“I was allowed to return to school” – EU-funded INCLUDE project makes sure refugee students aren’t left behind.

“I was allowed to return to school” – EU-funded INCLUDE project makes sure refugee students in Uganda aren’t left behind.

A young woman in a white shirt and
Ujumbe Murujiza, from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) attends Rwamwanja Secondary School.

For children in refugee settlements, access to quality education is not just hampered by lack of schools. Lack of money, family support or basic hygiene supplies must all be overcome to make sure they can attend class.

Yet, refugee and vulnerable children are excelling in FCA supported schools. With funding from the European Union, FCA works in Uganda with Save the Children, Norwegian Refugee Council, Humanity and Inclusion and War Child Holland on the INCLUDE project.

RWAMWANJA AND KYAKA II refugee settlements are home to approximately 1,611,732 refugees and 48,792 asylum seekers. 949,598 of them are children. Many have fled violent conflicts, losing family members and parents. Refugee and host community children attend school side by side in the settlements, but with a large mix of nationalities and backgrounds, it’s tough for teachers to tend to every child’s needs.

Moreover, families are often without stable income. That means little food to aid concentration or no money to buy school supplies. In the case of one girl, it almost led to her dropping out of school to support her family.

A school yard with adults and children walking
Students and teachers take a break at Bukere Secondary School in Kyaka, Uganda.

Cash for education supports children staying in school

Ujumbe Murujiza, an 18-year-old refugee hailing from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is currently enrolled in Senior Two at Rwamwanja Secondary School. But she might have not got this far.

She has eight siblings and her mother struggled to provide after their father abandoned the family.

“Life at home was unbearable,” Ujumbe recalls. “My mother, who often fell sick, struggled to make ends meet by working in community gardens.”

“My brothers had to collect empty bottles for sale just to help us survive,” Ujumbe explained. “I almost left school to work as a maid in Kampala district because we needed money.”

On discovering her plan, Ujumbe’s mother contacted FCA Uganda’s local field office. The Child Protection team met with the family and were enrolled in the Cash for Education programme, as part of the INCLUDE project.

“This support was a miracle for us,” Ujumbe reflects. “It covered school fees, uniforms, and even helped put food on our table.”

The INCLUDE project aims to be versatile and adaptive to the needs of the family in order to support the child’s return to and remaining in school. That’s why it covers diverse interventions, ranging from cash for education to ensuring access to nutritious meals through a school meals programme. It also promotes menstrual hygiene management and reproductive health awareness for both sexes to help children support each other to stay in school.

“I want to become a doctor in the future,” Ujumbe shares with unwavering determination. “After finishing school and getting money, I can support my family and build a better future.”

School meals programme boosts concentration in class

A proper meal can be make or break for a child to concentrate in school. Sometimes, it’s the only meal of the day a child might receive.

At Kikurura Primary School, the INCLUDE project helped start a programme where parents provide food for the students. The project gave out farming supplies like seeds, tools, and fertilisers. The school community worked together to grow crops on a 2-acre piece of land. They harvested 200 kilograms of maize, which helped feed the students.

Students sit around a table in a classroom. They are all drinking from colourful mugs
A proper meal can be make or break for a child to concentrate in school.

The school relies on the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) for support. To make sure all 1,267 students have enough to eat, the school talked with parents at the start of the 2024 term. They decided that each parent would give an extra 3 kilograms of maize to add to the school’s harvest.

This collective initiative ensures that every student at Kikurura Primary School receives a daily cup of porridge.

 “I no-longer feel hungry during school time and attend all the lessons,” says Shillah, a P7 student , while her classmate Aloysious told us, “many of my classmates no longer have to miss classes because of hunger. I have also noticed that my fellow students no longer steal food from others,”

Menstrual hygiene support helps girls stay in class

As a 15-year-old pupil at Rwamwanja Primary School, Francine’s education journey was marred by the lack of sanitary pads during her menstrual cycle.

“My schooling was tough, especially during my periods,” she explained. “I didn’t have sanitary pads, so I often missed class,” she says.

“I remember using small pieces of my mother’s old clothes,” she continues. “But blood would pass through, and I would get infections.”

FCA provided her reusable pads as well as lessons about menstrual cycle management. The construction of clean and safe hygiene facilities are also key.

“Our school has a proper changing room with soap and water. If I have my period during school, I can freshen up and attend class comfortably.”

Something that has also helped the girls is including the boys in the learning process.

“Everyone, including the boys, supports us girls during our periods,” Francine explains, recalling a kind act from a classmate. “Once, I needed help, and a boy offered me his sweater to cover up. It made me realise I’m not alone.”

“Now, I’m not worried about my periods anymore,” Francine asserts confidently. I feel confident I’ll achieve my dream of becoming a nurse and helping my family and community.”

Eric, a refugee from Burundi, topped the exams in Kyaka settlement

Eric Niyitegeka’s family fled violence in Burundi and settled in Kyaka II refugee settlement. He was keen to restart his schooling, but had missed out on crucial phases in his education.   

FCA’s Secondary Accelerated Education Programme (AEP) was designed for children like Eric to help them catch up with their peers and the national curriculum in a supportive environment sensitive to the needs of refugee and vulnerable children.

A young man stands on a path between neat border rows of plants. School buildings stand either side.
Eric topped his class during exams.

Eric worked incredibly hard, attending classes regularly and engaging actively in his studies. During the Uganda Certificate of Education (UCE) examinations in 2023 he came out top of the programme.

“The support I received during the programme was amazing. I was allowed to return to school. I was also given cash for my school fees and scholastics. I no longer had to worry about money, so I concentrated in class. I am hopeful that I will join the advanced level of education where I want to study Physics, Chemistry and Maths since I want to become an engineer in future. I am deeply thankful for the generosity of FCA and its donors,” he says.                 

Career guidance offers hope for the future

Keeping students in school is not only a case of providing for their material needs. Children and teenagers need inspiration and hope for their futures. FCA’s pioneering career guidance programmes have been adopted in several countries, not least in our supported schools in Uganda, as part of INCLUDE.

Two people are sitting at a large table in a room and having what looks like a serious conversation. An FCA banner with a EU logo stands to the side.
Career guidance can make a huge impact on teenagers.

Acinath Bamurebe, a student at Bukere Secondary School, explains the impact they’ve made:

“I used to feel confused when thinking about what I wanted to do in the future. Many of us felt this way too. But thanks to our mentors, things started to become clearer. I was only in school because my friends were, not because I saw a bright future ahead. However, attending these sessions helped me think about what I’m good at and what I enjoy. The activities and talks from my teachers and mentors helped me understand myself better and decide what I want to do in the future.”           

Teachers also included

Teachers are catalysts for change, but are often neglected themselves in terms of training, mentoring and career prospects.

As part of the INCLUDE project, we offer training sessions covering inclusive education, gender sensitivity, career guidance, life skills, and child protection to teachers. By incorporating new teaching methodologies, teachers enhance their ability to meet diverse learning needs.

A number of adults sit in a classroom and listen to another teacher who stands at a desk at the front
As part of the INCLUDE project, FCA offers training sessions for teachers.

Phionah, an Accelerated Education Programme teacher, shares her experience:

“I now feel better equipped to address the varying learning needs of my students and create an inclusive learning environment where each student feels valued and supported in their educational journey. Consequently, students not only receive access to quality education but also acquire essential life skills and guidance crucial for their personal and professional growth.”

Funded by the European Union Humanitarian Aid (ECHO), the INnovative and inCLUsive accelerated eDucation programmE for refugee and host community children (INCLUDE) project is implemented by Finn Church Aid (FCA) in collaboration with Save the Children, Norwegian Refugee Council, Humanity and Inclusion, and War Child Holland. It is designed to address challenges to education for refugees and host communities, including newly arrived and out of school children in primary and secondary schools in Kyangwali, Kyaka, Nakivale and Rwamwanja Refugee Settlements.

Find out more about our work in Uganda.
Text: Linda Kabuzire
Photos: Rebecca Alum and Ronald Igulo

International Women’s Day – Dora Kaiza is FCA Uganda’s first female driver

International Women’s Day – Dora Kaiza is FCA Uganda’s first female driver

On International Women’s Day 2024, we focus on investing in women. The following is a guest contribution from Dora Kaiza, one of FCA’s professional drivers in Uganda and the first woman to hold that position.

‘My name is Dora Kaiza. I am 34 years old and I am so proud to be a professional driver. For many years this was regarded as a male-dominated profession. My life before Finn Church Aid was a journey full of  challenges. As a single mother raising three boys, I faced the task of providing for my family and driving is all I depended on. Even with my passion for driving and years of experience, the opportunities seemed scarce, and I would find myself being undervalued.

‘A lady can’t drive’

At the transport company where I worked, many said, “a lady can’t drive,” but I refused to let their insecurities lower my potential.

In 2022, after the Covid lockdown, I received a dream come true opportunity to join Finn Church Aid as a driver. It was a chance to prove myself in a new environment, a chance to support my family and also to challenge those saying that women can never make it doing male jobs. I will never forget the feelings on my first day, driving alongside the male drivers. But with each mile, my confidence grew, and I realized that I belonged here. I knew this was more than just a job—it was a calling.

Dora makes some engine checks before her long drive.

Every kilometre is a sign of my determination

The road ahead had its challenges. As the first female driver in FCA’s history in Uganda, I faced resistance from some road users. Yet, with support from FCA colleagues and my determination to succeed, I refused to let people hold me back. Every kilometre driven was a sign of my determination to break down barriers.

FCA’s trust in me was both humbling and empowering. By entrusting me with their vehicle and placing their faith in my abilities, they not only gave me a job but also proved my worth as a woman in a male-dominated profession. Each journey taken was a sign that gender should never be a barrier to an opportunity.

Over the years, I have faced challenges—from driving on bad roads to confronting male bullies who try to push me off the road. Yet, with each challenge, I came out stronger and more determined to prove that women belong behind the wheel and at the forefront of change.

Driving forward

When I reflect on my journey with Finn Church Aid, I feel so proud. They have provided me with a platform to express my passion while supporting my family. FCA has also empowered me to be a symbol for change in my community.

As I continue to drive forward, I am reminded of the many women who have not yet to reached their full potential. My hope is that my story will inspire other women to dream big, ignore stereotypes, and take on every opportunity that comes their way. Together, we can promote gender equality and create a brighter future for all.’


Invest in women: accelerate progress.

At FCA gender inclusion and equality are not just ideals, they are realities worth fighting for. We work every day alongside our sister organisation, Women’s Bank towards a world where women have the financial independence and power to make their own choices.

Read more about why it’s particularly important to support women in developing countries.

Bringing play-based learning to the most remote communities in Uganda

Bringing play-based learning to the most remote communities in Uganda

A line of men and women standing outside are smiling and pointing to a tuktuk, which has the logos of FCA and UNICEF on it, along with hand-drawn illustrations of children playing.
Ministry of Education and Sports representatives, Terego District Officials, FCA, UNICEF, and UNHCR representatives officially send off the Mobile ECD Tricycle to the field.

FCA and UNICEF are reaching remote communities in Terego district with mobile learning units, including play-based learning experiences for the youngest children.

Early childhood is a phase of intense development and learning. When children have the chance to access age-appropriate education, usually through play and in the years from 0-6, the benefits to the child are huge. 

In remote areas, early learning centres are rare

In the remote areas of Terego district, West Nile, Uganda, access to mainstream education is already challenging. Facilities for younger children are almost non-existent.

That’s why FCA and UNICEF have launched a new initiative, aimed at accelerating learning among children in hard-to-reach regions, specifically the sub-counties of Uriama and Omugo.

Using the simple means of a three-wheeled motorcycle, or trike, equipped with an early childhood development (ECD) kit, educators can travel through Terego district and reach kids directly.

The play-based learning kit enables professionals to deliver engaging and interactive learning experiences safely within communities, taking away the need for families to travel.

A three-wheeled motorcycle mounted with a trailer is standing outside. It has ribbons decorating it and the logos of Education Cannot Wait, FCA and UNICEF. People are smiling and inspecting it.
With the trike, educators can travel through Terego district and reach kids directly.

A joint initiative

The project was developed by UNICEF Uganda and Finn Church Aid jointly through funding from Education Cannot Wait, with FCA staff delivering the sessions. It is a vital component of the ‘Early Childhood Development and Quality Education’ initiative that FCA implements in the districts of Adjumani, Terego, Koboko, and Yumbe in the West Nile region, as well as Kyegegwa, Kamwenge, and Isingiro in Western Uganda.

“The intervention is intended to support early childhood learning opportunities for hard-to-reach communities. The intervention supports four pillar models: teacher/ECD caregivers, parents, management, and young children, in the delivery of Early Childhood Education services across the country,” says FCA Uganda Head of Programs, Stephen Ssenkima.

Innovative approach

“At the heart of this innovation lies a comprehensive strategy that leverages cognitive, emotional, creative, and physical materials to deliver impactful learning experiences to children,” explains Charles Oriokot Aporu, the ECD Coordinator at Finn Church Aid. “Sixteen community learning centres have been established as focal points for children, facilitated by volunteers selected from local communities.”

The learning centres are staffed with volunteers, selected by leaders in the community. FCA staff provide training on how to facilitate the sessions using play learning materials and regularly check up on the sessions to provide continuing support.

A woman signs a large cardboard document, which is held by two men. Another woman in the background is holding some files. They are all standing outside in a car park.
Hajjat Safina Mutumba, Principal Education Officer overseeing pre-primary education, signs a commemorative board at the launch.

First five years of life is crucial

Speaking during the launch, Hajjat Safina Mutumba, the Principal Education Officer overseeing pre-primary education at the Ministry of Education and Sports, underscored the relevance of mobile ECD centres, emphasising their alignment with the policies of home-based and community-based nursery schools.

She highlighted the advantage of the mobile ECD innovation, noting its ability to reach learners in their own environments, particularly considering the high vulnerability levels prevalent in the benefiting communities.

“These children are extremely vulnerable, residing in communities where ECD services are lacking. We recognise that brain development is most rapid during the first five years of life. Without adequate support during this critical period, we risk losing them. Through this innovation, we will ensure that these children are reached where they are, providing them with the crucial opportunity for early learning,” Hajjat Safina said.”

A woman in a blue shirt and a waistcoat with a UNICEF logo is talking in a room while standing in front of a flipchart and a banner which reads "UNICEF, for every child".
UNICEF’s Barno Mukhamadieva spoke during the launch event.

UNICEF’s Chief of Basic Education and Adolescent Development (BEAD) section, Barno Mukhamadieva, underscored their commitment to advancing the educational journey in regions where illiteracy levels remain alarmingly high. “West Nile holds priority status for our organisation due to the substantial number of refugees it hosts, along with the associated educational challenges.”

Leveling the playing field

Wilfred Saka, the district chairperson for Terego, hailed the innovation, noting its potential to motivate rural children, who lack access to modern learning tools. Saka remarked, “our children often feel inferior, which contributes to the performance gap in our schools. Urban children benefit from exposure to such resources, but this intervention levels the playing field. It ensures our learners can compete with their urban counterparts, and we are committed to sustaining its impact in the district.”

Agnes Onzia, a volunteer caregiver at Kilima Church ECD, shared stories of children blossoming into eager learners. “Some of the children joined with difficult behaviour and they have really changed. Many from last year have joined the primary section now,” recounts Agnes Onzia

So far, nine parishes spanning the two sub-counties and Uriama have been selected to pilot the mobile ECD programme.  Over 1,188 children, previously excluded from formal education, have been enrolled, signalling a substantial enhancement in their access to learning opportunities.

Find out more about our work in Uganda

Dorcas, 17, is adjusting to a new life as a refugee in Uganda and hopes to stay in school

In an unfamiliar land – Dorcas, 17, is adjusting to a new life as a refugee in Uganda and hopes to stay in school

17-year-old Dorcas fled her home country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in the middle of a school day. In Uganda, Dorcas is struggling to stay in school and get enough food. FCA helps young refugees build a better future for themselves.

Text: Elisa Rimaila
Photos: Antti Yrjönen

THE COOLEST hours of the morning are best suited for field work. A heavy wooden-handled hoe kicks up dust from the soil layer and Dorcas Uwamahoro, 17, scatters a few brown beans onto the ground. If the rains come on time and are sufficient, Dorcas’ family will have a bean harvest from their own field on their plates in three months.

The sun is already high in the sky, although the birds on the hills surrounding the field are just beginning their concert. Dorcas finds the last beans in her pockets, throws them on the ground and uses her hoe to pull a thin layer of soil over the top.

“Life was good at home in the DRC”, she says.

“Now, I’m just constantly hungry and I have to work a lot with my family members to get food. My clothes get dirty, and I feel dirty too”, Dorcas says.

Kolme ihmistä kävelee kukkuloiden välissä olevassa laaksossa Ugandan maaseudulla. Ihmiset kantavat päänsä päällä ruokabanaaniterttuja.

Dorcas Uwamahoro (centre) was separated from her parents Salome Imanizabayo (right) and Jean Habiyaremyea when she fled the Democratic Republic of Congo. Social media brought the family together on the Ugandan side

Kolme henkilöä kävelee tiellä Ugandan maaseudulla. Heistä keskellä oleva tyttö ja oikeassa laidassa oleva mies kantavat päänsä päällä ruokabanaaniterttuja.

Life as a refugee has been hard for the teenage Dorcas. In her new home country, Uganda, she has to help her parents with various farm chores that help the family put more food on the table. 

Kolme kongolaista henkilöä kulkee kameran ohi. Etummaisena oleva nainen kantaa olallaan kuokkaa, keskellä oleva nuori nainen ja mies päänsä päällä ruokabanaaniterttuja.

Dorcas’ parents do their best to ensure that their daughter and her younger siblings can go to school despite being refugees. 

Dorcas arrived in Uganda as a refugee in spring 2022, shortly after the conflict in her home region in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) escalated again.

They escaped in the middle of a school day.

“We started hearing gunshots around the school. My brother and I fled home, but already at the door we noticed that our parents and the rest of our siblings were no longer there. We flung the books out of our hands and continued running”, Dorcas recalls.

The conflict in the DRC began long before Dorcas was even born. Over three brutal decades, more than five million people have lost their lives. The DRC is a huge country, and the conflict in its eastern part is one of the most forgotten in the world: It only makes headlines when something bigger happens. One such moment was in March 2022, when armed groups became active once again and hundreds of thousands had to flee their homes.

By the end of 2023, about half a million Congolese people had fled across the border to neighbouring Uganda, and nearly six million were living as refugees in their own country. The long-lasting cycle of violence has already had enormous effects on several generations of young people. Many have had to drop out of school and live their everyday lives overshadowed by fear.

Nuori kongolainen nainen istuu pöydän ääressä ja katsoo sivulleen.
“I miss my friends, but I don’t know where they are now”, says Dorcas Uwamahoro. The flight from her home country took place in the middle of the school day in April 2022. 

Reunited by social media

When looking west towards the DRC from Dorcas’ current home, the large Nakivale refugee settlement on the southern border of Uganda, it is hard to believe what natural riches lie between the two countries – and what human suffering they have caused on the other side of the border.

The DRC and its eastern neighbour, Uganda, are separated by Lake Edward, one of Africa’s major water bodies, and the rugged Virunga Mountains. The world also knows them as the ‘mountains in the mist’, thanks to the successful autobiographical book by the American ethologist Dian Fossey and the Hollywood film based on it.

Instead of wild nature, the gentle hills surrounding Dorcas’ home are mostly planted with cooking banana trees, i.e. matoke. Corn and bean fields have also been ploughed on the slopes, with long-horned Ankole cattle and goats strolling at a leisurely pace on the sides of the road formed in the reddish brown sand. Among the animals, there are people carrying banana bunches, water canisters and hoes.

Dorcas arrived from the eastern DRC to Uganda by a different route than the rest of her family. Thanks to smartphones and social media, the family members found each other soon after crossing the border into the refugee reception area.

“I had already thought that I would never see my parents again. I felt awful, but the employees of the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR assured me that there is hope.”

“I felt extremely happy to see them”, Dorcas says.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, Uganda offers refuge to 1.5 million refugees from the DRC and South Sudan. These figures make Uganda the largest refugee-receiving country in Africa and the fourth largest in the world.

Nuori nainen istuu matalalla puupenkillä ruskean tiilitalon edessä Ugandassa ja juttelee kahden pienen lapsen kanssa. Toisella lapsella on sylissään nalle. Taustalla näkyy rakennus ja kasa tiiliä.
17-year-old Dorcas Uwamahoro has eight siblings in total. In addition to older brothers, the family also includes younger siblings, whom Dorcas helps take care of when her parents are working in the fields. 

Dorcas’ family settled in Nakivale, the place where the resettlement of refugees in Uganda began. Originally established in 1958, it is the oldest refugee settlement in all of Africa. Over the past six decades, East and Central Africa has been battered by various natural disasters and conflicts, forcing millions of people to flee their homes.

In 2020, more than 170,000 refugees lived in Nakivale and the number of new arrivals is ever-growing. In addition to the DRC, they had arrived from Burundi, Rwanda, Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea. The settlement is in constant motion. Some have stayed for decades, others were born as refugees. Some have been lucky and have been able to return to their homeland.

Kaksi naista keskustelee pellolla Ugandassa.
Dorcas’ (pictured here with her back to the camera) mother Salome Imanizabayo, 40, is an experienced farmer. Back home in the DRC, the mother cultivated the family’s own field. 

Dependency on food aid

Being a refugee has been a hard pill to swallow for the 17-year-old. Life is very different from what Dorcas is used to. Back home in the DRC, Dorcas’ father worked as a teacher and her mother cultivated the family’s own piece of land. Dorcas attended school and lived the life of a normal teenage girl, which included spending time with her friends.

“I miss my friends, but I don’t know where they are now. In the midst of war, everyone went their separate ways”, she says gravely.

Listening to Dorcas, it becomes clear how worried she is about the future. Most of the little money the family of eleven has is currently spent on food. Each member of the family receives both money and food, such as beans, cooking oil, salt and maize, through the World Food Programme (WFP), but the donations are not enough to cover all of their needs. In particular, they are not enough to keep the family’s children in school.

Watch the video of Dorcas Uwamahoro telling about her life as refugee.

“We didn’t have such problems at home in the DRC. Here, our schooling is constantly at risk because we don’t have the money for the school fees”, she says.

In Uganda, it took Dorcas three months to be able to go to school.

“At that time, I was constantly thinking about where I could get the books and a school uniform and whether I would ever really be able to go back to school. I was very depressed”, she says.

Now, Dorcas goes to school most days. Dorcas received school supplies, a backpack and the encouragement she needed from Finn Church Aid. With support from its disaster fund, FCA has been working in the Nakivale refugee settlement to get children and young people back to school since 2022.

Ugandalaisen pakolaisasutusalueen tiellä kävelee paljon ihmisiä. Osaa taluttaa polkupyöriä ja monilla on käsissään ostospusseja.

Relief supplies from the World Food Programme (WFP) have become an important part of food security for the family of Dorcas Uwamahoro, 17, (centre) in Uganda. Dorcas collects her portion from the food distribution point every month. 

Kongolainen perhe kuokkii peltoa Ugandassa.

Uganda supports the food security of people arriving in the country as refugees by giving each family a piece of land to grow their own food. Dorcas Uwamahoro’s family was hoeing the field they received and planting their first bean crop in the Nakivale refugee settlement in September 2023. 

Lakkipäinen mies seisoo pellolla Ugandassa ja nojaa kuokkaansa. Taustalla näkyy maisema ja muita ihmisiä, jotka työskentelevät pellolla.

Dorcas’ father, Jean Habiyaremye, 42, worked as a teacher in his home country of the DRC. He wants as many of the children as possible to go to school and achieve the best possible future for themselves. 

Dorcas’ family has barely enough money to pay for her schooling, but not for school meals. She often has to sit through afternoon lessons with her stomach rumbling with hunger.

School meals in Nakivale would cost 60,000 shillings per semester, which is equivalent to just under 15 euros. This money would buy a single lunch in downtown Helsinki in Finland, but it is a large sum for someone living as a refugee in Uganda.

Inflation has increased the price of food in Uganda as well. At the same time, large traditional aid organisations, such as the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Refugee Agency UNHCR, have had to drastically cut the aid they offer due to a lack of funding. The cash grant awarded by the WFP per person in the refugee areas of Uganda is 12,000 shillings, or about 2.90 euros, per month. The amount is well below the limit of extreme poverty of around two euros per day. Some of Dorcas’ family members receive support in the form of food products and some in cash.

The lack of funding is largely due to two things: Firstly, the fact that the world’s interest has been heavily focused on Ukraine, not Africa. At the same time, crises have greatly intensified in the region due to climate change and political instability, which has driven hundreds of thousands of new people to flee their homes, for example, in South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan in addition to the DRC.

Nuori kongolainen nainen ojentaa lapselle kädesään olevaa vihkoa. Naisen edessä toinen lapsi pitelee kädessään oppikirjaa. Henkilöiden takana näkyy savella muurattu rakennus.
17-year-old Dorcas’ chores at home include preparing her 6-year-old twin sisters for school and taking them there. Dorcas is sad that Asante Melody and Pacific Yvonne do not get food during the school day because the family is so poor. 

Language problem challenges learning

Rumbling stomach aside, there is also another factor that makes the school days of Dorcas and many other refugees more difficult.

“At home, we studied in Swahili and French. Here, the teachers only speak English. Due to my lack of language skills, I had to move a couple of years down in level.”

Kolme nuorta naista kävelee Ugandassa pakolaisasutusalueella hiekkatiellä keskustellen ja nauraen keskenään.
After fleeing her home in the DRC, Dorcas Uwamahoro (centre) lost touch with her friends. In Uganda, she has made new friends who share the same experience of being a refugee. The Congolese Asante Ruzuba (left) and Neema Bizimana are also Dorcas’ schoolmates. 

The language challenge gnaws at the girl’s mind, but the schools in the refugee areas follow Uganda’s official curriculum. It defines the language of instruction as English.

“At home, I was one of the best students in my class. I raised my hand often during lessons and understood everything. I felt smart”, she says.

In order to succeed at school, Dorcas has to study English. She is often frustrated by how difficult everything is.

“I didn’t understand anything during the first few days at school!”

Dorcas has learned the language little by little. She gets help from an English teacher working as a volunteer at the school who has also arrived from the DRC to Uganda as a refugee.

Nuori kongolainen nainen kurkistaa ovenraosta ja hymyilee.
Even though going to school hungry and having to use a foreign language is tough, Dorcas Uwamahoro wants to believe that she can influence her future by studying hard. 

“Now, I know how to say hello and can at least greet the teacher in class”, says Dorcas, clearly downplaying her skills a bit. The young woman’s favourite subjects at school are especially mathematics and chemistry because she can get on in those by doing calculations.

In Nakivale, the refugees as well as the local children and young people attend the same school. Language unites refugees of different nationalities as well. Dorcas says that she also gets support from her new friends, whom she met as soon as she arrived in Uganda.

“We started getting to know each other because we share a common language”, she says.

One of Dorcas’ new friends is Neema Bizimana, 19, who, like Dorcas, has had to get used to a new life in a foreign country. The families of the teenage girls are now sharing a field in the refugee settlement, provided by the Ugandan government.

Kaksi kongolaista tyttöä nojaa koulurakennuksen seinään ja juttelee keskenään lähikuvassa.

In the refugee settlement of Nakivale, Dorcas Uwamahoro, 17, receives support for her persistence at school from her friend Neema Bizimana, 19. Despite their age difference, the girls are in the same class because both have had to learn English to follow the lessons. 

Dorcas and Neema are currently helping their parents plant beans in the field. The harvest is expected in three months. The girls hope that crops from their own field will put an end to the constant hunger.

Nevertheless, it seems that tiredness and worries are forgotten in the company of a friend. Taking a break, the girls giggle as they lean on their hoes.

“I have friends here who give me hope. They have good ideas and they also encourage me to stay in school, no matter what”, Dorcas says.

The article has been written as part of a 2024 Common Responsibility Campaign in Finland. The Common Responsibility Campaign is an annual fundraising campaign of the Finnish Lutheran Church. A share of campaign proceeds are channeled to the Finn Church Aid’s Disaster Fund, which enables the launch and implementation of emergency response to humanitarian disasters.

FCA Uganda receives top honour at Visionaries of Uganda Awards 2023

FCA Uganda receives top honour at Visionaries of Uganda Awards 2023

Finn Church Aid Uganda has been recognised as the “Best International Education Humanitarian NGO of the year 2023”. This prestigious recognition was conferred upon the organisation at the 11th Visionaries of Uganda Awards ceremony on November 30th, 2023, hosted at the Kampala Serena Hotel.

THE EVENT was held under the theme “Celebrating Inclusive Economic Growth And Dynamic Leadership Through Innovation, Value Addition And Industrialisation For Continued Socio-Economic Transformation Of Uganda.”

It was presided over by The 3rd  Deputy Prime Minister of Uganda, Rt. Hon. Lukia Isanga Nakadama. During the ceremony, she extended congratulations to the Visionaries and urged them to persist in their commendable work.

A large glass award. Text engraved on it reads "THE 11TH VISIONARIES OF UGANDA AWARDS Presented to FINN CHURCH AID UGANDA On The Occasion Of Being Honoured As The Best Visionary INTERNATIONAL EDUCATION HUMANITARIAN NGO OF THE YEAR By The People Of The Republic of Uganda For The Outstanding Contribution Towards Uganda Middle Income status Aspiration and Vision 2040 on 30th November, 2023 From The Government Of The Republic Of Uganda"
FCA earned the award through its work with refugees in Uganda.

Finn Church Aid earned the recognition for its exceptional contributions to transforming and equipping refugees and host communities with education and vocational training skills in Uganda.

The award was presented to FCA Uganda Country Director, Mr. Wycliffe Nsheka, by the Minister of State for Urban Development, Hon. Obiga Kania Mario.

Expressing gratitude, Mr. Nsheka remarked, “It is a tremendous honor to accept this award and be acknowledged as the best international education humanitarian NGO in Uganda.”

“In collaboration with the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR, and other stakeholders, FCA Uganda is actively involved in addressing Education in Emergencies in the refugee settlements. we are dedicated to fulfill the right to quality education which is a fundamental human for all. I extend my appreciation to the committed FCA Uganda staff, our partners, and donors for enabling us achieve this award.”

A smiling man in a suit sits at a table in a room full of people. He is holding an award and showing it to the camera.
FCA Uganda’s Country Director, Mr. Wycliffe Nsheka, proudly displaying the award.

Initiated in 2012 by the President of Uganda, H.E President Yoweri Museveni, the awards aim to recognise organisations and initiatives driving socio-economic transformation in alignment with Uganda’s Vision 2040 strategic development plan. The Visionary Advisory Board, supported by a team of researchers, conducts thorough assessments, surveys, and evaluations to identify outstanding organisations contributing to the realization of Uganda’s Vision 2040.

Text: Linda Kabuzire

Breaking down language barriers at school 

Breaking down language barriers at school 

Abraham Bashombana Aganze, a Congolese young man, interprets school lessons for refugees. In his opinion, the key to a good life is dedicating it to helping others.

THE BRUTAL CONFLICT in the Democratic Republic of Congo, continuing for over three decades, has created over five million refugees. About half a million of them have crossed the border to neighboring Uganda for a more peaceful life. Abraham Bashombana Aganze, 30, from North Kivu, is one of them. He lives in Nakivale refugee settlement area, established in 1958.

Abraham, who has a university degree, had to escape violence in his homeland in 2020. For him, it was easier to settle in the Uganda than for tens of thousands of other Congolese people. In the university, his major was English – one of Uganda’s official languages. Most Congolese have never studied English, as education in DRC takes place mostly in Swahili and French.

This language barrier is one of the most urgent threats to the continuation of education for those coming to Uganda as refugees, particularly from the DRC. Abraham noticed the problem soon after settling in Nakivale refugee settlement area and wanted to help. Now, he works as a volunteer English interpreter in Rubondo community, in a school supported by Finn Church Aid.

”I started volunteering after some youth who know me came to request me to teach them enough English to go to school. I soon figured out this would be the best way for me to help the most people”, Abraham says.

”My philosophy? Life is about helping others.”

Becoming a refugee turns your whole life upside down

As an interpreter, Abraham participates in classes and helps the students whose English is not good enough follow the classes. The school has both local students and refugees, like many other schools in Uganda. The regular staff of the school consists of Ugandan teachers who, in turn, don’t speak Swahili or French. For this reason, youth with a refugee background struggle to understand the lessons.

Abraham gets a small monetary remuneration for his volunteer work. He usually spends five days a week at the school.

”If, for some reason, I can’t get to the school, students I know come to my house to ask for help with homework.”

Becoming a refugee turns your whole life upside down, even in a neighboring country. To Abraham, being a refugee means financial uncertainty, as they can no longer work in the areas they’re familiar with becausethere’s no job for their training. Uganda makes the lives of the refugees easier by giving families plots of land for farming. Abraham’s family has also received a plot to till.

” Here, one needs to literally be growing one’s own food. I’m a city boy and did not know a thing about farming, until hunger forced me to learn.”

Dream of an English-language learning center

Abraham has been able to also utilize his language skills by working as an interpreter for Finn Church Aid visitors in the Nakivale refugee settlement area. Being a young man, he has many plans – establishing an English-language learning center for the area, improving the productivity of land through composting, and learning more about forms of agriculture that help in building a better life. Abraham knows it will be a long time before he will be able to return home.

”When I sit down and think about my homeland, I feel a great sadness welling inside me. I want the Democratic Republic of Congo and her people to get on its feet and get stronger. Education is the key to all of this – that’s what I believe.”

According to Abraham, few Congolese youth dream about returning to their homeland. The trauma left by the war and the violence runs deep. Still, life as a refugee is not easy in Uganda, either. Thus, Abraham wants to do his part for the youth of his homeland.

”All of our knowledge and wisdom dies with us unless we share it with others. If I share what I’ve learned to hundred people, for example, they will share them on to at least hundred other.”

Text: Elisa Rimaila 
Photos: Antti Yrjönen 
Translation: Tatu Ahponen

Never too late to LEARN – improving access to education in Uganda

Never too late to LEARN – improving access to education in Uganda

A girl in a wheelchair is sitting next to a classmate at a desk. They are looking at a textbook together
Monica a student from Rwamwanja Secondary School finds it easier to participate in class with her wheelchair and kneepads.

IN UGANDA, FCA supports children and adolescents access education in Uganda’s refugee settlements through the Lasting Education Achievements Responding to Needs (LEARN) project funded by the U.S department of State, Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration.

LYDIA BANGA, Rwarinda Racheal, and Komulembe Monica are three inspiring young individuals who, despite setbacks, are forging their education paths.

FCA helped them rejoin mainstream schooling after their education was interrupted. Here are their own stories.

Lydia’s journey to achieving top performance.

Lydia Banga’s journey from a refugee fleeing civil war in Congo to becoming one of the best-performing students at in Rwamwanja refugee settlement is a testament to her determination.

A girl in a green polo shirt sits at a desk and works on some schoolwork
Lydia Banga attends Ntenungi Senior Secondary School in Rwamwanja refugee settlement

“When I came to Uganda, I was demoted and placed in primary classes instead of joining secondary school. This was because of the language barrier; I did not know English. I felt demotivated so I contemplated dropping out of school. However, my mother’s convinced me to stay. In school. I worked hard became one of the best performing students during my Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE).”

“I was determined to work hard even when my mother fell ill, and I had to be the sole provider of our family. I am the oldest of five siblings, so I took on casual jobs to support us. Through it all, I remained committed to my education,” she adds.

Lydia later joined Ntenungi Secondary School with support of Finn Church Aid (FCA) through the LEARN project, which gave her extra support.

“I am extremely grateful to FCA for giving me a scholarship to study from Ntenungi Secondary School. They also give me scholastic materials, menstrual hygiene kits, and career counselling.” she says. 

Lydia’s dreams of pursuing medicine and specialise in midwifery are fueled by her desire to make a positive impact on her community.

Pregnancy didn’t put an end to her education

Rwarinda Racheal is a survivor, who rejoined school with the support of her parents.

“During the COVID-19 lockdown, I became pregnant because I was taken advantage of by one of our village’s pastors. For my parents and me, it was an extremely difficult time. When we took the issue to the police, it was discovered that he was abusing several girls in the same way. Sadly, he fled the settlement, and we haven’t heard from him since,” Racheal tells us.

A girl in a green polo shirt sits on a chair outside a classroom and looks towards the camera
Racheal goes to Ntenungi Secondary School.

With unwavering support from her parents, friends, and FCA, she returned to school after the lockdown.

“My mother received a visit from the deputy headteacher of Ntenungi Secondary School who informed her I may resume my studies after delivering.  Throughout the pregnancy, she checked in with me every day.”

“A part of my journey has also included FCA support,” she continues. “They drove me to the hospital, and their PSS (Psychosocial Support) & Child Protection officers helped me the entire way. They also give me scholastic materials and menstrual hygiene kits.”

Racheal aspires to become a doctor, to make a difference in people’s lives. “With FCA’s support, I am confident that I will fulfil my dream,” she smiles.

She encourages parents not to feel disappointed about teenagers who get pregnant, emphasising the potential for success with proper support and guidance.

Mobility devices improved Monica’s school experience.

A girl in a wheelchair is sitting outside a classroom. She has kneepads on.
Monica a student from Rwamwanja Secondary School finds it easier to participate in class with her wheelchair and kneepads.

To improve Komulembe Monica’s classroom experience, FCA provided the sixteen-year-old girl with a wheelchair and kneepads.

“The wheelchair and kneepads provided to me by the LEARN project have greatly eased my movement around the school. Now, I can access any part of the school easily. Before I received this support, it was very difficult for me to move and stay in school. It was even worse on rainy days when I would have to crawl in mud and over rocks, which hurt me.”

Monica dreams of becoming a doctor and encourages parents and learners with disabilities to maintain a positive attitude.

“Parents who have children with disabilities should not feel disappointed or ashamed. With proper support, these children can lead successful and meaningful lives,” Monica concludes.

We believe everyone has the right to quality education. Find out more about our LEARN project.

From refugee settlement to graduation gown

From refugee settlement to graduation gown

A man in a graduation gown and cap stands outside posing for a photo
Peter graduated after obtaining a scholarship provided by FCA.

Peter Salah Sam Luka is a 27-year-old South Sudanese national living as a refugee in Uganda. His journey towards higher education was made possible through a scholarship provided by FCA, funded by UNHCR.

IN 2013, PETER’S UNCLE, who resided in Uganda, extended a life-changing invitation to Peter to attend school in Koboko district, Uganda. After successfully completing his secondary school, Peter returned to South Sudan in 2015.

But in 2016, his life took an unexpected turn as conflict overrun their homeland, forcing his family to return to Uganda as refugees. Peter’s family of six children and his mother found their new home in Uganda’s Bidibidi refugee settlement.

Grief to graduation

A smiling man in a business suit sits outside in front of foliage.
Peter’s journey towards higher education was made possible through a full scholarship.

In his smartly tailored blue suit and shiny black shoes, Peter radiates confidence and happiness. His recent graduation with a degree in Business Administration, is a testament to his steady determination and is a source of immense joy to him.

For Peter, the path to university education was once nothing more than a distant dream. The loss of his uncle, shortly after he completed secondary education, left him facing overwhelming obstacles. Even upon receiving his exam results, he hesitated to apply to any universities.

“I am the first in my family to complete A levels, and I had a burning desire to continue my education. However, the weight of financial constraints left me feeling despondent.”

He adds, “I was genuinely afraid and heartbroken when my uncle passed away. He wasn’t a wealthy man but a modest taxi driver, and yet he managed to provide for his eight children, his wife, and me.”

Peter returned to the refugee settlement and as luck would have it, he found an advertisement for FCA and UNHCR scholarships. With determination, he hand-delivered his application to the FCA Yumbe office, hoping for an opportunity. Three weeks later, he was excited to receive news of his shortlisting and an invitation for interviews at the Refugee Welfare Committee offices.

Out of 120 applicants, only 50 were fortunate enough to receive an in country-scholarship opportunity from the National Association of Partners (NAPS) under UNHCR funding, a program implemented by FCA. Reflecting on that moment, he shares, “this phone call marked an important turning point in my life. I had once thought my educational journey had reached its end, but here I was, rekindling my hopes and dreams.”

Fully funded scholarship

A smiling man in a business suit and holding a briefcase stands outside in front of foliage.
Peter wants to use his own opportunity as a platform to advocate for education in refugee camps.

Peter’s undergraduate scholarship was fully funded, granting him the opportunity to enroll in a prestigious university. With guidance from a friend who was already studying at Nkumba university, Peter gathered the information needed to apply for a degree in Business Administration. He was admitted in the August 2018 intake.

“For the first time in my life, I could focus on my studies without the burden of worrying about tuition, food, accommodation, school supplies, transportation, and other uncertainties. FCA and UNHCR wholeheartedly provided for me, allowing me to study with dignity.”

Peter’s friends, who were also recipients of the scholarships, pursued their education at Uganda Christian University and Uganda Martyrs University and are now in their final semesters.

“I am deeply thankful to FCA for recognising individuals like me and providing a chance to benefit from these life-changing scholarships. I also extend my heartfelt appreciation to NAPS-UNHCR for their unwavering commitment to funding our education,” says Peter

First of his family

Through FCA’s efforts, secondary schools in Bidibidi, create opportunities for continued learning and higher education for those who aspire to further their studies, like Peter.

A woman in a headdress and brightly patterned skirt stands outside. She has a neutral expression
Peter’s mother is preparing a special feast for his return.

“I am living proof that it’s not over until it’s over. I remain committed to advocating for education within refugee camps, aspiring to rewrite the narrative for the better,” he continues.

Peter’s mother, Lorna Koropo shared her own happiness, saying, “I couldn’t be present at his graduation, but I plan to prepare a special feast for him when he returns to Bidibidi. He is our first child to progress beyond secondary level school.”

Peter, meanwhile, is looking ahead with anticipation: “I eagerly await the opportunity to join the job market, to become self-sustaining, support my family, and embrace new and better opportunities.”

Learn more about FCA/UNHCR scholarships

Text and photos by Kadlah Nabakembo

A school for the whole village

A school for the whole village

The annual Nenäpäivä (“Nose Day”) event in Finland collects contributions to support the education of teenage mothers, underage workers, and students with disabilities. In remote Ugandan schools, these funds are helping some students achieve even the highest grades on the scale.

DRUMS BANG OUT a rhythm as children dance and sing in the schoolyard. They are celebrating the beginning of a new school year at a remote school in Mubende, about 150 kilometres west of Uganda’s capital.

As the children celebrate, the whole village celebrates. A boy sitting by a tree in the yard takes up a cue from the adults, digs up a rectangular tin box and holds it confidently between his fingers. It is not only smartphones capturing this performance – it is also saved on the imaginary memory card of the box.

The music and drama group performed at the beginning of the semester in the school yard in Mubende. The group’s activities have been supported with “Nose Day” funds.

This Ugandan school used to be one of the worst performers in the Ugandan national competency test. Now, it is the specifically preferred option for an increasing numbers of parents. Its students’ grades and reading skills have improved dramatically, teachers are getting extra training and extra-curricular music, sport and drama activities are being organized for the children.

“Some of our students still have learning difficulties, but at least now us teachers have the tools to tackle these challenges,” says Mary Tuhirirwe, who has been a teacher at the school for 12 years.

Finn Church Aid has been using Nose Day funds to support schools in Mubende since 2019. A key role has been played by Racobao, a local partner organization. In collaboration with the schools, Racobao has introduced what a crucial element to the mix: letting the whole village community to participate in helping.

COMPARABLE results have been achieved in a total of 20 Ugandan schools, many of which were often empty before the project. Sometimes even the teachers skipped school.

Opettaja Mary Tuhrirwe opettaa luokassaan.

On the first day of school, 87 children are present at Tuhirirwe school. In a school with more than 500 students, it is not a huge number, but the teachers are not yet alarmed. The bean harvest is underway, which will keep many families busy for a few more days.

87 children attended on the first day at Mary’s school. It is not a substantial number in a school with over 500 pupils, but the teachers are not particularly worried yet. They know that the bean harvest is underway – that will keep many families busy for a few days more. Kids skipping the first few days of school to work in the fields is hardly a disaster, though Mary worries more about the children working in the nearby mine.

“I’ve been telling parents to put their kids to school – it’s always worth it. Yes, the work might get the child paid, but such money will be sent in an instant. Education, however, is an investment for a lifetime,” Mary Tuhirirwe stresses.

17-year-old teenage mother Miriam prepares a meal for the family. In Uganda, bean harvesting is a time that employs both adults and children.

Around these parts, it is never self-evident that schools are even open at any given moment. Due to COVID, Ugandan children have endured a two-year school closure – the longest one in the world.

Mubende suffered another tragedy when Ebola started spreading in the region in late 2022, with the schools closing for months yet again. The school closures have had a transformative effect on the lives of many girls, with a significant increase in teenage pregnancies.

In the end of 2022, Mubende suffered an outbreak of Ebola virus. There are still warning signs around the school area.

17-year-old Miriam (name changed) was 15 when she gave birth to a son. The father of the baby left the village after learning that Miriam was pregnant, offering no support to the young mother. Miriam tells us how she dropped out of school once her belly started getting bigger, and how sad it made her feel.

“My mom said I couldn’t go to school anymore, since I would be setting a bad example for the other children,” Miriam recalls. She is stroking her son’s head as he sits on her lap.

When Mary Tuhirirwe turned up in her backyard one day, Miriam’s world turned upside down.

“Madame Mary has come to talk about my sisters,” I thought. When I realized it was about how I could return to school instead, I was over the moon,” Miriam recalls.

Mary assured Miriam she would not have to pay school fees – just returning to school was enough. Miriam’s mother finally agreed with the plan, promising to look after the boy during school hours.

Miriam became mother when she was 15 years old. Now she’s back to school while her mother takes care of Junior, 2.

It is not easy, being a teenage mother in the countryside. The neighbors keep whispering behind her back and mocking the young mother. Many think Miriam is weird for choosing school over regular work.

“I have a child, but I also still see myself as a child. I want to educate myself and hope to have the skills to take on adult responsibilities at some point,” Miriam reflects. She offers advice to other teenage mothers:

“Pregnancy is not the end of the world, and you can always return to school after giving birth. I never regret being a mother, but still, once I grow up, I want to be a teacher – just like madame Mary.”

The interview ends with Miriam asking if she can leave home to go to school already. The day’s lessons are already in progress.  

ALONGSIDE child workers and teenage mothers, teachers have also encouraged parents to ensure the education of children with disabilities. At another school, at the end of the red-sand roads, Joshua Kisakye attends classes. He is 6 years old but looks below his age and cannot move at all on his own.  

When village teachers went into homes to encourage parents to send their children to school, Joshua’s mother Mariam Nakintu was exhilarated. Finally, something new to add to her son’s days.  

“Joshua has been in school for a year with other children. He is no longer as shy; he no longer hides when there are other people visiting,” Marian says. 

“Joshua has been at school for a year together with other children. He is no longer so shy and doesn’t hide when other guests come home,” says Nakintu in his backyard. Dressed in a pink shirt, Joshua and his little brother, 2-year-old Chrimas, are spinning on their mother’s lap.

An outsider might not see much progress, but Joshua seems to respond by making noises when teacher John Twesiime teaches him the alphabet in class. 

“Many parents keep thinking that children with disabilities don’t belong in school. Joshua is very special to me, though, and I try to create a learning environment where he can learn together with his peers.” 

OTHER students at Joshua’s school have also benefited from the work supported by the Nose Day funds. There are more and more children attending school these days. Interaction between families and the school has improved, which in turn affects the whole village’s experience of community identity and its value.  

Nasande Aneti, Nyamdwin Johnson, Nisurunziza Bidas, Mutabazi Umal and Ssemyonga Johnson belong to school’s parents’ association. Parents play an important role in attitude education, and now more and more children in the village go to school.

Nisurunziza Bidas, a family father, is a member of the parents’ association, which actively promotes dialogue between the community and the school. The project’s start in 2019 saw a clear effect on the students’ grades. For the first time ever, schools in the Mubende district are seeing kids getting even the highest grades on the scale.

“Education is crucial. I have tried to get parents to put their children in school right from the first day on. Sure, my children have to housework to do in the evenings and during holidays, but when schools start, that’s study time,” says Nisurunziza Bidas, bluntly.

BY THE END of the first school week, more and more households have finished the bean harvest. One look at the blackboard of Mary Tuhirirwe’s school confirms this: 87 pupils came to school on Monday, 217 on Thursday.

By the end of the first school week 87 pupils came to school on Monday, 217 on Thursday.

Now the classrooms are full of joyful noise. It is lunchtime and the kids dig out the plastic cups they have brought with them. The cook pours a ladleful of corn gruel into each cup. Having school meals is a step forward in these parts in helping improve the children’s concentration. No-one learns well with an empty stomach.

Families agree to bring a few kilos of corn to the school’s common storage for the semester.

Lean as it is, the whole community is chipping in to provide this corn gruel. Families have pledged to bring a few kilos of corn for the school’s common store for the semester. The teachers also cultivate fields, not only for the school but also for their own use. The extra income from cultivation is also needed by Mary Tuhirirwe, whose monthly salary is only about EUR 100. Mary also dreams of rearing pigs – but teaching is still her chief calling. 

“Students’ behaviour has changed. They know their rights and possess more skills for doing different things. I can only hope this change can be maintained.” 

Text and photos by Ulriikka Myöhänen

“I’ve been telling parents to put their kids to school – it’s always worth it. Education, however, is an investment for a lifetime,” says Mary Tuhirirwe, a teacher in Mubende school.

FCA Uganda and UNHCR award 30 scholarships for refugees to study in Italy

FCA Uganda and UNHCR award 30 scholarships for refugees to study in Italy

Finn Church Aid (FCA) in partnership with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has awarded scholarships to 30 refugees to study various master’s degrees in Italy.

The students enrolled in the University Corridors for Refugees (UNICORE) project are from Uganda’s refugee settlements of Kyangwali, Kyaka II, Rwamwanja, Bidibidi, Palorinya, Adjumani, Koboko, Kiryandongo, Adjumani, Palabek and Uganda’s capital – Kampala.

THE UNICORE SCHOLARSHIP programme aims to increase opportunities for refugees currently residing in Kenya, Niger, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe to continue their higher education in Italy in a bid to promote higher education and increase the share of refugees enrolled in higher education. The program is a funded by a consortium of 33 universities in Italy coordinated by UNHCR Italy.

FCA took part in the fifth cohort of the programme, which was the first with Ugandan participation. Out of 50 UNICORE scholarship slots across Africa, Uganda was awarded 30.

25 candidates travelled to Italy on October 12th 2023, while the remaining will follow at a later date.

A group of young people pose for a photo outside of FCA's offices in Uganda. They are laughing and one woman at the front is showing peace signs with her fingers
Candidates from refugee settlements in Uganda were awarded UNICORE scholarships with FCA support, enabling them to study in Italy. Photo: Linda Kabuzire

Refugee advocates

Speaking during the send-off for the candidates to Italy, Wycliffe Nsheka, Country Director for Finn Church Aid Uganda, commended the successful students for receiving the scholarships and encouraged them to study hard.

“Finn Church Aid supports the right to quality education right from early childhood through primary and secondary school, as well as vocational and higher education. We will continue working with UNHCR to look into different opportunities for different pathways in order to make sure that we assist refugees in realising their education goals.

He encouraged the candidates to be ambassadors in Italy. “Go and succeed, get new opportunities, and make your life better. We would like you to inspire more refugees.”

Representatives of UNHCR also echoed Mr Nsheka’s message encouraging the candidates to act as refugee advocates.

“We have been working with Finn Church Aid for about a year to expand the complementary pathways project. A lot has been done behind the scenes for the UNICORE programme to reach here and I appreciate FCA being a good partner,” said Mike John Wells – Senior Resettlement Officer at UNHCR Kampala.

A group of young people push trolleys full of luggage on the pathway towards an airport
Some of the candidates arriving at Entebbe International Airport ahead of their flight to Italy. Photo: Linda Kabuzire

FCA assisted at every stage

FCA Uganda played a number of roles throughout the process including information dissemination, career guidance and counseling, scholarship application support, supporting candidates in acquisition of travel documents, visa applications and psychosocial support. The organisation collaborated with UNHCR in Uganda and Italy, as well as the Office of the Prime Minister and the Embassy of Italy to support the pre-departure processes.

The process also led to a new opportunity opening up for potential refugee students.

“As a result of this performance, Italy launched the Sports Corridor as an additional pathway for candidates to pursue their bachelor’s degree in Italy through competence in and contribution to sports.  A list of 38 potential candidates (34 Male and 4 Female) has been shared with UNHCR for selection for this pathway,” said Diana Berocwiny, Complementary Pathways Officer at FCA Uganda.

The scholarship covers a large number of expenses, including, but not limited to: application and tuition fees; books, language training; a monthly stipend; housing; transportation; health insurance; mentoring or psychosocial support, travel costs to the third country and visa fees.

The students are also permitted to undertake work-study or part-time employment.

Scholarship recipients enthusiastic

A smiling woman stands with a trolley full of luggage in front of an airport building. She is smiling.
Umwari Joviale at Entebbe International Airport, Uganda before her flight to Italy. Photo: Linda Kabuzire

Umwari Joviale, a Congolese refugee from Rwamwanja, is eager to study international accounting and management at the University of Siena in Italy.

“I am happy that my dream will come true. I dream of reaching far and supporting vulnerable people. Joining the university is a sign that I will.” She tells us.

Joviale came to Uganda with her family in 2014. They were escaping the war in Congo.

“When we got here, Rwamwanja refugee settlement was just a bush. The settlement at the time had a small population. My one and only hope at the time was to be able to eat. I cannot lie to you that I had any other dream then, I just dreamed of having a proper meal. We only received maize and beans, so I always dreamed of eating meat.” She adds.

“I had been studying in Congo, so after settling in the settlement I decided to look for opportunities. Every day I would walk for three hours to UNHCR offices in the settlement, sit at the gate and wait for someone to come and help me.:

After repeated trips to UNHCR offices, Joviale was able to secure funding in 2016 to attend Bugema University and pursued a diploma in accounting.

“I put a lot of effort into my academics and outperformed my peers in class. Now that I have received this UNICORE scholarship, I am grateful that I will continue my education. I will not wait until I graduate from university to start fulfilling my passion of helping girls in Rwamwanja refugee camp and other disadvantaged individuals. I shall begin working on it immediately,” she adds.

Kibrom hopes to develop a novel medication

A young man in a suit and tie stands in a car park looking into the camera with a serious expression
Beyene Kibrom Abrahaley says he wants to change the medical industry in his home country Eritrea. Photo: Linda Kabuzire

Beyene Kibrom Abrahaley, an Eritrean refugee, will study medical biotechnology in Italy.  He is appreciative of the scholarship since it advances his goal of changing the medical industry in his home country.

He says, “I have seen many people die, so I hope to find a new drug after my studies so that everyone can live a great life.”

Kibrom escaped his home country because of insecurity and arrived in Uganda via Sudan.

“Smugglers transported me. My journey wasn’t simple; and I still have many traumas from it.  I’m grateful to the government of Uganda and UNHCR for improving my life,” he explains.

“I discovered the UNICORE programme while researching educational options online after relocating to Kampala. and was able to apply and complete the process with FCA’s assistance. I am excited to start on my master’s degree.”

More about the UNICORE programme

The University Corridors for Refugees UNICORE project is promoted by 33 Italian universities with the support of UNHCR, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Caritas Italiana, Diaconia Valdese, Jesuit Refugee Service and other partners.

Today, 7% of refugees have access to higher education compared to only 1% in 2019. This is, however, far below the global average tertiary and higher education enrollment among non-refugees, which stands at more than 40 per cent.

Ahead of this year’s Global Refugee Forum – the world’s largest annual gathering on refugees, to be held in Geneva in December 2023 – UNHCR is urging states and the private sector to come forward with pledges to increase funding for and access to higher education by joining and marking contributions to the 15by30 global pledge on refugee higher education and self-reliance, which aims to achieve enrolment of 15% of refugee youth in higher education by 2030.

Text and Images by Linda Kabuzire