Educating the next generation of children in South-West Somalia

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.

Since the start of the project, funded by European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), there has been a positive shift in girls’ education, with more female students enrolling in schools. The programme also supports teachers, who received training and mentorship.

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.

A girl in a red Abaya stands in the indoors in front of a schooldesk.
Lulay Osman Ibrahim, 14, is enrolled in FCA’s ABE program in Mustaqbal Integrated Primary School

 “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.”

A teenager sits at a school desk in a classroom reading a textbook
Abshir Adan Borow sits in a social studies lesson at Mustaqbal Integrated Primary School

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.”

Text and photos: Fatima Abshir

Uganda’s Minister of Education welcomes FCA support for education policy review 

Uganda’s Minister of Education welcomes Finn Church Aid support for education policy review 

First Lady and Minister of Education and Sports, Mrs. Janet K. Museveni hosted Finn Church Aid Uganda Country Director and the Finn Church Aid Global Advocacy team from Helsinki, who were in Uganda in mid-February. Photo: Finn Church Aid Uganda

Uganda’s First Lady and Minister of Education and Sports, Mrs. Janet K. Museveni, has welcomed an offer made by Finn Church Aid (FCA) to have Finnish Education Technical Experts support the on-going work of the Education Policy Review Commission in Uganda.  

FINN CHURCH AID will second two Finnish education experts; an Education Management Consultant recruited by FinCEED, who will work with the Commission from March up to the end of May 2023 and another Specialist recruited by the Teachers without Borders Network in Finland, who will work from June up to the end of the year. 

The First Lady, Mrs. Janet K. Museveni on Thursday (February 23rd, 2023), hosted Finn Church Aid Uganda Country Director and the Finn Church Aid Global Advocacy team from Helsinki, who were in Uganda, to among others, follow up on the proposed actions from the benchmarking visit made by some members of the Education Policy Review Commission to Finland in September last year.  

The meeting was at State House Nakasero and it was also attended by representatives from the Education Policy Review Commission led by the Chairperson Hon. Amanya Mushega, and technical officers from the Education and Sports Ministry.  

Mrs. Museveni acknowledged that Finland’s education system and success is recognized globally and so, there is much that Uganda can learn from them.  

“We are very grateful for your selfless support and your willingness to hold hands with us on this journey to improve our education system”, she said. 

She added that learning from Finland’s experience will possibly help the Education Policy Review Commission to be deliberate in its investigations of the several issues in the education and sports sector and enable it generate the best recommendations that will reposition Uganda’s education and sports system to meet the needs and challenges of the 21st century. 

Mrs. Museveni thanked Finn Church Aid Uganda for organizing the benchmarking visit for the Education Policy Review Commission and for its continued partnership with the Education Sector in the implementation of various sector programmes, especially the Education Response Plan for Refugees and Host Communities. 

In a brief on the benchmarking visit to Finland, the Education Policy Review Commission Chairperson; Hon. Amanya Mushega, described the trip to have been extremely educative.  

He pointed out that the teaching profession is highly revered and that the minimum standard for a basic (primary school) teacher in Finland is a Degree, a Master Degree. In addition, one must have a pedagogical subject.  

Among the things they noted in Finland, is the central role of a teacher in the education system and the importance of early childhood care and education, which is compulsory for all children in Finland at the age of 6 years so that by the age they join basic education they are all balanced. They also observed that basic education is very important and is accompanied by learning and lifelong education and that a child can continue with basic education until the age of 14, 16 or even 18 years before breaking off for his specialization.  

Finn Church Aid Global Director for Stakeholder Relations, Katri Suomi said Finland became what it is now today because it invested in education. Photo: Finn Church Aid Uganda

In the Finnish Education system there are no inspectors of schools, no sudden examinations to determine the children’s future, and instead continuous assessment of students’ performance is what is done. Another thing is that children with special needs do not have separate schools but are assisted to study together with other children. 

Finn Church Aid Global Director for Stakeholder Relations, Katri Suomi, said education is at the heart of Finn Church Aid, which currently works in 12 countries around the world. She explained that Finland became what it is now today because it invested in education.  

While in Uganda, the members of the Global Advocacy team also visited Nakivale Refugee Settlement in Isingiro District and Kyaka II Refugee Settlement in Kyegegwa District. The team also paid courtesy calls to the UN Refugee Agency and European Union Uganda office. 

In Uganda, Finn Church Aid is UNHCR’s implementing partner for Education and co-lead for the Education Sector Working group together with the Ministry of Education and Sports and UNHCR coordinating the countrywide Education Response for refugees and host populations.

Text: Linda Kabuzire

Finn Church Aid begins educational work in Raqqa and Aleppo in Syria

Finn Church Aid begins education work in Raqqa and Aleppo in Syria

Due to war lasting over a decade, Syrians are in need of extensive humanitarian aid. FCA is expanding its operation to the northern parts of the country with the support of the Syria Humanitarian Fund (SHF).

FINN CHURCH AID (FCA) is expanding its humanitarian work to the regions of Raqqa and Aleppo in northern Syria. 

The work focuses on improving quality of education as well as repairing and equipping schools. Additional teaching will be organised for children and adolescents, and teachers will receive further training. The work also supports the psychosocial wellbeing of pupils and teachers. On top of this, FCA also equips schools with solar panels in order to provide them with light and running water. 

Many remember Raqqa as the capital of the area captured by extremist organisation ISIS in 2014. Most of the schools in the region were destroyed or damaged during the war. ISIS no longer controls Raqqa, but the effects of that four-year period are still visible in the  area’s schools. 

“Children still live in the midst of destruction. Many of them were recruited into an extremist organisation, some saw their family members and relatives being executed. The extremist organisation demanded the closure of schools in the region, and many have been away from school for over four years. The children must be allowed to start building their future now,” notes Karam Sharouf, FCA’s programme manager in Syria. 

Children in Al Raqqa talk to FCA about their needs in late November 2022.

Money is tight and winter is coming 

Due to the war and the resulting economic crisis, families in Raqqa live, on average, on 18 US dollars a month. Humanitarian needs are already extensive, and according to estimates, people who previously fled the region are now beginning to return. In Aleppo, many former residents have recently moved back. 

“It’s been estimated that in Aleppo, there are 75 000 children who don’t go to school. There have been many child marriages recently, because marriages are a desperate way to bring families some financial security,” Sharouf says. 

Winter will only add to the hardship. Because of the lack of fuel and high prices, heating houses is almost impossible; and as income is low, people can’t afford to make purchases to prepare for winter. 

Support for children with disabilities 

Expanding humanitarian work to Aleppo and Raqqa is conducted with the support of the Syria Humanitarian Fund (SHF). Previously FCA has also supported education and provided emergency relief in Idlib, Hama, Homs, Eastern Ghouta, and Daraa. 

As part of the work, schooling of children with disabilities is supported. Schools have been refurbished in ways that enable children with reduced mobility to move around more easily. 

“For the first time, I feel loved and motivated to continue my education and take the first step to achieve my ambition of becoming a lawyer. Yes, I see myself as a lawyer in the future,” says Dalal (name changed).

Dalal’s family fled fighting in Palmyra, Syria, in 2015 when she was five years old. Dalal had never been to school and had physical disabilities that compounded her challenges. FCA provided specially developed catch-up classes that allow two school years of study in one.

FCA gave Dalal a wheelchair and her family cash support to buy everything she needed to access her school. The project in Hama and Homs was funded by UN OCHA Syria’s Syrian Humanitarian Fund.

Going to school is the right of every child. Noor was born without legs, which is why she has been in a wheelchair all her life.

“Yes, I’m disabled. No, nothing stops me from going to school,” says Noor. She wants to be a pharmacist when she grows up. Her home was damaged during the war, and Noor dreams of owning a house in the city. As an adult, she’d like a car that she could drive himself.

13-year-old Noor attends a school supported by FCA in rural Hama in western Syria together with her friend Foton. The school that Noor attends has recently been renovated so that it is easier to move around with a wheelchair. The project was funded by EU.

Long-term work brings results 

Finn Church Aid has operated in Syria since 2017. In addition to emergency relief, the work has focused on improving quality of education as well as water and sanitary systems of schools, and supporting livelihoods. The new phase of the operation will give 45 young people in Aleppo an access to vocational education. 

As of October 2022, FCA has refurbished a total of 43 schools together with its partners. This repair work has impacted the daily lives of over 23 300 Syrian children. 

11-year-olds Malak and Amena present their rehabilitated school in Hama, Syria. FCA supported the rehabilitation of schools with EU Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) funding. The project enables access to quality education for children and youth who have missed several years of school due to the war in Syria.

Text: Ulriikka Myöhänen 
Translation: Anne Salomäki 
Photos and videos: Finn Church Aid 

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

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

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

“All children should be in school”

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

“Teachers carry a great responsibility”

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

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

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

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

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

“Why only girls’ education gets support?”

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

“There are children in need in Finland, too”

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

“Education gets wasted if people live in mudhuts”

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

“Those educated with development aid never get a job”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Text: Elisa Rimaila
Photo: Antti Yrjönen

Open letter to European Commission

Open letter: European Commission leadership on Education in Emergencies and support towards Education Cannot Wait

222 million children’s dreams are on hold due to preventable factors like the climate crisis, war, forced displacement, and conflict. Education Cannot Wait works to provide access to education to the world’s most vulnerable children, from Yemen to Afghanistan. With an increasing number of children affected by conflict and crisis, they need support from world leaders more than ever.

Dear President von der Leyen, dear Commissioner Urpilainen,

Thank you for your leadership on global education, and for the strong support you have given thus far to Education Cannot Wait (ECW) – the United Nations-hosted global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises – since its establishment in 2016.

Early next year, ECW will hold a High-level Financing Conference (HLFC) in Geneva, from February 16-17, 2023. The Conference, co-hosted by ECW and Switzerland, will be co-convened with Colombia, Germany, Niger, Norway, and South Sudan, with the aim of mobilizing $1.5 billion in funding to allow ECW to deliver its Strategic Plan for the period 2023-2026.

The conference comes at a time when urgent support for education in emergencies is needed, more so now than ever before. Growing humanitarian needs are depriving children of their right to an education. ECW’s latest research shows that 222 million children and adolescents affected by emergencies and protracted crises are in urgent need of education support, up from 75 million since similar estimates in 2015.

In Ukraine, the Sahel, Afghanistan, the Middle East and many other places around the world, young people are denied education because of conflict, climate change and forced displacement. A generation of young people are at risk of being left behind, either missing out on education completely or not learning the basic skills needed to develop and help build peaceful, prosperous, and healthy countries. This is particularly true for the most vulnerable children such as children with disabilities.

The European Commission has been an education champion, even more so under the current mandate: a driving force for other players globally. The Commission has been a fundamental donor to ECW from its inception and its continued, multi-year support will be absolutely critical to ensure ECW can meet its 2023-2026 Strategic Plan goal to provide education to 20 million children and youth in crises.

We therefore call on you to pledge at least EUR 160 million for the period 2023-2026 at the HLFC next February. This funding will directly support over 2 million children and youth affected by crises to receive an education and will bring the EU closer to achieving its target of investing 13% of its development budget in education, as announced at the 2022 Transforming Education Summit. A pledge of this value will also help ensure that by 2026, 40 million more girls will be in school, in line with the 2021 G7 Ministerial Declaration on girls’ education and the EU’s Gender Action Plan III. It will also ensure that the EU delivers on the priorities of its Youth Action Plan in EU external action 2022 – 2027, which explicitly mentions the EU’s intention of leading the support to ECW.

Due to the limited resources available in the NDICI – Global Europe’s Global Challenges lines, the European Commission should draw mainly from the unspent funds initially allocated under the Geographic Windows to fund this pledge. This support would be well justified given the majority of the new country Multiannual Indicative Programmes have education components.

Strong EU leadership is sorely needed at this critical time and will incentivise other donors to address the financing gap and enable ECW to carry out its vital work. We would welcome the opportunity to meet with your team to discuss the above opportunities and how they can be used to advance our shared goal of realizing the dreams of the 222 million children affected by crises, and in need of educational support.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Sheldrick, Co-Founder & Chief Policy, Impact and Government Affairs Officer, Global Citizen

Sabrina Dhowre Elba, Europe Board Chair, Global Citizen

Ylva Sperling, Director, Save the Children Europe

Tomi Järvinen, Interim Executive Director, Finn Church Aid

Joseph Nhan-O’Reilly, Executive Director, International Parliamentary Network for Education

Jeroen Uytterschaut, Executive Director & EU Representative, World Vision EU Representation Office

Philippa Lei, Chief Global Advocacy Officer, Malala Fund

Serap Altinisik, Head of Office/EU Representative, Plan International EU Liaison Office

Emily Wigens, EU Director, The ONE Campaign

Irina Popusoi, Secretary General, The Alliance of Active NGOs in the field of Child and Family Social Protection (APSCF)

Blandine Bouniol, Deputy Director for Advocacy, Humanity & Inclusion

Isabella Olsson, Head of Global Advocacy, LM International

Emanuele Russo, Coordinator of Global Campaign for Education Italy and Global Citizenship Education Head Officer, CIFA Onlus

Pilar Orenes, President of Global Campaign for Education Spain

Girls in class boost boys’ grades in a Syrian school

Girls in class boost boys’ grades in a Syrian school

Although the crisis in Syria has disappeared from headlines in recent years, the need for help remains extensive. A boys’ school supported by Finn Church Aid opened its doors to girls in the countryside of Hama. The new set-up was a challenge to the pupils, teachers, and families alike, but the efforts have been rewarded.

THE JOYFUL NOISE is deafening. In the countryside of Hama in western Syria, around 30 girls and boys between the ages of 11 and 14 have packed into a tiny classroom. 

The situation might seem ordinary, but in today’s Syria, it’s a rare one. The war has dragged on for almost 12 years, and during its course, girls and boys have gone to separate schools. School directors assure that this hasn’t always been the case; before the war, girls and boys sat in the same classes. During the war, rules and practices became stricter. 

Together with the EU humanitarian aid, Finn Church Aid supports a former boy’s school that has taken on girls in 2022. FCA support refurbished the school and provided teacher training. 380 girls took part in remedial lessons organised in the summer, and now there are approximately two dozen girls in the school of 400 students. 

The school staff say that the reforms has filled the classrooms with cheerful energy and positive competition. A teacher and two students share their experiences of life in wartime and how the school experiment that brought girls and boys in the same classrooms has broken the ice in the community. 

A Syrian girl is photographed from her side in front of a white wall.
Foton, a 14-year-old Syrian girl from Hama is hoping to become an engineer one day. “It’s as much my right as a girl to go to school as it’s the right of any boy,” she says. Photo: Erik Nyström / FCA

“Now I even have boys as friends” 

“My family didn’t flee; we stayed in this region throughout the conflict.  In 2018–2019, we spent a year sheltering below our house, for about 20 hours a day. I was 11 years old, and I was afraid when I heard helicopters, missiles, or shells. One of them hit our house, and my brother blacked out. We had no water or electricity. My father had a small store, and we emptied it in a year. 

My girls’ school was closed that year. Once my father tried to take me to a school in another district, but that didn’t work out. Everyone was scared, and there weren’t any teachers. We dropped education for that year. 

I think my situation is better now than it was before. The atmosphere in the mixed school is happy. Previously, when I was attending an all-girls school, it was difficult for me to talk to boys. Now I even have boys as friends. My school friends Ahmad, Muhammad, Ali, and others are part of our group of friends. I used to just be friends with the boys in my family. 

Initially my family was concerned that the boys in school would harm me. However, this experience has strengthened the relationship I have with my family. They trust me, and they think that their daughter can go to a boys’ school and look after herself. 

What do I think about girls’ education? Education is my right. Studying, working, and travelling are women’s rights. We have exactly the same rights as men. Our place isn’t just at home. I hope to become a doctor or an engineer.” 
Student Foton, 14

Smiling boy is poking someone with his finger. A group of boys stand behind him in front of a window.
Turki says he’s learnt a lot about girls after he got girls as his class mates in a countside school in Hama, located in western Syria. Photo: Erik Nyström / FCA

“I suppose they are strong women in a way” 

“My family and I left our home, when the battles in our region were really intense. We fled and took nothing with us. Throughout the entire conflict I was really scared because of the shells and missiles. I still have anxiety thinking someone might attack us. 

Finn Church Aid organised revision lessons in our school. The sounds of the war have been playing in my head for a long time, but the activities gave me something else to think about and helped me forget about the horrors. 

This is my school, and it used to be just us boys here. We were all somehow similar. Now we boys want to prove that we’re smarter than girls. We compete for good grades in front of the teachers. We try to be polite and respectful towards the girls. Things can often get tough among the boys, but now there are girls in the classroom, too. 

During this experiment, we boys have gained more self-confidence. I’m used to thinking that girls are shy. When they came to our school, I noticed that girls are confident. I suppose they are strong women in a way. 

I don’t mind continuing like this at all, studying together with girls. I have to admit that it hasn’t been very easy. I sometimes feel a little shy and think that it would be better if they went back to their own school. But would I really want that? No, no, no!  They boost study motivation for us boys.
Student Turki, 13 

A female teacher is standing in front of her class in Syria. In front of the picture is a girl, photographed from behind.
“Ultimately, this situation has been really useful. Based on my experience, girls tend to do better in school than boys.  A new situation, in which the girls and boys take the same classes, creates positive competition between the students. The boys have improved their grades and overall performance,” says teacher Najah Kasem. Photo: Erik Nyström / FCA

“Now girls and boys are classmates, friends, and colleagues” 

“A lot has changed in Syria during the war. In many respects, rules have been forgotten, and sometimes groups of people don’t respect each other. During the war years, we have lost plenty of opportunities and been left behind in global development. 

We have to fix our ways of thinking in terms of gender issues as well, because we must be able to accept each other. It’s important to start driving the change here at school. Why? As a teacher I want to think that all of my students will move on to university studies. At university, women and men study together. That will be difficult, if these young people have never done anything together before. 

It’s great to have girls in this school. Unlike before, now we have activities and teaching that bring boys and girls together. I’ve noticed that after the initial awkwardness they’ve started talking to each other. They treat each other normally: sit and learn next to each other, without having to constantly interpret the situation. Now they are classmates, friends, and colleagues to each other. The ice has somehow been broken. 

Girls and boys sit behind their desks in a class room and listen to their teacher.

Girls tend to do better in school than boys but, bringing girls in the former all boys’ school has showed boys are now improving their grades. FCA support refurbished the school in Hama, western part of Syria, and provided teacher training. 380 girls took part in remedial lessons organised in the summer, and now there are approximately two dozen girls in the school of 400 students. Photo: Erik Nyström / FCA

As an English teacher I must say that the reform has had its share of challenges. The girls who joined the school hadn’t really studied English before, and I’ve had to revise everything from the beginning. 

Ultimately, this situation has been really useful. Based on my experience, girls tend to do better in school than boys.  A new situation, in which the girls and boys take the same classes, creates positive competition between the students. The boys have improved their grades and overall performance. 

Education plays a significant role when we plan a future for Syria. Children spend more time in school than at home, and a teacher is like an extra parent to a child. Everything starts at school: we can impact the child’s ways of thinking, help them develop their skills, and thus also have an impact on the direction Syria takes and how reconstruction proceeds.” 
Teacher Najah Kasem

Text: Ulriikka Myöhänen 
Translation: Anne Salomäki 
Photos: Erik Nyström 

FCA leads school return project in Ukraine with €14 million EU funding

FCA leads school return project in Ukraine with €14 million EU funding

FCA’s educational work in Ukraine is progressing – schools are being renovated and teachers supported with EU co-financing of €14 million.

14 million euros of EU funding will help children return to school in Ukraine through a new project led by FCA. 

The education project sees FCA receive €5.5 million from EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO), while project partners Save the Children and People In Need will each receive €4.2 million. In addition, War Child Holland will benefit from an approximately €50,000 share. 

“This 14 million euro funding is very important and shows the commitment of the EU to help the Ukrainian school system to get back on its feet. Sadly, it is just a first step, the needs are so large that more funding will need to be pledged in the future for every child to be able to go back to school,” says Yannic Georis, FCA’s emergency response manager in Ukraine.  

School rehabilitation and well-being in focus 

During the next 14 months, FCA and its partners aim to reach approximately 67,000 children, focusing on rehabilitating schools, organising temporary learning spaces and digital learning centers, psychosocial support and fostering the well-being of teachers. 

“There is a lot of positive defiance and willpower throughout the education system, everyone wants to be back in a working mode. Children and teachers have a right and a need to return,” Peter Hyll-Larsen, FCA’s education expert in Ukraine, describes the situation in the country. 

Chernihiv’s school number 21 was completely demolished during the fighting in Chernihiv, Ukraine in spring 2022. The war has taken a devastating toll on education. Photo: Antti Yrjönen / Finn Church Aid.

Hyll-Larsen highlights, however, that infrastructural damage cannot be repaired as fast as everyone would like. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Education and Science, a total of 286 schools have been destroyed during the war by mid-September. In addition, 2,477 schools have been damaged in bombing and fighting.  

“As some areas in the East become liberated, it is also evident that the initial efforts on mental health, psychosocial support and child protection through education remain crucial – and will remain so for months and years to come,” Hyll-Larsen says.  

Schoolwork continues in an unsure situation  

The new school year started in September – partly remotely and partly on-site. A condition for returning to school is that the building has functioning shelters. According to expert estimates, 59 per cent of Ukrainian schools meet this condition. 

The coming school year can be challenging in many ways in many parts of the country. Due to the war and the energy crisis, schools are already preparing for the possibility that students will have to be sent home due to lack of heating.  

Experts now stress that distance learning models, skills and equipment will be needed in the coming winter too. Hyll-Larsen says that the situation is at its worst in liberated areas in the East. 

“These areas will face a particularly harsh winter due to very little electricity and hence also very few online learning opportunities.” 

FCA equips bomb shelters and trains teachers together with a local partner 

Even before receiving ECHO funding, Finn Church Aid had been working diligently to help Ukrainians since the beginning of the war. 

Summer clubs supported by Finn Church Aid brought children and youth together in Chernihiv, Ukraine during July and August 2022. Photo: Antti Yrjönen / Finn Church Aid.

This started with emergency aid for Ukrainians fleeing violence within and out of the country. Over the summer, FCA expanded its operations to Northern Ukraine, training local teachers and school psychologists in psychosocial skills. Together with the local partner organisation DOCCU, FCA organised summer clubs for children in the area, where children and young people could spend time together in a safe environment. 

During the summer clubs, more than 20 air raid alarms were heard in the area for 30 days, during which children and young people spent hours in poorly equipped bomb shelters. 

As fighting continues, FCA will continue to work with DOCCU, equipping the bomb shelters of Chernihiv schools into better learning environments.  Teachers will be trained in specialised subjects, like organising lessons in war conditions, increasing interaction during distance education and how to act during air alarms. 

FCA’s Ukraine office gets a new country director 

In August, FCA completed the official Ukrainian registration process. As a result, Finn Church Aid now has a functioning country office in Ukraine. Patricia Maruschak will start as director of the new country office in October. 

“The opportunity to work in Ukraine is really exciting to me. I have Ukrainian-Canadian background. When the invasion began, it was very upsetting. It still is very upsetting, but I feel a lot of pride in the way Ukrainians are responding,” says Maruschak. 

“I think the focus on education in emergencies is so important and so needed. Good education is important to people in Ukraine, and that all has been disrupted now. I think the fact that FCA is capable of assisting the government of Ukraine, the people of Ukraine to get their education system running in such a way that works for them under these circumstances, I think it’s incredible valuable.” 

FCA will stay in Ukraine, supporting teachers and actively seeking ways to make the school return possible for children. The new country director starts in her position in October. 

Text: Ulriikka Myöhänen

Former school dropout Agnes found her way back from selling fish to prosper in her classroom

Former school dropout Agnes found her way back from selling fish to prosper in her classroom

To compensate the lost years of young school dropouts, FCA implements the Accelerated Education Programme in five refugee-hosting districts in Uganda.

A woman standing in front of a window holding a notebook.
Agnes Kairangwa has returned to school with the support from Finn Church Aid. Accelerated Education Programme is funded by The Humanitarian Aid department of the European Commission (ECHO). Photo: Evelyne Nabasa / Finn Church Aid

AGNES KAIRANGWA, 20, was in senior two at Bujubuli secondary school in Kyaka II refugee settlement when she became pregnant.

“The father of my baby convinced me to drop out of school and become his wife. However, a year into the marriage, everything turned bitter as my husband started to mistreat me,” Agnes now says.

“It got to a point when I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I left the marriage and returned to my father’s home. I started selling silver fish in the market to get money to take care of my baby.”

Born in a family of five, Agnes Kairangwa is the youngest child of a single parent household. Two of her elder siblings have already completed Secondary Education. The rest of her brothers and sisters are still in school.

Seven years have passed since Agnes dropped the school and she is now a mother of two. Listening to her siblings talk about their classes and what they have learned in school has made Agnes feel left out.

“Even though deep down I felt I wanted to go back to school, I knew it was impossible as I had spent many years out of class, and I felt I was too old to return to school.

One afternoon, while Agnes was at her market stall, she heard a radio announcement from Finn Church Aid (FCA) calling and encouraging adolescent mothers to return to school.

“They stressed the importance of education and I felt encouraged to return to school,” she tells.

Unfortunately, she couldn’t afford to pay fees for herself. She had just enrolled her young daughter in school and all the money from her business was going to be spent in the child’s scholastic fees and other needs.

Finally, with support from FCA, Agnes was enrolled at Bukere Secondary School. FCA staff members also visited Agnes’ father and encouraged him to support her education.

Accelerated Education project supports those who have lost years of school

There are many young women like Agnes Kairangwa. To speed up the learning after years spent out of school, FCA implements the Accelerated Education Programme (AEP) in five refugee-hosting districts of Kyegegwa, Kikuube, Isingiro in South Western Uganda and Terego and Madi Okollo in West Nile. The programme is funded by European Union Humanitarian aid (ECHO).

The programme is an integral part of the Innovative and Inclusive Accelerated Education project (INCLUDE) and it uses specially designed and condensed version of the Ugandan curriculum. By covering two to three grades of primary education in one year and using teaching methods appropriate for different age groups, learners who have lost many school years can transit into the formal schooling system.

“Sometimes I would dodge school”

Going back to school is not easy.

“During the first weeks at school, I found it challenging and wanted to drop out, but officers from Finn Church Aid kept encouraging me to stay in school,” says Agnes.

“Considering the years spent out of school, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to catch up. I was also afraid my schoolmates would body shame me as I had gained weight and I was older than them,” she says.

Adding to her agony in the beginning, Agnes’ ex-husband kept approaching her on her way to school, trying to convince her to drop it and get married again.

 “Sometimes I would dodge school, so I didn’t have to meet him on the way,” she tells.

“I appreciate the Finn Church Aid staff who kept encouraging me and providing me with the moral and psychosocial support.”

Not only is Agnes now studying but performing well in her class. FCA got her a full education scholarship through the UN Refugee Agency, and she is working hard to be an accountant in one day.

Finn Church Aid implements the INCLUDE programme in a consortium of four partners including Save the Children, Norwegian Refugee Council, War Child Holland and Humanity and Inclusion.

Text: Evelyne Nabasa

71 Ukrainian teachers and psychologists honed their skills on how to deal with trauma

“I am already eager to try out all these new techniques in practice” – 71 Ukrainian teachers and psychologists honed their skills on how to deal with trauma

School is an important meeting place where children can get help dealing with issues that weigh on their minds. That’s why we train Ukrainian teachers and school psychologists on psychosocial skills. 

71 TEACHERS and school psychologists received training on mental health and psychosocial skills in the Chernihiv region of northern Ukraine. Finn Church Aid organised the training in cooperation with the local educational authorities.

The trainer was the experienced psychologist, consultant Koen Sevenants. The two-day training included lectures, discussions, role-plays and group work. The goal was to strengthen the readiness of staff working in Ukrainian schools to deal with children and young people who have had to go through traumatic experiences due to the ongoing war. 

“What is valuable here is that we work with a coach who is an understanding person with experience internationally from working with people, particularly children, of different backgrounds who have gone through various traumatic events,” explains psychologist Liudmyla Lozova, who participated in the training. 
The training covered the effects of trauma on children and adults. Trained teachers and school psychologists were introduced to different tools, which they can later use in their own work.

A woman stands in front a blackboard looking to camera
Ukrainian psychologist Liudmyla Lozova participated in the training in Northern Ukraine in June. Photo: Irina Dasyuk.

”The information is conveyed in a manner that’s very easy to perceive. I am already eager to try all these new techniques out in practice,” Lozova continues and says that she has already found similar trainings useful in her own work. 

Psychologist Iryna Lisovetska says that she has been working as a volunteer psychologist ever since conflict started in the Donbass region in 2014. She has already worked with, for example, internally displaced children, soldiers and the families of fallen military personnel. 

”Now, having gone through the war personally, having spent some time under shelling and bombardments, we empathise with those people we are assisting much better. Both adults and children,” Lisovetska reflects. 

She says that she participated in the training because she believes that the new skills will be useful later in her work of responding to the trauma created by the ongoing war.

Missile strikes hit the area during the training 

Education in emergencies is at the core of FCA’s work. Children and young people who live in the middle of conflicts benefit from the continuity and sense of belonging that schools bring to their everyday life.

School is also an important meeting place, where children can find support from adults and seek help in dealing with stressful issues. That is why it is important that school staff – such as teachers and psychologists – have adequate tools to address trauma.  

A woman stands in a classroom looking to camera
Irina Lisovetska has been a volunteer psychologist in Ukraine since 2014. Photo: Irina Dasyuk.

Yannic Georis, FCA’s emergency response manager in Ukraine, who followed the training on site, says that based on the feedback, the participants were very satisfied with the training and its contents. 

“The atmosphere was good, and the feedback was 99 percent positive. We are still going through the feedback, but at first glance the participants seem very satisfied,” he said. 

The invasion of Ukraine began on February 24 and has lasted for more than four months. There are currently no Russian troops in the Chernihiv area, but Russia carried out missile strikes in the area during the training. 
“One participant had to leave the training in tears because her home was on fire. In addition, the home of one local staff member from FCA was damaged in the attack in the nearby Desna area,” Georis describes. 

A man stands in the middle of a circle of women, who are wearing headphones
Psychologist and consult Koen Sevenants held the trianings for participants. The days were full of action, combining discussion, roleplay, and other exercise. Photo: Kuva: Irina Dasyuk.

Finn Church Aid and the city of Chernihiv recently signed a cooperation agreement, thanks to which educational work can continue in the Chernihiv region in northern Ukraine. In the next phase of the education response work, summer activities, such as sports, arts and games, will be organised for up to 15.000 children in the area. For this FCA has ensured that teachers will be trained to also respond to children who have further need of psychosocial support. 

According to Ukrainian estimates, bombings have destroyed and damaged more than 1,800 schools. The students are currently on summer vacation, but classes are supposed to start again in September. 
Text: Ulriikka Myöhänen 
Photos: Irina Dasyuk 


“The floods destroyed everything we knew” – South Sudan schools rebuild after disaster

“The floods destroyed everything we knew” – children and their families are returning to their homes in Fangak, South Sudan after devastating flooding.

South Sudan has been hit by multiple shocks in the last years. Following a brutal conflict and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, floods washed away many villages, schools and livestock, forcing people to flee and leaving little to eat or farm.

FCA is helping them rebuild with funding from EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO).

THIS IS the classroom that I used to learn in. It breaks my heart to see our school in this state.”

Nyaluak Kuach Khor, 17, stands in front of the wreckage of a building near pools of stagnant water, mud clinging to the battered foundations and to Nyaluak’s bare feet.

The teenager, who lives in a household of 30 people, depended on the classroom as a quiet place to study. When floods destroyed her school, she was devastated. Like many young people, going to class is so much more than lessons. It’s a place to find quiet, the support of friends and mentors, protection from the outside pressures of life, and the dream of choosing their own path in life.

Two men and a girl walk through a village, partially destroyed by flooding.
Nyaluak Kuach Khor (R), 17 years old, walks with her headteacher, Nhial Kek Koang and a Finn Church Aid staff member through a village badly affected by flooding in New Fangak, South Sudan.

The United Nations office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that in 2022 more than two-thirds of South Sudan’s population are in need of humanitarian assistance. That’s 8.9 million people and an increase of 600,000 since 2021.

One of Finn Church Aid’s key objectives is to ensure as many children and young people as possible have the opportunity to attend school and receive a quality education.

When historic flooding ravaged Fangak County in South Sudan in 2021, children lost their access to education. Parents lost their sources of income, as cattle were swept away and fields became unfarmable.

A female teacher stands smiling in front of a class in a tent
School children attend classes in a temporary learning space at Bichulkon Primary School in New Fangak, South Sudan.

That’s why, with EU Humanitarian Aid (ECHO), we’ve been supporting over 10,000 pupils access schooling in the area. Our holistic project builds mobile learning spaces for children to continue their education in flexible, flood-responsive spaces. It also provides their parents with livelihood opportunities and school teachers with quality training.

With support, parents are able to afford to send their children to school and teachers feel supported in our shared mission to provide quality education for all.

Local people told us they fear a return of floods, as well as following drought, creating impossible environments for farming or habitation, as conditions lurch from one extreme to another. They are keenly aware these are the effects of climate change.

In the photos below, meet some of the students, teachers and parents, who are returning to Fangak.

A schoolgirl stands in front of a temporary classroom A schoolgirl stands in front of a temporary classroom
Nyaluak Kuach, a 17-year-old pupil at Bichulkon Primary School, poses for a photograph in New Fangak, South Sudan. Nyaluak Kuach, a 17-year-old pupil at Bichulkon Primary School, poses for a photograph in New Fangak, South Sudan. “I try to influence my friends who are not in school, I discuss the importance of education and invite them over when I am revising and doing homework. This is to encourage them to like education, so hopefully they tell their parents that they want to start their own education. The biggest fear I have right now is the flood. We are scared that the floods may return and disrupt our learning and lives again. The other fear is that we don’t have proper shelter, the mobile learning space shelter we have now might not last long. It is a tent, so it is vulnerable to high heat and wind. Also, we don’t have school uniforms. This is important so that we can be identified as students, I think more children would attend school if they could see us every day in our uniforms. The other is the fear of forced marriage. Most girls are forced into marriages under-age, and others without consent. Many are forced by their parents – especially fathers who want wealth, will give you out to anybody of their desire. Girls are always more vulnerable here.”

Nyaluak hopes to become a doctor

“Our village was totally submerged under water. All our learning facilities and learning material got destroyed. The biggest fear I have right now is the flood. We are scared that the floods may return and disrupt our learning and lives again.

The other is the fear of forced marriage. Most girls are forced into marriages under-age, and others without consent. Many are forced by their parents – especially fathers who want wealth. Girls are always more vulnerable here.

I lost one of my friends to early marriage. Her name is Nyatot. She was forced into marriage in year 4 of primary school and was terribly affected by it. Everyday she cried, pleading to her father to keep her in school, but he never listened to her. She has since been married off and now has one child. I’m really sad about it.”

Two schoolgirls confer in a full classroom in New Fangak Two schoolgirls confer in a full classroom in New Fangak
Nyareek Turuk Nyang (L) talks with Nyaluak Kuach Khor (R) as they attend classes at Bilculkuon Primary School in New Fangak, South Sudan. Nyareek Turuk Nyang (L) talks with Nyaluak Kuach Khor (R) as they attend classes at Bilculkuon Primary School in New Fangak, South Sudan, on 10 March 2022.

Nyareek Turuk Nyang dreams of becoming a pilot

Being educated changes attitudes, it can even lead to peaceful resolutions of conflict. It cultivates peaceful coexistence between communities, more so with each generation. I will make sure that all my children receive a full education.

Our entire community was displaced by the floods which caused a complete reset in our lives. All of us were then subject to disease and hunger.

Food sources and farmlands were wiped out along with our homes. This meant that disease spread easily, augmented by the fact that people were living in close proximity to each other.”

A man stands in front of a building looking directly into the camera A man stands in front of a building looking directly into the camera
Simon Jaak, 48 years old, stands for a photograph after receiving cash support in Tonga, New Fangak, South Sudan. Simon Jaak, 48 years old, stands for a photograph after receiving cash support in Tonga, New Fangak, South Sudan.

Simon received cash to support his disabled daughter

I was a farmer like many other families before the floods. The deluge destroyed my land and everything on it. I have since had to change my entire lifestyle. I now spend my days fishing in what once was dry land. It is a struggle to survive from selling the fish that I catch.

The outlook was very bleak until Finn Church Aid stepped in and started to assist our community and many others around the country. I started to receive first hand assistance to help kickstart my new career as a fisherman. They gave me nets, hooks, and other equipment so that I could start taking care of my family once again.

Another devastating impact of the floods was the end of education for so many children. I have a 15-year-old daughter who is currently in level 3 of primary school. Due to her disability, Monica became a beneficiary of FCA’s programme. Their support has helped me ensure that she can get her education. The cash assistance allows me to guarantee that she has access to fresh, healthy food. This in turn improves her ability to concentrate and retain more knowledge. I can also buy her the supplies and equipment that she might need for school, such as pens, books, and bags. I want her to have all the tools she needs to succeed.”

A woman holds a baby in front of a hut in New Fangak, South Sudan A woman holds a baby in front of a hut in New Fangak, South Sudan
Nyahow Biliu and her children stand for a photograph in front of their home in New Fangak, South Sudan Nyahow Biliu and her children stand for a photograph in front of their home in New Fangak, South Sudan.

Nyahow fears the effects of climate change

“I am so grateful for the support that we have received through the cash assistance system provided by Finn Church Aid. It lets me buy things my kids need for school, such as stationary and other study materials.

These floods destroyed everything that we knew. We used to be farmers, we would make our living this way and were able to feed our families. The arable land was totally unusable after the floods. Now we are facing a terrible drought, and we haven’t even had time to recover from the floods. To survive, we have had to fish in the slowly disappearing water and eat any edible wild plants we find, like waterlilies.

Then this fierce dry heat started to spread, and we started to hear rumours about an approaching drought. Going from one extreme to the next was, and still is, unimaginably hard. Many of our crops are starting to fail due to the climate change, and I don’t know where we would be without assistance from Finn Church Aid.”

A man stands in front of a blackboard, teaching a class of pupils A man stands in front of a blackboard, teaching a class of pupils
Lony Doar, a 37-year-old teacher at William Chuol Primary School, gives a science lesson in New Fangak, South Sudan. Lony Doar, a 37-year-old teacher at William Chuol Primary School, gives a science lesson in New Fangak, South Sudan, on 16 March 2022.

Lony, a science teacher, received training from FCA

“I find it very rewarding to come into work every day and cultivate young minds. Also, this training has made it easier to tell when a child is struggling in class. I now feel like I can go and console a child when they are confused or uncomfortable.

I went to school for the first time in 2001 at the age of 26, but continued studying every year until I finished my formal education in 2012.

Despite all the assistance we have received from Finn Church Aid, we still have a long way to go in improving the children’s education. More children want to start their education now because the community here can see first-hand the great work that Finn Church Aid are doing. Capacity is an issue; we are starting to run out of space. This means that we need more classrooms to be built to accommodate the needs of the community. This in turn means we need more teachers.”

A man sits listening closely to a hand held recorder A man sits listening closely to a hand held recorder
Nhial Kek Koang, a 49-year-old headteacher at Bichulkon Primary School, listens to an audio teaching guide in New Fangak, South Sudan. Nhial Kek Koang, a 49-year-old headteacher at Bichulkon Primary School, listens to an audio teaching guide in New Fangak, South Sudan.

Nhial is a headteacher with a passion for education

“What I am trying to do is build the road to peace. I have brought people who have previously been involved in crime or armed groups to school, with the hope that they will find a new path in life. Some of them have become transformed people. I am fighting for this because I don’t believe in racism and segregation. You can unite all people.

I would like the world to know that education is the backbone of every country. It should be the first priority you give as a humanitarian agency. This community will not leave this area because when they see their children learning, there will be no problems even when they face a lot of hunger.

We appreciate Finn Church Aid; they have done a lot for this community for many years now. They built these schools and provided all the materials we needed, taught the teachers, and trained us to be the guardians of our schools. The exceptional training that we received is what made these schools great. Finn Church Aid taught us how to manage the school and classrooms, about teacher’s roles, well-being and how to conduct ourselves.”

Key facts

  • We work with EU Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) funding in an innovative project to build the resilience of the population in New Fangak to respond to challenges, such as conflict and adverse weather conditions leading to a lack of food.
  • Through a holistic method of improving schools, training teachers and assisting families of children with livelihood support, the whole community’s quality of life improves.
  • In the last year, we’ve helped 10,397 children access quality education, supported 1,036 households with emergency cash and provided 211 teachers with training.
  • In addition, we’ve helped families find alternative livelihoods, provided seeds and agriculatural tools with relevant training. We also conduct door to door awareness campaigns on child protection and back to school information.

Text: Ruth Owen
Photos: Achuoth Deng