Fighting period poverty leads to a future of confident and educated women

Monthly sanitary pad distributions at school prevent girls from missing classes or dropping out completely. Education about menstruation increases self-esteem.

When her monthly period comes, 16-year-old Michelina tears a pillow and picks out pieces of its worn stuffing – an old cloth rug that she uses in place of the sanitary pad she cannot afford. That is just the tip of the iceberg. The worst part is that Michelina, who lives in Kalobeyei refugee settlement, cannot talk to anyone about her periods.

Despite being a normal biological process, menstruation remains taboo. Many girls stay home from school during their periods, leaving them behind in their education. In class, girls say that their concern about leakages makes it harder for them to concentrate in class or dissuade them from participating in the first place. Even with sanitary pads or towels, Michelina says that finding a bathroom is an issue.

“Without safe, private places for cleaning and changing during our periods, we continue to struggle despite the supplies”, she says.

Working against period poverty is an integral part of Finn Church Aid’s (FCA) education support in the refugee settlements Kakuma and Kalobeyei. Distributions of sanitary pads have reached 5,000 adolescent girls since last year. Project officer Catherine Angwenyi says the program has supported girls in several other ways too.

Catherine Angewenyi from FCA distributing sanitary pads at Kalobeyei refugee settlement.
Catherine Angewenyi (in the middle) from FCA distributing sanitary pads at Kalobeyei refugee settlement. Photo: Loduye Ghaisen

FCA’s sanitary pads distribution couples with sexual and reproductive health education, and the program has reduced school absenteeism among the girls.

“When parents do not take the time to talk to their girls on menstrual hygiene, the only way girls get information and support is through education programs that distribute pads,” Angweny explains.

Monthly sanitary pad distributions prevent girls from dropping out and keep them from asking for pads from men that can take advantage of them. When girls go to school, they are less likely to become pregnant or, for instance, get an HIV infection.

Angwenyi believes that by doing everything for girls to stay in school, we are heading to a future of fewer teenage pregnancies and more educated and confident women.

“When you educate a girl, you change the world,” she says.

Sanitary pad distributions are an integral part of FCA Kenya’s education program.

Nkurunziza, 16, says that learning about menstruation and hygiene practices has changed her attitude: she no longer stays home from school during her periods.

“Having pads increases my confidence and helps me focus on my studies, and I can even excel in exams”, she says.

Text: Elizabeth Oriedi
Photos: Loduye Ghaisen

Bidibidi refugee settlement in Uganda

Periods interfere with the education of girls

Millions of girls and women living in refugee camps urgently need feminine hygiene products, clean water and functioning door locks.

The Northern Kenya Integrated Development project trains women in peacebuilding. Milka Rutonye explains how the women brought two conflicting communities together.

Three years ago, Milka Rutonye had had enough. The mother of seven children grew up in Kenya’s Pokot area but married a man from the neighbouring Marakwet. Milka could no longer bear with the impact of conflicts between the two communities.

Political incitement, livestock theft and a scramble for water between the Pokot and Marakwet led to shootings, violence against women and disruptions in the children’s education. Milka was determined to leave her husband’s home, leaving her children behind, and return to her family in Pokot just to run away from the gunshots.

“I always felt terrible when the Pokot ­– my people – came to Marakwet and caused chaos,” she says. “They forget that their children, sisters and nieces are married to the Marakwet.”

In 2018, Milka spoke with bitterness and complained of the area’s insecurity and its impact on her life. She began taking part in talking circles for women from both of the conflicting communities. Through the platform created by Finn Church Aid (FCA), the 57 women found a common cause and took it upon themselves to change the narrative of insecurity in the Kerio Valley.

The talking circles connect women from the neighbouring communities of Elgeyo Marakwet and West Pokot. Issues, such as water scarcity and cattle theft, have sparked violence in this area of Kenya.

The talking circles connect women from the neighbouring communities of Elgeyo Marakwet and West Pokot. Issues, such as water scarcity and cattle theft, have sparked violence in this area of Kenya.

Training gave birth to peacebuilding initiatives

Milka Rutonye has participated in women’s talking circles since 2018.

The group calls itself Endo Chamkalya. It encourages women to be resilient in all aspects of life and actively create a just, peaceful, and equal society through formal and informal structures. Ahead of the International Women’s Day on March 8, 2021, Milka speaks from inspiration.

“I was touched to see that FCA, coming from outside our communities, was concerned about our well-being. The talking circles have opened our eyes to the causes of our conflict”, she says.

“Water scarcity contributed to the fighting because we wanted to ensure that our livestock gets food. The training has built our capacity to hear and understand each other.”

The Northern Kenya Integrated Development project arranges training in peacebuilding. The training gave birth to various initiatives that the women undertook to restore peace.

Milka recalls a significant event in 2018; a protest against violence. During a border conflict between Elgeyo Marakwet and West Pokot, the Endo women crossed over to the Pokot side when the conflict had practically restricted all movement across the border. They prayed for peace.

“We had mobilized the Pokot women that are married to Marakwet and decided that we will seek peace by all means. Our only way was to seek an audience with the Pokot,” she says.

The women of Marakwet and Pokot gathering in prayers for peace.

The women of Marakwet and Pokot gathering in prayers for peace.

Women from the Pokot community met the women that Milka’s group had gathered. The women from the talking circle ended up meeting with 35 village elders of West Pokot. In two mediation meetings, the women spoke out about how they wanted their children to go to school without interruption, their animals to graze freely, and enjoy peace like any other part of Kenya.

Peacebuilding may start with as simple things as learning to express oneself to the other person.  Milka says that the Pokot elders did not know that they were attacking their blood relatives, those that were married to the Marakwet. They regretted it, and some of them even cried.

More importantly, according to Milka, the story shows that anyone can find a moment like this and connect to it – and eventually, become a peacebuilder.

“We were able to influence the village elders of both Pokot and Marakwet to come together and discuss.”

Clearing the road improved livelihood opportunities

Since the peace negotiation led by the FCA talking circle, the situation between the two communities and the entire Kerio Valley has improved.

Benedicta, a moderator in Milka’s women’s talking circle, says that youth from both Pokot and Marakwet joined in clearing the nine-kilometre-long road connecting the two communities. The thick bush had provided hideouts for armed robbers, and there were also other physical obstacles that restricted movement. In the past, Benedicta witnessed two pregnant women die due to the impassable road.

“They were on their way to the district hospital, which is two hours away in normal conditions. The peace engagements have kept the road safe. Now, no one will die because of the road,” she says

Marakwet and Pokot youth clearing the bush along the road connecting the two communities in Northern Kenya.

Marakwet and Pokot youth clearing the bush along the road connecting the two communities in Northern Kenya.

This road led to the opening of the Lodio market, an important centre for the communities’ livelihoods, and eased access to the health centre. According to Benedicta, it paved the way for people to trade and improve their living standard.

When Covid-19 restricted gatherings in the Kerio Valley, the women groups found creative ways to arrange peace meetings. Peace talks continued during the lockdown on radio channels, such as North Rift FM and Upendo FM Eldoret, with a substantial contribution from the women.

“The talking circles have empowered us women, and we are now committed to advocating for human rights and lead herders and the entire community to disarmament, development, livelihood and gender equality,” Milka adds.

Text: Elizabeth Oriedi
Photos: Aziza Maalim

Teacher training in collaboration with UNICEF Kenya is an immense support to teachers of children in Kakuma refugee camp. Quality education with psychosocial support ensures that no one is left behind.

Teacher Hellen Okang supports small groups of learners with home learning during school closures. Photo: FCA

Young children can only thrive when learning in a conducive environment that prepares them to unleash their potential at an early age. Thus, their teachers require specialised training.

In collaboration with UNICEF Kenya, Finn Church Aid (FCA) put together a practical Early Childhood training that serves both young children and their families in Kalobeyei settlement in Kakuma refugee camp. The training was developed with Finnish teachers through the volunteer network Teachers without Borders.

The training focused on Early Childhood Development and Education (ECDE) pedagogy and didactics for pre-school teachers, targeting 25 teachers across five ECDE centres in the settlement and improving the quality of education for 3,555 learners enrolled in the ECDE centres.

Teacher Hellen Okang, 29, from South Sudan taught 125 learners at Joy Primary school in Kalobeyei before the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted learning in schools. Hellen participated in the training conducted in August and September 2020 and says it benefitted her immensely by improving her teaching skills.

Teachers developing teaching materials for the ECDE centres in Kakuma. Photo: FCA

The training provided teachers with practical skills suited for crisis contexts and covered positive ways of disciplining children, curriculum and lesson planning, children’s rights, supporting numeracy and literacy skills, communication between teachers and caregivers and embracing a multicultural classroom.

“I began teaching in 2018 as a volunteer teacher. This training has gone a long way in helping me understand my learners and what it means to teach children in pre-school”, Hellen says.

The teacher training opened eyes for psychosocial support

The children that Hellen teaches have continued learning from home during school closures caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. 8-year-old James has tuned into radio lessons together with Hellen, who also is his neighbour. Teachers in the settlement complement the radio lessons by visualising the content on blackboards, helping learners to understand the lessons with recaps and following up on their homework.

“I would like to be a doctor to treat the sick when I grow up,” James says when asked about his dreams.

8-year-old James learns by playing and says he thinks his teacher Hellen is very welcoming and approachable. Photo: FCA

James’ mother Rose Aiira, describes her son as a soft-spoken boy who is quick and eager to learn new skills. When he enrolled in school in 2018, James only spoke his native South Sudanese language. Now thanks to teachers who speak his language as well as Arabic and English, he has drastically improved his language skills, particularly in Arabic. He also has friends of different nationalities, which supports his learning.

Teachers also use visual aids to help the children understand what they teach. The ECDE training emphasised the use of play as a method of practical content delivery and creating innovative ideas on developing attractive teaching and learning materials to capture the attention of learners.

“My learners love counting with songs. I cannot teach math without it”, Hellen emphasised.

Hellen says that the training opened her eyes to the importance of nurturing and caring for the children. According to her, she can now identify the psychosocial needs of learners and respond to them.

“I now understand each child uniquely, as individuals, and when they need stronger support I can refer them to the appropriate counselling service”, Hellen says.

Text: Elizabeth Oriedi, Catherine Angwenyi

In Kakuma Refugee camp in Kenya, Finn Church Aid together with UNICEF Kenya, supports 3,555 learners in six Early Childhood Development and Education centres and 7,992 learners in five Primary schools with access to education, teacher training and distance learning during the Covid-19 pandemic.

 

World Teachers’ Day on October 5 celebrates teachers in crises. The Covid-19 pandemic has significantly added to the challenges of teachers to protect people’s right to education but teachers like 27-year-old Obang Omot Oboya ensure no one is left behind during school closures.

Mr Oboya teaches mathematics and science in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. Below, he explains how teachers stepped up to the challenge.

“The year 2020 brought along with it perhaps one of the biggest challenges that the world’s teachers have faced. Kenya is not an exception. Even teachers with decades of experience have had to learn something new: how do we support learners when they cannot come to school?

Finn Church Aid distributing solar-powered radios in Kakuma refugee camp.

Following the school closures, teaching in Kenya moved to radio broadcasts and virtual platforms. The first step for us was ensuring that learners in Kakuma refugee camp had access to the national broadcasts. FCA distributed radios to the families, and we worked together with agencies in finding new solutions to complement the radio lessons with recaps and homework.

Schools have assigned each teacher in Kakuma a cluster of groups with six learners per group. Six learners share one radio. The arrangement adheres to the social distancing guidelines of Kenya’s Ministry of Health as the FCA supported teachers accompany each group separately.

At the end of every lesson, the radio teacher usually gives assignments. We mark their homework, and this makes radio lessons more authentic.

As long as learners cannot come to school, we have to go to them.

Mathematical formulas need to be visualised

Mr Oboya visualises radio lessons on a blackboard.

The first days were challenging for both teachers and learners. As teachers, we are in the habit of being personally in touch with learners in the classroom, be it just going around and seeing what they are doing. This is not possible for the radio teacher. And for my part, my current role does not include, for instance, planning lessons. We rely on what the radio teacher prepares.

In the beginning, it was difficult to catch the interest of learners through the radio and get them into a radio class routine. We also had to help learners with tuning in to the right frequency.

To enable learners to be attentive during the radio lesson, I usually come with a blackboard and chalk for the purpose of demonstration. The learners have to see the mathematical formulas while they follow the radio lessons on math. This helps learners to be attentive.

I also break down lessons into segments and achievable goals, and I attend to each student individually to ensure that they grasp the concepts. By now, everyone has got the hang of it.

A fruitful collaboration between teachers and parents

The new ways of learning have also provided relief to both teachers and learners, compared to our usual setting. I can now attend to each learner’s needs differently compared to a classroom. It is easier to listen to a group of six learners at the time than to the 80 learners I used to teach in a classroom. Teachers can quickly identify and support, for instance, slow learners.

I now teach 48 learners per day, divided into eight groups. There are eight radio lesson per day, 35 minutes each, which means I give one lecture per group. The remaining 32 learners from my class are taught by parents who volunteer as teachers after training with FCA.

What has been most important is that the parents are also involved in their children’s learning process. We collaborate more with parents since they join us in accompanying the pupils during the radio lessons and ensure that their children do their assignments. Parents and teachers collaborate in motivating the children and monitoring that they do their homework.

We also collaborate more with the parents on WhatsApp for the children’s learning, for instance, by recording learning materials on our phones and sharing them with parents in WhatsApp groups that we have established. The learners have to use their parents’ devices.

Girls at risk during distance learning

There is, unfortunately, one function that the distance learning arrangements cannot fully address: schools typically constitute a safe space for children and youth, particularly girls.

When girls are in school, they are less likely to become victims of sexual abuse or be forced into marriage. During this pandemic, the school buildings cannot protect the girls.

Some of the learners I used to teach have become pregnant during the time schools have been closed. We conclude that our homes and camps are not safe when the children are idle.

The affected girls need psychosocial support and assistance in continuing with their education.

Teaching is a call and a passion. The best World Teachers’ Day gift I can give my learners in this year of the pandemic is my time and spirit of adapting to the distance learning.

I hope that my pupils will not let this episode blindly, that they will be more resilient and take the new norms as a way of life and achieve their goals.”

Teacher Obang Omot Oboya was interviewed by FCA Kenya’s Communications Intern Elizabeth Oriedi. FCA works with education in Kakuma refugee camp together with Unicef and UNHCR.

Finland's Africa strategy

FCA has published a document with recommendations for Finland’s Africa strategy. Download the document by clicking here.

Africa is one of the world’s fastest-growing markets, despite facing many challenges across the continent. Political ties of African countries, security issues and the effects of global phenomena, like climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic, have an increasing influence on the entire world.

This is why an increasing number of actors build partnerships with African countries. Last year, the US launched a new Africa strategy. Russia held its first Africa summit, and China has meticulously strengthened its ties with the continent. This year, the EU has worked on its own partnership strategy.

How should Finland position itself to play a part in Africa’s future?

FCA has released a document with recommendations for Finland’s Africa strategy. It emphasises that Africa is a continent of youth. They form the continent’s future and affect the entire world.

FCA argues that Finland can achieve its goal of having an impact beyond its size if its Africa strategy manages to harness the continent’s youth dividend for positive change and development.

While national populations in other parts of the world are ageing, most African countries have majority youth populations. Currently, 60% of Africa’s population is under the age of 25. These young women and men bring great potential for the African future. By 2050, there will be 2 billion Africans, and one-third of the world’s youth will be in sub-Saharan Africa.

Some of the most pressing needs in African countries coincide with areas where Finland stands out as a global leader, such as quality education, linking learning to earning, sustainable livelihoods and promoting peace, security, gender equality and good governance.

A mutually beneficial partnership is an opportunity for both Africa and Finland.

Learn more about the path forward from FCA’s recommendations to Finland’s Africa strategy. Download the document by clicking here.

Finn Church Aid (FCA) has granted 100,000 euros to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in South Sudan, Somalia and Uganda, in addition to 50,000 euros previously allocated to Kenya.

Vulnerable communities across the world are bracing for the impact of a potential spread of the coronavirus.

An essential part of slowing down the pandemic is maintaining sufficient hand hygiene and avoiding human contact but the measures are not easy to apply in for instance refugee contexts. Camps and settlements are densely populated, and people even lack access to soap.

Uganda hosts the largest number of refugees in Africa. FCA partners with the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR in the education sector and the work includes the two largest refugee settlements: Bidibidi in the north and Kyaka in the southwest of Uganda. They are home to over 250,000 refugees.

Uganda has closed schools across the country to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. By early April, Uganda had recorded 44 cases of the COVID-19 disease. The actual number might be higher.

FCA raises awareness on necessary hygiene practices and measures among school children, their families, and teachers. The information is shared through the radio, text messages and posters. FCA also distributes soap and other hygiene products to families and increases handwashing facilities. Within communities, mobilisers also share information through megaphones.

The work is financed with 50,000 euros from FCA’s disaster fund.

If schools remain closed, children from vulnerable families risk severe consequences. Many have access to clean water, food and emotional support only at school. They face a greater risk of violence, child labour, harassment, pregnancy and child marriage when they are out of school.

FCA’s Country Director Wycliffe Nsheka says that FCA also implements precautionary measures to allow schools to open safely when the time comes.

“We are adding handwashing facilities, disinfectants and maintaining facilities, and we prepare to train teaches in psychosocial support”, he says.

A lack of water and a fragile administration increase Somalia’s vulnerability

In Somalia, FCA starts awareness-raising initiatives in its six schools in Baidoa. The town hosts the second largest population of internally displaced people in Somalia. FCA granted 15,000 euros to the intervention.

Somalia had recorded five cases of COVID-19 by early April. The actual number might be higher.

Somalia has also closed all schools. FCA can reach around 3,200 school children and their families through school committees and teachers. Country Director Mika Jokivuori says that FCA arranges campaigns with the help of community mobilisers, distributes posters, gives guidance on hand hygiene and provides families with soap.

“The Baidoa area is particularly vulnerable because of a fragile administration, and a lack of healthcare and water. Schools cannot provide clean water to pupils on a daily basis”, Jokivuori adds.

FCA’s community mobilisers demonstrate handwashing practices and other precautions in Baidoa, Somalia in March 2020. Photo: FCA

Children in the Baidoa area do not have smartphones and connections that allow distance learning. School closures thus further restrict the learning opportunities and well-being of children and youth that are already in a vulnerable position.

When schools reopen in Somalia, FCA will continue its awareness-raising by training teachers and pupils, establish school hygiene clubs and campaign for a safe return to school

Urgent need for precautionary measures in conflict-affected South Sudan

South Sudan’s government has also closed the country’s schools for at least a month, starting March 20th. The country has not recorded a single case of COVID-19 by early April, but the risks are high due to a fragile healthcare system and a challenging humanitarian situation.

Around 1,5 million people live internally displaced within South Sudan following years of conflict, and before the coronavirus pandemic, 7,5 million were already in need of humanitarian assistance. Malaria and diarrhoea are already common diseases, and a spread of the coronavirus would result in unprecedented consequences.

FCA has supported education for over 25,000 children and youth in Mingkaman, Fangak and Tonga, which are located in Lakes State, Jonglei State and Upper Nile State.

Although there are no recorded cases of COVID-19 in South Sudan at this point, there is a desperate need to have interventions in place, says FCA’s Country Director Berhanu Haile.

A group of volunteer teachers participated in FCA’s teacher training in New Fangak, South Sudan in March 2020. Now FCA begins to distribute information on the coronavirus and hygiene practices in schools through teachers. Photo: Maria de la Guardia / FCA.

South Sudan’s government is working with humanitarian aid agencies to support the fight against COVID-19 through awareness-raising and mass sensitization, including people living in internally displaced people camps.

“We must ensure that parents, children, teachers and the wider communities are sensitized and supported with essential lifesaving utilities like soap to prevent the spread of the looming pandemic if cases are recorded at a later stage. Prevention is better than cure”, Haile says.

FCA’s intervention reaches over 21,000 children, teachers and parents. Soap is distributed to 1,500 families. FCA’s disaster fund supports the actions with 35,000 euros.

Preparing for reconstruction after the corona crisis

The number of coronavirus cases and restrictions to contain the outbreak change quickly in different countries. FCA is prepared to modify and adapt its operations according to needs and circumstances, says Eija Alajarva, Head of Humanitarian Assistance.

FCA monitors developments in its countries of operation. Alajarva emphasises that despite the current chaos, we also have to look into the future.

“When the pandemic slows down and restrictions are removed, we have to support particularly children and youth returning to school”, she says.

Children and youth might need psychosocial support and remedial classes because their learning was disrupted

Entrepreneurs in developing countries also need support after the crisis. Movement restrictions threaten the income within the service sector, and the income of farmers usually depends on access to markets.

“Although our programme countries have yet the worst ahead of them, it is vital to prepare for reconstruction to ensure that there are no delays for it when the time comes”, Alajarva says.

In the Kalobeyei refugee settlement of nearly 200,000 residents, Finn Church Aid (FCA) increases awareness on the coronavirus and on preventing the infection.

“In the densely populated refugee settlements, diseases can spread faster than anywhere else. Now we need to act fast and start preventive actions before the virus reaches these areas,” says FCA’s Head of Humanitarian Assistance Eija Alajarva.

Information on e.g. the importance of handwashing will be shared among the residents of the refugee settlements in events, as well as through radio, text messages and posters. Information will be provided in local languages. FCA will set up handwashing facilities and distribute hygiene products such as soap and hand sanitizer.

Funds will also be used for supporting distance education. Kenya’s decision to close schools on March 16 means that there are 17,000 children and youths out of schools in the Kalobeyei area.

”Due to the school closures, there are likely to be dropouts, teenage pregnancies, early marriages, drug abuse and antisocial behaviour. Unless alternative ways are sought to encourage these learners to continue to access learning opportunities while at home, the likelihood that they will return to school will decrease,” says FCA’s Country Director for Kenya, John Bongei.

These efforts will reach 15,000 students. Through the radio, FCA aims to reach all the residents in Kalobeyei.

FCA also works to help prevent the coronavirus in Uganda and Somalia.

More information:

Head of Humanitarian Assistance Eija Alajarva, Tel. +358 40 582 1183, eija.alajarva@kua.fi

Country directors’ interviews are organised by: Head of Communications, Noora Jussila, Tel. +358 50 576 7948, noora.jussila@kua.fi

Finn Church Aid (FCA) prepares to deliver hygiene products and awareness campaigns to prevent the coronavirus from spreading within refugee camps and settlements.

People living in refugee camps and settlements are already in a vulnerable position and suffer from a lack of hygiene products and health care facilities. A spread of the coronavirus could have devastating consequences.

FCA works as the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR’s partner in the education sector and arranges education for 120,000 learners in Uganda’s refugee settlements.

“Schools are full and there are a lot of learners. It is now essential to improve hygiene conditions”, says FCA’s Country Director for Uganda, Wycliffe Nsheka.

“We arrange hygiene training for learners, teachers and health committees at the settlements. We increase the availability of hand washing facilities, sanitisers and other products for disinfection. We also print information brochures in different languages and disseminate the same information on the radio.”

Kenya closed down its schools on Monday March 16th. FCA supported schools and pre-schools are also closed. FCA now prepares an information campaign on the importance of washing hands.

The campaign will run on the radio, targeting children and their parents while schools remain closed, says FCA’s Country Director for Kenya, John Bongei. FCA plans to distribute hand sanitisers, soap and buckets also to the children’s parents.

“We will also share information from the Kenyan government on lectures held on radio. We are scouting service providers to support long distance learning, in case the schools remain closed for a longer period”, Bongei says.

FCA’s country programme in Somalia also takes measures to improve hygiene conditions in schools.

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.

In Kenya’s poorest region, going to school requires great sacrifices, but David Edapal is convinced that education guarantees his daughter a good future.

There is a rustle of dry twigs as goats try to make their way out of their pen through narrow openings. 12-year-old Rebecca Atubo carefully guides baby goats into their own cage before letting the adult goats loose. Soon, the goats are ambling towards pastures in the gentle early-morning sun.

In a few hours, the temperature rises and turns to relentless heat, and it is hard to find shade in the desert-like environment.

”Herding is hard work when it’s so hot, and you’re thirsty all the time,” Rebecca describes.

Still, Rebecca is obedient and does what is asked of her.

For thousands of years, the nomadic people of Northwest Kenya have made their living raising cattle, and children have taken responsibility for the family’s goats and cows at a young age.

However, the distance to pastures has grown longer. There is no green in sight in the yellowish-gray landscape outside the family’s huts. Rebecca’s father David Edapal has been worried for a long time. He cannot say how old he is, but the lines on his face reveal he has seen several decades in Turkana, the poorest county in Kenya.

”The weather has grown warmer, and there are much fewer rains than before. In order to get water, we have to walk for two hours one way every day to get to the nearest river,” says Edapal.

 

Rebecca says she prefers school to herding. Because of the heat, herding is hard work for both children and adults, and according to Rebecca, the thirst is the worst part.

Tested by drought

Severe periods of drought are testing Turkana more and more frequently. The drought in 2017 was the worst in decades. Hundreds of thousands of animals died due to lack of water as well as diseases.

This was a hard blow for the pastoralists, who traditionally move to follow the rains. Livestock are like a bank account on legs – they are used to fulfil all needs. Livestock provide milk and meat for food. Selling livestock brings in money to pay for things such as healthcare.

In addition, men need livestock to pay dowry to the family of the bride when they get married. The death of  livestock hit families like an economic recession.

”Animals ravaged by drought cannot be sold or eaten, and they provide much less milk,” Edapal explains.

The crisis also fuels tensions among pastoralist people. They compete for the shrinking pastures, and extreme poverty makes stealing cattle a tempting prospect. A camel shepherd passing by carries an assault rifle on his shoulder to keep thieves at bay. Adding to the insecurity is a stream of firearms coming to Turkana across the border from neighbouring war-torn South Sudan.

For a pastoralist, questions about property are about as personal as asking a Finn about their salary. Most keep the number of livestock to themselves. However, Edapal reveals that cattle thieves took about two hundred of the family’s animals.

The family fled the insecurity into their current place of residence in the village of Ageles near the town of Lokichar. Edapal’s wife Aseken Namasi says all their hardships hurt her heart.

”The worst moment was when thieves killed four of my friends in front of my eyes when I was retrieving water,” she says. ”You can always get more livestock, but you can never replace a human being.”

 

Rebecca Atubo, 12, (in front) walking to school with her friends. It is important to have the school close to home, as the journey to school is filled with danger in Turkana.

 

12-year-old Rebecca Atubo’s (middle) parents David Edapal (left) and Aseken Namasi sent their daughter to school. The shift from nomadic culture to a view of life that values education is seen strong in Turkana.

Almost all inhabitants of Turkana are pastoralists. Boys are brought up to raise cattle, and girls are expected to add to the family’s wealth by marrying. The dowry goes to the entire extended family.

Child marriage is still common. Because of the expectations of the traditional lifestyle, pastoralist people used to have little respect for education.

When Alice Loro Lele got to school age, her mother wanted her to go to school, but her father resisted. In anger, her father threw them both out, and with no livestock, they were destitute.

After comprehensive education, Alice could not afford to go to high school. Today, Alice is a 20-year-old mother of three, and lives in a hut in Lokichar with her mother.

”I married at 15, because I thought my husband would take care of us. I was foolish, and I didn’t know much about anything,” Alice says, clearly upset.

Her husband never paid dowry, which is another example of the plight of the nomadic people. As a gifted student, Alice got a job as a preschool teacher. She also started a general store. But her husband kept all the profits and started drinking. Alice gave birth to two children, but her husband did not care about them.

”When I was pregnant for the third time, my husband was going to get a second wife. I left him and moved back in with my mother,” Alice says.

Turkana lives under the poverty line

Places like Turkana are far from the reality of the capital Nairobi. Kenyan economy has grown at a rapid pace. Nairobi is teeming with skyscrapers, technology, and innovative mobile phone applications. In Turkana, most people live in villages with no electricity or running water.

In Nairobi, 22 percent of the people live under the poverty line, while in Turkana, the number is 88 percent. The disparity is largely due to education. In Nairobi, almost everyone has at least completed comprehensive school – in Turkana, 18 percent.

Pastoralists are moving into towns of Turkana with hope of work, but few of them even know how to read.

”We encourage families to send their children to school. More and more people see this as a solution in the long term,” says FCA education coordinator Miriam Atonia.

 

Hundreds of thousands of animals died during the drought of 2017. The drought had catastrophic repercussions for the nomadic people whose livelihood depends on raising cattle.

Things are moving in the right direction. Today, over half of the school-aged children and young people in Turkana go to school. Almost 27,000 started school in the poorest counties in Kenya in FCA projects during 2018.

Alice was offered a scholarship to study at a high school in Lokichar. She also thanks her mother for her support: mother looks after Alice’s children while she is at school.

”My heart breaks because I see my children so rarely. But we have to make some sacrifices; if we’re idle, we can’t improve our situation,” she says.

”I want to become a teacher because I want to encourage girls to go to school. I can give them the kind of advice I needed myself.”

It is hard to communicate the benefits of education to parents who have led a nomadic life. Edapal and Namasi did not go to school, but after a great deal of consideration, they decided to send their daughter Rebecca off to get an education.

”I have seen how the people of my generation, those who went to school, are succeeding.  If we had received an education, we would be sleeping on mattresses, and our hut would have a tin roof instead of cloth,” he muses.

 

Alice Loro Lele (left) goes to school and takes care of her three children. She happy, that she decided to return to school.

 

A woman with an education is independent

After letting the goats out to pasture, it only takes Rebecca a few minutes of walking to get to the first lesson of the day. Edapal compares education to marriage – Rebecca is now married to school. An educated woman does not need to depend on others. She can make her own decisions regarding marriage once she is has finished her schooling.

Edapal feels proud when after her school day, Rebecca tells him about what she has learned.

”I hope Rebecca finds herself a job she likes, and God willing, can even help her parents in the future. Education provides lots of opportunities which I can’t even imagine.”

Text: Erik Nyström, Translation: Elina Vuolteenaho, Photos: Tatu Blomqvist / Ville Nykänen

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