At the Kakuma-Kalobeyei refugee camp in northern Kenya, mental health services are in short supply. The residents of the camp have fled murder and rape only to find that the daily life of the camp poses its own challenges. Working as a psychologist among people whose acute need of help is overwhelming takes its toll. What are some good ways to maintain resilience in the face of such challenges?
“REMEMBER: it’s important to have a life goal,” the teacher says, speaking to approximately forty students. The students listen intently, even though the classroom is over 30 degrees hot.
“What would be an example of a good life goal?”
“A nice house,” says one student.
“Eating sweets,” says another. “A good wife,” third one exclaims, and everyone bursts out laughing.
IN KENYA, SCHOOLS were closed for two weeks in May. Nevertheless, at the Kalobeyei refugee camp, kids were learning skills like self-esteem, setting goals for oneself, and conflict resolution at a life-skills camp.
The refugee camp is one of the largest in the world, housing around 300 000 refugees, mostly children and youth. Many live alone or with their siblings, as their parents have disappeared or died.
200 youth who have regularly attended school during the last term have been invited to participate. The invitation not only serves as a reward – the camp offers the kids meals, like in school – but also helps pass the message onwards. The youth attending the camp are likely to teach their skills to their friends in future.
“During the holidays, youth often get into trouble. Some join gangs, others get pregnant. That’s why we decided to organise a camp for teaching life skills,” says Maureen Achieng, 25.
Kakuma Kalobeyei refugee camp in Kenya is one of the largest in the world, housing around 300 000 refugees, mostly children and youth. Many live alone or with their siblings, as their parents have disappeared or died. Every week, there are new people arriving to the camp from neighbouring countries.
Maureen Achieng is a psychologist at the Finn Church Aid field office in Kakuma-Kalobeyei, Kenya. Her role is supporting the psychosocial well-being of children and youth and offering counselling for difficult situations.
EVERY WEEK, there are new people arriving to the camp from neighbouring countries. Currently, the biggest source of refugees is violence in Burundi. Some are fleeing for the second time. At the same time, the camp is waiting to see the effects of the conflict in Sudan for Kenya.
“Children here have all sorts of problems: serious trauma in their home country or from being on the run, abuse at home, teenage pregnancies. On top of that come the normal young people problems, such as school or heartbreaks,” Achieng says.
Dealing with these problems happens step by step. Achieng recommends young people set themselves goals and celebrate small achievements. Stressing the benefits of education is particularly important to girls, who are usually pressured into an early marriage. Nelly Havyarimana, 15, from Burundi, knows this very well personally.
“My mother and sisters and I came to Kenya in 2017. We had to leave home when my father died. As I had no brothers, our relatives wanted to marry us girls off. My mother thought that we should complete our studies, however, so we fled here.”
Havyarimana has learned about the importance of goals at the life skills camp.
“When I grow up, I want to be a surgeon. This can only happen through hard work – making decisions for the future and setting goals along the way. But I’m hopeful.”
Another useful skill that Havyarimana has learned in the camp: conflict resolution. The camp hosts people from many different nationalities, often without a common language. Conflicts are often inevitable.
“I’ve learned that I need to seek support from other communities. If, for example, Burundians and Sudanese are squabbling, I should at least get one person from the Sudanese side to support me, maybe some others, too. The parties to the conflict generally calm down when they realise that everyone wants them to stop.”
PSYCHOLOGIST Maureen Achieng also has other responsibilities at the camp, as she offers psychosocial support to students. In practice, this means problem-solving, therapy, academic counselling and much more. All of this is mentally taxing, even for a professional.
“I have often put myself in the shoes of a child who has had their parents murdered or a loved one raped in front of their eyes. They have had to walk to safety for days on end – without sleep, food or water.”
Achieng is also involved in an inter-organisational suicide prevention group. Both drug use and suicide attempts have recently increased alarmingly at the camp.
Maureen Achieng and other members of the staff live in relatively modest conditions and with little personal space in Kalobeyei refugee camp.
“Even if one tries to take time off, conversations with colleagues always circle back to work,” Achieng says. PHOTO: BJÖRN UDD / FCA
“The main reason is definitely the oppressive living conditions. Up to 70% of suicidal people give the living conditions as the reason of their suicidal tendencies. The same goes for drug use. It’s a way of escaping reality and hopelessness.”
The team searches for people at risk and harnesses the whole community to recognise the surrounding warning signs.
“For example, we made an agreement with the camp’s traders: if someone wants to buy a rope, a few follow-up questions are needed. What is the purpose of their purchase? All right, they want to tie up an animal. What kind of an animal? And so on. Many people give up their intentions after this sort of a thing, at least for a time.”
It is still difficult, coming to grips with things like suicide each and every day. Achieng considers it important to be able to get away from work in her free time. It’s never easy, though. There are many needing help and never enough time to help them all. On top of that, the staff live in relatively modest conditions and with little personal space.
“Even if one tries to take time off, conversations with colleagues always circle back to work. And it’s hard to avoid your colleagues if they live next door!”
IT THUS BECOMES necessary to working through the issues causing distress in others. Achieng is lucky, as she has an older colleague outside the camp for discussing ideas and getting good advice on how to solve difficult cases.
For Achieng, who is originally from Nairobi, moving to the small-scale environment of the refugee camp was also a challenge. A key part of addressing this was making their home more homelike.
“Personally, my most important household item is the video gaming console, which I take with me everywhere I go,” laughs Achieng. She admits to being a big racing game fan, but also plays other games. In addition to the console, Achieng has brought home her favourite treats, and has also taken up painting.
“Sometimes we organise art workshops for the children. Art therapy works – I have first-hand experience!” she says, smiling.
Achieng is working on a rotating schedule. In addition to the normal holidays, she has a week off after seven working weeks.
“Write this one in your story in capital letters: THE ROTATING LEAVE IS A MUST!”, Achieng urges.
“It is easy to notice that five weeks is all it takes for my colleagues to exhausted, as they start becoming very irritable easily. Especially those who have families miss their loved ones, because you can’t bring husbands, wives, or children here. A week off helps a lot.”
PSYCHOLOGISTS ARE NOT the only ones who have to think about how to deal with the stories students tell. Teachers hear them regularly too, and it’s possible for traumas to trigger for teachers, especially those with a refugee background. This is why peer support circles are organised for teachers to talk through their experiences.
This monthly ritual is particularly important for teachers. In an empty classroom, about ten people sit in a circle. Taking turns, they tell each other what’s on the top of their minds.
“This is an opportunity for us to talk openly about our problems and discuss how best to manage our classes,” says Edward Festo, who teaches English and Social Studies.
And a necessary opportunity it is. Class sizes can easily be around 200 pupils, making the teacher’s job difficult.
“Every day, I come home with a hoarse voice. Usually, I’m also mentally dead tired.”
Festo, from South Sudan, decided to flee the civil war in 2016 at the age of 19, after some of his siblings were killed.
“I lived in the north of the country, so making my escape through a country fighting a civil war was difficult. Many lives were lost on the way,” Festo says.
Many schoolchildren have similar backgrounds, so their stories can bring old feelings to the surface.
“We have received a lot of support in dealing with our traumas. It is our responsibility to be the professionals and adults, always and in every situation. Therapy and comprehensive training make it easier to keep it cool when things become heated,” says Festo.
He also understands the younger generation’s situation.
“Everything is more difficult nowadays. When we arrived, we were given schoolbooks, school uniforms and free education. Now the kids have to pay for books and uniforms themselves.”
Therapy has helped Festo to work through other issues.
“Living during a civil war is terrible. One must do bad things and link up with bad groups to survive. Therapy has been a life changer for me.”
TEACHERS are not the only ones getting help from therapy. Sixth grader Rashidi Shabani, 16, says he used to be very short-tempered.
“I got angry very easily. When I was out with my friends, I would get upset and start intense arguments with them. Therapy has helped me process these feelings. We’ve gone through what makes me get upset and evaluated my feelings generally. “
“Nowadays, if I find myself in a difficult situation, I take a deep breath or talk to others about my feelings. My anger dissipates and I feel free of stress.”
Shabani fled the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo with his mother and siblings in 2016. In the future, he wants to also be able to help his friends manage their emotions. He hopes to turn helping others into a career.
“When I grow up, I would like to be a psychologist. I’ve had a lot of help from psychologists, they do so much good. I would like to be like them as an adult.”
Text and photos by Björn Udd
Nelly Havyarimana (middle) is happy to ask her friends for help in case of any conflict or crisis in her life. PHOTO: Björn Udd / FCA
Ugandan youths and refugees trained in Business and Vocational Skills
Finn Church Aid with partner Enabel has provided Ugandan and refugee youth in Palorinya settlement with necessary business understanding and vocational skills to find opportunities for sustainable livelihoods.
The war in South Sudan forced Alex Lojuan, 27, to flee his home and settle in Palorinya Refugee settlement, located in Obongi district in the West Nile sub-region of Uganda. He is one of the 512 youth that enrolled for the GIZ-ENABEL funded project implemented by Finn Church Aid (FCA) in the Palorinya refugee settlement.
“My father died during the war and as the eldest child in the family, I had to take on the mantle of providing for the family. These were the hardest moments of my life, fending for a family in a foreign land,” Alex says.
Alex started laying bricks for income and later got the opportunity to work with Lutheran World Federation (LWF) as a casual worker, distributing soap to refugees during the monthly distribution of food rations and household items in settlements. While at LWF, he received information about the FCA Business and Technical Vocational Education Trainings (BTVET).
“As luck would have it, I was enrolled as one of the FCA business skills trainees. Although, I am yet to finish the business training course, what I have learned so far in the first two modules has instilled in me a positive mindset for success,” Alex says.
Enhanced youth employability
The project ‘Promoting Youth Employability through Enterprise and Skills Development’ (PROYES) began in October 2019 and ended in May 2021. It sought to enhance profitable employment opportunities for refugee and host community youths through skills training and business development support, by equipping the youth with demand-driven vocational and business skills for fluent transition into working life in employment or self-employment.
During the project, FCA trained and mentored young people in Business Start-up and Management and in vocational skills like hairdressing, sandal making, carpentry, tailoring and building construction.
Backed by the training and skills received from the FCA business class training, in March 2020 Alex started up a retail business with the money saved from bricklaying and casual work.
“I used my 300,000 Ugandan Shillings savings to start a retail shop in Odraji Village, Zone 1 in Palorinya settlement. Within seven months, my business capital had doubled. This is in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic situation that has affected most businesses,” Alex says.
“I run my shop with proper business principles learned during the FCA training. I have a business plan, I negotiate with suppliers to get the best deals, practice marketing of my goods, and deliver great customer service in my business,” he adds.
Alex earns a weekly profit of over 30,000 Ugandan Shillings (UGX) and with this money, he is able to take care of his extended family. He also bought bicycle for himself and put up a temporary structure that houses his retail shop.
Linking learning to earning
In a bid to increase employability chances of the youth trained, FCA provided start-up kits to the trainees who completed the course. The organisation also linked the trainees to available employment opportunities.
By end of the project period, 153 trainees, including 86 males and 67 females, were employed either by the private sector entities where they had attended industrial training or became self-employed.
Gordon Chiria, a 26-year-old Ugandan living in Obongi town managed to set up his dream business after the training.
“I used to grow and sell maize and other crops to support my family. This business wasn’t successful because I failed to maintain it. After FCA’s training, I started a retail business with a capital of UGX 300,000. Currently I make sales worth UGX 80,000 per day and much more on market days,” Gordon says.
Using his business profits, Gordon managed to buy two goats and support his family. He plans to expand his business to both retail and wholesale. “I appreciate Enabel and FCA’s efforts towards making the livelihood of Obongi community youths better,” he adds.
Focus also on young women’s skills
The project also supported female youths. More than half, 53 % of all beneficiaries were females that benefited from the six skills trades under the project.
FCA supported female participation by establishing four child daycare centres and also facilitated customised career guidance, counselling and life skills training to enable female trainees appreciate the trainings and build their resilience to complete the course.
Esther Kuyang, 25-year-old South Sudanese refugee came to Palorinya refugee settlement with her family in January 2017. “My family and I were depending on the limited resources provided by World Food Programme. The food rations provided were not always enough, yet it was quite hard to get supplementary food due to lack of a source of income,” she recounts.
“While I was still pondering about what to do to take care of my family, FCA came to my aid. With their support, I enrolled for a business entrepreneurship course at Belameling Vocational Training Centre,” Esther tells.
“I had previously been trained by FCA in sandal making. Due to the lack of start-up capital, I was yet to put that skill into practice. During the business training under the FCA-Enabel project, I learned that my real capital was my brain. I immediately started to think of ways to get capital to rejuvenate my previously acquired skills of sandal making.”
“In mid-July 2020, I got a loan of UGX 170,000 from my friend and bought some basic materials such as rubber, thread, beads, for starting a sandal making business. With the business skills acquired in the training like record keeping, marketing and proper accounting, my business started growing. Within two months, I grew my business capital to UGX 200,000. On average, I earn a profit of UGX 28,000 weekly. I am still paying off my loan and I will keep reinvesting the profits in the business. I am also saving with Vision Savings Group, our FCA–Enabel Internal lending group,” she adds.
Esther is the chairperson of the savings group that was formed in January 2020 under the support of FCA-Enabel project. So far she has saved 75,000 shillings with this group. She also bought a bicycle, which facilitates her movements. Esther plans to buy more tools and equipment’s for sandal making, especially those that she currently lacks. She also plans on expanding the business and opening more branches in other trading centres to generate more income.
As I am writing this, the Covid-19 pandemic is dominating the news and daily politics for the second year running. In fact, this topic has overshadowed other news to such an extent that it is hard to remember what went on in the world before Covid-19 testing, vaccines and coronavirus variants. Climate change, protracted conflicts, swarms of locusts destroying crops – does any of that ring a bell?
The work carried out by Finn Church Aid focuses on providing education, securing livelihoods and building peace. The objective of long-term development cooperation is to help entire communities become stable and self-sufficient.
We also respond to more urgent needs. After a massive explosion in the port of Lebanon’s capital Beirut in August 2020, we delivered emergency assistance to those affected. When Covid-19 stopped trade and food deliveries at state borders in several parts of the world, we continued to provide emergency food assistance.
Some of the areas where we promote development cooperation, humanitarian assistance and peace do naturally overlap, just as global crises are inextricably intertwined. Many of our programme countries faced profound challenges even before the Covid-19 pandemic. Changes in climate and protracted conflicts have caused food crises, health crises and displacement of millions of people.
In South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, devastating floods have left two thirds of the country’s 11 million inhabitants in need of some form of humanitarian assistance as they are suffering from food insecurity and malnutrition.
Syria also has a disastrous decade of suffering behind it. This conflict-ridden country has spiralled into an economic crisis that, for Syrian people, translates into a shortage of food and lost income opportunities. An entire generation of children has gone to school in emergency conditions.
The global pandemic has ruthlessly exposed the weaknesses of many countries. In Nepal, more than 25 per cent of the country’s GDP has in recent years consisted of remittances by Nepalese working abroad. With the pandemic forcing migrant workers to return home, families have struggled for more than a year, trying to cope without an adequate income to guarantee a decent living.
But the pandemic has not brought all progress to a halt, even if we sometimes feel like it. In a number of projects, the situation has forced us to take a big leap forward in technology. For instance, in Kenya we distributed radios to enable women to participate in peace dialogues. Our objective in such projects was to make communities better equipped to resolve conflicts involving natural resources.
Without a doubt, we will face more challenges in the future. Our climate is becoming increasingly harsh, and in these changing conditions, it is likely that more epidemics will circulate in the population. Natural disasters will force people to leave their homes in growing numbers. According to forecasts, a high population growth rate in Africa will result in massive migration within the continent.
But the good news is that resilient societies are able to take better precautions and prepare for disasters. In time, the Covid-19 crisis will pass, and this is when Finn Church Aid’s efforts to improve education, support livelihoods and forge peace will bear fruit and produce even more tangible results. Those who have participated in our projects have been building a stronger foundation for their lives, enabling them to pursue a brighter future.
Ulriikka Myöhänen, Communications Specialist.
This text twas originally published in our Annual Report 2020 that came out recently. Would you like to know more about what was done?
South Sudan faces multiple shocks but optimism remains
South Sudan reaches its tenth Independence Day on 9th July in a situation in which the Covid-19 pandemic is hampering the country’s gradual recovery from conflict. An economic crisis and exceptional floods add to the challenges, but there is also significant optimism among youth, writes Finn Church Aid’s Humanitarian Coordinator Moses Habib.
WHEN WILL THE PANDEMIC END? Who brought Covid-19 to South Sudan? These are questions we encountered from beneficiaries while rolling out community awareness campaigns about the pandemic. As a layperson with limited knowledge about Covid-19, it was intriguing to explain to people the myths about a virus we all did not understand, and that left me with memories I will have forever.
The general situation in South Sudan is dire. What worries me most is that before the pandemic struck, more than two-thirds of the country’s population – about 8.3 million people – were in need of some form of humanitarian assistance in order to survive. In 2020, the multiple shocks caused by intensified conflict and sub-national violence, a second consecutive year of major flooding, and the impacts of Covid-19 hit communities severely.
The challenges increased the vulnerability of populations that were already at risk. It worries me even more to hear some say that there is not enough political will to end their suffering.
We believe that advancing inclusion over exclusion paves the way for addressing the root causes of conflicts and ending the cycles of violence. In practice, we equip youth, women, traditional and religious actors with skills in conflict resolution, mediation and peacebuilding. Our efforts have materialized at local and community levels but have not yet translated to adequate representation in the national peace process.
What gives me hope is that there is optimism among young people, despite the country’s protracted challenges. South Sudan has abundant natural resources, which keeps many South Sudanese optimistic about the future. People believe that with a conducive environment free of conflict, this country has the potential to take off and become a breadbasket of the East African region and beyond.
Finn Church Aid has worked in South Sudan throughout the country’s independence. FCA builds peace in local communities, empowers youth and women in peacebuilding and through access to vocational education, and supports children’s access to school. Have a look at photos of our work throughout the years!
Members of a youth peace committee in Pibor in 2019. Pibor has a reputation for cattle rustling and fighting between youth groups, but peace committees have reduced conflict and supported reconciliation. Photo: Sumy Sadurni
A gathering of the women’s peace committee in Pibor in 2019. Women are an integral part of peace building efforts but often not represented in peace processes. Before this group was founded, villagers reported incidents of violence five times a week. Thanks to peace committees like this one, incidents in 2019 occurred at an average of once a week. Photo: Sumy Sadurni
One of Finn Church Aid’s key objectives is to maximise the opportunities of children and young people to attend school and receive a quality education. This project, funded by the EU Humanitarian Aid (ECHO), supported 7,000 pupils’ access to school in Fangak County. Photo: Maria de la Guardia
Girls playing after class in New Fangak. Schools offer a safe place for girls amidst disasters, societal pressures and harsh economic realities that lie at the bottom of issues like child marriage and child labour. Photo: Maria de la Guardia
Teacher training funded by EU Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) in New Fangak. The training of teachers builds the foundation for quality education. Photo: Maria de la Guardia
Youth at the local youth centre in Pibor. Football is one of the most popular pastimes across the country. Photo: Sumy Sadurni
Floods and drought create challenges for food production in South Sudan’s northern parts. Nyaluak Kong Kuon lost her harvest to the floods and faces difficulties in planting during the heat of the dry season. Photo: Maria de la Guardia
Nyakuola Pale Thieng grows onions on her lands in Old Fangak. In 2020, a total of 6,347 beneficiaries benefitted from Finn Church Aid’s distribution of agricultural inputs and fishing gear. Photo: Patrick Meinhardt
Luor Luny Thoar with his catch near Toch village in South Sudan’s Sudd swamp. Besides receiving gear, fishermen are also trained in fish preservation methods, which ultimately increase the profit of their livelihood when they sell their catch to the market. Photo: Patrick Meinhardt
Youth at the Juba Technical School. Finn Church Aid supports Technical Vocational Education Training (TVET) for youth in for instance construction, catering, mechanics, hairdressing and tailoring. Photo: Sumy Sadurni
23-year old Abir Mustafa trains in construction. More than half of the 414 youths that benefited from TVET training in 2020 were women. Photo: Patrick Meinhardt
21-year-old Reida trained in catering in Juba and managed to secure an internship at a hotel. In 2020, 414 young people completed a post-vocational internship in the private sector, and 298 of them continued at work after their internship. Photo: Patrick Meinhardt
The market in Yei town in South Sudan’s southern parts. Yei County is traditionally considered South Sudan’s breadbasket region due to its fertile soil and agricultural traditions. The conflict that erupted in 2016 forced many to flee across the border to neighbouring Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo: Sumy Sadurni
The peace agreement in September 2018 has encouraged some people to return home from the refugee settlements. Finn Church Aid supports returnees and the host community in Yei with for instance cash transfers that help people feed their families and rebuild their houses and livelihoods. Photo: Sumy Sadurni
Siblings Stella, 28, and Pascal, 25, returned to Yei from Uganda’s refugee settlements in 2019 and have worked hard to cultivate their plot of land. Pascal managed to finalise his agricultural studies thanks to the cash transfers. Photo: Sumy Sadurni
FCA takes a step towards localisation by forming a Global Leadership Team
FCA’s Board of Directors has appointed three representatives of FCA’s programme countries to its newly formed Global Leadership Team (GLT) in June. The GLT is part of FCA’s new organisational structure that came into force on April 1, 2021, and the term of the representatives is 2+1 years.
Country Director of South Sudan Mr Berhanu Haile, Country Director of Nepal Ms Sofia Olsson, and Country Director of Uganda, Mr Wycliffe Nsheka will be starting in their new roles in August. Permanent member of the Global Leadership team are Executive Director Jouni Hemberg and Deputy Executive Director Tomi Järvinen.
The GLT will have a significant role in strategic decision-making in FCA’s new organisational structure that aims to serve better the people FCA works with and emphasise accountability. Having a multi-skilled Global Leadership Team with diverse field experiences will improve FCA’s work, says Wycliffe Nsheka.
“Development cooperation has taken a major shift whereby the focus now is to promote mutual learning. I have been in the sector for 20 years, and there has been talk of localisation for a long time, but there is still work to be done in bringing it to practise”, Nsheka continues.
The new GLT will be committed to making localisation a reality and supporting the Global South to strengthen ownership and sustainability. Berhanu Haile says that the new management model is a significant step towards heeding local knowledge and experience to inform strategic decision-making.
“This is a significant step towards localisation while at the same time transforming FCA to be a global organisation that embraces views from North and South,” says Haile.
“The approach will ensure that we strategically respond to the rights and needs of the marginalised people with whom we work,” says Sofia Olsson.
You cannot build lasting peace without women. Many have probably heard this claim before, but why does gender matter?
Conflicts and crises affect entire societies, and we also know that women and men are affected differently. Even so, we rarely see women at the tables where decisions regarding our shared future are made. The Syrian peace talks started in 2012 without a single female participant, and on average, only 13 per cent of the world’s peace negotiators were women between 1992 and 2019.
A high-level peace negotiation around a luxurious mahogany table is perhaps the best-known setting associated with peace work, but it is not the only one. Less attention is paid to women’s grassroots-level accomplishments to prevent and solve conflicts in their communities.
In South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, millions of people have been displaced by conflict, food crises and a collapsed economy. In addition to political disputes, conflicts are sparked on the community level by violent cattle raids, committed not only in hopes of livelihood but also as part of a coming-of-age rite for boys. The raids lead to violent cycles of revenge between and within communities.
Finn Church Aid has supported setting up peace committees for women and youth in the states of Boma and Jonglei, and the persistent effort of the women’s committees has led to a clear decrease in violence. It has also changed views on community leadership. The leaders have traditionally been men, but now, women are the first to be called to negotiate peace and prevent the escalation of conflicts.
The persistent effort of the women’s committees has led to a clear decrease in violence.
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought changes to peacebuilding. Discussions at high-end conference rooms or in a tree’s shade are on hold as face-to-face meetings are no longer an option. The pandemic is also feared to make the root causes of conflicts worse and deepen the inequity faced by women.
In Kenya, cases of female genital mutilation have increased. Covid-19 has weakened the financial situation of families and forced schools to close, and as a result, parents are anxious to marry their daughters off earlier than usual. But the women in Kenya have not been idle. The women’s peace committees FCA supports have mobilised influencers and decision-makers to join the fight against genital mutilation and continue their work of settling conflicts between and within communities via radio. At the same time, the women provide support and information regarding Covid-19.
Imagine again the luxurious conference hall where a peace treaty is being signed. That treaty is bound to be built on a shaky foundation if those around the mahogany table are just representatives of armed actors and the political elite (out of whom, of course, a good number ought to be women as well).
The Covid-19 crisis is a reminder of the role and influence of female actors: these women’s peace movements in the midst of and as parts of communities are on the front line responding to any type of crisis – whether an armed conflict or a global pandemic.
In 2020, a total of 107,187 learners in 57 schools in Bidibidi, Kyaka II and Rwamwanja refugee settlements benefitted from Finn Church Aid’s education project funded by the Education Cannot Wait fund.
The project included, among other things, classroom renovation, construction of teacher housing, teacher training to improve the quality of education and distribution of scholastic materials and sanitary kits for girls.
During school closure due to Covid-19, FCA promoted child protection and continued learning at home through home learning packages, radio lectures and teacher support for small groups of learners.
When fighting resumed in South Sudan in 2016, millions of people sought refuge in neighbouring Uganda. Bidibidi quickly became the largest refugee settlement in the world.
One of Uganda’s 1,4 million refugees is Sylvia Poni, 17, who found her new home here with her 75-year-old grandmother Joanne Pilista. They stay with two small children that Joanne took under her wing during the flight.
Leaving their previous life behind has been tough, but grandma Joanne believes that the quality of education in Uganda has positively impacted Sylvia. The firm structures of Yoyo Primary School are visible through the thick bush by the family’s house.
“We are from Kajo Keji where schools were made of grass,” Joanne explains. “Parents had to take time off their work to fetch grass and mud to build the schools – or prevent them from falling apart.”
Sylvia also loves the fact that there are many classrooms. She feels safe and comfortable at school, and rain or shine, lessons go on throughout the day.
Grandma Joanne never went to school herself. She wishes she could go back in time and get an education. For Sylvia, it is still possible, and she is determined to take her chance.
“I want to become a teacher and go back to South Sudan,” she says. “I want to help those who have dropped out of school so that they can achieve their goals and find jobs.”
Old wooden school structures covered with the recognisable UNHCR white tarpaulin are a dead giveaway: refugees go to this school.
But behind the white canvases are four colourful, bright orange, concrete buildings with green windows and hallways. This is Ebenezer Secondary School, a school for both South Sudanese refugees and Ugandan youth in the Obongi District of Palorinya refugee settlement in northern Uganda.
“Teaching in the old structures was tough,” explains Winnie Akol, a teacher from Eastern Uganda currently residing at the school. She points at the old tent-like structures.
“The classrooms were congested, there was not enough air coming in. We teachers could not reach the back of the room to check on the other children because the rooms were so small. When it rained, we had to stop the lessons because we could not hear ourselves over the rain pounding on the iron sheets. No one could focus on the lecture and it was always so dusty inside.”
Winnie Akol, from eastern Uganda, teaches in Ebenezer Secondary School in Palorinya refugee settlement in northern Uganda. Finn Church Aid’s (FCA) work at the school is funded by The U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.
Winnie believes that after the new structures were constructed, children’s learning has improved because they have no distractions. Two of the main classrooms are laboratories for science and have electricity, sinks and Bunsen burners with which the children can practice chemistry.
South Sudanese Simon Peter was out of school for long because he could not reach the classroom. An inclusive education project in Kakuma refugee camp brought him a new chance while teaching teachers and parents how to support persons with disabilities.
Simon Peter is 24 years old but is only in primary class 3. He enrolled in school for the first time ten years earlier after growing up in a rural area of South Sudan. Before that, schools were located too far for him.
Simon was born with hemiplegia. Hemi means “half” and hemiplegia refers to the paralysis of half of the body. He had no wheelchair to help him reach a school. His chance to join school came only when his family moved to a city.
“I never got a chance to socialize and play with other children. I was indoors most of the time”, Simon describes his childhood.
Shortly after Simon started his education, South Sudan slid into a civil war that disrupted his learning. It took a long time before he could enrol again, this time in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. Finn Church Aid’s project for supporting special needs education issued him with a wheelchair to help him reach the school.
Simon’s guardian Mark Loyiel is grateful for the opportunity for Simon to catch up with education.
“I used to carry him wherever he needed to go. It is a relief that I can wheel him to school, and he manages the school day by himself while I report to other duties. Then I pick him up after the classes”, he says.
Inclusive education and learning environment
Finn Church Aid’s special needs education project benefits 275 children and youth with disabilities that live in the refugee camp in Kenya. The project has also trained 69 teachers on inclusive education that bridges the language barriers of refugee learners and prepares teachers to meet the needs of learners with disabilities. The support to the learners also includes wheelchairs, stationaries, textbooks, school uniforms and food.
Ensuring an inclusive learning environment also requires construction work. The project has built disability-friendly classrooms and pit latrines in all the primary schools and Early Childhood Development and Education (ECDE) centres in Kalobeyei settlement, a part of Kakuma refugee camp.
When Kenya ordered schools to close due to the Covid-19 pandemic, FCA distributed solar-powered radios to enable Simon and other persons with disabilities to participate in radio lectures. Teachers have complemented broadcasts with home visits and by following up on the homework of learners.
Parents and guardians actively involved in their children’s education
The project has actively involved parents and guardians of children with disabilities in supporting the special needs education, says Simon’s guardian Mark Loyiel. Mark is also happy that the schools include those with disabilities in physical activities, such as ball games. Before the pandemic, they were all cheering in inter-village competitions for learners – with or without disabilities, playing together as one family.
Mark is particularly grateful for the psychosocial support that goes with the project. The staff of FCA visit their home to engage with the family and build a stronger understanding of persons with disabilities.
“We have found new aspects of understanding and respect for Simon’s personality and dignity. Persons with disabilities are not a burden – they are unique human beings like anyone”, he says.
“The home visits of the staff make us feel like we are one family to them.”
Simon Peter has grown much and describes himself as very peaceful. He dreams of becoming a teacher for primary class 1 and wants to teach mathematics and science to children with disabilities.
“I want to give back for the support I have received, and I feel that I know from experience what children with disabilities need when they grow up.”
In 2020, New Fangak saw its first primary school leaving exams since the war that started in 2013. A new project component strengthened the livelihoods of parents, enabling more girls from vulnerable families to join school.
Finn Church Aid (FCA) opened its office in New Fangak, Jonglei State in 2016 and began with an EU Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) funded project by constructing schools and attracting learners.
Currently, the support reaches 16 schools in Fangak County in four villages. Field Team Leader Dhuor Deng Kuony says that the idea of a child’s right to education has grown stronger during the past four years. New school structures, teacher training and involving the community have been vital.
“I’m personally proud when I see children coming to school and the support they get from their parents, the community and the government that runs the education affairs”, Deng says.
“The community has taken ownership of the schools. They have built the structures and parents are strongly involved in their children’s education through Parent-Teacher Associations.”
A total of 130 teachers has received training within the project, and more than 7,000 pupils can access learning spaces and materials. With awareness-campaigns included, the project has reached more than 20,000 direct beneficiaries and an estimated 60,000 indirect beneficiaries.
Supporting livelihoods of vulnerable families increase enrolment
When the initial project started in 2016, there were no schools. The education that took place was given under trees by teachers who barely had completed their primary education.
Teacher training has been an essential part of the project from the start. Qualified teachers equal quality education, and families become more motivated when they see their children not only attending school but actually learning.
Nyaluak Maker, 15, is in class 2 in William Chuol Primary School and says that teachers are now punctual, and listen and interact with learners. She describes them as friendly and motivating
“I now feel very comfortable with asking my teacher about things I did not understand during the lecture. They will come to me individually, and explain patiently until I understand”, she says.
Nyaluak Maker, 15, says that her mother encourages her to focus on her learning. Photo: Maria de la Guardia / FCA
One of the challenges in Fangak County is convincing parents to send both boys and girls to school. In pastoralist communities, parents do not traditionally send their children to school, and particularly girls are the last to access education. They are often forced to marry at an early age.
“Women role models are powerful in convincing parents. We want to show that their girls can earn a living in the future, and for instance, female teachers are good examples”, Deng says.
But even more important is responding to the immediate needs of vulnerable families. In an area prone to floods and drought, food shortages are common, and poverty widespread. Many need their children to support the daily survival of their families through cooking or working.
This is why cash transfers and livelihoods support were added to the project, with funding by EU Humanitarian Aid. Parents that farm received seeds and training and the cash transfers have enabled single-parent households particularly to establish businesses at the market.
Nyadeng Chan and Wal Diew are both widows, and they combined their cash transfers of 6,050 South Sudanese Pounds (35 euros) each to establish a shop for tea and the local bread kisra.
“We decided to use the cash for something that keeps us going in the future instead of spending all on food. That would have soon taken us back to square one”, Wal says.
Business women Diew Wal and Nyaldeng Chan in front of the restaurant they co-own and run in New Fangak, South Sudan on 8 March 2020. Parents of school-going children receive cash distributions that help them start businesses to generate an income for their families. Photo: Maria de la Guardia / FCA
First primary leaving exams since 2013
The project reached a crucial milestone in early 2020 when 43 pupils sat, and 28 passed the first primary school leaving exams in New Fangak since the war started. This makes the youth eligible to continue their education journey on a national level.
17-year-old George Juang was one of the first to complete the exams in February.
“My teachers helped me prepare well. When I passed, many people I know are more eager to join the school because they also want to pass like me”, George says.
George now dreams of an opportunity to enrol in secondary education, which is not currently available in the whole of Fangak County. Despite a physical disability as a result of polio, he is determined to become an accountant.
“School teaches you to take care of yourself, and it exposes you to different cultures. You know how to protect yourself and how to pursue your dreams.”
George Juang is one of the first in New Fangak to have sat and passed his Primary 8 exams. Photo: Maria de la Guardia / FCA
Read more about this project funded by EU Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) in our photo story.