Does education save lives?

In the midst of an emergency – can education save lives?

Why is education important in the middle of a war or after an earthquake? Why is FCA investing in education while people are simultaneously short of basic needs like water and food? Is education a basic right and what does it mean to say that education saves lives?

Unstable environments always affect education

FCA works in countries where schooling and quality education cannot be taken for granted. Conflict, disaster or other negative circumstances interfere with children’s development and learning in multiple ways.

Where FCA works, there are often wars and conflicts that make schooling difficult and even dangerous. The journey to school may not be safe. Schools may be the targets of bombings and other acts of war. For example, in Ukraine, 365 school buildings have been destroyed by war and nearly 3,800 damaged as of summer 2024.

We all have memories of the Covid pandemic that closed down societies around the world. In Uganda, schools were closed for two years. It was the world’s longest-ever school closure and its consequences will be felt for a long time to come. Other epidemics can also prevent school attendance: in Mubende, Uganda, school closures continued into late 2022 due to the spread of Ebola virus.

Climate change can also decide fate of children’s education: changing conditions mean that water-fetching trips and the effort to get food for the whole family take up a large part of the day. In the worst case, the changing climate will make areas uninhabitable and force families to leave their homes. In addition, for many families, the economic situation makes schooling impossible. Children have to help out at home or go to work instead of attending school.

A girl in a pink coat and hat looks at some lego in a room full of people
Rebeka plays at an aid station at the Ukrainian-Hungarian border in Barabás on March 2, 2022. Alyona is sitting on the backgroung. Her family fled Zaporizhzhia near the Crimean Peninsula. Photo: Antti Yrjönen

In crises, education facilities become shelters

In a sudden crisis, such as a natural disaster or the outbreak of conflict, communities enter extraordinary times.  Those who have lost their homes, those who have fled and those who have otherwise faced a crisis face a shortage of basic necessities. In a humanitarian disaster, people need shelter, warmth, food, water, medicine and protection.

When Russia invaded Ukraine in late February 2022, huge numbers of Ukrainians fled westwards. Some crossed the border into neighbouring countries, others remained in their home countries as internally displaced persons. Towns and villages were suddenly at the limits of their endurance. Shelters were set up for the refugees in churches, parish halls and village halls. Without exception, schools were also made available to the refugees: schoolchildren stayed at home, beds and mattresses were brought into classrooms, school cooks prepared food for the refugees instead of school meals.

In the face of a humanitarian disaster, schools provide people with vital shelter. Often the situation is also prolonged. The devastating earthquake of February 2023 affected more than 73,000 Aleppo families in Syria. Many families were still living in temporary shelters set up in schools during the summer. Instead of normal lessons, small classrooms were used day after day to carry out the daily chores of large families.

The prolongation of an exceptional situation suddenly creates a new set of headaches: children and young people have no structure to their days, regular teaching is not possible and pupils fall behind. They also miss out on important socialising with their peers. Psychologists in Ukraine report that after years of remote learning due to Covid and then the war, children struggle with communicating and cooperating with their classmates on returning to school.

International and local aid agencies, volunteers and authorities are doing what they can with their resources. For example, FCA has organised after-school activities for children in temporary facilities to allow them to socialise and relax, tutoring to bridge educational gaps, and psychosocial support to deal with trauma.

However, it is in the interests of children and young people that, in the long term, schools should be used for education and training.

A schoolgirl in a blue hijab puts up her hand in a classroom
Malyun Nishow Mohamed (12) attends class at Mama Gedia Primary School in Hudur Bakool, Somalia. Finn Church Aid continues to support various safety, psychosocial and capacity-building programmes in rural schools across Somalia. Photo: Ismail Taxta.

Education saves lives

International education experts share the view that education has a life-saving impact. This view can be viewed from several angles: for example, the immediate impact of schooling in a crisis situation, and the long-term effects of education.

In the midst of crises and conflicts, schools have a stabilising and embedding effect on their pupils. At school, they can meet their peers and stay in touch with safe adults. After trauma, the human mind needs routines and a sense of normality that can be nurtured at school. In Ukraine, FCA has supported the provision of bomb shelters in schools. While air raids disrupt the normal school routine every few days, learning and everyday life can continue in underground classrooms where childrens can do their homework, play and participate in lessons. Some schools have also built sleeping and washing facilities in bomb shelters.

In situations of war and conflict, schools can also provide information on hazards and risks: classrooms are good places to raise awareness of mines and explosives, for example. A school can also be the place where a child or young person gets the only decent meal of the day – school lunch. A well-functioning school and professional staff also protect pupils from abuse and child labour.

In addition to the immediate, protective and acutely positive impact on quality of life, school attendance also has long-term positive effects. Through education, children and young people have a better chance of building a better future for themselves. Through education, children and young people learn to recognise their own strengths. Even learning to read, count and digital skills provides the necessary prerequisites for a more independent life.

Education is particularly important for young people to help them identify their potential on the labour market of the future as they approach adulthood. For some, success at primary school means further study and an academic career. For others, vocational training offers the opportunity to learn skills such as tailoring, farming, mechanics or digital marketing, which will help them to secure at least part of their future livelihoods. Schooling for girls is particularly important because it enables women to earn their own income and support themselves. A woman’s livelihood, in turn, often benefits the whole family. An educated woman also encourages her children to go to school.

A woman operates a land surveyor's instrument, while a man in an mask looks on
Civil Construction Student, Nhuch Sreynut practice installing auto level machine with her teacher and classmates at Regional Polytechic Institute Techo Hun Sen Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo: Roun Ry

Teachers are key to education success

Teachers play a huge role in the lives of children and whole communities. For a child or young person, a teacher can be an important safe adult who cares for them and meets them face to face daily. Teachers set an example that children and young people are happy to follow.

FCA has supported schools in rural areas in Mubende, Uganda. In recent years, schoolchildren there have improved their learning outcomes significantly. This is the result of a project that trained teachers, involved parents in school activities and provided better learning opportunities for pupils from all backgrounds. Before the project, even teachers did not always bother to come to school: this could be because of low pay, long commutes or a general lack of motivation to teach. When the teacher did not come to school, the children did not come either.

Slowly, the change took root in the community. Parents began to see the importance of education. Teachers were trained, provided with housing near schools and plots of land to cultivate. The maize trade boosted teachers’ small monthly incomes. Teachers began to visit homes to talk to families. Teenage mothers and disabled children were brought into the classroom. Many families now praise the teachers’ work and say that schooling has brought meaning and positive energy to their children’s and families’ lives.

The work of a motivated teacher can be a game changer for the whole community, and their work is also important in humanitarian crises. That is why we need to invest in teachers’ skills and well-being. FCA has organised training courses to strengthen teachers’ knowledge and pedagogical skills, as well as career mentoring to provide a sense of professional pride and trajectory. In war-torn Ukraine and in Syria, where humanitarian crises have saturated the country, our work has focused in particular on psychosocial support: teachers have taken part in training courses to improve their own coping skills, but also their daily teaching work. Teachers have developed skills to deal with trauma with children and young people, whether they are dealing with the experience of being a refugee or the loss of family and home.

A man in FCA branded clothing and hat gathers round a desk with other people, looking at a document
FCA Teacher Trainer William Kuony guides educators during a FCA teacher training workshop in New Fangak, Jonglei State, South Sudan. Photo: Maria de la Guardia

Education is a basic right – even in times of crisis

School is a place to learn the skills of the future, be they mathematical, linguistic, social or digital. For children, school is also a safe environment where children can be children: meet their peers, play and learn new skills.

Despite the life-saving impact of education, education in emergencies is grossly underfunded. It accounts for only about three per cent of global humanitarian funding. This is woefully inadequate given that, according to the UN, one in five children in the world lives in an area of armed conflict. In addition, millions and millions of children live under the impact of other types of humanitarian crises. This is a generation that must have the opportunity to build a future of livelihood, economy and peace.

Text: Ulriikka Myöhänen
Illustration: Julia Tavast

FCA and EU Humanitarian Aid launch new project in Uganda

FCA and EU Humanitarian Aid launch new project in Uganda

A new European Union Humanitarian Aid funded programme in Uganda, called “Towards Greater Effectiveness and Timely Humanitarian Education Response (TOGETHER)” will support over fifty thousand schoolchildren in Uganda to rejoin and stay in school.

Kampala, 20/06/2024 — Finn Church Aid (FCA) in partnership with Cheshire Services (CSU), Hopelink Action Foundation (HAF) Uganda, Promoters of Agriculture and Market Linkages (PALM Corps), and Forum for Education NGOs (FENU) are thrilled to announce the launch of the TOGETHER (Towards Greater Effectiveness and Timely Humanitarian Education Response) project, funded by European Union Humanitarian Aid.

This project aims to directly support 50,861 children, in primary, secondary, and Accelerated Education for a period of 24 months. The overall objective is to provide access to quality and inclusive formal and non-formal education for South Sudanese and Sudanese refugees, asylum seekers, and host community children in Palorinya, Rhino Camp, Palabek, Kiryandongo, and Imvepi refugee settlements in Uganda.

The project will focus on increasing enrolment, retention, and transition of conflict-affected girls and boys, strengthen child protection and safeguarding mechanisms, improve response and referral systems, and promote child participation through girl child empowerment.

Local leadership in Uganda

FCA Uganda Country Director, Wycliffe Nsheka explained, “the project will be implemented by the TOGETHER Consortium led by Finn Church Aid (FCA). It promotes strong local leadership with Cheshire Services (CSU) leading inclusion activities, Hopelink Action Foundation (HAF) Uganda leading psychosocial support, Promotes of Agriculture and Market Linkages (PALM Corps) leading resilience activities and Forum for Education NGOs (FENU)for policy advocacy efforts.”

He added “the project will respond to the regional challenge of increased school dropouts and child protection risks resulting from lack of livelihoods. It will focus on new arrivals, ensuring they have access to proper levels of education in safe and protective environments. I would like to appreciate the EU’s continued commitment towards supporting Education in situations of crisis.”

Bruno Rotival, Head of the EU’s Humanitarian Aid office in Kampala, emphasised that “children’s right to quality education does not stop in times of humanitarian emergencies. Our Education in Emergencies policy helps children in fragile contexts stay in school or continue their interrupted education, building resilience and developing their skills for the future. For 2024, the EU has set aside €157 million to support learning for children and youth caught in humanitarian emergencies, supporting also host communities.”

The project aligns with the Uganda Education Response Plan for Refugees and Host Communities policy framework, addressing both supply and demand side barriers to education, ensuring access to quality education for all children.

About EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid

The European Union and its Member States are the world’s leading donor of humanitarian aid. Relief assistance is an expression of European solidarity with people in need all around the world. It aims to save lives, prevent and alleviate human suffering, and safeguard the integrity and human dignity of populations affected by natural disasters and man-made crises.

Through its Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations department, the European Union helps millions of victims of conflict and disasters every year. With headquarters in Brussels and a global network of field offices, the EU provides assistance to the most vulnerable people on the basis of humanitarian needs.

The world’s most extreme walk to school?

Snakes, crocodiles and swamps – in South Sudan, the walk to school can be extreme

In the north-east of South Sudan, rugged swamp dominates the landscape and the daily lives of the people who live there. We joined school children as they embarked on the world’s most extraordinary school trip, where the water is waist-deep and dangers range from poisonous snakes and crocodiles to the scorching sun.

FCA runs an EU Humanitarian Aid-funded project to support children and their families in the Fangak region to access quality education and livelihoods.

Text & interviews by Ulriikka Myöhänen
Additional interviews by Björn Udd
Photos by Antti Yrjönen

THE COCK CROWS at five in the morning. Trees and flowers rustle as the deep black night lets go of its grip and the sun peeks through the sky.

In New Fangak, Bichul Kuon, a village community wipes the sleep from its eyes. 16-year-old Nyaluit Tang Chuol changes clothes and then digs out a stack of books. Chuol’s father waters his small vegetable garden, her mother lets out chickens that have spent the night in their coop and they scratch across the yard.

After six o’clock, the sun has turned into a warm yellow spot on the horizon, and Chuol sets off to lead her siblings through the village and towards the school. The land is dry with grass, bushes and low trees growing here and there. Crickets are chirping.

Soon more children join the group, and Chuol’s friend, 15-year-old Nyatiem Lam Lok, also joins the group from the back. The children shout greetings to each other in Nuer.

“Male!” (Meaning: “Hi!” Literally: “is there peace?”) 

“Male mi goa?” (Meaning: “How are you?” Literally: “Is there a good peace?”)

When the party has gone on for ten minutes, the children stop and take off their long pants or raise the hem of their skirts. This is where it begins, perhaps one of the most extraordinary school trips in the world.

The swamp stretching out before us seems to sigh: “come, children, I will do my best to carry you.”

Joukko lapsia kävelee vetisessä suossa Etelä-Sudanissa kohti koulua.

Books and shoes are held as the children make their way through the swamp. Dangers can lurk all over, such as snakes or crocodiles.

Located in the north of South Sudan, close to the Sudanese border, al-Sudd marsh is one of the largest swamps in the world, drawing its moisture from the White Nile and rainfall. The size of the swamp varies according to the season. In the dry season, the swamp can cover an area about the size of Estonia (45 339 square kilometres), while in the rainy season the swamp grows to up to twice as much.

The Arabic name al-Sudd refers to an obstacle, and that is what the swamp has proved to be for many throughout the ages. The mighty mire has cut off the journey of inexperienced travellers since the days of the ancient Egyptians or the Roman Emperor Nero’s exploration through Africa. The challenges continued centuries later, when explorers in the 19th Century continued to search for the source of the Nile.

On the other hand, the difficult terrain of the marsh has also provided shelter for those who know it. The last time this happened was during South Sudan’s brutal civil war (2013–2020). Then the population of the swamp area increased tenfold in some places, because in the complex network of bogs refugees felt safe from attacks.

At first glance, it seems that the swamp is not easy to read. It’s like a self-contained, stubborn prince of an illustrious family. It is haughty, a little arrogant and often full of surprises. But as you get to know Prince al-Sudd, you begin to understand his tricks.

The cadre of schoolchildren on their way to school seems to know the vagaries of the swamp like the back of their hand.

At the start of the journey, the water is half up to your shins and the slippery mud sucks on your feet up to your ankles.

Then it gets deeper. The youngest children reach over their heads with their schoolbooks as the water reaches their waists and even their armpits.

Fortunately, it’s not cold. The thermometer reads thirty degrees Celsius, and in these conditions the water just feels refreshing.

“I always concentrate on the books so as not to drop them in the swamp,” Chuol later explains.

“I dropped a book once,” Lok reveals, and continues, “The teacher gave me a warning and told me to take better care of my things. My parents also scolded me and reminded me that we cannot afford to buy new books.”

Vedess seisoskelevat lapset hymyilevät kameralle. Lapsilla on käsissään vaatteita ja koulukirjoja.

The children have to carry their books and clothes through the muddy, and sometimes deep, swamp to school. The amount of water and the surface area of the swamp vary depending on whether it is dry or rainy.

The school goers tell us that the depth of the swamp is a real challenge on the way to school. The situation is better now in March than it will be during the imminent rainy season. The only way to get around the swamp then is by canoe, which few families can afford. During the rainy season, children compete for school transport from local fishermen.

On the way to school, children are tormented by mosquitoes. Chuol says that her skin is often also damaged by the swamp vegetation, especially on the feet. After crossing the swamp, she often has nicks and small cuts.

But there are bigger dangers lurking along the way. Children warn each other not to go too deep into the grassy mounds. The Al-Sudd swamp is home to a wide variety of poisonous snakes and even crocodiles. It is common to see a long, thick-legged serpent swimming away at speed from a boat’s bow in the rivers that crisscross the swamp.

Despite the risks, the children soldier on. The sun is climbing higher and higher, and the school day is about to begin.

Nyaluit Tang Chuol, 16, is motivated to go to school. She is doing particularly well in English. Chuol hopes that education will enable her to live without depending on others for help.

The flood took our school

Finally, the schoolchildren emerge from the watery marsh onto the shore, put on the clothes they had taken off earlier and rinse their feet clean of mud. The last part of the journey is a walk of about a quarter of an hour through a dry, cracked plane. Spiky bushes grow everywhere and leave their thorns clinging to trouser legs, skirt beads and shoes.

Chuol and Lok say that their journey to school has been an hour-long slog like this for years. Four years ago, New Fangak was hit by a huge flood that washed away a school building built near the river.

Due to the flooding, the school site was moved further away from the river, significantly increasing the children’s journey to school. A new school building was never built. On this Monday morning in March, pupils are carrying chalkboards under the few trees that can grow from the dry soil.

“Teachers make the school. As long as you have a good teacher, you can have a school. A classroom without a teacher is not a school,” says Chuol, who says she herself dreams of becoming an English teacher.

Opettaja katselee oppilaitaan. Kuvan oikeassa laidassa näkyy liitutaulun kulma.
FCA pays Gutyiel Lony Gutluuk and other teachers a fee. Many teachers also fish and farm to support their families.

But teachers in New Fangak are in a difficult situation. One of these is that their salaries are often only sporadically paid since South Sudan descended into civil war in 2013.

FCA receives European Union Humanitarian Aid funding for a project that supports Chuol and Loki’s school not only with teaching materials, but also by paying teachers a monthly stipend of 35 000 South Sudanese pounds (about 20 US dollars at March 2024 exchange rates). This is helpful, but too small. Locals estimate that a monthly income of around USD 100 would provide a good living. Many teachers fish and farm alongside their teaching work to support themselves and their families.

“Many South Sudanese children go to school in neighbouring countries, but not all families can afford it. We want to provide the opportunity for education in our own village, so that our community can develop,” says teacher Gutyiel Lony Gutluuk.

Conditions at the school are challenging, as reflected in the declining numbers of pupils. In 2023, the school had around 800 pupils, compared to around 500 today.

The main obstacles to an even somewhat normal school life are the lack of buildings combined with extreme weather events. When the rainy season starts, students and teachers have no roof to shelter under. What was cracked clay soil during the dry season, becomes treacherous mud when the rain falls. Who wants to study or teach up to their waist in mud and with a torrential downpour coursing down their neck?

School days are also made challenging by the lack of toilets and the fact that the nearest water source, a river, is a long walk away. The extreme conditions affect all aspects of daily life. Teachers tell us that just a few months earlier, children would not come to school because their families did not have enough food.

Despite the difficulties, teachers have reason to be proud of their students. Last year, all the school’s pupils passed the national exams, some even with distinction. Going to school feeds young people’s dreams.

The shade of the tree protects schoolchildren from the sun only for the first few hours of the school day. Just over a week after this photo was taken, the South Sudanese government closed schools due to a dangerous heatwave.

THE EXTREME NATURE of the weather becomes more intense as the school day progresses. In the first hours of the morning, a slight breeze sweeps across the tundra, but the higher the sun climbs, the less shade the trees provide for the groups gathered under them.

Children have been sitting on the stools they have brought with them for several hours when the temperature exceeds 40 degrees Celsius. It’s time for a drink break. They dig out bottles, cups and old coffee cans that can be used as drinking vessels and, led by their teacher, head for the river.

“My goal is to be able to manage in the future without having to depend on others,” says Chuol.

Twenty minutes later, the flock arrives at the bank of the river. The water is brown next to the shore, but some of the children wade into the water, wet their hands and faces and fill their drinking bowls, drinking greedily.

“Going to the river and taking water is a risk. We can’t see what’s underneath the surface. There could be sharp things, snakes or even crocodiles.” says Lok.

Chuol says she once saw a crocodile at the watering hole.

“I was really scared and ran away.”

Drinking direct from the river is also a daily risk for schoolchildren, where debilitating diarrhoea and other water-borne diseases are commonplace. On the other hand, a drinking break may be the only thing that keeps children on their feet through a hot school day.

The girls have a wish: a clean water borehole. It would make life easier.

Pienempi lapsi roikkuu vanhemman pojan kädessä kiinni. Kolmas lapsi katselee toiseen suuntaan.

Schoolchildren scramble up the bank after half an hour of crossing the swamp. The final part of the school trip is a walk across dry land.

Families start to send daughters to school

The school day in New Fangak ends at noon when the heat becomes unbearable. Hunger drives Chuol and Loki through the swamps back to their home village of Bichul Kuon. There, the girls eat their first meal of the day, a lunch that their mothers have prepared by the end of the school day.

Come evening, Chuol’s father, Tang Chuol Koryom, is back to what he was doing the morning after the children left for school: watering his small garden, where he grows okra, tomatoes and beans.

The vegetable garden is currently Koryom’s only means of supporting his school-going children. It is where the family gets the ingredients for their daily meals, and the rest of the harvest is sold on the market. Four years ago, the family also owned cattle, but the animals drowned and disappeared in the flooding.

Chuol and Lok dream of becoming highly educated but eventually returning to their home village.

Neither of Chuol’s parents has any education. In general, the level of education in the New Fangak region was very low before the civil war. In the last ten years, more and more families have started to send their daughters to school, not only because of the advocacy work of the organisations, but also because there is a school nearby that provides educational materials for its students.

Choul has done well in English. Koryom says he is particularly proud of this.

“I can’t write myself and I don’t have any special skills. I hope my children’s path will be different than mine,” he says.

Are parents afraid of their children’s dangerous journey to school?

Koryom admits that crossing the swamp is a challenge, but says he would be more afraid to put his children on a bus trip to the city.

“There are no car accidents here because we don’t have cars. I am not afraid for my children.”

AND WITH THAT, the school day ends. The al-Sudd swamp is indeed difficult and ruthless, but everything is relative. As well as being unpredictable, the stubborn prince has his charms.

From the high heather on the shores, lanky herons and African Jacanas take flight. Blue and purple water lilies dot the waterways, and tree trunks curl skywards like royal sceptres. In the rivers, children and adults alike bathe in the heat of the day and chuckle cheerful greetings to boaters. For many, the fishing rivers also provide a daily meal.

Everyday life is modest, but for the inhabitants of the swamp, it is often the only life they can imagine.

“If I go to university, I will have to move away for four or five years. But when I finish my studies, I will return home to develop my community,” Lok plans.

Chuol also dreams of completing as much education as possible but eventually returning home.

This is good news for the village.

Stephen Chan, an FCA education mentor working in South Sudan, was also interviewed for this story.

Lapsia kulkemassa vedessä. Lasten ympärillä on korkeaa kaislikkoa.

The school day in New Fangak ends at noon when the heat becomes unbearable. That’s when the children head back home.

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 addition, we help families find alternative livelihoods, provided seeds and agricultural tools with relevant training. We also conduct door to door awareness campaigns on child protection and back to school information.

FCA to implement a new MFA and EU commissioned education sector planning process in Nepal

FCA to implement a new MFA and EU commissioned education sector planning process in Nepal

FCA will be partnering with University of Helsinki Centre for Continuing Education (HY+) and Häme University of Applied Sciences (HAMK) in the implementation of a new EUR 10 million education sector planning process in Nepal.

THE FIVE-YEAR collaboration is led by HY+ and funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Finland and the European Union (EU) and it will be launched in June 2024.

HY+ won the tender for the implementation of Technical Support Cooperation to School Education Sector in Nepal (TECSES) together with University of Helsinki Faculty of Educational Sciences, FCA and Häme University of Applied Sciences (HAMK).

The TECSES project supports Nepal’s education sector by improving teacher education, including pre- and in-service teacher training. The implementation in provinces, local governments and schools will support quality, equity and inclusion of teaching and learning in Nepal’s Karnali, Madhesh and Sudurpaschim provinces where for many years the learning results have been below the country’s average.

“In Nepal, we are really excited to be collaborating in the TECSES project together with HY+ and other stakeholders in the education space,” says Sofia Olsson, FCA’s Nepal Country Director.

“We look forward to supporting in the project’s implementation over the next five years and see this project as an important cornerstone in the development and modernisation of Nepal’s education sector,” Olsson says.

Aiming for permanent changes in Nepal’s education system

The education sector cooperation between Finland and Nepal aims to support the improvement of teacher training at the three levels of the governance in Nepal. Finland and Nepal have maintained close relations for 50 years with emphasis on developmental cooperation.

“We see education as a key to success and prosperity in our countries of operations. One of our projects that provides technical support to the education sector in Nepal is a good example of our approach: by working closely with various kinds of partners, as well as the host government, we want to aim at having permanent changes in the education system that benefit the people of Nepal,” says Ikali Karvinen, Deputy Executive Director of FCA.

The project will be implemented in close cooperation with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology of Nepal; with key stakeholders, universities, provincial education training centres, and local governments and in consultation with civil society, municipalities and funding agencies.

“This multi-stakeholder collaboration demonstrates that Finnish actors have much to give in the developing contexts. Finnish education is well known, and we believe that Nepal can benefit out of this expertise – however, at the same time this is also a genuine learning opportunity for us,” Karvinen concludes.

For more information:

Nepal Country Director Sofia Olsson, FCA,, tel. +977 980 662 5668
Deputy Executive Director Ikali Karvinen, FCA,, tel. +358 40 509 8050 

Where to find the courage to help during crises?

Aid workers at the core of crises – where to find the courage to help?

FCA staff in Ukraine, South Sudan and Syria face seemingly insurmountable challenges every day.

Text: Ruth Owen

WORKING IN CRISIS CONDITIONS means frequent threats to your safety and a constant challenge to your mental well-being. In this story, three FCA Country Directors share the unique challenges they face in their work amid conflict and humanitarian crises. They also reveal what inspires and motivates them to continue their work despite the challenges.

In the picture, a man standing in the middle of the buildings in the courtyard points his finger at something behind the photographer.
Seme Nelson, Country Director of Church Aid South Sudan, is motivated to see the change that his work brings. “Every time we witness a change, for example among children going to school, I get the feeling that our work is contributing to social change, improving people’s lives and opportunities to claim their rights.” Photo by Ulriikka Myöhänen / FCA

“Every time I come to work, I know that what I do has a direct impact on other people”

Seme Nelson studied peace, conflict and development studies at universities on three different continents. However, he decided to return to his native South Sudan, where he now heads the FCA’s Country Office.

“The challenges in South Sudan are manifold. The country is unstable and its economy is fragile. Many live in poverty, exacerbated by conflict, refugees and war in neighbouring Sudan.

South Sudan was basically founded on a background and legacy of violent conflict and internal civil wars. It’s continued to affect the entire stability of the state. We have also faced threats to our security at FCA. Our Pibor office was ransacked by local people in 2016 amongst widespread attacks on NGOs. And in 2022 our Fangak office destroyed fighting between armed groups, but our staff remain, as do I.

In 2020, I considered remaining in Japan, where I did my master’s degree. But I considered whether what I do would make a significant difference to people’s lives or not. When I remain here in South Sudan, every time I come to work, there is a very direct connection between what I do and how it impacts people.

What has continued to push our staff to continue to work despite the difficulties and challenges is the impact that our programme makes on the people. Every time you see these beautiful stories of change. From young people, mothers, kids who are able to go to school. You feel like our work is contributing to transforming societies, improving people’s access to livelihoods and helping citizens demand their rights.

When the Sudanese conflict broke out in 2022, a lot of Sudanese fled to South Sudan along with former South Sudanese refugees who decided to return to their country. At present, I think only five per cent of these refugees from Sudan are living in refugee camps or settlements inside South Sudan. Probably 80 per cent of them are housed by South Sudanese – people who have decided to open their homes to welcome Sudanese refugees to share the little that they have. The media always wants to document stories of suffering, of desperations, but for me I think we should highlight positive stories like these more.
Yes, my country is founded on a story of conflict and desperation – the process of state building has almost started from zero. But if we look at the infrastructural transformation of the country from 2005 when the second civil war ended, there has been a tremendous growth process. The country has a city called Juba that we’re proud of today, that never even existed before! Regardless the situation of desperation in this country, the generosity, strength and courage of people is something worth acknowledging.

“It is important to distinguish between political problems and solidarity with people who are suffering”

Mazen Khzouz’s home is in Jordan, but his work requires him to spend long periods away from his family. As FCA Country Director for Syria, he believes it is important for him to be close to the communities he works with.

A man with an FCA lanyard around his neck looks at the camera
Mazen Khzouz, FCA Country Director for Syria. Photo by Mohammed al-Masrab

“I’m not the kind of person who’s satisfied with only doing the basic in my life. I need to do more. I need to be closer to people who I serve.

Syria is suffering the effects of a long conflict, economic collapse and a devastating earthquake. The country is under severe sanctions, which are contributing to the impoverishment of the population and increasing suffering. Sanctions have led to a lack of access to all basic necessities and a lack of money. Prices have skyrocketed, purchasing power has been eroded and unemployment is very high. An estimated 90% of Syrians now live below the poverty line. The cost of living has more than doubled since 2023, as measured by the Minimum Expenditure Basket.

The security situation in Syria has improved in relative terms compared to the most difficult years of the conflict. Humanitarian actors are now in a better position to reach vulnerable groups. However, the security situation remains volatile and new outbreaks of violence are possible. Sporadic attacks, inter-group clashes and multiple checkpoints between population centres can also slow down progress in the areas where the FCA’s work is taking place. Journeys to schools and communities can take as long as three or four hours.

Social tensions increase during disasters. It gets frustrating when some people get help and others don’t, even though many need it. Tensions are also a risk for our employees. To mitigate them and ensure staff safety, we build strong relationships with community leaders and local actors.

When we understand that people are struggling to meet their basic needs – to feed and clothe their children – it is easy to understand their strong reactions. We at FCA Syria wish we could do more and reach even more of those in need.

All our employees are Syrian. Staff members have lost loved ones in war, earthquake and even cholera. It is common for one of our staff to help at least two or three other relatives or households with their income.

My family back in Jordan are wondering how much I can endure from the situation, but the proximity to the country helps a lot. I explain to my family we have a strong evacuation plan and I give them assurance that we are safe.

The media constructs a certain image of Syria, which influences the perceptions and opinions about the people and that’s a very big mistake. We need to differentiate between people who are suffering and whatever problems there may be in the political domain.

The Syrian people do not deserve to be mistreated. They are human beings. They have children. They deserve to live a decent life as much as you and I do.”

A woman is standing in front of the camera being interviewed by a television crew.
Patricia Maruschak, who grew up in Canada’s Ukrainian diaspora, returned to her roots in Ukraine when FCA was looking for a Country Director for its office in the war-torn country. Photo by Antti Yrjönen / KUA

“I miss my family, but I want to see Ukraine prosper and be free”

Patricia Maruschak is the granddaughter of Ukrainian immigrants to Canada and grew up in the Ukrainian diaspora. She lived and worked in Ukraine from 2006 to 2010, before returning in 2022 to head up the FCA Ukraine office.

Ukraine has been at full since its neighbour Russia invaded in 2022. Frequent air alarms across the country, when there is a threat of attack, lead to constant disruptions to daily life. This impacts greatly on children’s education and their psychological wellbeing, as well of that of their teachers.

Recently in Chernihiv, one of the schools where we have done repairs was damaged because there was a bombing very close to the school. The alarm went off, everyone went downstairs, and were standing for the daily moment of silence for the fallen. During that moment there were three huge explosions close by. Everyone had to immediately lie on the ground, the children were very scared. It’s the teachers’ job to keep them calm in a situation that’s uncertain for everyone. In the meantime, people from the street were also trying to get into the shelter.

All over the country, when an air alarm goes off, everyone has to go into the shelter. Teachers have to try and continue with learning where sometimes there’s no separation for classes. Imagine trying to continue a lesson with 7 or 8 year olds when there are now another 100 children in the room!

We train teachers in ‘psychological first aid’ to help children in the moment. Then we also train them in ongoing mental health support for kids, who have had trauma experiences, or have family members who are away fighting or have returned severely injured and have their own traumas. And then we also help teachers take care of themselves with coping strategies.

Many of our staff never worked in NGOs previously, coming mainly from the business community, but now they’re proud to be helping fellow Ukrainains.

Our procurement officer was an IDP (Internally Displaced Person) at the beginning of the war, because her community was occupied by Russian troops for a while. Meanwhile, our head psychologist has been displaced twice, firstly from Donetsk due to Russian occupation in 2014 and then from the south-east of the country when the fullscale war began in 2021. It’s not just a job for our people, it’s also their life.

I miss my family a lot. But there are clear needs here and the ability to make an impact in Ukraine is very high. We work with capable and experienced Ukrainian education experts. It’s a pleasure and a good challenge to work alongside them and personally, I want to see Ukraine succeed and be free and capable of making its own choices.”

Seme, Mazen and Patricia will speak at the World Village Festival in Helsinki on 25 May 2024.

“I was allowed to return to school” – EU-funded INCLUDE project makes sure refugee students aren’t left behind.

“I was allowed to return to school” – EU-funded INCLUDE project makes sure refugee students in Uganda aren’t left behind.

A young woman in a white shirt and
Ujumbe Murujiza, from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) attends Rwamwanja Secondary School.

For children in refugee settlements, access to quality education is not just hampered by lack of schools. Lack of money, family support or basic hygiene supplies must all be overcome to make sure they can attend class.

Yet, refugee and vulnerable children are excelling in FCA supported schools. With funding from the European Union, FCA works in Uganda with Save the Children, Norwegian Refugee Council, Humanity and Inclusion and War Child Holland on the INCLUDE project.

RWAMWANJA AND KYAKA II refugee settlements are home to approximately 1,611,732 refugees and 48,792 asylum seekers. 949,598 of them are children. Many have fled violent conflicts, losing family members and parents. Refugee and host community children attend school side by side in the settlements, but with a large mix of nationalities and backgrounds, it’s tough for teachers to tend to every child’s needs.

Moreover, families are often without stable income. That means little food to aid concentration or no money to buy school supplies. In the case of one girl, it almost led to her dropping out of school to support her family.

A school yard with adults and children walking
Students and teachers take a break at Bukere Secondary School in Kyaka, Uganda.

Cash for education supports children staying in school

Ujumbe Murujiza, an 18-year-old refugee hailing from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is currently enrolled in Senior Two at Rwamwanja Secondary School. But she might have not got this far.

She has eight siblings and her mother struggled to provide after their father abandoned the family.

“Life at home was unbearable,” Ujumbe recalls. “My mother, who often fell sick, struggled to make ends meet by working in community gardens.”

“My brothers had to collect empty bottles for sale just to help us survive,” Ujumbe explained. “I almost left school to work as a maid in Kampala district because we needed money.”

On discovering her plan, Ujumbe’s mother contacted FCA Uganda’s local field office. The Child Protection team met with the family and were enrolled in the Cash for Education programme, as part of the INCLUDE project.

“This support was a miracle for us,” Ujumbe reflects. “It covered school fees, uniforms, and even helped put food on our table.”

The INCLUDE project aims to be versatile and adaptive to the needs of the family in order to support the child’s return to and remaining in school. That’s why it covers diverse interventions, ranging from cash for education to ensuring access to nutritious meals through a school meals programme. It also promotes menstrual hygiene management and reproductive health awareness for both sexes to help children support each other to stay in school.

“I want to become a doctor in the future,” Ujumbe shares with unwavering determination. “After finishing school and getting money, I can support my family and build a better future.”

School meals programme boosts concentration in class

A proper meal can be make or break for a child to concentrate in school. Sometimes, it’s the only meal of the day a child might receive.

At Kikurura Primary School, the INCLUDE project helped start a programme where parents provide food for the students. The project gave out farming supplies like seeds, tools, and fertilisers. The school community worked together to grow crops on a 2-acre piece of land. They harvested 200 kilograms of maize, which helped feed the students.

Students sit around a table in a classroom. They are all drinking from colourful mugs
A proper meal can be make or break for a child to concentrate in school.

The school relies on the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) for support. To make sure all 1,267 students have enough to eat, the school talked with parents at the start of the 2024 term. They decided that each parent would give an extra 3 kilograms of maize to add to the school’s harvest.

This collective initiative ensures that every student at Kikurura Primary School receives a daily cup of porridge.

 “I no-longer feel hungry during school time and attend all the lessons,” says Shillah, a P7 student , while her classmate Aloysious told us, “many of my classmates no longer have to miss classes because of hunger. I have also noticed that my fellow students no longer steal food from others,”

Menstrual hygiene support helps girls stay in class

As a 15-year-old pupil at Rwamwanja Primary School, Francine’s education journey was marred by the lack of sanitary pads during her menstrual cycle.

“My schooling was tough, especially during my periods,” she explained. “I didn’t have sanitary pads, so I often missed class,” she says.

“I remember using small pieces of my mother’s old clothes,” she continues. “But blood would pass through, and I would get infections.”

FCA provided her reusable pads as well as lessons about menstrual cycle management. The construction of clean and safe hygiene facilities are also key.

“Our school has a proper changing room with soap and water. If I have my period during school, I can freshen up and attend class comfortably.”

Something that has also helped the girls is including the boys in the learning process.

“Everyone, including the boys, supports us girls during our periods,” Francine explains, recalling a kind act from a classmate. “Once, I needed help, and a boy offered me his sweater to cover up. It made me realise I’m not alone.”

“Now, I’m not worried about my periods anymore,” Francine asserts confidently. I feel confident I’ll achieve my dream of becoming a nurse and helping my family and community.”

Eric, a refugee from Burundi, topped the exams in Kyaka settlement

Eric Niyitegeka’s family fled violence in Burundi and settled in Kyaka II refugee settlement. He was keen to restart his schooling, but had missed out on crucial phases in his education.   

FCA’s Secondary Accelerated Education Programme (AEP) was designed for children like Eric to help them catch up with their peers and the national curriculum in a supportive environment sensitive to the needs of refugee and vulnerable children.

A young man stands on a path between neat border rows of plants. School buildings stand either side.
Eric topped his class during exams.

Eric worked incredibly hard, attending classes regularly and engaging actively in his studies. During the Uganda Certificate of Education (UCE) examinations in 2023 he came out top of the programme.

“The support I received during the programme was amazing. I was allowed to return to school. I was also given cash for my school fees and scholastics. I no longer had to worry about money, so I concentrated in class. I am hopeful that I will join the advanced level of education where I want to study Physics, Chemistry and Maths since I want to become an engineer in future. I am deeply thankful for the generosity of FCA and its donors,” he says.                 

Career guidance offers hope for the future

Keeping students in school is not only a case of providing for their material needs. Children and teenagers need inspiration and hope for their futures. FCA’s pioneering career guidance programmes have been adopted in several countries, not least in our supported schools in Uganda, as part of INCLUDE.

Two people are sitting at a large table in a room and having what looks like a serious conversation. An FCA banner with a EU logo stands to the side.
Career guidance can make a huge impact on teenagers.

Acinath Bamurebe, a student at Bukere Secondary School, explains the impact they’ve made:

“I used to feel confused when thinking about what I wanted to do in the future. Many of us felt this way too. But thanks to our mentors, things started to become clearer. I was only in school because my friends were, not because I saw a bright future ahead. However, attending these sessions helped me think about what I’m good at and what I enjoy. The activities and talks from my teachers and mentors helped me understand myself better and decide what I want to do in the future.”           

Teachers also included

Teachers are catalysts for change, but are often neglected themselves in terms of training, mentoring and career prospects.

As part of the INCLUDE project, we offer training sessions covering inclusive education, gender sensitivity, career guidance, life skills, and child protection to teachers. By incorporating new teaching methodologies, teachers enhance their ability to meet diverse learning needs.

A number of adults sit in a classroom and listen to another teacher who stands at a desk at the front
As part of the INCLUDE project, FCA offers training sessions for teachers.

Phionah, an Accelerated Education Programme teacher, shares her experience:

“I now feel better equipped to address the varying learning needs of my students and create an inclusive learning environment where each student feels valued and supported in their educational journey. Consequently, students not only receive access to quality education but also acquire essential life skills and guidance crucial for their personal and professional growth.”

Funded by the European Union Humanitarian Aid (ECHO), the INnovative and inCLUsive accelerated eDucation programmE for refugee and host community children (INCLUDE) project is implemented by Finn Church Aid (FCA) in collaboration with Save the Children, Norwegian Refugee Council, Humanity and Inclusion, and War Child Holland. It is designed to address challenges to education for refugees and host communities, including newly arrived and out of school children in primary and secondary schools in Kyangwali, Kyaka, Nakivale and Rwamwanja Refugee Settlements.

Find out more about our work in Uganda.
Text: Linda Kabuzire
Photos: Rebecca Alum and Ronald Igulo

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

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

Building on two years of success rehabilitating educational institutions in Ukraine, FCA is now leading a major new project supporting children and teachers in the Sumy, Pultava, Dnipro, Zapori-ja, and Odessa regions.

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

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

Education Cannot Wait fund supports new FCA project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building on EU-funded education success in Ukraine

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

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

Quality education needs improved infrastructure

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

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

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

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

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

For more information contact:  

FCA Ukraine Communications Officer, Veronika Korobko

FCA Global Communications Officer, Ruth Owen

Bringing play-based learning to the most remote communities in Uganda

Bringing play-based learning to the most remote communities in Uganda

A line of men and women standing outside are smiling and pointing to a tuktuk, which has the logos of FCA and UNICEF on it, along with hand-drawn illustrations of children playing.
Ministry of Education and Sports representatives, Terego District Officials, FCA, UNICEF, and UNHCR representatives officially send off the Mobile ECD Tricycle to the field.

FCA and UNICEF are reaching remote communities in Terego district with mobile learning units, including play-based learning experiences for the youngest children.

Early childhood is a phase of intense development and learning. When children have the chance to access age-appropriate education, usually through play and in the years from 0-6, the benefits to the child are huge. 

In remote areas, early learning centres are rare

In the remote areas of Terego district, West Nile, Uganda, access to mainstream education is already challenging. Facilities for younger children are almost non-existent.

That’s why FCA and UNICEF have launched a new initiative, aimed at accelerating learning among children in hard-to-reach regions, specifically the sub-counties of Uriama and Omugo.

Using the simple means of a three-wheeled motorcycle, or trike, equipped with an early childhood development (ECD) kit, educators can travel through Terego district and reach kids directly.

The play-based learning kit enables professionals to deliver engaging and interactive learning experiences safely within communities, taking away the need for families to travel.

A three-wheeled motorcycle mounted with a trailer is standing outside. It has ribbons decorating it and the logos of Education Cannot Wait, FCA and UNICEF. People are smiling and inspecting it.
With the trike, educators can travel through Terego district and reach kids directly.

A joint initiative

The project was developed by UNICEF Uganda and Finn Church Aid jointly through funding from Education Cannot Wait, with FCA staff delivering the sessions. It is a vital component of the ‘Early Childhood Development and Quality Education’ initiative that FCA implements in the districts of Adjumani, Terego, Koboko, and Yumbe in the West Nile region, as well as Kyegegwa, Kamwenge, and Isingiro in Western Uganda.

“The intervention is intended to support early childhood learning opportunities for hard-to-reach communities. The intervention supports four pillar models: teacher/ECD caregivers, parents, management, and young children, in the delivery of Early Childhood Education services across the country,” says FCA Uganda Head of Programs, Stephen Ssenkima.

Innovative approach

“At the heart of this innovation lies a comprehensive strategy that leverages cognitive, emotional, creative, and physical materials to deliver impactful learning experiences to children,” explains Charles Oriokot Aporu, the ECD Coordinator at Finn Church Aid. “Sixteen community learning centres have been established as focal points for children, facilitated by volunteers selected from local communities.”

The learning centres are staffed with volunteers, selected by leaders in the community. FCA staff provide training on how to facilitate the sessions using play learning materials and regularly check up on the sessions to provide continuing support.

A woman signs a large cardboard document, which is held by two men. Another woman in the background is holding some files. They are all standing outside in a car park.
Hajjat Safina Mutumba, Principal Education Officer overseeing pre-primary education, signs a commemorative board at the launch.

First five years of life is crucial

Speaking during the launch, Hajjat Safina Mutumba, the Principal Education Officer overseeing pre-primary education at the Ministry of Education and Sports, underscored the relevance of mobile ECD centres, emphasising their alignment with the policies of home-based and community-based nursery schools.

She highlighted the advantage of the mobile ECD innovation, noting its ability to reach learners in their own environments, particularly considering the high vulnerability levels prevalent in the benefiting communities.

“These children are extremely vulnerable, residing in communities where ECD services are lacking. We recognise that brain development is most rapid during the first five years of life. Without adequate support during this critical period, we risk losing them. Through this innovation, we will ensure that these children are reached where they are, providing them with the crucial opportunity for early learning,” Hajjat Safina said.”

A woman in a blue shirt and a waistcoat with a UNICEF logo is talking in a room while standing in front of a flipchart and a banner which reads "UNICEF, for every child".
UNICEF’s Barno Mukhamadieva spoke during the launch event.

UNICEF’s Chief of Basic Education and Adolescent Development (BEAD) section, Barno Mukhamadieva, underscored their commitment to advancing the educational journey in regions where illiteracy levels remain alarmingly high. “West Nile holds priority status for our organisation due to the substantial number of refugees it hosts, along with the associated educational challenges.”

Leveling the playing field

Wilfred Saka, the district chairperson for Terego, hailed the innovation, noting its potential to motivate rural children, who lack access to modern learning tools. Saka remarked, “our children often feel inferior, which contributes to the performance gap in our schools. Urban children benefit from exposure to such resources, but this intervention levels the playing field. It ensures our learners can compete with their urban counterparts, and we are committed to sustaining its impact in the district.”

Agnes Onzia, a volunteer caregiver at Kilima Church ECD, shared stories of children blossoming into eager learners. “Some of the children joined with difficult behaviour and they have really changed. Many from last year have joined the primary section now,” recounts Agnes Onzia

So far, nine parishes spanning the two sub-counties and Uriama have been selected to pilot the mobile ECD programme.  Over 1,188 children, previously excluded from formal education, have been enrolled, signalling a substantial enhancement in their access to learning opportunities.

Find out more about our work in Uganda

FCA’s work in Ukraine expands to vocational training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FCA’s work extends to vocational education and training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more about the underground metro school.

Photos for media

For more information:

Deputy Executive Director, Mr. Ikali Karvinen, e-mail: ikali.karvinen(a), 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.