FCA’s work in Ukraine expands to vocational training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Kharkiv, for example, the FCA has been working hard to ensure that more children have access to psychosocial support. In addition, the FCA has supported the underground metro school, which was established in autumn 2023. Kharkiv, in the east of Ukraine, has been the target of constant aerial bombardment since the beginning of the war, making it impossible to attend school under normal conditions.

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

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

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

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

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

FCA’s work extends to vocational education and training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more about the underground metro school.

Photos for media

For more information:

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

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

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

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

Text: Elisa Rimaila
Photos: Antti Yrjönen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They escaped in the middle of a school day.

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

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

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

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

Reunited by social media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dependency on food aid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kongolainen perhe kuokkii peltoa Ugandassa.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Language problem challenges learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kaksi kongolaista tyttöä nojaa koulurakennuksen seinään ja juttelee keskenään lähikuvassa.

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

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

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

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

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

The world’s schoolchildren need 44 million new teachers

The world’s schoolchildren need 44 million new teachers – education is future security, even in crisis areas of the world

January 24th is the International Day of Education. Finnish expertise in education is highly valued worldwide, also in developing countries and in crises. FCA is concerned about the effects of development cooperation cuts on Finland’s support to education in the world.

THE COVID CRISIS showed that getting to school and quality education should not be taken for granted anywhere. Schools need professional teachers and other educational personnel. According to UNESCO, the world would need 44 million new teachers internationally to achieve the goals set for primary and secondary education by 2030.

“A competent, motivated and appreciated teacher is the cornerstone of all learning, from which a positive cycle starts,” says FCA Senior Education expert Pauliina Kemppainen..

The number of conflicts in the world is increasing, as a result of which more and more children and young people are deprived of the opportunity to participate in safe and high-quality education. The traces of the Coronavirus pandemic are also still visible, especially in those countries where there have been long school closures in recent years. Closures meant the schooling of millions of children and young people was interrupted in some places for up to two years. Some of those who dropped out of school at that time have not returned to school to this day.

“Children and young people dropping out of school is one of the biggest reasons for child and teenage pregnancies and for underage marriages,” continues Kemppainen.

“Currently, 250 million children do not go to school, and 222 million of them need support in conflict and crisis areas. Every child who stays out of school is one too many.”

In the countries where FCA operates, the conditions are often such that going to school is challenging or impossible. The trip to school can be unsafe or take hours over difficult terrain. On the other hand, schools have also been targets of bombing, for example during the war in Ukraine.

According to estimates, 365 school buildings in Ukraine were destroyed and 3,798 damaged by the end of 2023. In accordance with international humanitarian law, schools fall under the same protection as hospitals in conflict situations and cannot be attacked. Nevertheless, schools are still often attacked or used for the needs of military actors, resulting in children and young people not having access to a safe education.

Pieni saparopäinen tyttö lukee sodan vuoksi pulpetissaan  väliaikaisesti metroasemalle rakennetussa luokkahuoneessa Ukrainassa.
6-year-old Yuliaa Yurova studies in classrooms organised in an underground subway tunnel in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Photo: Antti Yrjönen / FCA

School represents a future even for children and young people living in the midst of war

“In crisis situations, school is also a safe space for children and young people, which represents both the future and alternatives to situations such as early marriage,” says Kemppainen.

She adds that for the most disadvantaged children and young people, education represents the chance for the only meal of the day, receiving vaccines that maintain basic health, and strengthens their own well-being, for example in terms of mental health.

Young people who have received a high-quality education are also more likely to find employment than those who have not attended school, which helps entire societies to develop and prosper.

“When educated young people get a chance to earn a better living, their families are also better off, which helps more and more children go to school. The positive cycle brought about by education becomes concrete.”

Opettaja näyttää lapsille sormilla numeroita ja lapset näyttävät omilla käsillään samaa määrää sormia Syyrialaisessa luokkahuoneessa.
In a classroom repaired with EU support in Idlib, Syria, students enjoy class during autumn term, 2022. Photo: Erik Nyström / FCA

Cuts to development cooperation must not jeopardise the worldwide appreciation of Finland’s education sector skills

Securing high-quality, inclusive and equal primary and secondary education, as well as lifelong learning opportunities for everyone, are the cornerstones of Finland’s development policy. Finnish professionalism in the field of education is highly valued in developing countries.

“Petteri Orpo’s government is targeting development cooperation and humanitarian aid with big cuts. We are particularly concerned about whether these cuts will affect the work being done in education. Cuts in education should not be made in development cooperation either,” says Tapio Laakso, FCA Head of Advocacy.

The cuts made by Petteri Orpo’s government to development cooperation must not endanger education.

Finn Church Aid works in the world’s most fragile countries with both basic education and vocational training. We also train teachers with the help of volunteers from our Teachers Without Borders network. The focus of the work is particularly on securing the education of children and young people who are refugees or otherwise in a vulnerable position.

More information and interview requests:

Pauliina Kemppainen, FCA Senior Expert, Quality Education, Pauliina.Kemppainen@kirkonulkomaanapu.fi

Tapio Laakso, FCA Head of Advocacy
Tapio.Laakso@kirkonulkomaanapu.fi, +358 50599 6986

Elisa Rimaila, Communication Expert
Elisa.Rimaila@kirkonulkomaanapu.fi, +358 50599 6986

Downloadable photos for media use

The Women of Raqqa – Fighting for Their Right to Study

The Women of Raqqa – Fighting for Their Right to Study

Aisha held secret classes. Amina studied in them. Nour is prepared to wait for hours at checkup points to finish tests. The women of Raqqa are doing whatever they can to fight for a better future.

THE CITY OF RAQQA in Northern Syria, along with its surrounding regions, were once known as a modernized region, receiving a flood of industrial investments, with an orientation towards the future. The adults had a good education; the children studied in schools to obtain one.

In 2013, the terrorist organization ISIS took over and placed heavy limits the way the people of Raqqa, particularly the women and girls, moved and dressed. The terrorists seized farmers’ crops and merchants’ goods, thus also seizing locals’ way of life.

However, the greatest enemy the terrorists faced was education. From the get-go the terrorist organization closed the schools of the areas, turning them into bases, prisons, and torture centers. Boys were recruited to fight, teachers were made to apologize for teaching ; but the girls had the worst fate, as ISIS organized training sessions on how to offer their bodies to terrorists.

Currently, Finn Church Aid is operating in the countryside of Raqqa, which the terrorists left in 2017. The region has over a hundred schools damaged in battle with tens of thousands of students. Many have had their school life interrupted for as long as ten years. The various parties to the conflict still patrol the area, and going through checkpoints makes life hard for schoolchildren.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, however. Locals, including girls and women, have been able to return to school. This story features a trio of survivors from Raqqa.

Aisha held secret school classes as a teacher during ISIS, participated in FCA training during her escape, and returned to her home region to become a principal. 

“Previously, the women of Raqqa were active members of society, involved in politics. We lived our own lives and, like me, could move alone to a university town for studies. 

The terrorists know about the power of teachers, and they certainly tried to win the teachers over to help them get young girls to molest. Thinking about what they did to us still gets me raving mad.  

A laughing Syrian woman sits in a chair. She has a smartphone in her hands.

There are more than one hundred schools in the rural area in which FCA operates. Aisha is one of the female head teachers. About 75 per cent of the teachers are women.

At the start of ISIS’s reign of terror, we tried to continue our work, until we understood that they were sending their members to our classes to report to their leaders what we were teaching. As a countermeasure we locked the school doors, but they broke the locks and interrupted our studies. Next, they took the study materials.  

Halfway through 2014, the only thing I could do was continue instructing my students at my home. We had several female teachers, and we organized a school secretly at my house for four months. We organized teaching in shifts, with approximately a hundred children participating. When our work was revealed, the terrorists arrested me and interrogated me.  

I fooled them and said that I only instructed the children Arabic and the Quran instead of English, French and natural sciences. They were enthusiastic about this, asked me to continue and promised they would deliver suitable study materials. After interrogation I packed my bags and escaped from the city to the countryside – they never caught me. I left

the Raqqa area in 2015, escaping at the last moment. After the night I left, ISIS announced that women under 50 were under curfew and locked up in their houses.  

I spent the next years in the Hama countryside, a scene of many battles. During the worst ones I could not teach at all. Then, I found out FCA had started operating in my area, organizing school repairs and activities for the students. I participated in teacher training, a particularly important experience for me, learning about offering psychosocial support and new study methods, like giving the students group work. My students’ critical thinking skills improved, allowing them to focus on their studies better. 

Before the war, my students made plans for their future, but during the reign of ISIS, the only thing the kids worried about was their own safety. Girls married young and had children, leaving us a huge burden as education experts. We are still trying to change the thought patterns of the girls who lived during the ISIS era to understand that getting an education is worth it. ISIS taught these girls to get married and start a family – we are teaching them to go to university and build a new future.  

After three years, I returned to the Raqqa countryside to become the principal of this school. It is a personal decision not dwell too much on the war years. Regarding the past, I only wish to remember the times before 2010 and after 2023. The rest of it is not worthy of my attention.” 

Nour, 18, travels from the Kurdish zone through 20 checkpoints to a school supported by Finn Church Aid to participate in her final exams.

“My first memory of ISIS? When they prevented us girls from going to school and forced us to cover our faces. I was in the second grade. We lived here, under the rule of ISIS, for two years, until my dad found a smuggler who took us to Hama. In there I continued my schooling in the second grade. It was weird, as I was older than other students, and taller by a head’s length. 

Two female students listen to their teacher in a class room in Syria. The teacher is standing her back facing the camera.

18-year-old Nour (in the middle) had to pass through 20 checkpoints to make it to final examinations. She and her sister take turns to go to school every other year. 

We returned to the Raqqa area in 2021. Me and my sister are of different ages, but due to breaks in my education we are both going to the ninth grade. I should really be three years further in my studies. My father does not have enough money to send us both to school, meaning we have taken turns to go through the school. First, my sister continued her education, now it is my time, and my sister has prepared me for the national exams.

I live in the Kurdish zone without a public school. I woke up early in the morning and travelled here to participate in my finals. Normally this trip takes me half an hour, but it can also take as many as six hours now. There are 20 checkpoints along the way, asking a lot of questions and inspecting personal IDs.

I spent this morning afraid I could not make it through the checkpoints in time. In that case, I could not have made it to the final exams and would have had to remain out of school for a year. All this trouble – I go through it just to get a Syrian final certificate from school.

I want to finish my education but also fear that my family’s financial situation will prevent it. I find the higher-grade tests challenging. I need a real teacher – just studying with my sister is not sufficient. Travelling between different regions is also expensive and takes its toll.

During the rule of ISIS, girls married at 13–15, and this became normalized. I am now 18 years old and already feel too old to be wanted. I want to continue my studies, and my father fully supports me. He does not want to marry too young.”

Amina, 14, went to a secret school held by her dad, but only learned to count and write years later. Now she is one of the best students at her school.

“I do not think I had a broken childhood. ISIS came when I was four. Those were bad, frightening times, times when we could not sleep at night or go out with my mom due to being female. When we needed something from the markets, my dad had to go out and get it.

When terrorists finally left the Raqqa area and I could start my schooling, I was 8. I could not write or count, but my father, who is a teacher, supported me. Even during the ISIS rule, my dad tried to teach me and my neighbors’ children in secret. ISIS found out and threatened my father over it. They also tried to force my dad to send them to one of their ”schools,” but my dad was very strictly against it.

I was eight years old when the terrorists left. I have worked hard to make up for the gaps in my education since then. Just this morning, I participated in the national test for the ninth graders despite being younger than the others. I am an excellent student – one who is always getting the best grades.

A Syrian teenage girl smiles at camera in a class room.

When terrorists finally left the Raqqa area and I could start my schooling, I was 8. I could not write or count, says 14-year-old Amina.

I will continue my studies, and I am ready to walk to the nearest girls’ high school even if it takes 45 minutes to get there. In the future, I want to train myself to be a pediatrician to help kids who have gone through war. And I want to remain in the vicinity of Raqqa – this is my home.”

Text: Ulriikka Myöhänen
Photos: Antti Yrjönen
Translation: Tatu Ahponen

Finn Church Aid is repairing damaged schools in Raqqa and supporting students and teachers with cash grants. Among those receiving grants are teachers and students travelling to school finishing exams from the Kurdish area. The work happens together with the Syria Humanitarian Fund, under the UN.

Breaking down language barriers at school 

Breaking down language barriers at school 

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

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

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

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

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

”My philosophy? Life is about helping others.”

Becoming a refugee turns your whole life upside down

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

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

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

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

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

Dream of an English-language learning center

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

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

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

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

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

“More than 50% of the students changed their behaviour.”

“More than 50% of the students changed their behaviour” – counseling is making a difference in Myanmar

In Myanmar, Career Guidance and Counselling (CGC) is improving student and teachers’ school experience. FCA and the Teachers Without Borders network have conducted extensive teacher training since 2019 to enhance counselling sessions with children.

BULLYING, DROPPING OUT and lack of financial support are some of the most common issues face by students attending school in Myanmar, where 40% of the population live below the national poverty line.

In 2019, FCA started conducting extensive training for teachers in counselling and career guidance. Initially conducted in the capital, Yangon, in 2022 FCA extended the project to Mon State.

The project’s primary objectives are to introduce, support, and promote CGC in alternative education systems in Myanmar, specifically targeting monastic schools, faith-based schools, and mother-tongue-based education systems operated by ethnic education service providers.

A group of boys, some in Buddhist robes sit around a desk and write on paper
Monastic schools provide free education

These schools follow the national curriculum and have the added attraction that they provide education free of charge. However, they only go to grade 8 and do not provide a primary school graduation certificate, which is only available in fee-paying government-run schools.

But many do not even make it to grade 8. Many parents find it hard to support their children in school, often needing them to work at home or encouraging older children to seek work abroad where pay is better.

Following success in Cambodia, leading to career guidance counselling being included as part of the national curriculum, FCA started training teachers in Myanmar on career guidance as well as counselling to improve childrens’, parents’ and teachers’ experiences in school.

Rewarding work

Daw Ohnmar (not her real name, due to security challenges in the region) has been a teacher for nine years.

She participated in Learning and Career Guidance and Counseling Training in 2019 conducted by FCA’s Teachers Without Borders (TwB) volunteer network. The outcomes were significant.  

Immediately after completing training, she provided group counseling to over 100 students and individual counseling to eight. During the pandemic, she kept going, giving advice remotely over mobile phone to 50 students.

As of the end of 2023, she has conducted 15 individual counseling sessions, which take up much more time and resources, but enable her to focus more on individual issues. She says it’s rewarding work but can also be emotional when factors outside of her control come into play.

A number of teenage students, some in buddhist robes, sit in a classroom at desks and tables, listening to a teacher
A group counseling session at Dhammadipa Monastic Education Middle School

“More than 50% of the students who received counseling sessions changed their behaviour. For example, students made promises to me to quit smoking and proved it through their action. They also started following the classroom rules more diligently. I also observed improvements in their relationships with parents and friends. I am proud of the cases that I was able to handle successfully.

But, there were a few cases that I was unable to manage. For example, two students got married and dropped out of school, both of whom were in Grade 10. I felt sorry as I was unable to reach my students during the pandemic.”

Two TwB in-house trainers observed group counseling sessions, providing feedback to enhance teachers’ counseling skills and assisting teachers to also apply effective teaching techniques in their regular classroom activities.

To measure the classroom impact, FCA Myanmar conducted a longitudinal study in which counsellors reported an improved attitude. They sought to avoid physical punishment and utilise more positive language and communication. This shift in attitude can be attributed to the impact of CGC training and its emphasis on child rights.

A group of adults sit in a circle on the floor in a classroom-like room, surrounded by posters on walls and boards
Teachers at an in-house training session in Mon State, Myanmar

Managing her emotions effectively

Ma Yamin (not her real name), a 17-year-old girl at Dhammadipa Monastic School, faced emotional distress due to her mother’s second marriage, family financial hardship, and difficult relationships with friends.

One of her biggest challenges was that her mother wouldn’t allow her to go to school and insisted on her working despite her strong desire to obtain an education. Her mother often discarded her books and the essays she wrote.

As a coping mechanism, Ma Yamin, spent most of her time alone, sleeping, which helped her avoid interactions with others at home. She eventually had to leave school.

After she left school, CGC counselors reached out to her friends and arranged a meeting with her mother, resulting in her return to school. Engaging in group counseling sessions, Ma Yamin noticed improvements in collaborative skills and gained the confidence to speak out. Individual counseling sessions further helped her express her emotions freely. Despite ongoing problems at home, Ma Yamin can now manage her emotions effectively, encouraged by her teacher counselor.

“After experiencing the CGC individual counseling session, I felt a sense of relaxation and realised that I had a dedicated teacher counselor who would genuinely listen to my feelings even though my mother may not want to listen to my words.

My counselor not only listened to my words but also provided encouragement and guidance to help me find my way towards self-improvement. I finally found a safe place to express my emotions freely, even allowing myself to cry as it’s all kept confidential.”

Ma Yamin was taught healthier coping and calming mechanisms, such as the ‘butterfly hug’ a self-implemented stimulation method that can help bring someone back to the present moment and calm their emotional state.

A number of teenage students, some in buddhist robes, sit in a classroom at desks writing with great concentration
Ma Yamin shared the knowledge she gained in group counselling sessions like these with her peers

 “Since participating in counseling sessions, I’ve become more involved in household chores and have better communication with my family, rather than isolating myself. Furthermore, I began sharing the knowledge I gained in group counseling sessions with children and elders in my community. I also encouraged my friends to consider individual counseling sessions at schools by sharing my journey.”

At Ma Yamin’s school -Dhammadipa Monastic Education Middle School – FCA provided counseling to 343 out of 615 students including 117 females from Grade 4 to Grade 12 in the 2023-2024 alone.

In addition to training days, the career counsellors received mentoring from volunteers of the Teachers Without Borders network. To further support their work, they will receive a guidebook in the Burmese language with a wide range of concrete guidelines, classroom activities, and useful information.

Learn more about our work in Myanmar

Never too late to LEARN – improving access to education in Uganda

Never too late to LEARN – improving access to education in Uganda

A girl in a wheelchair is sitting next to a classmate at a desk. They are looking at a textbook together
Monica a student from Rwamwanja Secondary School finds it easier to participate in class with her wheelchair and kneepads.

IN UGANDA, FCA supports children and adolescents access education in Uganda’s refugee settlements through the Lasting Education Achievements Responding to Needs (LEARN) project funded by the U.S department of State, Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration.

LYDIA BANGA, Rwarinda Racheal, and Komulembe Monica are three inspiring young individuals who, despite setbacks, are forging their education paths.

FCA helped them rejoin mainstream schooling after their education was interrupted. Here are their own stories.

Lydia’s journey to achieving top performance.

Lydia Banga’s journey from a refugee fleeing civil war in Congo to becoming one of the best-performing students at in Rwamwanja refugee settlement is a testament to her determination.

A girl in a green polo shirt sits at a desk and works on some schoolwork
Lydia Banga attends Ntenungi Senior Secondary School in Rwamwanja refugee settlement

“When I came to Uganda, I was demoted and placed in primary classes instead of joining secondary school. This was because of the language barrier; I did not know English. I felt demotivated so I contemplated dropping out of school. However, my mother’s convinced me to stay. In school. I worked hard became one of the best performing students during my Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE).”

“I was determined to work hard even when my mother fell ill, and I had to be the sole provider of our family. I am the oldest of five siblings, so I took on casual jobs to support us. Through it all, I remained committed to my education,” she adds.

Lydia later joined Ntenungi Secondary School with support of Finn Church Aid (FCA) through the LEARN project, which gave her extra support.

“I am extremely grateful to FCA for giving me a scholarship to study from Ntenungi Secondary School. They also give me scholastic materials, menstrual hygiene kits, and career counselling.” she says. 

Lydia’s dreams of pursuing medicine and specialise in midwifery are fueled by her desire to make a positive impact on her community.

Pregnancy didn’t put an end to her education

Rwarinda Racheal is a survivor, who rejoined school with the support of her parents.

“During the COVID-19 lockdown, I became pregnant because I was taken advantage of by one of our village’s pastors. For my parents and me, it was an extremely difficult time. When we took the issue to the police, it was discovered that he was abusing several girls in the same way. Sadly, he fled the settlement, and we haven’t heard from him since,” Racheal tells us.

A girl in a green polo shirt sits on a chair outside a classroom and looks towards the camera
Racheal goes to Ntenungi Secondary School.

With unwavering support from her parents, friends, and FCA, she returned to school after the lockdown.

“My mother received a visit from the deputy headteacher of Ntenungi Secondary School who informed her I may resume my studies after delivering.  Throughout the pregnancy, she checked in with me every day.”

“A part of my journey has also included FCA support,” she continues. “They drove me to the hospital, and their PSS (Psychosocial Support) & Child Protection officers helped me the entire way. They also give me scholastic materials and menstrual hygiene kits.”

Racheal aspires to become a doctor, to make a difference in people’s lives. “With FCA’s support, I am confident that I will fulfil my dream,” she smiles.

She encourages parents not to feel disappointed about teenagers who get pregnant, emphasising the potential for success with proper support and guidance.

Mobility devices improved Monica’s school experience.

A girl in a wheelchair is sitting outside a classroom. She has kneepads on.
Monica a student from Rwamwanja Secondary School finds it easier to participate in class with her wheelchair and kneepads.

To improve Komulembe Monica’s classroom experience, FCA provided the sixteen-year-old girl with a wheelchair and kneepads.

“The wheelchair and kneepads provided to me by the LEARN project have greatly eased my movement around the school. Now, I can access any part of the school easily. Before I received this support, it was very difficult for me to move and stay in school. It was even worse on rainy days when I would have to crawl in mud and over rocks, which hurt me.”

Monica dreams of becoming a doctor and encourages parents and learners with disabilities to maintain a positive attitude.

“Parents who have children with disabilities should not feel disappointed or ashamed. With proper support, these children can lead successful and meaningful lives,” Monica concludes.

We believe everyone has the right to quality education. Find out more about our LEARN project.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dmytro, KOLO club participant.

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

Summer clubs and more

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maria Zavodenko, mother of Nadiya, a KOLO Clubs attendee

Teaching Training

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

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

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

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

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

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


Repair of educational spaces

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

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

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

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

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

Bohdan, a student of Talalayivka Lyceum.

Kids design their own spaces

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

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

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

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

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

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

Children listen to and play guitar at a KOLO club.

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

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

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

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

In Myanmar, cash helps children, teachers and parents restart education

In Myanmar, cash helps children, teachers and parents restart education

A father helps his son button up his shirt

Myanmar is reeling from multiple shocks, including the COVID-19 pandemic, political turmoil and civil conflict. That’s meant many are missing out on their right to education.

IN CHIN STATE, schools forced to close due to the pandemic remained shut due to the ongoing conflict. On top of that, economic hardship meant parents couldn’t afford to send their children to the few schools that reopened. In addition, many teachers couldn’t afford to teach.

FCA works in Myanmar focusing on education, which includes providing cash support to families and teachers. Below a schoolchild, a teacher and a father explain the impact that has had.

Len Kheng finally returns to school

12-year-old Len Kheng lives in the East Ward of Kanpetlet, Chin State. The family’s third daughter, Len Kheng’s enrollment in kindergarten was delayed until she turned 6 in 2018.

But two years after starting her education journey, schools in Myanmar had to close due to the Covid-19 outbreak. That meant Len Kheng had to return home and help out on her parent’s farm, where the family grew elephant foot yam as their main source of income.

A young student studies a textbook in a classroom
Len Kheng is at last able to return to school with FCA cash support.

She patiently waited for schools to reopen, hoping to continue her studies. In 2021, a group of parents and teachers attempted to establish a school nearby, allowing children to resume their education.

Unfortunately, Len Kheng’s family’s financial situation prevented her from going back to school. The pandemic froze the market for yam and led to financial struggles for her family. The ongoing political turmoil further dashed her hopes of returning to school.

“At the time I thought, ‘I don’t think I’ll ever be able to go back to school in this lifetime. I suppose I’ll have to make a living farming like my parents,'” she tells us.

FCA gave her family unconditional cash support and Len Kheng was able to go back to school. Her family received a total of 180,000 kyats (approximately 69.07 Euro), which not only helped with their financial problems but also enabled her to continue her studies at a community-based school. Despite being in a grade level that does not correspond to her age, she is currently learning alongside her classmates and embracing the opportunity for a promising educational future.

“I no longer feel left behind, because I can focus on my schoolwork without the need to help out on the farm. I am thankful to the people who have helped me return to the classroom by providing essential school supplies.”

A father with dreams for his son

Msang Thang is the father of Mg Kui Thang, a grade 6 student, residing in Makuiimnu village, Chin State. Although he and his family survive through traditional farming, he does not want his son to engage in the laborious practice.

He has always hoped to send his son to college and provide him with everything he needs for a comfortable life. Like many parents in the Chin community, he has high expectations for his son.

A father sits with his son at a desk helping him with his schoolwork
Msang Thang worked hard to support his son going back to school

Just like for Len Kheng, the pandemic brought a major setback for Msang Thang’s ambitions for his son through a complete-total school closure, which was extended due to the countrywide conflict.

By 2022, the community had taken the initiative and established a school. But after two years away from school, Mg Kui Thang was reluctant to return and the family lacked the funds to pay for school fees and other learning materials.

Although Msang Thang took on additional work to earn money and, through encouragement and persistence, finally convinced his son to return, he still lacked adequate funds for the boy to enrol.

In 2023, his entire community received aid from FCA through unconditional cash assistance to parents, learning materials to students, and teacher stipends. Msang Thang received a total of 60,000 kyats (approximately 23.02 Euro) for his family, enough to continue supporting his son’s education.

“I hope this kind of assistance can be extended to other places in Chin State. There are many parents out there who are just like me, I believe.”

A committed teacher

Hmuchingding Government Basic High School is located in Shin Pawng village which is an underdeveloped and rural neighborhood of Kanpetlet Township, Chin State.

Mr. Khyumsi, 53, is a senior assistant teacher, enjoying nurturing future generations and helping them adapt to a changing world. His commitment to school and community events is unparalleled in his community, and he dedicates himself to collaborating with fellow teachers to foster the intellectual development of the local youth.

A teacher writes on a board in a classroom as children look on
Mr. Khyumsi’s has dedicated his life to making sure an entire generation is educated

The school closures hit him hard – he didn’t have a job or any paycheck for three years. However, his main concern is the long-term impact on children’s education. The emergence of a new generation that has not been exposed to education will have terrible consequences, he tells us, especially for the ethnic minority community.

Reopening the school for the children became his constant goal. He consulted with church pastors, fellow schoolteachers, the leaders of the village and parents, advocating for them to take charge and run the school on their own. They all share his perspective. However, there are still challenges regarding teachers’ salaries. Nevertheless, they successfully reopened the school in 2022 through a small teacher stipend contribution from the local church and the community, with just a handful of students. Mr. Khyumsi was appointed as the headmaster.

In 2023, FCA provided funding for teacher stipends which amount to 140,000 kyats (approximately 53.72 Euro) for 3 months, as well as a total of 291 student learning kits. This support allowed more children than last year to return to classrooms. Mr Khyumsi’s plans don’t stop there – it would be great if teaching aid materials could be supported for the school in the future as well, he requests.

Read more about our work in Myanmar.

FCA launches new office to the African Union 

FCA launches new office to the African Union 

A group of people pose for a photo on an indoor staircase. Either side of them are banners showing logos of FCA and The Peacemakers Network
The inauguration of the new FCA liaison office to the AU was attended by AU delegates, government officials, and civil society organisations, as well as experts from FCA and the Peacemakers Network.

Finn Church Aid and The Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers gathered with African Union delegates to inaugurate new liaison office in Addis Ababa. 

A THREE-DAY EVENT, held in the capital of Ethiopia, marked a significant step toward realising shared objectives between FCA and the African Union (AU), a continental body that comprises 55 African states.

The inauguration of the new office was attended by diplomats, international organisation representatives, AU delegates, government officials, and civil society organisations. In line with FCA’s priority areas, of education, livelihoods and peace, speakers from the AU outlined the union’s commitment to inclusive education and its agenda for peace and security.

The liaison office will be a focal point for FCA’s collaboration, coordination, advocacy and partnership with the African Union, focusing on meaningful participation of African civil society actors; especially youth, women and religious and traditional actors.

A shared vision  

Ambassador Sinikka Antila, Finland’s Ambassador to Ethiopia and the African Union celebrated the establishment of FCA’s AU liaison office, underscoring its role in peacebuilding amid numerous conflicts worldwide.

Ambassador Sinikka Antila (third from left) praised FCA work in peacebuilding, education and livelihoods.

She also highlighted FCA’s extensive experience in emergency education contexts, especially during 2024, which the AU has designated as the ‘year of education’.

“In Finland, like in Africa, education is a top priority. The most precious resource for any country is its human resources. Therefore, education, by leaving no one behind, is the priority investment for development.” 

Ambassador Antila also lauded FCA’s work in fostering livelihoods, especially in a continent with a young population where job creation and entrepreneurship are of utmost importance.  

“FCA’s efforts in livelihood development, including promoting entrepreneurship and start-ups, have the potential to play a pivotal role in empowering Africa’s young population and fostering economic growth. This aligns with the increasing importance of job creation, especially in innovative and creative industries,” she said.

2024 a year of education

Sophia Ashipala, Head of the Education Division at the African Union, conveyed her enthusiasm for the occasion in her address and commended FCA for its pivotal role in bringing the event to fruition. 

A woman in a room is sitting at a laptop and speaking
Sophia Ashipala of the AU emphasised the importance of education, science, technology and innovation.

“Education, science, technology, and innovation are the cornerstones of progress and development for any nation or continent. As we embark on this journey together, it is crucial to recognise the immense potential that lies within Africa’s youth and the transformative power of education,” noted Ashipala. 

Africa, like many other regions, faces profound challenges in its education systems, spanning from early childhood education to tertiary and higher education levels. These systemic issues have widened the gap towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goal 4 on quality education, a challenge mirrored in the Continental Education Strategy for Africa

“Having education as the theme of the year 2024 is a significant step that is expected to shine a continental spotlight on building resilient systems for increased access to inclusive, quality, and relevant education in Africa,” Ashipala stated. This theme year will involve concrete and impactful activities and initiatives at various levels. 

Focus on peacebuilding 

The Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers came together with FCA to organise the event with network members from across the continent participating and briefing their work on conflict prevention and peacebuilding in Africa.

A group of people pose for a photo outside. Behind them is a banner that bears the logo of The Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers
Members of the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers posed for a photo during the AU office launch event in Ethiopia.

FCA hosts the Secretariat of the Network, a global movement of over 100 members (primarily religious and traditional actors, women, and young people) working across 40 countries worldwide to achieve peace through mediation and dialogue.

Two men sit in an office and smile at the camera. Behind them is a banner bearing the FCA logo
John Bongei, FCA Kenya Country Director (L) meets with Ambassador Frederic Gateretse-Ngoga (R)

Network members had the opportunity to meet with Ambassador Frederic Gateretse-Ngoga, the Senior Advisor on International Partnerships, the AU border program and regional security mechanisms in the office of the Commissioner for Political Affairs and Peace and Security.

He pointed out the vital role of religious leaders in peacebuilding, conflict prevention, and post-conflict resolution, their respected status within communities making them key figures in sustaining peace.

“There is need for Africa to have its own strategy for the world,” he said, adding that “there can be no successful peace process without the involvement of religious leaders and traditional mediation methods,” he said.

The Network’s Regional Programme Manager for Sub-Saharan Africa, Gina Dias, shared that “84% of the world’s population has a religious affiliation, and in recent years, roughly two-thirds of all conflicts have or have had a religious dimension. Religious leaders and faith-based organisations play an important mediating role in many conflict situations and yet are often not fully acknowledged, and their potential contribution remains underutilised.”

African expertise

FCA operates in five African countries and, as an organisation, recognises the critical importance of establishing deeper connections with the AU. This commitment comes at a time when Africa is resolutely working towards realising the aspirations of ‘Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want.

All of FCA’s Country Directors for African countries were present at the inauguration from Central African Republic, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan and Uganda. 

Mahdi Abdile, FCA’s Executive Representative to the AU, emphasised the strategic importance of the inauguration, “the reason why this event is important is because the AU is a strategic partner for us as FCA, and we want to enhance our collaboration and strengthen our partnership, understand their priorities, and identify areas where we can work together.”

Text and photos: Daisy Obare

Read more about our work in African countries: Central African Republic, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan and Uganda