Where to find the courage to help during crises?

Aid workers at the core of crises – where to find the courage to help?

FCA staff in Ukraine, South Sudan and Syria face seemingly insurmountable challenges every day.

Text: Ruth Owen

WORKING IN CRISIS CONDITIONS means frequent threats to your safety and a constant challenge to your mental well-being. In this story, three FCA Country Directors share the unique challenges they face in their work amid conflict and humanitarian crises. They also reveal what inspires and motivates them to continue their work despite the challenges.

In the picture, a man standing in the middle of the buildings in the courtyard points his finger at something behind the photographer.
Seme Nelson, Country Director of Church Aid South Sudan, is motivated to see the change that his work brings. “Every time we witness a change, for example among children going to school, I get the feeling that our work is contributing to social change, improving people’s lives and opportunities to claim their rights.” Photo by Ulriikka Myöhänen / FCA

“Every time I come to work, I know that what I do has a direct impact on other people”

Seme Nelson studied peace, conflict and development studies at universities on three different continents. However, he decided to return to his native South Sudan, where he now heads the FCA’s Country Office.

“The challenges in South Sudan are manifold. The country is unstable and its economy is fragile. Many live in poverty, exacerbated by conflict, refugees and war in neighbouring Sudan.

South Sudan was basically founded on a background and legacy of violent conflict and internal civil wars. It’s continued to affect the entire stability of the state. We have also faced threats to our security at FCA. Our Pibor office was ransacked by local people in 2016 amongst widespread attacks on NGOs. And in 2022 our Fangak office destroyed fighting between armed groups, but our staff remain, as do I.

In 2020, I considered remaining in Japan, where I did my master’s degree. But I considered whether what I do would make a significant difference to people’s lives or not. When I remain here in South Sudan, every time I come to work, there is a very direct connection between what I do and how it impacts people.

What has continued to push our staff to continue to work despite the difficulties and challenges is the impact that our programme makes on the people. Every time you see these beautiful stories of change. From young people, mothers, kids who are able to go to school. You feel like our work is contributing to transforming societies, improving people’s access to livelihoods and helping citizens demand their rights.

When the Sudanese conflict broke out in 2022, a lot of Sudanese fled to South Sudan along with former South Sudanese refugees who decided to return to their country. At present, I think only five per cent of these refugees from Sudan are living in refugee camps or settlements inside South Sudan. Probably 80 per cent of them are housed by South Sudanese – people who have decided to open their homes to welcome Sudanese refugees to share the little that they have. The media always wants to document stories of suffering, of desperations, but for me I think we should highlight positive stories like these more.
 
Yes, my country is founded on a story of conflict and desperation – the process of state building has almost started from zero. But if we look at the infrastructural transformation of the country from 2005 when the second civil war ended, there has been a tremendous growth process. The country has a city called Juba that we’re proud of today, that never even existed before! Regardless the situation of desperation in this country, the generosity, strength and courage of people is something worth acknowledging.

“It is important to distinguish between political problems and solidarity with people who are suffering”

Mazen Khzouz’s home is in Jordan, but his work requires him to spend long periods away from his family. As FCA Country Director for Syria, he believes it is important for him to be close to the communities he works with.

A man with an FCA lanyard around his neck looks at the camera
Mazen Khzouz, FCA Country Director for Syria. Photo by Mohammed al-Masrab

“I’m not the kind of person who’s satisfied with only doing the basic in my life. I need to do more. I need to be closer to people who I serve.

Syria is suffering the effects of a long conflict, economic collapse and a devastating earthquake. The country is under severe sanctions, which are contributing to the impoverishment of the population and increasing suffering. Sanctions have led to a lack of access to all basic necessities and a lack of money. Prices have skyrocketed, purchasing power has been eroded and unemployment is very high. An estimated 90% of Syrians now live below the poverty line. The cost of living has more than doubled since 2023, as measured by the Minimum Expenditure Basket.

The security situation in Syria has improved in relative terms compared to the most difficult years of the conflict. Humanitarian actors are now in a better position to reach vulnerable groups. However, the security situation remains volatile and new outbreaks of violence are possible. Sporadic attacks, inter-group clashes and multiple checkpoints between population centres can also slow down progress in the areas where the FCA’s work is taking place. Journeys to schools and communities can take as long as three or four hours.

Social tensions increase during disasters. It gets frustrating when some people get help and others don’t, even though many need it. Tensions are also a risk for our employees. To mitigate them and ensure staff safety, we build strong relationships with community leaders and local actors.

When we understand that people are struggling to meet their basic needs – to feed and clothe their children – it is easy to understand their strong reactions. We at FCA Syria wish we could do more and reach even more of those in need.

All our employees are Syrian. Staff members have lost loved ones in war, earthquake and even cholera. It is common for one of our staff to help at least two or three other relatives or households with their income.

My family back in Jordan are wondering how much I can endure from the situation, but the proximity to the country helps a lot. I explain to my family we have a strong evacuation plan and I give them assurance that we are safe.

The media constructs a certain image of Syria, which influences the perceptions and opinions about the people and that’s a very big mistake. We need to differentiate between people who are suffering and whatever problems there may be in the political domain.

The Syrian people do not deserve to be mistreated. They are human beings. They have children. They deserve to live a decent life as much as you and I do.”

A woman is standing in front of the camera being interviewed by a television crew.
Patricia Maruschak, who grew up in Canada’s Ukrainian diaspora, returned to her roots in Ukraine when FCA was looking for a Country Director for its office in the war-torn country. Photo by Antti Yrjönen / KUA

“I miss my family, but I want to see Ukraine prosper and be free”

Patricia Maruschak is the granddaughter of Ukrainian immigrants to Canada and grew up in the Ukrainian diaspora. She lived and worked in Ukraine from 2006 to 2010, before returning in 2022 to head up the FCA Ukraine office.

Ukraine has been at full since its neighbour Russia invaded in 2022. Frequent air alarms across the country, when there is a threat of attack, lead to constant disruptions to daily life. This impacts greatly on children’s education and their psychological wellbeing, as well of that of their teachers.

Recently in Chernihiv, one of the schools where we have done repairs was damaged because there was a bombing very close to the school. The alarm went off, everyone went downstairs, and were standing for the daily moment of silence for the fallen. During that moment there were three huge explosions close by. Everyone had to immediately lie on the ground, the children were very scared. It’s the teachers’ job to keep them calm in a situation that’s uncertain for everyone. In the meantime, people from the street were also trying to get into the shelter.

All over the country, when an air alarm goes off, everyone has to go into the shelter. Teachers have to try and continue with learning where sometimes there’s no separation for classes. Imagine trying to continue a lesson with 7 or 8 year olds when there are now another 100 children in the room!

We train teachers in ‘psychological first aid’ to help children in the moment. Then we also train them in ongoing mental health support for kids, who have had trauma experiences, or have family members who are away fighting or have returned severely injured and have their own traumas. And then we also help teachers take care of themselves with coping strategies.

Many of our staff never worked in NGOs previously, coming mainly from the business community, but now they’re proud to be helping fellow Ukrainains.

Our procurement officer was an IDP (Internally Displaced Person) at the beginning of the war, because her community was occupied by Russian troops for a while. Meanwhile, our head psychologist has been displaced twice, firstly from Donetsk due to Russian occupation in 2014 and then from the south-east of the country when the fullscale war began in 2021. It’s not just a job for our people, it’s also their life.

I miss my family a lot. But there are clear needs here and the ability to make an impact in Ukraine is very high. We work with capable and experienced Ukrainian education experts. It’s a pleasure and a good challenge to work alongside them and personally, I want to see Ukraine succeed and be free and capable of making its own choices.”

Seme, Mazen and Patricia will speak at the World Village Festival in Helsinki on 25 May 2024.

‘Talent Has No Borders’: Na’amal and FCA launch report on connecting refugees to digital livelihoods

‘Talent Has No Borders’: Na’amal and FCA launch report on connecting refugees to digital livelihoods

A group of young people pose for a photo. Text reads "Talent has no borders". The logos of Na'amal and FCA are visible.

Finn Church Aid (FCA) and social enterprise, Na’amal, launched a pioneering joint report titled ‘Talent has No Borders: Creating Connections For Refugees and other Displaced People to Decent Digital Livelihoods’.

THE STUDY, co-authored by Lorraine Charles, Executive Director at Na’amal, Dr. Shuting Xia, Julieta Guzmán, and Sonia Catinean, delves into the current landscape of digital livelihoods for refugees and displaced individuals. It explores the challenges they face and identifies key strategies and initiatives to facilitate their access to digital work opportunities, with the ultimate goal of empowering refugees and promoting their economic integration.

The study revealed that while a diverse array of stakeholders are actively contributing to a thriving ecosystem to engage refugees in digital employment, significant challenges persist. These include inconsistent job opportunities, infrastructure and connectivity issues, and regulatory uncertainties surrounding refugees’ legal right to work remotely. The report underscores the importance of collaboration among programmes and organisations to maximize impact and develop comprehensive employment approaches tailored to the unique needs of refugee digital workers.

Employing a robust scoping approach, the study includes key informant interviews with various stakeholders, including organizations providing support, companies employing refugees remotely, and refugee workers themselves. These interviews offered valuable insights from firsthand experiences, enabling a deeper understanding of the subject matter.

The report underscores the active roles played by various stakeholders in advancing digital livelihoods for displaced individuals, including international organizations, national entities, social enterprises, NGOs, and the private sector. Within the expansive digital livelihood landscape, these stakeholders assume diverse roles, collaborating and relying on each other to cultivate a flourishing digital employment ecosystem. Despite challenges such as inadequate infrastructure, internet connectivity, digital skills gaps, and limited access to work opportunities, stakeholders have launched initiatives to bolster refugee support.

Karim Bin-Humam from UNHCR talked with digital workers, who are also refugees at a webinar to launch the report.

Report launch webinar saw refugees tell their stories of digital work

An online webinar saw refugee and digital experts come together to discuss the report, lessons learned and the way forward. Sonia Catinean, Programme Manager at Na’amal shed light on the obstacles refugees encounter when seeking digital employment, such as the need for proper infrastructure, including stable internet connection and personal laptops. Catinean also stressed the importance of valid documentation for refugees to receive payments and emphasized the crucial role of soft skills training in preparing them for remote work.

A highlight of the webinar was the panel discussion moderated by Karim Bin-Humam, Digital Livelihoods Consultant at UNHCR Innovation, where refugees shared their experiences accessing digital livelihoods. The panelists included three talented individuals who have participated in Na’amal’s digital skilling programs: Susan Achiech, a software developer; Ukech Daniel Uboa, who has earned income through the microwork platform Appen; and Esperance Mukiza, a healthcare professional seeking to enter digital employment.

Abdi Hamisi Ambari, Tech and Comms Lead at Na’amal, introduced the newly formed Na’amal Agency. This innovative initiative aims to effectively bridge the gap between displaced talent and remote work opportunities while providing support to further develop their technical and professional skills.

Watch the ‘Talent has No Borders’ webinar that launched the report on 17 April 2024

Digital livelihoods can empower refugees

Organisations like Na’amal and FCA, which invest in digital livelihoods are advocating daily for government cooperation. They engage with stakeholders across sectors to devise solutions. Initiatives such as portable internet connectivity devices, upskilling programs, and mentorship opportunities address specific needs.

Career development support, apprenticeships, and entrepreneurship training also empower refugees to access digital work opportunities. And e-commerce platforms significantly promote e-business entrepreneurship among displaced populations by providing invaluable resources, training, and access to pertinent materials.

“Digital livelihoods offer a powerful way to economically empower refugees, but significant barriers remain,” said Lorraine Charles, Executive Director of Na’amal. “This report provides an in-depth look at the current landscape and identifies key practices to help more refugees build decent careers in the digital economy. We hope the insights spur action among humanitarian organizations, NGOs, social enterprises and the private sector to expand digital livelihood opportunities for refugees everywhere.”

As global displacement hits record levels – digital livelihoods can help

Digital livelihoods offer a promising solution to the economic hardships faced by refugees but entail addressing various challenges. Inconsistent availability of digital employment opportunities often disappoints refugees seeking online work. Infrastructure, connectivity, and access to devices are critical prerequisites requiring attention. Regulatory uncertainties and fragmented upskilling programs further complicate matters. Addressing these challenges is crucial to ensuring that digital livelihoods empower refugees sustainably.

As the global displacement crisis reaches unprecedented levels, the potential of digital livelihoods in empowering refugees and promoting their economic integration is clearer than ever. The ‘Talent has No Borders’ report provides crucial recommendations for stakeholders to strengthen collaboration, develop refugee-tailored support programs, and engage employers to create more opportunities. By fostering cooperation, providing comprehensive support, and engaging with key stakeholders, FCA and Na’amal are committed to working towards a more inclusive digital economy that empowers displaced people to find decent work and shape brighter futures.

The full report can be accessed here.

To learn more, visit FCA’s topic page on technical and vocational education and training (TVET) and Na’amal’s website.

“I was allowed to return to school” – EU-funded INCLUDE project makes sure refugee students aren’t left behind.

“I was allowed to return to school” – EU-funded INCLUDE project makes sure refugee students in Uganda aren’t left behind.

A young woman in a white shirt and
Ujumbe Murujiza, from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) attends Rwamwanja Secondary School.

For children in refugee settlements, access to quality education is not just hampered by lack of schools. Lack of money, family support or basic hygiene supplies must all be overcome to make sure they can attend class.

Yet, refugee and vulnerable children are excelling in FCA supported schools. With funding from the European Union, FCA works in Uganda with Save the Children, Norwegian Refugee Council, Humanity and Inclusion and War Child Holland on the INCLUDE project.

RWAMWANJA AND KYAKA II refugee settlements are home to approximately 1,611,732 refugees and 48,792 asylum seekers. 949,598 of them are children. Many have fled violent conflicts, losing family members and parents. Refugee and host community children attend school side by side in the settlements, but with a large mix of nationalities and backgrounds, it’s tough for teachers to tend to every child’s needs.

Moreover, families are often without stable income. That means little food to aid concentration or no money to buy school supplies. In the case of one girl, it almost led to her dropping out of school to support her family.

A school yard with adults and children walking
Students and teachers take a break at Bukere Secondary School in Kyaka, Uganda.

Cash for education supports children staying in school

Ujumbe Murujiza, an 18-year-old refugee hailing from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is currently enrolled in Senior Two at Rwamwanja Secondary School. But she might have not got this far.

She has eight siblings and her mother struggled to provide after their father abandoned the family.

“Life at home was unbearable,” Ujumbe recalls. “My mother, who often fell sick, struggled to make ends meet by working in community gardens.”

“My brothers had to collect empty bottles for sale just to help us survive,” Ujumbe explained. “I almost left school to work as a maid in Kampala district because we needed money.”

On discovering her plan, Ujumbe’s mother contacted FCA Uganda’s local field office. The Child Protection team met with the family and were enrolled in the Cash for Education programme, as part of the INCLUDE project.

“This support was a miracle for us,” Ujumbe reflects. “It covered school fees, uniforms, and even helped put food on our table.”

The INCLUDE project aims to be versatile and adaptive to the needs of the family in order to support the child’s return to and remaining in school. That’s why it covers diverse interventions, ranging from cash for education to ensuring access to nutritious meals through a school meals programme. It also promotes menstrual hygiene management and reproductive health awareness for both sexes to help children support each other to stay in school.

“I want to become a doctor in the future,” Ujumbe shares with unwavering determination. “After finishing school and getting money, I can support my family and build a better future.”

School meals programme boosts concentration in class

A proper meal can be make or break for a child to concentrate in school. Sometimes, it’s the only meal of the day a child might receive.

At Kikurura Primary School, the INCLUDE project helped start a programme where parents provide food for the students. The project gave out farming supplies like seeds, tools, and fertilisers. The school community worked together to grow crops on a 2-acre piece of land. They harvested 200 kilograms of maize, which helped feed the students.

Students sit around a table in a classroom. They are all drinking from colourful mugs
A proper meal can be make or break for a child to concentrate in school.

The school relies on the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) for support. To make sure all 1,267 students have enough to eat, the school talked with parents at the start of the 2024 term. They decided that each parent would give an extra 3 kilograms of maize to add to the school’s harvest.

This collective initiative ensures that every student at Kikurura Primary School receives a daily cup of porridge.

 “I no-longer feel hungry during school time and attend all the lessons,” says Shillah, a P7 student , while her classmate Aloysious told us, “many of my classmates no longer have to miss classes because of hunger. I have also noticed that my fellow students no longer steal food from others,”

Menstrual hygiene support helps girls stay in class

As a 15-year-old pupil at Rwamwanja Primary School, Francine’s education journey was marred by the lack of sanitary pads during her menstrual cycle.

“My schooling was tough, especially during my periods,” she explained. “I didn’t have sanitary pads, so I often missed class,” she says.

“I remember using small pieces of my mother’s old clothes,” she continues. “But blood would pass through, and I would get infections.”

FCA provided her reusable pads as well as lessons about menstrual cycle management. The construction of clean and safe hygiene facilities are also key.

“Our school has a proper changing room with soap and water. If I have my period during school, I can freshen up and attend class comfortably.”

Something that has also helped the girls is including the boys in the learning process.

“Everyone, including the boys, supports us girls during our periods,” Francine explains, recalling a kind act from a classmate. “Once, I needed help, and a boy offered me his sweater to cover up. It made me realise I’m not alone.”

“Now, I’m not worried about my periods anymore,” Francine asserts confidently. I feel confident I’ll achieve my dream of becoming a nurse and helping my family and community.”

Eric, a refugee from Burundi, topped the exams in Kyaka settlement

Eric Niyitegeka’s family fled violence in Burundi and settled in Kyaka II refugee settlement. He was keen to restart his schooling, but had missed out on crucial phases in his education.   

FCA’s Secondary Accelerated Education Programme (AEP) was designed for children like Eric to help them catch up with their peers and the national curriculum in a supportive environment sensitive to the needs of refugee and vulnerable children.

A young man stands on a path between neat border rows of plants. School buildings stand either side.
Eric topped his class during exams.

Eric worked incredibly hard, attending classes regularly and engaging actively in his studies. During the Uganda Certificate of Education (UCE) examinations in 2023 he came out top of the programme.

“The support I received during the programme was amazing. I was allowed to return to school. I was also given cash for my school fees and scholastics. I no longer had to worry about money, so I concentrated in class. I am hopeful that I will join the advanced level of education where I want to study Physics, Chemistry and Maths since I want to become an engineer in future. I am deeply thankful for the generosity of FCA and its donors,” he says.                 

Career guidance offers hope for the future

Keeping students in school is not only a case of providing for their material needs. Children and teenagers need inspiration and hope for their futures. FCA’s pioneering career guidance programmes have been adopted in several countries, not least in our supported schools in Uganda, as part of INCLUDE.

Two people are sitting at a large table in a room and having what looks like a serious conversation. An FCA banner with a EU logo stands to the side.
Career guidance can make a huge impact on teenagers.

Acinath Bamurebe, a student at Bukere Secondary School, explains the impact they’ve made:

“I used to feel confused when thinking about what I wanted to do in the future. Many of us felt this way too. But thanks to our mentors, things started to become clearer. I was only in school because my friends were, not because I saw a bright future ahead. However, attending these sessions helped me think about what I’m good at and what I enjoy. The activities and talks from my teachers and mentors helped me understand myself better and decide what I want to do in the future.”           

Teachers also included

Teachers are catalysts for change, but are often neglected themselves in terms of training, mentoring and career prospects.

As part of the INCLUDE project, we offer training sessions covering inclusive education, gender sensitivity, career guidance, life skills, and child protection to teachers. By incorporating new teaching methodologies, teachers enhance their ability to meet diverse learning needs.

A number of adults sit in a classroom and listen to another teacher who stands at a desk at the front
As part of the INCLUDE project, FCA offers training sessions for teachers.

Phionah, an Accelerated Education Programme teacher, shares her experience:

“I now feel better equipped to address the varying learning needs of my students and create an inclusive learning environment where each student feels valued and supported in their educational journey. Consequently, students not only receive access to quality education but also acquire essential life skills and guidance crucial for their personal and professional growth.”



Funded by the European Union Humanitarian Aid (ECHO), the INnovative and inCLUsive accelerated eDucation programmE for refugee and host community children (INCLUDE) project is implemented by Finn Church Aid (FCA) in collaboration with Save the Children, Norwegian Refugee Council, Humanity and Inclusion, and War Child Holland. It is designed to address challenges to education for refugees and host communities, including newly arrived and out of school children in primary and secondary schools in Kyangwali, Kyaka, Nakivale and Rwamwanja Refugee Settlements.

Find out more about our work in Uganda.
Text: Linda Kabuzire
Photos: Rebecca Alum and Ronald Igulo

As the war in Sudan continues more than 570,000 people seek refuge in South Sudan

More than 570 000 people have sought refuge in fragile South Sudan as the number of refugees fleeing the war in Sudan grows

South Sudan, which is hosting a large number of refugees, is grappling with looming elections, severe inflation and extreme weather. In addition, millions of South Sudanese are themselves refugees. Those fleeing Sudan face volatile conditions.

SOUTH SUDAN, the world’s youngest country, has received increasing numbers of refugees over the past year. This is due to the devastating war in Sudan, which has been going on for almost a year now, forcing people to flee to South Sudan and other neighbouring countries such as Chad, Egypt and Ethiopia. 

Seme Nelson, FCA Country Director for South Sudan says that among those who have fled are both Sudanese and South Sudanese.

“During the post-independence civil war in South Sudan, especially between 2013 and 2016, many South Sudanese fled to Sudan. Now they have been forced to return back to South Sudan. Sudanese are also now forced to leave their homes and become refugees in South Sudan. The numbers of both returnees and Sudanese refugees is steadily increasing,” says Nelson.

The war in Sudan started in April 2023, and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that South Sudan has already received 572,000 refugees since the war began, of whom around 20% are Sudanese fleeing the fighting. The remaining 80% are South Sudanese returning to their country of origin, fleeing again in search of a safe life. 

“These are not just numbers. When you’re talking about millions or hundreds of thousands, every number is a human life,” Nelson reminds us. 

Cash donations help buy food and send children to school

Nyakuola Kong Gatkak, a mother of three, recently returned to South Sudan, her country of origin. She lived in Sudan for four years. 

“I didn’t want to leave Sudan, but we had no choice,” she says, adding that her husband disappeared when the war broke out.

While living in Sudan, both Gatkak and her husband worked. The family had managed to save some money, which allowed Gatkak and her children to escape when the war broke out. The long escape route took the family first to an IDP camp in Sudan and then to the Sudan-South Sudan border, where they managed to reach Malakal. 

A woman stands in a wooden canoe
Nyakuola Kong Gatkak supports herself and her family by collecting firewood to sell at the market. The best way to get around Old Fangak’s wetlands is by canoe. Photo: Antti Yrjönen / FCA.

The family settled in their former homeland of Old Fangak in July 2023. In Old Fangak, livelihood opportunities are very limited, and the floods of recent years have made it difficult to grow food to eat and sell. Gatkak supports her family by collecting and selling firewood. In addition, the family has received cash assistance from FCA. With this money and the income from the firewood, Gatkak pays for her children’s school fees and meals.

“The children don’t have to go to bed hungry,” says Gatkak.

Refugees want to learn the language

In addition to cash aid, FCA supports education and training opportunities for refugees fleeing the war. With refugees and returnees, the number of students in many schools has multiplied and the need for education has increased.

However, a challenge has been that Arabic is widely spoken in Sudan, while in South Sudan the language of instruction is English. 

Huda Ismail Abakar, a Sudanese mathematics and computer science teacher, took part in a three-month language course for teachers in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, supported by FCA. The aim is to enable teachers who have fled Sudan to return to work as soon as possible. 

“It is important for me and my children to learn the language. You can’t communicate with others if you don’t know the language. Other people in my refugee camp also want to learn. When we teachers return to the camp in the evening after the course, many people ask us to teach them English,” says Abakar. 

Abakar says the family fled Sudan because the sounds of fighting and explosions were particularly frightening for the young children in the family. As they fled, Abakar was expecting his youngest son, who is 18 days old at the time of the interview. 

“We are not planning to go back. When we left Sudan, the place I call Sudan no longer existed. The war has destroyed a lot and it is still going on. We owned a shop that has now been looted for nothing. Our homes were also destroyed,” Abakar recalls.

Election year, inflation and extreme weather events – South Sudan is also suffering from multiple crises

South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011. Just a few years later, the country was plunged into a brutal civil war, the effects of which are still very much in evidence. The post-civil war peace in the society is fragile. 

The repeatedly postponed elections, scheduled for later this year, are a source of concern. Locals fear the elections could plunge the country into a new crisis. 

Daily life is also hampered by high inflation, limited livelihood opportunities and extreme weather events that make farming and other daily activities difficult. In mid-March, South Sudan closed its schools due to extreme heat.

The refugee situation is expected to continue for a long time

People fleeing the war need shelter, food, water, medicine and protection.  How prepared has South Sudan been to receive refugees from neighbouring Sudan?

“South Sudan was not prepared to receive refugees from other countries, as we have also had difficulties getting our own citizens to return home. More than two million South Sudanese live as refugees outside the country’s borders, while another two million live as internally displaced persons,” recalls Seme Nelson. 

A man looks at the camera
Seme Nelson, Country Director of Church Aid for South Sudan, reminds us that behind the refugee statistics there is always a human life. More than 570,000 have already fled the war from Sudan to South Sudan. Photo: Antti Yrjönen / FCA.

South Sudan’s own refugee situation has been described as the largest in Africa. But Nelson sees it as a good sign that the war in Sudan has prompted many South Sudanese to show solidarity with refugees and returnees. For example, families have opened their homes as shelters for those who fled. 

“However, many actors helping refugees are facing funding difficulties and we do not expect the refugee situation to ease this year. The crisis in Sudan and South Sudan is real. We must continue to help,” Seme Nelson stresses.

Information for journalists:

Tapio Laakso, head of FCA’s advocacy work, who recently returned from South Sudan:
tapio.laakso(at)kua.fi

Interview requests for Seme Nelson, FCA’s country manager for South Sudan via humanitarian communication expert Ulriikka Myohänen: ulriikka.myohanen(at)kua.fi

Pictures for media use here (including metadata).

‘A grim milestone’ in Ukraine – average of 42 civilian casualties each day during two years of war.

An average of 42 civilian casualties each day during two years of war in Ukraine

A burned book lies in rubble

NGO members of the Humanitarian Platform in Ukraine, which includes FCA, call for the immediate protection of civilians in Ukraine and for promises made by states to address humanitarian needs to be fulfilled.

KYIV, 24 February 2024 – Two years since the escalation of war in Ukraine, more than 10,500 civilians have been killed, including 587 children, as constant bombardments, mines, and drone attacks have left a generation traumatised, displaced and fearful for their lives, said 51 members of the Humanitarian NGO Platform in Ukraine.

With an average of 42 civilians killed and wounded per day, and recent months being particularly deadly, the group, made up of local and international organisations working in the country, is calling for the immediate protection of civilians, and reminds member states of promises made to tackle dire humanitarian needs of people in Ukraine.

Explosive weapons cause life-changing injuries

More than 87% of the people killed or injured, or 9,241 people, are casualties of explosive weapons, with many of the injuries life-changing in nature, including the loss of limbs or eyesight. The number is understood to be a vast undercount, as the UN continues to corroborate the figures. At the same time, people across Ukraine far from the frontlines also need support to rebuild their lives and recover.

“My daughter is growing up in the basement now,” says Sviatlana. “She and her 7-year-old daughter decided to stay in Kherson, an area that comes under heavy bombardment… “The longest time we had in the dark without electricity was 1.5 months, so now when there is a blackout I try to joke with my daughter, ‘what is one day, we already had way worse’. …Now there is only waiting and surviving. She is just a kid and wants to play outside on the playground, but she cannot leave the basement.”

Two years of renewed fighting has destroyed lives, homes and livelihoods, leaving 14.6 million people, including nearly 3 million children, in desperate need of humanitarian assistance across Ukraine. Nearly 80% of those in need of aid also require mental health support. The poverty level in Ukraine increased five-fold – 24 percent up from 5 percent – in 2022 alone.

Most displaced people wish to return home

Because of ongoing violence, about 4 million people are still displaced within Ukraine and more than 5.9 million were forced to flee to neighboring countries. Even though 67% of those internally displaced say they want to return home someday, many are unable to return to their homes as the war has shattered their communities, and livelihoods.

Many displaced people struggle to integrate in their new communities, where it is difficult to find jobs and housing. Women make up 58% of the internally displaced, and are more likely than men to experience unemployment and dependency on humanitarian aid.

Vulnerable groups are disproportionately affected by the ongoing war. Existing inequalities, including those facing children, Roma people, LGBTQIA+ people, older people and people with disabilities, are only increasing as the long-term, as compounding effects of the crisis drive specific needs.

“Life is far from normal”

Joanna Garbalinska, Director of the Humanitarian NGO Platform in Ukraine, said:

“As the war continues, life is far from normal. Civilians are living day-to-day under the threat of missiles and shells, which continue to hit populated civilian areas, inflicting death and destruction to areas near and far from the frontlines.

“The Humanitarian NGO Platform in Ukraine calls for all attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure to cease immediately, particularly in dense urban areas, as they may amount to grave violations of international humanitarian law. Civilians must always be protected from violence.

Today marks a grim milestone of the war in Ukraine. As the fighting heads into its third year since the escalation, humanitarian agencies in Ukraine remind member states of promises made to tackle this crisis. Today, humanitarian support is more needed than ever. Long-term funding commitments for humanitarian and recovery efforts – with Ukrainian civil society in the lead – are critical for the safety of civilians and for Ukraine’s future.”

The Humanitarian NGO Platform in Ukraine is an independent coordination body with 78 Ukrainian and international NGO members who are operational and delivering humanitarian assistance in Ukraine. The NGO Platform is dedicated to serving and facilitating the work of its members to efficiently and effectively address the humanitarian needs of conflict affected people.

Finn Church Aid’s work in Ukraine focuses on education, psychosocial support and rehabilitation of school structures. The war that started in February 2022 has damaged thousands of schools, of which hundreds are entirely destroyed.

—-

NGO Signatories:

  • “БО “”МБФ “”Руки друзів””// Friends’ Hands
  • ACTED
  • Action Against Hunger (ACF)
  • ActionAid
  • ГО “АЛЬЯНС.ГЛОБАЛ” // ALLIANCE.GLOBAL, Public Organization
  • arche noVa
  • CARE
  • Caritas Ukraine
  • Caritas Zaporizhzhia
  • Corus International
  • CUAMM – Doctors with Africa
  • Danish Refugee Council
  • Estonian Refugee Council
  • ГРОМАДСЬКА ОРГАНІЗАЦІЯ “ЕДКЕМП УКРАЇНА” // Public Organization “EDCAMP UKRAINE”
  • FHI 360
  • Fida International Ukraine
  • Finn Church Aid
  • Help-Hilfe zur Selbsthilfe
  • Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation
  • Humanity & Inclusion – Handicap International (HI)
  • humedica e.V.
  • International Rescue Committee
  • INTERSOS
  • La Chaîne de L’espoir
  • Lutheran World Federation
  • MAG (Mines Advisory Group)
  • Medair
  • Médecins du Monde International Network
  • Medical Teams International
  • Mercy Corps
  • Nonviolent Peaceforce
  • Norwegian Refugee Council
  • Oxfam
  • People in Need
  • Plan International
  • Premiere Urgence Internationale
  • Right to Protection
  • Save the Children
  • Solidarités international
  • Stichting Vluchteling (The Netherlands Refugee Foundation)
  • Terre des Hommes
  • Паросток// Parostok
  • UK-Med Ukraine
  • Ukrainian Red Cross Society
  • Українська фундація громадського здоров‘я // Ukrainian Foundation for Public Health
  • Welthungerhilfe
  • World Vision International
  • ZDOROVI
  • ГО “Дівчата”// NGO “Girls”
  • ГО «ГІ Допоможемо Разом» //NGO “Will Help Together”
  • Єдність чеснот//NGO “Unity of Virtue”

Dorcas, 17, is adjusting to a new life as a refugee in Uganda and hopes to stay in school

In an unfamiliar land – Dorcas, 17, is adjusting to a new life as a refugee in Uganda and hopes to stay in school

17-year-old Dorcas fled her home country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in the middle of a school day. In Uganda, Dorcas is struggling to stay in school and get enough food. FCA helps young refugees build a better future for themselves.

Text: Elisa Rimaila
Photos: Antti Yrjönen

THE COOLEST hours of the morning are best suited for field work. A heavy wooden-handled hoe kicks up dust from the soil layer and Dorcas Uwamahoro, 17, scatters a few brown beans onto the ground. If the rains come on time and are sufficient, Dorcas’ family will have a bean harvest from their own field on their plates in three months.

The sun is already high in the sky, although the birds on the hills surrounding the field are just beginning their concert. Dorcas finds the last beans in her pockets, throws them on the ground and uses her hoe to pull a thin layer of soil over the top.

“Life was good at home in the DRC”, she says.

“Now, I’m just constantly hungry and I have to work a lot with my family members to get food. My clothes get dirty, and I feel dirty too”, Dorcas says.

Kolme ihmistä kävelee kukkuloiden välissä olevassa laaksossa Ugandan maaseudulla. Ihmiset kantavat päänsä päällä ruokabanaaniterttuja.

Dorcas Uwamahoro (centre) was separated from her parents Salome Imanizabayo (right) and Jean Habiyaremyea when she fled the Democratic Republic of Congo. Social media brought the family together on the Ugandan side

Kolme henkilöä kävelee tiellä Ugandan maaseudulla. Heistä keskellä oleva tyttö ja oikeassa laidassa oleva mies kantavat päänsä päällä ruokabanaaniterttuja.

Life as a refugee has been hard for the teenage Dorcas. In her new home country, Uganda, she has to help her parents with various farm chores that help the family put more food on the table. 

Kolme kongolaista henkilöä kulkee kameran ohi. Etummaisena oleva nainen kantaa olallaan kuokkaa, keskellä oleva nuori nainen ja mies päänsä päällä ruokabanaaniterttuja.

Dorcas’ parents do their best to ensure that their daughter and her younger siblings can go to school despite being refugees. 

Dorcas arrived in Uganda as a refugee in spring 2022, shortly after the conflict in her home region in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) escalated again.

They escaped in the middle of a school day.

“We started hearing gunshots around the school. My brother and I fled home, but already at the door we noticed that our parents and the rest of our siblings were no longer there. We flung the books out of our hands and continued running”, Dorcas recalls.

The conflict in the DRC began long before Dorcas was even born. Over three brutal decades, more than five million people have lost their lives. The DRC is a huge country, and the conflict in its eastern part is one of the most forgotten in the world: It only makes headlines when something bigger happens. One such moment was in March 2022, when armed groups became active once again and hundreds of thousands had to flee their homes.

By the end of 2023, about half a million Congolese people had fled across the border to neighbouring Uganda, and nearly six million were living as refugees in their own country. The long-lasting cycle of violence has already had enormous effects on several generations of young people. Many have had to drop out of school and live their everyday lives overshadowed by fear.

Nuori kongolainen nainen istuu pöydän ääressä ja katsoo sivulleen.
“I miss my friends, but I don’t know where they are now”, says Dorcas Uwamahoro. The flight from her home country took place in the middle of the school day in April 2022. 

Reunited by social media

When looking west towards the DRC from Dorcas’ current home, the large Nakivale refugee settlement on the southern border of Uganda, it is hard to believe what natural riches lie between the two countries – and what human suffering they have caused on the other side of the border.

The DRC and its eastern neighbour, Uganda, are separated by Lake Edward, one of Africa’s major water bodies, and the rugged Virunga Mountains. The world also knows them as the ‘mountains in the mist’, thanks to the successful autobiographical book by the American ethologist Dian Fossey and the Hollywood film based on it.

Instead of wild nature, the gentle hills surrounding Dorcas’ home are mostly planted with cooking banana trees, i.e. matoke. Corn and bean fields have also been ploughed on the slopes, with long-horned Ankole cattle and goats strolling at a leisurely pace on the sides of the road formed in the reddish brown sand. Among the animals, there are people carrying banana bunches, water canisters and hoes.

Dorcas arrived from the eastern DRC to Uganda by a different route than the rest of her family. Thanks to smartphones and social media, the family members found each other soon after crossing the border into the refugee reception area.

“I had already thought that I would never see my parents again. I felt awful, but the employees of the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR assured me that there is hope.”

“I felt extremely happy to see them”, Dorcas says.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, Uganda offers refuge to 1.5 million refugees from the DRC and South Sudan. These figures make Uganda the largest refugee-receiving country in Africa and the fourth largest in the world.

Nuori nainen istuu matalalla puupenkillä ruskean tiilitalon edessä Ugandassa ja juttelee kahden pienen lapsen kanssa. Toisella lapsella on sylissään nalle. Taustalla näkyy rakennus ja kasa tiiliä.
17-year-old Dorcas Uwamahoro has eight siblings in total. In addition to older brothers, the family also includes younger siblings, whom Dorcas helps take care of when her parents are working in the fields. 

Dorcas’ family settled in Nakivale, the place where the resettlement of refugees in Uganda began. Originally established in 1958, it is the oldest refugee settlement in all of Africa. Over the past six decades, East and Central Africa has been battered by various natural disasters and conflicts, forcing millions of people to flee their homes.

In 2020, more than 170,000 refugees lived in Nakivale and the number of new arrivals is ever-growing. In addition to the DRC, they had arrived from Burundi, Rwanda, Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea. The settlement is in constant motion. Some have stayed for decades, others were born as refugees. Some have been lucky and have been able to return to their homeland.

Kaksi naista keskustelee pellolla Ugandassa.
Dorcas’ (pictured here with her back to the camera) mother Salome Imanizabayo, 40, is an experienced farmer. Back home in the DRC, the mother cultivated the family’s own field. 

Dependency on food aid

Being a refugee has been a hard pill to swallow for the 17-year-old. Life is very different from what Dorcas is used to. Back home in the DRC, Dorcas’ father worked as a teacher and her mother cultivated the family’s own piece of land. Dorcas attended school and lived the life of a normal teenage girl, which included spending time with her friends.

“I miss my friends, but I don’t know where they are now. In the midst of war, everyone went their separate ways”, she says gravely.

Listening to Dorcas, it becomes clear how worried she is about the future. Most of the little money the family of eleven has is currently spent on food. Each member of the family receives both money and food, such as beans, cooking oil, salt and maize, through the World Food Programme (WFP), but the donations are not enough to cover all of their needs. In particular, they are not enough to keep the family’s children in school.

Watch the video of Dorcas Uwamahoro telling about her life as refugee.

“We didn’t have such problems at home in the DRC. Here, our schooling is constantly at risk because we don’t have the money for the school fees”, she says.

In Uganda, it took Dorcas three months to be able to go to school.

“At that time, I was constantly thinking about where I could get the books and a school uniform and whether I would ever really be able to go back to school. I was very depressed”, she says.

Now, Dorcas goes to school most days. Dorcas received school supplies, a backpack and the encouragement she needed from Finn Church Aid. With support from its disaster fund, FCA has been working in the Nakivale refugee settlement to get children and young people back to school since 2022.

Ugandalaisen pakolaisasutusalueen tiellä kävelee paljon ihmisiä. Osaa taluttaa polkupyöriä ja monilla on käsissään ostospusseja.

Relief supplies from the World Food Programme (WFP) have become an important part of food security for the family of Dorcas Uwamahoro, 17, (centre) in Uganda. Dorcas collects her portion from the food distribution point every month. 

Kongolainen perhe kuokkii peltoa Ugandassa.

Uganda supports the food security of people arriving in the country as refugees by giving each family a piece of land to grow their own food. Dorcas Uwamahoro’s family was hoeing the field they received and planting their first bean crop in the Nakivale refugee settlement in September 2023. 

Lakkipäinen mies seisoo pellolla Ugandassa ja nojaa kuokkaansa. Taustalla näkyy maisema ja muita ihmisiä, jotka työskentelevät pellolla.

Dorcas’ father, Jean Habiyaremye, 42, worked as a teacher in his home country of the DRC. He wants as many of the children as possible to go to school and achieve the best possible future for themselves. 

Dorcas’ family has barely enough money to pay for her schooling, but not for school meals. She often has to sit through afternoon lessons with her stomach rumbling with hunger.

School meals in Nakivale would cost 60,000 shillings per semester, which is equivalent to just under 15 euros. This money would buy a single lunch in downtown Helsinki in Finland, but it is a large sum for someone living as a refugee in Uganda.

Inflation has increased the price of food in Uganda as well. At the same time, large traditional aid organisations, such as the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Refugee Agency UNHCR, have had to drastically cut the aid they offer due to a lack of funding. The cash grant awarded by the WFP per person in the refugee areas of Uganda is 12,000 shillings, or about 2.90 euros, per month. The amount is well below the limit of extreme poverty of around two euros per day. Some of Dorcas’ family members receive support in the form of food products and some in cash.

The lack of funding is largely due to two things: Firstly, the fact that the world’s interest has been heavily focused on Ukraine, not Africa. At the same time, crises have greatly intensified in the region due to climate change and political instability, which has driven hundreds of thousands of new people to flee their homes, for example, in South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan in addition to the DRC.

Nuori kongolainen nainen ojentaa lapselle kädesään olevaa vihkoa. Naisen edessä toinen lapsi pitelee kädessään oppikirjaa. Henkilöiden takana näkyy savella muurattu rakennus.
17-year-old Dorcas’ chores at home include preparing her 6-year-old twin sisters for school and taking them there. Dorcas is sad that Asante Melody and Pacific Yvonne do not get food during the school day because the family is so poor. 

Language problem challenges learning

Rumbling stomach aside, there is also another factor that makes the school days of Dorcas and many other refugees more difficult.

“At home, we studied in Swahili and French. Here, the teachers only speak English. Due to my lack of language skills, I had to move a couple of years down in level.”

Kolme nuorta naista kävelee Ugandassa pakolaisasutusalueella hiekkatiellä keskustellen ja nauraen keskenään.
After fleeing her home in the DRC, Dorcas Uwamahoro (centre) lost touch with her friends. In Uganda, she has made new friends who share the same experience of being a refugee. The Congolese Asante Ruzuba (left) and Neema Bizimana are also Dorcas’ schoolmates. 

The language challenge gnaws at the girl’s mind, but the schools in the refugee areas follow Uganda’s official curriculum. It defines the language of instruction as English.

“At home, I was one of the best students in my class. I raised my hand often during lessons and understood everything. I felt smart”, she says.

In order to succeed at school, Dorcas has to study English. She is often frustrated by how difficult everything is.

“I didn’t understand anything during the first few days at school!”

Dorcas has learned the language little by little. She gets help from an English teacher working as a volunteer at the school who has also arrived from the DRC to Uganda as a refugee.

Nuori kongolainen nainen kurkistaa ovenraosta ja hymyilee.
Even though going to school hungry and having to use a foreign language is tough, Dorcas Uwamahoro wants to believe that she can influence her future by studying hard. 

“Now, I know how to say hello and can at least greet the teacher in class”, says Dorcas, clearly downplaying her skills a bit. The young woman’s favourite subjects at school are especially mathematics and chemistry because she can get on in those by doing calculations.

In Nakivale, the refugees as well as the local children and young people attend the same school. Language unites refugees of different nationalities as well. Dorcas says that she also gets support from her new friends, whom she met as soon as she arrived in Uganda.

“We started getting to know each other because we share a common language”, she says.

One of Dorcas’ new friends is Neema Bizimana, 19, who, like Dorcas, has had to get used to a new life in a foreign country. The families of the teenage girls are now sharing a field in the refugee settlement, provided by the Ugandan government.

Kaksi kongolaista tyttöä nojaa koulurakennuksen seinään ja juttelee keskenään lähikuvassa.

In the refugee settlement of Nakivale, Dorcas Uwamahoro, 17, receives support for her persistence at school from her friend Neema Bizimana, 19. Despite their age difference, the girls are in the same class because both have had to learn English to follow the lessons. 

Dorcas and Neema are currently helping their parents plant beans in the field. The harvest is expected in three months. The girls hope that crops from their own field will put an end to the constant hunger.

Nevertheless, it seems that tiredness and worries are forgotten in the company of a friend. Taking a break, the girls giggle as they lean on their hoes.

“I have friends here who give me hope. They have good ideas and they also encourage me to stay in school, no matter what”, Dorcas says.

The article has been written as part of a 2024 Common Responsibility Campaign in Finland. The Common Responsibility Campaign is an annual fundraising campaign of the Finnish Lutheran Church. A share of campaign proceeds are channeled to the Finn Church Aid’s Disaster Fund, which enables the launch and implementation of emergency response to humanitarian disasters.

FCA and partners launch TVET report at Global Refugee Forum 2023

FCA and partners launch TVET report at Global Refugee Forum 2023

A group of smartly dressed people pose for a photo.
From left to right: Minister Awut Deng Acuil, Minister July Moyo, Dr. Prosper Ng’andu, Christine Hofman, Mrs Marianna Knirsch, Ms Lilian Musoki, Mr Abraham Kamara

Government representatives from Germany, Liberia, South Sudan, Zambia, Zimbabwe and FCA experts discussed how to bolster refugee self-reliance through technical and vocational education and training (TVET) during the international forum on refugees.

AT THE EDUCATION CAMPUS, linked to the 2023 Global Refugee Forum, FCA with its 15by30 steering committee partners, ILO, GiZ and UNHCR, hosted an expert panel to explore the results of the new report, “Economic and labour market impacts of TVET for refugees in LMICs.

With Ms. Christine Hofmann from the International Labour Organization moderating, the panel found common ground on the need to open up access to labour markets to refugees, as well as the need for training programmes to be labour market relevant and their results more rigorously evidence based.

Economic impact of TVET

A lady sits on a chair and talks into a microphone. Behind her a projection shows the FCA Finn Church Aid logo
Minister Awut Deng Acuil stressed the big economic return of TVET

Minister Awut Deng Acuil, the Minister of General Education and Instruction in South Sudan stressed the economic investment of TVET,

“TVET has a big economic return. When you give the skill to individuals, you will see the impact in a very short time – in the family, in the community where they live.”

She continued that traditional education approaches have concentrated on primary and secondary education, whereas TVET can “produced professionals, who can help in development of the country, but also in economic growth,” adding that skills can also help them reintegrate if they return to their home countries.

A man in a suit sits on a chair and listens. He has a microphone in his hand
Mr Kamara emphasised the need for robust evidence on TVET outcomes

The expense of TVET programmes was mentioned by almost all of the panel. Mr.Abraham Kamara, Second Secretary, Permanent Mission of Liberia to the United Nations Office at Geneva, noted that building up a robust evidence base was key to helping international donors and governments make sound funding decisions.

“We need to provide qualitative data, so the donors will be able to situate themselves. The implementing partners will be able to design programmes that will be more focused financially. By providing structured data that will be able to overcome the shortcoming of budgetary that most host countries face,” he told the packed room.

This was a point also brought up by the new report, which offers six recommendations to better bolster refugee skills.

Responsive programming, new skills

Mr Kamara also emphasised the need for gender responsive programming and digital skilling, like in FCA’s own Creative Industries programme.

This was echoed by Mrs Marianna Knirsch, Deputy Head of Education Division at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, who also brought up the importance of green skills in TVET programmes, as well as the importance of integrating refugee training into national frameworks.

Two men in suits sit on chairs on a brightly patterned carpet
Minister July Moyo of Zimbabwe (L) and Dr. Prosper Ng’andu of Zambia outlined their country’s approach to TVET

“We try to make it as far as possible to integrate whatever we do for refugees and IDPs into nation systems – we know it’s more efficient, we know it’s more effective and it will offer prospects to refugees either if they stay or go back,” she stated.

Also on the panel were Mr. July Moyo, Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, Zimbabwe and Dr. Prosper Ng’andu, Commissioner for Refugees, Zambia, who both outlined their own countries’ approach to TVET with Dr Ng’andu describing a ‘paradigm shift’ in Zambia through which refugees are now seen as an asset that can be welcomed to build the economy. 

FCA Uganda’s Lilian Musoki related her personal experience with the TVET complementary pathways programme and laid out clearly that financing is key.

A woman in a black suit wearing a bright necklace and red lipstick listens intently.
FCA’s Lilian Musoki used her years of experience to clearly outline further needs.

“We want an increase in TVET financing, financing that looks at scholarships. If it is labour mobility, if it is a TVET pathway, these scholarships should look at TVET directly.”

Ms Musoki ended the session by quoting an apt African proverb: “if you are afraid of the bee, you will not harvest honey.”

Text and photos: Ruth Owen

FCA, ILO, UNHCR and GiZ form a steering informal committee as part of the 15by30 ‘megapledge’ (link) for refugee tertiary education.

Read more about the steering committee’s research and approach to TVET for refugees.

FCA Uganda receives top honour at Visionaries of Uganda Awards 2023

FCA Uganda receives top honour at Visionaries of Uganda Awards 2023

Finn Church Aid Uganda has been recognised as the “Best International Education Humanitarian NGO of the year 2023”. This prestigious recognition was conferred upon the organisation at the 11th Visionaries of Uganda Awards ceremony on November 30th, 2023, hosted at the Kampala Serena Hotel.

THE EVENT was held under the theme “Celebrating Inclusive Economic Growth And Dynamic Leadership Through Innovation, Value Addition And Industrialisation For Continued Socio-Economic Transformation Of Uganda.”

It was presided over by The 3rd  Deputy Prime Minister of Uganda, Rt. Hon. Lukia Isanga Nakadama. During the ceremony, she extended congratulations to the Visionaries and urged them to persist in their commendable work.

A large glass award. Text engraved on it reads "THE 11TH VISIONARIES OF UGANDA AWARDS Presented to FINN CHURCH AID UGANDA On The Occasion Of Being Honoured As The Best Visionary INTERNATIONAL EDUCATION HUMANITARIAN NGO OF THE YEAR By The People Of The Republic of Uganda For The Outstanding Contribution Towards Uganda Middle Income status Aspiration and Vision 2040 on 30th November, 2023 From The Government Of The Republic Of Uganda"
FCA earned the award through its work with refugees in Uganda.

Finn Church Aid earned the recognition for its exceptional contributions to transforming and equipping refugees and host communities with education and vocational training skills in Uganda.

The award was presented to FCA Uganda Country Director, Mr. Wycliffe Nsheka, by the Minister of State for Urban Development, Hon. Obiga Kania Mario.

Expressing gratitude, Mr. Nsheka remarked, “It is a tremendous honor to accept this award and be acknowledged as the best international education humanitarian NGO in Uganda.”

“In collaboration with the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR, and other stakeholders, FCA Uganda is actively involved in addressing Education in Emergencies in the refugee settlements. we are dedicated to fulfill the right to quality education which is a fundamental human for all. I extend my appreciation to the committed FCA Uganda staff, our partners, and donors for enabling us achieve this award.”

A smiling man in a suit sits at a table in a room full of people. He is holding an award and showing it to the camera.
FCA Uganda’s Country Director, Mr. Wycliffe Nsheka, proudly displaying the award.

Initiated in 2012 by the President of Uganda, H.E President Yoweri Museveni, the awards aim to recognise organisations and initiatives driving socio-economic transformation in alignment with Uganda’s Vision 2040 strategic development plan. The Visionary Advisory Board, supported by a team of researchers, conducts thorough assessments, surveys, and evaluations to identify outstanding organisations contributing to the realization of Uganda’s Vision 2040.

Text: Linda Kabuzire

Breaking down language barriers at school 

Breaking down language barriers at school 

Abraham Bashombana Aganze, a Congolese young man, interprets school lessons for refugees. In his opinion, the key to a good life is dedicating it to helping others.

THE BRUTAL CONFLICT in the Democratic Republic of Congo, continuing for over three decades, has created over five million refugees. About half a million of them have crossed the border to neighboring Uganda for a more peaceful life. Abraham Bashombana Aganze, 30, from North Kivu, is one of them. He lives in Nakivale refugee settlement area, established in 1958.

Abraham, who has a university degree, had to escape violence in his homeland in 2020. For him, it was easier to settle in the Uganda than for tens of thousands of other Congolese people. In the university, his major was English – one of Uganda’s official languages. Most Congolese have never studied English, as education in DRC takes place mostly in Swahili and French.

This language barrier is one of the most urgent threats to the continuation of education for those coming to Uganda as refugees, particularly from the DRC. Abraham noticed the problem soon after settling in Nakivale refugee settlement area and wanted to help. Now, he works as a volunteer English interpreter in Rubondo community, in a school supported by Finn Church Aid.

”I started volunteering after some youth who know me came to request me to teach them enough English to go to school. I soon figured out this would be the best way for me to help the most people”, Abraham says.

”My philosophy? Life is about helping others.”

Becoming a refugee turns your whole life upside down

As an interpreter, Abraham participates in classes and helps the students whose English is not good enough follow the classes. The school has both local students and refugees, like many other schools in Uganda. The regular staff of the school consists of Ugandan teachers who, in turn, don’t speak Swahili or French. For this reason, youth with a refugee background struggle to understand the lessons.

Abraham gets a small monetary remuneration for his volunteer work. He usually spends five days a week at the school.

”If, for some reason, I can’t get to the school, students I know come to my house to ask for help with homework.”

Becoming a refugee turns your whole life upside down, even in a neighboring country. To Abraham, being a refugee means financial uncertainty, as they can no longer work in the areas they’re familiar with becausethere’s no job for their training. Uganda makes the lives of the refugees easier by giving families plots of land for farming. Abraham’s family has also received a plot to till.

” Here, one needs to literally be growing one’s own food. I’m a city boy and did not know a thing about farming, until hunger forced me to learn.”

Dream of an English-language learning center

Abraham has been able to also utilize his language skills by working as an interpreter for Finn Church Aid visitors in the Nakivale refugee settlement area. Being a young man, he has many plans – establishing an English-language learning center for the area, improving the productivity of land through composting, and learning more about forms of agriculture that help in building a better life. Abraham knows it will be a long time before he will be able to return home.

”When I sit down and think about my homeland, I feel a great sadness welling inside me. I want the Democratic Republic of Congo and her people to get on its feet and get stronger. Education is the key to all of this – that’s what I believe.”

According to Abraham, few Congolese youth dream about returning to their homeland. The trauma left by the war and the violence runs deep. Still, life as a refugee is not easy in Uganda, either. Thus, Abraham wants to do his part for the youth of his homeland.

”All of our knowledge and wisdom dies with us unless we share it with others. If I share what I’ve learned to hundred people, for example, they will share them on to at least hundred other.”

Text: Elisa Rimaila 
Photos: Antti Yrjönen 
Translation: Tatu Ahponen

From refugee settlement to graduation gown

From refugee settlement to graduation gown

A man in a graduation gown and cap stands outside posing for a photo
Peter graduated after obtaining a scholarship provided by FCA.

Peter Salah Sam Luka is a 27-year-old South Sudanese national living as a refugee in Uganda. His journey towards higher education was made possible through a scholarship provided by FCA, funded by UNHCR.

IN 2013, PETER’S UNCLE, who resided in Uganda, extended a life-changing invitation to Peter to attend school in Koboko district, Uganda. After successfully completing his secondary school, Peter returned to South Sudan in 2015.

But in 2016, his life took an unexpected turn as conflict overrun their homeland, forcing his family to return to Uganda as refugees. Peter’s family of six children and his mother found their new home in Uganda’s Bidibidi refugee settlement.

Grief to graduation

A smiling man in a business suit sits outside in front of foliage.
Peter’s journey towards higher education was made possible through a full scholarship.

In his smartly tailored blue suit and shiny black shoes, Peter radiates confidence and happiness. His recent graduation with a degree in Business Administration, is a testament to his steady determination and is a source of immense joy to him.

For Peter, the path to university education was once nothing more than a distant dream. The loss of his uncle, shortly after he completed secondary education, left him facing overwhelming obstacles. Even upon receiving his exam results, he hesitated to apply to any universities.

“I am the first in my family to complete A levels, and I had a burning desire to continue my education. However, the weight of financial constraints left me feeling despondent.”

He adds, “I was genuinely afraid and heartbroken when my uncle passed away. He wasn’t a wealthy man but a modest taxi driver, and yet he managed to provide for his eight children, his wife, and me.”

Peter returned to the refugee settlement and as luck would have it, he found an advertisement for FCA and UNHCR scholarships. With determination, he hand-delivered his application to the FCA Yumbe office, hoping for an opportunity. Three weeks later, he was excited to receive news of his shortlisting and an invitation for interviews at the Refugee Welfare Committee offices.

Out of 120 applicants, only 50 were fortunate enough to receive an in country-scholarship opportunity from the National Association of Partners (NAPS) under UNHCR funding, a program implemented by FCA. Reflecting on that moment, he shares, “this phone call marked an important turning point in my life. I had once thought my educational journey had reached its end, but here I was, rekindling my hopes and dreams.”

Fully funded scholarship

A smiling man in a business suit and holding a briefcase stands outside in front of foliage.
Peter wants to use his own opportunity as a platform to advocate for education in refugee camps.

Peter’s undergraduate scholarship was fully funded, granting him the opportunity to enroll in a prestigious university. With guidance from a friend who was already studying at Nkumba university, Peter gathered the information needed to apply for a degree in Business Administration. He was admitted in the August 2018 intake.

“For the first time in my life, I could focus on my studies without the burden of worrying about tuition, food, accommodation, school supplies, transportation, and other uncertainties. FCA and UNHCR wholeheartedly provided for me, allowing me to study with dignity.”

Peter’s friends, who were also recipients of the scholarships, pursued their education at Uganda Christian University and Uganda Martyrs University and are now in their final semesters.

“I am deeply thankful to FCA for recognising individuals like me and providing a chance to benefit from these life-changing scholarships. I also extend my heartfelt appreciation to NAPS-UNHCR for their unwavering commitment to funding our education,” says Peter

First of his family

Through FCA’s efforts, secondary schools in Bidibidi, create opportunities for continued learning and higher education for those who aspire to further their studies, like Peter.

A woman in a headdress and brightly patterned skirt stands outside. She has a neutral expression
Peter’s mother is preparing a special feast for his return.

“I am living proof that it’s not over until it’s over. I remain committed to advocating for education within refugee camps, aspiring to rewrite the narrative for the better,” he continues.

Peter’s mother, Lorna Koropo shared her own happiness, saying, “I couldn’t be present at his graduation, but I plan to prepare a special feast for him when he returns to Bidibidi. He is our first child to progress beyond secondary level school.”

Peter, meanwhile, is looking ahead with anticipation: “I eagerly await the opportunity to join the job market, to become self-sustaining, support my family, and embrace new and better opportunities.”

Learn more about FCA/UNHCR scholarships

Text and photos by Kadlah Nabakembo