What would be a better way to get integrated and acquainted to Finns than volunteer activities? But how would we get asylum seekers and immigrants integrated into Finnish volunteer work? To answer that question Vuolle Settlement Volunteer Work Network VARES, ESIKOTO project, funded by European Social Fund, and Oulu Region Mäntykoti Assoc. Tear of Joy project gathered. Together the participants planned and developed activities that aim at encouraging immigrants and asylum seekers to participate in volunteer activitites. The important things to ponder on were how to make it possible that those with immigrant background participate in volunteer work and organizing that those with immigrant background meet the native Finns in a natural way.
TuttaVa activity in progress
The activity got its name TuttaVa from the words Tuttu Vapaaehtoinen (Familiar Volunteer). In TuttaVa activity the experienced volunteers and the workers of the organization guided the volunteers with immigrant background on their first passage in volunteer work. To participate in TuttaVa activity the enthusiastic experienced volunteers were recruited from amongst the members of VARES network volunteers. The activity started in January with information and familiarization sessions where the common rules and regulations were agreed upon with those volunteers who had committed to the activity. In this activity an experienced volunteer committed to guide the volunteer with immigrant background in his own field 3 to 5 times and to give feedback about the guidance when the activity ended.
Throughout the activity the volunteers had the support of the volunteer work coordinator of his/her field. In February everyone gathered for the common meetup where the volunteers and those with immigrant background were combined as TuttaVa pairs and groups. At the meetups in addition to the exercises of getting acquianted those with immigrant background were introduced to Finnish volunteer work. TuttaVa pairs agreed upon the first common meetings at the volunteer’s own field in his/her own position. After common meetup the action started. The volunteers with immigrant background worked in sport clubs, at the circles of elderly people, at the open door days of the associations, events and so on, bringing along their abilities, cheerfulness and desire to help.
Encouraging experiences for those who participated in TuttaVa activity
In May there was the closing ceremony of the first common TuttaVa activity and there was a gathering to hear about the experiences about the activity and feedback from those who participated. In spring, 14 with immigrant background and 10 experienced volunteers participated in the activity. The feedback and first impressions about the activity have been positive and ideas were gathered for the future development.
For the volunteers the experience of meeting those with different culture and the common activity gave new incentives for volunteer work. For those with immigrant background the action provided activities and fruitful meetings with native Finns and information about the possibilities of the volunteer work. The participation in the volunteer work is percieved as useful for learning Finnish. The participants have been satisfied to meet the new people and to support the elderly in their daily life. Many young people who gave feedback plan to participate in volunteer work again in the future.
The organizations and those who coordinated the volunteer work gathered courage and experience to recruit into volunteer work those with immigrant background for various activities. The support of volunteer coordinators in TuttaVa activity was considered necessary. The commitment of contact people right from the start of the activity was very important for the successful completition of the activity. The contact people had to be available for the immigrant background volunteers as well as for the experienced Finnish volunteers if needed.
For all the participants the activity was the possibility to exchange abilities and find new strengths in oneself. With this pilot project first steps towards volunteer work have been taken. TuttaVa activity will continue in autumn 2017 and the recruitment of volunteers is well in process.
Text: Annukka Oksman-Hiukka and Pirjo Honkanen
Translation: Vivika Maar and Katja Reinikainen