In Nepal’s Far West, pig and vegetable farming is the main source of livelihood for former bonded labourers

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.

Women walking in water in Nepal.

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 man and an older woman walking in a village in Nepal.
Belmati Devi Chaudhary and her son Sanjay Chaudhary outside of their temporary house at Bipadpur in Kailari Rural Municipality-7, Kailali district. They lost all their pigs on fire in April. FCA Nepal provided support to the Chaudhary family to rebuild their house. Photo: Uma Bista

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.

People are standing behind a collapsed house.

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.

An older woman is petting her two pigs in Nepal.

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.

A Nepalese woman is standing in a room holding her young child in her arms.
Sheela Chaudhary, 22, with her son Ronim Chaudhary at Gauriganga, Kailali district 2. FCA Nepal provides nutrition packages to Sheela’s son. Photo: Uma Bista

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.

A woman is holding a hand tracktor. A man is walking next to the woman.

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.

A family is sitting on the porch of their home. A cow is peeking from one of the doorways.

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.

A man is kneeling down inside a chicken pen.
Bahadur Damai, 52, used to make an inadequate living by sewing people’s clothes. Now he has a steady income raising chickens on his own farm in Ganyapdhura in Dadeldhura district. Photo: Uma Bista

“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 on a dry field.

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.

Women sit on the ground.
People from Bipatpur gathered to receive cash support from FCA Nepal in order to rebuild houses which were destroyed by the fire in April at Kailari Rural Municipality. The village was also provided support during the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo: Uma Bista

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.

A baby is sleeping on the ground in Nepal. Women sit around the baby.

Elisha Chaudhary sleeps while her mother Sajita Chaudhary is attending a meeting at Bipatpur. Photo: Uma Bista

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nyaluak hopes to become a doctor

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

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

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

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

Nyareek Turuk Nyang dreams of becoming a pilot

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

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

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

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

Simon received cash to support his disabled daughter

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

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

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

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

Nyahow fears the effects of climate change

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

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

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

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

Lony, a science teacher, received training from FCA

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

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

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

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

Nhial is a headteacher with a passion for education

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

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

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

Key facts

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

Text: Ruth Owen
Photos: Achuoth Deng

“This is my decision” – Naciima found her path as an independent business woman

“This is my decision” – Story of an independent business woman inspires others in Somaliland

Naciima found her way to make her dreams come true while attending to FCA’s Technical and Vocational Education Training.

WHAT DOES an independent businesswoman look like?

Naciima, who recently graduated from Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) programme, is a perfect example. She lives with her family of eleven in Gacan Libaax in Somaliland. They have a very limited income and her father, though he struggles to pay her school fees, has always encouraged her to find something she is passionate about.

“After deciding to drop out from the university, I put my entire focus on the training that I was getting. It was sensational and the most skillful experience I have ever gotten before,” says Naciima, who joined the Finn Church Aid’s TVET program recently.

She got to know about the course from one of her friends who went to the Horn of Africa Voluntary Youth Committee TVET Center. When deciding to apply, she says she felt at peace.

“My dream has always been to design clothes – coming up with ways to make them look fashionable. It was a dream come true when I found out about the training and I immediately joined without consulting my family. However, afterwards I told them about my decision.” 

“Without the training I would not have become the woman I am today”

Naciima says that she gained skills from the tailoring course, including how to start business and practical tailoring skills. During the training, she was inspired by two things. Firstly, the way to come up with new designs and, secondly, the profits she could be make, especially since tailoring skills are in demand the country.

Naciima has become an advocate for TVET and wants to explain the benefits of it and how it leads to profit making.

“Without the training I would not have become the woman I am today – a business woman, an independent woman, and career-oriented individual.”

After graduating from the program, Naciima and the other graduates, received business start-up grants and equipment that helped her to start a business that could also support her family. Her idea was to start a tailoring shop that produces fresh looks in women’s clothing. She knew that the majority of ladies in Somaliland liked to wear tailored clothes and knowing her market helped her come up with her designs.

High hopes for the future

Within the first three months, the business was booming and made a decent profit. She hopes that in future she can support her family even more. At the moment she supports family in other ways than just financially – she makes clothes for her younger siblings. Some of her earning go into servicing her machines but her support for her family motivates her siblings and helps them to believe that they too can start a business and support the family in future.

Naciima is optimistic about the future and dreams of hiring more people for her business to meet the growing demand. This woman, who had waited to be supported by her family, has now become the one who supports them.

“I am able to save the money; average $100–150 in month,” she says. This is what a successful businesswoman looks.

This project is funded by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland (MFA)

Text and photos: Mohamed Dugoow

Worst drought in forty years and aid cuts cause hunger for millions in East Africa 

Worst drought in forty years and aid cuts cause hunger 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.” 

“I have eight children. This drought has affected my family greatly. There are days we go without eating. Life is tough here. Sometimes the food we get here is rice and beans”, said Fatuma Garane, a widow from Balambala, Garissa County, in Kenya. PHOTO: BRIAN OTIENO/FINN CHURCH AID

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. 

Contact information:

Executive Director, Mr. Jouni Hemberg, jouni.hemberg[a], tel. +358 50 325 9579

FCA’s Somalia Country Director, Mr. Ikali Karvinen, ikali.karvinen[a], tel. +252 617 234 597, WhatsApp +358 40 509 8050

Seeds of new life for those who lost everything in Haiti earthquake

Seeds of new life for those who lost everything in Haiti earthquake

Rebuilding has been slow, following the earthquake that hit Haiti in August 2021. Distribution of seeds and saplings improve food security and help people make a living.

IN AUGUST 2021, a devastating earthquake shattered the lives of tens of thousands of families in southern Haiti. The UN estimated in the autumn that in the regions worst hit by the destruction, Grand’Anse and Nippe, more than 650,000 people were in need of immediate disaster relief.

Due to challenging circumstances, rebuilding has been slow. The Haiti relief operation has been complicated not only by the devastation caused by the earthquake but also by criminal gangs seeking to benefit from the chaos in the region.

In cooperation with its German partner Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe (DKH) from the ACT Alliance, and the local organisation Fondation Nouvelle Grand’Anse (FNGA), Finn Church Aid’s work in Haiti includes supporting a training focused on farming methods in Haiti, in addition to distributing seed packets. In 2021, 813 people participated in the training, and 810 farmers received packets containing material needed for growing produce such as yams and peppers. The aim of the project is to reach 1,000 people through the training, and to distribute farming assistance to 1,000 farmers.

In addition, families have received assistance in cash, enabling them to buy plantain cuttings from local farmers. Selling cuttings promotes the local economy and supports the livelihood of the farmers while growing plantains for food also helps families.

Nainen kerää muovipussiin viljelykasvin taimia Haitissa. Vieressä istuu vihreäpaitainen mies.
Mother of five Augustin Magalite picked up seeds and saplings for her garden, in order to secure the livelihood of her family. Photo: DKH

Seeds help to make a fresh start

One of the people picking up the seeds to make a fresh start was mother of five Augustin Magalite, 47. The autumn was a sad time for the family. Magalite’s spouse had recently passed away, and her cousin disappeared in the August earthquake while in the yard at home. The son of another cousin was shot, and was seriously injured. Even one of Magalite’s children was hurt during the earthquake.

Life suddenly became rough, and there was a shortage of everything.

“Without this assistance, we wouldn’t be able to grow anything in our garden this year. All my money went to the funeral of my spouse, who died in the autumn. This arrived just in time, like a breath of fresh air,” says Magalite after receiving seeds and saplings to secure the family’s food supply.

The Magalite family is no stranger to devastation caused by natural disasters. In 2016, Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti and took their home. Rebuilding their life is all too familiar.

“Now I can grow food for my children and sell some of the crops in order to earn money.”

After the earthquake took everything, a garden of one’s own provides a livelihood

Life has also been hard for Marie Milianne, 53. Like Magalite, the widowed mother of five rebuilt her life after the 2016 hurricane. Her house was almost completed when she lost it in the August earthquake. Unlike Magalite, Milianne says that she has received disaster relief in the form of hygiene supplies and shelter.

For Milianne, who supports herself by farming, having a garden of her own is a necessity. She tells us that she shares her farming expertise with others who have received seeds and saplings as relief, and soon she hopes to have saved enough money to be able to buy livestock.

Mies taluttaa aasia. Taustalla seisoo muita ihmisiä, joiden jaloissa on täysiä muovisäkkejä.
Farmer Dieudonné Victorin, along with his donkey, picked up seeds and saplings distributed to victims of the earthquake. He believes that they will help him secure a better livelihood for his family and allow him to help others as well. Photo: DKH

Farmer and father of four Dieudonné Victorin, 54, lost both his home and his brother in the August earthquake. In the autumn, an emergency shelter set up in the neighbour’s yard has served as home for the family.

“I’m sowing these seeds to grow crops with which I can also help my sisters and brothers,” says Victorin.

As a professional farmer he believes that the seeds he received as relief will provide good crops. Still, he also hopes to receive assistance in cash, which he could use to buy the supplies that his family needs.

Finn Church Aid has supported the Haiti relief operation from its disaster fund. A total of 200,000 euros has been allocated to the operation.

To provide immediate emergency relief in the Grand’Anse region in Haiti, FCA’s partner organisations DKH and FNGA have already provided 1,005 families with shelter serving as housing, as well as basic food products. An additional 1,005 families have received hygiene supplies. Relief distribution continues in the region, and 1,000 families are provided with cash assistance allowing them to buy necessities such as groceries or equipment used for rebuilding.

In addition to cash assistance, 16 local loan groups granting microloans are set up in the region. These microloans are used to support the livelihood and survival of 16,500 people after the earthquake.

Text: Elisa Rimaila
Translation: Leena Vuolteenaho

Somaliland tailoring students graduate with flair in their homemade gowns

Somaliland tailoring students graduate with flair in their homemade gowns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sustainable livelihood skills for the future

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

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

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

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

By: Mohamed Aden

Drought and famine threaten the lives of millions in East Africa

Drought and famine threaten the lives of 60 million people in East Africa

Somalia, the northern parts of Kenya and southern Ethiopia are the areas worst affected by a drought that has caused a prolonged hunger crisis.

AN EXTENDED drought has led to a major humanitarian crisis in East Africa, particularly in parts of Somalia, southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya. Meanwhile South Sudan, which has been suffering from a bad drought for a long time, is flooded.

Since autumn 2020, seasonal rainfall in the Horn of Africa has been delayed three times. The underlaying causes are climate change and the La Niña event which cools down seawater in the Pacific Ocean. The current drought is expected to continue well into spring 2022.

Children are at particular risk

In November, the World Food Programme (WFP) warned that famine would threaten nearly 60 million people in East Africa. Save the Children said in early December that this year hunger had caused the deaths of an estimated 260,000 children under the age of five in East Africa. Without emergency humanitarian assistance, this figure is expected to increase.

This December, more than 1.7 million children under the age of five suffered from acute malnutrition and 213,000 children in the same age group suffered from severe malnutrition in Kenya and Somalia alone.

Drought endangers livelihoods in areas that are already vulnerable, and children’s schooling may be interrupted due to illness and poor nutrition.

Archive photo. Bones of dead animals on the ground.
Bones of dead animals scatter the roadside half an hour away from Lokichar, Turkana, Kenya. Many pastoralists have lost their livestock like goats, camels, cows and sheep to drought. Photo: Tatu Blomqvist / Finn Church Aid

Hunger weakens the immune system

Risto Härmä, Head of Humanitarian Assistance for the Middle East and East Africa at Finn Church Aid (FCA), says that as prolonged starvation weakens the immune system, people are exposed to various infectious diseases. For young children, ordinary diarrhoea becomes deadly when their body is already exhausted and proper treatment is not available.

“Drought-affected areas are very remote and the journey to the clinic can be very long, if not impossible,” says Härmä.

Treatment at a medical clinic is needed for people whose bodies are no longer able to consume ordinary food after prolonged malnutrition, even when it is available.

Hunger threatens Somalia again

Somalia suffered a bad famine in 2011 when more than a quarter of a million people died of starvation, half of them young children. There are fears that a similar disaster is about to happen again.

“Here in Somalia, more than 80 per cent of the country has been exposed to either a very severe or moderate drought,” says Ikali Karvinen, Director of FCA’s Country Office in Somalia.

Drought has the most perilous consequences on those living in rural and remote areas, where people earn their livelihood from farming and raising livestock. When animals run out of grazing lands and water, people also face an increased risk of famine.

“One fifth of the population lives in areas suffering from severe water shortages. It is estimated that by the end of 2021, the food security of 3.5 million people may be threatened,” says Karvinen.

State of emergency declared in parts of Somalia

A state of emergency has been declared in some Somali states due to the drought. The crisis has caused a sharp rise in prices, undermining the purchasing power of Somalis. An acute shortage of cash has forced some people in need of money to make quick decisions, such as selling their livestock.

“This is going to be a prolonged crisis. At the moment, it doesn’t look good,” says Karvinen.

Finn Church Aid receives funding from the European Commission’s Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (DG ECHO) for an education and training project that aims to keep children in school in the face of a complex crisis. The humanitarian disaster in Somalia has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, the protracted terrorist threat and the Somali government’s poor ability to provide basic services to citizens.

By Elisa Rimaila
Translation: Päivi Creber

Ugandan Youths and Refugees Trained in Business and Vocational Skills

Ugandan youths and refugees trained in Business and Vocational Skills

Finn Church Aid with partner Enabel has provided Ugandan and refugee youth in Palorinya settlement with necessary business understanding and vocational skills to find opportunities for sustainable livelihoods.

The war in South Sudan forced Alex Lojuan, 27, to flee his home and settle in Palorinya Refugee settlement, located in Obongi district in the West Nile sub-region of Uganda. He is one of the 512 youth that enrolled for the GIZ-ENABEL funded project implemented by Finn Church Aid (FCA) in the Palorinya refugee settlement.

“My father died during the war and as the eldest child in the family, I had to take on the mantle of providing for the family. These were the hardest moments of my life, fending for a family in a foreign land,” Alex says.

Alex Lojuan attending to a customer at his Retail shop located in Odraji Village, Zone 1 – Palorinya settlement
Alex Lojuan attending to a customer at his Retail shop located in Odraji Village, Zone 1 – Palorinya settlement. Photo: Linda Kabuzire

Alex started laying bricks for income and later got the opportunity to work with Lutheran World Federation (LWF) as a casual worker, distributing soap to refugees during the monthly distribution of food rations and household items in settlements. While at LWF, he received information about the FCA Business and Technical Vocational Education Trainings (BTVET).

“As luck would have it, I was enrolled as one of the FCA business skills trainees. Although, I am yet to finish the business training course, what I have learned so far in the first two modules has instilled in me a positive mindset for success,” Alex says.

Enhanced youth employability

The project ‘Promoting Youth Employability through Enterprise and Skills Development’ (PROYES) began in October 2019 and ended in May 2021. It sought to enhance profitable employment opportunities for refugee and host community youths through skills training and business development support, by equipping the youth with demand-driven vocational and business skills for fluent transition into working life in employment or self-employment.

During the project, FCA trained and mentored young people in Business Start-up and Management and in vocational skills like hairdressing, sandal making, carpentry, tailoring and building construction.

Backed by the training and skills received from the FCA business class training, in March 2020 Alex started up a retail business with the money saved from bricklaying and casual work.

“I used my 300,000 Ugandan Shillings savings to start a retail shop in Odraji Village, Zone 1 in Palorinya settlement. Within seven months, my business capital had doubled. This is in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic situation that has affected most businesses,” Alex says.

“I run my shop with proper business principles learned during the FCA training. I have a business plan, I negotiate with suppliers to get the best deals, practice marketing of my goods, and deliver great customer service in my business,” he adds.

Alex earns a weekly profit of over 30,000 Ugandan Shillings (UGX) and with this money, he is able to take care of his extended family.  He also bought bicycle for himself and put up a temporary structure that houses his retail shop.

Linking learning to earning

In a bid to increase employability chances of the youth trained, FCA provided start-up kits to the trainees who completed the course. The organisation also linked the trainees to available employment opportunities.

By end of the project period, 153 trainees, including 86 males and 67 females, were employed either by the private sector entities where they had attended industrial training or became self-employed.

Gordon Chiria, a 26-year-old Ugandan living in Obongi town managed to set up his dream business after the training.

“I used to grow and sell maize and other crops to support my family.  This business wasn’t successful because I failed to maintain it. After FCA’s training, I started a retail business with a capital of UGX 300,000. Currently I make sales worth UGX 80,000 per day and much more on market days,” Gordon says.

Using his business profits, Gordon managed to buy two goats and support his family. He plans to expand his business to both retail and wholesale. “I appreciate Enabel and FCA’s efforts towards making the livelihood of Obongi community youths better,” he adds.

Focus also on young women’s skills

The project also supported female youths. More than half, 53 % of all beneficiaries were females that benefited from the six skills trades under the project.

FCA supported female participation by establishing four child daycare centres and also facilitated customised career guidance, counselling and life skills training to enable female trainees appreciate the trainings and build their resilience to complete the course.

Esther Kuyang, 25-year-old South Sudanese refugee came to Palorinya refugee settlement with her family in January 2017. “My family and I were depending on the limited resources provided by World Food Programme. The food rations provided were not always enough, yet it was quite hard to get supplementary food due to lack of a source of income,” she recounts.

“While I was still pondering about what to do to take care of my family, FCA came to my aid. With their support, I enrolled for a business entrepreneurship course at Belameling Vocational Training Centre,” Esther tells.

“I had previously been trained by FCA in sandal making. Due to the lack of start-up capital, I was yet to put that skill into practice. During the business training under the FCA-Enabel project, I learned that my real capital was my brain. I immediately started to think of ways to get capital to rejuvenate my previously acquired skills of sandal making.”

Esther Kuyang making sandals in her workshop.
Esther Kuyang a south Sudanese refugee making sandals in her workshop in Chinyi village, Zone 1, Palorinya refugee settlement. Photo: Linda Kabuzire.

“In mid-July 2020, I got a loan of UGX 170,000 from my friend and bought some basic materials such as rubber, thread, beads, for starting a sandal making business. With the business skills acquired in the training like record keeping, marketing and proper accounting, my business started growing. Within two months, I grew my business capital to UGX 200,000. On average, I earn a profit of UGX 28,000 weekly. I am still paying off my loan and I will keep reinvesting the profits in the business. I am also saving with Vision Savings Group, our FCA–Enabel Internal lending group,” she adds.

Esther is the chairperson of the savings group that was formed in January 2020 under the support of FCA-Enabel project. So far she has saved 75,000 shillings with this group. She also bought a bicycle, which facilitates her movements. Esther plans to buy more tools and equipment’s for sandal making, especially those that she currently lacks. She also plans on expanding the business and opening more branches in other trading centres to generate more income.

Text: Linda Kabuzire

Business and Technical Vocational Education Training provides opportunities for a brighter future in Ugandan refugee settlements

Business and Technical Vocational Education Training provides opportunities for a brighter future in Ugandan refugee settlements

Finn Church Aid has been providing refugee youth in Uganda business and Technical Vocational Education Training. Their pre-exiting skills were diverse but overall, the programme has provided many with necessary capacities to provide for themselves in the future.

FINN CHURCH AID (FCA) promotes vocational education and entrepreneurship among women and young people in Uganda, a country that has taken in more than a million refugees from its neighbouring countries. No other country in Africa hosts more refugees than Uganda. The majority of them are children and youth who have arrived with varying educational backgrounds and skills to start earning their own living in time to come.

In early 2020, the pandemic had a tremendous impact on self-employment in Uganda. A survey conducted by the UN Capital Development Fund showed that around half of self-employed people fell below the poverty line after one month of lockdown. Fortunately, by the end of the year, the situation was showing signs of improvement.

The work in Kyaka Refugee Settlement is based on FCA’s Linking Learning to Earning (LL2E) approach, establishing functional links between Business, Technical, Vocational Education and Training (TVET) and the world of work. FCA Uganda has been implementing BTVET programmes in other Ugandan refugee settlements for several years already. During 2020, 1,925 young people in total received Business and Technical Vocational Education Training (BTVET) in FCA Uganda country programme.

Our trainees and graduates from Kyaka Refugee Settlement share their experiences and thoughts below.

Bashimbe smiles while braiding a client's hair.

Bashimbe Banzuzi, 17

Bashimbe fled the DRC for Uganda in 2018. “There was no peace,” she says. “We couldn’t sleep as we were constantly afraid of what the night would bring.” She arrived with her grandparents and two sisters. Bashimbe is now two weeks into her hairdressing course with FCA and is excited for the future. “I love hairdressing because I know there is demand for it,” she says. “After finishing this course I will be able to support my family. Right now there is no one else who is earning money.”

Charles sits on the ground repairing a motorcycle.

Charles Biyoik, 18

Charles arrived in Uganda from the DRC in 2019. He came alone. “Life was too hard and I wasn’t studying,” he says. In the DRC Charles had a no-skill job in a restaurant. When he arrived in Kyaka II Refugee Settlement he heard an radio advertisement for vocational training and decided to pursue a course in motorcycle repair. “Hopefully, I will one day open my own garage.”

Erian sewing.

Erian Tuyisenge, 17

Erian has lived in Kyaka all her life. Her parents fled Rwanda in 1997, passing through Tanzania before settling in Kyaka II Refugee Settlement. “I was sitting at home doing nothing,” she says. She has just begun a 6 month tailoring course at the FCA’s Vocational training centre. “I know tailoring will provide me a future as there is always demand. So you can earn a lot of money.”

Beni doing another woman's hair in a saloon.

Beni, 21

Beni (standing) arrived in Uganda with her sister after fleeing violence and the murder of their parents in the DRC. “I had very little skills in hairdressing, but when I heard about the program, I knew I wanted to take part so I can help my family,’ she says. Beni and sister Rose went through the training together and in December 2019 they decided to open up a little salon in Kyaka settlement. “Even if we get one or two customers a day we are able to buy some soap, and some food.”

Beni looks to the distance.

Skills are important especially for girls because many, Beni says, are involved in prostitution. “If they have skills, girls can focus on improving their lives and their family’s lives.”

Prince working on a field with others.

Prince Mushesa, 22

Prince crossed the border alone, arriving in Uganda from the DRC in 2019 after rebels had kidnapped his family. When Prince heard from his neighbours that is was possible to study agriculture he was excited as he felt that it was a skill that could help him in the future. “I have been taught new techniques that I didn’t know before,” he says. FCA continues to supports students once they graduate by providing small plots of land for the students to continue to practice their farming. And of course whatever they grew, they keep.

Priska looking lovingly at a baby sitting next to her.

Priska Kabira, 19

Priska is one of many students who are also young mothers. To support their learning, daycare is provided by the school. For Priska, who is studying Tailoring, this has meant she can spend more time in the classroom. “If they didn’t have daycare it would be very difficult. I would have to take her to the classroom and every time she cried I would have to tend to her.” Priska has been in Uganda for four years after fleeing the DRC with her family out of fear of being kidnapped by rebels.

Sonia baking wearing an FCA apron and cook's hat.

Sonia Kalombola, 21

Sonia fled to Uganda with her family in 2010 due to conflict between families that left her uncle murdered. The family first settled in Kampala, capital of Uganda. Urban refugees are expected to be self-reliant but the high costs of living forced the family to Kyaka II where the family now resides. Sonia is currently studying Catering. “I love catering. I love to cook and bake. I hope to be a professional in the future and open a hotel and help others to learn about catering.”

Isabela showing a beautiful top she has made.

Isabela Kabuwo, 23

Isabela settled in Kyaka II Refugee Settlement in 2017 after war forced her to flee the DRC with her family. When she heard about the tailoring course offered by FCA she jumped at the chance. Fast forward to 2021 she now works alongside two other fellow graduates in a small tailoring business on the busiest street in Kyaka. “When we work as a group, we work better,’ she says. Isabela currently rents her sewing machine but is hoping to pay it off in the next couple of months.

Yvonne on a lush field.

Yvonne Ishimye, 19

Yvonne arrived in Uganda in 2017 after fleeing violence in the DRC with her family. Yvonne was already studying agriculture in the DRC and when she was determined to finish her studies however the costs of schooling were too prohibitive. When she learned that FCA offered a course in Agriculture to refugees it filled her with tremendous excitement. “When I was practicing agriculture in the DRC it wasn’t in my heart, but when I came to Uganda it became my ambition,” she says. Since graduating, Yvonne now plants tomatoes not far from her family’s house. Every five months she harvests her tomatoes earning enough money to buy new seeds and provide for her whole family.

Shukuru sitting outside working on metal with a friend in the background.

Shukuru Misago, 20

Shukuru fled to Uganda when as a child with his entire family. In 2020 Shukuru was successful in securing a place in motorcycle repair at the FCA Vocational Training Center in Kyaka II. “There are so many boda boda’s (motorcycle taxis) where I live so I knew there would be a market. Now that I am working and own my own garage I can get everything I need to support my family,” he says. He has grown up seeing FCA’s impact in the settlement. “I want to see other refugees benefit from this programme the way I have benefited.”

Text: Nora Luoma and Erik Nyström
Photos: Hugh Rutherford

Emerging stronger after Covid-19

Emerging stronger after Covid-19

Distance learning, quarantines and travel bans. Lockdowns, cancelled events, and hundreds of online meetings. Remembered as the year of the Covid-19 pandemic, 2020 was an exceptional year for everyone, including Finn Church Aid, writes executive director Jouni Hemberg.

Conditions have been dire in our programme countries before; however, this was the first time that a crisis affected the entire organisation. Even though we have experienced conflicts, earthquakes, natural disasters and epidemics, none of us had ever experienced a global pandemic.  

Although what happened during the year took us and everyone else by surprise, we weren’t entirely caught off guard. As our teams are geographically dispersed, remote working is not unusual. In Finland, our entire Helsinki office relocated to employees’ homes practically overnight. When I compare the ease of remote working now to what it was a year ago, it’s as different as night and day. Our country offices in Asia, Africa and the Middle East were also able to ward off coronavirus infections for a long time, which was crucial for our Covid-19 response in 2020 

The pandemic has inevitably affected our education, livelihoods and peace programme work. Schools worldwide switched to distance learning, and some had to shut down entirely in 2020. While families in Finland agonised over remote school and remote work arrangements from home, people in our programme countries needed to be even more resourceful. Without access to internet or any infrastructure, teachers travelled from village to village teaching children, and radio lessons were provided. 

Covid-19 has had a dramatic impact on livelihoods. Unlike in Europe where governments have taken responsibility for helping people and businesses cope, people in developing countries have been left to their own devices. In countries where social safety nets are weak, an epidemic much less dramatic than the Covid-19 pandemic can make life difficult. Unable to earn a living, people are forced to leave their homes and seek opportunities elsewhere. Forced migration is not only a risk in terms of the pandemic, but it also increases regional tensions. Conflicts arise regardless of epidemics, and this has made our peace work all the more challenging.  

Despite such challenging circumstances, we as an organisation have performed extremely well. A significant increase in our international funding shows that partners such as the UN, the EU and other public funding providers, have strong faith in us and our vision. 

However, the Covid-19 epidemic diminished our church collection income. With various social restrictions in place, we have been unable to reach our donors as we normally would. Passing the collection plate online is very difficult, and our hardworking face-to-face fundraisers were forced to stay at home. But while our internal funding in Finland decreased, so did our expenditures, as travel-related costs shrank. With that being said, we were fortunate to not experience significant losses in 2020.  

A year amidst the pandemic has opened our eyes to new opportunities. We must be able to grow as an organisation and learn how to make effective use of new digital tools. Going forward, a large part of our education activities will no longer take place in physical buildings despite a vast number of people in places like Africa will still need access to education. This is where digital learning could come into play. The fact remains that the way we work will never be the same it was before the pandemic. We need to contemplate on the lessons learned during the pandemic and adopt new working modalities in the future.  

As the Executive Director of Finn Church Aid, it is my heartfelt wish that we will soon defeat the pandemic and begin our journey to recovery. Our post-Covid-19 work will focus strongly on sustainable development. We will continue our efforts to promote education, peace, livelihoods and equality. And now that remote working has proved successful, we can start pursuing more ambitious environmental objectives, such as rethinking what constitutes as necessary travel. 

Although 2020 was an extremely tough year for us at Finn Church Aid, it was also a major success story, thanks to our employees, board members and other elected representatives and volunteers. You are our most significant resource, and your valuable input allows us to help those most in need.  

You are also the best indicator of quality and trust in our activities. Thanks to your efforts to develop our operations, our funding has increased. We learned a valuable lesson from the pandemic: when all the parts of our organisation come together, we can weather any crisis. 

Jouni Hemberg, Executive Director for Finn Chruch Aid

This text twas originally published as the preamble of our Annual Report 2020 that came out recently. Would you like to know more about what was done?