Finland is the promised land of associations. Some 75 percent of its citizens will be members of some kinds of associations during their lifetime. Even though most people participate in association activities as members, activity piles up. Educated and high earners are the most active participants. Associations too, find challenges of their own in this turbulent world. A lot of different, short lived, forms of activity have been born or developed, that have seen people committing to them only for a short period of time only to move on to other methods of influence.
It is symptomatic for the development of Finnish democracy that participation and civil interest is polarized. This is especially clear in the younger ages. Far from all find voting or other association activities their preferred way of participation and influencing. Thus we must provide space also for new modes of participation.
I have a strong experience from non-governmental organizations. For the last 13 years I have been chairman of Perhehoitoliitto, which is a national organization for foster parents, family daycare providers and foster children. I was the skipper of Sylva, organization for kids with cancer, for seven years. The freshest organization I have been in charge of is Suomen Harrastajateatteriliitto. I also take part in a large number of voluntary campaigns and every year I book a couple of days to participate in work with elders, mentally disabled youths and immigrants.
I have gotten a huge amount of social capital from my work in voluntary and peer support. I have met a lot of lovely people, who strive to make the civic society heard with no holds barred. This is inevitable, if we are to get expert with a broad experience into the decision making of municipalities and parliament. There are many organizations that offer peer support and services, that the public sector cannot offer. Patient organizations know their own needs best and for instance Perhehoitoliitto is the only organization specialized in family care and foster parenting. I am motivated by the fact that I get to pass the baton on regarding different needs of organizations to parliament and ministries. Quite often the work is ongoing for a number of years, before the improvements are included in a new law or the ministry has taken the needs into consideration. When that happens, the joy and feeling of strengthening is astounding. Then I can be sure, that the work laid down has not been wasted.
Text: Aila Paloniemi
Member of parliament (Kesk.), Candidate in municipal elections in Jyväskylä
Translation: Jens Björknäs
Citizen Arena (Kansalaisareena) started municipal elections spring by offering ”Eduskunnan vapaaehtoistoiminnan tukiryhmän” Thank you, you are important -challenge campaign participants the opportunity to write to VerkkoAreena/Nätarenan/Webarena about peer support, volunteer work or civic action in their community.