FCA Uganda and UNHCR award 30 scholarships for refugees to study in Italy
Finn Church Aid (FCA) in partnership with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has awarded scholarships to 30 refugees to study various master’s degrees in Italy.
The students enrolled in the University Corridors for Refugees (UNICORE) project are from Uganda’s refugee settlements of Kyangwali, Kyaka II, Rwamwanja, Bidibidi, Palorinya, Adjumani, Koboko, Kiryandongo, Adjumani, Palabek and Uganda’s capital – Kampala.
THE UNICORESCHOLARSHIP programme aims to increase opportunities for refugees currently residing in Kenya, Niger, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe to continue their higher education in Italy in a bid to promote higher education and increase the share of refugees enrolled in higher education. The program is a funded by a consortium of 33 universities in Italy coordinated by UNHCR Italy.
FCA took part in the fifth cohort of the programme, which was the first with Ugandan participation. Out of 50 UNICORE scholarship slots across Africa, Uganda was awarded 30.
25 candidates travelled to Italy on October 12th 2023, while the remaining will follow at a later date.
Speaking during the send-off for the candidates to Italy, Wycliffe Nsheka, Country Director for Finn Church Aid Uganda, commended the successful students for receiving the scholarships and encouraged them to study hard.
“Finn Church Aid supports the right to quality education right from early childhood through primary and secondary school, as well as vocational and higher education. We will continue working with UNHCR to look into different opportunities for different pathways in order to make sure that we assist refugees in realising their education goals.
He encouraged the candidates to be ambassadors in Italy. “Go and succeed, get new opportunities, and make your life better. We would like you to inspire more refugees.”
Representatives of UNHCR also echoed Mr Nsheka’s message encouraging the candidates to act as refugee advocates.
“We have been working with Finn Church Aid for about a year to expand the complementary pathways project. A lot has been done behind the scenes for the UNICORE programme to reach here and I appreciate FCA being a good partner,” said Mike John Wells – Senior Resettlement Officer at UNHCR Kampala.
FCA assisted at every stage
FCA Uganda played a number of roles throughout the process including information dissemination, career guidance and counseling, scholarship application support, supporting candidates in acquisition of travel documents, visa applications and psychosocial support. The organisation collaborated with UNHCR in Uganda and Italy, as well as the Office of the Prime Minister and the Embassy of Italy to support the pre-departure processes.
The process also led to a new opportunity opening up for potential refugee students.
“As a result of this performance, Italy launched the Sports Corridor as an additional pathway for candidates to pursue their bachelor’s degree in Italy through competence in and contribution to sports. A list of 38 potential candidates (34 Male and 4 Female) has been shared with UNHCR for selection for this pathway,” said Diana Berocwiny, Complementary Pathways Officer at FCA Uganda.
The scholarship covers a large number of expenses, including, but not limited to: application and tuition fees; books, language training; a monthly stipend; housing; transportation; health insurance; mentoring or psychosocial support, travel costs to the third country and visa fees.
The students are also permitted to undertake work-study or part-time employment.
Scholarship recipients enthusiastic
Umwari Joviale, a Congolese refugee from Rwamwanja, is eager to study international accounting and management at the University of Siena in Italy.
“I am happy that my dream will come true. I dream of reaching far and supporting vulnerable people. Joining the university is a sign that I will.” She tells us.
Joviale came to Uganda with her family in 2014. They were escaping the war in Congo.
“When we got here, Rwamwanja refugee settlement was just a bush. The settlement at the time had a small population. My one and only hope at the time was to be able to eat. I cannot lie to you that I had any other dream then, I just dreamed of having a proper meal. We only received maize and beans, so I always dreamed of eating meat.” She adds.
“I had been studying in Congo, so after settling in the settlement I decided to look for opportunities. Every day I would walk for three hours to UNHCR offices in the settlement, sit at the gate and wait for someone to come and help me.:
After repeated trips to UNHCR offices, Joviale was able to secure funding in 2016 to attend Bugema University and pursued a diploma in accounting.
“I put a lot of effort into my academics and outperformed my peers in class. Now that I have received this UNICORE scholarship, I am grateful that I will continue my education. I will not wait until I graduate from university to start fulfilling my passion of helping girls in Rwamwanja refugee camp and other disadvantaged individuals. I shall begin working on it immediately,” she adds.
Kibrom hopes to develop a novel medication
Beyene Kibrom Abrahaley, an Eritrean refugee, will study medical biotechnology in Italy. He is appreciative of the scholarship since it advances his goal of changing the medical industry in his home country.
He says, “I have seen many people die, so I hope to find a new drug after my studies so that everyone can live a great life.”
Kibrom escaped his home country because of insecurity and arrived in Uganda via Sudan.
“Smugglers transported me. My journey wasn’t simple; and I still have many traumas from it. I’m grateful to the government of Uganda and UNHCR for improving my life,” he explains.
“I discovered the UNICORE programme while researching educational options online after relocating to Kampala. and was able to apply and complete the process with FCA’s assistance. I am excited to start on my master’s degree.”
More about the UNICORE programme
The University Corridors for Refugees UNICORE project is promoted by 33 Italian universities with the support of UNHCR, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Caritas Italiana, Diaconia Valdese, Jesuit Refugee Service and other partners.
Today, 7% of refugees have access to higher education compared to only 1% in 2019. This is, however, far below the global average tertiary and higher education enrollment among non-refugees, which stands at more than 40 per cent.
Ahead of this year’s Global Refugee Forum – the world’s largest annual gathering on refugees, to be held in Geneva in December 2023 – UNHCR is urging states and the private sector to come forward with pledges to increase funding for and access to higher education by joining and marking contributions to the 15by30 global pledge on refugee higher education and self-reliance, which aims to achieve enrolment of 15% of refugee youth in higher education by 2030.
Breaking barriers: FCA Uganda ensures access to education for children with disabilities
Leticia Kanyere is a 14-year-old deaf student. She came to Sweswe Special Needs Education (SNE) Unit after her family heard about their inclusivity scheme. She now stays at the boarding school facilities with her friends, and loves it.
Children with disabilities in refugee settlements are especially vulnerable to stigmatisation, exclusion, isolation, and violence. These barriers limit their abilities to access education, essential services, form relationships with their peers, and foster psychosocial well-being.
“I like the school because it’s easy to make friends. We easily understand each other because we use the same language. In my village, only a few people understand sign language so it’s hard to communicate,” says Leticia, who is doing well in class and wants to become a hairdresser in the future.
In order to provide inclusive education, Finn Church Aid (FCA) constructed a fully-fledged Special Needs Education Unit at Sweswe Primary School in Kyaka II refugee settlement. The unit was a big undertaking and came together thanks to funding from several donors. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland paid for the unit itself. Then, the U.S department of State, Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) supported the construction of a fence around the SNE unit to enhance the safety of the learners. Finally, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) supports operations in the school.
The support provided to the SNE unit enhances closer supervision, opportunities for safeguarding, and the ability to identify and address children’s psychological, social, and medical needs. This fosters an inclusive environment where learners can stay in school and feel supported.
The facility launched in 2022 and supports learners from both Kyaka II and the neighbouring Rwamwanja refugee settlement. It opened its doors to children and adolescents with disabilities from host and refugee communities, bringing enormous relief to both the children and their families.
Alex Dusabe, 16, also enjoys coming to school. “I used to have many challenges back home but when I came to Sweswe SNE, I made friends with the teachers, and they support me,” he says.
Finn Church Aid trains teachers at the facility in special needs education and management so they can both engage with and take care of the learners.
The inclusive environment at the school makes it possible for learners with special needs to stay in school. The blocks at the facility have been constructed with ramps and rails and are accessible by wheelchair. The classrooms are brightly lit to help the visually impaired. Further improvements are planned to make students’ lives easier.
“The toilet facilities are near the dormitories and far from the dining hall. I would be grateful if we could get a boys’ toilet facility closer to the dining,” says Alex, who has a physical disability.
Living Businge, a sign language teacher at the SNE Unit with 12 years’ experience, encourages adolescents and children with disabilities to go to school and access their right to quality education.
He’s had a long interest in the deaf community and decided to learn sign language so he could better support them as a teacher.
“Inclusive education provides learning opportunities to all individuals and caters to the diversity among learners. Among people with physical, sensory, mental, and intellectual disabilities, exclusion from education is most pronounced. The SNE unit at Sweswe presents a chance to eliminate the obstacles to participation and learning for students with severe disabilities that mainstream education cannot accommodate,” says Filbert Idha, the Education Technical Lead at Finn Church Aid.
According to Uganda’s national Education Response Plan (ERP) for refugees and host communities, only 2% of learners with disabilities are enrolled in school (global average: 10%). Nationally, only 172,864 children with special needs (approximately 2% of total primary level enrollment) were enrolled in primary schools in 2022.
Disabilities among children who are refugees are reported to be mobility, cognition and vision, but most commonly anxiety and trauma related disorders.
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.
“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.”
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.”
“In the future I’ll be measuring instead of guessing” – A tech innovation by a young Jordanian helps farmers increase crop yields
Sager Marayha, 28, developed a device he hopes will boost the most important trade in his birthplace – farming. FCA supports the young agricultural engineer with a grant to start production.
THE AIR FEELS thick and there are flies buzzing around. In early November, Jordan is preparing for winter; but in the sheltered Jordan Valley, west of the country, summery conditions continue.
The greenhouses are brimming with foliage. Between them, cucumbers are loaded onto a truck that’ll soon begin its journey to the capital Amman. There, the cucumbers will be pickled and then sold to be served in local restaurants.
Sager Marayha, 28, stands in the scorching sun and fiddles with a tiny plastic bag. Inside it, there’s something that can reduce farmers’ workload and improve crops in the future.
“This is the prototype, like a small computer with several sensors,” Marahaya says, digging into his bag.
“This sensor measures soil temperature, this one assesses humidity, this one acidity and salinity.”
Marayha demonstrates how the innovation works. First, it’s thrusted into the soil, and soon, the farmer will receive information regarding the properties of the soil on a smartphone app. A new result will appear on the screen every five seconds.
“The farmers in the Jordan Valley use fertilisers and water without knowing exactly what the farmland actually needs. It’s possible that the soil is so rich in nutrients already that it’s impossible to grow anything anymore. The device will help reduce the unnecessary use of fertilisers and watering just in case.”
As a teenager, Marayha already worked in the fields and greenhouses. The community encouraged him to continue his studies at a university. Marayha became the first in his family to have a higher education.
During his studies, Marayha got to know different kinds of agricultural measuring instruments and wondered why they all seemed so complex and clumsy. Could a small and easy-to-use alternative provide all that information in one go?
Northern Jordan Valley. Jordan Valley is an area in West Jordan which is known for its agricultural opportunities and crops that benefit the whole country. Photo: Sherbel Dissi
A cucumber farmer is ready to invest in smart tech
The practical experience from the field and the knowledge from university helped Marayha get started with developing the device. Soon the technology began to garner the interest of not only farmers and the media but also researchers.
“The problem is that Jordanian agriculture doesn’t really attract investors,” Marayha points out.
The young agricultural engineer was given support from a joint project of Finn Church Aid and the foreign ministry of the Netherlands. The project trains young agricultural professionals to ensure the industry continues to attract future workforce. After proving his commitment and willingness to develop, Marayha was given a grant he can use to begin the production of the devices and selling them to farmers.
There are plenty of potential buyers. Cucumber farmer Abu Muhammad has a total of a hundred cucumber tunnels in Jordan, and in three months, a single tunnel produces 7000 to 7500 kilos of crop.
According to Marayha, a 500-square metre tunnel can be covered with three devices. Manufacturing one device costs approximately 65 euros, but it hasn’t got a market price yet. Even so, the farmer is ready to invest in the innovation.
“The price doesn’t concern me, and I don’t care about it. I’m sure the benefits will outweigh the price,” Abu Muhammad says.
He’s confident that the device will be particularly useful during sowing.
“Sometimes I fertilise wrong and end up losing both the money spent on fertilisers and the crop. In the future my farming will be based on scientific measuring instead of guessing.”
Making a living as a farmer isn’t easy. The biggest reason, Abu Muhammad says, is that there’s no fixed market price for crops in Jordan.
“As we’re farming, we don’t know for what price we’ll be able to sell. Many have quit, and most people have started to cultivate various plant species to mitigate the risk. I’m taking a significant risk with all these tons of cucumber. I get along, because I have a contract for getting them pickled. If all my cucumbers were sold in the fresh market, the profit would be uncertain.”
Farming is badly lacking young professionals
The situation in the rest of the world also poses a challenge for Jordan’s farmers. The crops no longer travel to dinner tables around the world like they used to.
“We used to farm a lot to meet the needs in Syria, and through Syria, our products would go to Turkey and from there to Russia. Because of the war in our neighbouring country, the trade route has been closed. Previously we also sold to the Gulf countries, but now they have their own farms,” says Abu Muhammad.
Abu Muhammad says he’s constantly on a razor’s edge due to the fluctuating markets.
“I only have to fail once. If I can’t sell my next crop, I’ll give up farming.”
At worst, the consequences to food production can be dramatic. If one farmer after another quits their profession and the young aren’t drawn to it, Jordan might have to start importing more food in the future. The cucumber farmer has faith in young professionals who otherwise have no work opportunities in the region.
“It’s great that Marayha and other young people are developing agriculture. Everyone wins: the farmers benefit from the innovations and the young get more work opportunities. Marayha has a university degree, and the studies have cost a fortune, and currently he hasn’t got anything else to do for work. It’s up to us farmers to encourage the young to make a living for themselves,” Abu Muhammad ponders.
Marayha says that his education as well as the grant he received improve the financial situation of his family. The young man wishes that with the help of his future income, his hard-working mother could finally get some rest.
“I dream about my future every day. I have already received inquiries from people who could help me sell the device abroad. My dream is to see the device in use specifically in Jordan, so it could benefit the people in my own region.”
The Cool-Ya project is funded by the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The project is seeking to attract more youth to the agriculture sector by making it more appealing and interesting for the young people.
Text: Ulriikka Myöhänen Translation: Anne Salomäki Photos: Sherbel Dissi
Dreams at stake – 21-year-old Rose had just two weeks of school before lockdown hit
The covid-19 pandemic has derailed the lives of young people in South Sudan, a country recovering from a civil war. Rose, living in Yei, finally has a new opportunity to pursue her dreams.
WILD VEGETATION surrounds crumbled, abandoned mud huts. Scattered around, there are the remains of cars, stripped of wheels and other removable parts. Empty houses are missing their most valuable parts: tin roofs and windows.
The surge in returnees that accelerated prior to the Covid-19 pandemic hasn’t repaired the damages caused by the 2016 civil war around the city of Yei. The sight is still stomach-churning for those returning to the region, says 29-year-old Viola Jabu. Life in Yei began completely anew, without a home or work.
“When we decided to return, I was afraid there’d be no one in Yei,” Viola Jaby says. She began the journey home from a Ugandan refugee settlement with nine children and adolescents in February 2020, just before the pandemic hit.
“I was relieved to see plenty of life on the streets. However, our home had been destroyed.”
Viola Jabu and her family have settled behind an abandoned petrol station on a busy street. The suitcases and bags, in which the family has packed their entire life, are neatly piled in the children’s bedroom. The parents sleep in a storage room, lit by the light coming in through a tiny window.
“We returned from Uganda because life as a refugee was tough. It was difficult to find food and work and the children were often ill. My husband lived here already and told us that it’s safe now,” Viola Jabu tells.
“We couldn’t have imagined that we’d have to face a pandemic, too.”
Over a year without school
Across the street is St. Joseph’s s School. There, 21-year-old Rose Night began her second year as an upper secondary school student. Rose lives with her uncle Woi Wilson, Viola Jabu’s partner. Rose’s parents abandoned her when she was a child; her father disappeared, and her mother moved to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Wearing her school uniform, Rose has patiently listened to our conversation for over an hour. Then she can no longer wait.
“When are you going to ask me something?” she asks. It’s uncommon for students to volunteer for interviews unprompted.
“School has taught me that one must be courageous and study a lot, so that it’s possible to make one’s own decisions in life. With the help of education, you can find work and look after yourself,” she quotes her teachers.
Rose started school at the age of nine with support from her uncle, and her dream is to become a lawyer. Uncle Woi Wilson hopes Rose will one day study at a university.
Rose’s schooling already came to a halt once when the family fled to Uganda. After returning to South Sudan, she was in school for just two weeks before the closure.
“We were told to stay at home and be patient, but there was nothing to do. I was sad.”
In South Sudan, the opportunities to switch to remote learning were non-existent, which is why numerous children and adolescents had their schooling suspended for over a year. In a country that has already suffered from a civil war, it is estimated that 2.2 million children didn’t go to school before the pandemic, and according to an estimate by UNICEF, the pandemic doubled the number to 4.3 million.
Viola Jabu and Woi Wilson organised home schooling for the children, so that they wouldn’t forget the importance of education in pursuing their dreams. Everywhere in the world, the lives of the young are full of temptations. Rose kept her chin up.
“Young people started to act up, run off from home at night, party and drink and consume other drugs. I didn’t do like the others and that’s why some distanced themselves from me,” Rose says.
“Young people no longer knew where their lives were headed.”
Viola Jabu’s family is building a kitchen garden in front of an old petrol station. In the city every plot that can be used for growing is utilised. Pictured also cousins Grace (left) and Rose.
Viola Jabu was home schooling children and adolescents when schools where closed because of the pandemic.
Rose dreams of university studies and becoming a lawyer.
A new kind of threat
Yei is the third largest city in South Sudan and strategically important for commerce due to its location near the borders to both the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda.
The county surrounding the city is known as the granary of South Sudan, and in peacetime Yei can ensure the availability of food in the entire country.
The current peace agreement has been in force for over three years, yet outside the city there are still armed groups that haven’t signed it. The residents can’t go to the vast fields in the villages, so it’s common to see corn planted on roadsides all over the city.
Finn Church Aid (FCA) supports food security for returning migrants and their opportunities to earn a living with, for example, cash assistance. Tens of thousands of people have already returned from Uganda to star over in life, says Moses Habib, humanitarian coordinator at FCA.
“We’ve supported returning families with cash, so in the beginning they’re able to buy food, repair their homes and cover the costs of their children’s schooling,” he tells.
For years the residents of Yei have persisted in the face of various threats. On top of war, there is disease. A poster on the wall of a centre that registers returning migrants encourages getting vaccinated against polio. South Sudan is one of the few countries in the world in which the disease has been resurgent in recent years.
Another poster explains the symptoms of ebola and emphasises the importance of hand hygiene in stopping its spread. It resembles a newer poster next to it, which explains how to avoid catching Covid-19.
The most significant consequences of the pandemic are linked to livelihood and education. Globally, the UN estimates that the pandemic has pushed tens of millions of families to the brink of extreme poverty.
“Teachers had to find other jobs for when the schools were closed, and many students have had to support their families by working. We’re concerned that some of them won’t come back,” says Habib.
School-related costs, such as learning materials and school uniforms, can be too expensive for a poor family.
Rose (right) and her classmate Vivian are lucky, because they had the opportunity to return to school.
Work instead of school
18-year-old Samuel Ayki toils away at a vegetable plot with his two brothers. It’s only been two weeks since the beanie-wearing young man returned to Yei. Samuel spent the early stages of the pandemic as a refugee in Uganda, where school closures lasted for 80 weeks, longer than anywhere else in the world. Because of the restrictions on movement, the local market at the refugee settlement was closed, and Samuel’s mother Mary lost her income. Samuel was due to finish comprehensive school in spring 2020 and now he’s supposed to study at upper secondary level.
“Covid ruined my schooling. It feels like my brain became blunt because I wasn’t able to learn anything new,” Samuel says.
In South Sudan, schools reopened in May 2021. When a friend of Samuel’s went back to school in Yei, he encouraged Samuel to return home. However, all related costs, such as learning materials and school uniforms, were such a huge expense for a poor family that Samuel couldn’t afford them. On top of this, the family needed the money Samuel was able to make doing odd jobs here and there.
Samuel plans to save money to return to school. Work is difficult to find, as he’s been away from the city for a long time and the pandemic has impoverished businesses. “I’m sad seeing my friends and neighbours go to school, when I’m just looking for work or sitting at home. Sometimes I try to study on my own using the notebooks I brought back with me from Uganda,” Samuel tells.
Peter, the friend of 18-year-old Samuel (right), goes to school. In Yei, students stand out because of their uniforms.
“Samuel buys food for his siblings with the money he’s saved for school. I feel sad seeing him go job hunting instead of school,” says Samuel’s mother Mary.
Rose is preparing for the first exam week in 18 months.
The schools in South Sudan were opened in May 2021. Rose and other students have their temperature taken and everyone must wear a mask.
Covid-19 puts girls’ schooling at risk
Having fewer and fewer opportunities for making a living has driven families to desperate decisions. Many girls have had to get married, because marriages benefit families financially.
Child marriages were a severe problem in South Sudan already prior to the pandemic; almost every other girl married underage, and now the number of child brides and teenage pregnancies has only gone up. Getting pregnant almost always means that the girl drops out of school, and the consequences are drastic when it comes to continuing education. Rose’s best friend didn’t return to the classroom when the schools reopened their doors.
“She decided to get married. Now she has a baby and can’t return to school. I don’t know what that means to her future, but I miss her,” Rose says.
Working as a grocer, uncle Woi Wilson’s livelihood has been dependent on the road running to the capital Juba and the neighbouring Uganda. Due to the pandemic, the traffic of goods slowed down, resulting in less income for sellers and higher prices for food. With the help of cash assistance from FCA, the family was able to buy food and support the continuation of the children’s schooling. After a long struggle, Rose is preparing for her first exam week in 18 months.
Many other enthusiastic students are waiting by the gates of St. Joseph’s School, where a guard takes their temperature and checks everyone is wearing a face mask. Fortunately, there’s one to spare for a girl who has left hers at home.
“At school I feel safe. Learning brightens my mind and give meaning to my days,” beams Rose.
Text: Erik Nyström Photos: Antti Yrjönen Translation: Anne Salomäki
Finn Church Aid (FCA) works in the most vulnerable communities in South Sudan, supporting the food security and livelihood opportunities for families. In autumn 2021, a programme was started to offer cash assistance to help children and adolescents who’ve returned from Uganda to cover the cost of their schooling. Comprehensive schools receive support in organising schooling. Emergency help is offered to disaster victims regardless of age, background or gender.
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.
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. ”
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 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.”
“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.
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 (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
Girls’ education gains ground in Somalia’s hard-to-reach area
Five thousand learners enrolled in school in Hudur in one of the first education interventions in the area, supported by EU Humanitarian Aid (ECHO). Almost half of the learners were girls.
Parents in Somalia’s rural areas have traditionally not valued education, and if the opportunity exists, families typically send only their boys to school. As a result, the interventions in the education sector were few when FCA launched its program in six schools in Hudur in June 2020.
FCA started implementing the education project funded by EU Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) by launching mass awareness-raising campaigns on the importance of education. In addition, community meetings and the forming of local education committees increased the engagement of people.
Child marriage is one of the most significant barriers to girls’ education in areas such as Hudur. Becoming a caretaker of the family and a mother can end their chances of progressing at school.
Poverty is another obstacle to sending children to school. However, within this program, education is free, and the quality of learning is ensured through teacher training and quality learning materials. As a result, the project reached its goal of enrolling five thousand learners. The learners include 2,387 girls, almost half of the total. To keep girls in school during menstruation, 806 girls received monthly sanitary kits. In addition, older boys and girls were given gender-sensitive recreational materials.
Muna Mohamed Haydar, 17, washes her hands outside the school. She says, “My teachers are good and teach well. Math is my favorite subject because I enjoy doing calculations. It is important for us to attend school. Education will help us build a bright future.”
Teacher Lul Mohamed Nur is responsible for the protection and safety of the students. She encourages girls to receive good education. Today, the number of girls is higher than the number of boys in my school. She tells that, “we have achieved this after conducting relentless awareness in the neighborhood, telling families the importance of sending their girls to schools. We give special attention to learners with disabilities. They are often allocated seats at the front of the classroom.”
Hawa Isak Warsame, 16, tells, “my parents couldn’t afford to pay for my school fees but since it is free and they give us uniforms and other learning materials. I am keen to take advantage of this opportunity to educate myself.” Her favourite subject is English and she would like to work for a humanitarian organisation in the future. She also praises the safety of the school: “If one of the learners feel threatened they can submit their complaint into the box FCA has brought us. This really given me and my classmates a strong sense of safety.”
Suleqo Hassan Adan, 10, tells, “I like math because it is easy for me. I want to become a well-known engineer and rebuild my country or a teacher to help those in need in the community.” She also has a strong opinion about equality: “Education is important for everyone whether be it a boy or a girl. Parents must give equal opportunity to their children.”
Hamaro Mohamed Nur is Suleqo’s mother. “My daughter has been attending the school for a year. I always encourage her to go to the school and learn something. At first she used to resist but now she got used to it and she likes going to the school. Her interest has increased since she received uniform and learning materials. She has a lot of energy for her books now. My daughter is a child with special needs, she cannot see well due to her albinism. She told me the teachers make her sit next to the blackboard so that she sees what is written on the board. She really likes her teachers.”
Mohamed Hassan Abdirahman teaches English to internally displaced pupils. “I was motivated by the need of my community. There was no school in the area before we came up with the idea of establishing this learning center. All of the children here were out of school, so I decided to take action along with like-minded friends. As for the learners with disabilities, we pay special attention to them. We try to listen their demands and protect them from bullying. Safety and protection of the students is of high priority for us” and adds that it can protect girls from early marriages.
Zainab Abdullahi Ahmed, 10, goes to school for accelerated basic education (ABE) and says that she enjoys learning new things. “My teachers help me a lot. I don’t feel any problems attending the classes.” She also wants to help others in the future: “When I grow up, I want to become a doctor.”
Maryan Warsame tells that her child has been attending the school for five years. She says that, “as a parent, I am grateful for helping to educate my daughter. Here we consider teachers as second parents and indeed they are second parents because they treat our kids as their own.” She tells that, “I have both daughters and sons and I send all of them to school, but I am more confident in my daughters. An educated girl will always be helpful to her parent.”
Bashir Moallin Mohamed, 18, says he is very ambitious about his education. He praises the teacher for being kind and highly qualified. “English is my favorite subject because I am good at the grammar. I hope to speak good English soon. I want to become a teacher like my teachers and educate the the people in need in the community.”
FCA improved access to education for 1146 overage and out-of-school children in hard-to-reach areas in Somalia
FCA has improved access to quality education for 1146 overage and out-of-school children in areas that are hard to reach in Hudur, Somalia under the Accelerated Basic Education (ABE) programme.
The main primary drivers of humanitarian needs in Somalia are conflict and natural disasters such as drought and flooding. According to Protection Return Monitoring Network (PRMN), around 893,000 people have been displaced in Somalia between January and August 2020, of whom 633,000 were displaced due to food insecurity, 177,000 affected by conflict and 71,000 by drought.
Of all the people displaced in 2020, around 357,200 (40 %) are school-aged children. Often they drop of education because of the disruption in their lives.
The COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 exacerbated the situation as the government was forced to close schools in early March 2020. This led meant that fewer students could access quality education and more than one million children in Somalia were completely outside of schooling.
The situation is worse for marginalised groups, such as girls, children with disabilities, those who live in hard-to-reach areas and those who are overage or outside formal education.
It is against this backdrop that FCA Somalia has implemented an Integrated and Inclusive Education in Emergencies (EiE) Response for Crisis Affected Children in hard-to-reach ares in Hudur district in Bakool region of the Southwest state from June 2020 to June 2021. The project is funded by ECHO.
The response has focused on quality primary education for internally displaced school-age children, catch-up and ABE programmes for out-of-school and overage children within the population that was affected by the conflicts and natural disasters such as drought and floods. In the process, a total of 1146 ABE students, including 600 girls (52 %), were reached and supported at three school centres in Hudur district in level one and level two learning stages of the ABE programme for one academic year from August 2020 to June 2021.
Objectives of the ABE programme
The primary purpose of Accelerated Basic Education (ABE) is to provide learners who missed a primary school education for whatever reason with the opportunity to obtain primary education competencies and sit for the Primary Centralized Examination. It is also meant to reduce and remove the barriers of access to education that lead to children dropping out of or never enrolling in primary school education.
The ABE programme further allows for flexibility in the teaching and learning processes with negotiable timetable that allows students and their families to meet other demands for their time and attention, including employment and childcare. The ABE programme also emphasises the development of practical skills and transition pathways to both formal education and vocational training after the completion of all the four levels of the programme.
Somalia’s Ministry of Education National ABE policy framework was recently launched with the support of USAID.
ABE students assessment and transition to ordinary classrooms
After one year of schooling in June 2021, the ABE students were allowed to sit the examinations prepared by their teachers. The exams varied according to their levels of education, age and abilities. 1,121 students (51 % of whom were girls) sat for the final examination.
637 students (50 % both girls and boys) took the level one examination and 457 (50 % both girls and boys) of them successfully transited to grade 3 in the formal school. Unfortunately 180 students (84 girls) were not able to transit. They will be allowed to continue to level two under the new ECHO project that is starting in July 2021.
On level two, 484 students (257 girls, 53 %) sat for the examination and 87 % of them (422/51 % girls) successfully passed and transited to grade five in an ordinary classroom. In comparison, 61 students (39 girls) failed the exam. They will be supported for another six months under the new ECHO project within the Catch programme before their performance is assessed again.
The students who could not sit for examination because of various reasons, such as Covid-19 and other illnesses and their families’ displacement will be offered another chance once the schools reopen in August.
Overall under the FCA ABE programme 2020, 77 % of the students (51 % of them girls) successfully transited to ordinary classrooms. In the beginning of the academic year in August they will start their new classes in formal schools.