Over the last few years, volunteering has become a big part of my life. A couple of years ago I started as a volunteer for Kennel Club´s dog buddy activities because I wanted to find something meaningful to do during my leisure time. I was inspired by the dog buddy activities in the first place, because it was volunteering where I could combine my other important free time activity, my dog. My enthusiasm increased when I saw how much joy even a short visit could bring. My dog and I mostly visit closed psychiatric wards, where we are very expected guests who break the daily routines.
More volunteer work came into my life, when less than a year ago I started working on a volunteering development project. The purpose of the project is to find volunteers and develop different forms of volunteering in order to increase the well-being of the most vulnerable people and to provide them some meaningful activities. The people who are worst off are often those, who suffer from substance abuse and mental health problems, long-term homelessness and unemployment.
The fact that I both work and volunteer with people who have substance abuse and mental health problems is not accidental, but a conscious choice. I feel that these people are often left out and overlooked, one reason being that there is much more prejudice towards them than any other group. For example, according to the NIMBY-meter, which measures tolerance, the most undesirable groups are drug users, alcoholics, schizophrenics, and those convicted of homicide. The NIMBY-meter is a part of a mental health indicator of the Finnish Central Association of Mental Health (2016).
I feel that people who are already in a weaker position to start with should not be discriminated against because of prejudice. Therefore, I wish that more volunteers forgot their prejudices and tried volunteering with the so-called ‘more challenging target groups’. After all, most of the people affected by substance abuse and mental health problems are just ordinary people, despite their own problems. I challenge you, volunteer, or anyone interested in volunteering: be brave and adopt a YIMBY (Yes in my backyard) attitude!
Text and photos: Saija Haikarainen
Project worker, Sirkkulanpuisto Association
The writer is currently studying volunteer leadership at the HUMAK University of Applied Sciences.
Translation: Kati Merikoski