Michael Hummel, originally from Austria, moved to Finland in 2009 to work at Aalto University. Michael used to attend meetings organized by the Helsinki Fair Trade coffee club “Eetti”. There he asked his friends about volunteering opportunities for English speaking immigrants like him. Volunteering was not something new to Michael as he used to be a volunteer at a nursing home in Austria. His friends from the coffee club recommended the Finnish Red Cross, Michael applied to join the volunteer group and was invited for a one-day training for new volunteers. He joined a group of volunteers affiliated to the Töölö branch of the Helsinki and Uusimaa Finnish Red Cross.
The group visits once a week detainees at the Helsinki Metsälä immigration detention center. The detention center is an enclosed facility, where immigrants are held for immigration reasons under the Finnish Aliens Act. According to reports, in the center “Aliens subject to escorted return are accommodated before the departure of their flight and on the other hand, aliens encountered at the airport whose identity and/or fulfilment of the requirements for entry into the country is unclear. The detention unit is used by both the Finnish Border Guard and the police”. The Red Cross volunteers are sometimes the only contact that detainees have with the outside world.
When asked why he wanted to be a volunteer, Michael said “Volunteering does not take much time and it can give you a very unique feeling of happiness and satisfaction. It is the right thing to do”. When he decided to volunteer for Finnish Red Cross, it was not about pursuing social issues important to him, he volunteered strictly for altruistic reasons.
The coordinators, who are volunteers, organize the weekly visits and also serve as a liaison between the staff of the detention center, volunteers and the staff at the Red Cross branch office. For the detainees, life is stressful, filled with desperation and fear. Michael says volunteers offer friendly company to the detainees: listen to them, share their worries and frustrations, and give them encouragement. Playing games with them can break their daily routines; Michael has observed that detainees who normally do not associate with each other would forget their differences and join to play games or a conversation.
Michael believes that Volunteer visitors are a valuable support for the detainees by offering emotional support at an extremely difficult time of their lives. When asked to describe the challenges and opportunities of being a volunteer visitor, He said “It is a challenging experience as we cannot do much to help other than comforting them. This can be very frustrating. On the other hand, meeting people and personalities from all over the world is fascinating; the few hours of my life that I shared with them gives me a sense of accomplishment, those hours never feel ´wasted`. In addition to that, spending time with fellow volunteers can be an amazing source of energy, motivation and inspiration.”
Michael is an experienced volunteer: since 2015 he has been involved, with other coordinators, in recruiting and training new volunteers. He believes that one does not need any special qualification to be part of the volunteer team. All that is needed is enthusiasm, patience and willingness to make a difference in the life of someone very much in need; of course some experience, awareness or involvement with refugees, asylum seekers, or migrants is desirable. He encourages everyone, who wishes to spend a few hours of his/her life meaningfully and justly, to apply and join his group.
Text: Yeteshawork Berhanu
Next training to volunteers 2017
Volunteers must participate in a training session that will take place on Saturday March 18 starting at 9 am, finishing around 3 pm. The working language of the group is English and all training and materials will be provided in English. Read more https://rednet.punainenristi.fi/node/34149
If you are interested in signing up or have any further questions, please send an e-mail to spr.dcvolunteers(at)gmail.com.