At the Kakuma-Kalobeyei refugee camp in northern Kenya, mental health services are in short supply. The residents of the camp have fled murder and rape only to find that the daily life of the camp poses its own challenges. Working as a psychologist among people whose acute need of help is overwhelming takes its toll. What are some good ways to maintain resilience in the face of such challenges?
“REMEMBER: it’s important to have a life goal,” the teacher says, speaking to approximately forty students. The students listen intently, even though the classroom is over 30 degrees hot.
“What would be an example of a good life goal?”
“A nice house,” says one student.
“Eating sweets,” says another. “A good wife,” third one exclaims, and everyone bursts out laughing.
IN KENYA, SCHOOLS were closed for two weeks in May. Nevertheless, at the Kalobeyei refugee camp, kids were learning skills like self-esteem, setting goals for oneself, and conflict resolution at a life-skills camp.
The refugee camp is one of the largest in the world, housing around 300 000 refugees, mostly children and youth. Many live alone or with their siblings, as their parents have disappeared or died.
200 youth who have regularly attended school during the last term have been invited to participate. The invitation not only serves as a reward – the camp offers the kids meals, like in school – but also helps pass the message onwards. The youth attending the camp are likely to teach their skills to their friends in future.
“During the holidays, youth often get into trouble. Some join gangs, others get pregnant. That’s why we decided to organise a camp for teaching life skills,” says Maureen Achieng, 25.
Kakuma Kalobeyei refugee camp in Kenya is one of the largest in the world, housing around 300 000 refugees, mostly children and youth. Many live alone or with their siblings, as their parents have disappeared or died. Every week, there are new people arriving to the camp from neighbouring countries.
Maureen Achieng is a psychologist at the Finn Church Aid field office in Kakuma-Kalobeyei, Kenya. Her role is supporting the psychosocial well-being of children and youth and offering counselling for difficult situations.
EVERY WEEK, there are new people arriving to the camp from neighbouring countries. Currently, the biggest source of refugees is violence in Burundi. Some are fleeing for the second time. At the same time, the camp is waiting to see the effects of the conflict in Sudan for Kenya.
“Children here have all sorts of problems: serious trauma in their home country or from being on the run, abuse at home, teenage pregnancies. On top of that come the normal young people problems, such as school or heartbreaks,” Achieng says.
Dealing with these problems happens step by step. Achieng recommends young people set themselves goals and celebrate small achievements. Stressing the benefits of education is particularly important to girls, who are usually pressured into an early marriage. Nelly Havyarimana, 15, from Burundi, knows this very well personally.
“My mother and sisters and I came to Kenya in 2017. We had to leave home when my father died. As I had no brothers, our relatives wanted to marry us girls off. My mother thought that we should complete our studies, however, so we fled here.”
Havyarimana has learned about the importance of goals at the life skills camp.
“When I grow up, I want to be a surgeon. This can only happen through hard work – making decisions for the future and setting goals along the way. But I’m hopeful.”
Another useful skill that Havyarimana has learned in the camp: conflict resolution. The camp hosts people from many different nationalities, often without a common language. Conflicts are often inevitable.
“I’ve learned that I need to seek support from other communities. If, for example, Burundians and Sudanese are squabbling, I should at least get one person from the Sudanese side to support me, maybe some others, too. The parties to the conflict generally calm down when they realise that everyone wants them to stop.”
PSYCHOLOGIST Maureen Achieng also has other responsibilities at the camp, as she offers psychosocial support to students. In practice, this means problem-solving, therapy, academic counselling and much more. All of this is mentally taxing, even for a professional.
“I have often put myself in the shoes of a child who has had their parents murdered or a loved one raped in front of their eyes. They have had to walk to safety for days on end – without sleep, food or water.”
Achieng is also involved in an inter-organisational suicide prevention group. Both drug use and suicide attempts have recently increased alarmingly at the camp.
Maureen Achieng and other members of the staff live in relatively modest conditions and with little personal space in Kalobeyei refugee camp.
“Even if one tries to take time off, conversations with colleagues always circle back to work,” Achieng says. PHOTO: BJÖRN UDD / FCA
“The main reason is definitely the oppressive living conditions. Up to 70% of suicidal people give the living conditions as the reason of their suicidal tendencies. The same goes for drug use. It’s a way of escaping reality and hopelessness.”
The team searches for people at risk and harnesses the whole community to recognise the surrounding warning signs.
“For example, we made an agreement with the camp’s traders: if someone wants to buy a rope, a few follow-up questions are needed. What is the purpose of their purchase? All right, they want to tie up an animal. What kind of an animal? And so on. Many people give up their intentions after this sort of a thing, at least for a time.”
It is still difficult, coming to grips with things like suicide each and every day. Achieng considers it important to be able to get away from work in her free time. It’s never easy, though. There are many needing help and never enough time to help them all. On top of that, the staff live in relatively modest conditions and with little personal space.
“Even if one tries to take time off, conversations with colleagues always circle back to work. And it’s hard to avoid your colleagues if they live next door!”
IT THUS BECOMES necessary to working through the issues causing distress in others. Achieng is lucky, as she has an older colleague outside the camp for discussing ideas and getting good advice on how to solve difficult cases.
For Achieng, who is originally from Nairobi, moving to the small-scale environment of the refugee camp was also a challenge. A key part of addressing this was making their home more homelike.
“Personally, my most important household item is the video gaming console, which I take with me everywhere I go,” laughs Achieng. She admits to being a big racing game fan, but also plays other games. In addition to the console, Achieng has brought home her favourite treats, and has also taken up painting.
“Sometimes we organise art workshops for the children. Art therapy works – I have first-hand experience!” she says, smiling.
Achieng is working on a rotating schedule. In addition to the normal holidays, she has a week off after seven working weeks.
“Write this one in your story in capital letters: THE ROTATING LEAVE IS A MUST!”, Achieng urges.
“It is easy to notice that five weeks is all it takes for my colleagues to exhausted, as they start becoming very irritable easily. Especially those who have families miss their loved ones, because you can’t bring husbands, wives, or children here. A week off helps a lot.”
PSYCHOLOGISTS ARE NOT the only ones who have to think about how to deal with the stories students tell. Teachers hear them regularly too, and it’s possible for traumas to trigger for teachers, especially those with a refugee background. This is why peer support circles are organised for teachers to talk through their experiences.
This monthly ritual is particularly important for teachers. In an empty classroom, about ten people sit in a circle. Taking turns, they tell each other what’s on the top of their minds.
“This is an opportunity for us to talk openly about our problems and discuss how best to manage our classes,” says Edward Festo, who teaches English and Social Studies.
And a necessary opportunity it is. Class sizes can easily be around 200 pupils, making the teacher’s job difficult.
“Every day, I come home with a hoarse voice. Usually, I’m also mentally dead tired.”
Festo, from South Sudan, decided to flee the civil war in 2016 at the age of 19, after some of his siblings were killed.
“I lived in the north of the country, so making my escape through a country fighting a civil war was difficult. Many lives were lost on the way,” Festo says.
Many schoolchildren have similar backgrounds, so their stories can bring old feelings to the surface.
“We have received a lot of support in dealing with our traumas. It is our responsibility to be the professionals and adults, always and in every situation. Therapy and comprehensive training make it easier to keep it cool when things become heated,” says Festo.
He also understands the younger generation’s situation.
“Everything is more difficult nowadays. When we arrived, we were given schoolbooks, school uniforms and free education. Now the kids have to pay for books and uniforms themselves.”
Therapy has helped Festo to work through other issues.
“Living during a civil war is terrible. One must do bad things and link up with bad groups to survive. Therapy has been a life changer for me.”
TEACHERS are not the only ones getting help from therapy. Sixth grader Rashidi Shabani, 16, says he used to be very short-tempered.
“I got angry very easily. When I was out with my friends, I would get upset and start intense arguments with them. Therapy has helped me process these feelings. We’ve gone through what makes me get upset and evaluated my feelings generally. “
“Nowadays, if I find myself in a difficult situation, I take a deep breath or talk to others about my feelings. My anger dissipates and I feel free of stress.”
Shabani fled the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo with his mother and siblings in 2016. In the future, he wants to also be able to help his friends manage their emotions. He hopes to turn helping others into a career.
“When I grow up, I would like to be a psychologist. I’ve had a lot of help from psychologists, they do so much good. I would like to be like them as an adult.”
Text and photos by Björn Udd
Nelly Havyarimana (middle) is happy to ask her friends for help in case of any conflict or crisis in her life. PHOTO: Björn Udd / FCA
The LEARN Project, now in its fourth year, aims to increase and improve equitable and inclusive quality education for refugee and host community children and adolescents. These children are mostly based in Bidibidi, Palorinya, Adjumani, Kyaka II and Rwamwanja refugee settlements in West Nile and Southwest Uganda.
Under the initiative, safe and inclusive school spaces have been constructed for learners and staff. This includes providing relevant teaching and learning materials, career guidance, trainings and mentorship to all who attend the school – whether student or teacher.
In addition, we’ve conducted awareness campaigns in the community on the right to inclusive education, among other topics. We also help to provide sports and child-friendly spaces, which improve children’s overall psychosocial wellbeing and the resilience to combat distress caused by conflict and other crises.
Since the start of the project, there has been a positive shift in education, especially girls’ education, with more female students enrolling in schools.
Students who have enrolled under the LEARN project recently shared their experiences.
Teenage mother returns to school
Christine Muhindo, 19, is the first born in a family of eight. She fled the war in Congo with her mother and siblings in 2013. She currently lives in Kyaka II refugee settlement. Christine was attending secondary school when she found out she was pregnant.
“The father was a fellow refugee who was studying in Uganda’s capital, Kampala. We met during the school break when he had returned to Kyaka II refugee settlement for holidays,” Christine says.
“When I told him I was pregnant, he left the village and I have never seen him again.” the mother of a now four-year-old son continues.
“I was very scared. I lost all hope of completing my education. Fortunately for me, a countrywide lockdown was declared in March 2020 following the Covid-19 outbreak and this gave me a chance to raise my baby.”
When schools reopened in 2022, FCA conducted specific back-to-school campaigns to encourage teenage mothers to return and complete school.
“I was encouraged to return to school but didn’t have school fees. My mother couldn’t afford to take me back to school. In fact, I stayed out of school for some time because I didn’t have fees.” Christine adds.
FCA scholarship opened the door
Her hope was restored when FCA offered her a scholarship and supported her with scholastic materials like mathematical sets, books, pens, and school uniform. She is currently studying in senior six – the final grade before graduation – at Bujubuli Secondary School and is very excited to be back in school.
She expresses her gratitude to FCA staff, who regularly check in on teenaged mothers like Christine and discuss the benefits of staying and completing school. Christine says the regular contact has kept her strong and motivated.
Christine also attributes her stay in school to her fellow students and teachers who she says have not discriminated against her. This is partly thanks to FCA information and awareness materials in school about the importance of inclusivity towards learners.
Christine is now a member of the Girls Empowerment Club where she holds the responsibility of mobilising her fellow students for club meetings and other activities.
She hopes to become an Information Technology (IT) specialist in the future.
From disability to academic success
Samuel Nduwayo, 17, is a Burundian refugee living in Kyaka II refugee settlement. He left Burundi in 2016 following the political turmoil in the country. He fled with his five siblings leaving their mother behind.
“We lost touch with her, and I am not sure whether she is still alive. “Samuel tell us.
In Kyaka II refugee settlement, Samuel and his siblings were reunited with their father who had arrived in Uganda the previous year.
In 2017, Samuel joined Bukere Primary School in the fifth grade. He loved school and was studying well until he started to experience back pains.
“I told my father about the pain, but he said I would be okay. He said it was from the heavy bag of books I carried daily to school.”
In 2018, Samuel situation worsened, and the complication left him temporarily disabled. He dropped out of school because he couldn’t walk or sit.
Samuel says that coping with the disability was not easy. The cost of medication was too high, and this saw two of his siblings drop out of school to find work that would earn them money to support the family.
With the help of supportive teachers, family members, and friends, he worked hard to overcome the challenges that came with disability and learned to adapt.
The way back to school
“One day in 2021, my sister came back home with the good news that FCA was looking for children with disabilities who needed support with their education,” Samuel says.
The following day, Samuel’s father took him to Bukere Secondary School where he was registered and later assessed for medical support.
FCA worked with Medical Teams International (MTI) for assessment and he was given treatment and a wheelchair. After receiving medical attention, Samuel gradually regained his mobility and started attending school again in 2022.
He sat his Primary Leaving Examination (PLE) and passed. He has now joined secondary school at Mubende Light Secondary School.
Looking back on his journey from disability to academic success, Samuel says he is proud of all that he has accomplished.
“My disability may have presented challenges along the way, but it also taught me resilience and determination.”
Today, Samuel is grateful for the opportunities that have come his way and looking forward to what the future holds, including his dream to become a doctor.
Breaking barriers: FCA Uganda ensures access to education for children with disabilities
Leticia Kanyere is a 14-year-old deaf student. She came to Sweswe Special Needs Education (SNE) Unit after her family heard about their inclusivity scheme. She now stays at the boarding school facilities with her friends, and loves it.
Children with disabilities in refugee settlements are especially vulnerable to stigmatisation, exclusion, isolation, and violence. These barriers limit their abilities to access education, essential services, form relationships with their peers, and foster psychosocial well-being.
“I like the school because it’s easy to make friends. We easily understand each other because we use the same language. In my village, only a few people understand sign language so it’s hard to communicate,” says Leticia, who is doing well in class and wants to become a hairdresser in the future.
In order to provide inclusive education, Finn Church Aid (FCA) constructed a fully-fledged Special Needs Education Unit at Sweswe Primary School in Kyaka II refugee settlement. The unit was a big undertaking and came together thanks to funding from several donors. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland paid for the unit itself. Then, the U.S department of State, Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) supported the construction of a fence around the SNE unit to enhance the safety of the learners. Finally, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) supports operations in the school.
The support provided to the SNE unit enhances closer supervision, opportunities for safeguarding, and the ability to identify and address children’s psychological, social, and medical needs. This fosters an inclusive environment where learners can stay in school and feel supported.
The facility launched in 2022 and supports learners from both Kyaka II and the neighbouring Rwamwanja refugee settlement. It opened its doors to children and adolescents with disabilities from host and refugee communities, bringing enormous relief to both the children and their families.
Alex Dusabe, 16, also enjoys coming to school. “I used to have many challenges back home but when I came to Sweswe SNE, I made friends with the teachers, and they support me,” he says.
Finn Church Aid trains teachers at the facility in special needs education and management so they can both engage with and take care of the learners.
The inclusive environment at the school makes it possible for learners with special needs to stay in school. The blocks at the facility have been constructed with ramps and rails and are accessible by wheelchair. The classrooms are brightly lit to help the visually impaired. Further improvements are planned to make students’ lives easier.
“The toilet facilities are near the dormitories and far from the dining hall. I would be grateful if we could get a boys’ toilet facility closer to the dining,” says Alex, who has a physical disability.
Living Businge, a sign language teacher at the SNE Unit with 12 years’ experience, encourages adolescents and children with disabilities to go to school and access their right to quality education.
He’s had a long interest in the deaf community and decided to learn sign language so he could better support them as a teacher.
“Inclusive education provides learning opportunities to all individuals and caters to the diversity among learners. Among people with physical, sensory, mental, and intellectual disabilities, exclusion from education is most pronounced. The SNE unit at Sweswe presents a chance to eliminate the obstacles to participation and learning for students with severe disabilities that mainstream education cannot accommodate,” says Filbert Idha, the Education Technical Lead at Finn Church Aid.
According to Uganda’s national Education Response Plan (ERP) for refugees and host communities, only 2% of learners with disabilities are enrolled in school (global average: 10%). Nationally, only 172,864 children with special needs (approximately 2% of total primary level enrollment) were enrolled in primary schools in 2022.
Disabilities among children who are refugees are reported to be mobility, cognition and vision, but most commonly anxiety and trauma related disorders.
Violence left the heart – Kenyan Festus Kipkorir found peace through education
A vicious circle of violence on top of well as climate change threaten the future of young people living in Kerio Valley, Kenya. This is a story about a young man who swapped cattle rustling for peace work.
A HERD OF brown and mottled cows bring traffic to a halt on a narrow unpaved road. The thorny bushes, large rocks, and deep pits in the reddish-brown sand leave no room for a 4×4 to get through.
In front of the car, sleepy cows are eyeing the vehicle, but they’re in no rush. Sweat drenches underarm, as the wait gets longer and longer under the morning sun. Even so, the driver waits patiently for one cow after another to move out of the way of the crawling vehicle.
It’s a view worth rejoicing at. In the Kerio Valley in western Kenya, all is well if the cattle can graze freely. Cows are considered valuable property, much like camels, which are less common in this part of the region. The communities in the valley steal cattle from each other, and the violence unfortunately often escalates into a conflict that spares no lives.
“Thieves killed my father in 2002. I was pretty small, and I also lost my aunt around that time. Two people at once”, says Festus Kipkorir, 24, and looks around.
In the bush between the road and the Kerio River his father was tending the family cattle, and this is where his body was found. The cattle probably continued the journey, herded by thieves, to the other side of the river. To the Kipkorir family, losing a father and husband and their most valuable property simultaneously led to hard times.
Cattle are the most important asset of the nomadic people in Kenya’s Kerio Valley. When the cattle graze freely, peace prevails in the valley. Photo: Antti Yrjönen / FCA
Although the family’s financial situation deteriorated rapidly, Kipkorir was still able to go to school until the 8th grade. However, his father’s fate continued to bother him.
“Violence stays in the heart,” describes Kipkorir of the feeling that leads to a circle of revenge – one even children and young people can’t avoid.
Stealing cattle is part of a cycle of revenge
“I was 13 when I first held a gun.”
Kipkorir says that boys as young as 10 become part of violence when a conflict flares between cattle thieves. The youngest are left behind to keep guard over the village, and the older boys go with the men to the neighbouring regions in the darkness of night. Stealing cattle from the other side of the river is a rite that turns boys into men.
Thieves can form a group of up to a hundred young men in order to go and steal cattle. A large group insures the success of the plundering foray, and the simple number of people can also scare their opponents.
“We might take two thousand animals at once,” Kipkorir reveals.
Kipkorir built his tin-roofed two-room house himself. The temperature outdoors has climbed past 30 degrees, and Kipkorir has invited us into the shade of his home. Hot milk tea, called Chiya, is steaming in mugs.
We talk about the environmental reasons that sustain the conflict between the communities in the Kerio Valley. Traditionally, the tribes of the valley have supported themselves as nomads. Cattle, particularly cows and camels, represent for people cash, credit and an investment fund for their families. By selling cattle, the families can pay bills, send children to school, and invest in business activities.
Cattle need a lot to eat and must be tended in large areas. In recent years, the situation in the Kerio Valley has become increasingly tense due to the lack of pasture during dry seasons. Climate change has made the annual cycle more unpredictable.
In Kenya, rain has been delayed particularly in the east and north of the country in the Garissa and Marsabiti regions, but here in the west in the Kerio Valley, autumn 2022 was dry.
“The other side of the Kerio River is very different to this side. It’s very dry, no trees, just thorny bushes and sand,” Kipkorir says. “That’s why our neighbours from the other side bring their cattle to this side of the river to graze more often. That leads to arguments, because then there’s not much to eat for our cattle.”
Due to the impact of climate change, life in the Kerio Valley in Kenya has become increasingly challenging for those who still support themselves as nomads. Due to drought, livestock grazing lands are shrinnking, especially in the central parts of the valley, which increases conflict and violence between different tribes. Photo: Antti Yrjönen / FCA
Kipkorir lives on the west side of the Kerio River, and here life isn’t as dependent on cattle as it is on the drier side of the river. The hills surrounding the valley rise as high as 2.5 kilometres above sea level. On the hillsides, there’s plenty of water for irrigation, which makes it easier to grow vegetables. Below the slopes, corn, tomatoes, beans, and papayas are grown.
Kipkorir guides us to sit down under a mango tree. This is his new life, a reason to give up cattle theft: mangoes, a patch of vegetables, and a dairy cow that produces, even on a meagre diet, enough milk to be sold. The cow is flicking flies with her tail and calmly chewing on her food.
“The biggest reason for the reduction of cattle theft is that people have been trained to farm and they’re no longer dependent on pastureland,” Kipkorir notes.
It’s hard to let go of violence
It was difficult for Kipkorir to leave the community of cattle thieves, even if it was a source of sadness and fear to loved ones.
“When my mother found out about my participation in cattle theft, she didn’t see me for a while,” Kirpkorir tells.
She couldn’t accept her son’s criminal and dangerous lifestyle.
“I tried to explain to her that this is about me, not her. In that situation, you just think you’re right. You’re not interested in anyone else’s opinion,” Kipkorir says.
“In reality, my opinions were dictated by a group I felt I was part of. I also felt the need to revenge my father’s death.”
Mother Salome Kiptoo says she feared her son wouldn’t come back from the night-time raids. Some of the young men never return, some come back disabled.
“I feared and prayed every time he left. I still remember what a good and hard-working student he was at school,” mother tells.
Climate change creates the threat of violence, which causes children to drop out of school
The cycle of violence and the sudden impoverishment of families in the Kerio Valley is also a threat to the education of children and adolescents. The obstacles are financial as well as security related. In recent years, cattle thieves have struck schools and even a bus that was taking students on a trip.
Festus Kipkoriri’s wife Francisca Kiptoo hangs laundry in the yard belonging to the small family. They have a home they built themselves and plot of land in Kenya’s Kerio Valley where they grow mangoes, vegetables and corn. The family also has a dairy cow with enough milk to sell. Photo: Antti Yrjönen / FCA
Festus Kipkorir hopes that the peace of the Kerio Valley will last and that it will be possible for him to send his own son to school. As a father, he wants his child to get a good education so that he can choose a more reliable livelihood than cattle rearing when he grows up. Photo: Antti Yrjönen / KUA
“Some of the schools in the Kerio Valley have lost a lot of their students. Those with money have transferred their children to other schools, and some simply don’t let their children go to school,” tells Finn Church Aid (FCA) programme director Alexon Mwasi.
The capricious nature of climate change adds to poverty. Based on an estimate by UNESCO, approximately two million children between the ages of 6 and 17 don’t go to school in Kenya. Most of them are from families that live a nomadic lifestyle in areas like the Kerio Valley.
“FCA supports the poorest families in the Kerio Valley as well as a few other areas that have suffered from drought, so that the children can return to school. The aim is to reach about 41 500 school dropouts,” says Mwasi.
Education secures the future
Kipkorir knows he’s lucky; in the end, he was able to finish school despite the family facing poverty after the death of his father. He believes that education helped him give up cattle theft. Based on his experiences, he’s tried to convince his former friends to leave behind a violent life.
“I’ve reminded them that just like me, they’ve also gone to school. At school, we’ve been taught community spirit and brotherhood. It’s not right to kill and steal.”
Kipkorir says that some of the former cattle thieves are now, like him, on the side of peace. They play in the same football team with some younger men.
“Football gives us an opportunity to get to know our neighbours on the other side of the river. Playing is a much fairer way to measure our strength,” Kipkorir points out.
“We are peace ambassadors on this side, and our neighbours in the other team are peace ambassadors on their own side. Together, we can stop the violence.”
Salome Kiptoo’s big eyes are shining when she talks about how her son has changed.
“Initially I didn’t even believe him when he told me he’s giving up cattle theft and starting to farm land. At last I started to believe, and I helped him buy seeds to grow green lentils and beans.”
Now her son has his own little farm and a family, a wife and son. Just like his mother wanted.
“I believe that a lasting peace with come with many blessings. There’ll be no need to fear that the children won’t come back at night. Good things will happen in the community when there’s peace. Everyone wins,” says Salome Kiptoo.
Kipkorir’s son is still tiny. What does the young father wish for his son?
“I want him to finish school.”
Right now, there is peace. Children in school uniforms are walking on the side of the road, people of different ages are sat in the shade of large trees, and the doors and windows of low, tin-roofed kiosks are open. Trucks are bouncing and swaying on the bouncy road, and men are picking up sack of mangoes piled on the side of the road.
Text: Elisa Rimaila Photos: Antti Yrjönen
FINN CHURCH AID (FCA) supports the education of children and young people in Kenya through the Common Responsibility Campaign in areas where climate change has increased poverty and insecurity. In many places, young people become involved in local conflicts between different communities. The project supports the return of young people to school, who have previously dropped out. In addition to material and educational support, young people in a particularly vulnerable position receive psychosocial support. The project will also build and renovate toilets and handwashing stations in schools. The Common Responsibility Campaign builds up FCA’s disaster fund, which can be used to help where the need is greatest.
Educating the next generation of children in South-West Somalia
The right to quality education is at the core of FCA’s work. In Somalia, FCA helps children access free education in the Bay region through our EU funded Accelerated Basic Education programme. The programme helps kids with school equipment, catch-up classes and extracurricular activities.
Many of the schoolchildren we help have missed out on primary education due to fleeing conflict, drought or poverty. 2286 children have been reached since July 2021 in the Baidoa, Hudur, Elbarde and Wajid districts of Somalia. Starting with FCA cash transfers, families can buy children school uniforms, books and stationery to attend class.
FCA also helps to provide sports and child-friendly spaces, which improve kids’ overall psychosocial wellbeing to combat distress caused by conflict and other crises.
Two students enrolled on the ABE programme recently shared their experiences.
“I had to stay home and help with the chores”
Lulay Osman Ibrahim, 14, attends Mustaqbal Integrated Primary School and lives with her mother and five siblings in Baidoa camp for internally displaced people. Her mother, Safia, made the decision to leave Dinsoor two years ago due to violent conflict in the region and ongoing drought.
“I was living with my children in Dinsoor and had a small farm where I grew vegetables but due to the prolonged drought and long conflict in the town, it was no longer possible” says Safia.
“Life became difficult, especially for single mothers like myself, so I decided to come to Baidoa town and settled in the IDP camp to seek support ” she adds.
Lulay wanted to go to school, but there were barriers to her attending.
“When I saw the hard life in the IDP camps and the struggle my mother was undergoing, I became more eager to go school and study so I could later help my family. That was my dream, but my mother could not afford to buy me uniform and books, so I had to stay home and help her with the house chores,” says Lulay.
“I used to see my friends going to school in the morning, I felt sad, but I had no choice since my mother could not afford to take me to school,” she adds.
Thanks to community awareness efforts by staff from FCA’s Somalia country office, Lulay learned about the APE programme. With her mother’s support, she registered with the school and her family soon received cash support.
After one year, Lulay aced her exams and joined the mainstream classes. She’s now in third grade and hopes to one day become a teacher.
From livestock to learning
Abshir Adan Borow, 17, came from a life of looking after livestock in a remote village. Due to increasing drought, he was sent to live with an aunt in Baidoa.
“I never thought in my wildest dreams that I will find myself in a classroom and learning. I didn’t even know the ABCs when I started going to school, and my numeracy and literacy skills have improved tremendously.”
Abshir also attends Mustaqbal Integrated School under the ABE programme and after two years can now read and write.
The programme also enabled his brother Ismail to attend school, later both transferring to formal primary school classes after passing the ABE transition examination.
“It’s incredible how life can change in just a short time. We might have lost our livestock, but the FCA education programme has given us a ray of hope to look forward to a brighter future,” Abshir gushes.
“One day I want to work as agricultural and livestock expert to assist my community in climate change initiatives and horticulture.”
Uganda’s Minister of Education welcomes Finn Church Aid support for education policy review
Uganda’s First Lady and Minister of Education and Sports, Mrs. Janet K. Museveni, has welcomed an offer made by Finn Church Aid (FCA) to have Finnish Education Technical Experts support the on-going work of the Education Policy Review Commission in Uganda.
FINN CHURCH AID will second two Finnish education experts; an Education Management Consultant recruited by FinCEED, who will work with the Commission from March up to the end of May 2023 and another Specialist recruited by the Teachers without Borders Network in Finland, who will work from June up to the end of the year.
The First Lady, Mrs. Janet K. Museveni on Thursday (February 23rd, 2023), hosted Finn Church Aid Uganda Country Director and the Finn Church Aid Global Advocacy team from Helsinki, who were in Uganda, to among others, follow up on the proposed actions from the benchmarking visit made by some members of the Education Policy Review Commission to Finland in September last year.
The meeting was at State House Nakasero and it was also attended by representatives from the Education Policy Review Commission led by the Chairperson Hon. Amanya Mushega, and technical officers from the Education and Sports Ministry.
Mrs. Museveni acknowledged that Finland’s education system and success is recognized globally and so, there is much that Uganda can learn from them.
“We are very grateful for your selfless support and your willingness to hold hands with us on this journey to improve our education system”, she said.
She added that learning from Finland’s experience will possibly help the Education Policy Review Commission to be deliberate in its investigations of the several issues in the education and sports sector and enable it generate the best recommendations that will reposition Uganda’s education and sports system to meet the needs and challenges of the 21st century.
Mrs. Museveni thanked Finn Church Aid Uganda for organizing the benchmarking visit for the Education Policy Review Commission and for its continued partnership with the Education Sector in the implementation of various sector programmes, especially the Education Response Plan for Refugees and Host Communities.
In a brief on the benchmarking visit to Finland, the Education Policy Review Commission Chairperson; Hon. Amanya Mushega, described the trip to have been extremely educative.
He pointed out that the teaching profession is highly revered and that the minimum standard for a basic (primary school) teacher in Finland is a Degree, a Master Degree. In addition, one must have a pedagogical subject.
Among the things they noted in Finland, is the central role of a teacher in the education system and the importance of early childhood care and education, which is compulsory for all children in Finland at the age of 6 years so that by the age they join basic education they are all balanced. They also observed that basic education is very important and is accompanied by learning and lifelong education and that a child can continue with basic education until the age of 14, 16 or even 18 years before breaking off for his specialization.
In the Finnish Education system there are no inspectors of schools, no sudden examinations to determine the children’s future, and instead continuous assessment of students’ performance is what is done. Another thing is that children with special needs do not have separate schools but are assisted to study together with other children.
Finn Church Aid Global Director for Stakeholder Relations, Katri Suomi, said education is at the heart of Finn Church Aid, which currently works in 12 countries around the world. She explained that Finland became what it is now today because it invested in education.
While in Uganda, the members of the Global Advocacy team also visited Nakivale Refugee Settlement in Isingiro District and Kyaka II Refugee Settlement in Kyegegwa District. The team also paid courtesy calls to the UN Refugee Agency and European Union Uganda office.
In Uganda, Finn Church Aid is UNHCR’s implementing partner for Education and co-lead for the Education Sector Working group together with the Ministry of Education and Sports and UNHCR coordinating the countrywide Education Response for refugees and host populations.
Finn Church Aid begins education work in Raqqa and Aleppo in Syria
Due to war lasting over a decade, Syrians are in need of extensive humanitarian aid. FCA is expanding its operation to the northern parts of the country with the support of the Syria Humanitarian Fund (SHF).
FINN CHURCH AID (FCA) is expanding its humanitarian work to the regions of Raqqa and Aleppo in northern Syria.
The work focuses on improving quality of education as well as repairing and equipping schools. Additional teaching will be organised for children and adolescents, and teachers will receive further training. The work also supports the psychosocial wellbeing of pupils and teachers. On top of this, FCA also equips schools with solar panels in order to provide them with light and running water.
Many remember Raqqa as the capital of the area captured by extremist organisation ISIS in 2014. Most of the schools in the region were destroyed or damaged during the war. ISIS no longer controls Raqqa, but the effects of that four-year period are still visible in the area’s schools.
“Children still live in the midst of destruction. Many of them were recruited into an extremist organisation, some saw their family members and relatives being executed. The extremist organisation demanded the closure of schools in the region, and many have been away from school for over four years. The children must be allowed to start building their future now,” notes Karam Sharouf, FCA’s programme manager in Syria.
Money is tight and winter is coming
Due to the war and the resulting economic crisis, families in Raqqa live, on average, on 18 US dollars a month. Humanitarian needs are already extensive, and according to estimates, people who previously fled the region are now beginning to return. In Aleppo, many former residents have recently moved back.
“It’s been estimated that in Aleppo, there are 75 000 children who don’t go to school. There have been many child marriages recently, because marriages are a desperate way to bring families some financial security,” Sharouf says.
Winter will only add to the hardship. Because of the lack of fuel and high prices, heating houses is almost impossible; and as income is low, people can’t afford to make purchases to prepare for winter.
Support for children with disabilities
Expanding humanitarian work to Aleppo and Raqqa is conducted with the support of the Syria Humanitarian Fund (SHF). Previously FCA has also supported education and provided emergency relief in Idlib, Hama, Homs, Eastern Ghouta, and Daraa.
As part of the work, schooling of children with disabilities is supported. Schools have been refurbished in ways that enable children with reduced mobility to move around more easily.
“For the first time, I feel loved and motivated to continue my education and take the first step to achieve my ambition of becoming a lawyer. Yes, I see myself as a lawyer in the future,” says Dalal (name changed).
Dalal’s family fled fighting in Palmyra, Syria, in 2015 when she was five years old. Dalal had never been to school and had physical disabilities that compounded her challenges. FCA provided specially developed catch-up classes that allow two school years of study in one.
FCA gave Dalal a wheelchair and her family cash support to buy everything she needed to access her school. The project in Hama and Homs was funded by UN OCHA Syria’s Syrian Humanitarian Fund.
Going to school is the right of every child. Noor was born without legs, which is why she has been in a wheelchair all her life.
“Yes, I’m disabled. No, nothing stops me from going to school,” says Noor. She wants to be a pharmacist when she grows up. Her home was damaged during the war, and Noor dreams of owning a house in the city. As an adult, she’d like a car that she could drive himself.
13-year-old Noor attends a school supported by FCA in rural Hama in western Syria together with her friend Foton. The school that Noor attends has recently been renovated so that it is easier to move around with a wheelchair. The project was funded by EU.
Long-term work brings results
Finn Church Aid has operated in Syria since 2017. In addition to emergency relief, the work has focused on improving quality of education as well as water and sanitary systems of schools, and supporting livelihoods. The new phase of the operation will give 45 young people in Aleppo an access to vocational education.
As of October 2022, FCA has refurbished a total of 43 schools together with its partners. This repair work has impacted the daily lives of over 23 300 Syrian children.
Text: Ulriikka Myöhänen Translation: Anne Salomäki Photos and videos: Finn Church Aid
Repairing schools in the midst of war is useless, isn’t it? FCA’s education specialist Pauliina Kemppainen responds to 13 tough claims.
In front of 200 first graders in Uganda, Pauliina Kemppainen understands that it’s not always possible to complain about class size. Now, the senior education expert answers a numbers of comments that pop up on FCA’s social media. This is how Kemppainen survived on the spot.
“All children should be in school”
You’ve previously worked as a teacher, volunteered for Teachers Without Borders, and have plenty of international experience in education. You think the best thing in the world is children getting to go to school. Absolutely. Children have the right to go to school everywhere in the world, regardless of their background.
“Teachers carry a great responsibility”
Finn Church Aid trains teachers. That’s important, because teachers are raising a new generation. Most kids and young people attending education spend more time at school and with the adults at school than with their parents. The more competent and better educated the teachers are, the better their opportunities are to support the kids and adolescents they spend their days with.
“Best way to help children in developing countries is to donate notebooks and pens”
The best way to help school children is to provide schools with materials such as notebooks, pencil cases, and ABC books. The materials are a part of school, but ABC books and pencils don’t do much teaching without a trained teacher. If I had to choose between a teacher and a pencil, I’d go for a teacher every time.
“Building schools in war zones is a waste of money”
Finn Church Aid repairs schools in conflict zones. That’s not very smart, because war can damage the schools again. We use fields to grow the grain we eat. Is it smart to grow grain again? I’d say it is. Similarly, there’s a reason to repair the schools, because there will always be new children and young people who need a school to support their growth and development.
“Why only girls’ education gets support?”
At least in Finland boys are doing worse at school than girls. It’s odd that Finn Church Aid focuses so strongly on girls’ education. We focus on everyone’s education. It’s just as important for boys and men to go to school as it for is girls and women. However, girls are in a weaker position than boys to start with: their education is still obstructed in various places. In order to reach the same starting point as boys, girls need an extra boost, which we are trying to give them without hindering boys’ opportunities.
“There are children in need in Finland, too”
Why are you training people abroad? There are plenty of children and young people in Finland who need support in school. Each and every Finnish child and adolescent has the right to go to school just like children and young people in Central African Republic, Kenya, and Myanmar. In Finland, there are resources and opportunities for education even without Finn Church Aid.
“Education gets wasted if people live in mudhuts”
It makes no sense to train people living in mudhuts without a livelihood. The basics should be sorted out first. Whether the person wakes up in the morning in a house made of mud, brick, or wood has nothing to do with how skilled they are or how productive they are for society. Education is a human right and the first basic thing that needs to be fixed. Hence, we at Finn Church Aid invest in vocational training in the fields that are in demand in our regions of operation.
“Those educated with development aid never get a job”
Development co-operation is only used to train mechanics, carpenters, and hairdressers. Some of them will never be employed. Planning vocational training always begins with a market analysis, so we can outline the fields of expertise that are required locally. If the region really needs more carpenters, we’ll train carpenters – but just as many as are needed. We won’t train a thousand, if there is only need for ten. In addition to traditional professions, there is also demand for digital-based professions such as graphic designers, photographers, and web designers, which are part of today’s world but also the future.
“The use of cash distributions should be strictly decided by aid organisations”
FCA has distributed cash allowances to families. Cash is important, and it can be used to cover expenses like school transport. Cash allowances are an important form of aid, because they give families the opportunity the decide what to spend the money on. It’s part of a humane life to be able to make decisions as to how to use one’s money and be an active agent instead of a passive aid recipient.
“Wrong things are taught in schools in the developing countries”
In many schools supported by FCA the only point for education is to study the Quran or the Bible. We don’t do missionary work. We always try and co-operate with local education authorities, if it’s ethically possible and in line with international law. If we were to build a parallel education system, it would collapse after we leave. If the local curriculum contains lessons of Quran or, for example, a Buddhist faith, it’s our responsibility to enable teaching them in school. We have no right to decide what religions are taught.
“Education is important to children living in the middle of conflicts”
Education plays a significant role in rebuilding Syria and Ukraine, for example. Yes. Education is a human right, whatever the surrounding situation is. It’s not the fault of the children and young people if there’s a war raging around them. Education and going to school are important not only from an educational perspective but also for providing psychological support. Going back to school creates and re-establishes routines, brings back memories from life before war, and adds meaning to the day by offering something meaningful to do. Through vocational education we can train people in professions that are especially needed in reconstruction.
“It’s more safe to stay home in the developing countries”
Many children in developing countries must travel long and unsafe distances to attend school. It would be safer to stay home. Things can happen during school journeys – in Finland, too. Do we still choose not to send our children to school, or do we try to improve the safety of the route? People everywhere in the world think the same and aim to ensure the safety of their children’s schooling. With the help of education, people learn to read and write, which helps them be better off in the world.
Again and again, studies show that the most efficient way for families to rise from poverty is educating women. In comparison to uneducated women, educated women are more likely to send their children to school. Yes, there are risks, but are they big enough to make education not worth it?
“Finns can’t learn anything from the developing countries”
The Finnish education system is so superior in comparison to others that there’s nothing we can learn from anyone else. That’s a bold statement! Are we Finns overall so superior next to others that there are no lessons we could learn from anyone? Have we, completely on our own, created the large school reforms that form the basis of our success? Or have we maybe learned something from somewhere in order to be able to make these changes? I spent a year in Uganda as a volunteer for Teachers Without Borders. I had been trained in Finland, and I was shocked. Previously I had complained about having 24 kids in class, but in a refugee centre in Uganda, teachers had up to 200 first graders in a classroom. I had to rethink teaching entirely. For me, it was a huge learning process.
Open letter: European Commission leadership on Education in Emergencies and support towards Education Cannot Wait
222 million children’s dreams are on hold due to preventable factors like the climate crisis, war, forced displacement, and conflict. Education Cannot Wait works to provide access to education to the world’s most vulnerable children, from Yemen to Afghanistan. With an increasing number of children affected by conflict and crisis, they need support from world leaders more than ever.
Dear President von der Leyen, dear Commissioner Urpilainen,
Thank you for your leadership on global education, and for the strong support you have given thus far to Education Cannot Wait (ECW) – the United Nations-hosted global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises – since its establishment in 2016.
Early next year, ECW will hold a High-level Financing Conference (HLFC) in Geneva, from February 16-17, 2023. The Conference, co-hosted by ECW and Switzerland, will be co-convened with Colombia, Germany, Niger, Norway, and South Sudan, with the aim of mobilizing $1.5 billion in funding to allow ECW to deliver its Strategic Plan for the period 2023-2026.
The conference comes at a time when urgent support for education in emergencies is needed, more so now than ever before. Growing humanitarian needs are depriving children of their right to an education. ECW’s latest research shows that 222 million children and adolescents affected by emergencies and protracted crises are in urgent need of education support, up from 75 million since similar estimates in 2015.
In Ukraine, the Sahel, Afghanistan, the Middle East and many other places around the world, young people are denied education because of conflict, climate change and forced displacement. A generation of young people are at risk of being left behind, either missing out on education completely or not learning the basic skills needed to develop and help build peaceful, prosperous, and healthy countries. This is particularly true for the most vulnerable children such as children with disabilities.
The European Commission has been an education champion, even more so under the current mandate: a driving force for other players globally. The Commission has been a fundamental donor to ECW from its inception and its continued, multi-year support will be absolutely critical to ensure ECW can meet its 2023-2026 Strategic Plan goal to provide education to 20 million children and youth in crises.
We therefore call on you to pledge at least EUR 160 million for the period 2023-2026 at theHLFC next February. This funding will directly support over 2 million children and youth affected by crises to receive an education and will bring the EU closer to achieving its target of investing 13% of its development budget in education, as announced at the 2022 Transforming Education Summit. A pledge of this value will also help ensure that by 2026, 40 million more girls will be in school, in line with the 2021 G7 Ministerial Declaration on girls’ education and the EU’s Gender Action Plan III. It will also ensure that the EU delivers on the priorities of its Youth Action Plan in EU external action 2022 – 2027, which explicitly mentions the EU’s intention of leading the support to ECW.
Due to the limited resources available in the NDICI – Global Europe’s Global Challenges lines, the European Commission should draw mainly from the unspent funds initially allocated under the Geographic Windows to fund this pledge. This support would be well justified given the majority of the new country Multiannual Indicative Programmes have education components.
Strong EU leadership is sorely needed at this critical time and will incentivise other donors to address the financing gap and enable ECW to carry out its vital work. We would welcome the opportunity to meet with your team to discuss the above opportunities and how they can be used to advance our shared goal of realizing the dreams of the 222 million children affected by crises, and in need of educational support.
Michael Sheldrick, Co-Founder & Chief Policy, Impact and Government Affairs Officer, Global Citizen
Sabrina Dhowre Elba, Europe Board Chair, Global Citizen
Ylva Sperling, Director, Save the Children Europe
Tomi Järvinen, Interim Executive Director, Finn Church Aid
Joseph Nhan-O’Reilly, Executive Director, International Parliamentary Network for Education
Jeroen Uytterschaut, Executive Director & EU Representative, World Vision EU Representation Office
Philippa Lei, Chief Global Advocacy Officer, Malala Fund
Serap Altinisik, Head of Office/EU Representative, Plan International EU Liaison Office
Emily Wigens, EU Director, The ONE Campaign
Irina Popusoi, Secretary General, The Alliance of Active NGOs in the field of Child and Family Social Protection (APSCF)
Blandine Bouniol, Deputy Director for Advocacy, Humanity & Inclusion
Isabella Olsson, Head of Global Advocacy, LM International
Emanuele Russo, Coordinator of Global Campaign for Education Italy and Global Citizenship Education Head Officer, CIFA Onlus
Pilar Orenes, President of Global Campaign for Education Spain
Girls in class boost boys’ grades in a Syrian school
Although the crisis in Syria has disappeared from headlines in recent years, the need for help remains extensive. A boys’ school supported by Finn Church Aid opened its doors to girls in the countryside of Hama. The new set-up was a challenge to the pupils, teachers, and families alike, but the efforts have been rewarded.
THE JOYFUL NOISE is deafening. In the countryside of Hama in western Syria, around 30 girls and boys between the ages of 11 and 14 have packed into a tiny classroom.
The situation might seem ordinary, but in today’s Syria, it’s a rare one. The war has dragged on for almost 12 years, and during its course, girls and boys have gone to separate schools. School directors assure that this hasn’t always been the case; before the war, girls and boys sat in the same classes. During the war, rules and practices became stricter.
Together with the EU humanitarian aid, Finn Church Aid supports a former boy’s school that has taken on girls in 2022. FCA support refurbished the school and provided teacher training. 380 girls took part in remedial lessons organised in the summer, and now there are approximately two dozen girls in the school of 400 students.
The school staff say that the reforms has filled the classrooms with cheerful energy and positive competition. A teacher and two students share their experiences of life in wartime and how the school experiment that brought girls and boys in the same classrooms has broken the ice in the community.
“Now I even have boys as friends”
“My family didn’t flee; we stayed in this region throughout the conflict. In 2018–2019, we spent a year sheltering below our house, for about 20 hours a day. I was 11 years old, and I was afraid when I heard helicopters, missiles, or shells. One of them hit our house, and my brother blacked out. We had no water or electricity. My father had a small store, and we emptied it in a year.
My girls’ school was closed that year. Once my father tried to take me to a school in another district, but that didn’t work out. Everyone was scared, and there weren’t any teachers. We dropped education for that year.
I think my situation is better now than it was before. The atmosphere in the mixed school is happy. Previously, when I was attending an all-girls school, it was difficult for me to talk to boys. Now I even have boys as friends. My school friends Ahmad, Muhammad, Ali, and others are part of our group of friends. I used to just be friends with the boys in my family.
Initially my family was concerned that the boys in school would harm me. However, this experience has strengthened the relationship I have with my family. They trust me, and they think that their daughter can go to a boys’ school and look after herself.
What do I think about girls’ education? Education is my right. Studying, working, and travelling are women’s rights. We have exactly the same rights as men. Our place isn’t just at home. I hope to become a doctor or an engineer.” – Student Foton, 14
“I suppose they are strong women in a way”
“My family and I left our home, when the battles in our region were really intense. We fled and took nothing with us. Throughout the entire conflict I was really scared because of the shells and missiles. I still have anxiety thinking someone might attack us.
Finn Church Aid organised revision lessons in our school. The sounds of the war have been playing in my head for a long time, but the activities gave me something else to think about and helped me forget about the horrors.
This is my school, and it used to be just us boys here. We were all somehow similar. Now we boys want to prove that we’re smarter than girls. We compete for good grades in front of the teachers. We try to be polite and respectful towards the girls. Things can often get tough among the boys, but now there are girls in the classroom, too.
During this experiment, we boys have gained more self-confidence. I’m used to thinking that girls are shy. When they came to our school, I noticed that girls are confident. I suppose they are strong women in a way.
I don’t mind continuing like this at all, studying together with girls. I have to admit that it hasn’t been very easy. I sometimes feel a little shy and think that it would be better if they went back to their own school. But would I really want that? No, no, no! They boost study motivation for us boys. – Student Turki, 13
“Now girls and boys are classmates, friends, and colleagues”
“A lot has changed in Syria during the war. In many respects, rules have been forgotten, and sometimes groups of people don’t respect each other. During the war years, we have lost plenty of opportunities and been left behind in global development.
We have to fix our ways of thinking in terms of gender issues as well, because we must be able to accept each other. It’s important to start driving the change here at school. Why? As a teacher I want to think that all of my students will move on to university studies. At university, women and men study together. That will be difficult, if these young people have never done anything together before.
It’s great to have girls in this school. Unlike before, now we have activities and teaching that bring boys and girls together. I’ve noticed that after the initial awkwardness they’ve started talking to each other. They treat each other normally: sit and learn next to each other, without having to constantly interpret the situation. Now they are classmates, friends, and colleagues to each other. The ice has somehow been broken.
Girls tend to do better in school than boys but, bringing girls in the former all boys’ school has showed boys are now improving their grades. FCA support refurbished the school in Hama, western part of Syria, and provided teacher training. 380 girls took part in remedial lessons organised in the summer, and now there are approximately two dozen girls in the school of 400 students. Photo: Erik Nyström / FCA
As an English teacher I must say that the reform has had its share of challenges. The girls who joined the school hadn’t really studied English before, and I’ve had to revise everything from the beginning.
Ultimately, this situation has been really useful. Based on my experience, girls tend to do better in school than boys. A new situation, in which the girls and boys take the same classes, creates positive competition between the students. The boys have improved their grades and overall performance.
Education plays a significant role when we plan a future for Syria. Children spend more time in school than at home, and a teacher is like an extra parent to a child. Everything starts at school: we can impact the child’s ways of thinking, help them develop their skills, and thus also have an impact on the direction Syria takes and how reconstruction proceeds.” – Teacher Najah Kasem
Text: Ulriikka Myöhänen Translation: Anne Salomäki Photos: Erik Nyström