Girls in class boost boys’ grades in a Syrian school

Girls in class boost boys’ grades in a Syrian school

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Now I even have boys as friends” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I suppose they are strong women in a way” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

School rehabilitation and well-being in focus 

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

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

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

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

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

Schoolwork continues in an unsure situation  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FCA’s Ukraine office gets a new country director 

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

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

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

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

Text: Ulriikka Myöhänen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Accelerated Education project supports those who have lost years of school

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

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

“Sometimes I would dodge school”

Going back to school is not easy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Text: Evelyne Nabasa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Missile strikes hit the area during the training 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nyaluak hopes to become a doctor

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

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

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

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

Nyareek Turuk Nyang dreams of becoming a pilot

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

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

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

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

Simon received cash to support his disabled daughter

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

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

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

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

Nyahow fears the effects of climate change

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

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

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

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

Lony, a science teacher, received training from FCA

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

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

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

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

Nhial is a headteacher with a passion for education

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

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

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

Key facts

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


Text: Ruth Owen
Photos: Achuoth Deng

The Minister of Education & Sports in Uganda commissions Bukere Secondary School in refugee settlement

The Minister of Education & Sports in Uganda commissions Bukere Secondary School in refugee settlement

The First Lady of the Republic of Uganda and Minister of Education and Sports, Hon. Janet Kataaha Museveni, commissioned Bukere Secondary School, on 16 March in Kyaka II refugee settlement, Kyegegwa district, Western Uganda.

CONSTRUCTED BY Finn Church Aid (FCA) with funding from the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM), the school was built during the two years that schools were closed during the covid pandemic.

Speaking during the commissioning of the school, the First Lady and Minister of Education and Sports, Hon. Janet Kataaha Museveni appreciated how the United States PRM and FCA are helping to improve the quality education in the refugee settlements.

“On behalf of the Government of Uganda and in particular the Ministry of Education and Sports I want to congratulate, commend and applaud the US Government’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration and Finn Church Aid not only for the outstanding achievement we are witnessing here today but for all the work they have accomplished to make a difference in the lives of people who came as strangers seeking asylum and who, because of their willingness to join us now, have hope for a bright future even when the time comes for them to return to their own homes,” she said.

The First Lady and Minister of Education and Sports of Uganda, Hon. Janet Kataaha Museveni (fifth from left) is welcomed to Bukere Secondary School by Nashwa Elgardi (far right) from the Embassy of the United States, Joel Boutroue (second from left), the Resident Representative of UNHCR and Wycliffe Nsheka (far left), FCA Uganda Country Director welcome

Uganda hosts over 1.54 million refugees and asylum-seekers mainly from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Burundi and hosts the largest number of refugees in Africa. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), about 60 percent of the total refugee population are children below 18 years.

“Bukere Secondary school will enable refugees and host community children and adolescents to attain quality secondary education. Kyaka II refugee settlement previously had only one secondary school to cater for hundreds of secondary school students within the settlement,” says Wycliffe Nsheka, Country Director, FCA Uganda.

The new school will accommodate over 600 students from senior one to senior four.

Education gives hope to refugee children

“Education is a major intervention in the refuge communities because it gives hope to refugee children and their parents … it brings a sense of normalcy to their lives. It also provides protection mechanisms for children in those challenging conditions. Above all, it gives children a stable foundation so they can achieve the full potential of their lives,” said the Minister.

Classrooms at Bukere Secondary School which opened for the first time on 10 January, 2022.

The school was constructed under the LEARN Project, an education project for refugee and host community children and adolescents that is being implemented in Kyaka and Bidibidi, Palorinya refugee and Rwamwanja refugee settlements.

Under this project, FCA has constructed 72 classrooms, five libraries, nine science laboratories, five school administration blocks, 80 teachers’ accommodation units and 194 toilet blocks for teachers and students in these settlements.

Together with the Ministry of Education, FCA is the co-lead for education sector that coordinates the education response for refugees and host populations countrywide. Along with the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), FCA works with UNHCR and other actors responding to the needs of refugees in Uganda.


Text: Linda Kabuzire
Images: Jackson Ssemwanga

Dreams at stake – 21-year-old Rose had just two weeks of school before lockdown hit

 

Dreams at stake – 21-year-old Rose had just two weeks of school before lockdown hit

The covid-19 pandemic has derailed the lives of young people in South Sudan, a country recovering from a civil war. Rose, living in Yei, finally has a new opportunity to pursue her dreams.

WILD VEGETATION surrounds crumbled, abandoned mud huts. Scattered around, there are the remains of cars, stripped of wheels and other removable parts. Empty houses are missing their most valuable parts: tin roofs and windows.

The surge in returnees that accelerated prior to the Covid-19 pandemic hasn’t repaired the damages caused by the 2016 civil war around the city of Yei. The sight is still stomach-churning for those returning to the region, says 29-year-old Viola Jabu. Life in Yei began completely anew, without a home or work.

“When we decided to return, I was afraid there’d be no one in Yei,” Viola Jaby says. She began the journey home from a Ugandan refugee settlement with nine children and adolescents in February 2020, just before the pandemic hit.

“I was relieved to see plenty of life on the streets. However, our home had been destroyed.”

Viola Jabu and her family have settled behind an abandoned petrol station on a busy street. The suitcases and bags, in which the family has packed their entire life, are neatly piled in the children’s bedroom. The parents sleep in a storage room, lit by the light coming in through a tiny window.

“We returned from Uganda because life as a refugee was tough. It was difficult to find food and work and the children were often ill. My husband lived here already and told us that it’s safe now,” Viola Jabu tells.

“We couldn’t have imagined that we’d have to face a pandemic, too.”

Nainen, jolla on pieni lapsi sylissään.
Viola Jabu and soon 2-year-old Emmanuela returned to Yei in February 2020.

Over a year without school

Across the street is St. Joseph’s s School. There, 21-year-old Rose Night began her second year as an upper secondary school student. Rose lives with her uncle Woi Wilson, Viola Jabu’s partner. Rose’s parents abandoned her when she was a child; her father disappeared, and her mother moved to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Wearing her school uniform, Rose has patiently listened to our conversation for over an hour. Then she can no longer wait.

“When are you going to ask me something?” she asks. It’s uncommon for students to volunteer for interviews unprompted.

“School has taught me that one must be courageous and study a lot, so that it’s possible to make one’s own decisions in life. With the help of education, you can find work and look after yourself,” she quotes her teachers.

Rose started school at the age of nine with support from her uncle, and her dream is to become a lawyer. Uncle Woi Wilson hopes Rose will one day study at a university.

Rose’s schooling already came to a halt once when the family fled to Uganda. After returning to South Sudan, she was in school for just two weeks before the closure.

“We were told to stay at home and be patient, but there was nothing to do. I was sad.”

In South Sudan, the opportunities to switch to remote learning were non-existent, which is why numerous children and adolescents had their schooling suspended for over a year. In a country that has already suffered from a civil war, it is estimated that 2.2 million children didn’t go to school before the pandemic, and according to an estimate by UNICEF, the pandemic doubled the number to 4.3 million.

Viola Jabu and Woi Wilson organised home schooling for the children, so that they wouldn’t forget the importance of education in pursuing their dreams. Everywhere in the world, the lives of the young are full of temptations. Rose kept her chin up.

“Young people started to act up, run off from home at night, party and drink and consume other drugs. I didn’t do like the others and that’s why some distanced themselves from me,” Rose says.

“Young people no longer knew where their lives were headed.”

Talo, jonka pihalla on kolme ihmistä. Yksi heistä kuokkii maata.

Viola Jabu’s family is building a kitchen garden in front of an old petrol station. In the city every plot that can be used for growing is utilised. Pictured also cousins Grace (left) and Rose.

Eri ikäisiä ihmisiä pöydän ääressä. Pöydällä on papereita.

Viola Jabu was home schooling children and adolescents when schools where closed because of the pandemic.

Nuori tyttö hymyilee ja katsoo vasemmalle.

Rose dreams of university studies and becoming a lawyer.

A new kind of threat

Yei is the third largest city in South Sudan and strategically important for commerce due to its location near the borders to both the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda.

The county surrounding the city is known as the granary of South Sudan, and in peacetime Yei can ensure the availability of food in the entire country.

The current peace agreement has been in force for over three years, yet outside the city there are still armed groups that haven’t signed it. The residents can’t go to the vast fields in the villages, so it’s common to see corn planted on roadsides all over the city.

Finn Church Aid (FCA) supports food security for returning migrants and their opportunities to earn a living with, for example, cash assistance. Tens of thousands of people have already returned from Uganda to star over in life, says Moses Habib, humanitarian coordinator at FCA.

“We’ve supported returning families with cash, so in the beginning they’re able to buy food, repair their homes and cover the costs of their children’s schooling,” he tells.

For years the residents of Yei have persisted in the face of various threats. On top of war, there is disease. A poster on the wall of a centre that registers returning migrants encourages getting vaccinated against polio. South Sudan is one of the few countries in the world in which the disease has been resurgent in recent years.

Another poster explains the symptoms of ebola and emphasises the importance of hand hygiene in stopping its spread. It resembles a newer poster next to it, which explains how to avoid catching Covid-19.

The most significant consequences of the pandemic are linked to livelihood and education. Globally, the UN estimates that the pandemic has pushed tens of millions of families to the brink of extreme poverty.

“Teachers had to find other jobs for when the schools were closed, and many students have had to support their families by working. We’re concerned that some of them won’t come back,” says Habib.

Katunäkymä. Koulupukuisia nuoria kävelee tietä pitkin kohti kameraa.

School-related costs, such as learning materials and school uniforms, can be too expensive for a poor family.

Kaksi nuorta naista koululuokassa.

Rose (right) and her classmate Vivian are lucky, because they had the opportunity to return to school.

Work instead of school

18-year-old Samuel Ayki toils away at a vegetable plot with his two brothers. It’s only been two weeks since the beanie-wearing young man returned to Yei. Samuel spent the early stages of the pandemic as a refugee in Uganda, where school closures lasted for 80 weeks, longer than anywhere else in the world. Because of the restrictions on movement, the local market at the refugee settlement was closed, and Samuel’s mother Mary lost her income. Samuel was due to finish comprehensive school in spring 2020 and now he’s supposed to study at upper secondary level.

Samuel’s (centre) family can’t afford school fees. 

“Covid ruined my schooling. It feels like my brain became blunt because I wasn’t able to learn anything new,” Samuel says.

In South Sudan, schools reopened in May 2021. When a friend of Samuel’s went back to school in Yei, he encouraged Samuel to return home. However, all related costs, such as learning materials and school uniforms, were such a huge expense for a poor family that Samuel couldn’t afford them. On top of this, the family needed the money Samuel was able to make doing odd jobs here and there.

Samuel plans to save money to return to school. Work is difficult to find, as he’s been away from the city for a long time and the pandemic has impoverished businesses. “I’m sad seeing my friends and neighbours go to school, when I’m just looking for work or sitting at home. Sometimes I try to study on my own using the notebooks I brought back with me from Uganda,” Samuel tells.

Katunäkymä. Kaksi nuorta miestä tervehtii toisiaan. Toisella on koulupuku päällään.

Peter, the friend of 18-year-old Samuel (right), goes to school. In Yei, students stand out because of their uniforms.

Nainen istuu sohvatuolilla. Nuori mies istuu sohvatuolin käsinojalla.

“Samuel buys food for his siblings with the money he’s saved for school. I feel sad seeing him go job hunting instead of school,” says Samuel’s mother Mary.

Nuori nainen tekee läksyjä sängyn päällä.

Rose is preparing for the first exam week in 18 months.

Mies pitää kuumemittaria nuoren naisen korvan kohdalla. Taustalla jonottaa nuoria koulupuvuissaan.

The schools in South Sudan were opened in May 2021. Rose and other students have their temperature taken and everyone must wear a mask.

Covid-19 puts girls’ schooling at risk

Having fewer and fewer opportunities for making a living has driven families to desperate decisions. Many girls have had to get married, because marriages benefit families financially.

Child marriages were a severe problem in South Sudan already prior to the pandemic; almost every other girl married underage, and now the number of child brides and teenage pregnancies has only gone up. Getting pregnant almost always means that the girl drops out of school, and the consequences are drastic when it comes to continuing education. Rose’s best friend didn’t return to the classroom when the schools reopened their doors.

“She decided to get married. Now she has a baby and can’t return to school. I don’t know what that means to her future, but I miss her,” Rose says.

Working as a grocer, uncle Woi Wilson’s livelihood has been dependent on the road running to the capital Juba and the neighbouring Uganda. Due to the pandemic, the traffic of goods slowed down, resulting in less income for sellers and higher prices for food. With the help of cash assistance from FCA, the family was able to buy food and support the continuation of the children’s schooling. After a long struggle, Rose is preparing for her first exam week in 18 months.

Many other enthusiastic students are waiting by the gates of St. Joseph’s School, where a guard takes their temperature and checks everyone is wearing a face mask. Fortunately, there’s one to spare for a girl who has left hers at home.

“At school I feel safe. Learning brightens my mind and give meaning to my days,” beams Rose.


Text: Erik Nyström
Photos: Antti Yrjönen
Translation: Anne Salomäki


Finn Church Aid (FCA) works in the most vulnerable communities in South Sudan, supporting the food security and livelihood opportunities for families. In autumn 2021, a programme was started to offer cash assistance to help children and adolescents who’ve returned from Uganda to cover the cost of their schooling. Comprehensive schools receive support in organising schooling. Emergency help is offered to disaster victims regardless of age, background or gender.

Quality vs Quantity: The challenges of providing education to refugees in Kenya

Quality vs Quantity: The challenge of providing education to refugees in Kenya

“The challenges are many.” It’s a phrase you hear often in East Africa and it rings especially true in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya.

CLOSE TO BORDERS of Uganda, South Sudan and Ethiopia, Kakuma has harboured refugees from neighbouring countries for almost thirty years. It was established when a group of children, the ‘Lost Boys’, arrived from Sudan in 1992. In that year, Ethiopians and Somalis also fled to the camp after political crisis in their countries.

Today, Kakuma and the surrounding areas hosts a mix of nationalities and over half of the population is under eighteen. They are well served by the 26 primary and secondary schools in and around the camp. Such is its reputation for education, that children will walk for days from South Sudan to Kakuma to attend school. In November last year, three quarters of the 3,000 children in the reception centres had travelled to Kakuma to enroll in school.

Two boys walking to school in a refugee settlement
Two boys walk to school in Kalobeyei, Kenya which is home to around 42,000 people, half of whom are primary-aged children or younger. These boys attend Future Bright Primary school which is supported by FCA. Photo: Antti Yrjönen/FCA

The Kenyan Government welcomes them as best they can. Refugees in Kakuma are given a plot of land and poles and plastic sheeting to build a basic shelter. In Kalobeyei, a settlement thirty kilometres from Kakuma, they can build permanent homes, but this is barely enough to protect them from temperatures that can reach over forty degrees celsius.

Kakuma is located in one of the driest parts of Kenya and those who live there, even the local population, are dependent upon aid. Every year, new residents arrive, stretching resources further and further. In Kalobeyei, recently arrived refugees live among the local population. Established in 2016, the settlement is a departure from the Kenya Government’s earlier policy which discouraged refugees from working and integrating into the local population. In Kalobeyei, refugees and Kenyans live, work and study together. This is where FCA works.

Refugees crowd into classrooms

We operate eight primary schools for Kenyan and refugee children with funding from the Bureau of Population, Refugees & Migration, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN Children’s Fund and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland. According to UNHCR, 77 percent of children aged 6-13 there attend school, almost on par with the national average of 80 percent. But the number of students is ever increasing and challenges of operating crowded classrooms is no more evident than in Kalobeyei.

a classroom crowded with refugees
Children in a classroom at Future Bright Primary School in Kalobeyei, Kenya. The school has around 3,000 students and each class has over 100 students. 42,000 people live in Kalobeyei and half are primary school age or younger. Photo: Antti Yrjönen/FCA

When school starts at 8am the temperature is already over thirty degrees Celsius. The air is full of dust and the shouts and laughter of children emanate from the classrooms. Inside the large, corrugated steel buildings, children are crammed four or five to a desk, overflowing onto the floor. Each class has at least one hundred students, some classes, close to two hundred.

Martin Albino Ayyiro (50) has been teaching for 26 years and was one of the best teachers in Torit, South Sudan, where he lived before fleeing to Kenya. Photo: Antti Yrjönen/FCA

Martin Albino Ayyiro was was a teacher in Torit, South Sudan, for twenty-five years, before conflict forced him to flee to Kenya. In South Sudan, his classes had a maximum of sixty students.

He now teaches at Future Bright Primary School and says,

“You cannot control the situation of the classroom because you don’t know who understands you and who doesn’t understand you,” says Ayyiro.

Teachers struggle to educate

In his classroom in Kalobeyei, Ayyiro often struggles to teach his students.

“… some children are very difficult, or they have problems. Maybe a child cannot come to school or can come irregular or (they) can come late to school. So, sometimes, maybe they are sleeping in the class,” he says.

Most of the refugees in Kalobeyei are also from Torit and, as a member of this community, Ayyiro not only speaks their native language, but often knows the parents, so he will make home visits . As a refugee teacher, he is not qualified in Kenya and so is paid as a volunteer (53EURO per month) in addition to the aid he receives as a refugee. Although he faces significant challenges, there are shared by everyone who works in the program.

Richard Tsalwa is FCA’s Project Coordinator in Kalobeyei and one of the first things you notice about Tsalwa is his eyes. They are kind, but tired. He oversees eight primary schools, 231 teachers and 21,000 students. He often talks about retiring to Kakamega, in Western Kenya, where he is from.

When Tsalwa began studying education, he was guaranteed a job. But by the time he graduated (1998) the Kenyan Government had stopped employing teachers because of a World Bank structural adjustment.

“We were the first class not to be posted. We all went into other jobs – some are bankers, some are businessmen. Some Kenyan teachers spend many years unemployed – up to ten years,” says Tsalwa.

FCA's project manager in Kakuma
Richard Tsalwa is the Technical Project Manager for FCA in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. A trained teacher himself, he oversees primary education for around 21,000 students. Photo: Antti Yrjönen/FCA

When it comes to education, Tsalwa has seen it all. He has been a humanitarian for fifteen years and has worked in Nigeria, Sudan, Chad, Sri Lanka and, for the last three years, in Kakuma for FCA. “We have seen education changing the lives of these refugees,” Tsalwa says.

Giving every child an education is simple in theory, but in practice, ‘the challenges are many’, especially among refugee populations. Sustainable Development Goal number four is to ‘ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’. The reality is that there is no single organisation or authority responsible for this. In Kakuma, the responsibility for primary and secondary education for refugees lies with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), however their primary mandate is protection, not education.

Funding cuts mean more students per teacher

Funding cuts in the aid sector mean that FCA has less money to pay teachers in 2022 – funds for next year are 40% less than in 2021 which means less teachers or smaller salaries.. “… if you reduce the teachers, the number of learners is increasing – there are new ones coming in … Right now we have a gap of 35 teachers and … we can only absorb (pay) these teachers just for six months,” says Tsalwa.

Children receiving a meal in a school
Children in Kalobeyei queue up for lunch. The school has around 3,000 students and for many of them this will be their only meal of the day. Photo: Antti Yrjönen/FCA

Beside teacher salaries, there are other costs of running a school such as teaching and learning materials, equipping children with special needs, supporting teenage mothers. The World Food Program funds school meals which for some children, is their only meal of the day.

As little funding as there is for primary education, there is even less for secondary. This results in high dropout rates. Among refugees aged from 14-17, only five percent attend school. This is lower than the rate in Turkhana County (nine percent) where Kalobeyei is located and well below the 38 percent national average.

FCA training refugees to teach

With so few refugees finishing high school very few are qualified to become teachers, but this is something that FCA is trying to address by providing scholarships to refugees to attend a new teacher training college close to Kakuma. Funded by UNHCR, the college has the capacity for one hundred students, and Mawut Wwor Chol is one of the first to attend lectures there. Originally from Ethiopia, Chol started studying at the college in October, but his journey to get there epitomises the challenges that refugees face.

Chol started Secondary School in 2011 and, due to ‘issues’, had to repeat his first class. During his exams for his school certificate the camp was ‘in a mess’. “There was infighting among the refugees. There was a fighting that messed up the camp and there was insecurity … I had sleepless nights. I would be watching from seven in the evening up to the daybreak and then I went to write the exam until I completed,” says Chol.

Mawut Wwar Chol, a refugee teacher
Mawut Wwor Chol (32) sits in a class at the teacher training college close to the Kakuma refugee camp. He is one of the first students to attend classes at the college which is supported by FCA. Originally from Ethiopia and fled to Kakuma with his younger brother when he was fourteen. Photo: Antti Yrjönen/FCA

He failed his exams. “That made me bitter,” he says. Determined, he decided to repeat and was offered a scholarship at a school in Kitale, a large town in Western Kenya. This time he passed, but it still took him another year to find a job as a teacher in Kakuma. When he finally did, he seized every educational opportunity that came his way and has even completed a course with Regis University in the United States in March 2021. “Instead of going to Nairobi University or anywhere there, we are trying to get it piece by piece, so that we join the educated world,” says Chol.

If the challenges for men like Chol are many, the challenges for women are even more. The few who complete secondary school have very low grades, so finding qualified female teachers is very difficult.

“At ECD (early childhood development) the ratio is fifty-fifty, boys to girls. As you go up the grades, the ration decreases to about a third of girls in the classrooms. They leave school for many reasons – domestic work, looking after other children, pregnancy and early marriage,” says Tsalwa.

Women face more challenges

These challenges are something that Roda Daniel knows well. A refugee from Sudan, she fled to Kenya, alone, after primary school. Girls like her are particularly vulnerable, and so she was enrolled in an all-girls boarding school. This helped her to focus on her studies and she graduated and became a teacher. Now, she is the deputy head teacher at Morning Star Primary School (which is supported by FCA) and is one of the first students to study at the teacher training centre.

Image of female refugee teacher
Roda Daniel (25) is one of the first teachers to attend lectures at the teacher training college near Kakuma, Kenya. Roda finished primary school in Sudan before she fled to Kenya. After completing high school, she became a deputy head teacher at a local primary school. Photo: Antti Yrjonen/FCA

“Going to school from very early in the morning and coming out from here 5-5.30 you reach home six. With some females, like the lactating mothers, it becomes a challenge. What we came to realise, when the few were shortlisted, it was a qualification thing that meant most of females were not selected. Though many of us hoped to have this course, now, very few, very few are picked because of the qualifications,” says Daniel.

Despite affirmative action, that recognises experience instead of qualifications, Daniel was only one of ten female students out of sixty in the first intake at the college. Those who were ‘picked’ realise how lucky they are. When you walk into the lecture hall of the training college there is a palpable feeling of optimism. Although this might be said of any group of young hopefuls, but it is amplified by the challenges that these students have had overcome to make it here. “You see the hunger for education, especially among the South Sudanese,” says Dennis Wamalwa, the lecturer.

The education diploma offered at the Teacher Training College is a compressed course that takes just over a year, whereas a diploma in a public university takes between two and two and a half years. At the college, students learn onsite and online and the first intake should graduate in December next year.

Tsalwa is hopeful that the training college will improve the standard of education and teaching in Kakuma. “I hope to see well trained teachers (in 2022) who will definitely boost the quality of teaching and learning in our schools

… when we talk of quality, you can only talk of quality when you have trained teachers to deliver the curriculum,” says Tsalwa.

exterior of the teacher training college
The resource centre in the teacher training college in the Kakuma refugee camp. Opening in October 2021 and supported by FCA, the centre offers a university diploma in education to refugee teachers. Photo: Antti Yrjönen/FCA

Tsalwa is also a realist and knows that once the refugees are qualified, they may leave teaching for other opportunities. He says that “… if you graduate in Kenya with a primary school certificate, you are well-qualified if you go back to South Sudan.”

“When you train them well, they get other jobs, because they don’t like teaching. They do it because they don’t have any other choice, so we have a high turnover of teachers,” he says. There is very little that can be done about this. Tsalwa knows himself how stressful teaching is even when they aren’t dealing with over a hundred students. Chol acknowledges this also, “I think it (the course) is a gateway for another opportunity.”

But Roda Daniel is different and illustrates why it is important to create opportunities for women. “With my mindset, I am still just within Kenya. And after graduating I will still see ahead if I will really get an opportunity to do a degree. Meanwhile (it is) still best teaching or supporting our community.”

Roda Daniel at the teacher training college
Roda Daniel (25) leaves the teacher training college for refugees. After completing high school in Kakuma, she became a deputy head teacher at a local primary school and is one of the first to attend lectures at the college. Photo: Antti Yrjönen/FCA

Text: Melany Markham

Photos: Antti Yrjönen

Somaliland tailoring students graduate with flair in their homemade gowns

Somaliland tailoring students graduate with flair in their homemade gowns

The students, majority of them women, accepted their qualifications in professional tailoring and garment design.

70 PROUD WOMEN and men graduated from our latest vocational training course in Somaliland in early December. The students, majority of them women, accepted their qualifications in professional tailoring and garment design at a ceremony in Maansoor, as their friends and family watched.

The course was part of a vocational training project funded by FCA and implemented by the General Assistance and Volunteer Organization (GAVO) and the Horn of Africa Voluntary Youth Committee (HAVOYOVO).

Suhur Yusuf, a young and talented graduate, spoke about how the course changed her life, sporting her handmade gown.

“On the day of my university graduation, I nearly spent USD 200 on the graduation outfit, but  today I spent just USD 10 on the dress, which I tailored with my own hands. ”

Every student tailored their own gown in an incredible display of how much they’d learned on the course.

“Aside from these stunning dresses, what strikes me is how you blended colors to create a really attractive ensemble, demonstrating how our efforts are fruitful,” said  Sahra-Kiin, an FCA representative.

Tailoring and garment design course was part of a vocational training project funded by FCA and implemented by the General Assistance and Volunteer Organization (GAVO) and the Horn of Africa Voluntary Youth Committee (HAVOYOVO). Photo: FCA Somalia

Sustainable livelihood skills for the future

In addition to the students’ families and friends, the ceremony was attended by high level guests, such as Abdirashid Ibrahim, Director of Ministry of Employment and Social Affairs. 

“I’d like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the Finnish government, which is not only sponsoring this project but also many other development initiatives to support the Somaliland Government’s Development Plans, ” he said.

Also in attendance were Ahmed Omar and Abdillahi Hassan, Executive Directors from GAVO and HAVOYOCO, who welcomed guests and explained to the audience the unique nature of this particular course wasn’t confined to the beautiful garments on display. They celebrated that an outstanding 46 students working in 12 groups had been chosen for start-up grants, while the others receive toolkits to help with their own businesses.  

Finally Qani Abdi, a representative of the Somaliland private sector discussed the importance of tailoring skills and gave a taste of how the graduates could turn their skills into a profitable business in the future.
“I am impressed by the designs you have displayed. That tells the advanced training you have received. ”


By: Mohamed Aden

Education is an assurance of future for refugee girls

Girls walking to school in Uganda.
Particularly for girls and young women in Uganda’s refugee settlements, education is one of the key elements to secure better future. Photo: FCA

Education is an assurance of future for refugee girls

Finn Church Aid (FCA) promotes access to quality education, particularly for girls and young women in Uganda’s refugee settlements.

EDUCATION IS A HUMAN RIGHT. It is essential to the acquisition of knowledge. More than that, education makes us more resilient and independent individuals. Finn Church Aid (FCA) promotes access to quality education, particularly for girls and young women in Uganda’s refugee settlements.

Education can have a life-changing consequences for girls especially. Girls like Anthias Poni Oliver. When violence broke out in her homeland, Anthias and her family were among thousands of South Sudanese who escaped to Uganda in search of safety and peace. Anthias lives in Palorinya refugee settlement in Moyo District, Uganda.

However, like so many girls with refugee background, it has been a struggle for Anthias to stay in school. While still in secondary school, she got pregnant and had to drop out of school for a while.

“Anthias’ father refused to take her back to school after finding out she got pregnant and had terminated the pregnancy. He told her to stay home and forget about school,” says Juru Cicilia, Anthias’ mother.

“I was sad because I loved school and knew I would not be able to complete my studies,” says Anthias herself.

South Sudanese Anthias Poni Oliver dreams of becoming a doctor one day to be able to help her community. Photo: Linda Kabuzire

Helping refugee girls stay in school

Education equips girls like Anthias with the skills they need to unlock their potential. Finn Church Aid ensures safe, inclusive schools with quality teaching for everyone with support from the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migrations (PRM). FCA creates safe, environmentally friendly learning environments and school structures.

“With the support of Finn Church Aid, I was enrolled in Idiwa secondary school to complete my studies. My favourite subjects are Christian religious education and mathematics,” Anthias adds.

Making a study plan and managing her schedules, a skill she learned during a career guidance session, made her improve on her studies and catch up on lost time.

FCA creates safe, environmentally friendly learning environments and school structures such as Idiwa secondary school in Palorinya refugee settlement in Moyo District, Uganda. Project was supported by Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migrations (PRM). Photo: Linda Kabuzire

“Before I used to only read my books at school, but now I revise at home especially on weekends. This has really improved my learning.”

“They also give me school materials, soap and menstrual hygiene kits, and during the reproductive health lessons they teach us how to use the menstrual kits.”

Dreaming of future

Education is important to Anthias because it will create employment opportunities for her in the future. She hopes to be a doctor when she finishes school.

“I have seen many people in my area self-medicating and some have ended up dying. I want to become a doctor so I can be able to give them proper treatment,” she says.

Anthias’s inspiration is Winnie Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s wife.

“She was very hard working and never lost hope even when the husband was in prison. I hope to be like her.”


Text: Linda Kabuzire