In this new article series, member organizations of the 25-year-old Kansalaisareena (Citizen Forum) describe their operations and activities.

Suomen Kylät ry (“Finland’s Villages Association”) is an organization that acts nationwide for local development – the very tiny and concrete things that appear in the everyday lives of people living in thousands of villages and neighborhoods in Finland. That thing can be a playground, a school, a cafe, a library, street lights or a sidewalk: village activities include all local development projects. And there is no need for the work to be concrete. It can be taking care of the elderly or just maintaining a spirit of solidarity by means of a theater club, for example.

– It´s difficult to explain village activities briefly because the term covers so much. Local development is a good term, because in it crystallizes the key point: it is any development activity in any place. That is what village activity is.  And especially activities initiated by the inhabitants of the region, it´s an important factor that describes our work, describes Petri Rinne, the chairman of Suomen Kylät ry.

Rinne, a native villager, became enthusiastic about village activities because the communality swallows you in.

– It´s a great feeling when a group of passionate people who believe in the same cause gather together. Then, there is strength like in a small village and no challenge seems to be too large. Problems in rural districts of Africa and China can be solved incidentally. And best of all; enthusiasm is a disease that sticks, Rinne describes.

– Man is also a gregarious animal, and we have a strong need to belong to a group. Still, in our northern, sparsely populated country loneliness is always stalking behind a corner. Village activities are an ingenious antidote for it. Even research shows that in areas where inhabitants´ communality is strong, well-being and life expectancy of people are above average in our country, he continues.

Feelings during the national Avoimet kylät day (Open Villages Day), which is held every year on the second Saturday of June in hundreds of villages all over Finland. Photo: Joonatan Stenwall.

Feelings during the national Avoimet kylät day (Open Villages Day), which is held every year on the second Saturday of June in hundreds of villages all over Finland. Photo: Joonatan Stenwall.

The path to chairman of Suomen Kylät ry went through Leader group where Rinne works as executive director. As an organization of local development, Suomen Kylät ry represents not only the village activists but also local Leader groups, which carry out EU-funded local development which covers entire Finland. More easily: they distribute rural development funds from EU to local projects such as a new lakeside sauna of the village association.

Traditional village activities are often thought to happen in rural areas, but the same kind of local development can be done in any area: although village activities are rooted in rural areas, local development belongs to everybody. In the ongoing preparation of European Union´s new agenda term, local development is strongly present and the wish is to bring the model of rural Leader activities to cities as well.

– Leader encourages people to become active. The method works because together we can provide an incentive to make people act together: when volunteering is done, the result will remain and delight the community. In cities, Leader creates a low-threshold communality not only through activities, but also by creating common meeting places, says Heli Walls, the Leader agent of Suomen Kylät ry.

The strength of local development is the increased communality through activities, the need of which will not go away and is not dependent on the residental area. The chance to develop the comfort of one´s own community and increase the recreation opportunities is a theme that activates people in villages and city blocks everywhere in Finland.

Text: Sofia Tuisku

Publicist for Suomen Kylät ry

Translation: Kati Merikoski