FCA leads education access project in Ukraine as part of $18 million Education Cannot Wait grant

FCA leads education access project in Ukraine as part of $18 million Education Cannot Wait grant

Building on two years of success rehabilitating educational institutions in Ukraine, FCA is now leading a major new project to provide quality, sustainable and equitable access to education. 

SINCE THE START of the full-scale war in Ukraine in 2022, hundreds of educational institutions have been damaged or destroyed. Recent estimates indicate more than 3,500 education institutions have been damaged, including over 340 destroyed.  

Meanwhile, on top of two years of remote learning due to the Covid pandemic, many schoolchildren have been robbed of the chance to attend school in person by the constant threat of air raids. 

Education Cannot Wait fund supports new FCA project

The Education Cannot Wait global fund awarded the total grant of $18 million USD to two separate consortiums, one led by FCA and the other by the Kyiv School of Economics Institute.

The consortium led by FCA and including Ukrainian partner organisations will be given $8.5 million USD to implement a new education project.

The ‘Empowering Children Through Education’ project will target children and teachers in Sumy, Poltava, Dnipro, Zaporizhzhia, and Odesa oblasts. 

Over 24 months, FCA and partners will rehabilitate and renovate schools and pre-schools to make them safe and modern places of learning. They will improve education quality by designing modular programmes for vocational education training, learning kits for use in shelters and specialised teacher training.  

Moreover, the group will continue to support extra-curricula activities, psychosocial training focusing on the mental health of children and teachers, and catch-up lessons for pupils returning to mainstream schooling. 

As part of ongoing education work in Ukraine, FCA works with psychologists who visit schools regularly. Psychologists help children process anxiety and worries through play and art. PHOTO: Antti Yrjönen/FCA

Says FCA Senior Education expert Pauliina Kemppainen, “this grant from Education Cannot Wait is a lifeline for many learners in Ukraine, in terms of continued learning and improved quality of online and distance education, which they have relied on since the Covid-19 pandemic, continuing until today. FCA and our Ukrainian partners are delighted to be able to continue supporting the education response in Ukraine, now with even more enhanced impact. 

Additionally, and in collaboration with Finnish educational experts, the programme will design teaching materials and train up to 5,000 secondary educators.  

Building on EU-funded education success in Ukraine

FCA Ukraine is already the consortium lead of the European Union-funded €19 million EUR project “Safe Return to Learning”, which has proven success in delivery quality education, training and support for children and teachers. 

“The situation in Ukraine is different compared to many contexts where international organisations are used to implementing education in emergencies programming, stemming from having a strong and functioning education sector even at the time of war.  FCA has been very fortunate to find long-term, local partner organisations and strong national teams with whom we can closely work together to ensure the relevance of the planned responses,” says Kemppainen.

Quality education needs improved infrastructure

By focusing on infrastructure, technological access, and the quality of education, the initiative not only addresses immediate needs but also invests in the future of Ukrainian society, something highlighted by Alexander Savka, FCA project manager in Ukraine.

“At the core of the programme is our commitment to not only rebuild but to innovate and enhance the Ukrainian education system. Our efforts to equip, educate, and empower are grounded in a vision of resilience, ensuring that every child, regardless of circumstance, has access to quality education. Together with our partners, we will develop programs that will engage over 30,000 beneficiaries across Ukraine and help improve educational programs for schools.”

A pile of Lenovo tablets with the FCA logo sit in the foreground, while children sit in the background
Laptops and tablets allow teachers to continue lessons outside of the classroom, for example in an air raid shelter. These were distributed in Slavutych thanks to the donation of a Finnish NGO.

Infrastructure support encompasses the purchase of 20,000 laptops for children cut off from traditional learning pathways, ensuring that distance learning becomes a viable and effective option.It also includes the repair and outfitting of shelters alongside the restoration of educational institutions damaged in recent times.

Moreover, the initiative places a strong emphasis on elevating the quality of education through the creation of digital content tailored for efficient distance learning. It also aims to refine educational programmes and teaching materials within the framework of the New Ukrainian School (NUS) curriculum reforms and vocational education reforms, marking a pivotal step towards modernising Ukraine’s educational offerings.

For more information contact:  

FCA Ukraine Communications Officer, Veronika Korobko

FCA Global Communications Officer, Ruth Owen

FCA’s work in Ukraine expands to vocational training

FCA’s work continues in Ukraine and expands to vocational education and training

In two years, the war has damaged 3,428 educational institutions and destroyed 365 schools in Ukraine. Over the past two years, Finn Church Aid has supported the schooling of Ukrainian children and young people, for example by providing shelters and psychosocial support.

The work continues in schools such as those set up in Kharkiv metro stations and has been extended to vocational education over the past year.

24TH FEBRUARY marks two years since the start of Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine. The war has affected the lives of 7 million Ukrainian children and young people. In total, 3,428 schools and other educational institutions in Ukraine have been damaged and 365 have been destroyed beyond repair in the last two years (Source).

Finn Church Aid’s (FCA) humanitarian aid mission in Ukraine began shortly after the war broke out. Work is ongoing, particularly to safeguard education. FCA’s work in Ukraine includes building and equipping bomb shelters to protect education even during air raids, strengthening the skills of education professionals and psychosocial support for children, and supporting digital learning opportunities.

“Over the past two years, we have laid the foundations and built the networks to be known in Ukraine as a supporter of education,” said Ikali Karvinen, FCA’s Deputy Executive Director, who visited FCA’s areas of operation in Ukraine in early February.

Schooling in the middle of war requires special solutions such as underground metro schools

In Kharkiv, for example, the FCA has been working hard to ensure that more children have access to psychosocial support. In addition, FCA has supported the underground metro school with EU funding. The school was established in autumn 2023 and FCA has purchased materials and offered psychologists training so that they can provide psychosocial support lessons fo children. Kharkiv, in the east of Ukraine, has been the target of constant aerial bombardment since the beginning of the war, making it impossible to attend school under normal conditions.

The Kharkiv metro school now operates in two shifts. However, the metro school, with over a thousand pupils, is only a first aid measure in a situation where 110,000 children and young people from Kharkiv are enrolled in primary education.

A young school girl is sitting by a window reading her notebook in a classroom. There are other little students seated behind the girl.
Yuliaa Yurova, aged 6, in a classroom in Kharkiv Metro School. PHOTO: Antti Yrjönen / FCA

Access to classroom teaching is particularly important for young pupils. 6-year-old Yulia Yurova is one of the first to start school thanks to the metro school.

“I’m happy that my child was able to start local education from the first grade. It’s much more than I could give her as a mother in home education. My child is talkative and likes to be with other children. She is always eager to go to school,” says Natalia Yurova, mother of Julia.

According to the authorities, only about half of children and young people in Kharkiv attend school, which, with the exception of the metro school, is mainly distance learning. Many families in Kharkiv have been forced to flee abroad or to other parts of Ukraine, cutting off schooling for months or even years.

FCA’s work extends to vocational education and training

According to Deputy Executive Director Karvinen, work will continue in the long term in existing and new geographical areas. In Ukraine, FCA works in regions such as Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Zhytomyr and Kyiv.

“We will continue our work to ensure that children’s right to education is fulfilled and that schools have access to the necessary educational equipment and safe facilities,” says Karvinen.

FCA’s Deputy Executive Director Ikali Karvinen (right) visited Ukraine in early 2024. Country Director Patricia Maruschak (left) hosted the visit to some of the schools FCA is currently supporting in East Ukraine. PHOTO: VERONIKA KOROBKO / FCA

According to Karvinen, digital learning environments will be particularly important in the future. FCA has extended its work from basic education to vocational education and training.

“We are particularly interested in cooperation between companies and educational institutions,” says Karvinen.

Supporting education in a crisis context has two simultaneous objectives. Schools create a safe space for children to learn, deal with emotions and connect with other people. They also serve as a starting point for reconstruction.

“Only educated children and young people will be able to support society later on in the huge reconstruction needs that Ukraine will face as a result of the war,” says Karvinen.

“School creates hope both for today and for the distant future. An educated child is the engine that will help society change and overcome the crisis.”

Read more about the underground metro school.

Photos for media

For more information:

Deputy Executive Director, Mr. Ikali Karvinen, e-mail: ikali.karvinen(a)kirkonulkomaanapu.fi, tel. +358 40 509 8050

Dorcas, 17, is adjusting to a new life as a refugee in Uganda and hopes to stay in school

In an unfamiliar land – Dorcas, 17, is adjusting to a new life as a refugee in Uganda and hopes to stay in school

17-year-old Dorcas fled her home country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in the middle of a school day. In Uganda, Dorcas is struggling to stay in school and get enough food. FCA helps young refugees build a better future for themselves.

Text: Elisa Rimaila
Photos: Antti Yrjönen

THE COOLEST hours of the morning are best suited for field work. A heavy wooden-handled hoe kicks up dust from the soil layer and Dorcas Uwamahoro, 17, scatters a few brown beans onto the ground. If the rains come on time and are sufficient, Dorcas’ family will have a bean harvest from their own field on their plates in three months.

The sun is already high in the sky, although the birds on the hills surrounding the field are just beginning their concert. Dorcas finds the last beans in her pockets, throws them on the ground and uses her hoe to pull a thin layer of soil over the top.

“Life was good at home in the DRC”, she says.

“Now, I’m just constantly hungry and I have to work a lot with my family members to get food. My clothes get dirty, and I feel dirty too”, Dorcas says.

Kolme ihmistä kävelee kukkuloiden välissä olevassa laaksossa Ugandan maaseudulla. Ihmiset kantavat päänsä päällä ruokabanaaniterttuja.

Dorcas Uwamahoro (centre) was separated from her parents Salome Imanizabayo (right) and Jean Habiyaremyea when she fled the Democratic Republic of Congo. Social media brought the family together on the Ugandan side

Kolme henkilöä kävelee tiellä Ugandan maaseudulla. Heistä keskellä oleva tyttö ja oikeassa laidassa oleva mies kantavat päänsä päällä ruokabanaaniterttuja.

Life as a refugee has been hard for the teenage Dorcas. In her new home country, Uganda, she has to help her parents with various farm chores that help the family put more food on the table. 

Kolme kongolaista henkilöä kulkee kameran ohi. Etummaisena oleva nainen kantaa olallaan kuokkaa, keskellä oleva nuori nainen ja mies päänsä päällä ruokabanaaniterttuja.

Dorcas’ parents do their best to ensure that their daughter and her younger siblings can go to school despite being refugees. 

Dorcas arrived in Uganda as a refugee in spring 2022, shortly after the conflict in her home region in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) escalated again.

They escaped in the middle of a school day.

“We started hearing gunshots around the school. My brother and I fled home, but already at the door we noticed that our parents and the rest of our siblings were no longer there. We flung the books out of our hands and continued running”, Dorcas recalls.

The conflict in the DRC began long before Dorcas was even born. Over three brutal decades, more than five million people have lost their lives. The DRC is a huge country, and the conflict in its eastern part is one of the most forgotten in the world: It only makes headlines when something bigger happens. One such moment was in March 2022, when armed groups became active once again and hundreds of thousands had to flee their homes.

By the end of 2023, about half a million Congolese people had fled across the border to neighbouring Uganda, and nearly six million were living as refugees in their own country. The long-lasting cycle of violence has already had enormous effects on several generations of young people. Many have had to drop out of school and live their everyday lives overshadowed by fear.

Nuori kongolainen nainen istuu pöydän ääressä ja katsoo sivulleen.
“I miss my friends, but I don’t know where they are now”, says Dorcas Uwamahoro. The flight from her home country took place in the middle of the school day in April 2022. 

Reunited by social media

When looking west towards the DRC from Dorcas’ current home, the large Nakivale refugee settlement on the southern border of Uganda, it is hard to believe what natural riches lie between the two countries – and what human suffering they have caused on the other side of the border.

The DRC and its eastern neighbour, Uganda, are separated by Lake Edward, one of Africa’s major water bodies, and the rugged Virunga Mountains. The world also knows them as the ‘mountains in the mist’, thanks to the successful autobiographical book by the American ethologist Dian Fossey and the Hollywood film based on it.

Instead of wild nature, the gentle hills surrounding Dorcas’ home are mostly planted with cooking banana trees, i.e. matoke. Corn and bean fields have also been ploughed on the slopes, with long-horned Ankole cattle and goats strolling at a leisurely pace on the sides of the road formed in the reddish brown sand. Among the animals, there are people carrying banana bunches, water canisters and hoes.

Dorcas arrived from the eastern DRC to Uganda by a different route than the rest of her family. Thanks to smartphones and social media, the family members found each other soon after crossing the border into the refugee reception area.

“I had already thought that I would never see my parents again. I felt awful, but the employees of the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR assured me that there is hope.”

“I felt extremely happy to see them”, Dorcas says.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, Uganda offers refuge to 1.5 million refugees from the DRC and South Sudan. These figures make Uganda the largest refugee-receiving country in Africa and the fourth largest in the world.

Nuori nainen istuu matalalla puupenkillä ruskean tiilitalon edessä Ugandassa ja juttelee kahden pienen lapsen kanssa. Toisella lapsella on sylissään nalle. Taustalla näkyy rakennus ja kasa tiiliä.
17-year-old Dorcas Uwamahoro has eight siblings in total. In addition to older brothers, the family also includes younger siblings, whom Dorcas helps take care of when her parents are working in the fields. 

Dorcas’ family settled in Nakivale, the place where the resettlement of refugees in Uganda began. Originally established in 1958, it is the oldest refugee settlement in all of Africa. Over the past six decades, East and Central Africa has been battered by various natural disasters and conflicts, forcing millions of people to flee their homes.

In 2020, more than 170,000 refugees lived in Nakivale and the number of new arrivals is ever-growing. In addition to the DRC, they had arrived from Burundi, Rwanda, Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea. The settlement is in constant motion. Some have stayed for decades, others were born as refugees. Some have been lucky and have been able to return to their homeland.

Kaksi naista keskustelee pellolla Ugandassa.
Dorcas’ (pictured here with her back to the camera) mother Salome Imanizabayo, 40, is an experienced farmer. Back home in the DRC, the mother cultivated the family’s own field. 

Dependency on food aid

Being a refugee has been a hard pill to swallow for the 17-year-old. Life is very different from what Dorcas is used to. Back home in the DRC, Dorcas’ father worked as a teacher and her mother cultivated the family’s own piece of land. Dorcas attended school and lived the life of a normal teenage girl, which included spending time with her friends.

“I miss my friends, but I don’t know where they are now. In the midst of war, everyone went their separate ways”, she says gravely.

Listening to Dorcas, it becomes clear how worried she is about the future. Most of the little money the family of eleven has is currently spent on food. Each member of the family receives both money and food, such as beans, cooking oil, salt and maize, through the World Food Programme (WFP), but the donations are not enough to cover all of their needs. In particular, they are not enough to keep the family’s children in school.

Watch the video of Dorcas Uwamahoro telling about her life as refugee.

“We didn’t have such problems at home in the DRC. Here, our schooling is constantly at risk because we don’t have the money for the school fees”, she says.

In Uganda, it took Dorcas three months to be able to go to school.

“At that time, I was constantly thinking about where I could get the books and a school uniform and whether I would ever really be able to go back to school. I was very depressed”, she says.

Now, Dorcas goes to school most days. Dorcas received school supplies, a backpack and the encouragement she needed from Finn Church Aid. With support from its disaster fund, FCA has been working in the Nakivale refugee settlement to get children and young people back to school since 2022.

Ugandalaisen pakolaisasutusalueen tiellä kävelee paljon ihmisiä. Osaa taluttaa polkupyöriä ja monilla on käsissään ostospusseja.

Relief supplies from the World Food Programme (WFP) have become an important part of food security for the family of Dorcas Uwamahoro, 17, (centre) in Uganda. Dorcas collects her portion from the food distribution point every month. 

Kongolainen perhe kuokkii peltoa Ugandassa.

Uganda supports the food security of people arriving in the country as refugees by giving each family a piece of land to grow their own food. Dorcas Uwamahoro’s family was hoeing the field they received and planting their first bean crop in the Nakivale refugee settlement in September 2023. 

Lakkipäinen mies seisoo pellolla Ugandassa ja nojaa kuokkaansa. Taustalla näkyy maisema ja muita ihmisiä, jotka työskentelevät pellolla.

Dorcas’ father, Jean Habiyaremye, 42, worked as a teacher in his home country of the DRC. He wants as many of the children as possible to go to school and achieve the best possible future for themselves. 

Dorcas’ family has barely enough money to pay for her schooling, but not for school meals. She often has to sit through afternoon lessons with her stomach rumbling with hunger.

School meals in Nakivale would cost 60,000 shillings per semester, which is equivalent to just under 15 euros. This money would buy a single lunch in downtown Helsinki in Finland, but it is a large sum for someone living as a refugee in Uganda.

Inflation has increased the price of food in Uganda as well. At the same time, large traditional aid organisations, such as the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Refugee Agency UNHCR, have had to drastically cut the aid they offer due to a lack of funding. The cash grant awarded by the WFP per person in the refugee areas of Uganda is 12,000 shillings, or about 2.90 euros, per month. The amount is well below the limit of extreme poverty of around two euros per day. Some of Dorcas’ family members receive support in the form of food products and some in cash.

The lack of funding is largely due to two things: Firstly, the fact that the world’s interest has been heavily focused on Ukraine, not Africa. At the same time, crises have greatly intensified in the region due to climate change and political instability, which has driven hundreds of thousands of new people to flee their homes, for example, in South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan in addition to the DRC.

Nuori kongolainen nainen ojentaa lapselle kädesään olevaa vihkoa. Naisen edessä toinen lapsi pitelee kädessään oppikirjaa. Henkilöiden takana näkyy savella muurattu rakennus.
17-year-old Dorcas’ chores at home include preparing her 6-year-old twin sisters for school and taking them there. Dorcas is sad that Asante Melody and Pacific Yvonne do not get food during the school day because the family is so poor. 

Language problem challenges learning

Rumbling stomach aside, there is also another factor that makes the school days of Dorcas and many other refugees more difficult.

“At home, we studied in Swahili and French. Here, the teachers only speak English. Due to my lack of language skills, I had to move a couple of years down in level.”

Kolme nuorta naista kävelee Ugandassa pakolaisasutusalueella hiekkatiellä keskustellen ja nauraen keskenään.
After fleeing her home in the DRC, Dorcas Uwamahoro (centre) lost touch with her friends. In Uganda, she has made new friends who share the same experience of being a refugee. The Congolese Asante Ruzuba (left) and Neema Bizimana are also Dorcas’ schoolmates. 

The language challenge gnaws at the girl’s mind, but the schools in the refugee areas follow Uganda’s official curriculum. It defines the language of instruction as English.

“At home, I was one of the best students in my class. I raised my hand often during lessons and understood everything. I felt smart”, she says.

In order to succeed at school, Dorcas has to study English. She is often frustrated by how difficult everything is.

“I didn’t understand anything during the first few days at school!”

Dorcas has learned the language little by little. She gets help from an English teacher working as a volunteer at the school who has also arrived from the DRC to Uganda as a refugee.

Nuori kongolainen nainen kurkistaa ovenraosta ja hymyilee.
Even though going to school hungry and having to use a foreign language is tough, Dorcas Uwamahoro wants to believe that she can influence her future by studying hard. 

“Now, I know how to say hello and can at least greet the teacher in class”, says Dorcas, clearly downplaying her skills a bit. The young woman’s favourite subjects at school are especially mathematics and chemistry because she can get on in those by doing calculations.

In Nakivale, the refugees as well as the local children and young people attend the same school. Language unites refugees of different nationalities as well. Dorcas says that she also gets support from her new friends, whom she met as soon as she arrived in Uganda.

“We started getting to know each other because we share a common language”, she says.

One of Dorcas’ new friends is Neema Bizimana, 19, who, like Dorcas, has had to get used to a new life in a foreign country. The families of the teenage girls are now sharing a field in the refugee settlement, provided by the Ugandan government.

Kaksi kongolaista tyttöä nojaa koulurakennuksen seinään ja juttelee keskenään lähikuvassa.

In the refugee settlement of Nakivale, Dorcas Uwamahoro, 17, receives support for her persistence at school from her friend Neema Bizimana, 19. Despite their age difference, the girls are in the same class because both have had to learn English to follow the lessons. 

Dorcas and Neema are currently helping their parents plant beans in the field. The harvest is expected in three months. The girls hope that crops from their own field will put an end to the constant hunger.

Nevertheless, it seems that tiredness and worries are forgotten in the company of a friend. Taking a break, the girls giggle as they lean on their hoes.

“I have friends here who give me hope. They have good ideas and they also encourage me to stay in school, no matter what”, Dorcas says.

The article has been written as part of a 2024 Common Responsibility Campaign in Finland. The Common Responsibility Campaign is an annual fundraising campaign of the Finnish Lutheran Church. A share of campaign proceeds are channeled to the Finn Church Aid’s Disaster Fund, which enables the launch and implementation of emergency response to humanitarian disasters.

Pupils in Kharkiv are now studying underground

Pupils in Kharkiv are now studying underground – however, metro schools are only the first line of aid for the education crisis facing the city 

Schools located at Kharkiv metro stations bring together children who have persevered through the pandemic years and now live under the constant threat of air raids. Finn Church Aid arranges psychosocial support for the children so that life can slowly return to normal.

Text: Ulriikka Myöhänen 
Photos: Antti Yrjönen 

STAIRS TAKE you from a wide street to the underground, just like in any big city. The undulating sound of the metro echoes through the corridors. People come and go about their day, as has been done here under the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv for decades.  

In late 2023, it is the small people who catch your attention. They dig books out of their backpacks all the while metro trains stop at the station as scheduled. 

“We have pupils from the first through to the fourth grade studying here. The morning shift includes 128 pupils. A new set of pupils will come in the afternoon”, says Anzhela Malahova, looking through a stack of papers in front of her. She goes on to say that metro schools have been set up at five Kharkiv stations. 

Today, Malahova serves as the metro school’s deputy head teacher. Her own school is closed, as is also the case for all the other schools located above ground in Kharkiv. Pupils are studying remotely for the fourth year in a row: First, there was the COVID-19 pandemic and that was followed by the major Russian offensive. The war front has already moved further east, but Kharkiv is still the target of air raids. At worst, the sirens sound several times a day and it is not possible to organise classes in actual schools.  

“I’m happy that we are finally able to gather together”, Malahova says, wiping the corners of her eyes and gesturing in the direction of the classrooms built at the station. 

käytävä, jossa reppuselkäisiä lapsia

A new day begins. The children go to the classrooms in the Kharkiv metro school.

Kharkiv metro has been serving the city for half a century

The Kharkiv metro network was completed in 1975 to meet the needs of the growing city. In recent years, up to 240 million passengers have passed through its tunnels every year. 

The underground network took on a new, life-protecting role starting in February 2022 when Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. It is estimated that up to 160,000 civilians sought shelter in the metro during the worst of the fighting. As the war dragged on, the city’s education management began to consider whether metro stations could also be used as safe schools.  

In autumn 2023, schools were set up at five metro stations. Now, there are children sitting at their desks and chattering happily, although they will soon settle down to study mathematics and the Ukrainian language. This is also the case for Julija Yurova, who is wearing a green dress and has her hair in a ponytail. 

“I’m five years old”, the girl starts her introduction in a brisk fashion. Then, she slaps her forehead with both hands and exclaims: “No! I’m already six!” 

Yurova says that she recently celebrated her birthday. She goes to school at the metro station three days a week. Julija Yurova always travels to school with her mother or father, but she seems to have no idea how many stops away home is.  

“It’s not a long trip”, she says with certainty. 

Julija Yurova (right) studies at the metro school with her good friend Karolyna Havrysheva.

The majority of children in Kharkiv study online

Yurova and her schoolmates are lucky. Watching them bustle around, it is hard to imagine what a remote school day in front of screens would look like for the 5–9-year-olds.  

However, the metro schools with their just over a thousand pupils are only the first line of aid in a situation where 110,000 children and young people are enrolled in basic education in Kharkiv. According to official data, only about half of them take part in classes which are mainly organised remotely. Many families have ended up as refugees abroad or elsewhere in Ukraine. 

Julija Yurova also fled with her family, but later returned to her native city. She holds a pencil tightly in her hand and copies some squiggly letters in an exercise book. Occasionally, she lets out a frustrated snort, grabs an eraser from the drawer and wipes everything away. Learning the letters seems to be a meticulous job. 

The conversation with Yurova begins to flow when the topic of the necklace hanging around her neck comes up. It says BFF on it, which is short for Best Friends Forever.  

“My family and I were refugees in Ternopil in western Ukraine. I met my best friend there who gave me this piece of jewellery. Now, we go to metro school together in Kharkiv. We are three best friends in the same class”, Yurova explains.  

The pupils of Kharkiv metro school dancing between lessons.

Julija Yurova received a piece of jewelry from her best friend, whom she met while being displaced in Ternopil.

Ukrainian children need support in dealing with trauma

One Monday in November, something new is happening at the metro school. Two school psychologists trained by Finn Church Aid are coming to hold a lesson to deal with trauma through play and attend to the pupils’ psychosocial well-being.  

The topic of the first lesson is emotions. The lesson starts with an exercise where each pupil introduces themselves and comes up with a funny movement or sound to accompany the introduction. The psychologists’ voices are playful like in a children’s programme and the children follow the lesson with concentration. Towards the end of the lesson, the psychologists dig out a colourful parachute, and the children burst with joy. They take turns throwing the parachute into the air and crawling under it. The roar of laughter is deafening.  

“The lesson was a success. The aim was to relax the body and mind, build team spirit and play together”, says Olha Zinovieva, who has worked as a child psychologist for 14 years. 

Her colleague Alina Symonenko has also worked as a psychologist in a kindergarten for 16 years. Zinovieva and Symonenko’s message is clear: Ukrainian children are carrying a heavy burden within them due to the difficult conditions. Many have attended classes remotely for years, many have family members on the front lines and loved ones of some of the children have also been killed or wounded. 

“The children are more fearful and aggressive than before. They would like to talk to each other, but don’t know how because they have been alone so much. When they finally meet their peers, there’s a lot of conflict in the air. They simply don’t have the skills to deal with other children”, Symonenko says.  

Psychologists Olha Zinovieva and Alina Symonenko hold a lesson on psychosocial support for children. The first session is about getting to know each other.

At the Kharkiv metro school, children deal with their traumas and other things that bother them through play and games.

Encountering each other at the metro school helps the children catch up to what would be a more normal school experience, but in the big picture, returning to how things were will take a lot of time and resources. Because of the war, Ukraine has enormous needs both in terms of people’s well-being and the reconstruction of the infrastructure.  

Volodymyr Grebennik, an engineer working in the Kharkiv office of Finn Church Aid, says that as many as 120 schools in the city have suffered damage in the war according to official data. Four of the schools are beyond repair and only 33 schools have already been refurbished with funds from the city. In a country at war, there is not enough money to repair all the damage. As of summer 2023, Kharkiv has been seeking external funding from abroad to enable pupils and school staff to eventually return to in-person teaching above ground. 

Face-to-face learning increases interaction

At around noon, the metro school’s morning shift is over. Wearing her backpack, Julija Yurova waits for her mother, who is coming to pick her daughter up today.  

“I’m glad that my child has been able to attend in-person classes starting from first grade”, says mother Natalia Yurova over the clatter of the metro as they make their way home.  

“In-person teaching is really important because of the interaction. It’s much more than what I, as her mother, could offer her in homeschooling. My child is talkative and likes to be around other children. She is always eager to go to school”, the mother continues, looking at her daughter, who is sitting among her fellow passengers with her backpack. 

We soon find out that Julija Yurova’s journey to school is not long indeed: Her home is only one metro stop away. She quickly jumps onto the platform, grabs her mother’s hand and waves after us.  

She has a pet cat waiting for her at home.  

Julija Yurova, 6, travels to school by metro like many other students of the metro school.

Parents accompany the youngest students to the metro school in the morning and pick them up back home in the afternoon. Natalia Yurova (right) considers it important that her daughter meets children her own age at school.

FCA has supported Kharkiv’s metro schools in purchasing materials and offered training to teachers to provide psychosocial support lessons for the children. The work is supported by EU funding. 

Breaking down language barriers at school 

Breaking down language barriers at school 

Abraham Bashombana Aganze, a Congolese young man, interprets school lessons for refugees. In his opinion, the key to a good life is dedicating it to helping others.

THE BRUTAL CONFLICT in the Democratic Republic of Congo, continuing for over three decades, has created over five million refugees. About half a million of them have crossed the border to neighboring Uganda for a more peaceful life. Abraham Bashombana Aganze, 30, from North Kivu, is one of them. He lives in Nakivale refugee settlement area, established in 1958.

Abraham, who has a university degree, had to escape violence in his homeland in 2020. For him, it was easier to settle in the Uganda than for tens of thousands of other Congolese people. In the university, his major was English – one of Uganda’s official languages. Most Congolese have never studied English, as education in DRC takes place mostly in Swahili and French.

This language barrier is one of the most urgent threats to the continuation of education for those coming to Uganda as refugees, particularly from the DRC. Abraham noticed the problem soon after settling in Nakivale refugee settlement area and wanted to help. Now, he works as a volunteer English interpreter in Rubondo community, in a school supported by Finn Church Aid.

”I started volunteering after some youth who know me came to request me to teach them enough English to go to school. I soon figured out this would be the best way for me to help the most people”, Abraham says.

”My philosophy? Life is about helping others.”

Becoming a refugee turns your whole life upside down

As an interpreter, Abraham participates in classes and helps the students whose English is not good enough follow the classes. The school has both local students and refugees, like many other schools in Uganda. The regular staff of the school consists of Ugandan teachers who, in turn, don’t speak Swahili or French. For this reason, youth with a refugee background struggle to understand the lessons.

Abraham gets a small monetary remuneration for his volunteer work. He usually spends five days a week at the school.

”If, for some reason, I can’t get to the school, students I know come to my house to ask for help with homework.”

Becoming a refugee turns your whole life upside down, even in a neighboring country. To Abraham, being a refugee means financial uncertainty, as they can no longer work in the areas they’re familiar with becausethere’s no job for their training. Uganda makes the lives of the refugees easier by giving families plots of land for farming. Abraham’s family has also received a plot to till.

” Here, one needs to literally be growing one’s own food. I’m a city boy and did not know a thing about farming, until hunger forced me to learn.”

Dream of an English-language learning center

Abraham has been able to also utilize his language skills by working as an interpreter for Finn Church Aid visitors in the Nakivale refugee settlement area. Being a young man, he has many plans – establishing an English-language learning center for the area, improving the productivity of land through composting, and learning more about forms of agriculture that help in building a better life. Abraham knows it will be a long time before he will be able to return home.

”When I sit down and think about my homeland, I feel a great sadness welling inside me. I want the Democratic Republic of Congo and her people to get on its feet and get stronger. Education is the key to all of this – that’s what I believe.”

According to Abraham, few Congolese youth dream about returning to their homeland. The trauma left by the war and the violence runs deep. Still, life as a refugee is not easy in Uganda, either. Thus, Abraham wants to do his part for the youth of his homeland.

”All of our knowledge and wisdom dies with us unless we share it with others. If I share what I’ve learned to hundred people, for example, they will share them on to at least hundred other.”

Text: Elisa Rimaila 
Photos: Antti Yrjönen 
Translation: Tatu Ahponen

Kids’ clubs provide oasis of normality for Ukraine’s children


Kids’ clubs provide oasis of normality for Ukraine’s children

FCA supports after school and holiday clubs in Chernihiv for children. Provided by local Ukrainian NGO DOCCU, they provide fun and inclusive spaces where teachers, children, and their parents can gain new knowledge and skills.

FROM BLARING SIRENS and shelling to conducting lessons in shelters: for more than a year and a half of war in Ukraine, it may seem that children have become used to these daily realities.

Observing schoolchildren, it’s nowadays commonplace in Ukraine to see drawings of tanks, blue and yellow flags sketched with chalks on the playground and games where kids play ‘checkpoint’, pretending to look over adult’s documents. War has filtered down to every level of children’s lives.  For most, it’s taken a toll that is more or less obvious in each child.

Dmytro, is an internally displaced person. For two weeks, while attending children’s activities organised at a local school in Talalaivka, Chernihiv region, he was mostly silent, constantly building figures out of LEGO. But at the end of the second week, he started talking.

A boy in a patterned sweater and a red baseball cap stands outside in a field and looks just past the camera with a calm expression

“I was born in Crimea. When the war started, I moved to Mykolaiv. Then from Mykolaiv to my grandmother in Kherson.

We had no food for 28 days. I saw airplanes, I saw armoured personnel carriers, I saw a mine on the road. It’s calmer here, at least there are no mines.”

Dmytro, KOLO club participant.

Dmytro was taking part in special children’s clubs, set up by Ukrainian NGO DOCCU. The so-called ‘KOLO Clubs’ specialise in supporting the education system in the communities of Chernihiv Oblast. This includes organising leisure activities for children after school and during the holidays, but also training teachers to provide psychosocial support for children.

Summer clubs and more

The KOLO Clubs format was launched in summer 2022. It continued this year (2023) with not only a second summer club, but also after-school clubs for children running through the autumn.  

A yellow canopy in front of a school. Beanbags lie under the canopy.
KOLO clubs take place in the Chernihiv region and accommodate more than 2500 children.

Dmytro was one of more than 2500 children who attended KOLO Clubs activities in the Chernihiv region. In addition to entertainment, such as board games, drawing, or master classes, children are also offered educational activities in the areas of democracy and human rights, media literacy and Internet safety, active citizenship, mine safety, psychological support, and STEM education.

Some classes are conducted by coaches, such as professional actors, media literacy specialists, or English language coaches. All classes are fun and easy, using all the necessary materials mentioned above to help children learn the material as best they can.

A smiling woman in a pink flowery top sits in a room with many multi-coloured beanbags. A child sits closely next to her.

“My child always comes home with positive emotions: she talks vividly about the day, which is extremely busy. There wasn’t even a free minute to look at the phone or anything else: she was always doing something.

I believe that sessions with a psychologist are extremely useful and necessary for our children. They have had a positive impact on the children, particularly on my daughter.”

Maria Zavodenko, mother of Nadiya, a KOLO Clubs attendee

Teaching Training

As part of the clubs, not only schoolchildren acquire new knowledge, but teachers of the region are also trained. They learn how to act in emergencies (during evacuations, first aid, mine safety), how to keep students safe in shelters, digital competence and interactive tools for online and blended learning, and courses on mental health and psychosocial support.

The project also includes training for professionals working with children with special educational needs. In total, the training will cover about 850 educators in Chernihiv region by the end of 2023.

A woman stands under a yellow canopy next to a sign in Ukrainian

“I saw quite significant changes in the children, because I have known many of them for a long time. They learned to work in a team, learned to restrain their emotions, and sometimes to show them vividly.

After psychological relief, it became quite easy for them to communicate and unite with children from other communities who came to visit.”

Tetiana Panchenko, coordinator of the KOLO Club in the Mykhailo-Kotsiubynska community.

Repair of educational spaces

The design of the future KOLO club spaces was developed by students.

New educational spaces are also part of the project. For teachers, a modern professional training center for teachers will be created in Chernihiv at School No. 19, which was damaged at the beginning of the war. After the school building is repaired, the centre will be equipped with new furniture and equipment necessary for further teacher training. The centre will operate on a permanent basis and come under the Chernihiv Department of Education.

KOLO clubs will also operate on a regular basis in the four schools where the activities are currently taking place. School libraries are being renovated and will be converted into modern media libraries. Thanks to the project, these media libraries will be filled with everything necessary for active and interesting extracurricular activities.

A boy in a baseball cap and a green vest smiles and shows the thumbs up sign

“For me, KOLO Clubs is a good experience, it’s just a great place!”

Bohdan, a student of Talalayivka Lyceum.

Kids design their own spaces

The design of the future KOLO club spaces was developed by students. During their active citizenship classes, the children developed projects and chose the best ones by voting. They were used as the basis for the design of future spaces in Chernihiv, Kulykivka, Talalaivka, and Andriivka.

The creation of such spaces will make it possible to conduct active, useful, and rich extracurricular activities after the completion of the KOLO Clubs project, which runs until the end of November 2023. And such work is paying off.

A woman stands outside and looks past the camera. She looks pensive and listening

“We had a case when the child of primary school age came and hardly spoke: it was very difficult for him to express his opinion, difficult to communicate with children, very reserved.

And in two weeks, while they were working with us in the classroom, while they attended various activities, the child opened up a lot: he started to communicate, found friends, and was excited to go home after classes.”

Olena Mozol, a psychologist at the KOLO Clubs location in the Kulykivka community.

Children listen to and play guitar at a KOLO club.

Each of the visitors to the clubs has their own life experience: there are many internally displaced children, children who have survived the occupation or active hostilities in their locality, many children have parents at war, and, unfortunately, some have been killed.

The work of kids’ clubs goes towards helping children not to be trapped by the realities in which they live. And for parents and teachers, the clubs allow them to raise an active and responsible future generation in the midst of war.

This is a guest contribution from DOCCU
All photos courtesy of DOCCU

FCA supports KOLO Clubs in the Chernihiv region. Find out more about our work in Ukraine

FCA signs memorandum of understanding with Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine

FCA signs memorandum of understanding with Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine

Two men sit at a table exchanging documents while smiling. A Ukrainian and Finnish flag is on the table next to some flowers.
Oksen Lisovyi, Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine, and Tomi Järvinen, FCA Executive Director, exchanging documents in Kyiv. Photo: Antti Yrjönen

On November 6 in Kyiv Tomi Järvinen, FCA Executive Director and Oksen Lisovyi, Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine signed a memorandum of understanding. The memorandum aims to consolidate efforts at enhancing educational sector of Ukraine. 

AT THE SIGNING, Minister Lisovyi said, “Today, it is especially important for us to support children’s and youth’s bids for education and help them fill them knowledge gaps caused by COVID-19 pandemic and war outbreak.”

Tomi Järvinen highlighted that it is important for children and youth to have a vision for the future even amid the crisis. 

“In addition, we need to understand what the war’s cost is for mental health. We need to do all we can so that the children and youth get the support they need”, he said.

Furthermore, Minister Lisovyi underlined the importance of psychosocial support and said that the role of partner organisations is crucial, as Ukraine lacks internal resources due to the ongoing war.

A long term agreement on education

In line with the memorandum the parties agreed to cooperate on:

  • Rehabilitation of damaged buildings and provision of shelters in educational institutions.
  • Establishment of safe and inclusive learning environments.
  • Building capacity of educational institutions and stakeholders to provide better quality and inclusive education.
  • Providing capacity building and educational activities on MHPSS (Mental Health and Psychosocial Support).
  • Supporting the renewal of educational content.
  • Support of education stakeholders in overcoming learning losses.
  • Supporting the development of socio-emotional and interpersonal skills of teachers and students.
  • Support access to quality education and training for the most vulnerable groups. This includes people with disabilities, veterans and IDPs (Internal Displaced Persons).
  • Ensuring better transition from education to employment through development and implementation of labour marked demand-driven education and training programmes.

The memorandum extends for five years from the day of its signing with the possibility of renewal after this time.

Read more about our work in Ukraine.

FCA Launches i-LEARN project in Somalia

FCA Launches i-LEARN project to make education accessible to displaced children in Somalia’s Southwest State

Three men sit at a desk in an office in front of a large poster with details about the FCA iLearn project
The EU-funded iLearn project supports our provision of education in emergency to displaced children.

Displaced children will be able to access quality education even amidst crises, thanks to FCA-led, EU-funded project.

FCA Somalia recently launched its i-LEARN project, aiming to widen inclusive access for displaced children in Southwest State. The initiative is part of FCA’s European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) funded Education in Emergencies (EIE) project, in collaboration with our partners, GREDO, Daf Somalia, and the Ministry of Education in Southwest State.

The August 2023 launch event, held in Mogadishu, witnessed the participation of distinguished representatives and experts in the field of education, including FCA’s Senior Education Advisor, Aburas Farah, who shed light on the project and its mission to support newly displaced children in Southwest State.

Farah emphasised the importance of education in empowering and equipping children with the tools they need to rebuild their lives amidst difficult circumstances. Through the i-LEARN project, FCA and its partners aspire to reach 8,800 learners, focusing on newly displaced crises-affected children who comprise 80% of the target population.

Ali Mohamed, Programme director for GREDO, expressed his enthusiasm for the partnership and highlighted the organisation’s commitment to developing synergy with its partners. He emphasised that i-LEARN strives to make a lasting impact on displaced children’s lives by enabling them to access education opportunities that are inclusive, sustainable, and tailored to their specific needs.

During the event, Amina Ahmed Mohamed, EU-ECHO representative, spoke about how this milestone initiative by FCA will prove instrumental in supporting young children who have been uprooted from their homes due to conflicts, natural disasters, or other humanitarian crises. Amina applauded FCA’s commitment to making education more inclusive and accessible for these children as it challenges the barriers, they face in accessing quality education.

The launch event also had the privilege of hosting the Minister of Education for the Southwest State, Mustaf Iidow. Minister Iidow expressed his gratitude towards FCA, the EU, and all the partners involved in the i-LEARN project. He acknowledged the project’s potential to bring a transformative change in the lives of displaced children and their communities, especially those affected by insecurity and drought. The Minister reassured his full support and commitment to ensuring the project’s success and called for continued collaboration to address the education challenges these vulnerable children face.

David Nangumba, Head of Programmes and Business Development at FCA, also addressed the audience, highlighting the organisation’s dedication to advancing education in emergency settings. Nangumba emphasized that i-LEARN goes beyond providing immediate education support by focusing on long-term outcomes and lasting impact. He expressed FCA’s ambition to break the cycle of interruption in education that displaced children often experience, enabling them to attain knowledge, skills, and opportunities necessary for a brighter future.

I-LEARN seeks to reach out to displaced children in Southwest State, where access to education remains a significant challenge. By deploying innovative and inclusive teaching methods, the project aims to bridge educational gaps, enhance learning outcomes, and ensure these children’s social and emotional well-being. Through partnerships with local education authorities, FCA will establish safe learning spaces, provide learning materials, and train dedicated teachers to facilitate this transformative educational experience.

Text and photos: Fatima Abshir

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

FCA expands work in Ukraine closer to the front line

FCA expands work in Ukraine closer to the front line

Education rehabilitation work begins in Kharkiv, in addition to ongoing projects in northern Ukraine and Kyiv region.

FCA UKRAINE is expanding to Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine, which has suffered serious damage during the Russian invasion. FCA’s education work in Ukraine, which began in 2022, has up to now been focused on Chernihiv and Zhytomyr in northern Ukraine and the region of the capital, Kyiv.

In Kharkiv, FCA plans to rehabilitate schools damaged during the war, equip bomb shelters and invest in psychosocial support for schoolchildren and teachers.

Nainen hymyilee kameralle Ukrainassa. Naisen takana näkyy raunioita.
FCA Country Director, Patricia Maruschak. Photo: Antti Yrjönen / FCA

“Expanding our work to Kharkiv is a big step. It means that in the future we will be working closer to the front line of the war and in an area that was liberated only a few months ago,” says Patricia Maruschak, country manager for Ukraine.

In Kharkiv, teaching still takes place remotely, as face-to-face teaching is still considered too dangerous due to ongoing conflict. However, FCA’s work is already looking to the future.

“We want to make sure that the school’s bomb shelters are equipped and functional when the schools are able to open their doors again for classroom teaching,” explains Maruschak.

Psychosocial support for schoolchildren and teachers

The expansion to Kharkiv is part of an EU-funded training project, which also includes FCA’s partner organisations Save the Children International, People in Need, and War Child Holland.

The first schools renovated with EU funds are already in operation in Chernihiv in northern Ukraine. In two schools damaged during bombing, windows were replaced and interior damage repaired. As a result, 1,500 pupils have been able to return to education. At the beginning of summer, more school repairs will be completed.

FCA’s education work goes further than physical repairs, however. Our projects emphasise caring for the mental resilience of Ukrainians in often difficult situations, where children have had to leave their homes, family members are at the front, or loved ones have died. In Chernihiv, FCA has organised psychosocial support activities and training for schoolchildren and teachers. Similar work will go ahead in Kharkiv as well.

In Chernihiv in northern Ukraine, school bomb shelters have been equipped so that children’s learning is not interrupted, even during air raids. Schoolchildren can also spend the night in bomb shelters if necessary. Photo: Antti Yrjönen / FCA

Foundation’s donation secures the learning of kindergarten students

FCA has also supported Ukrainian educational institutions in purchasing equipment to assist classroom learning. At the end of April, with the support of the Pirkko and Tarmo Vahvelaisen Foundation, FCA gave electronic tablets to three kindergartens in the Kyiv region. An educational application was pre-installed on the tablets, specially developed for children under the age of 6 in kindergartens with age-appropriate tasks for learning.

The tablet with its applications contains more than 1,800 different tasks and games, which allow young children to study both with kindergarten staff and at home with their families. The app also works offline, so learning can continue even during an air raid in a bomb shelter.

Text: Ulriikka Myöhänen, Natalia Korolyuk