10 + 1 facts about forgotten crises

10 + 1 facts about forgotten crises

Conflicts, natural disasters, famines, and economic disasters – sooner or later, crisis like these drop from the headlines and the lips of politicians, but they continue to be an acute reality for the people on the ground. When we talk about forgotten and neglected crises, what do we mean?


That is why we prefer to talk about neglected crises. Being privileged individuals, we may often forget about individual crises; as such crises do not affect us directly and thus do not require our constant attention. These crises can better be described as neglected – by the international community, which may either be unable to respond with sufficient money, or even find the required political willpower. 


Conflicts between two states are easy to grasp, as are natural catastrophes. But many other crises have multifaceted reasons – the Syrian conflict, for instance, began after a climate-change-caused dry period and cannot be reduced to a mere geopolitical, historical, and ideological squabble. Events that we find hard to understand are also difficult to follow and  identify with. 


The recovery period is a part of the crisis. Peace treaties are signed, typhoons die down, but these things still do not mean the crisis itself is over. Rebuilding infrastructure, institutions and citizenship takes a long time and requires a lot of resources, whether it is war or a natural catastrophe. 


An individual person cannot carry the weight of the world on their shoulders, especially if they also are facing issues in their personal lives. Continuous obsessive monitoring of media – doomscrolling – benefits nobody. We often see compassion fatigue – a situation where the sheer burden handicaps or short-circuits our feelings of compassion, particularly when there is no solution in sight. 


There’s not enough room for many crises in the news at the same time. Also at play are geographical and cultural relationships, which have their effect on what the news finds important. It is easy for Finns to pay attention to the Ukrainian crisis, for example – the attacker is familiar to the people of Finland and is also Finland’s neighbor. Continuous access to news means that existing crises are buried by new ones. Moreover, instead of civilian suffering, the news often finds battles and political squabbles more important.  


The Internet offers more information about various crises than ever before – and a wealth of differing viewpoints. An enormous amount of information is swirling about online and when crises have complicated and far-reaching reasons, it is all too easy to assume simple, even false points of view and fake news. All of this affects the way we view these crises and their potential solutions. 


Politicians, parties, and the international community may, due to their lack of ability or will to act, be unable to solve or prevent certain crises, and this may also serve as a reason for them to not pay attention to certain crises. On the other hand, if people do not demand actions from their leaders, the resulting  political apathy may also be a factor in the  low amount of attention the crisis receives. 


Enormous crises, like the tsunami in Asia or Russia’s attack on  Ukraine, bring aid organizations vast amounts of funds from private individuals and organizations. Which is good! Getting aid without media attention is always more of a chore, though. Traditional funders still understand the importance of long-term aid work, but even established actors like the World Food Programme and the UN Refugee Agency have troublecollecting the funds they need for their work. 


Those living in the middle of long-lasting conflicts may feel abandoned and isolated, if the international community ignores their problems. This lack of vision and feelings of hopelessness then provide grist for extremist mills. Hope and belief in one’s future are important – through these, people and communities have, throughout history, managed to survive various awful crises. 


The climate catastrophe and nature loss will cause natural disasters, weaken food security, and drive refugees and armed conflicts far to the future. The scale of changes is enormous, but the effects are distributed unequally and there are considerable differences in the level of community preparations and available resources. This is hardly a new situation, however: in the 2010s, over 80 percent of all catastrophes were related to climate and weather. One way or another, this crisis is showing up in everyone’s backyard. We cannot ignore it any longer. 


FCA’s work is not over even when the most acute part of the crisis is. The organization also helps prepare for coming crises and prevent them in advance. Additionally, FCA collaborates with communities to strengthen their ability to prepare and survive by searching for nature-based solutions and innovating to always be a little bit better. FCA also works in crisis areas with its partner organizations. 

For this story, we interviewed FCA’s humanitarian aid manager Jan De Waegemaeker and political history researcher Noora Kotilainen, a communication, crisis, and political violence expert at the University of Helsinki. Additional sources include materials drawn up by the Norwegian Refugee Council on forgotten refugee crises and the World Disasters Report. 

Teksti: Anne Salomäki 
Kuvitus: Carla Ladau
Translation: Tatu Ahponen

The Poorest Countries in the World: 10+1 Things to Know

The Poorest Countries in the World: 10+1 Things to Know

The poorest countries of the world remain poor year after year,decade after decade – or so it might seem. What do these countries have in common? Why are they stuck in the mire of poverty – and what can we do about it?


What are the poorest countries in the world?One way to define them is the UN’s list of Least Developed Countries (LDCs). The list, updated every three years, currently includes 46 countries, mostly in Africa, some in the Asia/Pacific region and one, Haiti, in the Caribbean. The LDCs are ranked on the list according to factors like income levels, health, and education.


Over a tenth of the world’s population lives in a country classified as “fragile” and, according to the World Bank, around eight per cent of people face extreme poverty. Signs of dire poverty include high maternal and infant mortality rates, low status of women and low levels of education. Most of the work performed in such countries takes place outside the formal labor market, such as in domestic labor. Tax revenues are thus inadequate for providing government services, and basic services like education and health care remain lacking.


The legacy of colonialism continues to cast a shadow over many poor countries. The borders of modern-day states, once artificially drawn by their former colonial masters, frequently do not follow patterns like ethnic lines or traditional settlements. Natural resources have been made into a tool for accumulating wealth for a small proportion of the population. Societies maldeveloped in this way are prone to conflict, ethnic violence, and undeveloped governance, rife with practices such as corruption and misuse of funds that clash with the idea of good government.


Poor countries’ development may be hindered by conflict, poor governance (especially in small countries) or resource-based economies. The neighbourhoods of the countries also play a large role, especially for countries that do not have a ready connection to the ocean. Access to world markets and secure transportation of goods are important requirements for maintaining a growing economy.


Botswana and Vanuatu demonstrate that leaving the UN’s LDC list is possible. Even in the most fragile of countries education offers one pathway to development, and developing vocational training can be an effective way to provide routes to employment and sustenance. Nevertheless, even when development happens, women, people with disabilities and marginalized ethnic groups often face exclusion. It is important to keep everyone on board in order for progress to reach the whole of society.


We say that development must reach the entire society, but what kind of development are we talking about? As ways to define development, measures like the gross domestic product (GDP) and life expectancy are fundamentally based on the Western mindset. A current trend in development cooperation, though, is a shift towards primarily local ownership, with local people themselves defining the agenda of development. In this process, in addition to GDP and other indicators, the status of individuals and their opportunities to live their own lives are also of fundamental importance.


Humanitarian aid is seen as immediate disaster relief, but it is also acutely needed for protracted conflicts and for refugees. Focusing only on acute relief is short-sighted – raising people up from poverty requires education, jobs, and other opportunities for livelihood. The best way to help fragile countries is combining different forms of aid and thinking beyond what is acute; casting an eye to the future and visualising the permanent eradication of poverty. In this process, peacebuilding plays a crucial role.


This, we know already; development should not be a byword for a consumption-centered Western lifestyle, unsustainable both in terms of nature and the climate. When defining our preferred model of development, we must also always keep this in mind; Western lifestyle also needs changing. A consumption-centered, exploitative model of development is fundamentally not an option.


Development cooperation gets a lot of criticism, and its controversial aspects were also highlighted in Finland’s recent government negotiations. Giving aid is not only a moral and ethical obligation, but also something that can advance a better life for all. Trade relations, innovation, and the promotion of technology, for example, impact the entire world positively.


Education and jobs – these are the best ways to keep destitute people from negative pathways like joining extremist groups. Just as conflicts can spread from one country to another, the stabilisation of one country also increases stability in neighboring countries. Thus, foreign aid is also in the interests of the donor countries. Development cooperation also helps rectify past errors, including in the case of Finland, a country that has – like others – grown from the exploitation of the global South’s resources.


Thework of Finn Church Aid and the wishes of our donors highlight the importance of women and youth in development. Enabling the participation of women and young people in decision-making and governance allows positive changes to occur in entire societies. Educated women also want their children to be educated, and this fosters the development of the whole local community.

Sources: interview with Ikali Karvinen, Executive Vice President of KUA, and UNCTAD, UNDP, World Bank and Paul Collier’s book The Bottom Billion.

Text by Anne Salomäki
Illustration: Carla Ladau

FCA is assessing the start of humanitarian aid work in the Palestinian territories

FCA is assessing the start of humanitarian aid work in the Palestinian territories

The decision is based on Egypt’s announcement on Thursday to open the Rafah border crossing point for the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza.

FINN CHURCH AID (FCA) sends a humanitarian emergency aid expert to find out the possibilities of delivering aid in the Palestinian territories. The person appointed by the FCA will start the assessment work in Cairo, the capital of Egypt, where several UN and other aid organizations that are relevant, especially in terms of easing the humanitarian situation in Gaza, operate.

The background of the decision is Egypt’s announcement on Thursday to open the Rafah border crossing point for the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza.

“The task of the expert placed in the area is to find out the need for humanitarian aid, the refugee situation and to provide us with information on how we can best and most efficiently help people in need, says FCA’s Deputy Executive Director Ikali Karvinen.

Finn Church Aid is Finland’s largest humanitarian aid organization, which was founded in 1947. We currently operate in 12 countries where the need is greatest. FCA works on the development of the education sector in the West Bank, provides afternoon activities for Palestinian children at risk of exclusion in East Jerusalem, and discussion tools for teenagers in Israel.

Cash transfers in Myanmar are changing lives for the better

Cash transfers in Myanmar are changing lives for the better

The confluence of the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic downturn, political instability, and escalated civil conflicts since February 2021 has cast a shadow of financial hardship over countless lives in Myanmar.

A STAGGERING 67% of the country’s population, including the once-thriving Chin State, grapples with the harsh grip of poverty.

While maintaining a focus on education work in Myanmar, FCA also supports livelihood opportunities and humanitarian assistance with interventions such as cash transfers to beneficiaries.

Three people in Chin State, whose lives have crossed paths with FCA’s work, recently shared their stories.

Van Cung’s Journey of Hope

Van Cung is a 56-year-old resident of Thantalang Town, surrounded by teal-hued mountains and sandwiched by Vuichip and Marau peaks. The two rivers serve as the lifeblood of its inhabitants. In times gone by, it was hailed as one of the most prosperous towns in Chin state.

A devoted teacher with 24 years of experience, Van Cung poured his heart into educating the youth of Chin State in Thantalang. His dedication was unwavering even during long hours of teaching. On a modest salary of about 300,000 MMK (approximately 115 Euro), he supported his family of five, finding joy in meaningful work and the love of his kin.

A man sits on a motorbike atop a ridge overlooking a shallow valley. His features are blurred.
Van Cung relies on his motorbike for his livelihood.

However, fate took an unforeseen twist. The coup of February 2021 unleashed waves of unrest and protests, causing the education system to collapse nationwide, including in Chin state. The schools closed, leaving him unemployed. Adding to the turmoil, a devastating incident unfolded on November 19, 2021.

During a military campaign, 164 houses in his town were burned down. The destruction escalated, resulting in the loss of 900 houses and 19 religious structures to the fire. Van’s home was one of these —looted, burned, and reduced to ashes. This tragedy left his family with only an aging motorbike. Even now his voice quivers as he expresses his sorrow,

“My life has been shattered beyond imagination. I never fathomed such profound loss, even in my darkest dreams.”

In search of safety, he traveled with his family and aging bike to Zephai village, situated 44 miles away near the Indian border. The host community welcomed them with temporary shelter and food, yet the village was overwhelmed with families seeking refuge, resulting in overcrowding and limited resources. Van Cung turned to farming on available vacant lands, but the yield hardly alleviated his family’s hunger.

FCA provided 150,000 MMK (approximately 57.55 Euro) in humanitarian cash assistance to support his family. This aid was transformative. With this assistance, Van Cung embarked on a two-day journey on foot to Hnaring sub-town to buy spare parts to repair his motorbike. With the restored bike, he devised a plan to sell petrol. In nearby villages, he began selling fuel, earning a daily income of 20,000 MMK—a lifeline for his family.

Van Cung’s impact extends beyond his household. He now extends a helping hand to his community by ferrying patients on his motorbike to the medical center, navigating the winding roads of the Chin Hills.

“I am deeply thankful to FCA for their invaluable support, which has been a lifeline for individuals like me in Chin State. My hope is for their compassionate efforts to continue reaching the Chin Hills, touching more lives in need.”

Iang Ku’s Path to Self-Sufficiency

In a quiet corner of Chin State’s Haka Town resides Ms. Iang Ku, a resilient 30-year-old woman sharing her life with her 90-year-old father. Nestled on a small highland peak, Haka Town rises over 6,000 feet above the earth, compact yet proudly serving as the capital of the entire Chin State.

She and her father once owned a shop, selling cherished Chin traditional dresses, bringing in a steady income of about 20,000 MMK per day. But life’s tranquility was shattered by the echoes of a turbulent coup, rewriting their narrative in an instant.

Amidst the upheaval, a powerful explosion rocked their home, leaving them with their lives but taking away their possessions and livelihood. To take refuge, they fled to Sialam Village situated 54 miles away. For three days, they traveled on foot, enduring hunger and uncertainty, surviving on foraged fruits and vegetables along the route.

A woman hunches over a weaving frame, busily working
Iang Ku was able to support her father through her handicraft skills.

Despite the community’s generous hospitality, aid was limited due to their responsibility for a significant number of internally displaced people. Iang Ku experienced profound disappointment and a sense of hopelessness regarding their future survival, especially given her father’s chronic illness. With a heavy heart, she lamented, “I feel as though I could perish alongside my father.”

Like Van Cung, she also received humanitarian aid from Finn Church Aid, amounting to 60,000 MMK (approximately 115 Euro). She invested the entire sum into crafting traditional weaving products, which hold a high market value. With this assistance, she acquired the necessary equipment for traditional weaving production.

She started earning 8,000 MMK within a few days by selling her textiles. Her monthly income gradually ranged between 5,000 to 20,000 MMK. As her earnings grew, she could afford more materials for weaving. She now earns more than enough money to meet her family’s needs and generously assists those in need within her community.

Actively engaged in church activities, she finds herself counting the blessings of her transformed life. “With determination and assistance, I’ve woven a new life, now able to offer hope and help to those in need,” she shares.

Naw Bik’s Tale of Transformation

Naw Bik, a 47-year-old resident of Thantlang Town, was employed as a lower division clerk at the Ministry of Home Affairs. His monthly income of 280,000 MMK (107.5 Euro) provided for his family of four. However, when political turmoil erupted on February 1, 2021, he was compelled to leave his job, causing financial strain that cast his family into a state of food insecurity.

In October 2021, amidst the chaos in Thantlang Town, he and his family, like many others, sought refuge near the India border. They embarked on a grueling 41-mile journey on foot, traversing rugged terrain over two days, carrying what little belongings they could. The path was challenging, marked by steep inclines and treacherous footpaths.

A man with a grass trimmer works near a line of trees
Naw Bik received 120,000 MMK in cash assistance from FCA/MCC.

Upon reaching Tlangpi village, his family’s spirits were lifted by the warm welcome of fellow villagers. Despite the uncomfortable living conditions, they found solace among other internally displaced families.

In response, FCA provided 120,000 MMK to address the family’s livelihood crisis. This assistance ignited Naw Bik’s determination. He invested in a grass trimming tool and secured work at an Elephant Foot Yam and Strawberry farm, earning 10,000 MMK per day and a monthly income of 240,000 MMK. This newfound stability eased his family’s daily needs.

Reflecting on his journey, Naw Bik expressed profound gratitude for the unexpected support that reinvigorated his family’s means of survival. The generosity of strangers through the project inspired him to lend a hand to others grappling with conflicts and crises. He stressed the ongoing importance of humanitarian aid in Chin State, where many silently endure for survival.

Read more about FCA’s work in Myanmar.

World Humanitarian Day: what does it take to be a humanitarian worker?

World Humanitarian Day: what does it take to be a humanitarian worker?

Mukhtar Hashi is a cash project officer at the FCA Somaliland office. He works with internally displaced persons in Somaliland by providing them with cash transfers to support their livelihood. He shared some thoughts with us on his long career in humanitarian work.

What inspired you to pursue a career in humanitarian work, and how did you first venture into this field?
I was inspired by a combination of personal experiences and a desire to make a positive impact on the lives of others. Growing up, I was fortunate to have a supportive family and access to education, but that made me more aware of the disparities that exist in the world.

My first venture into the field of humanitarian work came during my college years. I joined a student-led volunteer group that organised local community outreach initiatives, and this experience opened my eyes to the power of collective action and the potential for grassroots efforts to effect change. Seeing the difference, we could make in marginalised peoples’ lives inspired me to commit myself further to humanitarian work.

As I delved deeper into this field, I engaged in internships and workshops that exposed me to broader global issues such as poverty, lack of access to proper healthcare, refugee crises, and environmental challenges. These experiences not only solidified my passion for humanitarian work but also underscored the interconnections between these issues and the need for holistic solutions.

Over time, my journey led me to collaborate with established humanitarian organisations, where I worked on projects ranging from disaster relief to sustainable development initiatives. These experiences taught me the value of interdisciplinary collaboration, cultural sensitivity, and adaptive problem-solving in the face of complex challenges.

Are there any particularly memorable experiences you’ve had while working in the field and have they impacted you personally?
One incident that has profoundly impacted me was during a relief mission to a region affected by a tropical cyclone. While on the ground, our team witnessed the devastation Cyclone Sagar had wrought upon the community. Homes were destroyed, families were displaced, and the sense of loss was palpable.

Amidst this backdrop, we began setting up temporary shelters and distributing essential supplies. As we interacted with the affected individuals, I was struck by their resilience and how they came together to support one another in such trying times.

During our time there, I met a young girl named Sahra. She had lost her home and parents in the disaster, yet her spirit remained unbroken. Sahra’s determination to help her younger siblings and her unwavering optimism in the face of such tragedy left an indelible mark on me.

Witnessing Sahra’s story and the community’s collective strength reaffirmed my belief in the importance of humanitarian work. It served as a reminder that our efforts, no matter how challenging, have the potential to bring light to people’s lives and help them rebuild.

While there are indeed heart-wrenching moments in humanitarian work, experiences like these serve as beacons of hope and motivation. They remind us that even in the face of adversity, human compassion, resilience, and the power to make a positive impact can shine through. Such moments drive me to continue my work in this field.

A smiling man in a baseball cap, sunglasses and denim shirt and jeans stands in an arid landscape
Mukhtar believes humanitarian work is a calling

Balancing the emotional toll of working in crises with the need to remain focused and effective in your work must be incredibly challenging.  How do you deal with that?
The nature of the work often exposes us to heart-wrenching stories and difficult circumstances, which can take a toll on our emotional well-being. However, managing this stress and continuing to provide support requires a combination of strategies that I’ve found invaluable.

Firstly, self-care is paramount. Taking care of your mental and physical health is not just  important but a necessity. Engaging in regular exercise, maintaining a balanced diet, and practising relaxation techniques like meditation and deep breathing help me recharge and sustain resilience.

Secondly, fostering a solid support network is essential. Connecting with colleagues who understand the challenges and empathise with the emotions involved can provide a sense of camaraderie. Sharing experiences and thoughts with trusted friends and family outside of the field can also be incredibly comforting.

Maintaining clear boundaries between work and personal life is another crucial aspect. While it’s natural to be deeply invested in the lives of those we’re helping, setting limits helps prevent burnout. Allocating time for hobbies and interests and spending time with loved ones allows me to recharge and regain perspective.

Engaging in continuous development in your personal and professional life is very important as I believe it’s a way to cope with stress. Staying up to date with best practices, attending workshops, and seeking guidance from mentors enable me to enhance my skills and approach to humanitarian work.

Finally, focusing on the positive impact we make, even in the smallest of ways, helps maintain a sense of purpose. Celebrating achievements, no matter how incremental, reminds me that the effort is worthwhile and that I am making a difference, however modest it may seem.

What do you believe is the most critical quality for someone working in humanitarian aid, and how can someone cultivate that quality?
Working in humanitarian aid demands a diverse set of qualities, and while empathy, resilience, and adaptability are all vital, one of the most critical qualities is a genuine and unwavering commitment to the cause.

Cultivating this commitment begins with a deep understanding of the purpose behind humanitarian work. It’s not just a job; it’s a calling driven by a sincere desire to alleviate suffering, promote human dignity, and effect positive change. This commitment fuels the determination needed to navigate the challenges and complexities inherent in this field.

Empathy plays a significant role. Being able to put oneself in the shoes of those in need fosters a genuine connection and understanding of their struggles. This empathy forms the foundation upon which effective solutions are built, ensuring that assistance is tailored to the needs and cultural contexts of the individuals being helped.

Resilience is equally crucial. Humanitarian work often involves witnessing difficult situations and confronting obstacles that can be emotionally taxing. The ability to bounce back from setbacks and maintain a sense of purpose is essential. Building resilience involves developing coping strategies, seeking support when needed, and focusing on the positive impact achieved.

Adaptability is another indispensable quality. Humanitarian contexts can change rapidly due to unforeseen events or shifting circumstances. Being able to quickly adjust strategies, methods, and plans while keeping the end goal in sight is crucial for ensuring that aid remains relevant and effective.

Effective communication and collaboration are also paramount. Humanitarian work often involves coordinating with diverse teams, partnering with local communities, and liaising with various stakeholders. Strong interpersonal skills facilitate building relationships, fostering trust, and ensuring that efforts are coordinated for maximum impact.

Continuous learning is vital as well. The humanitarian landscape constantly evolves, and staying informed about new developments, innovative approaches, and best practices is crucial for providing practical assistance.

Aspiring humanitarian workers can start by seeking opportunities for exposure and engagement to cultivate these qualities. Volunteering with local organisations, participating in workshops, and networking with professionals in the field provide valuable insights and experiences. Developing emotional intelligence, honing problem-solving skills, and maintaining a solid ethical compass are also vital.

The most critical quality for someone in humanitarian aid is an unwavering commitment rooted in empathy, resilience, adaptability, effective communication, and a passion for continuous learning. By cultivating these qualities, individuals can make a meaningful impact in the lives of those they aim to help.

Interviewer: Fatima Abshir

Across the world, FCA’s local workers come face to face with catastrophes both in their work and in their personal lives 

Across the world, FCA’s local workers come face to face with catastrophes both in their work and in their personal lives 

Karam woke up when the earth started to shake. Marianna fled a war. Susan skips workdays to fetch water. These FCA workers now tell us what it’s like to live in the middle of a catastrophe. 

DID YOU KNOW that Finn Church Aid employs over 3 000 people? Or that 95 % of them are locally hired experts? Our local workers are the most crucial part of our relief work. For many people, catastrophes are a remote affair – for them, they’re a part of everyday life. 

In this article we meet some FCA experts who have lived through the war in Ukraine, the drought in East Africa and a devastating earthquake in Syria. They don’t see their work as just a job. What is at stake for them is the future – for their families and for their countries.

A man poses for a photograph.
Syrian Karam Sharouf has lived his entire adult life surrounded by catastrophes: a decade of war, pandemic and in February 2023, a devastating earthquake tore down thousands of homes and schools in North Syria. PHOTO: KARAM SHAROUF / FCA

Karam Sharouf from Syria has lived through a variety of catastrophes for his entire adult life. Still, he sees light at the end of the tunnel.  

“It started with a bomb-like sound, just like what we have been hearing throughout the war. I thought we were under attack again. Eventually, I realized that the earth was shaking. 

It was the morning of February 6, 2023. I was asleep in our home, on the fourth floor of a building, in the Syrian capital Damascus. In a state of shock, I grabbed my wife and child. Things were falling and breaking apart around us, but fortunately there were no injuries.  

I am Syrian. I am 33 years old. I have lived my entire adult life surrounded by catastrophes: a decade of war, then the pandemic, now a devastating earthquake. Our country is going from a crisis to crisis, and many Syrians are just waiting for a chance to get out.  

I have been working with FCA since 2019, when I became FCA’s first local worker in Syria. Even before that, however, I had ten years of experience in the organization. The earthquake has kept us extremely busy. In Syria, we have not had the opportunity to prepare for catastrophes like the earthquake and the pandemic, since we have dealing with bombs and attacks for the last decade. How to deal with something like an earthquake? We have had no idea.  

Just before the quake, Finn Church Aid had expanded its reach to Aleppo, as well as Raqqa, often remembered as the capital of ISIS. People in these cities have been living under enormous pressure and, after all the bad things that have happened, all they have wanted is a moment of calm. What they did not need was another catastrophe, like this earthquake – causing many to lose their homes or families. 

So, all things considered, it’s all very difficult, but I still see light at the end of the tunnel for us Syrians. That’s what keeps me going. After all, our mission is making people feel empowered. 

The future of Syria depends first on us, the locals, even if the international community’s help is also necessary. When people work hard for their country, this creates a sense of togetherness and unity. What annoys me is how white people treat us Middle-Easterners. I’ve seen none of that while at FCA, even though we are in constant contact with Finland and our other countries of operation. Almost all of the staff at FCA’s Syria office are Syrian. That is quite exceptional and gets us a lot of positive feedback. 

Marianna Zhurbenko, who has fled the war in Ukraine, would not hesitate to open her home to other refugees. 

A Ukrainian woman sits by a desk. There is a laptop on the desk.
Marianna Zhurbenko fled the war herself before becoming a humanitarian worker. She now works as planning coordinator in FCA. PHOTO: Antti Yrjönen / FCA

“I remember staring incredulously at the sky from the window of my home in Gostomel, west of Kiev. It was 24 February 2022, helicopters were flying overhead, and my phone kept ringing incessantly as my friends called in distress, telling me and my family to flee. All the sudden the war had started, and the front line was only 500 metres from our home. It felt like they were playing a movie just outside our window. 

The artillery fire started in the evening. That’s when my husband and I decided to flee. We packed our 9-year-old son, our six-month-old baby, and our dog into the car. We fled first to Kyiv and then to western Ukraine.  

I and my sons lived there for the next few months. I stayed awake, listened to my 9-year-old crying. Fortunately, the baby didn’t understand anything about the situation.  

Unknown families took us in to live with them. We tried to offer them payment for water and electricity, and they refused to accept it. The war has united us Ukrainians like never before. I, too, would open the door to other families if they were facing such a situation.  

My own values have also been changed by the war. Material goods no longer matter to me, while life, health, family, and love are vastly more important than before. 

We were able to return home in May 2022. Kyiv was empty and our yard was full of mines and ammo fragments. The mines were cleared, and now our children can play there safely again. 

Before the war, I was a supervisor in a sewing company. After we returned home, it soon became clear that this couldn’t continue. Although my workplace had not been destroyed in the fighting, all the workers had fled elsewhere and had no intention of returning.  

I started in June as a planning coordinator at the Finn Church Aid. I’m in charge of obtaining aid and making sure that all aid going to FCA’s schools, for example, finds its way there.  

I was an internally displaced person and I know how that makes people feel. It’s great to be able to help children, and I like what I’m doing here.” 

A Kenyan woman poses for a photograph.
Susan Abuba Jackson fled to Kenya from South Sudan in 2017. She now works in a refugee camp as a teacher. PHOTO: BJÖRN UDD / FCA

Susan Abuba Jackson, living in a Kenyan refugee camp, is a teacher. Sometimes, however, she must spend a whole working day just fetching water. 

“I am a teacher. The ongoing drought makes life hard for my students, but also for me. I have five children at home. Some days, instead of going to work, I must fetch water to keep my children from suffering. If I can’t feed myself, I don’t have the energy to teach. There are four of us teachers in the school. The class sizes are so huge that teaching while hungry and thirsty becomes impossible. 

I came to Kenya from South Sudan in 2017, fleeing the war. I remember seeing one person shot I fled with my children here to Kenya while my husband stayed in South Sudan as a soldier. 

I worked as a teacher in South Sudan for 12 years. Upon arrival here, I started as a primary school teacher. For the last two years, I have been working as a kindergarten teacher in a school run by Finn Church Aid in the Kalobeyei refugee camp. 

I like working with children. They are flexible, they learn quickly and are very outspoken. Early education is also especially important for children. It is foundational to all sorts of learning.  

The drought is currently our biggest problem. Normally we have 500 pupils, but many are dropping out of school because there is no water in the school, either. We can’t even offer them food if there is no water. 

The children here have a lot of special needs. Many have seen war, have been traumatized. Their parents may have died, and they may be living alone with older siblings. It is up to us to look after these children and make sure they get a good education, but in a situation like this, that is very difficult.” 

Text: Björn Udd
Translation: Tatu Ahponen

FCA prepares for aid operation in Myanmar

FCA prepares for aid operation in Myanmar devastated by Cyclone Mocha

On Sunday May 14 in Myanmar, the hurricane hit the Rakhine region, already suffering an ongoing humanitarian emergency.

CYCLONE MOCHA cost lives and caused severe damage, assessment of which is underway in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. The cyclone, which picked up speed from the Bay of Bengal, blew at a speed of up to 60 meters per second when it hit the land and tore down trees and power lines. Due to the storm, there have been extensive data network outages in the Rakhine state area, making it difficult to acquire accurate date.

Finn Church Aid has already allocated 100,000 euros from its disaster fund on Sunday for the emergency relief work caused by the hurricane. FCA has its own country office in Myanmar and on Monday, local employees started assessing the need for aid in the Rakhine region, where we already have projects, including those financed by Women’s Bank.

Mocha caused widespread destruction in Myanmar

“Cyclone Mocha has severely damaged the infrastructure of the Rakhine region in Myanmar. Only the tallest and strongest buildings have survived the storm, most of the others have been destroyed,” says Henry Braun , FCA’s Country Director for Myanmar .

He describes surroundings covered with debris from fallen trees and electricity poles.

“The hurricane has particularly affected housing. Those who can afford it have moved to hotels and other paid accommodation. Those who can’t afford it have sought shelter on the streets and, for example, in playgrounds.”

According to Braun, most families only had time to take water and food for a few days during the evacuations that took place before the storm.

“The emergency situation requires immediate humanitarian aid in order to meet the food and shelter needs of these people and to restore infrastructure. Our goal is to extend our help to around 20,000 people,” says Braun.

An old woman sits in the ruins of her house
A Rohingya woman sits in her destroyed house at Basara refugee camp in Sittwe on May 16, 2023, after cyclone Mocha made a landfall. AFP / LEHTIKUVA / SAI AUNG MAIN

Already a state of emergency in cyclone-hit area

Half a million people were evacuated from the path of Cyclone Mocha even before landfall on the continent. In total, Mocha is estimated to have affected the lives of more than eight million people while moving from the coast to the interior. About two million of them were already in extremely vulnerable situations. A humanitarian emergency has prevailed in the Rakhine region before the natural disaster due to the military coup last year and the conflict that preceded it, and aid work in the region is estimated to be very difficult.

FCA is preparing to distribute cash grants to the most vulnerable families in Myanmar’s Rakhine region for food and to repair homes damaged by the cyclone. Distributing cash grants requires that the local market is functioning and that people are able to use money to buy basic items such as food, potable water, hygiene items, blankets and mosquito nets. The security situation in the area may also affect what kind of help can be offered to people driven from their homes by the storm in the initial stages of the operation.

We also plan to secure the continuation of children’s schooling as quickly as possible in addition to our other projects.

Additional information:

FCA Executive Director Tomi Järvinen, tomi.jarvinen@kirkonulkomaanapu.fi, tel. +35840 641 8209

FCA Myanmar Country Director Henry Braun, henry.braun@kirkonulkomaanapu.fi, +95 944 172 2176

Hurricane leaves thousands of families homeless in Myanmar

Hurricane leaves thousands of families homeless in Myanmar

Finn Church Aid grants 100,000 euros from its disaster fund to help those affected by the destruction of Cyclone Mocha in Myanmar.

Cyclone Mocha, described as the strongest in more than a decade, hit the coast of Myanmar and Bangladesh on the morning of Sunday, May 14th. According to meteorologists, the cyclone that arrived on the densely populated continent from the direction of the Bay of Bengal has been intensified by the proximity of the sea.

The storm is feared to cause great destruction in the region, which is already experiencing a protracted humanitarian disaster due to ongoing conflict. On the Bangladesh side, the cyclone is falling on the Cox Bazar area, home to one of the world’s largest refugee camps. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees live in Cox Bazar, whose situation is already very difficult.

Finn Church Aid (FCA) has allocated 100,000 euros from its disaster fund for humanitarian aid work necessitated by the damage caused by the hurricane. FCA has its own country office in Myanmar.

“According to the weather data, the strength of the wind was up to 210 kilometers per hour (almost 60 meters per second) when it hit the mainland. Such a strong storm can have serious effects on the already vulnerable population of the region”, describes FCA’s Country Manager for Myanmar, Henry Braun .

According to Braun, Cyclone Mocha has caused severe damage to telephone and internet networks. Fallen trees and heavy rainfall have resulted in flooding, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee in both countries. 

Moottoripyöräkypäräpäinen mies ja nainen poimivat pellistä rakennetun rakennuksen edessä maasta roskia Myanmarissa.
Cyclone Mocha, which hit Myanmar and Bangladesh from the Bay of Bengal on the morning of Mother’s Day, wreaked havoc and forced up to a hundred thousand people to leave their homes. Myanmar’s Rakhine state was already under a humanitarian emergency before the disaster. PHOTO: LEHTKUTA / AFP

Myanmar is already in a state of humanitarian emergency

“The situation is extremely worrying and the need for aid will be huge, because there is already such a large humanitarian emergency in Myanmar. It is estimated that up to 17.6 million people are already dependent on emergency aid,” says FCA Executive Director Tomi Järvinen .

Rakhine State in Myanmar, which is one of the poorest and least developed regions in the country, has been hit hard by the cyclone. This region has experienced ongoing conflict, leading to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims to neighbouring Bangladesh. Additionally, the conflict has internally displaced many others in the Rakhine region. 

“Together with the UN and our humanitarian aid partners, we are ready to offer life-saving aid to the communities affected by Cyclone Mocha in Myanmar’s Rakhine State,” says Järvinen.

FCA is preparing to support the victims of the disaster with cash grants that people caught in the middle of storm damage can use to guarantee their food security. The response is expected to reach 20,000 people. The situation is expected to worsen during Sunday and into Monday.

Additional information:

FCA Executive Director Tomi Järvinen, tomi.jarvinen@kirkonulkomaanapu.fi, tel. +358 40 641 8209

FCA Country Director Henry Braun, henry.braun@kirkonulkomaanapu.fi , tel. +95 944 172 2176

Ukraine: One year of war

Ukraine: One year of a war that shattered lives and put millions in need

All photos unless indicated: Antti Yrjönen

On 24 February 2022 the world changed for Ukrainians. After Russia’s invasion, millions of people became refugees, displaced within and without the borders of their country. Children were especially affected with schooling interrupted and families often split up.

SINCE THE very start of the war, FCA has supported Ukrainians with humanitarian aid, working with our partners. Now, we are heading a multi-million euro project to make sure children can continue to access quality education safely, whether in Ukraine or elsewhere. This is the story of Ukraine and FCA in the past year.

A timeline shows five different phases with 'phase 1' highlighted. Phase 1 - people on the move. Phase 2 - sheltering. Phase 3 - 
coming back. Phase 4 - preparing for the winter. Phase 5 looking to the future.

Phase 1 – people on the move

After Russia invades Ukraine, many people are forced to flee their homes leaving most of their belongings behind. Most are women and children. Not knowing where they are going or for how long, and often forced to leave fathers, brothers and grandfathers behind, the stress on people is huge.

FCA WORKS with partner organisation, Hungarian Interchurch Aid (HIA) to provide food, warm clothes, hygiene items and places to rest along the way.

A group of women and children sitting in front of a big window
Tyttö pitää sylissään toista, pienempää tyttöä.

Alina, 10, holds 3-year-old Emilia in her arms at a refugee aid post in the
village of Barabás, close to the Ukrainian-Hungarian border.

Escaping with nine children

A kindness of a friend meant Masha & her nine children could flee Zaporizhzhia, near the Crimean Peninsula.

The car they owned only had five seats, so her husband asked his friend for a minivan. His friend handed over the keys, no questions asked.

“As I was travelling I was crying. I was very upset. I was scared and afraid that something would happen on the way,” says Masha.

They packed pillows, blankets, documents & warm clothes as well as 3 violins for some of the musical children. One child had to leave their beloved piano behind.

When they finally arrived in Hungary Masha’s daughter, Alina (10) met a friend Emilia (3) at the aid post in Barabás where FCA’s partner, Hungarian Interchurch Aid distributed aid.

Alina brought one toy, her clothes and a colouring book with her. She gave the colouring book to another girl as they were on the journey, because the girl had no toys with her.

Fundraising begins

An illustration of a pair of hands with a euro currency sign in the middle

1 million euros within 4 days

Millions of Ukrainians are fleeing, often with nothing more than a small bag. FCA launches a fundraising campaign, raising 1 million euros within 4 days to provide refugees with emergency aid.

A man in a KUA green vest is collecting money in a box outside in the street. A person is contributing to the collection.

People give generously to help Ukrainian refugees during the first days of the war.
Photo: Saara Mansikkamäki

Families fleeing

In the first few days of the war, the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, estimates that over half a million people cross borders into countries neighbouring Ukraine.

The first wave of refugees are mostly women with children. Exhausted and scared, the first stage is to give them urgent items, like food, warm clothing and shelter and, in many cases, psychosocial support.

VIDEO: FCA staff were in the small village of Barabás Hungary where refugees were being welcomed
A woman holds a cat

Fleeing Kyiv wasn’t Kristina’s first experience of escaping fighting. She had left the place of her birth, Luhansk, in 2014 for the safety of Ukraine’s capital. Now that was no longer safe.

“It wasn’t so simple to leave. It was so crowded, people couldn’t get into the train.”

A woman holds a cat

Kristina & her cat, Lisa, managed to squeeze onto a train to the border with Hungary, where she received assistance.

“My husband, his family, my brother, my aunt, my uncle, they stay in Kyiv. Most of my friends are in Kyiv too. It’s terrible. We have just emotion and crying.”

An older woman in glasses looks at the camera

Nadiya was at home when the first bombs hit near her house in Kharkiv, which is located near an army base. The attacks were loud & frightening. She doesn’t remember leaving.

“My kids just took me with them.”

An older woman in glasses looks at the camera

Her family managed to reach the Chop railway station in western Ukraine. Now they’re waiting to cross into Hungary.

Nadiya’s biggest hope is that things will change for the better and the war will end. “Many children are suffering because of the war.”

Refugee points

FCA’s partner, HIA, sets up refugee points wherever there is a high concentration of people.

In Budapest airport, parents can take a rest, while children play in specially constructed play areas.

VIDEO: 10-year-old Maryanna shows us the content of her backpack at Budapest airport.
“I have sweets and a bottle of water, and here’s my cat. In Ukraine, I had a real cat.”
An illustration of an adult and a child running. Explosions happen above them.

3 million refugees

flee to the surrounding countries during the first month of war, 1.5 million of them children.

A young girl peers over a soft toy

Yelizaveta (5) hugs a soft toy. She and her sister Maryanna (10), mother Vironika, and grandmother Svetlana left their hometown of Odessa soon after Russia invaded Ukraine. At Budapest airport, they are thinking of heading to Bulgaria.

“I had a lot of friends in Odessa, but now my best friend is in Germany. But it’s a good idea to go to Bulgaria, because our Black Sea is there. There we’ll be close to Ukraine,” says Maryanna.

Lviv railway station sees thousands of refugees every hour, often boarding any train they can get, whatever the destination.

Eugene, Vitaly and their children were at hospital in Kharkiv when the bombings started. They were in the hospital because 10-month-old Ivor needs a heart operation. Now Ivor is in his father’s arms and cries out frequently.

Forced to leave the hospital in Kharkiv due to the increasingly intense bombings, their journey to Lviv took more than 24 hours. They came by train; children were sleeping at railway stations and on the floor of the train, they did not have anything to eat.

Father Vitaly Alyabev, Mother Eugene Musina, Ivor Musin (10 months) and Vitalina Musina (8 years) sit together at Lviv railway station.

Phase 2 – sheltering

With fighting ongoing in the east with no sign of an end, Ukrainians often opt to shelter in the relative peace of the west. Locals open their homes and schools to their fellow countrymen, many volunteering long hours to welcome people, feed them, and make sure they have a safe, warm place to stay.

FCA SUPPORTS operations in Berehove and Lviv, the largest city in western Ukraine, providing temporary shelters for those who want to stay as well as continuing to help people on their onward journeys. Meanwhile, children are still not attending school, although some teachers are trying to provide remote learning opportunities.

The IOM estimates that there are around 8 million displaced people within Ukraine with humanitarian needs.

A women in a headscarf holds a cat
Larysa and her cat Bella escaped from Kharkiv in March, 2022.

Larysa, her husband, daughter and the cat Bella escaped from Kharkiv on March 1, 2022. Before fleeing, they spent four nights in the basement to escape the bombing raids.

“Everyone wanted to travel out of Kharkiv. There were a lot of people at the train station. The train ride was free of charge, but getting on the train was difficult because of the crowds,” Larysa says.

Larysa has cancer. She received treatment in Kharkiv, but the hospital was destroyed in the bombings. She hopes to get treatment for her illness in Hungary. Now Larysa and her family are staying in a refugee shelter in Berehove, western Ukraine.

“We are happy to have a place to sleep where it’s warm. We get food three times a day, we can wash and do our laundry, because there is also a washing machine here.”

Two weeks later FCA visited the same shelter and heard that Larysa was finally getting treatment in a Ukrainian hospital in the west of the country.

A woman folds clothes in an empty school assembly hall.

When Russia attacked Ukraine, English teacher Erika Pavliuk sent her students home and started volunteering at the refugee shelter set up at the school.

She also provides her students with online lessons. Some of them stay at home, as their school is full of refugees, but some have also fled. Erika is visibly moved when talking about her students. 

“They’re teenagers. We have our ups and downs, but we can always find a solution to our difficulties. I love them.” 

A woman folds clothes in an empty school assembly hall.

Erika takes a deep breath and looks around in her own empty classroom, as we ask about her hopes for the future.

“To be able to teach normal classes. I want to write on that blackboard and…,” she hesitates for a moment and starts laughing tiredly, “…yell at my students for not having done their homework.”

A woman in a cook's outfit clasps her hands and looks at the camera while standing in the middle of a large kitchen

Ivonna Kobypyavska manages a kitchen at a refugee shelter set up in a school. She’s worked in the same kitchen for 27 years already, but now she’s feeding refugees instead of school children.

Ivonna’s son went to fight in Kyiv, so she wanted to do something useful; hence, she continued to work in the kitchen without pay.

A woman in a cook's outfit clasps her hands and looks at the camera while standing in the middle of a large kitchen

Ivonna volunteers from 6am to 11pm in the shelter in Berehove, western Ukraine, cooking 400 meals a day in a school kitchen designed for 40 kids.

“It’s not a big deal,” she shrugs. “Routine, routine…”

VIDEO: Father Kirill, mother Ljubov, sisters Alica & Masha & niece Daria travelled from Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine on a long journey that eventually took them to Berehove.

A warm welcome

In the outskirts of Lviv, Viktoria (14), Maria (9) and Ivan (3) have just arrived at a shelter with mother Katerina and grandmother Svetlana.

Maria will have her 9th birthday in two days. The family left their hometown of Malyn because of the war. When the war started, the family waited, thinking it might finish soon. But when they started to hear bombs, they packed their bags and left their home.

The family was told that there were buses that could take them to Lviv and Poland. However, they did not want to cross the border to Poland and decided to stay in Lviv instead.

Two girls and a small boy on a bed smile at the camera. An adult woman sits to the side with her hand over her eyes.
Viktoria 14, Maria 9, Ivan 3 with mother Katerina, 30 minutes after arriving at a shelter in Lviv

“We are incredibly happy and thankful to be here. We were welcomed in the shelter,” says Katerina.

They left the rest of the family behind, so they want to get back to their home as soon as possible. Both Katerina’s and Svetlana’s husbands are fighting in the war.

An illustration of a tent

8 million displaced people

within Ukraine with humanitarian needs.

An illustration of a classroom

676 metric tons

of assistance delivered by summer 2022.

An illustration of a hand with a heart floating above it.

100,000 people

reached by our operations.

A makeshift shelter in a gym is viewed from above. A woman stands at the entrance holding a piece of paper.

A sports hall serves as a temporary community shelter for displaced people in Lviv, Ukraine.
Photo: Melany Markham/FCA

Phase 3 – coming back

While fighting continues in the south and east of the country, some places are safe enough to return. Many buildings are destroyed and electricity is unstable. The threat of air raids still looms. FCA’s operations evolve into the next stage – bringing teachers and children back to school and restoring a sense of normality after a long period of upheaval and trauma. With EU funding, we lead a €14 million consortium to restore formal education to 45,299 children.

A man looks slightly off-camera in front of a background of sunny trees.

“I see there’s a gap in understanding how to approach certain categories of people and provide them with qualified psychosocial support.

Now, a large number of citizens from other regions are coming to stay in Chernihiv, while at the same time, the city is doing its best to get back to the normal state of things.”

Oleh Halepa, Psychologist-Volunteer at Chernihiv Joint Volunteer Center.  Photo: Iryna Dasiuk / FCA  

A group of people are seated in an auditorium looking at a screen. The screen has a child leaning on her hands listening to an adult talk.

Oleh participated in FCA supported psychosocial support training to be able to support traumatised children.

“The coach impressed me a lot. He’s a very active, vivid person. The amount, structure and style of presentation of the information that we’ve learned during the training is something worth learning to apply in our future work.”

A taste of normality

In the summer of 2022, FCA organises several summer clubs for children, where they could play together and take part in activities. For kids and parents, it’s a small taste of normality.

Tanya Slautina and her husband Andzey are from Chernihiv where 60 per cent of the city’s 285,000 inhabitants fled to other parts of Ukraine.

A man and a woman stand in a park with their arms around each other.
Tanya Slautina and her husband Andzey Slautin are from Chernihiv.

“War has touched every aspect of our lives. The worst months in Chernihiv we were isolated in our home. Fear, explosions and panic were our daily companions. Fortunately our children did not see anyone dying, but they were quiet and sullen. All we could think about was survival. 

Our home is OK, but others were not so lucky. We organised a collection of clothes and other necessary items to help other families. Before the attack I worked as a bank clerk, but I left my job to be able to help my children and our community. The stress and fear brought us closer together. 

We all need help with our children, and the summer clubs are a huge relief for us parents, too. Our children Anastasiya, 6, Valeziya, 10, and Maksim, 12, have been going to FCA’s summer clubs for six weeks.”

A teenaged girl laughs as she leans against a brightly coloured wall. Pink flowers are in the foreground

“The best thing about summer clubs was seeing my classmates and friends. Nothing has been completely normal for a long time. First we had to study at home a lot because of the coronavirus pandemic, and then the war began.”

A teenaged girl laughs as she leans against a brightly coloured wall. Pink flowers are in the foreground

“During the attacks, we just wanted to go somewhere and hide. I’ve noticed that I feel much better now that we do things together. Working together and talking with others about how we feel and what we think has been extremely helpful.”

Sophia (14), FCA summer club participant.

Teachers play an important role

FCA’s education response for Ukraine emphasises teacher training and support. Without quality teachers, there is no quality education.

In a context like Ukraine, where war is ongoing, teachers need special training and mentoring to be able to assist their students, but also to cope with their own needs.

VIDEO: On World Humanitarian Day, teacher Ruslana reminded us how important teachers are in humanitarian assistance.

Zhanna took part in FCA’s summer clubs in Ukraine

“Many have lost trust in the world”

Zhanna Kudina is a psychologist and teacher in Chernihiv. 
“The war has caused a great deal of stress in children and young people. Some have had to endure exhausting journeys to escape, others have lost loved ones or seen things children should never have to see. The most typical symptoms include lack of appetite, sleep disorders and difficulty concentrating. 

In summer clubs, we have used various therapeutic tools, such as arts and crafts. At first, drawings were very dark-coloured, with soldiers, guns and missiles. Over the weeks, more colour, sunshine and flowers began to appear. Many have lost trust in the world, and with the clubs we try to provide them with a place where they can feel safe.   

As a psychologist, I know that support should be offered urgently after a traumatic event. The longer children and young people have to wait, the more difficult it becomes to deal with the mental scars. But I am hopeful, because I am here now, doing something for them, and because we have received a huge amount of support from Finn Church Aid. We are deeply grateful for that.” 

An illustration of an adult and a child. The child has a speech bubble above its head.

Psychosocial support to 4,590 children

FCA leads a project to provide children with psychosocial support services.

An illustration of a person holding a stick - a heart floats above.

Training for 905 teachers

to provide specialist support to children suffering from trauma.

An illustration of two schoolchildren wearing rucksacks

5,872 students

participated and benefitted from FCA’s summer club activities.

Phase 4 – preparing for the winter

The war enters a new phase, where attacks on critical infrastructure are common. The lack of heating makes learning in schools already difficult, and that’s coupled with the almost daily air raid alerts.

THE FREQUENT power cuts also make it hard for students to learn remotely, either at home or in different cities. FCA and partners respond by providing winterisation kits to families and starting work to make mandatory bomb shelters in schools suitable to continue learning in, even during an air raid alert.

VIDEO: Winter sets in and the need for proper reconstruction is urgent.
FCA teams prepare to replace windows and make bomb shelters suitable for learning.

We went back to see Ruslana, a teacher in Chernihiv, Ukraine who received psychosocial training from us during the summer.

A woman smiles at the camera
Ruslana uses the skills she learned in FCA training sessions every day

“Everyday is a challenge. The war has had an influence on every aspect of our lives, our daily routines. Now we are planning how we could organize the teaching in shelters as we spend quite a lot of time there depending on the week.”

Children seem to be quite flexible when it comes to psychosocial wellbeing. However, you never know what triggers them. It might be an air raid, the sound of a siren. Some of them start crying. Some of them just stay still. Of course, some of the students stay positive, but some of them are really pessimistic and in despair.

The new methods and psychosocial support skills we learnt have supported us during this autumn. Many of our teachers are using those methods on a regular basis here at school.” 

“This has been a life lesson”

We also revisit Zhanna, who explains that, after so many months of war, she and her colleagues are doing their best to overcome the anxiety syndrome and stress many children are currently experiencing.

A woman looks at the camera in front of a dark background
Zhanna has used new skills provided by FCA training to help her students

According to Zhanna, approximately 30 % of students show signs of stress syndrome. They show symptoms like anxiety, loss of appetite, bad sleeping, and screaming while having nightmares.

She explains that during the Russian military presence in the region, three students of her school lost their lives. Some students experienced violence and oppression.

One of the school shelters has been organized as a psychosocial hub for children. It is a safe place where children participate for example in art therapy and learn relaxing breathing techniques.

When asked about her thoughts on the future, Kudina says that she hopes for the best and peace. “This all has been a kind of a lesson to us by life. It has developed our survival skills, the skills with which we can live this over. We should somehow try to program ourselves for the best. Positive thinking will bring a positive future.”

A dark street is only lit up by the light from car headlamps. People cross the street lit up by the headlamps.

Power outages or “blackouts” are frequent in Chernihiv and across Ukraine. Sometimes cities only have a few hours of electricity a day.

A dark street with a person sillohuetted is only lit up by the light from car headlamps.

FCA supports the installation of generators in schools to cope with the loss of electricity.

Children spend Christmas without their fathers

Many families will spend this year with fathers, brothers and uncles at the frontline or never coming back from the war. FCA supports 71 children in Chernihiv with Christmas gifts and activities.   

Oleh (11) and Polina (13) both lost their fathers in the war. Both students are learning online, despite power cuts.

Polina (13) and Oleh (11) received Christmas gifts, supported by FCA.

Says Polina, “I love drawing and have been doing arts for eight years. I like online learning, because it’s safer and the teacher can give you specific attention.”

“My family is the best family in the world. We have some Christmas traditions, such as decorating the Christmas tree on the 24th of December. This year it will just be me, my mother, grandmother and my brother.”

Schools destroyed

Schools, as well as hospitals and critical infrastructure have all suffered intense damage. For Ukraine’s young people, it’s been a disorientating and distressing year.

Since September 2022, the 1,200 students of Lyceum Number 25 in Zhytomyr have been studying in temporary learning spaces.

Kateryna Tkachenko, 9th grader at Lyceum Number 25 in Zhytomyr, Ukraine looks at the camera standing in front of the destroyed school.

Kateryna Tkachenko is a 9th grader at Lyceum Number 25 in Zhytomyr, Ukraine. The school was destroyed by a missile strike on March 4, 2022.

“In spring 2022, we had to take a two-month study break, and then we continued with online lessons. I felt so lucky when I was able to start my 9th grade offline. I prefer offline learning because of better communication.”

Rubble strewn on the ground. In the foreground is an open book with charred pages.

“The war has caused a lot of problems in Ukraine. Thanks to my parents, friends and teacher, I have coped with all challenges. I miss everything in my destroyed school: the building, classrooms and atmosphere. It was very important to me.

I want to finish school with excellent grades and go to university. I want to travel the world and have a good life.”

An illustration of a school.

3,098 education institutions

have suffered bombing, FCA will support the rehabilitation of 147 schools.

An illustration of two wrapped gifts

71 children

in Chernihiv supported by FCA in 2022 with Christmas gifts and activities.

An illustration of school materials.

31,100 learner kits

will be distributed to children in need in the project locations.

VIDEO: On the International Day of Education 2023, we meet a teacher and a student
at their destroyed school in Zhytomyr, Ukraine.

Phase 5 – looking to the future

As the country reaches one year at war, Ukraine’s children must return to school. FCA leads a multi-million euro set of programmes to make sure teachers and students have everything they need to learn safely, in comfort and flexibly.

A family gather around a table full of food. A girl pours a drink.

The New Year’s celebrations at this family’s house are a moment of joy. Mother Oksana was injured in a rocket attack at the start of the war and daughter, Maria, is still shaken by witnessing her mother’s plight.

A man and a teenaged boy sit on a sofa with a chessboard between them. A girl in the foreground walks out of the shot.

15 year old Kyryl plays chess with his father, Mykola, who is home from the war during New Year.

Two girls in Ukrainian national dress stand in a doorway singing.

In Ukraine, the new year is celebrated by children going door to door and singing for candy.

The New Year brings families back together

In Ukraine, the New Year is celebrated between the 13th and 14th of January. Many families celebrate, with some male family members being able to return for a few days to join their families.

The event provides a moment of reflection on the year’s events with hope for the future.

VIDEO: The Old New Year is celebrated in Ukraine on the night of 13 to 14 January.
FCA staff spent the New Year with a Ukrainian family.

Children return to schools

After months of online learning, often interrupted by power outages, children have the chance to come back to the classroom.

With EU-funded FCA support, schools are rehabilitated with improved facilities, like reinforced windows and specially equipped bomb shelters, where kids can continue learning even during air raid alerts.

FCA also works to develop school curriculums, in order to make learning as flexible as possible, so that children can have access to education wherever they are.

A destroyed school is depicted on the other side of a reflective pool of water. In front of a school a person in a green t shirt holds a red umbrella.

School number 21 was completely demolished during the fighting in Chernihiv, Ukraine in spring 2022.

FCA works with rehabilitating schools and arranging temporary learning spaces.

A girl sits on a school stage next to bags full of books that bear the logos of FCA and the EU

”I do not like to learn from home. The best thing at school is to spend time with my friends”, says Daryna Khomenko.  

Daryna is now excited to return to the classroom after the rehabilitation of her school has been finalised in early 2023. She’s also received learning materials through the project funded by EU Humanitarian Aid (ECHO). 

VIDEO: Schools need new windows and doors to keep safe and warm.
Funded by the EU, FCA gives children kits with school materials so they can keep learning remotely.

Ukrainians join FCA Staff

There are now over 20 professionals working in FCA’s Ukraine country office and most of them are locals like Marianna Zhurbenko.

Marianna remembers how on February 24, 2022 she stared in disbelief at the sky from the window of her own home in Gostomel, west of Kyiv.

Helicopters buzzed in the sky and the phone rang non-stop. Friends called in distress and told Marianna and her family to flee. The war had started suddenly, and the front line was only 500 meters from Marianna’s home.

“It felt like I was watching a movie from my window,” Marianna recalls.

In the evening, the uproar of artillery fire began, and that’s when Marianna and her husband decided to leave. They packed the family’s 9-year-old son, a six-month-old baby and a dog into the car and set off first for Kiev and then for western Ukraine. Marianna and the boys lived there for the next months.

Marianna stayed awake a lot and listened to her elder son’s crying at night. Fortunately, the youngest didn’t understand anything about the situation.

“Random families took us in to live with them. We tried to offer them payment for the water and electricity we used, but they refused to accept it,” says Marianna and describes how the war has united Ukrainians. She would also open the door to foreign families if such a situation came up again.

“The war has changed my own values. I realized that material don’t matter. Life, health, family relationships and love became important values ​​for me.”

In May, it became clear that although her former workplace had not been destroyed in the war, all the workers had fled elsewhere and were not going to return.

In June 2022, Marianna started as a logistics coordinator at Finn Church Aid. She is responsible for procurement and that supplies going to FCA-supported schools find their destination.

“I was an IDP, and I know how people feel. I love being able to help children. I like myself doing this job,” says Marianna.

An illustration of a map pinpoint

3 oblasts

Kyiv, Chernihiv and Zhytomyr.

An illustration of three people, one standing in front

21 staff

Programs, finance,
operations and support.

An illustration of a building.

2 offices

Head office in Kyiv, field office in Chernihiv.

Learning continues in bomb shelters

Nowadays, a functioning Ukrainian school must have a functioning bomb shelter, because there can sometimes be several air raid alerts per day.

FCA equips school bomb shelters so that everyday life can continue in them as normally as possible even during an air raid alert.

VIDEO: 15-year-old Nastya Tabenska shows us around her bomb shelter at her school in Chernihiv, Ukraine.

FCA will stay in Ukraine, providing quality education for all through curriculum development, training and reconstruction.

A person in a hooded winter jacket unloads bags of items from a packed van. The jacket bears the logo of FCA.

“There are a lot of challenges in Ukraine, but FCA with its Ukrainian partners sees that education is a real investment in the future. It’s not always something that you can see immediately. You know, if somebody is hungry and you give them food, you can see immediately that the need is satisfied, but education is more of a long-term investment.”

A woman standing in front of a destroyed building smiles at the camera.

“We have students who need some hope for the future. And without the ability to learn and to create opportunities for themselves in terms of future learning, future employment, all those other basic needs are not enough.”

FCA Ukraine Country Director,
Patricia Maruschak

The future of children and youth cannot be put on hold

Although fighting continues, children can’t wait to go back to school. 
FCA leads a €14 million EU funded consortium with Save The Children, People in Need and War Child Holland to repair and upgrade schools, provide children with learning kits and train teachers in a new more flexible curriculum. 

  • Schools will be equipped with learning spaces that also act as bomb shelters, special reinforced windows and flexible learning spaces.  
  • Children will be supported with psychosocial services and teachers will be trained and mentored to provide these.   
  • FCA also works with local partners savED, GoGlobal and DOCCU to assess damage and work with local authorities.  

Find out more about our work on the Ukraine country page.

FCA grants another 200,000 euros to help earthquake-struck Syria 

“It is vital to aid the disaster area quickly” – FCA grants another 200,000 euros to help earthquake-struck Syria 

“In this situation, it is absolutely vital to make humanitarian aid accessible to the people affected by the earthquake, by all means necessary,” says Mazen Khzouz, the Finn Church Aid Country Director in Syria. 

IN THE EARLY morning of February 6th, the most destructive earthquake in the region’s history struck Turkey and Syria. In Syria, one of Finn Church Aids programme countries, it is estimated that six million people are in urgent need of humanitarian aid following the earthquake. 

This week, Finn Church Aid (FCA) has allocated another instalment of 200,000 euros from its disaster fund, to help the people affected by the earthquake in Syria. A total of 400,000 euros will be used for the emergency aid work initiated by the FCA’s Syrian Country Office. 

Northern Syria is currently experiencing a cold winter. According to the latest figures, the magnitude 7.8 and 7.6 earthquakes drove tens of thousands of families away from their homes. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, reports that at least 18,500 families have been accommodated in schools and other temporary shelters. 12,600 of the families are located in Aleppo, which is one of the areas that was struck hardest by the earthquake. 

Two women holding a baby wrapped in a blanket.
Baby Karam was born only an hour before the massive earthquake shook his hometown Aleppo, Syria. Together with his mother Wafaa, Karam now lives in a shelter built in a school. PHOTO: FCA SYRIA

In a humanitarian crisis like this, it is vital that aid reaches those in need as quickly as possible. The winter cold makes the need for help even more urgent. Since the earthquake struck unexpectedly, early in the morning, the people who fled their homes did not have time to prepare or pack. Amongst the people whose houses are still seemingly intact, many are afraid to return home. They fear buildings collapsing because of structural damage and the danger of new earthquakes. 

“In this situation, it is absolutely vital to support the people affected by the earthquake with humanitarian aid by all possible means, and proving them with equipment needed to survive the winter,” says Mazen Khzouz, the Finn Church Aid Country Director in Syria. 

“Such equipment includes warm clothes for children and adults, blankets, flashlights, mattresses and shelters.” 

During the past week, Finn Church Aid has assessed the situation and visited temporary accommodation facilities in Aleppo and Hama. 

Millions of people in Syria were already in need of humanitarian aid before the earthquake in February, due to the war and the violence that has been raging for more than a decade. FCA has been working in Syria since 2017, providing humanitarian aid. The Country Office was established in Damascus in 2019, and before the earthquake FCA’s work revolved around on supporting children’s access to school and education

“The humanitarian crisis caused by the earthquake highlights the already existing vast need for aid in Syria, and increases the suffering of the most vulnerable population,” says Khzouz. 

Kaksi miestä seisoo Syyriassa katsomassa sortuneita rakennuksia.
Millions of people in Syria were already in need of humanitarian aid before the earthquake in February, due to the war and the violence that has been raging for more than a decade. FCA was able to make a swift decision of its humanitarian aid work in Syria because it was already present in the country. PHOTO: FCA SYRIA

Finn Church Aid is one of the few international aid organizations operating in Syria. That is why the decision to start the aid operation was made swiftly. The emergency created by the earthquake has also prompted the Finnish people to help. 

“With the donations given to us, we will be able to support the most vulnerable people in the Syrian crisis. A quick response in disasters like these is very important. It is potentially life-saving,” says Finn Church Aid Executive Director Tomi Järvinen

The dire needs of the Syrian people have touched the hearts of private Finnish citizens and churches alike. The Helsinki and Espoo congregations have, amongst others, donated to the FCA emergency aid fund in order to help the Syrians. 

“We kindly want to thank every donor. Every euro counts. The destruction in Syria is enormous. When you take the pre-existing humanitarian crisis into account, the area will be in need of aid for a long time,” says Järvinen. 

More information: 

Pictures from the regions Hama and Aleppo in Syria. 

FCA Country Director for Syria, Mazen Khzouz (English and Arabic), mazen.khzouz@kua.fi
FCA Executive Director, Tomi Järvinen (English and Finnish), tomi.jarvinen@kua.fi, tel. +358(0)40 641 8209
FCA Manager of International Communications (English), Ruth Owen, ruth.owen@kua.fi, tel. +358(0)504097848