FCA closes its operations in Cambodia

FCA closes its operations in Cambodia

The decision is based on the changing geopolitical situation, such as the war in Ukraine, which has widely impacted the funding of NGOs like FCA in recent years.

FOLLOWING A DECISION from its Board of Directors, Finn Church Aid (FCA) closes its operations in Cambodia at the end of the year. FCA has had a Country Office in Cambodia since 2011.

“During the exit process, FCA continues to work with key stakeholders and partners to complete the program implementation to fulfil its accountability for the beneficiaries and toward its donors”, says Marja Jörgensen, Director of International Programmes.

The decision is based on the changing geopolitical situation, such as the war in Ukraine, which has widely impacted the funding of NGOs like FCA in recent years. This has put traditional long-term development funders under increasing pressure to cut development funding or direct Overseas Development Aid (ODA) towards refugees and asylum seekers on their own soil.

While the overall financial situation of FCA is solid in 2023, there are challenges facing funding in 2024 and onwards. Long-term, predictable funding is decreasing, and unearmarked funding available is becoming limited. Growth in international funding sources brings, however, its own challenges, such as securing staff when funding fluctuates. This also affects efforts to strengthen our core functions, which traditionally have been financed by unearmarked funding sources.

“To face these realities, it financially makes sense to exit from Cambodia in a well-organised manner, allowing FCA to reallocate the available resources efficiently whilst reducing its operational complexity. Therefore, it requires the cooperation and understanding from all relevant stakeholders to support this exit process and possibly take over the responsibilities to contribute to building local ownership and sustainability in Cambodia,” says Jörgensen.

Though the decision to commence an exit process is largely the consequence of the changing geopolitical situation, Jörgensen highlights the sustainable impact of FCA’s work and wants to thank all FCA’s stakeholders who have been working torward assisiting those people whose human rights have not been fully realised in Cambodia.

“The impact of FCA’s work on the right to quality education, right to livelihood and right to peace in Cambodia for more than a decade is considered a solid base for a positive change that is no longer acutely dependent on FCA.”

In the last 12 years, FCA has supported the Cambodian Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MoEYS) in creating Cambodia’s career counselling system. The work led to career counselling being included in the national curriculum, and career counsellors are now trained for nationwide needs. Youth have also gained skills and participated in development work and the labour force. Communities have been supported in the sustainable management of natural resources and in alleviating and adapting to the consequences of climate change.

Career counselling went mobile during school closures in Cambodia

The Covid-19 pandemic closed schools in Cambodia, but in response to the growing need for face-to-face support, career guidance and counselling services went mobile.

The Covid-19 pandemic keeps schools closed and requires students to carry on their studies at home via tools and programs for distance learning. The challenge is that some 60 per cent of the families in Finn Church Aid’s (FCA) target communities do not have access to the TV lessons initiated by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, or to any online learning resources.

FCA had to create alternative approaches to help students get uninterrupted support and maintain their routine in career guidance and counselling activities.

Going through thick and thin when reaching out to support students and their families with distance learning.

The career guidance and counselling services went mobile o respond to the need for face-to-face support. Teachers and school counsellors travel to nearby villages by tuk-tuk to meet the students, conduct lessons, distribute learning materials and provide guidance in various personal and career-related issues. They also discuss with caregivers and other family members of the students and provide advice on distance learning and how they can support their children with home learning.

These Mobile CGC Centers also raise Covid-19 awareness by spreading information on preventive measures such as frequent handwashing, social distancing and advice on wearing face masks.

Text: Sari Turunen

Career counsellors in Cambodia brought learning online – “It has been rewarding”

Developing career counselling and training new career counsellors is an important part of Finn Church Aid’s (FCA) work in Cambodia. Because of Covid-19, all contact teaching was put on hold in March, but Mak Buntith and his fellow career counsellors found new ways to continue working.

30-year-old Mak Buntith was one of the first career counsellors to graduate in Cambodia. For the past five years, he has worked as a career counsellor in a high school in Anlong Vil in Battambang province. His work also includes training new career counsellors and offering them support and mentoring.

”I applied for the training because I thought that as a career counsellor, I could offer new opportunities to the lives and futures of young people. It was also a chance for me to try something new,” he says.

In Cambodia, many children drop out of school. One of the reasons is that young people do not have enough information about their study or career options, and their families are unable to support them in these matters. Career counselling helps pupils recognise their own strengths and make plans concerning their studies and possible career paths.

“Career counselling has even changed me as a person. I have learned to deal with my emotions and to think critically. My communication skills have improved, thanks to training and experience,” says Buntith.

Career counsellors available online and over the phone

In mid-March, schools in Cambodia closed due to coronavirus. In rural parts of the country, school children live far apart, which makes it difficult to arrange home visits or small study groups. Long-distance teaching is very challenging and requires support.

Career counsellors trained by FCA have responded to the challenge by designing and shooting video lectures about career counselling. One of the challenges they face is an inadequate internet connection – not all children have access to online services or discussion groups.

It is important for pupils to still be able to reach their career counsellor whenever they fail to understand something. They often also contact their career counsellor about challenges that affect their learning. Among the most common problems are learning difficulties and family issues such as domestic violence. Due to this, in addition to the videos, support is also available over the phone or in online discussion groups.

Shooting the first videos was exciting. Buntith was worried about whether the material’s quality was high enough.

”Both the new career counsellors and the pupils have found the videos helpful. Organising remote teaching has been rewarding, as it has allowed us to try different, new things and to learn new skills.”

Text: Sari Turunen

Photo: Long Ratana

The 100th volunteer to go abroad with Teachers Without Borders: ”Reaching for your dreams gives your life an incredible sense of meaning”

Elina Yli-Hakala first experienced wanderlust as a child when she climbed to the top of a big pine. Today she is an experienced volunteer worker, who never stopped exploring.

This November Elina, soon to turn 70, heads for Cambodia for six months to improve the quality of basic education. This is her third assignment with Teachers Without Borders.

Elina has 33 years of experience as a language teacher in secondary school in the Finnish cities of Kerava and Espoo. After retiring in 2011, Elina was already climbing a mountain in Nepal.

”My grandchildren have learned to trust that their grandma can manage when she’s abroad,” Elina laughs.

Throughout her adult life, Elina has been driven to travel around the world by her endless zest for life and her passion for marathons. She especially remembers the Jerusalem marathon in the late 1990s. On the starting line, Elina noticed that she was one of only two women to participate in the race.

”She was so glad to see me that she walked up to me and hugged me. As the finish line approached, we already knew a lot about each other’s lives.”

From the top of the pine into the wide world

Now living in Järvenpää, Elina is originally from “the backwoods of Kainuu region”, as she puts it.

”Once I made my way out of there, there was no stopping me”, Elina says.

She comes from a family of ten children whose games were rather wild. Keeping up with her brothers required creative thinking. At school, Elina became curious about life outside Kainuu. However, the school could provide the eager pupil with regrettably little information.

One childhood memory from when she was around seven years old remains particularly strong in her mind.

”I climbed to the top of a big pine. The forest and the blue sky seemed to go on forever. That’s when I thought that the wide world was out there, and that one day I would be there too”, she says.

Volunteering here and there, sometimes via Whatsapp

In 2016, Elina volunteered with Teachers Without Borders for the first time, taking part in the Dream School project in the Cambodian province of Battambang. The project’s aim is to raise the quality of basic education and to enhance teachers’ professional competence.

The first career counsellors in the country had just graduated, and Elina was there to train them so that they in turn can continue training future career counsellors. The upcoming trip to Cambodia will be Elina’s third. Her aim is to continue the work on education development that she started in 2016–2017.

”It feels like coming home. It is a privilege to see the results, particularly because you saw how it began.”

Elina volunteers in Finland as well. She does long-distance work by mentoring Ugandan teachers via Whatsapp. Mobile mentoring is Finn Church Aid’s project that enables Finnish teachers to provide their colleagues in Uganda with long-distance support.

In Uganda, as well as in many other African countries, Whatsapp is the easiest way to stay in touch. Stepping into the shoes of a colleague facing entirely different challenges via phone requires good situational judgment.

”One teacher may be in charge of a group with nearly 200 pupils. It takes some eye for the situation to decide what kind of advice to send their way.”

Stepping out of one’s comfort zone enables personal growth

What motivates Elina to travel time and time again?

”I don’t see myself as an adventurer. I have a kind of urge to learn and to challenge myself, to teach and to be of assistance if I possibly can. That feeling is hard to turn off, with so many opportunities still available.”

Elina plans to keep travelling and doing volunteer work as long as she feels like it. The most rewarding part is the feeling after the trip when you know it was worthwhile.

”I would like to encourage everyone to widen their perspective and to take the opportunity in their own life to do things they didn’t imagine they would do. Every step out of your comfort zone inevitably changes you and allows you to grow. Reaching for your dreams gives your life an incredible sense of meaning.”

Text: Elina Kostiainen
Translation: Leena Vuolteenaho

Teacher Without Borders –network provides opportunities for education professionals to do volunteer work in Asia and Africa.

The call for volunteer positions in spring 2020 is now open! Read more and apply by 10.11.2019. 

If you can read this, thank a teacher – these thoughts unite teachers around the world

Few adults from your childhood become as memorable as encouraging teachers. A good teacher can have a life-changing influence on a young person’s future and career choice.

Learning is one of life’s most rewarding things. Have you ever wondered who create this wonderful experience? Teachers.

A proficient teacher inspires students about their subject, because a student’s enthusiasm is the prerequisite for learning. If the subject does not raise interest, there will hardly be any learning.

Teachers around the world are celebrated on October 5th. Teachers put themselves on the line in difficult conditions, sometimes working even without pay. We asked teachers involved in FCA’s projects what they think about their work and the importance of education in their community.

Head Teacher John Egielan’s students are like children to him. Egielan now teaches primary school learners in Turkana County, Kenya. He himself grew up in the surrounding pastoralist communities and knows how tough it is to attend school. Poverty is the greatest obstacle.

Egielan’s single mother paid his school fees by collecting firewood.

“I don’t have any children of my own, but in school I support other people’s children. I am sure that my work pays off when I see them succeeding in life.”

Molly Azikuru and Godfrey Nyakuta teach primary school children in Bidibidi refugee settlement, Uganda. The settlement opened three years ago when hundreds of thousands of refugees arrived from neighbouring South Sudan. Teaching overcrowded classrooms in the midst of a humanitarian crisis is anything but easy. Nevertheless, Azikuru and Nyakuta maintain their calm and do not give in to the challenges. They dedicate themselves day after day to inspire their learners.

Jean Lessene has himself experienced the Central African Republic’s civil war and closely followed its impact on the lives of children and their communities. Employed as Head of the Education Sector, Lessene has evaluated the destruction of schools and participated in their reconstruction. For him it is clear that without education, the Central African Republic cannot achieve peace.

“Social cohesion and the significance of peace are among the most important things that a school can teach.”

Marave Chhay is an experienced teacher and one of the first career counsellors trained by FCA in Cambodia. Learners attending career counselling learn valuable working life skills, such as problem solving and taking initiatives, and they are trained to identify their strengths as well as follow their dreams. You will not reach your goals without making plans.

In schools with career counselling, like Anlongvil secondary, the number of school dropouts has decreased alongside improved learning results. The teacher or career counsellor is sometimes the only adult supporting and encouraging youth at a critical moment.

Career guidance gives Cambodian youth means to plan for their future and find employment

Career guidance and counselling has generated promising results in decreasing school drop-out rates and giving youth means to find employment in Cambodia. The Swedish International Development Agency, SIDA, has allocated 23,000,000 SEK (2.2 million in euros) to continue the provision of career guidance and counselling in secondary schools and job centers in Battambang and Banteay Meanchey.

The three-year project “Career Guidance and Counselling in Secondary Schools – the bridge to employment” is jointly implemented by Swedish Public Employment Service (SPES), Finn Church Aid (FCA), Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports and the National Employment Agency in Cambodia.

The estimated number of students benefiting from the project is 10 000.

The project aims to increased labour market participation of Cambodian youth by increasing their awareness of the wide variety of professions and available study paths they need to take in order to find employment. In addition, youth’s ability to recognize their skills is strengthened in order for them to aspire careers they find motivating.

“Cambodian youth, like youth everywhere in the world, has tremendous potential which is currently not used in the best possible way for their own benefit, or for the benefit of their families and communities. It is important that today’s youth have a good education, are able to gain a decent living and grasp the opportunities in a fast changing world. This is where career guidance and counselling comes into the picture”, says Saara Lehmuskoski, FCA’s country director in Cambodia.

Nearly two thirds of the Cambodian population are under 30 years old. For Cambodia’s economy to continue growing, it needs motivated young professionals who have relevant skills and education.

The project will combine local knowledge with the know-how from Finland and Sweden through collaboration with different governmental and non-governmental actors. It is a continuation of an earlier career guidance and counselling project that was implemented by the same project partners.

“In FCA we look forward to taking the good work further with new Swedish government funding, and adding collaboration with the National Employment Agency in Cambodia, the Swedish Public Employment Service and Cambodian Teacher Education Institutions. We will be able to reach thousands of new students and establish sustainable structural solutions for Cambodia”, Lehmuskoski continues.

FCA has developed Cambodia’s career guidance and counselling system in collaboration with the Cambodian Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports since 2014. The first-ever career counselors in the country were trained in 2015-2016 by making use of the expertise of FCA’s Teachers Without Borders network.

Today, career counselling and guidance is incorporated in the national curriculum, and more counselors are continuously being trained in cooperation with the Cambodian Ministry of Education. The new project will lay the basis for expanding career guidance and counselling services across Cambodia on an even larger scale.

Finn Church Aid (FCA) is the largest Finnish organization in international aid. FCA has been working in Cambodia since the early 1980s by providing humanitarian aid and supporting the development of livelihoods, quality education and youth participation.

Arbetsförmedlingen – the Swedish Public Employment Services – is a government-funded agency working on behalf of the Swedish parliament and government.

FCA helps students in Cambodia to assure their future livelihoods

Students appreciate the new subject in Cambodian schools. FCA, together with the Cambodian Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport introduced career counselling and guidance in a country that needs its young to study and find their place in working life.

Vattey Oeur’s list of favourite subjects is impressive. ”I like mathematics, physics, history, khmer and career counselling,” she says.

The calm, slender 16 year-old, who is in her first year at high school, had always found it easy to follow mathematics lessons at school. Making a study plan and managing her time, skills that she learned at career guidance and counselling lessons, brought her mathematic abilities to an even better level – and the same has happened with other subjects, too.

“Before I only studied at school, but now I always revise at home, too. This has really improved my learning. I have learned how to set goals, make a study plan and I also know about different occupations for my future,” she says.

After learning career guidance and counselling in secondary school from grade seven onwards, Vattey decided to continue to high school.

“Career counselling has also made me know myself very well; what kind of a person I am and what I’m able to do. And it gave me knowledge on how to choose an occupation that fits my capacity.”

Vattey’s parents are farmers and vegetable sellers. But Vattey is planning for a career as mathematics teacher.

Her oldest brother had to migrate to Thailand to search for work and it is with the money he is sending home that the family has been able to fund its youngest member’s school materials and buy her a motorbike for the long way to school. There is no public transport here in the outskirts of Battambang city in western Cambodia.


  • In a poor country such as Cambodia, education isn’t often regarded as a good investment. Nearly half of children drop out of school before finishing 9th There is a huge need for skilled work force. It’s vital to get young people to study.
  • As a result of FCA work, career counselling and guidance is incorporated in the national curriculum.
  • The new subject is spreading. In third of Cambodian provinces there are secondary and high schools with career guidance and counselling. Teacher students in the new 4-year Teacher Education Colleges receive career guidance and counselling lessons. FCA will be developing an in-service training for teachers who want to become career counsellors.

“I was first very nervous”

Buntith Mak, Vattey’s career guidance and counselling teacher is one of the very first career counsellors in Cambodia. The former khmer language and literature teacher joined the first group of teachers who FCA trained with the help of Teachers Without Borders network.

They started working as career counsellors in 2016 in secondary and high schools in Battambang province. Some of them also trained as Master Trainers and have trained more career counsellors.

Mak is a Master Trainer and works here at Anlongvil Secondary School as career counsellor, the same school where he graduated from high school.

“I was first very nervous when I started as a career counsellor. It was a completely new subject in Cambodia and many were thinking it is not important, as students do not get a grade from it. But all of us here have seen a change in students. I have received good feedback. I’m now really proud of what I’m doing,” Mak says.

Modern, participatory teaching methods are central in career guidance and counselling.

“It’s is different from other subjects where the teachers just teach their subject,” Vattey says.

“In career counselling lessons we are even playing games – but in an educational way. When we have problems in learning, the games help. The tests we do during lessons or during face-to-face counselling make us understand ourselves better. And we know we can always go and talk with the career counsellor if we have problems at school. He helps us to solve them.”

Buntith Mak has also worked hard in developing cooperation between the school and the parents. Parents’ evenings have been a success and have given parents a better understanding on how to support their children’s education.

“My family has always supported my goal of getting a good education. I want my future work to improve my country,” Vattey says earnestly.

Text: Ulla Kärki
Photos: Ville Nykänen

”I know myself better” – career guidance supporting the education of the young population in Cambodia

Nearly two thirds of the Cambodian population are under 30 years old. Young people have tremendous potential for developing the country both economically and socially – but they need information about education and career opportunities.

”Career guidance has helped me a lot with my studies,” says Angkeriya Oeurn, 15, a high school freshman.

”Before career guidance, I didn’t know where I was, where I should be heading, or how to get there,” he describes.

Anlongvil Secondary School in the city of Battambang has had two career counsellors for over three years now. In 2015, it was one of the first schools in Cambodia to start offering career guidance, with support from Finn Church Aid.

“Other teachers teach their subject, but the career counsellor teaches how to set goals, spend time wisely, and choose subjects suitable for you. The career counsellor also makes us think about what we want to do in the future,” says Angkeriya.

Angkeriya dreams of becoming an engineer. He knows that in order to be admitted as a student, he must focus on mathematics, geometry, chemistry, and physics.

”Career guidance has taught me not only to work for my goals, but also to make decisions. Others won’t make decisions for me,” he says.

There is a happy bustle at the schoolyard. The children and young people are chatting, kicking a football, and throwing a basketball into plastic laundry baskets on top of poles held in place by one student at a time.

The school is big, with 1,800 students and a hundred teachers. Many have a commute of several kilometres. There is no public transportation. The schoolyard has a guarded parking area for bicycles and motorbikes.

Good results

Finn Church Aid started developing career counselling in Cambodia in order to narrow the gap between the education offered by schools and the know-how required in professional life. The gap is widened by the number of school drop-outs.

FCA trained the first-ever career counsellors in the country making use of the expertise of the volunteers in the Teachers Without Borders network. The results have been good. Schools offering career guidance have seen the numbers of school drop-outs decrease and learning outcomes improve.

”Even if a student ends up dropping out of school, I won’t leave them with nothing; we try to find them a place. Part of my job is keeping in touch with vocational schools and employers,” explains career counsellor Buntith Mak.

Career guidance is included in the national curriculum, and more counsellors are continuously being trained in cooperation with the Cambodian Ministry of Education.


Text: Ulla Kärki
Photo: Ville Nykänen

FCA as a faith-based organisation

Irrelevant of the faith group you may belong to, we all benefit from the building of an equitable, inclusive and just society.

Helsinki HO recently invited the FCA Cambodia team to join a Skype meeting on what it means to represent a Faith Based Organisation (FBO). It was an insightful discussion and made us think more about the universal values we should all promote through hope creation, peacebuilding and advancing justice for everyone.

Irrelevant of the faith group you may belong to – or whether you are agnostic, atheist or simply uncertain – as a global community, we all benefit from the building of an equitable, inclusive and just society.

As an agnostic, I considered the issue in more depth and concluded I am hugely proud of FCA’s approach taken as an FBO. Having the term ‘Church’ in the name of an aid organisation is a great way to raise awareness about the positivity faith can bring. This is especially important today where there exists a climate of fear, mistrust and skepticism around the concept of religion. FCA’s non-missionary approach is an essential reminder that all faith groups can be, and should strive to be, open, tolerant and collaborative, respectful of different worldviews, and oppose all forms of discrimination.

The ethics of my personal belief-system are to always recognise the immeasurable value of every individual with the aim to advance the human rights of all people in an equitable, inclusive way; these are codes that FCA represents. For me, the fact that FCA are an FBO with a non-missionary outlook is vital; fundamentally, whether you are religious or not is inconsequential, what is important is the action you take and the intent you have.

Kirsty A. Evans

The writer works as Resilience Coordinator for the EU Aid Volunteers programme at Finn Church Aid office in Cambodia.


FCA’s Career Counselling pilot radically decreases the number of school dropouts in Cambodia

Finn Church Aid (FCA) has trained the first ever Career Counsellors for schools in Cambodia. As a result, career counselling is incorporated in the national curriculum and the project expands throughout the country.

Fifteen teachers and education staff were trained as the first ever career counsellors in Cambodia last year. They have since started working in schools in the Battambang region in the northwest of the country.

Their contribution means that 2,600 secondary school students (1,345 girls and 1,255 boys) at risk of dropping out of school have access to career counselling services in Cambodia.

This unique pilot initiative for career counselling was developed between FCA, Teachers without Borders Finland and the Cambodian Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports.

Previously, there was no career counselling in Cambodian schools. FCA responded to this significant gap in the Cambodian education sector with the added value of Finnish expertise.

The pilot fulfilled its objective when the Cambodian Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports incorporated career counselling in the national curriculum. The Ministry’s ambitious plan to train career counsellors for all Secondary and High Schools in the course of two years has been set to begin in October 2016 with the training of trainers.

The schools in which the first counsellors have worked, have reported a dramatic decrease in dropouts, says FCA’s technical adviser Sari Turunen, who has been involved in the training of the first counsellors and prepared a training manual.

“In Cambodia, schools don’t really have an idea what the students are studying for.  Career counselling has been found to be very meaningful”, Turunen says.

The Finnish trainers of the pilot project carried out many new things, which differ from the Cambodian culture. The group did exposure visits at companies and invited a bank manager to talk about the banking business. The trainees oriented themselves towards finding a linkage between education and working life.

“I’m very happy to know that the new career counsellors are now taking their students to similar exposure visits”, Turunen says.

Career counselling is a popular subject in the schools involved in the pilot, also due to the new, participatory teaching methods that the counsellors have adapted during their training. The work has led to important changes in the students’ attitudes towards the school, their studies and their future, as well as an increased cooperation between schools and parents.

FCA’s Right to Quality Education work builds on the knowhow of Finland’s highly trained teachers. FCA prioritises the support to Teacher Education, as teachers are the most important resource for improving learning.

More information:
Saara Lehmuskoski, Cambodia Country Manager, Finn Church Aid, Tel.+ 855 12 201 799, saara.lehmuskoski(at)kua.fi