Quality education is a super power, which stems from a genuine desire to build a better life and to help others do the same.
The right to quality education is an essential requirement if we want to reduce poverty and create jobs, achieve economic growth, equality and stable democracies, and combat climate change. Once you have an education, no war or crisis can take it away. It is therefore essential that we invest in education that is accessible to all children and young people – including girls and young women, and vulnerable children and youth, especially those with disabilities.
For children living in areas affected by conflict, crisis and disasters, schools offer a safe environment. 222 million children and young people living in areas affected by crisis need support for education.
We believe that the very fact that access to education is one of the priorities of many countries’ development cooperation programmes – including that of our country of origin, Finland – it should be more strongly reflected in the allocation of humanitarian assistance.
Education must adapt to a changing world
Education is increasingly important in an ever-changing world. It provides people with the knowledge and skills they need to better adapt to new environmental demands and to solve new problems. Similarly, education plays a key role in instilling democracy, human rights and sustainable development. In most parts of world, climate change is currently not even mentioned in the curriculum.
In African countries, some 10-12 million young people enter the labour market every year, but only three million new jobs are created. Vocational education and training or entrepreneurship training remains on the sidelines in many developing countries. There is a significant mismatch between young people’s skills and employers’ needs.
In order to improve access to quality education, more attention should be paid to teacher training and the well-being of teachers. Sadly, however, teachers are rarely consulted when efforts are made to create better education and training programmes.
Vocational education and training must also evolve
Increasingly, jobs are being created in sectors for which vocational training is non-existent or insufficient, such as creative industries, digital transformation and the green transition.
FCA, as a longstanding expert in the education field, has much to offer in several areas, including vocational education and training, investment in new industries, and teacher skills and competence development. Our roots in Finland and the high regard Finnish education standards are held reflect that expertise. Finland’s educational expertise and its school system have gained recognition worldwide. Education is a priority in Finland’s development policy, and there is a broad consensus among Finns that support for education is essential. We know that to achieve the best results, it is important to bring together civil society organisations, the private sector and public sector organisations.
We know that to achieve the best results, it is important to bring together civil society organisations, the private sector and public sector organisations.
At FCA we pioneer vocational training in the creative industries and circular economy livelihoods. We are urging governments, including Finland’s, to invest more in technical and vocational education and training, especially those that offer youth a chance to earn while they learn.
Our vision for quality education
We want to push forward the role of education and training in development cooperation with updated strategies to focus on youth and digital and green economies.
Many organisations focus on primary school aged children, which is essential, but we want to ensure access to quality education to all and that means supporting youth and adults as well.
Quality education won’t happen without properly trained teachers. We also want to focus on teacher skills, competence development and support for teachers’ work. These are areas that are currently unaddressed in international education cooperation and where FCA and Finland has something to offer.
Each year, we supported between 245,000 and 350,000 children and young people to go to school.
With the help of our support, a total of 2,700 disabled children accessed education or continued their schooling.
In addition, we invested significantly in the development of inclusive education as part of teacher training in several program countries.
We trained nearly 20,000 local teachers around the world in our countries of operation.
Through long-term advocacy work, career counselling was included in Cambodia’s national education strategy. FCA trained the first study counselors in the country.
In 2022, we supported education in Ukraine amid crisis caused by the ongoing war. We trained teachers to provide psychosocial support to children and organised summer activities for around 6,000 children in the Chernihiv region, a part of Ukraine that was shortly occupied by Russia at the start of the war.
The tenth UN International Day of the Girl Child will be celebrated on 11 October
The United Nations International Day of the Girl Child calls attention to the fact that girls’ access to education also helps families, communities and society. In Somalia, Finn Church Aid works to promote girls’ access to education and their inclusion in peace work.
HAWA, 16, does not take education for granted. In Somalia, studying is something many young people Hawa’s age can only dream of. Hawa’s dream is to learn English properly.
“That way I could talk to all kinds of people,” she explains to Finn Church Aid (FCA) at her school, Mama Gedia.
For children and young people in poor and fragile Somalia, there’s very little room for dreaming. Decades of conflict have left the country practically devoid of infrastructure. To make matters worse, the country is gripped by a devastating and protracted drought that threatens food security.
In September, the World Food Programme warned of a risk of famine in the region. The war in Ukraine is disrupting grain imports, inflation has more than doubled the price of food in some places, and local conflicts and terrorist attacks weaken the security situation. Tens of thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes due to violence, or lost their livelihoods as a result of the drought. All of this contributes to a cycle of poverty.
Without external assistance, Hawa would not be able to go to school as her parents can’t afford school fees. With FCA’s support, they can pay Hawa’s school fees, learning materials or school uniforms.
Hawa calls her teachers her role models. She appreciates their encouragement and the high quality of teaching provided.
“I’m full of energy and I want to use this opportunity to get an education,” she says. “When I grow up, I want to work for a humanitarian organisation.”
THE TENTH UN International Day of the Girl Child will be celebrated on 11 October. While attention over the past ten years has been called to the importance of offering girls more opportunities, much work remains to be done. Climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic have further increased the burden on girls and threaten to reverse progress already made.
But, as the UN points out, with adversity comes resourcefulness, creativity, tenacity, and resilience. On its theme day website, the UN points out that hundreds of millions of girls have shown time and time again that given the skills and the opportunities, they can be the changemakers driving progress in their communities.
Finn Church Aid works to support girls’ access to education by distributing school uniforms and supplies to those in the most vulnerable position. FCA also supports parents’ livelihoods, organises awareness campaigns, builds schools and classrooms, and supplies furniture and teaching materials.
“In Somalia, the education sector is facing enormous challenges, starting with teachers’ competence and the lack of a sufficient and accessible school network”, says Ikali Karvinen, FCA’s Country Director in Somalia. “School buildings are in poor condition, groups are too big, and teachers lack proper training.”
While overcrowded classes are a problem in many schools, dropping out of school is another big issue, Karvinen says. In most cases, dropping out is associated with poverty. From an early age, children have to help their families to earn a living.
IN DIFFICULT CIRCUMSTANCES, girls are in a particularly vulnerable position for various reasons. According to Karvinen, there are cultural and traditional as well as structural reasons for this. Girls’ education is not considered as important as boys’, because girls are expected to stay at home and help parents with household chores and with earning a living.
Many families refuse to send girls to school because the journey to school is unsafe. FCA is contributing to making schools safer. In Hawa’s school, Mama Gedia, FCA created a channel that pupils can use to report threatening situations to teachers.
For girls, some of the reasons for dropping out can be very simple: the lack of hygiene facilities or single-sex toilets can be a significant issue for teenage girls. To reduce dropout rates among girls, it is important to provide relevant health information, organise proper sanitary facilities and make sanitary pads available.
In Karvinen’s opinion, it’s also crucial to raise community awareness of girls’ rights to education and the positive effects it has on families, communities and the entire country.
“Generation after generation of dropouts and a growing number of people with no education will generate an intellectual deficit. This will make the country increasingly dependent on external aid provided by international organisations, both on a shorter and longer horizon.”
LUL MOHAMED NUR, headteacher at Mama Gedia school is one of the 16-year-old Hawa’s role models. According the school principle, there are now more girls than boys in the school.
“This is the result of our tireless campaigning to make families understand why sending girls to school is important. It seems that the community has heard and accepted our message.”
Abdullahi Moallin Ali, chairman of the community’s education committee, agrees that campaigning significantly contributed to the change in attitudes. More and more families decided to send their children to school after they found out that they don’t have to pay school fees or pay for school uniforms or learning materials.
Children themselves can also feel nervous about going to school. 10-year-old Suleqo thinks it is important that all children regardless of gender have access to education, and she wants all parents to give their children equal opportunities. At first this little albino girl was reluctant to go to school herself.
“At first she resisted, but now she’s used to going to school and she likes it,” her mother Hamaro Mohamed Nur explains.
Because of her albinism, Suleqo’s vision is impaired. Her teacher placed her near the blackboard so that she can see what teachers write.
“Suleqo became much more interested in school after she received her school uniform and learning materials. Now she has plenty of energy and she really likes her teachers,” Suleqo’s mother says.
ACUTE CRISES tend to divert attention from long-term goals. In Somalia, famine threatens almost seven million people, or half of the country’s population.
Karvinen emphasises that while the help of the international community is vital in an acute crisis, it is equally important not to lose sight of the long-term objectives.
Finn Church Aid’s work focuses on peacebuilding; this includes supporting the national reconciliation process and inclusive local government. Other key focus areas include the promotion of education and livelihoods. In Somaliland, FCA has supported two vocational schools with the incorporation of career counselling and entrepreneurship education into the curriculum. With support from FCA, students have been encouraged to pursue entrepreneurial activities.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, FCA built learning facilities in hard-to-reach areas and provided training to teachers to allow children to stay in school. FCA helped build 10 new temporary schools and 16 renovated classrooms in the cities of Baidoa, Hudur and Elbarde. Almost half of the students in these schools are girls.
Peace work does not exist in a vacuum; it is part of something bigger, Karvinen underlines. FCA works to promote the inclusion of young people and women in peacebuilding by organising events that give marginalised groups an opportunity to be heard. FCA also supports the BAYWAN network of women’s organisations in southwest Somalia.
THERE IS ALWAYS hope, even in the face of famine, violence and insecurity. FCA’s Karvinen underlines the importance and impact of small changes and improvements. A simple way to improve safety in schools is to build a fence around the area and to have access control in place.
“School is the safest place for many children. Being at school protects children from being exploited as child labour or ending up in the hands of terrorist organisations.”
According to Karvinen, children who go to school enjoy learning new things, which increases their satisfaction and creates optimism about the future. Education makes children and young people better equipped to make healthier choices in life. The repercussions are significant: as people become healthier and more educated, they will be able to accept responsibility for services, security and respect for human rights in their country.
Education can also empower girls to put an end to harmful traditional practices. During the COVID-19 lockdown, there were reports of an increase in female genital mutilation.
“Educated girls and women are instrumental in the fight against this human rights violation,” Karvinen notes.
Providing educational opportunities for girls is of paramount importance.
“An educated woman wants her children to receive an education. This is the virtuous cycle that FCA wants to reinforce,” Karvinen concludes.
Your donation allows Finn Church Aid to e.g.:
distribute school supplies and school uniforms to children
provide income opportunities for parents so that children can go to school
organise awareness campaigns designed to help parents understand how important education is for their children
build schools and classrooms, supply blackboards, desks, textbooks and teaching materials for schools
In Nepal’s Far West, pig and vegetable farming is the main source of livelihood for former bonded labourers
Former bonded labourers in Nepal’s Far Western Region earn a modest living by raising pigs and growing vegetables. FCA offers support to local people to help them earn a living, but in the most impoverished villages severe drought and all-engulfing fires make life extremely challenging.
IN A NORMAL summer, the Mohana River floods across the flat terrain all the way to the village of Bipatpur. Taking vegetables across the river to India would require a boat and a skipper.
In Nepal’s Far West, the annual monsoon season usually starts in early June, but this year the rains were weeks late. For local women, crossing the border from Nepal to India seems fairly easy; all they have to do is lift up their saris, roll up their trouser legs and wade across the river. It has been scorching hot for nearly two weeks now, with temperature rising above 40 degrees.
The ground is parched, and plants and people are desperate for water. Some of the wells in the village have dried up and there is no point in looking for new ones because finding groundwater is too uncertain and the costs of digging too high.
This has been an exceptional year in more ways than one. This spring, following a disaster in April that destroyed the harvest and stores, the women of Bipatpur had nothing to sell to the Indian vegetable markets across the river.
During a normal summer the water in the Mohana river is much higher by June. The women of Bipatpur village cross the river to sell their vegetables on the Indian side. Photo: Uma Bista
“Only people were saved”
Burning crop residue on the fields to release nutrients is an annual tradition in Bipatpur. This year, an unpredictable and exceptionally strong wind caused the fire to spread quickly and uncontrollably. Houses, food containers, and livestock shelters burned down one after another. The fire destroyed or damaged the homes of 71 families and killed domestic animals.
Villagers cleared away the charred tree trunks, but the sad and disheartened feelings remain.
“Only people were saved,” the women say.
The fire also engulfed a large chunk of the village cooperative’s savings, which were kept in a box. Belmati Devi Chaudhary, 42, looks at the charred remains of her house.
“Everything is gone. All we have is emergency aid.”
A sow the family had bought with financial support from Finn Church Aid died in the fire. Without a mother to care for them, five piglets died, too. This was a huge loss for the Chaudhary family.
The money Belmati Devi Chaudhary had earned from pig farming helped her to pay for her children’s schooling. Standing next to his mother, the family’s eldest son Sanjay Chaudhary, 23, looks helpless.
“I may have to go to Kathmandu to find work. It’s difficult to get a paid job here,” he says.
For many years, scores of young Nepalese men have left for the capital city or for India in search of odd jobs, but Belmati doesn’t want her son to follow in their footsteps.
Like many others in Bipatpur and in the surrounding Kailali District, the Chaudhary family are former bonded labourers. Although Nepal’s 200-year-old Haliya and Kamayia bonded labour systems were abolished in the early 2000s, many former bonded labourers and their descendants are still very vulnerable.
Houses, food containers, and livestock shelters burned down one after another in April in the village of Bipatpur, Far West region of Nepal. The fire destroyed or damaged the homes of 71 families and killed domestic animals. Photo: Uma Bista
Sustainable livelihood with pig farming
Jumani Chaudhary, 50, is one of 29 women in a group supported by FCA. These women run a pig farm in the municipality of Gauriganga. They have learned how to make porridge for pigs from corn and wheat milling byproducts.
“By feeding pigs porridge, we save on feeding costs, and the pigs are healthier and grow faster,” Jumani Chaudhary says.
The women plan to start selling their pig feed to other pig farmers. To safeguard feed production, they would like to set up their own mill.
Gaumati Sunuwar, 56, has received support from FCA on pig farming in Amargadhi, Dadeldhura district. Photo: Uma Bista
In a pig pen, three different-coloured pigs oink and jostle for food. Sows are less than a year old when they produce their first litter. Typically they can produce two litters a year, around ten piglets each time. With the right care and nutrition, pigs grow quickly.
“A full-grown boar is worth up to 30,000 rupees,” says Bishni Chaudhary, 43.
Sanu Chaudhary, 27, who lives next door and is also a member of the women’s group, says she recently sold seven pigs for 50,000 rupees. Converted to euros, the sums seem somewhat modest: a thousand rupees equals roughly seven euros. But in the Far Western Region of Nepal, this money goes a long way. You can buy a school uniform for your child, meals for the entire school year, a water bottle and school supplies.
“Pig farming is easier and requires less work than buffalo farming. Buffaloes only produce milk part of the year, when they nurse their calves,” Jumani Chaudhary explains.
When buffaloes don’t produce milk, they produce nothing, but cost ten times the price of a pig.
“Before, we had to beg for food”
The road further west to the Dadeldhura district twists and turns along the lush green hills. Compared to the flat terrains of Kailali, Dadeldhura is topographically much more uneven. The winding road barely fits our car, giving the scenic drive an extra twist. Finally, we arrive in the village of Ganyapdhura.
We can see hints of green on the terraced farms even though the rains are late. The Dalit community living here grows cauliflower, potatoes and zucchini. Growing vegetables is more than a livelihood; it has given the community a sense of value.
“Before, we had to beg for food, but now we grow vegetables for sale,” says Gita Devi Sarki, 38.
In 2019, Finn Church Aid helped the community further improve its farming efficiency by supporting the Sarki family and 24 other local farmers in the introduction of tunnel farming. The plastic cover of the tunnel protects the vegetables from the elements and retains moisture. The community also received a walk-behind tractor, which makes plowing much easier. Gita Devi Sarki is the only woman who knows how to operate the machine – and even she needs her husband’s help to start it.
Gita Devi Sarki plows a field using a hand tractor to plant vegetables at Kholibasti, Ganyapdhura Rural municipality in Dadeldhura. The couple is now working together and hoping to expand their vegetable farming with the support they receive from FCA. Photo: Uma Bista
“Before, our farm was just big enough to produce corn and wheat for our own family. Now we can save 410 rupees each month by selling some of the vegetables we grow,” she says.
Most importantly, having a more secure livelihood meant that Gita’s husband Padam Bahadur Sarki, 42, was able to return home from India, where he worked for twenty years. The couple have been together for 22 years and have four children. Almost all this time, Gita Devi Sarki was in charge of the family’s day-to-day life, alone.
“I returned to Nepal due to the COVID-19 lockdowns,” he says.
“It’s a good thing you came back,” Gita Devi Sarki says, with a grin.
“Yeah, it’s been OK,” her husband replies, causing the group of women sitting around him to burst into laughter.
Having her husband back has reduced Gita Devi Sarki’s workload in the farms. The family plans to expand their business to raising goats and small-scale fish farming in a small pond in the valley.
Bahadur Damai, 52, (centre) with his family at Ganyapdhura Rural Municipality in Dadeldhura district received support from FCA for chicken farming. In the spring of 2022, Bahadur Damai was elected as a ward member in the local government. Photo: Uma Bista
From bonded labourer to a member of a local government
A pretty little house has a downstairs door open, and a wide-eyed cow peeks through the door. Bahadur Damai, 52, beckons to visitors to join him in the shade under a canopy. Back in the early 2000s, before the abolition of the Haliya system, he was a bonded labourer, mending other people’s clothing. Today, he smiles happily as he talks to us about his chickens and a small tailor’s shop he has opened in a nearby village centre.
Money has given his family a more stable livelihood, allowing him to buy things like a television. He has also been able to pay for the weddings of his two adult daughters, something that clearly makes him very proud.
One of his greatest achievements, however, was being elected a member of the local government in May.
“It’s all thanks to FCA that I am where I am now. I received support for vegetable and chicken farming, and I’ve been able to build relationships that won me votes in the election.” He pauses mid-sentence when a gust of wind tries to rip off the chicken coop’s corrugated iron roof. Bahadur Damai gestures at his son, telling him to put big stones on the roof to keep it in place.
“A new chicken coop would be nice,” he says. Suddenly he becomes serious.
“You know, my wife and I only have one significant difference: she has aged faster.”
The look on his face says this is not a joke.
“Women age faster here because their lives are so much harder that men’s. It is a local tradition that women eat after everyone else, whatever is left. Pregnancies, childbirths, hard physical labour…As an elected member of the local government, I intend to raise awareness of the problems women have in our communities, such as the disproportionate burden of domestic work and domestic violence,” Bahadur Damai says.
But that’s not the only thing he wants to draw attention to. In this district, former bonded labourers are still not eligible for the Nepali government rehabilitation programme, which promises them land ownership, education for children, and employment opportunities for young people.
Charred trees are a reminder of the fire that brought the small village of Bipatpur to its knees in April. Photo: Uma Bista
Bank accounts secure the future
In Bipatpur, the village women have gathered together under a canopy. In fact, this used to be a house, one of the women points out. The charred roof beams have been removed and replaced with new ones. At noon, the sun is beating down, and the temperature in the shade is approaching forty degrees. It turns out that the name of the village, Bipatpur, means disaster in the local language. This village has certainly had its fair share of disasters, from floods to fires.
But perhaps today things will take a turn for the better. Representatives of the local government and the bank will be visiting the village. With support from FCA, every family that lost their house in the spring fire will receive a humanitarian cash transfer. For those whose homes were damaged to some degree, 13,500 rupees, or about 106 euros, will be offered for reconstruction, and those who suffered the greatest losses will receive 34,500 rupees, or 270 euros. Pregnant women, nursing mothers, families and the elderly will receive an additional 500 rupees.
For the first time, cash transfers will be paid to women’s own bank accounts. This ensures that their money is safe, and that even if another disaster strikes the village, not all of their possessions will be gone.
Text: Elisa Rimaila Photos: Uma Bista Translation: Leni Vapaavuori
Finn Church Aid has had a country office in Nepal since 2013. Our work focuses on providing income opportunities for former bonded labourers, on ensuring the realisation of their rights, and on improving women’s livelihoods. After the earthquake in 2015, we built safe school facilities for 44,000 children, trained teachers and supported mental recovery. In 2021, we took action to alleviate the food insecurity affecting nearly 18,000 people as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Elisha Chaudhary sleeps while her mother Sajita Chaudhary is attending a meeting at Bipatpur. Photo: Uma Bista
In Somalia, FCA has trained more than 700 women leaders in leadership and other skills.
OVER THREE DECADES OF CONFLICT has left Somalia in poverty, most of its infrastructure destroyed, and ongoing political instability and armed conflict exacerbate the effects of climate shocks. Women have borne the brunt of these hardships.
FCA has been supporting state-building and the establishment of inclusive local governance through district council formation in line with the Wadajir National Framework and National Reconciliation Framework. Together with the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, we worked closely with the Somali State and Federal Government, local authorities, communities, and civil society partners.
In 2021, we released a new publication on lessons learned and best practices for supporting inclusive local governance, focusing on promoting the participation of women, youth, and marginalised groups to support future state-building efforts in Somalia. As decision-making is largely in the hands of clans, which men dominate, decision-making processes exclude women, youth and marginalised groups. Since 2016, our support has resulted in the formation of five new district councils, with sixteen women elected as district council members. Furthermore, FCA has trained more than 700 women leaders in leadership and other skills.
In 2021, we lobbied for women’s meaningful participation in federal and district elections. In the Barawe district of Southwest state, a new council was formed, comprising twenty men and seven women, including the first female Deputy Mayor. Twenty youth (fourteen men and six women) were also elected. In partnership with the Network, Somali Peace Line and the Ministry of Women, Human Rights and Development, we promoted women’s participation in federal elections in Southwest and Hirshabelle State, advocating for a 30% quota.
Social media, radio and television raised awareness about civic rights and opportunities to participate in political processes and communication activities that FCA supported. That contributed to a 98 per cent awareness rate of district council formation, which helped increase the participation of women and other marginalised groups. Inclusive local governance in Somalia is time-consuming and labour-intensive work, but the incentive is clear – the dividend is peace.
Worst drought in forty years and aid cuts causehunger for millions in East Africa
The worst drought in forty years is hitting East Africa, pushing many in the region to the brink of famine. Despite the situation, governments across the Europe, including Finland, are cutting funding from development budgets and reallocating it to Ukraine. Tackling one crisis at the cost of another is not a sustainable solution.
IN KENYA, an assessment conducted by Finn Church Aid (FCA) revealed that some main water sources – rivers, boreholes, water pans and shallow wells – have insufficient water for both humans and livestock. Many boreholes are already dry, forcing people to travel over seven kilometers to collect water. Almost one million head of livestock have died in Garissa county in Kenya.
In Somalia, armed clashes, terrorist attacks, growing prices of food commodities are increasing the hardship caused by the drought.
“Aid actors are afraid that violence is making access to hard-to-reach communities even more limited, even to assess what the needs are, and we fear the worst,” said Ikali Karvinen, FCA Country Director, Somalia.
Climate change is a man-made crisis
FCA is assisting people in Kenya and Somalia with cash transfers, particularly to families without adult members or those headed by pregnant or lactating mothers, which will allow these people to buy food until the rainy season. However, the World Food Programme reports that 13 million people are facing acute food insecurity and severe water shortages in East Africa.
“This is another man-made crisis, just like Ukraine, except that the cause of the drought is climate change,” said Jouni Hemberg, Executive Director, FCA. “Those of us who still remember the famine in Ethiopia in the ‘80s are haunted by it. This is a similar event across a larger scale, but we have the means to prevent the suffering that the ‘80s famine caused.”
While climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of weather events, the funding needed to aid those who suffer is decreasing. Simultaneously, governments in Europe are reallocating funding to Ukraine. In 2017, 10% of development funding from Finland was spent on humanitarian programmes. In 2022, it is anticipated to be only 7% with the Finnish government planning to further slash aid levels for 2023.
Tackling one crisis while increasing instability somewhere else is not a sustainable solution. Concurrently these decisions seriously harm the relations created with developing countries.
“Developed countries, those who are largely responsible for climate change, must take responsibility for this. We must help those who are suffering because of it,” said Hemberg.
Women and girls became central in our pandemic work
Right after the declaration of COVD-19 restrictions and lockdowns, we understood that child marriage would become a pertinent issue in our working areas, writes Program Development Coordinator Deepika Naidu.
Intensifying gender-based violence (GBV), more domestic work, drop-outs from school, and increasing numbers of child marriage. The covid-19 pandemic hit us all hard, but the consequences of school closures and national lockdowns were especially serious for Nepalese girls and women.
Right after the declaration of COVD-19 restrictions and lockdowns, we understood that child marriage would become a pertinent issue in our working areas. That’s why we wanted to focus on child safeguarding and make it one of our first priorities. We started implementing our activities which included child clubs in school, community dialogues and even educational street drama performances.
We also erected billboards with a message on child marriage and its negative effects on children’s physical, mental, social well-being and legal provisions against child marriage. It was encouraging to see that the billboards were well recognized by the community and local government officials.
In addition to child safeguarding, the pandemic forced us to respond to the crisis in many ways. Our food distributions addressed the immediate needs of the most marginalized groups, especially pregnant and lactating women, and households who had a person with a disability.
As in many other countries, there were more reported cases of gender-based violence in Nepal during the lockdown. We did our best to tackle the problem with our family dialogues, media awareness campaigns and sessions on gender inequality with mixed groups engaging men, boys, women and girls of communities. Some of the cooperatives (supported by FCA) formulated advocacy plans of action including activities to reduce child marriage and addressing GBV, amongst others. These were submitted to the respective local governments.
In consideration of the increasing violence and abuse against women and girls in the quarantine centres, FCA partners advocated for women-friendly spaces with local governments. Our efforts bore fruit: due to this collective voice of Civil Society Organisations, local governments initiated women-friendly spaces in the targeted quarantine centres.
I’m hopeful because our constitution is very progressive and the policies and acts addressing child marriage and violence against women and girls are promising. The presence of the local units of the government at the community level aims to create an enabling environment for women and girls to thrive.
South Sudan faces multiple shocks but optimism remains
South Sudan reaches its tenth Independence Day on 9th July in a situation in which the Covid-19 pandemic is hampering the country’s gradual recovery from conflict. An economic crisis and exceptional floods add to the challenges, but there is also significant optimism among youth, writes Finn Church Aid’s Humanitarian Coordinator Moses Habib.
WHEN WILL THE PANDEMIC END? Who brought Covid-19 to South Sudan? These are questions we encountered from beneficiaries while rolling out community awareness campaigns about the pandemic. As a layperson with limited knowledge about Covid-19, it was intriguing to explain to people the myths about a virus we all did not understand, and that left me with memories I will have forever.
The general situation in South Sudan is dire. What worries me most is that before the pandemic struck, more than two-thirds of the country’s population – about 8.3 million people – were in need of some form of humanitarian assistance in order to survive. In 2020, the multiple shocks caused by intensified conflict and sub-national violence, a second consecutive year of major flooding, and the impacts of Covid-19 hit communities severely.
The challenges increased the vulnerability of populations that were already at risk. It worries me even more to hear some say that there is not enough political will to end their suffering.
We believe that advancing inclusion over exclusion paves the way for addressing the root causes of conflicts and ending the cycles of violence. In practice, we equip youth, women, traditional and religious actors with skills in conflict resolution, mediation and peacebuilding. Our efforts have materialized at local and community levels but have not yet translated to adequate representation in the national peace process.
What gives me hope is that there is optimism among young people, despite the country’s protracted challenges. South Sudan has abundant natural resources, which keeps many South Sudanese optimistic about the future. People believe that with a conducive environment free of conflict, this country has the potential to take off and become a breadbasket of the East African region and beyond.
Finn Church Aid has worked in South Sudan throughout the country’s independence. FCA builds peace in local communities, empowers youth and women in peacebuilding and through access to vocational education, and supports children’s access to school. Have a look at photos of our work throughout the years!
Members of a youth peace committee in Pibor in 2019. Pibor has a reputation for cattle rustling and fighting between youth groups, but peace committees have reduced conflict and supported reconciliation. Photo: Sumy Sadurni
A gathering of the women’s peace committee in Pibor in 2019. Women are an integral part of peace building efforts but often not represented in peace processes. Before this group was founded, villagers reported incidents of violence five times a week. Thanks to peace committees like this one, incidents in 2019 occurred at an average of once a week. Photo: Sumy Sadurni
One of Finn Church Aid’s key objectives is to maximise the opportunities of children and young people to attend school and receive a quality education. This project, funded by the EU Humanitarian Aid (ECHO), supported 7,000 pupils’ access to school in Fangak County. Photo: Maria de la Guardia
Girls playing after class in New Fangak. Schools offer a safe place for girls amidst disasters, societal pressures and harsh economic realities that lie at the bottom of issues like child marriage and child labour. Photo: Maria de la Guardia
Teacher training funded by EU Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) in New Fangak. The training of teachers builds the foundation for quality education. Photo: Maria de la Guardia
Youth at the local youth centre in Pibor. Football is one of the most popular pastimes across the country. Photo: Sumy Sadurni
Floods and drought create challenges for food production in South Sudan’s northern parts. Nyaluak Kong Kuon lost her harvest to the floods and faces difficulties in planting during the heat of the dry season. Photo: Maria de la Guardia
Nyakuola Pale Thieng grows onions on her lands in Old Fangak. In 2020, a total of 6,347 beneficiaries benefitted from Finn Church Aid’s distribution of agricultural inputs and fishing gear. Photo: Patrick Meinhardt
Luor Luny Thoar with his catch near Toch village in South Sudan’s Sudd swamp. Besides receiving gear, fishermen are also trained in fish preservation methods, which ultimately increase the profit of their livelihood when they sell their catch to the market. Photo: Patrick Meinhardt
Youth at the Juba Technical School. Finn Church Aid supports Technical Vocational Education Training (TVET) for youth in for instance construction, catering, mechanics, hairdressing and tailoring. Photo: Sumy Sadurni
23-year old Abir Mustafa trains in construction. More than half of the 414 youths that benefited from TVET training in 2020 were women. Photo: Patrick Meinhardt
21-year-old Reida trained in catering in Juba and managed to secure an internship at a hotel. In 2020, 414 young people completed a post-vocational internship in the private sector, and 298 of them continued at work after their internship. Photo: Patrick Meinhardt
The market in Yei town in South Sudan’s southern parts. Yei County is traditionally considered South Sudan’s breadbasket region due to its fertile soil and agricultural traditions. The conflict that erupted in 2016 forced many to flee across the border to neighbouring Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo: Sumy Sadurni
The peace agreement in September 2018 has encouraged some people to return home from the refugee settlements. Finn Church Aid supports returnees and the host community in Yei with for instance cash transfers that help people feed their families and rebuild their houses and livelihoods. Photo: Sumy Sadurni
Siblings Stella, 28, and Pascal, 25, returned to Yei from Uganda’s refugee settlements in 2019 and have worked hard to cultivate their plot of land. Pascal managed to finalise his agricultural studies thanks to the cash transfers. Photo: Sumy Sadurni