FCA Launches i-LEARN project to make education accessible to displaced children in Somalia’s Southwest State
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.
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
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.
“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.
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.
FCA gave 58 electronic tablets to three kindergardens in Ukraine. The devices were purchased thanks to the donation of 20,000 euros provided by the Finnish NGO Pirkko and Tarmo Vahvelaisen Foundation to help ensure access to learning for Ukrainian children affected by the war.
SLAVUTYCH IS a city in northern Ukraine that was built for the evacuated staff of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant after the 1986 disaster.
During the start of Ukraine war in 2022, it was encircled and occupied for several days before Russian forces finally withdrew from the area. Children and adults suffered from isolation, power outages and shortage of food and other supplies.
Since shortly after the Russian invasion, FCA has been working in Ukraine helping to rebuild educational facilities, not just with infrastructure and building improvements, such as bomb shelters; but also with teacher training and curriculum modernisation.
On April 27th 2023, FCA supported this work by giving 58 tablets to three kindergartens in Slavutych. The tablets were bought thanks to donations by the Finnish NGO Pirkko and Tarmo Vahvelaisen Foundation (Pirkko ja Tarmo Vahvelaisen Säätiö).
Fun Academy app pre-installed
All the tablets have a specialised learning application called Fun Academy installed, which makes them ready-to-go tools for educators teaching in the reality of everyday air alarms and threats of attack. When a class needs to move to the school bomb shelter, tablets allow teachers to continue lessons even outside of the classroom. Additionally, some children with special needs benefit from tablet-based learning.
The Lenovo Tab M10 Plus tablets were assessed first for quality and educational value by the Ukraine Ministry of Education and Science, and then handed over to three kindergartens: the Child Development Centre; Marite Kindergarten #4; and Kroonk Kindergarten #6. The institutions were chosen on the basis of having both bomb shelters and providing offline classes, making them best suited to use the tablets.
The devices contain 1840 exercises that can be used by children under six both in school with teachers and also at home with families.
Nina Yeremina, the Head of the Municipal Education Department described the tablets as valuable support from the people of Finland and the first of its kind for them. She also passed on warm words of gratitude to the donor.
During the handover ceremony, children performed songs in national dress and were all excited to use the tablets.
Text and photos: Natalia Koroliuk
About Fun Academy Early Education App: the main purpose of the app is to bring stabilising activities into a child’s life. The tasks are activities and games developed for early childhood years education and that can be conducted by parents or other adult caregivers to provide certain psychosocial support, where a child can feel they are seen and listened to. The app also allows adults to implement everyday child-oriented practice. The Fun Academy App was developed by a Finnish early education company and has been translated into Ukrainian by the educational council of the Learning Together project and the EU4Skills project. The Ukrainian version of the app is free and serves as educational material for kids or for additional activities. The lessons are developed to also be used for group learning too.
Violence left the heart – Kenyan Festus Kipkorir found peace through education
A vicious circle of violence on top of well as climate change threaten the future of young people living in Kerio Valley, Kenya. This is a story about a young man who swapped cattle rustling for peace work.
A HERD OF brown and mottled cows bring traffic to a halt on a narrow unpaved road. The thorny bushes, large rocks, and deep pits in the reddish-brown sand leave no room for a 4×4 to get through.
In front of the car, sleepy cows are eyeing the vehicle, but they’re in no rush. Sweat drenches underarm, as the wait gets longer and longer under the morning sun. Even so, the driver waits patiently for one cow after another to move out of the way of the crawling vehicle.
It’s a view worth rejoicing at. In the Kerio Valley in western Kenya, all is well if the cattle can graze freely. Cows are considered valuable property, much like camels, which are less common in this part of the region. The communities in the valley steal cattle from each other, and the violence unfortunately often escalates into a conflict that spares no lives.
“Thieves killed my father in 2002. I was pretty small, and I also lost my aunt around that time. Two people at once”, says Festus Kipkorir, 24, and looks around.
In the bush between the road and the Kerio River his father was tending the family cattle, and this is where his body was found. The cattle probably continued the journey, herded by thieves, to the other side of the river. To the Kipkorir family, losing a father and husband and their most valuable property simultaneously led to hard times.
Cattle are the most important asset of the nomadic people in Kenya’s Kerio Valley. When the cattle graze freely, peace prevails in the valley. Photo: Antti Yrjönen / FCA
Although the family’s financial situation deteriorated rapidly, Kipkorir was still able to go to school until the 8th grade. However, his father’s fate continued to bother him.
“Violence stays in the heart,” describes Kipkorir of the feeling that leads to a circle of revenge – one even children and young people can’t avoid.
Stealing cattle is part of a cycle of revenge
“I was 13 when I first held a gun.”
Kipkorir says that boys as young as 10 become part of violence when a conflict flares between cattle thieves. The youngest are left behind to keep guard over the village, and the older boys go with the men to the neighbouring regions in the darkness of night. Stealing cattle from the other side of the river is a rite that turns boys into men.
Thieves can form a group of up to a hundred young men in order to go and steal cattle. A large group insures the success of the plundering foray, and the simple number of people can also scare their opponents.
“We might take two thousand animals at once,” Kipkorir reveals.
Kipkorir built his tin-roofed two-room house himself. The temperature outdoors has climbed past 30 degrees, and Kipkorir has invited us into the shade of his home. Hot milk tea, called Chiya, is steaming in mugs.
We talk about the environmental reasons that sustain the conflict between the communities in the Kerio Valley. Traditionally, the tribes of the valley have supported themselves as nomads. Cattle, particularly cows and camels, represent for people cash, credit and an investment fund for their families. By selling cattle, the families can pay bills, send children to school, and invest in business activities.
Cattle need a lot to eat and must be tended in large areas. In recent years, the situation in the Kerio Valley has become increasingly tense due to the lack of pasture during dry seasons. Climate change has made the annual cycle more unpredictable.
In Kenya, rain has been delayed particularly in the east and north of the country in the Garissa and Marsabiti regions, but here in the west in the Kerio Valley, autumn 2022 was dry.
“The other side of the Kerio River is very different to this side. It’s very dry, no trees, just thorny bushes and sand,” Kipkorir says. “That’s why our neighbours from the other side bring their cattle to this side of the river to graze more often. That leads to arguments, because then there’s not much to eat for our cattle.”
Due to the impact of climate change, life in the Kerio Valley in Kenya has become increasingly challenging for those who still support themselves as nomads. Due to drought, livestock grazing lands are shrinnking, especially in the central parts of the valley, which increases conflict and violence between different tribes. Photo: Antti Yrjönen / FCA
Kipkorir lives on the west side of the Kerio River, and here life isn’t as dependent on cattle as it is on the drier side of the river. The hills surrounding the valley rise as high as 2.5 kilometres above sea level. On the hillsides, there’s plenty of water for irrigation, which makes it easier to grow vegetables. Below the slopes, corn, tomatoes, beans, and papayas are grown.
Kipkorir guides us to sit down under a mango tree. This is his new life, a reason to give up cattle theft: mangoes, a patch of vegetables, and a dairy cow that produces, even on a meagre diet, enough milk to be sold. The cow is flicking flies with her tail and calmly chewing on her food.
“The biggest reason for the reduction of cattle theft is that people have been trained to farm and they’re no longer dependent on pastureland,” Kipkorir notes.
It’s hard to let go of violence
It was difficult for Kipkorir to leave the community of cattle thieves, even if it was a source of sadness and fear to loved ones.
“When my mother found out about my participation in cattle theft, she didn’t see me for a while,” Kirpkorir tells.
She couldn’t accept her son’s criminal and dangerous lifestyle.
“I tried to explain to her that this is about me, not her. In that situation, you just think you’re right. You’re not interested in anyone else’s opinion,” Kipkorir says.
“In reality, my opinions were dictated by a group I felt I was part of. I also felt the need to revenge my father’s death.”
Mother Salome Kiptoo says she feared her son wouldn’t come back from the night-time raids. Some of the young men never return, some come back disabled.
“I feared and prayed every time he left. I still remember what a good and hard-working student he was at school,” mother tells.
Climate change creates the threat of violence, which causes children to drop out of school
The cycle of violence and the sudden impoverishment of families in the Kerio Valley is also a threat to the education of children and adolescents. The obstacles are financial as well as security related. In recent years, cattle thieves have struck schools and even a bus that was taking students on a trip.
Festus Kipkoriri’s wife Francisca Kiptoo hangs laundry in the yard belonging to the small family. They have a home they built themselves and plot of land in Kenya’s Kerio Valley where they grow mangoes, vegetables and corn. The family also has a dairy cow with enough milk to sell. Photo: Antti Yrjönen / FCA
Festus Kipkorir hopes that the peace of the Kerio Valley will last and that it will be possible for him to send his own son to school. As a father, he wants his child to get a good education so that he can choose a more reliable livelihood than cattle rearing when he grows up. Photo: Antti Yrjönen / KUA
“Some of the schools in the Kerio Valley have lost a lot of their students. Those with money have transferred their children to other schools, and some simply don’t let their children go to school,” tells Finn Church Aid (FCA) programme director Alexon Mwasi.
The capricious nature of climate change adds to poverty. Based on an estimate by UNESCO, approximately two million children between the ages of 6 and 17 don’t go to school in Kenya. Most of them are from families that live a nomadic lifestyle in areas like the Kerio Valley.
“FCA supports the poorest families in the Kerio Valley as well as a few other areas that have suffered from drought, so that the children can return to school. The aim is to reach about 41 500 school dropouts,” says Mwasi.
Education secures the future
Kipkorir knows he’s lucky; in the end, he was able to finish school despite the family facing poverty after the death of his father. He believes that education helped him give up cattle theft. Based on his experiences, he’s tried to convince his former friends to leave behind a violent life.
“I’ve reminded them that just like me, they’ve also gone to school. At school, we’ve been taught community spirit and brotherhood. It’s not right to kill and steal.”
Kipkorir says that some of the former cattle thieves are now, like him, on the side of peace. They play in the same football team with some younger men.
“Football gives us an opportunity to get to know our neighbours on the other side of the river. Playing is a much fairer way to measure our strength,” Kipkorir points out.
“We are peace ambassadors on this side, and our neighbours in the other team are peace ambassadors on their own side. Together, we can stop the violence.”
Salome Kiptoo’s big eyes are shining when she talks about how her son has changed.
“Initially I didn’t even believe him when he told me he’s giving up cattle theft and starting to farm land. At last I started to believe, and I helped him buy seeds to grow green lentils and beans.”
Now her son has his own little farm and a family, a wife and son. Just like his mother wanted.
“I believe that a lasting peace with come with many blessings. There’ll be no need to fear that the children won’t come back at night. Good things will happen in the community when there’s peace. Everyone wins,” says Salome Kiptoo.
Kipkorir’s son is still tiny. What does the young father wish for his son?
“I want him to finish school.”
Right now, there is peace. Children in school uniforms are walking on the side of the road, people of different ages are sat in the shade of large trees, and the doors and windows of low, tin-roofed kiosks are open. Trucks are bouncing and swaying on the bouncy road, and men are picking up sack of mangoes piled on the side of the road.
Text: Elisa Rimaila Photos: Antti Yrjönen
FINN CHURCH AID (FCA) supports the education of children and young people in Kenya through the Common Responsibility Campaign in areas where climate change has increased poverty and insecurity. In many places, young people become involved in local conflicts between different communities. The project supports the return of young people to school, who have previously dropped out. In addition to material and educational support, young people in a particularly vulnerable position receive psychosocial support. The project will also build and renovate toilets and handwashing stations in schools. The Common Responsibility Campaign builds up FCA’s disaster fund, which can be used to help where the need is greatest.
Educating the next generation of children in South-West Somalia
The right to quality education is at the core of FCA’s work. In Somalia, FCA helps children access free education in the Bay region through our EU funded Accelerated Basic Education programme. The programme helps kids with school equipment, catch-up classes and extracurricular activities.
Many of the schoolchildren we help have missed out on primary education due to fleeing conflict, drought or poverty. 2286 children have been reached since July 2021 in the Baidoa, Hudur, Elbarde and Wajid districts of Somalia. Starting with FCA cash transfers, families can buy children school uniforms, books and stationery to attend class.
FCA also helps to provide sports and child-friendly spaces, which improve kids’ overall psychosocial wellbeing to combat distress caused by conflict and other crises.
Two students enrolled on the ABE programme recently shared their experiences.
“I had to stay home and help with the chores”
Lulay Osman Ibrahim, 14, attends Mustaqbal Integrated Primary School and lives with her mother and five siblings in Baidoa camp for internally displaced people. Her mother, Safia, made the decision to leave Dinsoor two years ago due to violent conflict in the region and ongoing drought.
“I was living with my children in Dinsoor and had a small farm where I grew vegetables but due to the prolonged drought and long conflict in the town, it was no longer possible” says Safia.
“Life became difficult, especially for single mothers like myself, so I decided to come to Baidoa town and settled in the IDP camp to seek support ” she adds.
Lulay wanted to go to school, but there were barriers to her attending.
“When I saw the hard life in the IDP camps and the struggle my mother was undergoing, I became more eager to go school and study so I could later help my family. That was my dream, but my mother could not afford to buy me uniform and books, so I had to stay home and help her with the house chores,” says Lulay.
“I used to see my friends going to school in the morning, I felt sad, but I had no choice since my mother could not afford to take me to school,” she adds.
Thanks to community awareness efforts by staff from FCA’s Somalia country office, Lulay learned about the APE programme. With her mother’s support, she registered with the school and her family soon received cash support.
After one year, Lulay aced her exams and joined the mainstream classes. She’s now in third grade and hopes to one day become a teacher.
From livestock to learning
Abshir Adan Borow, 17, came from a life of looking after livestock in a remote village. Due to increasing drought, he was sent to live with an aunt in Baidoa.
“I never thought in my wildest dreams that I will find myself in a classroom and learning. I didn’t even know the ABCs when I started going to school, and my numeracy and literacy skills have improved tremendously.”
Abshir also attends Mustaqbal Integrated School under the ABE programme and after two years can now read and write.
The programme also enabled his brother Ismail to attend school, later both transferring to formal primary school classes after passing the ABE transition examination.
“It’s incredible how life can change in just a short time. We might have lost our livestock, but the FCA education programme has given us a ray of hope to look forward to a brighter future,” Abshir gushes.
“One day I want to work as agricultural and livestock expert to assist my community in climate change initiatives and horticulture.”
“Getting an education means I learn to think in a different way” – young refugees are getting access to university studies in Uganda
For many bright young refugees getting access to higher education can be next to impossible. Tuition fees are high and the distance to proper universities long. That is why Finn Church Aid, in partnership with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), supports young refugees with full scholarships to be able to go to university and obtain a degree.
“Studying at a university was a desire I always had, but I didn’t know how to get there”, says Anita Magret, a 24-year-old second-year student of Social Work and Social Administration at the Ugandan Christian University, one of the top universities in Uganda.
She is sitting at a fireplace outside a few small huts in Bidi Bidi refugee settlement, where she lives with her aunt while away from university for her internship. Many of the students return home for internships or when they are on leave.
Another Bidi Bidi resident and university student is Luate Richard, 22. He studies Microfinance at Kyambogo University in Kampala.
“Being able to study at a university means a lot. Nobody in my family had studied at a higher level before, so this opportunity means a lot for my family”, he tells us.
Both Luate Richard and Anita Magret escaped South Sudan with their families during clashes in 2016, and have been living in Bidi Bidi refugee settlement since then.
From refugee camp to university
The refugee settlement is one of the largest in the world, home to an estimated 270,000 refugees, over half of them children. Still, the number of learners advancing all the way to university is miniscule due to manifold challenges.
That is why Finn Church Aid, together with UNHCR, are supporting 53 learners with full scholarships. The scholarship makes it possible for students to attend their university of choice.d
“My hostel, my tuition and my upkeep are all covered. My family wouldn’t have any possibility to cover these kinds of expenses, so this is an answer to my prayers”, says Luate Richard.
“When it was confirmed that I got the scholarship my whole family was so full of joy, everyone was in tears. It was not easy to reach this point, but when I made it, everybody was very happy and excited”, says Anita Magret.
In addition, the scholarship also covered the unexpected expenses that came with COVID-19. The pandemic forced students into remote studies. Since access to the internet can be quite expensive in Uganda, that was covered too.
Bringing their talents back to their communities
Both Luate Richard and Anita Magret chose to do their mandatory internships in the refugee camp. In the future, they hope to be able to work in their communities.
“In microfinancing we try to find active poor, the ones who are willing to start businesses, finance their ventures and give them financial knowledge so that their business will be successful. I would like to do this in my own community”, says Luate Richard.
Anita Magret also intends to use her education to better people’s lives.
“I feel like I needed to go far to be able to come back and help people with what I learned in school. I want to improve the social well-being of my community and others in need.”
She already feels the opportunity of getting out of the refugee camp, going to university and meeting people with diverse backgrounds, has expanded her thinking.
“The change has been huge. I can really notice it now that I am back for my internship. I notice how I can bring everything that I learned into my work”, says Anita Magret, who is interning with the organization Hope Health Action, giving counseling and guidance to people in vulnerable states.
“It really moves me, when I am able to help. It feels like I chose the right field of work.”
Education opens up horizons
Luate Richard also sees education as a tool that opens up new horizons.
“Education is so important. Life is hard in the refugee camp, and it is easy to fall into a mindset where hardship and poverty is normal. Getting an education means I learn to think in a different way. Through that I have the opportunity to change things for myself and for my community”, says Luate Richard.
The young university students also see their studies as a possibility to be role models for their younger peers. Anita Magret thinks it is important that young people in the refugee camp are able to see that it is possible to achieve your dreams.
“I have been giving career talks for girls who are in secondary school. It is great to be able to show that you can access better things if you put your heart and efforts into it. I want to give the younger girls courage and hope, and make them believe in themselves.”
Ukraine: One year of a war that shattered lives and put millions in need
All photos unless indicated: Antti Yrjönen
On 24 February 2022 the world changed for Ukrainians. After Russia’s invasion, millions of people became refugees, displaced within and without the borders of their country. Children were especially affected with schooling interrupted and families often split up.
SINCE THE very start of the war, FCA has supported Ukrainians with humanitarian aid, working with our partners. Now, we are heading a multi-million euro project to make sure children can continue to access quality education safely, whether in Ukraine or elsewhere. This is the story of Ukraine and FCA in the past year.
Phase 1 – people on the move
After Russia invades Ukraine, many people are forced to flee their homes leaving most of their belongings behind. Most are women and children. Not knowing where they are going or for how long, and often forced to leave fathers, brothers and grandfathers behind, the stress on people is huge.
Alina, 10, holds 3-year-old Emilia in her arms at a refugee aid post in the village of Barabás, close to the Ukrainian-Hungarian border.
Escaping with nine children
A kindness of a friend meant Masha & her nine children could flee Zaporizhzhia, near the Crimean Peninsula.
The car they owned only had five seats, so her husband asked his friend for a minivan. His friend handed over the keys, no questions asked.
“As I was travelling I was crying. I was very upset. I was scared and afraid that something would happen on the way,” says Masha.
They packed pillows, blankets, documents & warm clothes as well as 3 violins for some of the musical children. One child had to leave their beloved piano behind.
When they finally arrived in Hungary Masha’s daughter, Alina (10) met a friend Emilia (3) at the aid post in Barabás where FCA’s partner, Hungarian Interchurch Aid distributed aid.
Alina brought one toy, her clothes and a colouring book with her. She gave the colouring book to another girl as they were on the journey, because the girl had no toys with her.
1 million euros within 4 days
Millions of Ukrainians are fleeing, often with nothing more than a small bag. FCA launches a fundraising campaign, raising 1 million euros within 4 days to provide refugees with emergency aid.
People give generously to help Ukrainian refugees during the first days of the war. Photo: Saara Mansikkamäki
In the first few days of the war, the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, estimates that over half a million people cross borders into countries neighbouring Ukraine.
The first wave of refugees are mostly women with children. Exhausted and scared, the first stage is to give them urgent items, like food, warm clothing and shelter and, in many cases, psychosocial support.
Fleeing Kyiv wasn’t Kristina’s first experience of escaping fighting. She had left the place of her birth, Luhansk, in 2014 for the safety of Ukraine’s capital. Now that was no longer safe.
“It wasn’t so simple to leave. It was so crowded, people couldn’t get into the train.”
Kristina & her cat, Lisa, managed to squeeze onto a train to the border with Hungary, where she received assistance.
“My husband, his family, my brother, my aunt, my uncle, they stay in Kyiv. Most of my friends are in Kyiv too. It’s terrible. We have just emotion and crying.”
Nadiya was at home when the first bombs hit near her house in Kharkiv, which is located near an army base. The attacks were loud & frightening. She doesn’t remember leaving.
“My kids just took me with them.”
Her family managed to reach the Chop railway station in western Ukraine. Now they’re waiting to cross into Hungary.
Nadiya’s biggest hope is that things will change for the better and the war will end. “Many children are suffering because of the war.”
FCA’s partner, HIA, sets up refugee points wherever there is a high concentration of people.
In Budapest airport, parents can take a rest, while children play in specially constructed play areas.
3 million refugees
flee to the surrounding countries during the first month of war, 1.5 million of them children.
Yelizaveta (5) hugs a soft toy. She and her sister Maryanna (10), mother Vironika, and grandmother Svetlana left their hometown of Odessa soon after Russia invaded Ukraine. At Budapest airport, they are thinking of heading to Bulgaria.
“I had a lot of friends in Odessa, but now my best friend is in Germany. But it’s a good idea to go to Bulgaria, because our Black Sea is there. There we’ll be close to Ukraine,” says Maryanna.
Eugene, Vitaly and their children were at hospital in Kharkiv when the bombings started. They were in the hospital because 10-month-old Ivor needs a heart operation. Now Ivor is in his father’s arms and cries out frequently.
Forced to leave the hospital in Kharkiv due to the increasingly intense bombings, their journey to Lviv took more than 24 hours. They came by train; children were sleeping at railway stations and on the floor of the train, they did not have anything to eat.
Phase 2 – sheltering
With fighting ongoing in the east with no sign of an end, Ukrainians often opt to shelter in the relative peace of the west. Locals open their homes and schools to their fellow countrymen, many volunteering long hours to welcome people, feed them, and make sure they have a safe, warm place to stay.
FCA SUPPORTS operations in Berehove and Lviv, the largest city in western Ukraine, providing temporary shelters for those who want to stay as well as continuing to help people on their onward journeys. Meanwhile, children are still not attending school, although some teachers are trying to provide remote learning opportunities.
The IOM estimates that there are around 8 million displaced people within Ukraine with humanitarian needs.
Larysa, her husband, daughter and the cat Bella escaped from Kharkiv on March 1, 2022. Before fleeing, they spent four nights in the basement to escape the bombing raids.
“Everyone wanted to travel out of Kharkiv. There were a lot of people at the train station. The train ride was free of charge, but getting on the train was difficult because of the crowds,” Larysa says.
Larysa has cancer. She received treatment in Kharkiv, but the hospital was destroyed in the bombings. She hopes to get treatment for her illness in Hungary. Now Larysa and her family are staying in a refugee shelter in Berehove, western Ukraine.
“We are happy to have a place to sleep where it’s warm. We get food three times a day, we can wash and do our laundry, because there is also a washing machine here.”
Two weeks later FCA visited the same shelter and heard that Larysa was finally getting treatment in a Ukrainian hospital in the west of the country.
When Russia attacked Ukraine, English teacher Erika Pavliuksent her students home and started volunteering at the refugee shelter set up at the school.
She also provides her students with online lessons. Some of them stay at home, as their school is full of refugees, but some have also fled. Erika is visibly moved when talking about her students.
“They’re teenagers. We have our ups and downs, but we can always find a solution to our difficulties. I love them.”
Erika takes a deep breath and looks around in her own empty classroom, as we ask about her hopes for the future.
“To be able to teach normal classes. I want to write on that blackboard and…,” she hesitates for a moment and starts laughing tiredly, “…yell at my students for not having done their homework.”
Ivonna Kobypyavska manages a kitchen at a refugee shelter set up in a school. She’s worked in the same kitchen for 27 years already, but now she’s feeding refugees instead of school children.
Ivonna’s son went to fight in Kyiv, so she wanted to do something useful; hence, she continued to work in the kitchen without pay.
Ivonna volunteers from 6am to 11pm in the shelter in Berehove, western Ukraine, cooking 400 meals a day in a school kitchen designed for 40 kids.
“It’s not a big deal,” she shrugs. “Routine, routine…”
A warm welcome
In the outskirts of Lviv, Viktoria (14), Maria (9) and Ivan (3) have just arrived at a shelter with mother Katerina and grandmother Svetlana.
Maria will have her 9th birthday in two days. The family left their hometown of Malyn because of the war. When the war started, the family waited, thinking it might finish soon. But when they started to hear bombs, they packed their bags and left their home.
The family was told that there were buses that could take them to Lviv and Poland. However, they did not want to cross the border to Poland and decided to stay in Lviv instead.
“We are incredibly happy and thankful to be here. We were welcomed in the shelter,” says Katerina.
They left the rest of the family behind, so they want to get back to their home as soon as possible. Both Katerina’s and Svetlana’s husbands are fighting in the war.
8 million displaced people
within Ukraine with humanitarian needs.
676 metric tons
of assistance delivered by summer 2022.
reached by our operations.
A sports hall serves as a temporary community shelter for displaced people in Lviv, Ukraine. Photo: Melany Markham/FCA
Phase 3 – coming back
While fighting continues in the south and east of the country, some places are safe enough to return. Many buildings are destroyed and electricity is unstable. The threat of air raids still looms. FCA’s operations evolve into the next stage – bringing teachers and children back to school and restoring a sense of normality after a long period of upheaval and trauma. With EU funding, we lead a €14 million consortium to restore formal education to 45,299 children.
“I see there’s a gap in understanding how to approach certain categories of people and provide them with qualified psychosocial support.
Now, a large number of citizens from other regions are coming to stay in Chernihiv, while at the same time, the city is doing its best to get back to the normal state of things.”
Oleh Halepa, Psychologist-Volunteer at Chernihiv Joint Volunteer Center. Photo: Iryna Dasiuk / FCA
Oleh participated in FCA supported psychosocial support training to be able to support traumatised children.
“The coach impressed me a lot. He’s a very active, vivid person. The amount, structure and style of presentation of the information that we’ve learned during the training is something worth learning to apply in our future work.”
A taste of normality
In the summer of 2022, FCA organises several summer clubs for children, where they could play together and take part in activities. For kids and parents, it’s a small taste of normality.
Tanya Slautina and her husband Andzey are from Chernihiv where 60 per cent of the city’s 285,000 inhabitants fled to other parts of Ukraine.
“War has touched every aspect of our lives. The worst months in Chernihiv we were isolated in our home. Fear, explosions and panic were our daily companions. Fortunately our children did not see anyone dying, but they were quiet and sullen. All we could think about was survival.
Our home is OK, but others were not so lucky. We organised a collection of clothes and other necessary items to help other families. Before the attack I worked as a bank clerk, but I left my job to be able to help my children and our community. The stress and fear brought us closer together.
We all need help with our children, and the summer clubs are a huge relief for us parents, too. Our children Anastasiya, 6, Valeziya, 10, and Maksim, 12, have been going to FCA’s summer clubs for six weeks.”
“The best thing about summer clubs was seeing my classmates and friends. Nothing has been completely normal for a long time. First we had to study at home a lot because of the coronavirus pandemic, and then the war began.”
“During the attacks, we just wanted to go somewhere and hide. I’ve noticed that I feel much better now that we do things together. Working together and talking with others about how we feel and what we think has been extremely helpful.”
Sophia (14), FCA summer club participant.
Teachers play an important role
FCA’s education response for Ukraine emphasises teacher training and support. Without quality teachers, there is no quality education.
In a context like Ukraine, where war is ongoing, teachers need special training and mentoring to be able to assist their students, but also to cope with their own needs.
“Many have lost trust in the world”
Zhanna Kudina is a psychologist and teacher in Chernihiv.
“The war has caused a great deal of stress in children and young people. Some have had to endure exhausting journeys to escape, others have lost loved ones or seen things children should never have to see. The most typical symptoms include lack of appetite, sleep disorders and difficulty concentrating.
In summer clubs, we have used various therapeutic tools, such as arts and crafts. At first, drawings were very dark-coloured, with soldiers, guns and missiles. Over the weeks, more colour, sunshine and flowers began to appear. Many have lost trust in the world, and with the clubs we try to provide them with a place where they can feel safe.
As a psychologist, I know that support should be offered urgently after a traumatic event. The longer children and young people have to wait, the more difficult it becomes to deal with the mental scars. But I am hopeful, because I am here now, doing something for them, and because we have received a huge amount of support from Finn Church Aid. We are deeply grateful for that.”
Psychosocial support to 4,590 children
FCA leads a project to provide children with psychosocial support services.
Training for 905 teachers
to provide specialist support to children suffering from trauma.
participated and benefitted from FCA’s summer club activities.
Phase 4 – preparing for the winter
The war enters a new phase, where attacks on critical infrastructure are common. The lack of heating makes learning in schools already difficult, and that’s coupled with the almost daily air raid alerts.
THE FREQUENT power cuts also make it hard for students to learn remotely, either at home or in different cities. FCA and partners respond by providing winterisation kits to families and starting work to make mandatory bomb shelters in schools suitable to continue learning in, even during an air raid alert.
We went back to see Ruslana, a teacher in Chernihiv, Ukraine who received psychosocial training from us during the summer.
“Everyday is a challenge. The war has had an influence on every aspect of our lives, our daily routines. Now we are planning how we could organize the teaching in shelters as we spend quite a lot of time there depending on the week.”
Children seem to be quite flexible when it comes to psychosocial wellbeing. However, you never know what triggers them. It might be an air raid, the sound of a siren. Some of them start crying. Some of them just stay still. Of course, some of the students stay positive, but some of them are really pessimistic and in despair.
The new methods and psychosocial support skills we learnt have supported us during this autumn. Many of our teachers are using those methods on a regular basis here at school.”
“This has been a life lesson”
We also revisit Zhanna, who explains that, after so many months of war, she and her colleagues are doing their best to overcome the anxiety syndrome and stress many children are currently experiencing.
According to Zhanna, approximately 30 % of students show signs of stress syndrome. They show symptoms like anxiety, loss of appetite, bad sleeping, and screaming while having nightmares.
She explains that during the Russian military presence in the region, three students of her school lost their lives. Some students experienced violence and oppression.
One of the school shelters has been organized as a psychosocial hub for children. It is a safe place where children participate for example in art therapy and learn relaxing breathing techniques.
When asked about her thoughts on the future, Kudina says that she hopes for the best and peace. “This all has been a kind of a lesson to us by life. It has developed our survival skills, the skills with which we can live this over. We should somehow try to program ourselves for the best. Positive thinking will bring a positive future.”
Power outages or “blackouts” are frequent in Chernihiv and across Ukraine. Sometimes cities only have a few hours of electricity a day.
FCA supports the installation of generators in schools to cope with the loss of electricity.
Children spend Christmas without their fathers
Many families will spend this year with fathers, brothers and uncles at the frontline or never coming back from the war. FCA supports 71 children in Chernihiv with Christmas gifts and activities.
Oleh (11) and Polina (13) both lost their fathers in the war. Both students are learning online, despite power cuts.
Says Polina, “I love drawing and have been doing arts for eight years. I like online learning, because it’s safer and the teacher can give you specific attention.”
“My family is the best family in the world. We have some Christmas traditions, such as decorating the Christmas tree on the 24th of December. This year it will just be me, my mother, grandmother and my brother.”
Schools, as well as hospitals and critical infrastructure have all suffered intense damage. For Ukraine’s young people, it’s been a disorientating and distressing year.
Since September 2022, the 1,200 students of Lyceum Number 25 in Zhytomyr have been studying in temporary learning spaces.
Kateryna Tkachenko is a 9th grader at Lyceum Number 25 in Zhytomyr, Ukraine. The school was destroyed by a missile strike on March 4, 2022.
“In spring 2022, we had to take a two-month study break, and then we continued with online lessons. I felt so lucky when I was able to start my 9th grade offline. I prefer offline learning because of better communication.”
“The war has caused a lot of problems in Ukraine. Thanks to my parents, friends and teacher, I have coped with all challenges. I miss everything in my destroyed school: the building, classrooms and atmosphere. It was very important to me.
I want to finish school with excellent grades and go to university. I want to travel the world and have a good life.”
3,098 education institutions
have suffered bombing, FCA will support the rehabilitation of 147 schools.
in Chernihiv supported by FCA in 2022 with Christmas gifts and activities.
31,100 learner kits
will be distributed to children in need in the project locations.
Phase 5 – looking to the future
As the country reaches one year at war, Ukraine’s children must return to school. FCA leads a multi-million euro set of programmes to make sure teachers and students have everything they need to learn safely, in comfort and flexibly.
The New Year’s celebrations at this family’s house are a moment of joy. Mother Oksana was injured in a rocket attack at the start of the war and daughter, Maria, is still shaken by witnessing her mother’s plight.
15 year old Kyryl plays chess with his father, Mykola, who is home from the war during New Year.
In Ukraine, the new year is celebrated by children going door to door and singing for candy.
The New Year brings families back together
In Ukraine, the New Year is celebrated between the 13th and 14th of January. Many families celebrate, with some male family members being able to return for a few days to join their families.
After months of online learning, often interrupted by power outages, children have the chance to come back to the classroom.
With EU-funded FCA support, schools are rehabilitated with improved facilities, like reinforced windows and specially equipped bomb shelters, where kids can continue learning even during air raid alerts.
FCA also works to develop school curriculums, in order to make learning as flexible as possible, so that children can have access to education wherever they are.
School number 21 was completely demolished during the fighting in Chernihiv, Ukraine in spring 2022.
FCA works with rehabilitating schools and arranging temporary learning spaces.
”I do not like to learn from home. The best thing at school is to spend time with my friends”, says Daryna Khomenko.
Daryna is now excited to return to the classroom after the rehabilitation of her school has been finalised in early 2023. She’s also received learning materials through the project funded by EU Humanitarian Aid (ECHO).
Ukrainians join FCA Staff
There are now over 20 professionals working in FCA’s Ukraine country office and most of them are locals like Marianna Zhurbenko.
Marianna remembers how on February 24, 2022 she stared in disbelief at the sky from the window of her own home in Gostomel, west of Kyiv.
Helicopters buzzed in the sky and the phone rang non-stop. Friends called in distress and told Marianna and her family to flee. The war had started suddenly, and the front line was only 500 meters from Marianna’s home.
In the evening, the uproar of artillery fire began, and that’s when Marianna and her husband decided to leave. They packed the family’s 9-year-old son, a six-month-old baby and a dog into the car and set off first for Kiev and then for western Ukraine. Marianna and the boys lived there for the next months.
Marianna stayed awake a lot and listened to her elder son’s crying at night. Fortunately, the youngest didn’t understand anything about the situation.
“Random families took us in to live with them. We tried to offer them payment for the water and electricity we used, but they refused to accept it,” says Marianna and describes how the war has united Ukrainians. She would also open the door to foreign families if such a situation came up again.
“The war has changed my own values. I realized that material don’t matter. Life, health, family relationships and love became important values for me.”
In May, it became clear that although her former workplace had not been destroyed in the war, all the workers had fled elsewhere and were not going to return.
In June 2022, Marianna started as a logistics coordinator at Finn Church Aid. She is responsible for procurement and that supplies going to FCA-supported schools find their destination.
“I was an IDP, and I know how people feel. I love being able to help children. I like myself doing this job,” says Marianna.
Kyiv, Chernihiv and Zhytomyr.
operations and support.
Head office in Kyiv, field office in Chernihiv.
Learning continues in bomb shelters
Nowadays, a functioning Ukrainian school must have a functioning bomb shelter, because there can sometimes be several air raid alerts per day.
FCA equips school bomb shelters so that everyday life can continue in them as normally as possible even during an air raid alert.
FCA will stay in Ukraine, providing quality education for all through curriculum development, training and reconstruction.
“There are a lot of challenges in Ukraine, but FCA with its Ukrainian partners sees that education is a real investment in the future. It’s not always something that you can see immediately. You know, if somebody is hungry and you give them food, you can see immediately that the need is satisfied, but education is more of a long-term investment.”
“We have students who need some hope for the future. And without the ability to learn and to create opportunities for themselves in terms of future learning, future employment, all those other basic needs are not enough.”
FCA Ukraine Country Director, Patricia Maruschak
The future of children and youth cannot be put on hold
Although fighting continues, children can’t wait to go back to school.
Quality education is a super power, which stems from a genuine desire to build a better life and to help others do the same.
The right to quality education is an essential requirement if we want to reduce poverty and create jobs, achieve economic growth, equality and stable democracies, and combat climate change. Once you have an education, no war or crisis can take it away. It is therefore essential that we invest in education that is accessible to all children and young people – including girls and young women, and vulnerable children and youth, especially those with disabilities.
For children living in areas affected by conflict, crisis and disasters, schools offer a safe environment. 222 million children and young people living in areas affected by crisis need support for education.
We believe that the very fact that access to education is one of the priorities of many countries’ development cooperation programmes – including that of our country of origin, Finland – it should be more strongly reflected in the allocation of humanitarian assistance.
Education must adapt to a changing world
Education is increasingly important in an ever-changing world. It provides people with the knowledge and skills they need to better adapt to new environmental demands and to solve new problems. Similarly, education plays a key role in instilling democracy, human rights and sustainable development. In most parts of world, climate change is currently not even mentioned in the curriculum.
In African countries, some 10-12 million young people enter the labour market every year, but only three million new jobs are created. Vocational education and training or entrepreneurship training remains on the sidelines in many developing countries. There is a significant mismatch between young people’s skills and employers’ needs.
In order to improve access to quality education, more attention should be paid to teacher training and the well-being of teachers. Sadly, however, teachers are rarely consulted when efforts are made to create better education and training programmes.
Vocational education and training must also evolve
Increasingly, jobs are being created in sectors for which vocational training is non-existent or insufficient, such as creative industries, digital transformation and the green transition.
FCA, as a longstanding expert in the education field, has much to offer in several areas, including vocational education and training, investment in new industries, and teacher skills and competence development. Our roots in Finland and the high regard Finnish education standards are held reflect that expertise. Finland’s educational expertise and its school system have gained recognition worldwide. Education is a priority in Finland’s development policy, and there is a broad consensus among Finns that support for education is essential. We know that to achieve the best results, it is important to bring together civil society organisations, the private sector and public sector organisations.
We know that to achieve the best results, it is important to bring together civil society organisations, the private sector and public sector organisations.
At FCA we pioneer vocational training in the creative industries and circular economy livelihoods. We are urging governments, including Finland’s, to invest more in technical and vocational education and training, especially those that offer youth a chance to earn while they learn.
Our vision for quality education
We want to push forward the role of education and training in development cooperation with updated strategies to focus on youth and digital and green economies.
Many organisations focus on primary school aged children, which is essential, but we want to ensure access to quality education to all and that means supporting youth and adults as well.
Quality education won’t happen without properly trained teachers. We also want to focus on teacher skills, competence development and support for teachers’ work. These are areas that are currently unaddressed in international education cooperation and where FCA and Finland has something to offer.
Each year, we supported between 245,000 and 350,000 children and young people to go to school.
With the help of our support, a total of 2,700 disabled children accessed education or continued their schooling.
In addition, we invested significantly in the development of inclusive education as part of teacher training in several program countries.
We trained nearly 20,000 local teachers around the world in our countries of operation.
Through long-term advocacy work, career counselling was included in Cambodia’s national education strategy. FCA trained the first study counselors in the country.
In 2022, we supported education in Ukraine amid crisis caused by the ongoing war. We trained teachers to provide psychosocial support to children and organised summer activities for around 6,000 children in the Chernihiv region, a part of Ukraine that was shortly occupied by Russia at the start of the war.
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.