Founded in 1964, Swallows of Finland is one of the oldest Finnish development cooperation organizations. We work towards a more equal, just and sustainable world.
Our work is based on long-term partnership with Nepalese, Indian and Peruvian NGOs. In Finland we raise awareness of global development issues.
We are a member of the politically and religiously independent Emmaus Movement, and are supported and staffed mainly through volunteer efforts, donations and grants.
A more just world in which everyone has an opportunity to sustainable livelihood, and people live respecting each other and nature.
We work towards ecologically, economically and socially sustainable development together with our local partner NGOs.
We work with our local partner NGOs to empower members of poor and marginalized communities to demand their rights and make sustainable livelihood.
We strive for securing ecologically, economically and socially sustainable livelihood for local communities. We provide information and training, support local sources of livelihoods and strengthen food security.
Equity and equality are the most important values for our organization. We promote empowerment and organization of especially women, persons with disabilities and members of ethnic communities.
Environmental and climate sustainability is the precondition for sustainable livelihood. We support projects in which revival of ecosystem services and improved well-being of people go hand in hand.
Development Cooperation in Nepal
Since 2019, Nepal has been a new target country for Swallows with two development cooperation projects supported by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland. In central Nepal, in cooperation with an organization called NAFAN, food security and livelihoods are improved in the Chepang and Tamang communities. The sustainable community use and management of forests is also being strengthened. In the Far West, the position of women in the family and community is strengthened and new livelihood opportunities are created through organic vegetable cultivation and processing of forest products, as well as enhancing marketing means. There the partner is Sahara Nepal.
The three-year project by Swallows and NAFAN (National Forum for Advocacy Nepal), launched in February 2019, improves the livelihoods of indigenous peoples in an ecologically sustainable way, strengthens knowledge, management and protection of forests in community use, and increases the participation of women in communities. The project is implemented in Raksirang Rural Municipality in a hill area in central Nepal and is expected to have some 1150 households as beneficiaries in 20 villages. The project is being implemented with the support of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, Mikkeli Association for Sustainable Development and Savonlinna Development Association.
The project is being implemented by National Forum for Advocacy Nepal (NAFAN), a socially oriented network of NGOs dedicated to defending and empowering marginalized groups in Nepal. The organization was founded in 2004.
The coexistence of indigenous peoples and nature has become more difficult
Raksirang Rural Municipality is located in a hill area in central Nepal near the famous Chitwan National Park. The municipality was founded a couple of years ago and has a total population of about 45 000. The majority of the population belongs to ethnic minorities (Chepangs, and Tamangs who later came to the area). The Chepangs are an indigenous people of the region who have been engaged in slash-and-burn agriculture for generations. In the past, when there was more land, shifting cultivation was in line with nature’s regeneration times. As the population grew and forests decreased, fallow periods have shortened, and the trees no longer have time to grow back. Biodiversity decreases, and bare ground is exposed to erosion. During the rainy season, landslides cause a lot of damage to crops, buildings and roads. Landslides are also life-threatening for humans and domestic animals. About 70% of the fields are steep slope fields. The farms are small and only 15% of households are self-sufficient in food. With climate change, it is expected that increasingly steep variations in weather conditions will exacerbate erosion problems if nothing is done.
Poor transport connections to the city make it difficult for income generation – bringing products to the market from remote villages can mean a 7–8-hour walk. The majority of the indigenous population does not officially own the plots they cultivate, and therefore they cannot receive support from agricultural and forestry departments. A large proportion of young men have left the area as migrant workers to nearby cities or abroad. Hundreds of villagers make their living by selling the sand and stone they dig from the riverbed, and many earn their income by producing alcohol or growing cannabis and poppies.
In Nepal, forestry is very strongly based on communal household use. Residents form forest user groups that have been granted the right to procure firewood, livestock feed and timber for domestic use from the forest by the State Forest Administration, provided that the use is in accordance with the rules and on the condition that it is equitable and ecologically sustainable. Low-income families are also given the rights to plant useful crops and collect natural products from state forests. Residents with poor or no education face major challenges in meeting administrative requirements – additionally, corruption can occur in forest user groups, and ignorance and lack of responsibility in general about the use of common land can easily lead to over-consumption.
As in many areas of rural Nepal, women rarely have decision-making power in their family’s economy, neither in forest user groups or village management. The municipal administration has been elected for the first time in a democratic election in 2017 (Nepal’s new constitution came to force in 2015), so many of the municipality’s practices and services are in the early stages of development.
What does the project do?
The beneficiaries of the project are the households of remote villages in the rural municipality of Raksirang. In addition, the project aims to transfer know-how to municipal officials and support villagers in their interaction with state authorities.
Some of the activities focus on strengthening the awareness of villagers and their communities about their rights, obligations and procedures regarding natural resources, as well as their skills in erosion control, organic farming, utilization of wild products and trade. People’s awareness of climate change and adaptation will be increased.
In particular, organizing women into village-specific “self-help groups” and the participation of women in the activities of forest use groups are supported by skills development training and mentoring. The groups aim to strengthen women’s self-esteem, provide peer support and train women to make decisions and work together to improve their conditions.
The project supports the planting of seedlings, the cultivation of fruits, vegetables, herbs and bamboo, as well as the collection of natural products, and improves the marketing of these products. The trail network will be built and repaired to improve access to sales points for at least 1 000 residents.
Developing the activities of forest user groups is one of the main tasks of the project. Groups are helped to meet their planning, management and reporting obligations, which are a precondition for them to retain the right to utilize state forests allocated to communities. Communities’ knowledge and understanding of the importance of biodiversity is strengthened. The project aims to designate 10 % of the public forests in the target area as biodiversity sites where the use of trees would be restricted. This would improve the region’s water management, erosion and forest fire prevention, as well as the utilization of natural products and nature conservation.
Raksirang Rural Municipality decision-makers will be helped to develop a strategy that would improve the land use of the area and the sustainable use of natural resources and nature conservation in the long term.
The joint project of the Swallows of Finland and Sahara Nepal in the far west of Nepal, in Bajhang district, started in the beginning of 2021 and will continue for three years. Sahara Nepal is a Nepalese non-governmental organization founded in 2010 and having its base in Chainpur, a few kilometers from the project area.
The goal of the project is to improve livelihoods and food security of poor farmer families through more efficient ecological farming, animal husbandry and the use of non-timber forest products. The project also aims to address the social issues that discriminate against women and girls. Enhancing women’s capacity for leadership is an important aim of its own. Finally, the project will promote sustainable resource management by providing training on environmentally friendly rural infrastructure and enterprise development.
Challenges in the project area
Bajhang, the district in the far west of the country bordering China, is one of the least developed areas of Nepal. The project is implemented in Masta Rural Municipality which is among the most food insecure areas of the district.
The major occupation of more than 80% of the people is in agriculture. The production is still mainly organic which ensures good quality of the food, but productivity is low. Besides, access to market is very limited so most of the people of this hilly area are not able to sell their products for income generation. Landslides caused by deforestation and erosion are common.
In the area, there are plenty of natural resources, but so far manufacturing for sale has been limited. For example, the bamboo products would have markets in the district and regional markets. The same applies to the lokta bush, out of which the famous lokta paper is made, as well as nettle and hemp.
Ancient patriarchal values are predominant in the project area and the rights of women are poorly recognized. Gender-based violence is common, the worst thing being chhaupadi, banishing menstruating women and girls to a “Chhau-hut”: a mud hut or animal shed. Luckily this practice has started to diminish. Women are engaged in local level economic activities such as goat rearing and farming, but the income is captured by the male head of the household. Women are not involved in decision-making although men generally migrate for long periods to work in cities, especially Kathmandu, and others in India. In political leadership women have practically no role. Social inclusion of women in the society is of low level and deep-rooted social norms work against women.
What does the project do?
About 350 small farmers are organized into 15 producer groups. They get training on improved farming methods after which they are provided with seeds, tools, polyhouses and irrigation facilities. To gain better access to markets, training is provided on proper processing, packaging and storage of the products, as well as marketing.
Work in Peru: Day care center and recycling center
The oldest partner of Swallows of Finland is the day care center maintained by the Cuna Nazareth foundation (Fundación Cuna Nazareth) located in Lima, the capital of Peru. Our cooperation with ´Cuna’ has continued uninterrupted since the establishment of the Swallows of Finland in 1964, thus more than 50 years.
The foundation is strongly value-based and belongs to the Emmaus Movement of Peru. At a time it had even three different ”cunas”. The aim is to break the cycle of poverty and social exclusion, to expand social rights and to promote equality among children and families in less favorable areas.
The kindergarten (Jardín Cuna Nazareth) located in the Chorrillos district provides care, a stimulating environment, healthy nutrition and psychosocial support to around 100 children aged from 1 to 5, so that their low-income parents can work and secure a better livelihood for their families. Many of the children in the kindergarten have needs for special support. Swallows support Cuna’s kindergarten through child sponsorship and by sending volunteers to assist there.
In addition to kindergarten cooperation, Swallows carried out project co-operation with the Cuna Nazareth Foundation and three Finnish Emmaus groups in 2011–2015 with the support of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. In the project a recycling center (Trapería) was completed in the spring of 2012 in the Pachacamac area of Lima to promote a sustainable way of living and the reuse of materials. Workers were trained to collect and repair local recycled textiles and home supplies, and they sell them to needy residents of the area. The ultimate aim of Trapería is to generate self-sufficiency for the kindergarten and to provide employment opportunities to nearby residents.
tel. +358 45 138 9062
Master of Social Sciences (Development Studies). Professional in organizational and project management with more than eight years of experience in NGOs, coordination of voluntary work and development cooperation in South Asia and Peru.
I like The Swallows because Swallows are fast and light: a small group of volunteers enthusiastically working for and with their faraway companions. Belonging to the solidarity movement of Emmaus is also important. My own background: M.A. and freelance journalist.
Tommi is a social scientist with a keen interest in digital development. Previously he has worked in Eastern Africa. Loves to ride boda bodas.
Elisa has a master’s degree in education and she is interested in development cooperation. Especially she is keen on cultures and matters related to education. Elisa has been volunteering in Nepal.
Heidi Virtanen is a psychologist interested in languages, cultures and development cooperation.
Global development studies master student who is keen on fighting against inequality and climate change.
Master student of global development studies
interested in gender equality, climate change actions and migration.
Ilona is a soon-to-be Master of Social Work and Human Rights, whose heart beats for promotion of equality, travelling and dancing.
Paula is an anthropologist working in international development. She considers India as her second home and spends as much time there as possible.
The Swallows was born as a branch of the international Emmaus Movement in the atmosphere of the 1960´s, in the awakening to the realities of the poor countries of the South, in 1964.
For the Swallows, faraway is near
The development cooperation organization Swallows of Finland was founded in 1964 in Tammisaari, Finland. The origin of the Swallows is inextricably linked to Emmaus solidarity movement.
There was a lot of misery in post-war France and in 1949 the priest Abbe Pierre began working in Paris together with the poor and the homeless. From the rag collection community and making money through flea market sales, the international Emmaus movement soon developed, with the principle of “Help the most suffering first”.
Abbe Pierre visited the Nordic countries in the late 1950s. By then, he had already become a celebrity who was asked to speak to different parts of the world. On his travels, the gap that had separated the well-fed people of the countries of the north from the poor of the countries of the south had been revealed to him. In the Nordic countries, Abbe Pierre strongly appealed especially to young people to show solidarity with the poorest in developing countries.
Abbe Pierre’s word was sown in favorable land. In 1959, the Swallows association was founded in Sweden, 1961 in Norway, 1963 in Denmark and 1964 in Finland, as a member of the Emmaus movement.
Everything about developing countries was still completely new and strange in the 1960s. Swallows. At the beginning, a big task was to gather all the available information about developing countries and organize study circles to share the new knowledge and thoughts. At the same time, flea market activities were started in Tammisaari to raise funds for the new work.
Swallows is one of the first development cooperation organizations in Finland.
Swallows head to Peru and India
At first, Swallows’ activities were directed to Peru. Volunteers were sent to Lima, the capital of Peru, for one to two years to work e.g. in the kindergartens of the Cuna Nazareth Foundation, which was part of Emmaus Peru. Cuna Nazareth was also supported financially through the Emmaus communities in Finland and through Swallows´ child sponsorships. The assistance of Cuna and deployment of volunteers has continued uninterruptedly since 1965.
Swallows’ support to various school projects to India and Bangladesh began also already in 1967. In 1983, VCDS (The Village Community Development Society in Tamil Nadu) became a new and long-term partner. From 1987 to 1999, Swallows had also cooperation with the village development and education center Jagriti Vihara (in Bihar) that worked with adivasis. – In the 1980s, the Swallows’ office moved from Tammisaari to Helsinki.
A long-standing and award-winning partnership with the Indian organization VCDS
Swallows supported VCDS which was organizing oppressed casteless Dalit workers and women to fight for their rights. The issues were dramatized by performances of a cultural group. Informal schools for casteless children with a special curriculum were started and new skills taught for youth. Awareness raising about political and environmental realities was an integral part of the work done in some 60 villages of VCDS working area. Between 1998 and 2006, the focus was on promoting the introduction of organic farming methods within a large network of NGOs, led by VCDS.
The lively connections between the Swallows and the VCDS were strengthened by several visits of the Swallows´ members to India and the visits to Finland by the founders of the organization, Martin and Kousalya, and the VCDS cultural group. Awareness of developing countries was also widely disseminated through study trips to India organized by Laajasalo adult education institution and by the guidance of two of our board members.
In 2005, Swallows and VCDS were chosen by President Tarja Halonen as receivers of the Partnership-award, which is a recognition given by Kepa (presently Fingo, umbrella organization of some 200-300 Finnish development cooperation organizations).
New big scale partners in the 21st century: ITDG and SEWA
From 2005 our partner in Peru was the International Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG), which focuses on the promotion of applied technology. Our common project aimed to improve the livelihoods and food security of Native American communities by developing organic cultivation and processing and marketing indigenous Andean crops.
In 2010, in the states of Gujarat and Rajasthan of India, cooperation with the 1.9 million-member SEWA (Self Employed Women’s Association) and the small Swallows began. The three-year project aimed to improve the livelihoods of Adivasi and casteless women, who make their living mainly from agriculture and animal husbandry. The central activities were agricultural training and helping self-employed women to get organized into SEWA trade unions in order to be able to fight for their rights.
Recycling center to support kindergarten in Peru
In 2012, our long-term collaboration with Cuna Nazareth took on new forms. Together with three Finnish Emmaus groups, a recycling center project, also known as trapería project, started. Refurbishment and sales facilities were built in the Pachacamac area of Lima, and local unemployed adults were trained as recycling professionals. The goal is to produce income for Cuna Kindergarten. The project ended in May 2015, after which the recycling center has run independently and generated revenue for Cuna Kindergarten.
The 50th anniversary of the Swallows and a turning point
In 2014, the Swallows celebrated its 50th anniversary. To honor the anniversary, we compiled the memoirs of past and present chairpersons and executive directors into a publication named ‘Siipien sillalla’ LINKKI JULKAISUUN (On the bridge of the wings, not translated to English). The booklet conveys an image of a wide range of Swallows’ activities. For example, in the 80s, Swallows were deeply involved in the percentage movement. In the 80s and 90s, we supported the Indian Chipko movement and participated in the global campaign against the dam projects on the Tehri and Narmada rivers in India.
In the jubilee year of 2014, our nine-year project in the Andes, in the city of Sicuani in the Cusco region, came to an end. Over the years, in collaboration with Soluciones Practicas (formerly ITDG), the Quechua Indians of the Ccaycco area and their traditional Kamayocci agricultural advisors were trained to organic cultivation of indigenous Andean cereals. Besides, a small grain processing plant was built in the city of Marangani.
Members of Ccaycco’s cooperative were trained in the processing of cereal products (such as nutritious porridge powders and snack products) as well as product marketing and plant management. At the end of the project, the facility was transferred to the Las Golondrinas de Ccaycco (Ccaycco Swallows) association.
In India, after our first project with the self-employed women’s organization SEWA, we got a positive funding decision from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs for a new three-year follow-up project. In 2015-2018, we focused with SEWA on empowering young women. Training related to agriculture and animal husbandry emphasized climate change preparedness and taught product processing. Leadership training, equipment rental and daycare activities were also supported.
In the 50th anniversary year of the Swallows, we also got to know the Indian organization Prayatna Samiti, through Siemenpuusäätiö (Siemenpuu Foundation).
Food security in the dry Rajasthan with Prayatna Samiti
Prayatna Samiti was founded in 1989 and operates in southern Rajasthan, Udaipur region, where a large part of the population is indigenous people, Adivasis. In 2017, we started a food security project with Prayatna Samiti in ten villages with Adivasi women.
In India, market-driven agriculture has led to a decline in the cultivation of traditional food crops. At the same time, the increased use of chemical fertilizers has impoverished the soil and the rainfall has become irregular. Food security for smallholder families has deteriorated.
At the beginning of the project, savings groups were set up in the villages, whose members were provided with agricultural and livestock training, practical advice and tools for the introduction of organic farming methods, traditional cereals such as millet, and vegetable and fruit tree seedlings. Nurseries and seed banks were established. Small savings and lending operations were started.
Campaigns were organized on the importance of nurturing and documenting biodiversity and demanding forest rights. The aim was to strengthen the role of women and communities in decision-making on the sustainable use and management of natural resources.
In a poor, arid and remote area, where men are migrant workers elsewhere for much of the year, training and empowering women is a prerequisite for food security and development. In this connection, women in savings groups also received leadership training.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Prayatna Samiti, along with other local organizations, distributed emergency aid kits and information about state aid programs to hundreds of households. The Swallows made a donation to Prayatna Samiti to procure vegetable seeds to families outside the project.
New country and new partners: Nepal, NAFAN and Sahara Nepal
Swallows have been involved in development cooperation in India since the 1960s. But India, despite widespread poverty, is no longer considered as a country in need of assistance, making it difficult to obtain funding for new development projects. After the end of the SEWA project, the Swallows decided to look for new partners in the neighboring country of Nepal. One of the association’s executive board members had good contacts with Nepalese NGOs and the opportunity to get to know them on the ground. Thus, we found a new partner in a new country.
In 2018, we received a positive funding decision from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs for the largest project in our history, with the National Forum for Advocacy Nepal (NAFAN) in Nepal.
In 2020 we received funding also for another project in Nepal, with Sahara Nepal, in the far west of the country.