This blog explores experiences and develops new models for volunteer work leadership and supervision

During last year’s celebrations for a 100-year-old Finland, many stopped to think about the things they appreciate in Finland, and what they are thankful for. In many areas, Finland is an exemplary nation, and abroad Finland is known as a pioneer in its educational system and public health care – not to mention the beauty of our nature. One could say that the less flattering aspects of our culture include the customs of Finnish social interactions, even though they come very naturally to us.

The Finnish tabloid newspaper Ilta-Sanomat published an article in 2014, titled “Uusi kirja: Tämän takia suomalaisia pidetään maailmalla tyhminä” (”New book: This is why the world thinks that Finns are stupid”). Marjut Nieminen, an instructor and nonfiction writer, was interviewed for the article. Ilta-Sanomat asked Nieminen to list five reasons why people often wonder about the behavior of the Finns. As a coordinator for volunteer work, I feel that all these customs also include good aspects, at least when talking about being a friend to someone who needs support, which is what we do. So why do I say this?

1. Tolerating silence

Many young people who participate in our functions appreciate the fact that someone is interested in them and is willing to be there for them. Words are not always needed, and sometimes they don’t even exist – it is essential to settle down and listen to what the youth has to say. Many young people would also like to have company for activities and events, such as concerts or movies. In all cases confidentiality applies.

2. Equality

To join our functions as a volunteer, you only need a ”normal” person’s knowledge and skills. As volunteers we have had, for example, unemployed, housewives and homemakers, students, as well as leaders in big corporations. Few young people care about titles or other life situations, as long as the chemistry works. Also, many volunteers have found that it enriches their lives to get to peek into the life of a youth from a very different background, and to learn from his or her way of thinking and understanding of the surrounding world.

3. Direct and efficient communication

Many young people have shown remarkable courage in telling the volunteers about their life situations and need for support without embellishment. The young and the volunteers have formed confidential relationships, in which they have been able to talk about difficult things very directly. Straightforward communication has prevented misunderstandings from happening.

4. Modesty

In our activities modesty shows, for example, in arranging time for the youth: when asked, many volunteers have said that it is fairly easy to arrange time for their youth a couple of times a month, even though in reality it probably requires some shuffling of their other errands. In the spirit of volunteer work, the volunteers do not get monetary benefits, but they feel that the thankfulness of the youth and the importance of the work are conveyed in other ways.

5. Simple efficiency

After one has thought long enough about starting volunteer work, the threshold to join our functions has been experienced as low. Many also appreciate that the wait time for participating is not long. Both the volunteers and the youth are generally committed to regular meetings, although they also understand that getting to know each other may require collected and patient attitudes.

 

I am not claiming that the aforementioned Finnish traits don’t also cause hinderances and problems in the field of volunteer work. But, because us Finns are also considered prone to melancholy and pessimism, isn’t it sometimes good to examine things from a positive point of view? If only to break the stereotypes.

Riikka Neuvonen, coordinator for volunteer work

The writer is currently studying volunteer leadership at the HUMAK University of Applied Sciences.

Translation: Satu Puolitaival