The power of help – Tuuli and Leena talk about volunteering

Red Cross volunteers Tuuli Sundell and Leena Valtee-Kuuskoski smiling side by side in a winter landscape.
Photo: Ari Räsänen / Hartela-yhtiöt Oy

Two experienced Red Cross volunteers with a total of 90 years of volunteering experience combined explain how it feels to help.

“Once, I received a call from the crisis emergency services about a suicidal person in need of help. I was asked to call them at half past nine in the evening. I was babysitting at the time, but luckily, all three children were already asleep. I spoke with this person for many hours, and finally they stated that maybe we should go to bed,”

reminisces Tuuli Sundell, a highly experienced volunteer, who has an amazing 62-year background as a volunteer worker of the Red Cross. She is still an active participant in volunteer activities and has a vast range of memories of important, touching encounters. The one described above is one of the many that is still easy to recall.

“A small effort on my part may have helped someone a great deal. They were just very lonely and in need of someone to talk to. The next day, Leena and I went to visit them.”

Leena Valtee-Kuuskoski is sitting next to Tuuli at the Korso resident space in Vantaa. She is also another long-term volunteer, who has “just” 28 years of experience from the Red Cross’s volunteer work.

Normally, authorities handle assignments such as the one described above. In this case, however, they wanted the volunteers to help – likely not least due to their experience.

The emergency team sets out the moment they are called

Over their decades with the Korso Branch of the Red Cross, Leena and Tuuli have been involved with most of the activities and services offered: the search for missing persons, mental support for accident victims, becoming a friend for the lonely, getting clothes for the victims of fires, arranging collections and blood donors’ catering services, and much more.

“We have a great group here.”

And this group sets out the moment help is needed. When a person goes missing and the authorities need help in the search, the police will often ask for help from the Voluntary Rescue Service (Vapepa), whose activities are coordinated by the Finnish Red Cross. The Korso local branch has its own Vapepa emergency team, in which Tuuli and Leena have been involved from the beginning. Usually, missing persons are older people, often suffering from memory disorders.

Finally, the volunteers’ canine patrol found the children, healthy and safe. These are always happy endings.
Leena Valtee-Kuuskoski

“Once, an elderly person went missing from a local nursing home, and we targeted our search at the nearby areas. We found a person by an ATM who was trying to use the machine but didn’t seem to understand it at all. We thought the person we were looking for had been found, but the name didn’t match. We had actually found someone who had not yet been reported as missing,” Tuuli says.

The person who they were originally looking for was also found.

“My first search mission was in Vantaa, near Peijas Hospital,” says Leena.

“Two toddlers had gone missing, evening had come and it was quite cold. We're looking for them in the areas surrounding the hospital. Finally, a canine patrol of the volunteers found the children, healthy and safe. These are always happy endings.”

“These days, we probably wouldn’t venture into the wild to look for people anymore,” Tuuli says, referring to her age. However, Leena is quick to answer back:

“I’m still ready to go. That is not a problem.”

Red Cross volunteers Tuuli and Leena on a walk.
Photo: Ari Räsänen / Hartela-yhtiöt Oy

From fires to a tsunami

Leena and Tuuli have been involved in the emergency support services of their branch from the very beginning. In a sudden accident or disturbance, emergency support services aim to meet people’s basic physical, mental and material needs, thereby supporting their survival.

When Tuuli and Leena are asked to give some examples of emergency support services, the memories just keep coming.

“After the tsunami, we gave mental support and distributed clothing at the airport to people returning to Finland. People returned in the exact same state they had been in when the tsunami struck. Many were in shock and upset, wearing shorts and holding a pillow under their arm. It was very hectic and challenging.”

“After the explosion at the Myyrmanni shopping centre, we were there the whole night.”

“We were there to help after the school shooting at Jokela.”

“We took part in a memorial service at a church after a familicide, talking with people and offering mental support.”

“There was a large building fire in the same area. There, we gave emotional support to those who had lost their homes in the fire.”

And so forth.

Important part of Finnish preparedness

As an organisation, the Finnish Red Cross is kind of a safety net which seeks, through voluntary non-governmental activities, to respond to the need for human assistance that authorities alone are not able to provide – whether this need is related to the loneliness of people or quickly putting together a group of people trained in first aid or for searching missing persons.

Not only is the contribution of volunteers important right now, but the availability of trained volunteers is an indispensable resource for the preparedness of our society in cases of major accidents and crises.

Helping others just makes you feel good.
Leena Valtee-Kuuskoski

Thousands of Finnish Red Cross volunteers are engaged in helping others, providing us with safety and security locally. Helping is a choice based on values, and a way of life for many. However, a common denominator seems to be that taking others into consideration and helping them gives a great deal back to all the volunteers.

“Helping others just makes you feel good,” Leena says.

“If we have had many assignments back-to-back and I’m feeling exhausted, this good feeling still always beats the exhaustion. Knowing I can help also helps me recover,” Tuuli states.

Photos and text: Ari Räsänen, Hartela-yhtiöt Oy.