Finn Church Aid opens Kyiv office, focusing on restarting education for children in northern Ukraine

Finn Church Aid opens Kyiv office, focusing on restarting education for children in northern Ukraine

Schools have suffered enormous damage in the ongoing war in Ukraine. Finn Church Aid wants to be among the first organisations to support the return of children to school.

FINN CHURCH AID is entering the next phase of its emergency assistance programme in Ukraine; this includes support for the education sector that has suffered from the war. Work will begin in the city of Chernihiv in northern Ukraine, approximately 150 kilometres northeast of Kyiv. To make this possible, Finn Church Aid is opening an office in the Ukrainian capital.

Jouni Hemberg, Executive Director of Finn Church Aid, was recently on a field visit to Ukraine. He emphasises that Finn Church Aid wants to support the return of Ukrainian children to school.

“The summer holidays are coming soon; the schools have to be repaired now so that children returning to their home districts can get back to their lessons in the autumn,” he explains. “There are currently few education sector players north of Kyiv, so that’s why we’re heading there with our work.”

Russian troops withdrew from the Kyiv area in March/April. After battles, bombings and occupation, the schools in this area are in poor condition. There are unexploded munitions and mines in the area.

“Finn Church Aid’s team visited the area and assessed the condition of the schools there after the occupation and how they are damaged,” Hemberg continues. “Most of the schools have suffered somehow, and most of the ones that are still standing have been vandalised in many ways; even doors and windows have been stolen.”

Schools are important to children living amid war

The bombings have destroyed and damaged schools all over Ukraine. The Chernihiv area has seen missile strikes as recently as May.

“We believe that targeting schools with hostilities is inhumane and prohibited outright by humanitarian law,” says Hemberg emphatically. “Attacking schools means that the rules of war have not been followed, and it is also clear that such acts have a negative impact on the civilian population and the prospects of children and youth.”

Education in humanitarian crises is a central expertise of Finn Church Aid. The organisation leads education work in eleven countries on three continents.

Education in emergencies can be viewed as a life-saving activity. Schools bring routines and a sense of normality to the daily lives of children living amid war or as refugees. Schools can also disseminate vital information, for example, about unexploded mines and munitions; in Ukraine there are large numbers of these, due to the current and past conflicts.

Psychosocial support is also an important part of educational work in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. Finn Church Aid has long experience in this area in all of its programme countries, such as providing essential training to teachers on psychosocial support. Ukraine has many children who will need multi-layered support due to the long-term psychological effects of war, and this will form a key part of Finn Church Aid’s work in the region.

Finn Church Aid continues relief distributions in Ukraine

In addition to working in support of the education sector, Finn Church Aid will continue to provide internally displaced people with emergency aid, together with Hungarian Interchurch Aid, its local partner organisation.

Part of this work has involved the delivery of 662,000 kilograms of aid including food and drink, nappies and other hygiene products. Furthermore, refugee shelters opened in places like schools, nurseries and church premises have been supported with washing machines and kitchen refrigeration appliances.

The relief work began in March on the Hungarian-Ukrainian border and in Lviv. Just recently, aid lorries belonging to Finn Church Aid and Hungarian Interchurch Aid have reached areas in eastern Ukraine as well.

For more information:

Executive Director, Mr. Jouni Hemberg, jouni.hemberg[a]kirkonulkomaanapu.fi, +358 50 325 9579
Communications Manager, Mr. Erik Nyström, erik.nystrom[a]kirkonulkomaanapu.fi, +358 5038 07250,

Photo: A wrecked school pictured in the city of Chernihiv in March. Lehtikuva / AFP

Gender-based violence matters to everyone

Gender-based violence matters to everyone

Types and causes of gender-based violence are sometimes difficult to identify. Sexual violence is only one form of gender-based violence.

ONE IN THREE women in the world has experienced some form of violence simply because she is a woman. Violence can include anything from violation of physical integrity, beatings and hair tearing to sexual assault or psychological acts of violence. Girls who cannot go to school because of their gender are also victims of gender-based violence.

With the internet, and especially with the smartphones everyone now carries around, harassment, psychological violence and the threat of physical violence are present everywhere, including at home. Then again, home has never been a safe place for girls and women. Not even in Finland, where one in three women has experienced intimate partner violence.

There are so many forms of gender-based violence that it may be difficult to define it as a particular type of activity. Violence can be expressed through a clear act, such as genital mutilation, beating or rape. But sometimes violence is more difficult to define and finding words for it may not be easy. This is often the case with coercion associated with intimate partner violence or with financial control exerted by a spouse.

How do we know it’s gender-based violence?

What is gender-based violence? One of the definitions is that the violence committed differs in form, prevalence or consequences by gender. Experiences of violence usually differ between the genders, especially in terms of the setting and the perpetrator.

Men are more commonly than women subjected to violence in public places, while women experience violence at home and in the workplace. A minority of victims of intimate partner violence are men. Girls and women also experience sexual violence and harassment more often than men.

Most typically, the perpetrator is a man, and most of the victims are women. This is nearly always the case. However, statistics show that gender-based violence not only affects women, but also those who belong to sexual minorities. In fact, as gender-based violence is deeply rooted in gender inequality, it is one of the most common human rights violations committed anywhere in the world.

What does Finn Church Aid do to prevent violence against women?

Finn Church Aid works to ensure that every person can lead a dignified life. We support the most vulnerable people. Our actions are guided by equality, non-discrimination and accountability, and we work to ensure that right to education, peace and livelihood is realised for all people.

While we are not specifically focused on protecting the rights of girls and women or combatting gender-based violence, realising equality and human rights and addressing the vulnerabilities of genders and minorities are closely related to our work. We are committed to the UN Sustainable Development Goal 5, which obliges us to address equality issues in our work and strengthen the rights and opportunities of women and girls.

In practice, we work to improve the educational opportunities, livelihoods, entrepreneurship and political participation of girls and women. We are committed to the identification and prevention of sexual and gender-based violence, child marriage and unequal balance of power between genders.

Our efforts to advance the education and livelihoods of girls and women also strengthen their position in their own communities. When women gain an education, find an occupation and become decision-makers, it is easier for them to have influence over their own lives. This, in turn, reduces discrimination and increases human dignity in those communities where girls and women have traditionally been in a weaker position.

Unfortunately, such changes in society’s balance of power also raise objections, which may turn into violence against women and girls. Crises, conflicts and natural disasters also pose a risk to the positive development of equality and can increase the threat of violence. For these reasons, we must pay special attention to the safety of women when delivering humanitarian assistance.

Covid-19 has increased the threat of violence

The prolonged pandemic has had a negative impact on the safety of girls and women. In Nepal, an increase in the number of child marriages and violence against girls and women has been observed.

Already in the first year of the pandemic, Unesco, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, expressed concern that up to 11 million girls may not return to their studies when schools reopen, particularly in the African countries. The pandemic has also increased the occurrence of domestic violence, the use of child labour and the risk of sexual violence.

In its development cooperation, Finn Church Aid seeks to improve the security and equality of girls and women, for example by educating teachers, supporting the voice of women in peacebuilding and political decision-making and promoting the education of refugee women.

How can we combat gender-based violence?

The aim of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action is to advance the equal realisation of human rights for women. The 1979 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women has been signed by 187 states.

The Convention contains provisions on aspects such as citizenship, education, participation in working life, healthcare and women’s economic rights. Their realisation is monitored by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which can also make general recommendations. Of these, Recommendation No 19, adopted in 2002 and updated in 2017 by Recommendation No 35, for the first time included measures to eliminate violence against women.

In Europe, one of the most significant attempts to end gender-based violence is the 2011 Istanbul Convention, which entered into force in Finland in August 2015. The aim of the convention is to prevent and eliminate violence against women, protect victims of violence and hold perpetrators of violence accountable for their actions.

However, international conventions alone will not eliminate sexual, and gender-based violence. Creating safer communities requires action that cannot be left to decision-makers and states.
The key is to identify gender-based violence, listen to victims and recognise their experiences, and increase the provision of information for all parties involved. Gender-based violence is everyone’s concern.

Text: Elisa Rimaila
Illustration: Carla Ladau
Translation: Päivi Creber

Why is the world unfair to women? Ten reasons and one response

1. INVISIBLE WORK. All women work but do not necessarily earn a salary. Traditionally, only productive work is categorised as a job and all other work, such as that in households or outside the formal economy, remains invisible and therefore unpaid. Women are doing 75 per cent of all unpaid work worldwide and do it for three to six hours per day. Much of the invisible work is within homes, taking care of children, the sick and the elderly.


2. EDUCATION.
More than 130 million girls aged 6–17 do not go to school. A girls’ education can also be disrupted if her family needs her to support their daily life through household work or paid jobs. Menstruation or marriage can also put an end to a girls’ education.


3. MENSTRUATION
leads to discrimination. In Nepal, for instance, families and the community restrict women’s movement and participation in activities during menstruation. In Myanmar’s Rohingya communities, women are traditionally not allowed to interact with other boys and men than their own family’s after they started menstruating. Many girls face the risk of early marriage after they have had their first period.


4. PERIOD POVERTY.
The lack of sanitary pads causes multiple challenges. For instance, in refugee settlements, quality pads are hardly available or sold at a very high price. If the sanitary pads do not exist or cannot be changed safely in school, girls might be forced to stay home during their periods. Repeated absence from school might cause girls to drop out.


5. LAVATORIES
are part of everyone’s daily life, but many women have to search for a safe lavatory every day. According to the UN, every third of the world’s women cannot access a safe bathroom facility where they can also wash during menstruation. Women need a door that can be locked not only because of privacy and dignity but because bathroom facilities put women at risk for abuse and sexual violence.


6. EMPLOYMENT.
Traditional roles and models weaken the position of women in the job market. Their invisible work as caretakers of families creates further challenges for the women to find time for paid work. Research shows that public support for daycare services increases the number of women doing paid work. A woman with a job and salary has a better chance of impacting her own life and the surrounding society.


7. VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
is a severe violation of human rights and a far too common practice. Women are not safe even in their own homes – every third of the world’s women report having experienced violence in a close relationship. An estimated 38 per cent of all murdered women were killed by their spouses.


8. DISASTERS
worsen the situation of those in the most fragile positions even further – conflict and war increase domestic and gender-based violence. Violence against women has reportedly soared in several countries during the lockdowns caused by the coronavirus, including the countries where Finn Church Aid operates. Due to Covid-19 restrictions and the pandemic’s burden on healthcare, women are struggling to access services related to sexuality and reproduction, and this might result in a rise in, for instance, unwanted pregnancies.


9. INEQUALITY IN POWER STRUCTURES.
Men form a majority in decision-making positions worldwide. Research shows that women are more likely to consider women-related issues, family politics, education and care services when they are in a leadership position. Thus, leaving women outside decision-making significantly affects these areas of life. The influence of women is also undermined by them not being part of the informal, male-dominated networks that might have an unexpected impact on society.


10. ADDITIONAL DISADVANTAGES.
While women per se are in an unfavourable position, the women with additional disadvantages caused by disabilities, age, poverty or sexual orientation face even greater challenges. In emergencies, such as natural disasters and conflicts, women with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to discrimination and violence and struggle to access support. Elderly and poor women and those with disabilities are dependent on the support of others, which makes them vulnerable to abuse.


+1 FINN CHURCH AID (FCA)
includes and promotes gender equality in all its operations. FCA and the Women’s Bank work for women’s rights by supporting women’s education and livelihoods in fragile countries. Livelihood activities offer training in entrepreneurship, marketing and managing finances. Creating cooperatives and savings groups are central to the projects, and the cooperatives support their members’ business activities.

The livelihood projects also strengthen women’s rights in other ways. Participating in cooperatives and their management builds confidence and experience that support women in becoming involved in broader decision-making structures. The cooperatives also offer interventions and solutions to issues, such as domestic violence and other forms of gender-based violence.

The education of girls is one of the most efficient ways of securing sustainable development. Educated women are more likely to send their children to school, and education is the key to sustaining oneself and live an independent life.


Sources:
Caroline Criado Perez (2019): Invisible Women, World Health Organisation, Plan International


Text: Noora Pohjanheimo
Illustration: Carla Ladau

Periods interfere with the education of far too many girls

Millions of girls and women living in refugee camps urgently need feminine hygiene products. They also desperately hope for access to clean water, soap and functioning door locks.

At present, roughly 30 million girls and women around the world are living as refugees, and many of them face the same question every month: how will I cope with my period this time?

Taking care of menstrual hygiene in a refugee camp setting is not easy. No proper sanitary pads are available. Or if there are, they are far too expensive to buy, at least in sufficient amounts.

The girls and women living in refugee camps in different parts of the world also have to fear for their safety. Privacy is another real problem in settings where women have to use communal toilets that are rarely even equipped with locks.

Feminine hygiene is difficult to maintain when there is no clean water for washing up. The cultural stigmatization of women as impure during menstruation also makes girls and women feel ashamed of their bodies. At worst, women and girls have to isolate themselves from their community or even their own family during their periods.

Girls attending Yoyo primary school going to classes at Bidibidi refugee settlement.

Girls attending Yoyo primary school going to classes at Bidibidi refugee settlement.

Youth learn about menstruation in school

”Not having sanitary pads, for example, has a direct impact on girls’ education,” says Project Manager Lilian Musoki from Uganda.

Musoki was involved in organising the distribution of hygiene kits in Bidibidi refugee settlement. Bidibidi has a population of 270,000 people and is one of the world’s largest refugee settlements. A city unto itself, its inhabitants have mainly fled the civil war in Uganda’s northern neighbour South Sudan.

Although menstruation and access to education may seem to have little connection, according to Musoki, they go hand in hand.

“Girls stay out of school every time they have their period. Without proper sanitary pads and school facilities for taking care of their menstrual hygiene in private, girls cannot make the most of their education.”

The problem is that their absence from school cause girls to fall behind in their studies, making it difficult for them to complete their education.

In Bidibidi refugee settlement, proper sanitary towels are hard to come by or they are too expensive for the women and girls living as refugees. That’s why women and girls often make do with whatever is on hand. In practice, it means that they resort to making pads themselves, for example, from pieces of fabric cut from old cloths.

These makeshift pads sometimes leak and lead to odours, causing embarrassment and shame for the girls. This is why the hygiene kits distributed by FCA also contain sanitary pads. A total of 19,850 girls in Bidibidi were able to obtain the FCA hygiene kit in 2019.

Distribution of hygiene kits in Bidibidi refugee settlement.

On Menstrual Hygiene Day last year, Finn Church Aid distributed 19 850 hygiene kits to girls in Bidibidi refugee settlement in Uganda.

According to Lilian Musoki, girls often lack menstrual knowledge.

“In our culture, talking openly about menstruation is off-limits, even between mothers and daughters. It is culturally unacceptable”, Musoki says.

Mothers also have their hands full with keeping up with housework and earning a livelihood. In FCA’s projects in refugee settlements, information has been shared, and schools also provide menstrual education.

In school, girls learn the facts about menstruation and how to maintain good hygiene. They can also turn to a designated female teacher if their period starts in the middle of the school day. Musoki says that they can ask the teacher for a sanitary pad so that they can continue with their school day.

Lilian Musoki

Lilian Musoki.

“When the girls get accurate information, the shame associated with menstruation and the changes in their own bodies disappears,” Musoki insists.

For environmental reasons, some of the sanitary pads FCA provides can be washed and reused. Soap bars for washing them are included in the hygiene kits distributed in refugee settlements. Hygiene kits also include panties.

According to Musoki, FCA is providing pads because other products, such as tampons and menstrual cups, would prove too costly for local people. A tampon pack worth three US dollars is a luxury no one can afford.

Safety equals a door with a lock

For menstrual hygiene, girls need to have their own toilets where they can change their sanitary pads in private, without any fear of harassment.

The safe spaces for women and girls have also been vital to girls and women living on the other side of the world in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, in the world’s largest refugee camp. There, in partnership with DanChurchAid (DCA), FCA supports safe spaces for the Rohingya women and girls who have fled Myanmar to Bangladesh.

In the safe spaces, women and girls can use clean and safe toilets with hand-washing stations and soap. In addition, they get sanitary pads that enable them to participate in the literacy and numeracy lessons offered by FCA and DCA, also during their periods.

Why are the toilets in safe spaces so important? Kaji Shahin Akter who works as the Programme Manager for Gender-Based Violence in Cox’s Bazar, says that the taboos surrounding menstruation expose women to violence.

“Traditionally, Rohingya women have used rags cut from worn-out garments as their sanitary towels. Women need to wash these either early in the morning or late at night, been conditioned by the culture to regard menstruation and menstruating women as polluted,” she says.

Such notions compel women and girls to go to the camp’s water stations after dark, exposing them to sexual or other forms of violence. Even toilets designated for women can be dangerous when inadequately monitored.

Girls and women in safe spaces in Cox's Bazar Bangldesh.

In Cox’s Bazar Bangladesh, the world’s largest refugee settlement, Finn Church Aid and Dan Church Aid have built safe spaces for women and girls.

Cox’s Bazar Education Programme Manager Margaret Goll from DCA says that even the disposable sanitary pads are problematic. They add to the issue of waste in the massive refugee camp.

“There are many kinds of problems related to menstruation in Cox’s Bazar, actually every problem you can imagine,” Goll says.

Men also need menstrual information

Menstruation puts even further limits to girls’ lives, as many Rohingya girls stop attending school after they get their first period, on average at the age of 14.

“In Rohingya culture, when a girl starts menstruating, she can only spend time with the men and boys of her own family. Many girls are also married off when they start menstruating,” says Goll.

In Cox’s Bazar refugee camp, women and girls have their own safe spaces where they are able to study and get information on menstrual health and hygiene as well as other important issues in their own lives.

Rohingyas believe that a girl or a woman is impure during menstruation and can therefore not participate in normal life. According to Margaret Goll and Kaji Shahin Akter, these attitudes are also addressed. Getting the community’s men involved in the conversations is essential.

”We have provided boys and men not only with information on menstruation but also on positive body image and positive fatherhood. In the beginning, this was difficult, and the men and boys were reluctant to join in because all of us working for the project are women,” says Kaji Shahin Akter.

Eventually, progress was made when religious leaders, such as imams, started taking part in the project.

One way to make menstruation more visible has been the annual World Menstruation Hygiene Day on 28 May.

“It has been a big event in Cox’s Bazar in previous years. This year, however, we may have to limit public gatherings,” says Goll.

Text: Elisa Rimaila
Translation: Ulla Kärki

”A person either is or is not insane” – in Somalia, there are no words for mental health care

With the support of FCA, psychotherapist Rowda Olad works in grassroots-level mental health care and participates in the reconciliation work in Somalia.

In Somalia, people talk about invisible wounds, dhaawac yada qarsoon,” says psychotherapist Rowda Olad and describes how shocked she was to see the state of the entire nation’s mental health when she arrived in Somalia in 2016.

”A young boy was driving the moped taxi, tuktuk, at breakneck speed through central Mogadishu. I asked him to slow down. ’You’re going to get us killed!’ I yelled from the back seat. ’What does it matter if we die,’ the boy replied.”

”I was extremely shocked.”

Rowda says she immediately noticed that especially young men were not only fearless but also very angry. But in fact, almost everybody in Somalia seemed to be suffering from psychological traumas caused by the civil war and the violence, or from post-traumatic symptoms resulting from them.

”There is a lot of crime, as well as disregard for other people’s possessions or lives. Whenever there was an explosion in Mogadishu, people rushed to see what had happened, whereas the natural reaction would be to run away.”

”A person who is not afraid is not psychologically healthy,” says Rowda. “Seeing mutilated humans and bodies or victims of explosions is traumatising, especially to children.”

She witnessed and recorded all this during the first year after she and her family moved back to Somalia in 2016.

Psychological trauma changes a person’s world view and behaviour. In Somalia, aggressive behaviour can be seen often in everyday situations.

”Even during high-level political meetings, people may lose their temper at the drop of a hat.”

As a refugee in the United States

Rowda, who was born in Mogadishu, has her share of war trauma. The civil war began when she was seven years old.

Her siblings and other relatives scattered all over the world. With her uncle’s family, Rowda fled to the state of Ohio in the United States. She went to school and studied, but once she graduated from high school, she could not decide straight away what she wanted to do when she grew up. So, she volunteered to do social work with AmeriCorps. She helped Muslim immigrants, the Somali diaspora, young and old alike – and saw and experienced lots of things that could only be explained by the people’s backgrounds.

She started a volunteer group for young Somali women and became interested in studying to be a psychologist and psychotherapist. She also became fascinated with facets of Somali culture; what causes things? Why do we do this or think like this?

Rowda Olad puhui National Dialogues -konferenssissa.

Rowda dreams of establishing a national mental health care system in Somalia. Photo: Kristiina Markkanen

Rowda studied, graduated, and worked as a psychotherapist. When the situation in Somalia began to settle down and the first post-war parliamentary election was held in 2016, even Rowda decided to move back to Somalia.

Rowda got involved in politics and initially worked in regional administration, but mental health care became more and more attractive. She dreams of founding a national mental health system in Somalia, entailing the entire structure, creating the foundations and the missing words for the work.

”For us, a person is either insane, waali, or not insane. There is no in-between, there are no other words. People who become seriously mentally ill are put in the hospital and forgotten there.”

”It is shocking,” she says.

Mental health care step by step

Rowda started her work in Somalia with small steps. She has been engaged in volunteer work and has spoken about mental health to representatives of the Ministry of Health.

”First, my aim has been to open people’s eyes to the role of mental health in people’s behaviour and actions, and from there, I have slowly expanded the idea to the national level.”

Rowda believes it is impossible for reconstruction and national reconciliation work to succeed without dealing with the trauma experienced by families, individuals and entire communities as well.

When people are traumatised, their capacity to function is impaired, which affects things such as their ability to work.

”The productivity of the entire nation, including entrepreneurs and civil servants as well as farmers, remains low.”

Rowda has started her own practice in Somalia, and with the support of FCA among others, has began a form of preliminary mental health care that she calls psychoeducation.

The purpose of the work is to talk about mental health and to provide different population groups with information. Topics include stress, depression, and how to overcome psychological trauma. What is considered ordinary grief and what kind of suffering is bad enough to require treatment.

The work also includes mental health care for prisoners and prison wardens. Inmates in the prisons of Somalia include both petty criminals and former terrorists, and it is important to get them too to commit to the development of Somalia.

FCA supports mental health care for prisoners in Somalia.

A prison in Somalia. Photo: Jari Kivelä

”Even in prison, I provide mental health education for groups, during which we talk about how the human mind works. I also do clinical work, give diagnoses, and offer individual therapy to those who need it. Sometimes I have to refer an inmate exhibiting severe psychological symptoms to hospital treatment.”

Working with inmates, Rowda goes through their identity and the paths that led them to prison. Those who grew up surrounded by war and violence may not have the kind of identity that allows them to see themselves as citizens of an organised society.

”For example, when I ask them who their role models are, they don’t say that as a child they wanted to be a doctor or a teacher, but might reply that they admire their father who was a war hero.”

Rowda says that she will soon start working with the families of inmates as well. This is difficult because many families have moved. However, the Somali culture is very family-oriented, and Rowda believes it is possible for criminals to become rehabilitated into society if they receive strong support from their family and community.

Even therapy is a completely new concept in Somalia. There are only doctors and psychiatrists who work in hospitals and prescribe medication. If a doctor gives a person medicine, the person gets better.

”When I tell a patient I am offering them treatment, they expect medication, not discussion.”

She also hopes that mental health issues become part of reconciliation work. Rowda believes there will be no real peace in Somalia before recognising trauma and overcoming it is taken seriously on the national level.

Text: Kristiina Markkanen
Translation: Leena Vuolteenaho

Rowda Olad visited Finland in June for the National Dialogues Conference for peace work organised by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Felm, CMI, and Finn Church Aid.

Swamp offered shelter from war in South Sudan – “The worst part of the journey was hunger”

The region of al-Sudd in South Sudan is one of the biggest swamps in the world. The region has offered a refuge for people escaping the war. During the hardest times of the war, people waded through wetlands, risking running into crocodiles and snakes, and ate water lily fruits to stay alive.

OLD FANGAK, SOUTH SUDAN. The little mango trees sprouting promising shoots in Samuel Gony Gori’s pots are a veritable miracle, considering the cracking soil surrounding the 50-year-old farmer’s land, and the unbearable, nearly 40-Celsius heat in Old Fangak in the daytime.

Samuel waters his plants with water from nearby Zeraf River. Working the foot-operated water pump may be hard work, but it keeps his hope of a successful crop alive. The mangoes require care, and without the water pump, farming would be impossible during the dry season.

“In the harvest seasons, I sell a lot of produce at the market, and with my savings, my family can enjoy two good meals a day. My income is even enough to pay for the children’s clothing.”

Fangak is located in the north, near the border with Sudan. The peace negotiated last autumn is a reality here, but the soil is unrelenting and farming is hard. In the south of the country, the region of Equatoria – located on the Equator – is known as the breadbasket of South Sudan, and a saying originating from there goes, “If you throw a seed in the ground, it grows into a giant mango tree.” Nevertheless, farmers have left Equatoria because of the fighting still going on in the region.

South Sudanese Samuel Gony Gory grows mango trees.

Samuel Gony Gory grows mango trees.

Samuel radiates the confidence of a person who has overcome the worst. His family witnessed the painful turns of the South Sudanese civil war. Two years ago, they were in the middle of a famine caused by the fighting in the small town of Bentiu in neighbouring Unity State.

“There was absolutely nothing to eat. First I stopped farming because of the constant gunfire. Then our relatives started to disappear, and we decided to seek shelter here,” recalls Samuel.

The water pump has caught the interest of the youngest South Sudanese children in the village.

The water pump has caught the interest of the youngest in the village.

The swamp region of al-Sudd is one of the biggest in the world. The name is Arabic and means “barrier.” The swamp is so difficult to cross that back in the days when explorers were searching for the source of the White Nile, they got stuck in the wetlands of al-Sudd.

Old Fangak is a former British garrison town whose old buildings were destroyed in the civil war. The population mostly consists of Nuer people, the archrivals of the Dinka people represented by President Salva Kiir.

During the civil war, Old Fangak became a haven for refugees. While in 2013, the population was 5,000, last year the number was up to almost 50,000.

The soldiers did not think it was worth the trouble to brave the swamp, the inner parts of which can only be reached by boat via Zeraf River, an arm of the White Nile, or by plane  – that is, unless you are running for your life. Families seeking shelter from fighting and famine have escaped soldiers by treading through the swamp despite crocodiles and poisonous snakes.

In the deepest parts of the swamp, adults carried children on their shoulders.

“The worst part of the journey was hunger,” says Samuel. His family survived the journey that took a month by eating the fruits of water lilies.

“It’s hard to say whether it was hunger or bullets that killed them.”

“Many people who fled at the same time as we did had been starving for so long that their strength had ran out. We were forced to leave people behind as the soldiers found us time after time,” recalls Samuel.

“It’s hard to say whether it was hunger or bullets that killed them.”

In June 2017, the UN declared that the famine was over, but since then, the situation has only gotten worse.

In February 2019, the UN estimated that over six million people live in acute food shortage. That is more than half of the South Sudanese population. About 1.5 million are on the brink of famine.

“Peace is a prerequisite for any improvement in the situation,” says Moses Habib, humanitarian coordinator for FCA. The peace deal has raised optimism, but the people who left their homes are still too afraid to return.

At the same time, international aid is decreasing at an alarming rate.

“Initiating self-sufficient food production takes time. Food aid is still vital so that people have the energy to think further ahead than until the meal for the next day,” says Habib.

South Sudanese Nyarom Jiech Chuol is a single mother with seven children.

Nyarom Jiech Chuol is a single mother with seven children.

In the midmorning, the Zeraf River’s boat traffic flows towards the market in downtown Old Fangak.

Canoes are carved from coconut tree trunks. The precious fish are shielded from the sun with grass. Fish is cheaper than meat, and the catch does not always reach the market before being sold.

Mother of seven, Nyarom Jiech Chuol, buys a bunch of tilapia at the market for about two euros.

“I provide for my children by collecting firewood and I sleep through the night in peace, without gunfire,” says Nyarom. She ran from the fighting in Bentium that led to famine.

FCA has assisted 1,000 farmers and 500 fishermen in the Old Fangak area by providing seeds, water pumps, nets, hooks, and education. In addition, 1,000 families have received cash assistance.

FCA also supports 30 schools in Fangak, with over 16,000 pupils.

The huts made out of waterproof tarpaulins and bamboo represent the population of the region. Many internally displaced persons use the tarpaulins given out by aid organisations, while the locals have roofs made of grass or tin.

The repercussions of the war can be seen at the market. In wait of the next crop, the selection of vegetables on offer is nonexistent. Onions cost half a euro a piece. Before the war, one euro was enough to feed a family for a day, now the prices are tenfold. Food production is insufficient, inflation is out of control, and imported food is expensive.

Nyarom has received cash assistance from FCA in every three months. The assistance of about 50 euros brings variety to her children’s diet. Nyarom says that she saw with her own eyes where the food shortage began.

“It started when we had to leave our cultivations and our livestock. Both cattle and people were burned alive in their clay huts,” she says.

Elizabeth Gal is a dedicated farmer.

Elizabeth Gal is a dedicated farmer.

Because of how isolated it is, Old Fangak depends on the goods delivered from capital Juba via the Nile. Before the peace deal in September, the goods often did not make it past the checkpoints along the way.

Now, the route is easier to travel. However, there is still too little food because of the fighting still going on in Equatoria.

According to Habib, improving the situation in Equatoria is crucial. At present, over one million people have fled the region and crossed the border to Uganda, and the parties who did not sign the peace deal continue to fight.

“Without peace, people won’t return to their crops, and without food, there is no steady foundation for peace,” says Habib.

Nevertheless, the Nile deliveries have provided farmers with more seeds and tools. Next to Samuel’s crops, 43-year-old Elizabeth Gal waits for a new hose for her water pump.

The furrows in her plot of land are as straight as a pin, but the field is completely dry and cracked because the hose is too short to reach the field from the river.

“As long as I have the seeds and tools, I can do anything,” she assures us.

Translation: Leena Vuolteenaho
Text: Erik Nyström 
Photos: Patrick Meinhardt 

A new two-year project improves access to justice in Liberia

A two-year project funded by the EU promotes human rights of prisoners in Margibi, Bong, Nimba and Lofa counties in Liberia.

The project “Strengthening the Human Rights of Prisoners within Correctional Facilities and at Grassroots Level in Liberia” is jointly implemented by Serving Humanity for Empowerment and Development (SHED) and the Rural Human Rights Activists Program (RHRAP) in partnership with Finn Church Aid (FCA).

The project addresses some of the many challenges that are still faced within the justice system in Liberia. The objective of the project is to protect detainees whose rights are at risk of being violated through illegal arrests, prolonged detention, inhuman detention practices, sexual and gender-based violence and no access to legal counselling and representation. Prisoners’ rights are promoted by strengthening the capacities of justice actors and promoting adherence to national and international standards for prisoners.

Hans Lambrecht.

Hans Lambrecht.

“The initiative will further increase legal assistance for vulnerable detainees; strengthen dialogue, cohesion building and information sharing between stakeholders. It aims to improve attitudes and practices through awareness raising and advocacy on issues regarding vulnerable detainees’ rights, both on national and international levels,” stated Dr. Hans Lambrecht, the Head of the Cooperation Section for Governance and Education at the Delegation of the European Union to Liberia, at the project launch ceremony Kakata Prison in Margibi County in mid-April.

“This project will enhance the knowledge of law enforcement representatives including police, and correction officers, legal practitioners as well as enlighten community leaders to the rule of law and international human rights standards,” Dr. Hans Lambrecht emphasized.

Kutaka Devine Togbah, Director of Human Rights Division from the Ministry of Justice in Liberia, stressed the need to work together to improve the human rights situation in Liberian prisons and pledged the ministry’s support and full collaboration to the successful implementation of the project.

The project is continuation to a projectProviding Access to Justice and Gender Sensitive Legal Awareness at Grassroots Level in Liberia” implemented in 2017-2018 that the European Union Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) also funded.

“The new initiative will address some specific gaps that emerged through the previous project, such as setting up and supporting fast track systems to speed up hearings for pre-trial detainees, setting-up prison libraries and improving prison record systems”, explained the SHED Project Manager Godo E. Kolubah.

SHED, formerly Finn Church Aid (FCA) Liberia, is a Liberian organization established as a national office following the departure of FCA after ten (10) years of work in Liberia.  SHED is a rights-based organization working on human rights, peace building, education, water and sanitation and livelihoods programs in Liberia.

RHRAP is a local human rights organizations with over 15 years of experience working on the promotion and protection of human rights and rule of law in Liberia. 

Delegation of the European Union to Liberia

Liberian human rights organisations demand right to due process and fair trial for detainees in a report presented in Geneva

Liberia’s review on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was scheduled for March 2018. The human rights platform of the Liberian Civil Society Organizations’ prepared a “shadow” report in response to the list of issues that were raised based on the first report of the Liberian state to the Committee.

Rural Human Rights Activist Programme (RHRAP) and the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia (AFELL) contributed to the CSO report, concentrating on issues regarding the criminal justice system of Liberia.

In 2009, only about 10 per cent of the 800 detained in Liberian prisons had been convicted of a crime, and were held in extended pre-trial detention in overcrowded jails and centres that lacked sanitation and health care. From June 2009, Liberia has taken measures to improve the situation, including the Magistrates Sitting Program implemented in the Monrovia Central Prison and all magistrate courts in Montserrado, as well as the three capital cities in Bong, Nimba, and Lofa counties, the report states.

However, the prisons in Liberia continue to be overcrowded and people are detained for long periods without access to justice.

The report of the CSO’s recommends upscaling the work of the Magistrates Sitting Program to all prisons and places of detention to speed up trials of pre-trial detainees, providing adequate resources for prosecutors and judicial officers to undertake effective prosecution, case management and adhere to criminal procedures, and strengthening the National Legal Aid Scheme. It also recommends speedy hearing of cases by the courts, and ensuring the use of probation and parole services.

Furthermore, the CSO report calls for the Supreme Court to mandate or ensure the introduction of fast track hearing at prison facilities in other counties. The Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) in the court’s system should be legalized to work towards addressing overcrowding in prison facilities. Finally, the Judiciary should deploy more public defenders in the counties.

Other key aspects of the report range from lack of political will and the removal of the provision in Domestic Violence Law that placed ban on female genital mutation practice in Liberia, and other sexual and gender based violence related issues, among others.

Grassroots efforts for improving access to justice in Liberia

RHRAP and AFELL, in collaboration with the Finn Church Aid (FCA), are currently implementing the project “Providing access to justice and gender sensitive legal awareness at grassroots level” in Lofa, Nimba and Bong Counties, with funding from the European Union (EU).

The two years programme is aimed at contributing to improving the Criminal Justice System (CJS) of Liberia and protecting the fundamental human rights and dignity of community residents.

In 2017, RHRAP & AFELL in collaboration with FCA provided trainings for correction officers, police officers, traditional, religious and community leaders, inmates (pre-trial detainees) and judges. The programme has a special focus on women and youth, and provides free legal representation for pre-trial detainees within the Gbarnga, Voinjama, and Sanniquille prisons.

Liberia needs to comply with its human rights obligations

Liberia ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 2004. Liberia’s initial report on the implementation of the ICCPR was due in 2005. After 11 years of delay, Liberia submitted its first report in November 2016. The review on Liberia at the ICCPR that was scheduled for March, was postponed to July of this year 2018, resulting from the government absence.

It was a disappointment to the civil society organisations. However, CSO representatives plan to collectively engage government actors to comply with all obligations in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). This will contribute to Liberia being placed inline with the international community concerning the promotion and protection of fundamental rights of citizens as provided for by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

See full report
ICCPPR Implementation in Liberia – Report of Civil Society Organizations in Reply to the List of Issues, March 2018 

 

The project “Providing Access to Justice and Gender Sensitive Legal Awareness at Grassroots Level” contributes to enhance the rule of law and the respect of the fundamental human rights of the most vulnerable prisoners in Liberia, most often women and youth.

The project is implemented in Lofa, Bong and Nimba counties in Liberia in 2017–2018. It’s funded by the European Union – The European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR).

Delegation of the European Union to Liberia
Project Fact Page

A lack of food prolongs conflict in South Sudan

In South Sudan, the price of food claims people’s lives as well as guns. Hunger staggers society, with people only focused on where to get their next meal.

When you throw a seed in the ground, it grows into a giant mango tree.

This is a saying from South Sudanese Equatoria, the breadbasket of the country. The soil is so fertile that crops grown in the region have fed millions of South Sudanese people. Practically all of South Sudan is a perfect seedbed for produce such as rice, corn, millet, sugar cane, and fruits.

However, war has driven three quarters of the region’s population out of their homes, and vast cultivated areas stand abandoned, says Marie Makweri, who worked in South Sudan for three years as Finn Church Aid’s (FCA) peace coordinator.

The dramatic consequences are seen in the availability and prices of food products. People are lucky to have even one meal a day. Anyone knows that hunger makes a person ill-tempered. Hunger makes the prolonged conflict even worse.

”People in South Sudan say that there are more weapons than food, which is a dangerous combination. A person with no food to feed oneself or one’s family thinks of all the ways in the world to get food,” says Makweri.

5 million people still on the brink of famine

In February 2017, UN declared a famine in Unity State, located in the middle of South Sudan. About 100,000 people were in danger of starving to death. The declaration was followed by an extensive humanitarian operation, during which food ration packages were dropped in the region from World Food Program (WFP) helicopters. FCA contributed to the food aid from its disaster fund.

In June, the famine was officially over, but the daily life of the South Sudanese people did not improve in any significant way. For famine to be declared, the situation has to meet clearly defined criteria. First, a fifth of households must suffer from an extreme lack of food, and a third of the population must be acutely malnourished. In addition, people die at a certain rate – the definition of famine calls for two victims per day for every 10,000 inhabitants.

Famine is equivalent to the highest category on a UN scale of 1 to 5 measuring food security. The current situation does not meet the criteria. On the other hand, 1.5 million people live in a state of emergency (stage 4) and 3.6 million in acute food shortage (stage 3). In other words, there are 5 million South Sudanese people on the brink of famine.

”When you’re there observing the situation, it makes no real difference if people are at stage 4 or 5. The food situation remains extremely difficult”, says Makweri.

Food prices increased tenfold

FCA supports peace and food security

FCA supports peace processes, education and opportunities for subsistence in South Sudan. FCA trainings teach skills such as baking and handling food and dairy products, which improves food production.

Since last fall, FCA has carried out a food security project with 100,000 euros from a disaster collection. The project involves farming training for 500 farmers, and participants in the training are provided with seeds and tools.

The South Sudan food crisis is the result of a prolonged conflict. The conflict began as a power struggle between president Salva Kiir and former vice president Riek Machar. The rivalry turned into war with ethnic battle lines. Kiir represents the Dinka tribe, the biggest tribe in South Sudan, and Machar is from the Nuer tribe, the second biggest.

The conflict is rooted in a dispute over resources after South Sudan gained independence in 2011 – land ownership, water, and oil. Kiir accused Machar of an attempted coup and dismissed him. There are other tribes in South Sudan as well, coaxed into alliance or played against each other. In the autumn of 2016, UN issued a warning of a possible genocide.

Fear has had catastrophic repercussions on food production. Farmers are too afraid to sow or harvest their crops. Food deliveries have become difficult, and prices at marketplaces have risen sky-high. After the fighting that started in July 2016, the price of a 3,5-kilo sack of maize meal in the capital Juba rose from 5,5 euros to 60 euros. The price is equivalent to a month’s average wages in South Sudan.

Even the prices of basic vegetables, such as tomatoes, have increased tenfold, and further from the capital, prices are even higher. Tea, sugar, and meat are luxury products that have become completely nonexistent.

The effects are seen on the street, says Makweri, who lived in Juba up until the turn of the year. Shopkeepers cannot afford to buy expensive food products and sell them at a profit, so many grocery stores have closed. Even bigger marketplaces have less items to sell, and fewer and fewer vendors selling them.

”Ordinary people can’t afford food,” says Makweri.

Food aid keeps people sane

In her work, Makweri has seen people’s preoccupation with food. Motivating them to participate in peace processes takes patience when their foremost concern is where to get the next meal for their family.

”People find it hard to even think about the next day, let alone the long-term effects of peace. They’re thinking about the next minute that they might as well use to get food.”

On the other hand, the food situation will not improve in any significant way until the conflict ends. South Sudan has all the prerequisites for self-sufficient food production, provided that peace can be achieved in the country. Food aid supported by the international community is keeping the negotiations alive.

”The message of the South Sudanese people is unanimous: the food aid should under no circumstances be discontinued. It keeps people alive and sane, and literally gives the strength to believe in peace.”

Text: Erik Nyström

Read more about about Finn Church Aid’s work in South Sudan here.

 

Finn Church Aid and the EU train communities on access to justices and provide prisons with phones in Liberia

Finn Church Aid (FCA) has provided prisons with desk phones in Bong, Lofa and Nimba counties in Liberia and trained 90 community, religious and traditional representatives on access to justices.

Monrovia. 

The phones promote the rights of inmates, enhances their access to lawyers and enables them to contact their families free-of-charge.

“These phones bring relief to us, as we often lend our personal phones to inmates to contact their families”, noted the Bong County Superintendent Bendu Kollie.

Presenting the phones to prison superintendents in the three counties, the implementing partners Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia (AFELL) and Rural Human Rights Activists Programme (RHRAP) and FCA representatives stressed the need for prison officials to ensure that inmates have adequate access to the phones in order to contact their lawyers and families. AFELL will continue to provide legal representations for prolong pre-trial detainees. The organisations also admonished prison authorities to maintain call log for inmates.

“Legal representation for prolong pre-detainees and their subsequent release will help to reduce over crowdedness of prison facilities”, said UNMIL Prison Supervisor in Lofa, Henry Tambabe.

Lofa County

Lofa County.

RHRAP and AFELL, in collaboration with FCA, conducted trainings on access to justice for 90 community leaders and religious and traditional representatives in Bong, Nimba and Lofa.

The trainings, facilitated by legal practitioners including stipendiary magistrates, focused
on access to justice such as criminal justice, rights of pre-trial detainees, role of the police, courts and corrections as well as sexual and gender-based violence with emphasis on the Rape Law.

Some of the participants asserted that the training enlightened them about their basic rights under the law, and allowed them to raise questions with magistrates and defence counsels on issues that confront them in their communities.

Bong County.

Bong County.

The training sessions ended with mobilising county stakeholders and re-establishing county level coordination dialogue on human rights and rule of law with county level meetings taking place and attended by the police, corrections officers, religious and community representatives as well as court officers and civil society organisations working on human rights.

The project “Providing Access to Justice and Gender Sensitive Legal Awareness at Grassroots Level” contributes to enhance the rule of law and the respect of the fundamental human rights of the most vulnerable prisoners in Liberia, most often women and youth.

The project is implemented in Lofa, Bong and Nimba counties in Liberia in 2017–2018. It’s funded by the European Union – The European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR).

Delegation of the European Union to Liberia
Project Fact Page