addition to CHS certification, FCA undergoes an extensive external audit annually. CHS provides us an opportunity and a tool for critically assessing our operations and improving our practices and procedures.
Sources: Anna Muinonen, Senior Quality and Accountability Adviser at Finn Church Aid; Juhani Koponen, Professor Emeritus from the University of Helsinki; development cooperation surveys commissioned by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Corehumanitarianstandard.org
Former school dropout Agnes found her way back from selling fish to prosper in her classroom
To compensate the lost years of young school dropouts, FCA implements the Accelerated Education Programme in five refugee-hosting districts in Uganda.
AGNES KAIRANGWA, 20, was in senior two at Bujubuli secondary school in Kyaka II refugee settlement when she became pregnant.
“The father of my baby convinced me to drop out of school and become his wife. However, a year into the marriage, everything turned bitter as my husband started to mistreat me,” Agnes now says.
“It got to a point when I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I left the marriage and returned to my father’s home. I started selling silver fish in the market to get money to take care of my baby.”
Born in a family of five, Agnes Kairangwa is the youngest child of a single parent household. Two of her elder siblings have already completed Secondary Education. The rest of her brothers and sisters are still in school.
Seven years have passed since Agnes dropped the school and she is now a mother of two. Listening to her siblings talk about their classes and what they have learned in school has made Agnes feel left out.
“Even though deep down I felt I wanted to go back to school, I knew it was impossible as I had spent many years out of class, and I felt I was too old to return to school.
One afternoon, while Agnes was at her market stall, she heard a radio announcement from Finn Church Aid (FCA) calling and encouraging adolescent mothers to return to school.
“They stressed the importance of education and I felt encouraged to return to school,” she tells.
Unfortunately, she couldn’t afford to pay fees for herself. She had just enrolled her young daughter in school and all the money from her business was going to be spent in the child’s scholastic fees and other needs.
Finally, with support from FCA, Agnes was enrolled at Bukere Secondary School. FCA staff members also visited Agnes’ father and encouraged him to support her education.
Accelerated Education project supports those who have lost years of school
There are many young women like Agnes Kairangwa. To speed up the learning after years spent out of school, FCA implements the Accelerated Education Programme (AEP) in five refugee-hosting districts of Kyegegwa, Kikuube, Isingiro in South Western Uganda and Terego and Madi Okollo in West Nile. The programme is funded by European Union Humanitarian aid (ECHO).
The programme is an integral part of the Innovative and Inclusive Accelerated Education project (INCLUDE) and it uses specially designed and condensed version of the Ugandan curriculum. By covering two to three grades of primary education in one year and using teaching methods appropriate for different age groups, learners who have lost many school years can transit into the formal schooling system.
“Sometimes I would dodge school”
Going back to school is not easy.
“During the first weeks at school, I found it challenging and wanted to drop out, but officers from Finn Church Aid kept encouraging me to stay in school,” says Agnes.
“Considering the years spent out of school, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to catch up. I was also afraid my schoolmates would body shame me as I had gained weight and I was older than them,” she says.
Adding to her agony in the beginning, Agnes’ ex-husband kept approaching her on her way to school, trying to convince her to drop it and get married again.
“Sometimes I would dodge school, so I didn’t have to meet him on the way,” she tells.
“I appreciate the Finn Church Aid staff who kept encouraging me and providing me with the moral and psychosocial support.”
Not only is Agnes now studying but performing well in her class. FCA got her a full education scholarship through the UN Refugee Agency, and she is working hard to be an accountant in one day.
Finn Church Aid implements the INCLUDE programme in a consortium of four partners including Save the Children, Norwegian Refugee Council, War Child Holland and Humanity and Inclusion.