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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.”
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.
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.
FCA Executive Director Tomi Järvinen, firstname.lastname@example.org, tel. +35840 641 8209
FCA Myanmar Country Director Henry Braun, email@example.com, +95 944 172 2176
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.
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.
FCA Executive Director Tomi Järvinen, firstname.lastname@example.org, tel. +358 40 641 8209
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.
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.
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.
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.
People give generously to help Ukrainian refugees during the first days of the war. Photo: Saara Mansikkamäki
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
3 million refugees
flee to the surrounding countries during the first month of war, 1.5 million of them children.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When Russia attacked Ukraine, English teacher Erika Pavliuksent 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.”
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.”
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.
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…”
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.
“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.
8 million displaced people
within Ukraine with humanitarian needs.
676 metric tons
of assistance delivered by summer 2022.
reached by our operations.
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.
“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
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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.
“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.”
Psychosocial support to 4,590 children
FCA leads a project to provide children with psychosocial support services.
Training for 905 teachers
to provide specialist support to children suffering from trauma.
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.
We went back to see Ruslana, a teacher in Chernihiv, Ukraine who received psychosocial training from us during the summer.
“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.
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.”
Power outages or “blackouts” are frequent in Chernihiv and across Ukraine. Sometimes cities only have a few hours of electricity a day.
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.
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, 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 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.”
“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.”
3,098 education institutions
have suffered bombing, FCA will support the rehabilitation of 147 schools.
in Chernihiv supported by FCA in 2022 with Christmas gifts and activities.
31,100 learner kits
will be distributed to children in need in the project locations.
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.
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.
15 year old Kyryl plays chess with his father, Mykola, who is home from the war during New Year.
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.
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.
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.
”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).
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.
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.
Kyiv, Chernihiv and Zhytomyr.
operations and support.
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.
FCA will stay in Ukraine, providing quality education for all through curriculum development, training and reconstruction.
“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.”
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
Pictures from the regions Hama and Aleppo in Syria.
FCA Country Director for Syria, Mazen Khzouz (English and Arabic), email@example.com FCA Executive Director, Tomi Järvinen (English and Finnish), firstname.lastname@example.org, tel. +358(0)40 641 8209 FCA Manager of International Communications (English), Ruth Owen, email@example.com, tel. +358(0)504097848
Tired feet tell a story of hunger and despair in drought-affected Somalia
The Baidoa internally displaced people’s camp in the South-Central of Somalia is over-crowded. Due to drought and conflict the population is expected to grow even faster in the coming months.
THOSE FEET. Those now muddy, and no doubt tired, feet haunt me even days after visiting the Baidoa internally displaced people’s (IDP) camp in the South-Central Somalia. Some of the people I met early November have travelled up to 120 kilometers by foot to escape drought and conflict affected areas to seek safety and simply find food. Somalia is on the brink of famine with half of the population facing extreme and even life-threatening food shortage.
The aim of my visit was to understand the current situation in Somalia’s IDP camps and the impact of drought on their lives, as well as to be able to compare the situation now to how the situation was in June during my last visit to Baidoa.
Frankly, it’s worse, and it is getting worse each week. It is now November, and it should be the rainy season. There have been some rains since Spring 2020, but that doesn’t mean the situation improves. On the contrary, limited rain can worsen conditions in IDP camps due to the potential contamination of water sources and the spread of disease like malaria. The situation has been unbearable for months now. However, the international funding has a major gap when it comes to humanitarian assistance to drought-affected Somalia and the rest of the Horn of Africa. There simply isn’t enough international will for funding now.
Additionally, the price of aid is rising as global inflation affects markets together with cuts to grain imports affected by the war in Ukraine. Somalia has been dependent on the Black Sea grain imports of about 90 per cent of grain used in the country. Prices have increased as much as 50 per cent in Baidoa. A lady running a small shop in the camp told me that now 500 g pasta is USD 0,60, 3 litres of cooking oil USD 7, a biscuit USD 0,10, potatoes one dollar per kilo. Transportation cost to town USD 2. We are all worried about inflation, even in Finland. The prices might not sound that bad, but we need to keep in mind: nearly 7 of 10 Somalis live in poverty, making Somalia one of the poorest countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.
So, the looming famine is a sum of many crises. People are fleeing to IDP camps like the one in Baidoa due to the conflict and drought. The group of ladies that I spoke with told me they do not expect to go back to their homes due to their livelihood as pastoralists disappearing, due to lack of rain and often their land being taken over by terrorist groups. It would be impossible to go back right now even if a proper rain was received.
The Baidoa camp is overcrowded, too. The influx of IDPs into Baidoa camp is about 30 000–40 000 people a month. Due to drought and conflict the population is expected to grow even faster in the coming months. Officials are worried about both security and health related issues. With so many people living in the overcrowded camp with a lack of proper hygiene, epidemics like cholera, chickenpox and measles are prone to spread uncontrollably.
Finally, the drought is dramatically affecting children. Children are in the most vulnerable position when it comes to acute malnutrition. It is children who are most likely to die during – and even now, before – the famine. A malnourished child is more likely to die because of cholera, malaria, diarrhoea – even a common cold – than a healthy, well fed child. I had an opportunity to observe ongoing treatments, including vaccinations, health assessment of children, and counselling, in the camp health center. I was told that malnutrition is an increasing problem and the clinic provides weekly observation and nutritional supplements. The clinic has already 500 patients per day (the population in the camp being 200 000).
The current crisis is not only one of immediate effect. It’s a crisis affecting the future, too. According to the Somalia education cluster, 70 per cent of the children in Somalia are currently out of school because of the drought. 250 schools are closed, and 720 000 school-aged children (45 per cent of them girls) are at risk of dropping out of school for good. Half of children in the IDP camps have no access to education. The schools inside IDP camps are overcrowded, too. My home country Finland is world famous for its education system, but how would a school in Finland survive if suddenly a school built for 400 students had an influx of 200 students on top of the 1000 students it had yesterday?
It’s not yet too late. We can still help. FCA has already been able, as one of the few NGOs in the Baidoa camp, to aid 700 households with emergency cash distributions. In the coming months we are helping 900 more, since we start also implementing our project in the drought affected region in Somaliland.
FCA leads school return project in Ukraine with €14 million EU funding
FCA’s educational work in Ukraine is progressing – schools are being renovated and teachers supported with EU co-financing of €14 million.
14 million euros of EU funding will help children return to school in Ukraine through a new project led by FCA.
The education project sees FCA receive €5.5 million from EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO), while project partners Save the Children and People In Need will each receive €4.2 million. In addition, War Child Holland will benefit from an approximately €50,000 share.
“This 14 million euro funding is very important and shows the commitment of the EU to help the Ukrainian school system to get back on its feet. Sadly, it is just a first step, the needs are so large that more funding will need to be pledged in the future for every child to be able to go back to school,” says Yannic Georis, FCA’s emergency response manager in Ukraine.
School rehabilitation and well-being in focus
During the next 14 months, FCA and its partners aim to reach approximately 67,000 children, focusing on rehabilitating schools, organising temporary learning spaces and digital learning centers, psychosocial support and fostering the well-being of teachers.
“There is a lot of positive defiance and willpower throughout the education system, everyone wants to be back in a working mode. Children and teachers have a right and a need to return,” Peter Hyll-Larsen, FCA’s education expert in Ukraine, describes the situation in the country.
Hyll-Larsen highlights, however, that infrastructural damage cannot be repaired as fast as everyone would like. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Education and Science, a total of 286 schools have been destroyed during the war by mid-September. In addition, 2,477 schools have been damaged in bombing and fighting.
“As some areas in the East become liberated, it is also evident that the initial efforts on mental health, psychosocial support and child protection through education remain crucial – and will remain so for months and years to come,” Hyll-Larsen says.
Schoolwork continues in an unsure situation
The new school year started in September – partly remotely and partly on-site. A condition for returning to school is that the building has functioning shelters. According to expert estimates, 59 per cent of Ukrainian schools meet this condition.
The coming school year can be challenging in many ways in many parts of the country. Due to the war and the energy crisis, schools are already preparing for the possibility that students will have to be sent home due to lack of heating.
Experts now stress that distance learning models, skills and equipment will be needed in the coming winter too. Hyll-Larsen says that the situation is at its worst in liberated areas in the East.
“These areas will face a particularly harsh winter due to very little electricity and hence also very few online learning opportunities.”
FCA equips bomb shelters and trains teachers together with a local partner
Even before receiving ECHO funding, Finn Church Aid had been working diligently to help Ukrainians since the beginning of the war.
This started with emergency aid for Ukrainians fleeing violence within and out of the country. Over the summer, FCA expanded its operations to Northern Ukraine, training local teachers and school psychologists in psychosocial skills. Together with the local partner organisation DOCCU, FCA organised summer clubs for children in the area, where children and young people could spend time together in a safe environment.
During the summer clubs, more than 20 air raid alarms were heard in the area for 30 days, during which children and young people spent hours in poorly equipped bomb shelters.
As fighting continues, FCA will continue to work with DOCCU, equipping the bomb shelters of Chernihiv schools into better learning environments. Teachers will be trained in specialised subjects, like organising lessons in war conditions, increasing interaction during distance education and how to act during air alarms.
FCA’s Ukraine office gets a new country director
In August, FCA completed the official Ukrainian registration process. As a result, Finn Church Aid now has a functioning country office in Ukraine. Patricia Maruschak will start as director of the new country office in October.
“The opportunity to work in Ukraine is really exciting to me. I have Ukrainian-Canadian background. When the invasion began, it was very upsetting. It still is very upsetting, but I feel a lot of pride in the way Ukrainians are responding,” says Maruschak.
“I think the focus on education in emergencies is so important and so needed. Good education is important to people in Ukraine, and that all has been disrupted now. I think the fact that FCA is capable of assisting the government of Ukraine, the people of Ukraine to get their education system running in such a way that works for them under these circumstances, I think it’s incredible valuable.”
FCA will stay in Ukraine, supporting teachers and actively seeking ways to make the school return possible for children. The new country director starts in her position in October.
“You’re emotionally numb! Nothing touches you anymore!” Jouni Hemberg, FCA’s Executive Director, addresses 12 claims regarding FCA and its work.
Jouni Hemberg has seen more than a fair share of humanitarian crises, and he’s been around the block a few times as a rock musician. In our interview, he addresses some tough allegations people frequently make in FCA’s social media channels.
“It’s Finland who needs the help”
Finn Church Aid, which recently celebrated its 75th anniversary, was founded in 1947 when post-war reconstruction began. Back then, Finland was a beneficiary, not a donor. Today, war is again raging in Europe, forcing us back towards where we started.
We are not going back in the sense that we would focus our work on Finland. Our work in Europe currently focuses on Ukraine. It is tragic that a war interrupted a long period of peace in Europe, but we hope the situation in Ukraine will not escalate and that instead, we could set our sights on reconstruction.
“You get numb to suffering”
You have decades of experience in humanitarian disasters and development work. As a young man, you witnessed the horrors Romania endured under Ceaușescu’s rule in the early 90s. Having witnessed so much suffering has made you emotionally numb, and nothing touches you anymore.
No, that’s not true. Admittedly, I have adopted a more professional role, but human suffering touches me every bit as much as it did when I was a young man. My first job in Romania was quite shocking and I saw all kinds of things, but that has happened again later in my career. The important thing is to focus on your ability to do something; not being able to do anything is devastating. I have not yet been in a situation where nothing could be done to help.
“Development cooperation creates dependency”
There is no point in pouring more money into development cooperation because nothing in this world will change for the better.
Not true. On the contrary; development cooperation in its various forms is precisely what we should spend money on. There are many alternatives available. We can offer loans to companies, or our expertise and knowledge to the beneficiary countries. Development cooperation is about working together towards common goals. Cooperation in itself is something worth striving for.
Cooperation usually results in improvements and better outcomes. Although there have been occasional setbacks, we have seen dramatic improvements: extreme poverty has halved and the number of children with access to education has increased. Development cooperation is a worthwhile investment. Two out of three Finns consider it very important or fairly important.
“Finn Church Aid beg for money everywhere”
Your employees shake their collecting boxes on every street corner and call people in the evenings, asking for donations. Because of cuts in the government’s development funding, FCA is constantly begging for money.
Yes, that’s true. With so many people in need of help, regrettably our need for new donors and donations is also growing. This is our reality. We are begging for money in more ways than one, both in Finland and in international contexts. Every single donation in Finland, no matter how small, is really important because they enable cooperation with foreign funding providers, whereas monthly donations ensure our ability to provide aid over a longer term. Without the contribution of individuals, parishes and businesses in Finland we would not be able to continue our work.
“The money flows into the pockets of the privileged”
The only people benefitting from fundraising conducted by development cooperation organisations is big shots like you. Your wallet is so thick it won’t fit in your back pocket.
Haha. It is true that my wallet is thick, but only because it’s full of receipts. But to be honest, there’s very little money or anything worth any money in it. We have discovered that our salaries are low in the sense that they are not competitive with the private sector or UN agencies.
Organisations like ours have to fight for skilled labour. In fact, there is room for improvement in this area. Everyone deserves to be paid for their work, and if you are employed full-time, you need more than ideology in return for your contribution. Sadly, I receive just as many bills by email or post as the next person.
“Wells solve the drought”
FCA’s finances are subject to both external and internal audit. Of each euro donated to us, 90 cents go directly to our programme work.
It seems unlikely that money or cash assistance could solve the drought in East Africa. Digging wells would be a better idea.
It takes more than wells to solve the drought plaguing East Africa. In some conditions, a well might offer relief in the acute crisis, but unfortunately the ground water level is so low that digging wells is becoming more difficult every year. The parched fields in East Africa desperately need rain. Considering this is the fifth consecutive failed rainy season, a well would be scant comfort. We need to address climate change and help people to cope and adapt by taking action on a wide front. For all this, we need money.
“Africans need contraceptives”
You become annoyed by comments people make on social media where they downplay the importance of education and suggest sending condoms, tractors and clothes to Africa instead.
Absolutely! How would you feel if someone made comments like that about Finland? Finland’s economy is struggling, let’s send them some condoms to solve the problem? I don’t think you would appreciate that. Equality and companionship between people is important, whether they come from the north, east, south or west. People in all corners of the world are equally valuable and deserve to be treated equally.
“Finnish companies need support”
FCA keeps sending money to its programme countries even though it would be smarter to have companies go in and start a business.
We are, as a matter of fact, strongly increasing our cooperation with the private sector. Naturally it is not our job to act as a marketing channel for Finnish companies, but we have realised that by engaging the private sector we can achieve more sustainable change. We have, for instance, offered loans to small and medium-sized enterprises, which we feel offers strong employment potential and better income opportunities. The fact that we can contribute to a process that enhances corporate responsibility, tax revenues, and environmental and climate awareness, is extremely important for us.
“FCA is just a church proxy”
Finn Church Aid is an independent foundation with close ties to the Lutheran Church. In global operations, affiliation with the church does more good than harm.
That is correct, but I think we should clarify what this affiliation entails. Although we are rooted in the Lutheran Church, religion is not a guiding element but rather the foundation, or a springboard. Today, we operate as an independent foundation. Full adherence to humanitarian principles means our humanitarian work and aid provision is completely separate from religious activities.
It is also true that in global contexts our affiliation with the church does more good than harm. Although religion plays a lesser role in Europe, in other parts of the world religions still carry great social significance. As a faith-based organisation, our doors are generally open for cooperation at various levels and in all parts of the world.
“A church organisation should be for those only who belong to the church”
It is strange that Finn Church Aid does not focus primarily on helping Christians.
We adhere to humanitarian principles. That means our mission is not limited to helping Christians; instead, we want to offer assistance to everyone in need, regardless of religion, ethnicity or political position. We firmly believe that humanitarian law and humanitarian principles provide a strong foundation for our work, and we are convinced that they help us achieve positive results.
“Companies are more useful than development cooperation organisations”
You are known as a visionary and you often talk about agility. You think FCA should operate more like a company.
That’s not entirely true. I don’t think FCA should operate more like a company, but I would welcome a combination of different elements from both sectors. Strict separation of the private sector and civil society organisations makes our cooperation more difficult and complicated. By combining the best of both worlds we could increase our efficiency and agility, which would allow us to carry out our work much more effectively than we do today.
“Rock’n’Roll life is more fun than running an aid organisation”
You like running Finland’s biggest aid organisation just fine, but you would rather become a rock musician again. In fact, you have offered to play with your band, The Streets, in upcoming charity concerts.
Haha. I do love rock music. Back in 1967 I played more professionally, but for the most part music has been something I’ve done on the side, in addition to my actual career. It’s been a while since The Streets albums were released, and not all of our original members are able to participate any more. But I can see myself playing with a band in the future. Running Finland’s largest international aid organisation is a full-time job, but perhaps I will have more time for music when I retire.
Text: Ulriikka Myöhänen Photos: Tatu Blomqvist Translation: Leni Vapaavuori