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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ICT sector can provide employment regardless of where you live

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music brings calm and joy to Syrian youth in Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan

Music is a source of relief to youth coping with the stress of living as refugees in Jordan. FCA’s learning centre teaches them how to play instruments and compose.

Mohammad Al-Ahmad and Moutaz Al-Zoubi have spent most of their lives in Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan. The lives of the two 17-year-olds have been full of changes due to the war in Syria.

Like many other of their age, they had to abandon their homes and schools in Syria when they were children and adjust to life in a refugee camp while losing contact with their friends at home. Refugee children have grown up in a setting of uncertainty and frustration in neighbouring Jordan.

Mohammad and Moutaz describe music as a vital outlet for their emotions and a source of joy.

“I don’t own an instrument, but I have a great passion for music. I want to become a famous, respected and beloved keyboard player when I grow up”, Mohammad says.

Musiikinopettaja ohjaa Mohammad Al-Ahmadin harjoittelua.

Mohammad Al-Ahmad says he gains energy from his music lessons.

Psychosocial support puts minds at ease

When Za’atari refugee camp opened in 2012, Syrians found shelter and emergency assistance, but life was limited. There were no recreational activities or any other ways for children and youth to pass the time. Finn Church Aid (FCA) along with other organisations responded with psychosocial support activities, such as football, netball, circus and music lessons at FCA’s compound in Za’atari.

Meaningful ways of passing time have an immense effect on the well-being of children and youth burdened by the experiences of war and losing their homes. Mohammad’s mind is at ease at FCA’s learning centre. Here, he learnt how to play the keyboard, and he feels energetic when playing.

“I hope I become a professional, like our teacher. I want to teach the children of the camp, especially those that never had a chance to play instruments”, Mohammed says.

Moutaz says he enjoys all kinds of instruments and mentions particularly the keyboard, the oud – a kind of lute – and the darbuka drum. He is also comfortable with singing with a microphone.

Poika kosketinsoittimen ääressä maski kasvoillaan.

Moutaz Al- Zoubi hopes to teach others someday how to play instruments.

Music sessions on Whatsapp during the pandemic

The recreational activities were brought to a halt in March when preventive measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus restricted gatherings in the camp. The music lessons resumed in June with assignments and exercises delivered via Whatsapp. The learners sent recordings to their teacher who replied with feedback. The teachers are also Syrian refugees who live in the camp.

Now the youth have returned to class, and everyone wears a face mask. It is a relief that activities continue, also because of the added distress caused by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The parents of the participants report that they notice a change in the attitudes and self-confidence of the youth, and say that they are more determined than before. Moutaz agrees.

“Music helps me relax when I am angry or feel down, and singing makes me full of joy”, he says.

Text: Aisha Shtiwi / Oxfam in Jordan
Photos: Wisam Al-Riyabi

Individual supporters donated different types of musical instruments to FCA’s learning centres in Za’atari and Azraq refugee camps in Jordan.

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

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

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

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

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

Ibrahim and layal sitting in the living room.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finnish entrepreneurship training gave encouragement

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

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

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

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

Flowers and awareness education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A hobby turned into livelihood

Ranaa stands in front of her shop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rana with her mother in the chocolate shop.

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

A new beginning in a new country

Omar Balkhi with his tools.

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

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

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

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

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

Legislation limits refugees’ entrepreneurship

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

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

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

A big water tank and pot garden on the rooftop.

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

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

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

Hydroponics and flowers in sign language – vocational and entrepreneurship training gave employment and helped start new small-scale businesses in Jordan

From 2017 to 2018, Finn Church Aid (FCA) offered tailor-made vocational and entrepreneurship training ro refugees, persons with disability, and Jordanians in the most vulnerable positions. A total of 424 refugees and Jordanians completed the vocational training and 49 businesses were started in the project that ended in September.

Out of the graduates from the vocational training, 84 have found employment, and 116 have received additional training as well as tools and equipment to start their own business. More than half of the graduates are women.

Jordan has an unemployment rate of over 18 percent, and the number is much higher still for women (80%) and young people (90%). A country with a population of 9.5 million, Jordan has reveiced the second highest number of refugees relative to population after Lebanon, over a million. Syrian refugees are only allowed to work in certain branches with a shortage of labour.

Before the training started, a marketing survey was conducted to find out which branches had the need for labour and which skills employers valued. Occupational groups in demand included carpenters, electricians, mobile phone repairers, construction assistants, hotel and restaurant workers, and tailors.

To support and encourage women to participate in the vocational training, FCA offered child care services near the training locations in cooperation with the Finnish aid organisation Fida.

”The work of Finn Church Aid is rights-based, meaning that the leading principles throughout the project have been equality, non-discrimination and responsibility. It has been encouraging to work with women and persons with disability in this project,” says Ashraf Yacoub, Finn Church Aid regional director in the Middle East.

Finnish entrepreneurship training encouraged to start businesses

In addition to vocational training, FCA cooperated with Mercuria Business College to organise compact entrepreneurship courses including a training period, mentoring and a small start-up grant.

After the entrepreneurship training, unemployed Jordanian engineer Ibrahim Milhem has started a hydroponic plantation producing vegetables and flowers on his brother’s rooftop. The hydroponic plantation saves about 80 percent water compared to regular growing by circulating water with the help of a pump in the tubes in which the plants have been planted. Water is in short supply in Jordan, and it is expensive. Photo: Tatu Blomqvist.

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

Jordanian friends Asma’a and Hussam took part in the entrepreneurship training and are starting a flower shop in their neighbourhood. Both are deaf.

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

Legislation limits refugees’ entrepreneurship

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

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

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

Syrian widow Wazirah emphasises the importance of developing legal channels to register businesses. The training gave her confidence, knowlege and skills, and she can now provide for her family and give her son an education.

”This project was a step out of my comfort zone, I feel stronger now,” says Wazirah.

See full press release here.

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



Fighting for better financing for education – on the Southern streets or in the Northern corridors of power?

How is advocacy best done for financing of education and the SDG goal 4, especially in situations of emergency and conflict? Is good advocacy about gathering evidence and data, and then meeting influential people with fat check-books? Or is it better to be out on the streets, mobilising grass-roots and sharing stories of injustice? When you have a bunch of very feisty civil society campaigners from across the Arab world and Eastern European countries meeting the regional networks in Africa, Asia, and Latin-America in Beirut for a few days, as happened last week, then the answer is a bit of both.

The Arab Campaign for Education for All, together with UNESCO and the Open Society Foundation, had invited representatives of both national coalitions and education ministries of Somalia, Lebanon, Palestine, Tunisia, Iraq, Sudan, Yemen, and Jordan to meet with their colleagues from Albania, Moldova and Georgia, as well as the coordinators from the regional networks and representatives from the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE), Education International (EI), the Right to Education Initiative (RTE) and others.

For an organisation like FCA, whose work focuses on linking education to earning opportunities for young people and to peace, the question regarding how to best use our advocacy efforts to secure funding are fundamental. FCA works in several of the countries that were present in the meeting. We are closely involved in advocacy for better funding for development at the global level, especially for emergencies and fragile countries. As such, we try to influence decisions taken by national governments and funding initiatives like the ECW and GPE, either as a single agency, or through ACT Alliance, or via the very close relationship we have with INEE.

However, in a conference that is full of activists, a question that rises for FCA and for INEE as well, is how much should we align ourselves with the street-fighters, for whom every struggle is political and ideological? Whose agenda often springs from very strong social movements in Africa and Latin America, closely linked to teacher unions and other left-leaning organisations, and who work hard to mobilise youth through empowerment and inclusion?

Or should we instead focus on the ‘movers and shakers’ in New York and Brussels, the influential people, who can sway large funding streams and direct them the right way to ensure that as many as possible get their fair share of the cake? But who, on the other hand, also sometimes represent governments and organisations that promote their own interest, and for whom international development is just a source of business and of winning elections.

There are similar fundamental questions considering which funding streams we should be looking at and trying to influence. More than 95 % of all funding to education – in time of peace – comes from domestic sources, not from international aid. Perhaps this means that New York is not the right place to do advocacy; that instead we need to dress up in our jeans and hoodies and support local civil society, and demand that local governments use much more of their budget on education (and less on military), and try to push for tax reforms that make multinationals and the rich pay their fair share. In emergencies, this figure of 95 % goes down drastically, as often the government disappears and there are no taxes. People are on the move, and education systems become reliant on coordination from the outside and on international funding streams, directed from New York, Brussels and Geneva. Therefore we must travel to these places, put on our dark suits and enter the corridors of power, to speak on behalf of local civil society and young learners denied an education.

Whatever the approach we choose – and of course it is always a bit of both! – the meeting produced a very strong sense of a shared responsibility for us all to stand up – either in front of influential people or out on the streets – and to demand that financing for education in emergencies must be quick, meaning available to be disbursed immediately; long-term, meaning disbursed predictably over multiple years; flexible and allocated to non-formal as well as formal solutions; equitable, meaning that it should be spread evenly across all emergencies and intended to reach all children; and lastly additional, in order to not displace other aid and support, but instead to be directed to new and necessary evidence based interventions.

The meeting also produced this wonderful poem from one of the participants, outlining the four S’s that must guide all our work:

To build a nation,
You need education
So, governments that care,
Should pay a fair SHARE!
And citizens should always resent
Anything less than 20 percent.

But the budget SIZE
Is the biggest prize;
So, let’s make rich companies face the facts
And force them to pay much more tax.

Then allocate funds with SENSITIVITY
For more equity and creativity
And to make sure that its spent truthfully

Invest in civil society SCRUTINY.
The right to education will materialise
With sensitivity, scrutiny, share and size.

So, the simple message that we should stress is
That education budgets need four S’s.

(copyright David Archer, ActionAid International)


Peter Hyll-Larsen 

The writer is seconded by FCA to work as an Advocacy Coordinator for the Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE), see

Grenade strike at a football game left 15-year-old Abdusalaam handicapped and changed his future

I was in Mafraqi, on the Jordanian side near the Syrian border, watching as people arrived at a prosthesis clinic to be treated. Many of the arrivals had lost a leg or an arm in the war across the border. They had been brought across the border to receive treatment, since there was none on offer in Syria.

There, amongst the crowd, was young Abdusalaam Hariri, walking with a stick. We sat by the clinic wall to talk. The sad-faced young man told me his story. A story I would not wish on anyone.

In 2015, when Abdusalaam was 15 years old, he was playing football in the nearby city of Daraa on the Syrian side. A rocket or grenade struck in the football field – next to the boys playing football. It changed the young man’s future in an instant.

He had been forced out of school the previous year, when fighting destroyed the schools in the area. Life was filled with constant fear and idle time – no school, nothing to do. The youth played football, with nothing else to do. And they were tired of being afraid all the time. The war had already numbed their minds with its constant threatening situations.

Abdusalaam Hariri.

Abdusalaam Hariri. Photo: Olli Pitkänen.

The explosion destroyed one of Abdusalaam’s legs completely and the other in part. The leg was amputated under dreadful circumstances at a clinic built in a car garage without the proper hygiene level. The local doctor did his best without proper facilities or equipment. There was little pain medication. The young man lost his leg.

Abdusalaam struggled at home in terrible pain for over a month. Finally, as his pain and suffering only increased, his brothers and family decided to take the boy to Jordan to receive proper treatment. There would be aid organisation clinics and hospitals there.

Amidst the fighting, Abdulsalaam’s brothers carried him across the fields on a dangerous journey to the border. There was constant firing going on, and the government troops randomly dropped barrel bombs into villages, with gruesome consequences. Even though the journey was short, it took the whole day.

On the Jordanian side, Abdusalaam received proper treatment, and he was operated on twice. After that, a long course of physical therapy began.
As we talked in the sand dust raised by the wind, the young man told me he dreamed of studying and getting a better prosthesis. He had seen the kind of prostheses available in Europe online, and he dreamed of one. Here, refugees are only offered the basic models. So far, he has not been able to study, with the schools farther away and his treatments keeping him in Mafraqi.

And like almost every Syrian refugee, Abdusalaam said before we parted: ”I want to go back to Syria. I wish everything went back to the way it was and I could continue my life at home. At home, life would be better, even without a leg.”

In 2017, Finn Church Aid, in cooperation with Handicap International, helped a total of 186 handicapped persons receive a piece of equipment to aid mobility, and 124 persons to receive a prosthesis. Many of them were handicapped in the Syrian war. 30 percent of the recipients were poor Jordanians.

Olli Pitkänen

The author served as Finn Church Aid Regional Development Manager in the Middle East up until May 2018. The blog text is the third part in the #YouthOnTheMove series.


New report on Syrian refugees highlights durable solutions to our generation’s largest displacement crisis

The Promise to Practice report gives recommendations on how to follow through on international commitments to support the future of Syria and the region ahead of the Brussels conference in late April. The report is signed by 39 agencies, including Finn Church Aid.

The conflict in Syria has created the largest displacement crisis in well over a generation, possibly since the second world war. Six million people remain displaced internally, more than five million are registered as refugees in neighbouring countries and over a million more have fled to Europe or elsewhere.

Click on the picture to download the full report.

Click on the picture to download the full report.

Despite a moderate increase in return of mostly internally displaced people in 2017, the last year saw three newly displaced Syrians for every person who returned home. The recent escalations of violence in Idlib and Eastern Ghouta dramatically underline the point that Syria’s conflict, and the ordeal for its civilians, is far from over.

The international community has made significant financial and political commitments to address the massive scale of this crisis, in particular through two major conferences, held in London in 2016, and Brussels in 2017. A follow up conference will be held in Brussels on 24-25 April 2018.

Last year’s Brussels conference saw pledges of US$6 billion, and a further US$3.7 billion for 2018-2020. This funding has meant millions of people inside Syria can access humanitarian assistance. It has supported refugees and poor host communities, as well as the governments in neighbouring countries who have shouldered much of the response. It remains as vital as ever.

Furthermore, donors and host countries at these conferences adopted a “comprehensive approach” to responding to the refugee crisis. They made commitments to attempt to ensure refugee families and the poor communities that host them can access work and education.

These commitments aimed to create 1.1 million jobs in the region, for example, and ensure all refugee children were in school by the end of the last school year. They subsequently recognised the importance of giving refugees legal protection in order to achieve these goals, and the need for resettlement of vulnerable refugees and other safe and legal pathways beyond the immediate region.

Yet, as the Syrian crisis enters its eighth year, the lives of many of the five million refugees in neighbouring countries have seen little improvement, and the number of refugees offered resettlement has actually fallen since the commitments made last year.

This report details the commitments made in previous years and tracks their implementation. It then offers specific recommendations for those gathering this year for the second conference on “Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region” in Brussels, to ensure the ambitious and comprehensive approach is translated into real changes in the lives of refugees and vulnerable communities in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

The stakes are high: failure to follow through on or properly fund these commitments would carry serious consequences, including many people returning to Syria before it is safe to do so.

Importantly, 39 aid agencies and 3 interagency bodies call on the conference to reaffirm that the conditions for the safe, voluntary and dignified returns of refugees, in accordance with international law, are still not in place.

We also call on participants to agree to an accountability mechanism, based on international best practice, to ensure that the necessary funding pledges are disbursed and the ambitious policy pledges committed to at the first Brussels and London conferences are implemented.

Download the full report in pdf format from this link. Read more about FCA’s work in Jordan here and in Syria here.

Refugees were moved by president Tarja Halonen’s visit: Don’t forget about us

President Tarja Halonen got an enthusiastic reception from refugees at Za’atari camp in Jordan. With her visit, she wanted to show her support to FCA’s work with Syrians.

Girls’ football practice electrifies when Tarja Halonen shows up at the edge of the field. A female president is not a common sight in the Middle East, and the girls want to show their skills to the best of their abilities.

The refugees at Za’atari have hardly ever taken so many photos of a visitor.

”When an eight-year-old refugee girl gets to play football at a refugee camp and realises she is as good as her brother, what an effect it has on the girl’s self-esteem,” Halonen muses.

”I hope her future is good as well.”

Tytöt halusivat tehdä vaikutuksen vierailijoihin KUA:n jalkapallokentällä Za'atarissa. Kuva Mohammed Barhoun

The girls wanted to impress the visitors at the FCA football field at Za’atari. Photo: Mohammed Barhoum.

On Tuesday, Halonen visited the Za’atari refugee camp in the middle of the Jordan desert. The purpose of the journey was to update the president’s knowledge on the Syrian refugee situation and to support Finn Church Aid’s (FCA) work for her part.

Chair of FCA board Tarja Kantola and Finnish ambassador in Beirut Matti Lassila joined her.

The camp, founded six years ago, has almost 80,000 refugee inhabitants, and although new refugees are no longer admitted, the population grows with 70 to 80 newborn babies every week. FCA’s operation at Za’atari began in early 2013. FCA has become famous at the refugee camp with projects such as its circus school, with acrobats and clowns making an impression on Halonen as well.
In addition, the president visited courses on English, music, and information technology. The hairdresser course students would have loved to cut and sculpt the hair of Halonen and those in her group into completely new shapes.

Halonen considers it important to continue offering education and hobbies.

”The education, employment, and hobbies offered by FCA has a significant impact on the refugees’ self-esteem, and they should therefore continue,” she says.

Finnish businesses could help in crises

It is becoming increasingly hard to secure funding for a refugee crisis. Halonen finds it sad that funding for non-governmental organisations has decreased significantly in Finland. Even though politicians have stressed in speeches that the situation should be handled on location, necessary funding has not been granted. Furthermore, Finland should not return asylum seekers to their countries of origin, if the requirements for a decent life do not exist.

In Za’atari, Halonen also sees lots of opportunities for Finnish businesses to create innovative solutions to improve camp conditions. As an example, she brings up accommodation containers in which families are living.

”The containers are cold in the winter and hot in the summer. Would Finnish wood structures have a niche in accommodating refugees as well,” she muses.

”Finnish businesses are often too cautious and too prejudiced in marketing themselves in a crisis region.”

Za'atarissa sekä asutaan että opiskellaan työmaakonteissa. Kuvassa Tarja Halonen vierailee lasten ja nuorten englannintunnilla. Kuva: Mohammed Barhoun

At Za’atari, people both live and work in construction site containers. In the photo, Tarja Halonen visits an English class for children and youth. Photo: Mohammed Barhoum.

Syrians have already started to return to Syria from Jordan, but according to the UN, returning is not safe. The war has gone on for almost seven years, and the infrastructure of the country is in shambles. Fighting is still going on across the country. In recent days, the UN and international organisations have expressed their shock over the bombing of civilians in eastern Ghouta.

The message of the refugees in their encounters and photos with the president to everyone in Finland was: don’t forget about us.

”We should be offering the refugees light and warmth,” says Halonen.

Text: Olli Pitkänen  Photos: Mohammed Barhoum

The author is the FCA Regional Programme Manager of the Middle East.

Read more about FCA’s work in Jordan here.

Sirkuskoululaiset järjestivät esityksen presidentin vierailun kunniaksi. Kuva: Mohammed Barhoun

The students of the circus school arranged a performance to honour the president’s visit. Photo: Mohammed Barhoum

Tarja Halonen seuraamassa innokaita parturiopiskelijoita. Kuva: Mohammed Barhoun

Tarja Halonen follows eager barber students at their work. Photo: Mohammed Barhoum.

Amman Calling

How would you feel sending your children to study in a school that was damaged in battle and had no learning materials available? What would you think if your child was attending a class much lower than other children his age because the exams were in a foreign language and he couldn’t pass them? Would you want your children to study the history of a neighbouring or foreign country instead of that of your own? What if your children couldn’t go to school at all? And how would you do your job if you were the only teacher in a class of 198 students?

During the 2014/2015 school year, 2.8 million Syrian children and adolescents weren’t able to attend school. That’s 40% of all school-aged Syrians. After five years of conflict, there are many causes for this, but surprisingly many of them are related to the quality of education which directly affects learning. The problems in the quality of education are different for Syria than they are for the refugees, but always difficult to resolve. The language of teaching, the curriculum, organising teacher training, and the wellbeing of teachers and students are the core issues.

Finn Church Aid (FCA) operates within different international networks to find solutions to the issues of education in emergencies and quality of education. Since 2010, we have been part of the UN’s Global Education Cluster which is responsible for supporting local education officials in coordinating education-related emergency relief efforts. Last year we joined the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE), a network of education professionals. This week the experts of INEE’s working groups have assembled in Amman, Jordan, to cooperate in improving the quality of education in the world’s most difficult crises. This group of about 50 experts from UNHCR, UNRWA, UNICEF and the international branches of Plan and Save the Children also includes two representatives from FCA.

On the agenda this week have been many refugee issues, not limited to the Syrian crisis alone. We have been preparing guidelines for ministries, civil society organisations and schools on how to organise psychosocial support to children, youth and teachers.  The process is directed by FCA and Plan International. Increased wellbeing often translates to improved learning outcomes.

We have also been contemplating the use of self-study programmes in regions that have become isolated by war. A new teacher training programme was also launched in Amman with the intention of training primary school teachers who work under crisis situations. The programme is freely available on the INEE website and has already been used in Iraq and the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. This project has been led by UNHCR, and FCA has been one of the seven organisations involved. In relation to this training programme, FCA has organised a pilot project on the use of mobile phones to solve the problems teachers face daily in refugee settings, for example: how to ensure equal learning in a class of 198 students.

Quite a bit can be achieved with expertise, experience, imagination and problem-solving, yet money is also required. We have also had to contemplate how we could more effectively advocate towards donors and decision makers to release more funds for education in emergencies. Everybody has the right to education, even those caught in conflict.

Minna Peltola

FCA Senior Thematic Adviser, Right to Education

PS. FCA’s Regional Education Specialist for Eastern Africa, Mary Tangelder, was also present in Amman.

The garden grows in the desert refugee camp

The war in Syria already tires the aid donors around the world, but even more it exhausts the individuals that are placed inside the refugee camps.

Intended to be temporary, the camps in the northern part of Jordan may become permanent residential places. ‪‎Zaatri‬ camp, set up in 2012, already has its own government, security forces, hospitals, shops, and the “Champs-Élysées,” bumpy alley lined with vendors shacks. Inside their own fenced compounds various aid organizations offer training and different activities for the refugees.

Fenced camp, roughly three square kilometers altogether, holds 83 000 people living in primitive conditions. At ‪Azraq‬ refugee camp the people are not living in tents, but simple metal cabins.

Secluded location in the desert makes it almost impossible for the refugees to have contact with the outside world. The people who fled their homes, with nothing else but the clothes they were wearing, are totally at the mercy of external grants. The refugees are allowed to move outside the camps only through strict authorization process and for a valid reason. So, some Jordanians concerns about the refugees taking over their jobs in this case is not accurate.

Some Syrians – with an entrepreneurial soul – have already taken action, such as the Champs-Élysées stalls merchants, or that former plumber, who started the first bicycle driven pizza taxi in Zaatri.

The local newspaper ‪Jordan Times‬ columnist ‪‎YusufMansur‬ has proposed establishing a textile factory near the camp Zaatri. This would stop the ongoing Jordanian textile industry trickling to Egypt . The Syrians know-how in this field could be utilized.

Work and income would help the refugees to get their lives back in their own hands. This would also benefit the economy of Jordan, now struggling, because of the various refugee floods from neighboring countries that have been draining it for decades.

New beginnings. Photo: Taina Värri

New beginnings. Photo: Taina Värri

There are other options too. ‪FinnChurchAid‬ started an Agriculture and recycling project in Azraq camp in February. In the desert camp the soil donation from ‪Finland‬, a few flowers and two strawberrie plants were welcomed with tenderness and devotion. ‪Recycling‬ workshop turned plastic bottles into flower pots and baskets.

The Agriculture project was well received by the camp management. The Jordanian contractor operating at Azraq donated a proper ‪greenhouse‬ to the ‪‎FCA‬ compound, so that the future cucumbers, radishes, zucchinis and tomatoes will have a chance to survive the challenging climate of the Jordanian desert.

There is a plan to include vegetable and fruit processing and later selling the products at the camp marketplace. The volunteers tending the garden receive a small monetary compensation for their work. The physical and mental ‪#‎wellbeing‬ that the gardening provides is a huge bonus.

FCA ‪‎Middle East‬ Regional Office is now drawing up a concept note, which in the future hopefully helps other players in creating similar projects too.

Miltä kukka tuoksuu? Kuva: Taina Värri

What does a flower smell like? Photo: Taina Värri

The writer is  a Communications Specialist volunteering at Finn Church Aid’s office in Amman, Jordan.