Vocational training unlocks the potential of refugees

Vocational training unlocks the potential of refugees

In Uganda’s Rwamwanja refugee settlement, thousands of refugees, including a significant number of youth, face immense challenges. Locked out of many employment opportunities, they struggle to find ways to generate income.

FINN CHURCH AID launched their Business Vocational Education and Training (BTVET) programme in response to the need for change.  It’s had a profound impact on the lives of the young people living in the settlement.

Two individuals living in Rwamwanja, located in Kamwenge district, Western Uganda, shared with us how their lives have been positively impacted by the programme. The UN Refugee Agency and the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs jointly support the initiative.

From shattered dreams to creative success

Gaston Chirimwami, a Congolese refugee living in Rwamwanja, had long harbored aspirations to become a musician. His goal was dashed, however, when he was forced to flee his country and seek safety in Uganda. His luck changed when he enrolled in FCA’s Creative Industries programme at their training centre.

There, he discovered his passion for video production and learned skills such as camera operating and photo and video editing. Gaston’s newfound abilities not only boosted his confidence but also provided him with a source of income through photography.

“I believe I can pursue both music and video editing like successful musicians like Tekno,” he told us.

A man in a red t shirt and wearing headphones holds a camera and looks into the viewfinder from above. Another man stands behind him and looks over his shoulder.
Gaston Chirimwami shooting a video in Rwamwanja refugee settlement. Gaston completed FCA training in camera operation and video and photo editing.

Hairdressing helps support an entire family

Majengo Sadick, a resilient young adult who has the responsibility of caring for his six siblings, stumbled upon FCA’s vocational training program, and found it lifechanging. After completing a hair dressing course at the centre, Sadick started a mobile salon in Rwamwanja refugee settlement (see main picture).

Sadick’s newfound abilities in hairdressing opened doors to lucrative job opportunities while also igniting a passion he never knew he had.

Today, as a professional cosmetician, he owns a salon and supports his siblings’ education. “I’m glad that FCA provided me with skills and a professional certificate without any cost as compared to the expense I would spend in my home country, Congo,’’he says.

A man stands in front of a straw fence and braids a long pony tail. He is wearing an apron and has a look of concentration
Majengo Sadick braiding a client’s hair at her house. Majengo completed an FCA vocational training course in hairdressing and now runs his own salon in Rwamwanja refugee settlement in Uganda.

Vocational training brings transformative change

Beyond these individual success stories, FCA’s vocational training program has made a tangible impact on the Rwamwanja community. The programme’s focus on trades such as tailoring, cosmetics, and agriculture has resulted in the establishment of numerous salons and tailoring firms owned by FCA BTVET graduates.

Parents in the community have witnessed the transformative changes brought about by vocational education. Now youth, who were once passed over, play a crucial role in rebuilding their lives and addressing unemployment challenges. Many graduates have even ventured beyond Kamwenge district, competing for job opportunities in urban centres across the country.

The hope for a better future is being restored, one skill at a time, thanks to FCA’s vocational programme.

Text and Images by Shema Bienvenu: Communications Intern at FCA Uganda

Shema completed secondary school with assistance from FCA and is now studying Journalism and Communication at university. We are honoured that he chose FCA for his internship!

Nairobian Christine Murugi aims for a career in animation

Nairobian Christine Murugi loves cartoons, and soon they might be her job

Finn Church Aid believes that vocational training for young people is crucial to access the job market. Hairdressers, chefs, and mechanics are examples of traditional professions, but the transformation of the labour market also changes educational needs. Now, FCA is training digital professionals in Kenya.

IN THE Kenyan capital Nairobi, 18 young people are typing on their computers in a small classroom. One of the students, Christine Murugi, is working on a 3D model known from the film Minions, mulling over the best way to animate the character’s hand.

Christine, 20, studies animation in Finn Church Aid’s Creative Industries programme. In her studies, she practises creating three-dimensional characters and making them move.

“I’m a huge fan of cartoons. They’re so funny, and I love the stories. I’d find it interesting to take part in creating them,” she tells.

Currently, Christine is inspired by Bold, a Disney animation that depicts a dog’s life as a TV star. She also finds ideas in “DC League of Super-Pets”, an animation series about the pets of superheroes.

Graphic design, digital market and animators

FCA’s Creative Industries programme is free of charge and aimed at low-income youth. The students train to become graphic designers, digital marketing professionals, or animators. Christine is happy about the opportunity, because without it and as the only child of a single-parent family, she wouldn’t have had a chance to study.

A woman smiles at the camera
Christine Murugi enjoys the opportunity to make animation films a profession in FCA’s Creative Industries training program in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo: Björn Udd / FCA

“When Covid hit, my mum’s financial situation got even worse. I had to drop out of school.”

Without anything to do, Christine moved out to live with her uncle, so that her mother was able to work more. At her uncle’s, she had more company, and she was able to help her uncle with household chores.

“Fortunately, I heard about this programme, so I was able to continue studying.”

In the beginning she was nervous. Animation is a male-dominated field, both in Kenya and around the world. Christine is the only woman in the class.

“When I joined, I was the only girl amongst 18 students. Initially it was unsettling, but now I’ve made friends with my classmates, so I can be more relaxed.”

After the initial tension, classmates have become one of the best things about studying. Christine likes her new friends; she particularly enjoys brainstorming ideas and exchanging thoughts with her classmates.

Smartphones more common than computers in Kenya

Although smartphones are common in Kenya, some students are completely unfamiliar with them. All students in the programme go through an elementary IT course.

Christine already knew how to use a computer, as she had taken computer classes in upper secondary school. Her studies have progressed as planned.

“I might be the best in class,” she says laughingly, “or at least I’m doing well.”

A woman sits at a laptop. On the screen is a 3D animation model.
Christine Murugi practises building an animated character on her laptop. Photo: Björn Udd / FCA

Despite her success in the classroom, the future concerns Murugi. In Kenya, the digital industry is on the rise, but competition is fierce and global. Finding a permanent job might be difficult, and many work as freelancers.

“It’s a little discouraging sometimes, but I remain optimistic. I know I’m a really good animator, so I’m certain I’ll be able to sell my skills.”

Christine is determined. There’s no doubt about what she would like to do in the future.

“Movies, absolutely. I love movies, and that’s what I want to do. With this training, I could make websites, for example, but at least for now my focus is on the movie industry.”

Text and photos: Björn Udd

Ugandan delegation benchmarks Finland’s education system ahead of reform

Ugandan delegation benchmarks Finland’s education system ahead of reform

The Ugandan Education Policy Review Commission consisting of researchers, educationists, economists, policy analysts and former ministers, arrived in Finland as guests of Finn Church Aid. During the week-long visit, the delegation visited various educational institutions and met Finland’s top experts in education.

THE FINNISH EDUCATION system received plenty of praise from the Ugandan experts who visited Finland as guests of Finn Church Aid in late September and early October 2022.

“The educational environment encourages and supports learning.”

“The teachers seem to love their job and be proud of their profession.”

“The teachers are highly educated and have good pedagogical skills, including in preschool education.”

“Vocational schools teach skills that help find job opportunities.”

During their week-long stay, the delegation visited a Finnish daycare and kindergarten centre as well as comprehensive and vocational schools and met with local authorities.

The aforementioned quotes are from a discussion meeting held during the visit, where the members of the commission were reflecting on what they’d learned.

The reason for their visit is a fundamental one. Uganda is planning a wide-ranging educational reform, which would increase the quality and effectiveness of its education system.

In regard to the reform, the Minister of Education and Sports and First Lady of Uganda, Janet K Museveni, appointed a Commission comprised of Ugandan education experts. The primary function of the Education Policy Review Commission is to draft a new policy framework for education and sport in Uganda that would replace the current Government White Paper on Education of 1992.

Thus, it’s possible that there will be a nugget of Finnish expertise in the Ugandan school system in the future. The commission also plans to benchmark education systems from other countries to broaden their knowledge and understanding before submitting their recommendations. “Many things in Finland inspire me. One is the structure of education and how it has been built from early childhood all the way to a doctoral degree. All Finns I interacted with seemed to understand this structure,” says Monica Abenakyo Monge, a member of the commission.

Quality education at the core of FCA’s work in Uganda

The delegation says that the Ugandan school system is battling against a diverse range of challenges, including inadequate funding, weak school-level management structures, inadequate availability of learning materials, and large class sizes. A major issue is also the availability of teachers in disadvantaged areas and a lack of accommodation for teachers in rural, hard-to-reach areas.

The delegation emphasised that there is much to learn from the research-based Finnish education system. Currently, the most important goal of learning in Uganda seems to be more academic. Poorly performing students don’t receive the support they need, leading to them being left outside the system.

FCA has operated in Uganda since 2014, focusing on improving comprehensive and secondary education, particularly in the immense refugee communities. FCA’s work particularly highlights the importance of the quality of education arising from trained teachers, carefully prepared curricula, and safe learning environments.

“The Commission’s visit also supports the efforts of FCA, as it gives us an opportunity to shape Uganda’s new education policy,” concludes Wycliffe Nsheka, the Country Director for FCA Uganda.

Ugandan experts who visited Finland as guests of Finn Church Aid in late September and early October 2022. The photo was taken during the delegation’s visit to Omnia vocational college campus in Espoossa. From top left: Jacklyn Makaaru, Iikka Upanne (Omnia Education Partnership), Monica Monge, Mervi Jansson (OEP), Amanya Mushega, John Nsasira, John Kabasa, Wycliffe Nsheka (FCA UGACO). In the front from left: Lilian Nabiryo, Proscovia Kasemire, Saara Turunen (FCA).

Vocational education looks into the future

Recently FCA has particularly concentrated on supporting vocational education in Uganda, as professional skills and entrepreneurial competence improve people’s opportunities to make a living for themselves and their families. In Uganda, companies are in massive need of trained employees, and hence there is educational collaboration with the private sector.

Visiting a Finnish vocational school was a particularly memorable experience for the delegation.

“What especially stuck with me was the thought that vocational schools teach for the future. We tend to stay with the past and use traditional methods that are no longer suitable in today’s world. Training people to meet the needs of the labour market is also very important,” Monica notes.

Could Finns learn a lesson from Uganda?

“The environment is different. Finland has gone through all kinds of things in its development to what it is now. I’ve imagined what it would be like to teach here. Nothing could stop me, but would you survive in a challenging learning environment? If a Finnish teacher visited my school or village, they would understand and appreciate my efforts,” Monica says.

The visiting delegation also included the Commission chair and former Minister of Education, Hon Nuwe Amanya Mushega as well as commission members and experts Hon John Mwoono Nasasira, Jacklyn Arinaitwe Makaaru, Prof John David Kabasa, Lillian Nabiryo, Monica Abenakyo Monge and Proscovia Kasemire.  

Text: Ulriikka Myöhänen
Translation: Anne Salomäki

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

“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

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

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 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 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 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, 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.”

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 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 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 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 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 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 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

Remote working opens up new job opportunities for refugees – FCA to collaborate with Startup Refugees in Zaatari camp

Mies istuu tietokoneen ääressä.
Zakaria Tahseen Alkilani, 25, lives in the Zaatari refugee camp. Zakaria programmes games and develops applications. He wants to help traditional Zaatar businesses in digital marketing and later start his own online business.

Remote working opens up new job opportunities for refugees – FCA to collaborate with Startup Refugees in Zaatari camp

Residents of the Jordanian refugee camp Zaatari will receive entrepreneurship and ICT lessons from Finland remotely.

Finn Church Aid and Startup Refugees are about to begin a collaboration in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. The project’s mentors in Finland will offer ICT entrepreneurship training remotely to young people living in Zaatari.

For nine years, the camp of nearly 80,000 residents has provided a home for people fleeing the Syrian civil war. However, the lives of young people in particular are marked by a lack of training and employment opportunities in the camp. The training programme launched this week responds to this need.

45 people living in the camp will receive training on the opportunities freelance jobs in the ICT sector can offer and on how to market their skills. The 15 most active participants in the programme will be selected for mentoring by internationally assembled ICT, marketing and HR professionals.

Zaatari residents have been excited about the mentoring opportunities. Rana Ibrahim Alsees, 40, hopes to get training to help her market her craft business on social media.

Zakaria Tahseen Alkilani, 25, is a games programmer who hopes to run his own online business by this autumn. Both Rana and Zakaria will attend the training from home.

The mentors in the programme, which will continue until August, are also looking forward to the coming months.

“I moved to Finland about eight years ago, so I know about the challenges in finding your place in a new environment,” says user interface designer and mentor Kazi Athar.

“But everything went great for me, and that’s why I want to give something back. I believe that supporting the employment of refugees and asylum seekers benefits everyone: employers, the economy, cities and entire states – and, of course, the people themselves.”

Kazi says that in the ICT sector you can work from anywhere in the world and “all you need is a computer and the right kind of attitude”.

Felipe Gasnier, a web and graphic designer who has joined the mentoring programme, is also looking forward to future meetings.

“There is always demand for ICT professionals. I will help my student create a portfolio and a website and see how they could showcase their skills.”

Nainen seisoo ja katsoo kameraan hymyillen.
Rana Ibrahim Alsees, 40, lives in Zaatari where she has a crafts business. Her goal is to market her crafts on social media and create a company website. Rana’s passion is learning new tech skills.

ICT sector can provide employment regardless of where you live

At the heart of all Startup Refugees’ work is an offer of support from an extensive network of partners, along with training and mentoring provided by top experts in many fields.

“A huge number of people who want to share their professional skills and practical advice with those living in the camp have become involved as mentors. Our work in Finland has shown that when people with the same interests are brought together, miracles begin to happen,” says Mustafa Abdulameer, Global Director at Startup Refugees.

Finn Church Aid’s work in Jordan focuses on improving the livelihoods of refugees, youth and women.

“The global shift towards remote work will open up new employment opportunities for refugees as well. The experience of Startup Refugees mentors shows that the ICT sector can employ refugees regardless of where they live. It is important for the project participants to see that their starting point won’t matter; they can succeed anyway,” says Ville Wacklin, Senior Programme Manager at Finn Church Aid.

Startup Refugees is a non-profit organisation established in 2015 to support refugees in finding employment and setting up companies. By now, Startup Refugees has provided nearly 1,000 jobs in Finland and supported more than 200 business ideas. The Startup Refugees network includes 1,000 companies, organisations and individuals who all in their own way support the employment and entrepreneurship of refugees.

Finn Church Aid (FCA) is Finland’s largest international aid organisation. FCA works to promote education, peace and livelihoods. As part of its efforts to improve livelihoods, FCA develops the conditions where companies need to operate and helps people start their own businesses in its programme countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

By Ulriikka Myöhänen / FCA, Elisa Vepsäläinen / Startup Refugees
Photography by Osama Nabeel / FCA

A little chocolate shop, organic vegetables and furniture restoration – entrepreneurship training provides new beginnings in Jordan

Young saplings are growing in plastic mugs planted into plastic tubes. A pump circulates water for 15 minutes once every two hours. Tomatoes, watermelons, cucumbers, peppers, strawberries and flowers are grown on the flat roof. Tarpaulins protect the pots from too much sun.

The rooftop garden is a hydroponics prototype built by Ibrahim Milhem, 45, in Irbid, the third largest city in Jordan.

Ibrahim, who is an engineer, previously worked in fertiliser and cement companies. After he became unemployed, the life of the family with seven children changed and they ended up losing their house.

”I love plants and trees and planting them,” says Ibrahim.

Ibrahim and layal sitting in the living room.

Ibrahim Milhem’s daughter Layal is eager to help her father and follows his activities in the rooftop garden. Photo: Tatu Blomqvist/FCA.

The living room walls in Ibrahim’s brother’s house, which is where the family lives now, are full of paintings made by Ibrahim, who is an avid painter; most depict trees and plants.

However, irrigation is expensive, because there is a water shortage in Jordan.

Ibrahim set about solving the problem and found information about hydroponics online. Around the same time, he heard about the entrepreneurship training organised by Finn Church Aid (FCA). The training helped him hone the idea of a business of his own. In addition, he learned about marketing, of which he had no prior experience.

Hydroponics is brand new in Jordan, but being resourceful, Ibrahim used his brother’s rooftop to build his own prototype that he now plans to develop and expand.

The hydroponic plantation saves about 80 percent water compared to regular growing.

”At first I didn’t believe it, but I gave it a try and it’s true,” says Ibrahim, who is constantly studying more and learning by doing.

His aim is to have a garden producing organic vegetables that welcomes customers to come and pick their own vegetables.

Finnish entrepreneurship training gave encouragement

Jordan has an unemployment rate of over 18 percent, and the number is much higher still for women and young people.

A country with a population of 9.5 million, Jordan has reveiced over a million refugees since 2011. This is the second highest number relative to population after Lebanon. Most have run away from the war that is in its eighth year now in neighbouring Syria.

From 2017 to 2018, FCA cooperated with Mercuria Business College to organise compact entrepreneurship courses to refugees and Jordanians in the most vulnerable positions. After a two-month training period, participants received mentoring and a small start-up grant.

55 people participated in the courses, and so far they have started a total of 49 businesses, some of which already employ others as well. Over half of those who have started businesses are women and ten percent are persons with disability.

Flowers and awareness education

Asma'a and Hussam standing in front of the shelves with gift packages in their shop.

Asma’a (left) and Hussam think that starting a business has not been too difficult. What has preoccupied them the most is how to make interaction with customers work as deaf people. To help with this, they are developing an application using pictures and sign language.

Jordanian friends Asma’a and Hussam, both deaf, attended the entrepreneurship course and learned skills such as marketing, financial planning, and customer service. They are in the process of setting up a flower shop on their block.

We are developing an application that works through a flat-screen television and allows us to communicate with our customers, because there are very few sign language interpreters in Jordan,” says Asma’a.

”At the same time, we can provide awareness education and bring attention to the position of deaf people in society.”

Both Asma’a and Hussam are highly educated. Both have often been invited to job interviews based on their CVs, but being deaf has prevented them from landing the job.

The first flower shop in the neighbourhood has already been beautifully furnished in preparation for the opening a few weeks later. All that remains is the fresh flowers that need to be picked up from the wholesale supplier.

A hobby turned into livelihood

Ranaa stands in front of her shop.

Ranaa Abu Atta founded the Reeno chocholates & sweets after attending  Finn Church Aid’s entrepreneurship training. Photo: Tatu Blomqvist/FCA.

Jordanian Rana Abu Atta, 23, is displeased, although without an interpreter, we would not have noticed from all the smiles and laughter. Because of scheduling issues, we have come to see her a day earlier than we originally agreed upon, and she has not had time to fill the display cases with her most intricate chocolates. Even so, the shelves, just like our bellies later on, are full of delicious desserts and sweets piled in front of us for tasting.

Rana was forced to quit her studies in business administration because of her family’s financial difficulties.

She wanted to do something to help her family. Rana decided to start making chocolates. She got the idea from a video she saw on Facebook. It gave her the desire to learn more, and she searched YouTube for more videos.

Although making sweets looked fun, Rana found it is not always easy. She kept trying and published her own video on Facebook featuring sweets she had made. People liked the video, and orders started coming in.

Rana noticed an advertisement for the entrepreneurship training organised by FCA, applied for the course, and got in.

Now Rana has her own shop with one employee. The bank loan for the shop is in the name of her mother, who has supported her daughter in setting up her business. The chocolates and desserts are still made in the home of the family, and she dreams of expanding to bigger premises including a large kitchen.

”Having my own premises has increased people’s trust in my products. They think that if I have the confidence to open my own shop, my products must be good. My income has increased since opening the shop,” says Rana.

Rana with her mother in the chocolate shop.

”One of the most beautiful things is my own daughter’s dreams coming true. I’m so proud of her,” says Rana’s mother Amal Fawzi. Photo: Tatu Blomqvist/FCA.

A new beginning in a new country

Omar Balkhi with his tools.

Omar Balkhi provides for his family by manufacturing traditional Syrian furniture and providin furniture restoration and repairing services. Photo: Dana Mufleh /FCA.

Omar Balkhi was wounded in the Syrian war: grenade shrapnel took his legs. The father of two ran with his family from Syria to Jordan. In his new home, Omar fought to find a way to provide for his family.

He wanted to start his own workshop, but he did not know how.

”Now I can run my own business and I have the drive to go on. I can develop my work and get information on my competitors. I’ve learned leadership skills and marketing. Before, I didn’t understand how important these skills are,” says Omar after the FCA training.

In his workshop, Omar plans to sell traditional Syrian wooden furniture that he builds by hand. The business also provides furniture restoration and repair services.

Legislation limits refugees’ entrepreneurship

Refugees and Jordanians attending the course have started joint business ventures.

”It’s good to build a business with a Jordanian partner. Unfortunately, there is no law or official document to corroborate my right to own a business. I’m constantly worried of losing my business”, says one of the Syrian entrepreneurs in the project.

Based on the experiences from the project, Finn Church Aid is cooperating with other international non-governmental organisations, using their influence to create a clear legal framework for joint business ventures in Jordan. This would allow Syrians to work as entrepreneurs with Jordanians as equal partners and to benefit the Jordanian economy.

A big water tank and pot garden on the rooftop.

Jordan is one of the driest countries in the world. Both cities and farming are suffering from water shortage. Ibrahim Milhem’s  rooftop garden is a little oasis in the city. The kids of the family like to spend time there. Photo: Tatu Blomqvist/FCA.

Text: Minna Elo
Photos: Tatu Blomqvist ja Dana Mufleh.

The project was funded by the European Regional Development and Protection Programme for the Middle East (RDPP), supported by the European Union, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.