“It is vital to aid the disaster area quickly” – FCA grants another 200,000 euros to help earthquake-struck Syria
“In this situation, it is absolutely vital to make humanitarian aid accessible to the people affected by the earthquake, by all means necessary,” says Mazen Khzouz, the Finn Church Aid Country Director in Syria.
IN THE EARLY morning of February 6th, the most destructive earthquake in the region’s history struck Turkey and Syria. In Syria, one of Finn Church Aids programme countries, it is estimated that six million people are in urgent need of humanitarian aid following the earthquake.
This week, Finn Church Aid (FCA) has allocated another instalment of 200,000 euros from its disaster fund, to help the people affected by the earthquake in Syria. A total of 400,000 euros will be used for the emergency aid work initiated by the FCA’s Syrian Country Office.
Northern Syria is currently experiencing a cold winter. According to the latest figures, the magnitude 7.8 and 7.6 earthquakes drove tens of thousands of families away from their homes. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, reports that at least 18,500 families have been accommodated in schools and other temporary shelters. 12,600 of the families are located in Aleppo, which is one of the areas that was struck hardest by the earthquake.
In a humanitarian crisis like this, it is vital that aid reaches those in need as quickly as possible. The winter cold makes the need for help even more urgent. Since the earthquake struck unexpectedly, early in the morning, the people who fled their homes did not have time to prepare or pack. Amongst the people whose houses are still seemingly intact, many are afraid to return home. They fear buildings collapsing because of structural damage and the danger of new earthquakes.
“In this situation, it is absolutely vital to support the people affected by the earthquake with humanitarian aid by all possible means, and proving them with equipment needed to survive the winter,” says Mazen Khzouz, the Finn Church Aid Country Director in Syria.
“Such equipment includes warm clothes for children and adults, blankets, flashlights, mattresses and shelters.”
During the past week, Finn Church Aid has assessed the situation and visited temporary accommodation facilities in Aleppo and Hama.
Millions of people in Syria were already in need of humanitarian aid before the earthquake in February, due to the war and the violence that has been raging for more than a decade. FCA has been working in Syria since 2017, providing humanitarian aid. The Country Office was established in Damascus in 2019, and before the earthquake FCA’s work revolved around on supporting children’s access to school and education.
“The humanitarian crisis caused by the earthquake highlights the already existing vast need for aid in Syria, and increases the suffering of the most vulnerable population,” says Khzouz.
Finn Church Aid is one of the few international aid organizations operating in Syria. That is why the decision to start the aid operation was made swiftly. The emergency created by the earthquake has also prompted the Finnish people to help.
“With the donations given to us, we will be able to support the most vulnerable people in the Syrian crisis. A quick response in disasters like these is very important. It is potentially life-saving,” says Finn Church Aid Executive Director Tomi Järvinen.
The dire needs of the Syrian people have touched the hearts of private Finnish citizens and churches alike. The Helsinki and Espoo congregations have, amongst others, donated to the FCA emergency aid fund in order to help the Syrians.
“We kindly want to thank every donor. Every euro counts. The destruction in Syria is enormous. When you take the pre-existing humanitarian crisis into account, the area will be in need of aid for a long time,” says Järvinen.
Pictures from the regions Hama and Aleppo in Syria.
FCA Country Director for Syria, Mazen Khzouz (English and Arabic), firstname.lastname@example.org FCA Executive Director, Tomi Järvinen (English and Finnish), email@example.com, tel. +358(0)40 641 8209 FCA Manager of International Communications (English), Ruth Owen, firstname.lastname@example.org, tel. +358(0)504097848
Mother was injured in a rocket attack, father has spent a year in the army, and the children are missing the carefree life. A year of war has put an emotional strain on the Starodub family, just like many Ukrainian famillies. This year, they’re wishing for ordinary life without the sound of air-raid sirens.
MARIA, 10, concentrates on the image in the mirror, spreading violet eyeshadow on her eyelids. Mother Oksana sit next to her, watching her daughter with a horrified expression on her face.
In mid-January in Chernihiv, northern Ukraine, the Starodub family is celebrating New Year according to the Julian calendar. The children of the neighbourhood go from door to door singing, and they’re rewarded with sweets and small coins.
Maria gives her mother a grin and wonders how many sweets she’ll be able to collect tonight. The makeup has to be impressive, as children go singing dressed in colourful scarfs and flower headbands.
On the surface, everything seems normal; but in reality, nothing is. It’s lucky for Maria and her brother Kyryl to be able to enjoy both the presence of their father as well as their mother’s cooking today. The past year has been painful for the family.
Chernihiv was under heavy fire
Ominous. That’s the word Oksana uses to describe the morning of 6 March 2022. Russia’s attack on Ukraine had lasted for a couple of weeks, and Chernihiv was under heavy fire.
In the morning Oksana was volunteering at the school where she teaches Ukrainian. Her husband Mykola had a career in the food industry, and he had enlisted in the regional forces of the Ukrainian army.
Around 5pm, Oksana ordered the children to go to the windowless hallway, the safest place in their home, where she and the children had slept on the floor every night ever since the attack began. Oksana was suffering from fever and resting in the bedroom of the dark house. She was on the phone to her husband when the strike hit. The windows exploded, and objects were flying around.
“I realised something happened to my legs. I was in shock. I was throwing stuff off my legs and dragged myself to my children,” Oksana describes.
“I could instantly tell that mum wasn’t alright. There was a lot of blood. Her hip had fractured,” Kyryl, 15, relates and recalls how he and her little sister bandaged the wound with a pony-patterned jumper. Mykola, left on the phone, understood the situation immediately and started to organise transportation for his wife together with other soldiers.
The entire family still remembers how heartbreakingly Maria cried that night.
In January 2023, the school Oksana Starodub works as teacher in Chernihiv is in sub-zero degrees. Oksana is teaching her students remotely and all the books in from the school library have been stored in plastic bags to keep them dry. PHOTO: ANTTI YRJÖNEN / FCA
Children need special attention
In war, children see and hear things they never should have to experience at such a young age.
In the Starodub family, the events are discussed openly to ensure that the children aren’t left alone with their thoughts. Maria particularly has been reacting to the events afterwards. Oksana says that so far, the family hasn’t needed help from a psychologist, but it’s something they might in the future.
The adults haven’t been able to avoid trauma either. Oksana recalls how, after her injury she layin a hospital bed on the fifth floor listening to bombings.
“The nurses rushed to the bomb shelter and told us patients to pray. The windows of the hospital were clinking,” she remembers with agony in her eyes.
In the middle of a crisis, the human mind yearns for routines and the feeling of normality; and the Starodub family has tried to cherish those moments during the exceptional year. Last summer, daughter Maria took part in summer clubs organised by Finn Church Aid and its local partner organisation DOCCU.
“It was wonderful,” she exclaims. “We were watching videos and doing activities together. I liked boardgames the most. Whilst playing them I met a girl who’s since become a good friend.”
The clubs were organised in July and August, and the children were also offered psychosocial support. Maria liked the clubs so much she attended them the whole summer.
A rocket strike broke the windows
Russian forces withdrew from the Chernihiv area in late March and early April 2022. But in January 2023, bombed buildings, weekly air raid alerts and constant lack of electricity still remind people of the horrors of last spring.
Oksana’s school is now unheated. The windows, broken in a rocket strike, have already been fixed, but faults in the heating system keep the school in sub-zero temperatures. The walls have holes due to shelling. Oksana does her teaching remotely.
“I would love to get back to school, to my own blackboard, to see the children laughing,” she tells, wiping the corners of her eyes.
She says she returned to teaching in August after her legs had been operated on and she was able to start moving again.
“Then I met some of my students who’d graduated in the spring. I noticed that 9th-graders had become adults in just six months. War does that to children.”
According to Oksana, returning to teaching has been an empowering experience. She talks about the frontline of education and how important it is for the future of Ukrainians. She says that the war has increased the interest of children and adolescents in the history and cultural traditions of Ukraine. That warms the heart of a Ukrainian teacher.
“When the war ends, I want to be home raising my children”
On the evening of 13 January, there’s plenty going on in the Starodub family kitchen. In the old Orthodox tradition, the day is first and foremost the celebration of Saint Basil the Great. The saint protects communities and the most vulnerable.
Mykola has a four-day vacation from the army. Every now and then Maria receives kisses from her father, to whom she presents her haul of sweets while singing. Kyryl is planning a chess game between the men of the house andstrokes the family’s cat Lord, who’s found a spot in the warmth of the kitchen radiator.
Oksana is frying Ukrainian pancakes to be filled with cottage cheese and dried fruit. There are plenty of familiar things for Finns on the table: these are stuffed cabbage leaves, that resemble a rosolli, and a pie that tastes like liver casserole.
There’s also kutia, a traditional Ukrainian treat for Christmas and new year, made from barley groats, raisins, nuts, and honey. On the day of Saint Basil the Great, there must be pork on the table, as that is believed to bring prosperity to the family.
Mykola eyes his wife and children warmly, with a faint and mysterious smile on his face.
“What we wish from the new year is winning the war and prosperity for Ukraine. When the war ends, I want to be home raising my children. I want an ordinary life without air raid alerts,” he tells.
The children also bring up very normal dreams. Last summer they couldn’t go swimming, because the beach in their town was said to be mined. Maria also dreams of travelling within her home country and seeing all the places she’s read about.
The conversation pauses when the doorbell rings. Another group of children dressed up in traditional costume sings at the door. As they leave, the children wish the family all the best: health, peace, and good times together.
All the best is needed, indeed; Oksana and Mykola have heavy hearts knowing the war will rage on, and Mykola has been transferred closer to the frontline.
Text: Ulriikka Myöhänen Translation: Anne Salomäki Kuvat: Antti Yrjönen
FCA focuses on education and psychosocial support
The work of Finn Church Aid began in Ukraine in February 2022 as emergency aid, which was delivered in co-operation with the Hungarian partner organisation Hungarian Interchurch Aid. Later, Finn Church Aid established its own country office in Ukraine and started working on education in Chernihiv, northern Ukraine. In collaboration with partner organisations, aid is delivered to other parts of Ukraine as well.
Almost 6 000 children took part in Finn Church Aid’s summer clubs. On top of this, approximately 530 teachers have been provided with training, and 70 teachers and school psychologists have participated in psychosocial support training.
A joint 14-million project by FCA, international Save the Children, People in Need, and War Child, funded by the EU, is set to reach 45 000 children during 2023. As part of the project, schools damaged by the war are repaired, psychosocial support is provided, and teachers are trained.
Famine explained: What it is and how to prevent it
As of September 2022, Somalia, along with a big part of East-Africa, is on the verge of famine. The circumstances that have led to this situation are a long and difficult drought, the global pandemic, problems caused by the war in Ukraine, as well as local conflicts and terrorist attacks. But what is famine, and is it possible to prevent it? Here are the basic facts on famine:
What is famine?
Famine is a clearly defined state of emergency. The most commonly used classification method is the IPC (Integrated Food Security Phase Classification). Famine is the most severe stage on the five stage IPC scale.
The definition of a famine is a situation where a fifth of households face extreme food shortages, 30 per cent of the population is malnourished and two out of 10 000 people die every day. In other words, the situation must be extremely severe before a famine is declared.
When a famine is declared, people, especially children, are already dying of starvation.
What causes a famine?
A common misconception is that a famine is caused solely by problems in food production, but famine is usually caused by a multitude of problems that converge. A famine can be caused by a combination of any of the following: natural disasters, floods, drought, war or even political decisions.
This is the reason a famine never occurs as a surprise; it is always preceded by a dire food shortage that worsens over time. On the other hand, this also makes it possible to avoid a bad situation worsening into a famine by utilising appropriate countermeasures.
For example, the root cause of the incoming famine in Somalia is a long drought – a drought that has lasted over two years. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine has made import of wheat close to impossible. Previously 90 per cent of the wheat in Somalia came from Ukraine and Russia. Since then, import has become close to impossible, leading directly to food insecurity in the area.
The current drought has been long and disastrous. It has already lasted longer than the drought that caused the 2011 famine in Somalia, when over 250 000 people died.
Since 2020, The Horn of Africa has suffered an extreme drought as a consequence of climate crisis.
What are the long-term consequences of a famine
Famine and acute malnutrition can lead to death, but it can also lead to ailments and health issues for the rest of a person’s life. Stunted growth, susceptibility to disease and staying underweight are common issues for people who have been malnourished at some point in their lives. They are also more likely to have underweight children or give birth prematurely, making famine an intergenerational issue.
On a societal level famine makes a country prone to conflict and instability, driving people away from their homes. Because famine strikes children the hardest, often leading to child mortality skyrocketing, a famine might create a lost generation. Other vulnerable groups, like pregnant women or people with disabilities, are also highly affected by famine. In addition, instability and lack of resources make the youth susceptible to extremism and recruitment by terrorist organisations.
Can a famine be prevented?
It is possible to prevent a famine. When East-Africa was close to being struck by famine in 2017, the global community assisted the affected countries and the food shortage never developed into a famine. This time around, there has not been that kind of assistance available.
Delaying the assistance until famine is declared is a great problem. When a famine is declared people are already dying. Often, it is also easier to combat the root causes of a famine before the situation gets out of hand. Providing timely assistance can potentially save millions of lives.
What does Finn Church Aid do to prevent the current famine?
Finn Church Aid (FCA) has worked to reach long-term development goals in Somalia and Kenya. In Somalia FCA has provided access to education for children and youth living in conflict areas, as well as working towards peace and reconciliation on a local and national scale.
In this prolonged food shortage crisis FCA has begun to provide cash assistance to internally displaced people. The assistance is directed towards the most vulnerable families, often families headed by women or children, and FCA works hard to ensure that we reach those most in need. The cash assistance given can be used for buying necessities like food, medication or clothes, ensuring the families meeting their most basic needs.
Text: Björn Udd Photos: Dennis Otieno and Kevin Ochieng