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.
FCA launches an ECHO-funded project to enhance access to Education for displaced children in hard-to-reach areas of Southwest State of Somalia
We are happy to announce the launch a 12-month Education in Emergencies project in the Southwest State (SWS) of Somalia to fulfil the right to education of displaced children in areas that especially hard to reach. The READ Project is aimed at restoring and maintaining safe access to quality education for 7,000 crises-affected children so that they can enter or return to protective learning opportunities.
FCA will be implementing the project with its local partner Gargaar Relief Development Organization (GREDO) and it will operate in hard-to-reach areas of El-Berde Baidoa and Hudur. The project is funded by EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) in its quest to support the improvement of access to quality education in Somalia.
The READ project is striving to improve children’s access to a safe, inclusive and protective learning environment; to enhance the capacity of teachers and other education personnel to provide quality education and learning outcomes; and to strengthen safety and child protection mechanisms in target schools for psychosocial well-being, protection and safeguarding of affected children.
In El-Berde, only 8 % of school-aged children (1,574 in total, incl. 884 males and 690 females) are enrolled in one public primary school and eight meant for IDPs, with 12,198 children estimated to be out of school. Although the district only hosts 3,500 IDPs, FCA assessed that the needs for education are incredibly high, as 698 children (402M; 296F) are learning in the only available six classrooms, where there are on average 116 students per classroom.
Similarly, Hudur has the population of around 100,437 with around 42,504 IDPs (24,322 males and 36,482 females) residing in 26 IDP settlements across the district.
The Director General of Ministry of Education (MoE) of Southwest State of Somalia Fadal Abdullahi Mursal attended the launch meeting. He told that a delegation from the MoE visited Hudur town late last month to investigate the impact of FCA’s earlier ECHO-funded education project. They found great impact on the ground in terms of improved access to education.
“During our stay in Hudur, we had a meeting with the CECs and parents and they informed us that they are fully satisfied with FCA’s education program, especially the Accelerated Basic Education (ABE) system which supported many out-of-school children,” says Fadal Abdullahi Mursal, the DG of Ministry of Education of Southwest State.
The deputy minister for Education of Southwest hailed the ongoing FCA efforts in Bakool Region and requested FCA to expand their education projects and reach to the other Southwest State regions.
“Giving children a brighter future through education comes with commitment. I therefore request FCA to expand their education programmes to Lower Shebelle which is also part of Southwest State Regions,” says Abdifatah Isak Mohamed.
Finally, FCA’s Acting Somalia Country Director and the Programme Manager Mr. Bashir Fidow has appreciated the MoE-SWS partnership and pledged that FCA will continue working to enhance education for displaced people in hard-to-reach areas.
“On behalf of FCA Somalia, we are happy to be working closely with the Mistry of Education of Southwest State as a partner. FCA has been providing and implementing Education in Emergencies programmes in SWS since 2018, including Hudur town in Bakool region, which is a hard-to-reach zone,” Bashir Fidow says. “Our new ECHO project 2021-2022 is expanded to Elberde, which is also a hard-to-reach area. FCA will continue working with the MoE of the Federal Government of Somalia and Federal Member State of Southwest to make sure that children in hard-to-reach areas receive quality education and that teachers are qualified.”
FCA has started its EiE response in Baidoa and other hard to reach areas of SWS in 2018, with support from ECHO HIP 2018 and 2020, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland (MFA) and FCA’s own Disaster Fund. To date, the interventions have enabled 15,500 crisis-affected children (45 % girls and 400 CWD) have access inclusive education through safe learning environments, improved quality of education and school-based protection mechanisms. Among these children, 1299 (45 % girls) are Accelerated Basic Education (ABE) learners.
Knowledge Management Central in Advancing Inclusive Local Governance in Somalia
For years, FCA has worked with its partners systematically and successfully to involve women, youth and marginalised groups in decision-making. Sharing knowledge and learning from others is central to this work.
Successful district council formation is a key milestone in building inclusive local governance structures and systems. Since 2017, four district councils have been successfully formed with active and inclusive participation of the community including women, youth and marginalized groups, with the efforts and support by FCA and its partners. The four areas include Berdale and Hudur of South West, Afmadow of Jubaland and South Galkacyo of Galmudug.
In June, FCA engaged partners, federal and local government officials and key actors to reflect on the overall progress, achievements, challenges, lessons learned and remaining priorities in inclusive local governance in Somalia.
Active dialogue and knowledge management in a recent workshop
The workshop, held in Mogadishu on 21-22 June 2021, brought together more than 45 key figures in local governance. The aim was to promote collective reflection and knowledge management and to address remaining priorities in the work towards inclusive governance particularly in the district council formation processes and the promotion of women’s political participation in Somalia.
Mr. Mustafa Adaf, the Director-General of the Ministry of Interior Affairs and Local Governance of South West State of Somalia, briefly highlighted the success stories, challenges and lessons learnt from the established district councils in South West State.
“So far four district councils have been formed in South West State with strong representation of women in the elected councils including ten women out of 21 elected council members in Diinsor, five women out of 21 in Waajid, and two out of 21 in Berdale, while Hudur has zero women representation in the district council,” Mustafa said.
FCA has been implementing various programmes promoting inclusive local governance through district council formation (DCF) and increasing women’s political participation since 2016, with the support of the EU delegation to Somalia, USAID/TIS+ and the Somalia Stability Fund.
Learning from experience
Officials from the Ministries of Interior, Federal Affairs and Reconciliation (MOIFAR) at the federal and state levels across Somalia, district administrations and councils, elders, women’s groups and networks and key stabilisation actors were actively participating in the lively discussions. The participants identified and discussed the results and successes of FCA and its partners’ interventions and contribution to promoting inclusive local governance and gender equality and the social inclusion of women, youth and marginalised groups.
The participants of the workshop also explored lessons on what has and not worked in past and ongoing interventions to foster learnings for the benefit of the other districts that are currently undertaking the district council formation in accordance with the Wadajir National Framework for Local Governance. In addition, the workshop also charted the way forward in addressing remaining priorities for effective, future programming.
The workshop’s outcomes will be collated and a publication will be compiled for internal and external knowledge management. The document will be distributed among the numerous actors working to support state-building processes in Somalia.
Advancing women’s participation
Not only is successful district council formation a historic milestone in promoting democratic process and inclusive local governance, but also in terms of women’s political participation. This is the first time in the history of South West State for women to achieve such a representation among elected council members.
“One of the lessons we learned in the previous council formations such as in Berdale and Hudur in 2017 was the need to emphasise the importance of the role of women. From such experiences, we started discussing a quota system for women’s participation in the DCF process in other districts. Once we secured that women can have meaningful participation, we proceeded with the process. So, in a nutshell, women participation can only be achieved, if the government and actors collaboratively engage the community to campaign for women in the process,” Mr. Adaf draws together lessons learned.
Covid-19 increases poverty and aggravates the education crisis in developing countries, but solutions exist
For more than a year, Covid-19 has dominated the news globally. In March 2020, when the first restrictions were imposed, nobody could have imagined that we would still be combating a crisis a year later. The global impact of this pandemic has been and will continue to be enormous.
The coronavirus pandemic has increased global poverty for the first time in twenty years. The World Bank estimates that up to 93 million people were plunged into extreme poverty in 2020.
“For poor countries, the outlook is grim,” says Saara Lehmuskoski, a Senior Adviser at Finn Church Aid (FCA). When the pandemic hit, she was working as FCA’s country director in Cambodia.
“Many are reaching a level where just getting food on the table is difficult. For them, moving out of poverty will take a long time. In recent years, we have heard positive news about how people are being lifted out of poverty. Sadly, we’re now taking a big step backwards.”
With less economic activity, tax revenue will fall, which then leads to cutbacks. The World Bank estimates that two out of three developing countries have cut their education spending due to Covid-19. Combined with a rise in poverty, families and children who are already poor will be the ones most severely affected.
“In Cambodia, distance learning is only available for the richest children. The poorest rural students, who have limited access to education anyway, don’t own a television or a smartphone,” says Lehmuskoski.
Children no longer have access to education because schools are closed. And due to rising poverty, some families need children to work to make sure that everybody gets fed.
“In the long term, this is a terrible risk for the children who are now at school age. We will be dealing with the aftermath of this pandemic for another 10 to 15 years. Right now, we need to make sure that children stay at school and continue their learning so that, once the pandemic is over, young people completing their studies will be equipped to earn a living and engage actively with their communities,” says Lehmuskoski.
Digital learning provides access to education
In poorer countries, the education budget is often small in comparison to other expenditure. When a crisis such as Covid-19 strikes, funds are needed for healthcare and other similar items. Deputy executive director Tomi Järvinen at Finn Church Aid points out that decisions about short-term savings should not be taken at the expense of education.
“Research findings show that education is a key to higher gross domestic product and, of course, improved levels of personal income. Each year at school will boost the student’s future earnings. For girls, this rise is even more marked.”
School closures in response to the pandemic raised concerns about whether children, especially girls, would return to school in the poorest countries.
“What we hear from the field is that the scenarios presented at the beginning of the pandemic have, at least in part, materialised. We have seen more teenage pregnancies and child marriages, and the concerns about young people not returning to school are real,” says Järvinen.
To prevent children from dropping out of school, it is important to develop ways of communicating with learners and preparing them for the eventual return to school. In Kenya, FCA has supported efforts to ensure that schools maintain contact with students and young people return to school as soon as possible.
Digital learning is part of the solution for developing countries. It contributes to enabling access to education and to providing high-quality education for all. Going forward, digital solutions will continue to make remote education possible, for example when children are ill or unable to attend contact teaching for some other reason.
“We shouldn’t think that developing countries will take up digital learning at some later date. They have already gone digital in fields such as communication and commerce, and now we need to extend these solutions to education,” says Tomi Järvinen.
In fragile countries where FCA operates, the first stage of digitalisation means low-tech solutions, such as radio lessons and WhatsApp messaging. For example, radio receivers have been distributed and radio lessons broadcast to families in refugee camps and rural areas in Kenya.
“The situation is never hopeless; there’s always something we can do. Now we need to invest in digital learning and its development, and analyse the lessons learned from the Covid-19 crisis.”
The elderly are in a particularly vulnerable position in Uganda’s refugee settlements. With access to education and livelihoods, the community can also create a better future for the family’s seniors.
Seven years ago, Elizabeth Kapinga and her family hid in the bush on their way to the Ugandan border. The family was fleeing the unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and had to travel on foot for three weeks without getting a lift by car.
“The shots were coming from all directions, and we hurried the children along. Looking back on it, I think about how life has been so hard for us, but I know others are still suffering and losing their lives,” says 80-year-old Kapinga.
Kapinga and her four children, son-in-law, and ten grandchildren have stayed in Rwamwanja refugee settlement since 2013. In the DRC, Kapinga lost her spouse, four children, and three grandchildren, and thinking about them makes her sad.
“I had a good life. I got married, and I was happy. Then the Lord separated me from my husband, and I was all alone,” says Kapinga.
Elizabeth Kapinga lives in Uganda as a refugee. She says that returning to her home in the DRC is unlikely.
Uganda hosts 1,4 million refugees. Most of them come from neighbouring countries, such as the DRC, where several armed groups fight each other. The conflict is dangerous to civilians. The unrest has cost people their homes and possessions, and particularly women face the threat of violence and rape.
Kapinga’s family is safe, but their daily life is challenging. The refugee settlement faces a shortage of many necessities, and for many families, the food assistance available is not enough for surviving. The availability of health care services and medicine is low, and the prices are high.
Kapinga’s family’s situation has improved since her son-in-law Lucien Kagoro graduated from the Technical Vocational Education Training (TVET) centre established by Finn Church Aid (FCA) in Rwamwanja. Kagoro joined his extended family in Rwamwanja in 2017 after working as a teacher in the DRC. He could not find work in Ugandan schools because of language barriers, but the vocational training opened up a new career path for him and many other youths.
Kagoro trained to become a hairdresser, and he now runs a successful salon. His work secures a livelihood for the whole extended family and enables the children to go to school. Kagoro lost his parents in the conflict, and his wife’s family, including his mother-in-law, is the only family he has.
“I love my mother-in-law. She has given me so much. My family is doing well now,” says Kagoro.
Lucien Kagoro supports his extended family. The wellbeing of his mother-in-law is essential to him.
After the hardships in his home country, Kagoro says that he now lives in peace in Uganda.
“I’m happy with the life we have now,” says Kagoro.
Grandmother Kapinga likes to spend her days with her grandchildren. Watching the children play takes her mind off unpleasant memories. A secure livelihood gives her the chance to enjoy her daily life.
“I’m happy for my son-in-law’s work. He enjoys it, and it enables him to take care of us. I don’t know how we would manage if Lucien didn’t have his salon,” says Kapinga.
The refugee settlement faces a shortage of many necessities.
In the vocational education centre, 70 per cent of the students are refugees from the DRC. Out of the young people who have completed their training, more than 70 per cent have found employment or started their own business.
“Educating children and youth is a way of building the future and investing in the sustainable development of entire communities. After the urgent emergency relief, we start building the future of families through education and livelihoods,” says Eija Alajarva, Head of Humanitarian Assistance at FCA.
Advanced age and life experiences bring with them injuries and illnesses that complicate mobility and access to information. It is essential to do outreach work and provide help in the home when working with the elderly and persons with disabilities.
“When people are forced to flee, families may fall apart. Members of a family may not end up in the same refugee settlement, and while families normally take care of the elderly, that can change in a crisis,” says Alajarva.
The constant threat of violence also drove Maria Nyrambagazohe, 67, to flee her home village in the DRC with her two grandchildren. They fled on foot, which forced them to leave all their belongings behind. Since 2018, the family lives in Kyaka II refugee settlement in Uganda.
Maria Nyrambagazohe is often sick, which makes working and household chores hard for her.
Nyrambagazohe’s husband and two sons lost their lives in the unrest. Her daughter, the mother of her grandchildren, remained in the DRC. The family does not know whether she is still alive. Nyrambagazohe is now the guardian of Anarite, 8, and Sylvester, 10.
“I think about my family every day. The children keep asking when they get to see their mother again,” says Nyrambagazohe.
While the refugee settlement is peaceful, the family’s day-to-day life is tough. Nyrambagazohe and the children are often sick, and work exhausts her quickly, causing her all kinds of ache and pain. The children support her with household chores, such as cleaning and fetching water.
The elderly are respected and have an important role in communities, and people want to take care of their wellbeing. In times of crisis, they might still end up as caretakers. If the parents have died or are otherwise absent, the grandparents – often the grandmothers – have to take care of their grandchildren.
The biggest challenge of Nyrambagazohe’s family is hunger. Because of her age and condition, she cannot work, and the family lives in poverty. Like many other families in the refugee settlement, they all receive 21,000 Ugandan shillings per month as a World Food Programme (WFP) assistance for food. The money can get them 8 kilograms of cornmeal, an equal amount of beans or 1.5 kilograms of meat.
“It is not easy for the children to be hungry all day long,” says Nyrambagazohe.
For most elderly refugees, returning to their home country might not be possible. Nyrambagazohe misses her friends and other villagers back home. In Uganda, she often feels lonely, but she says she enjoys the peacefulness.
” I never used to be able to sleep before, but now I sleep well, she says.
The joy of the children delights their grandmother. Her biggest wish is that they will have a good future.
Anarite and Sylvester are used to their life in the refugee settlement. They play football and skip rope with the neighbourhood’s children. Watching them play makes Nyrambagazohe happy. When her grandchildren can go to school, she knows they can have a future.
“We are grateful for the support for school materials, fees, and clothing. Education will enable the children to find employment and care for their families when they grow up,” says Nyrambagazohe.
Photos and interviews in Uganda: Sumy Sadurni
Text: Noora Pohjanheimo
Translation: Leena Vuolteenaho