Friendship on the Arctic Circle

Photo: Kaisa Sirén / Suomen Punainen Risti

The friendship between Ronja and Jenni is a prime example of what the Red Cross friend activities can create: a true friendship.

If you happen to be born in a small village in Lapland, you have to become used to knowing everyone.

This is obvious to Jenni Jutila, 20, who spent her childhood in a small village in the municipality of Kolari in Western Lapland.

“When I was a child, I mostly spent time with my family. I did not have many friends, because the town was so small and there weren’t many people. I value friendships, however,” Jenni says.

Student life alone in a city

In autumn 2021, Jenni had lived in Rovaniemi for two years. She moved there to be closer to her study mates and educational institution. She had a few friends, but she still felt lonely.

As if by fate, she happened to see an ad for Red Cross friend activities for young people on social media.

“It happened at an opportune moment. I decided to send a message to the Rovaniemi branch of the Red Cross. I sent them some information about myself, and soon after I received a message that they had found a friend for me.”

“I am glad that I saw the ad and felt brave enough to contact the Red Cross. I have become even more courageous over the past few years,” Jenni continues.

Snappy route to Snapchat

If you have lived in a new city for only three months, it’s no wonder that your circle of friends is small.

This was true for Ronja Klemetti, 19, when she moved from Kajaani to Rovaniemi in autumn 2021.

Even though she was not admitted to her desired educational institution yet, a nice flat and a job at a daycare centre were waiting for her in the city.

In Rovaniemi, she was able to continue volunteering for the Red Cross, which she had started in Kajaani.

“I started inserting myself in all kinds of activities in Rovaniemi. I need people around me, and that is why I also signed up as a volunteer in friend activities. I had already dabbled in friend activities in Kajaani, and the experience had been positive. I had been a volunteer friend for six months before I moved to Rovaniemi,” Ronja says.

The volunteer friend suggested to Jenni was Ronja.

They started communicating via e-mail, which is a neutral and anonymous way to get started.

The young people soon found e-mail too cumbersome and official as a means of communication.

They came up with the solution almost in unison: why don’t we start using Snapchat?

“We had not exchanged very many messages when we decided to switch to Snap, and a week later, we met in person,” Jenni recounts.

As a volunteer, Ronja has experience with both online friend activities and traditional face-to-face friend activities.

“In friend activities for young people, we are often first friends online and then we may start meeting in person. With Jenni, it happened naturally.”

“Friends are a blessing and we must cherish friendship”

Jenni and Ronja’s first meeting in early winter 2021 was nice, easy-going and natural.

The new friends explored the flea markets in Rovaniemi and drove around in Jenni’s car. Their opinions on fun things to do matched perfectly.

“We hit it off great from the start, we could talk about anything, and we had similar views. We did not need to argue about anything: when one of us says something, the other agrees,” Ronja says.

They always pick things up where they left off.

“Even though we have not been able to see each other very frequently, the meetings have more than made up for it. Friends are a blessing and we must cherish friendship,” Jenni says.

Jenni and Ronja’s friendship seems effortless. They do say, however, that making friends does not come as easily to everyone, and meeting likeminded people should never be taken for granted.

“Not all friendships work out. Our relationship has happened to work very well because we are so similar. On the other hand, friendships may also flourish between different people,” Jenni ponders.

Sharing joys and sorrows

The friendship between Ronja and Jenni is a prime example of what the Red Cross friend activities can create: a true friendship between equal partners who share the good and the bad that life has to offer.

Ronja and Jenni do not feel that one of them has the role of the active volunteer and the other the role of a passive person needing help.

“That would mean that I am only here for the other person, with no reciprocity. It would be unpleasant to both of us and we would automatically remain distant,” Ronja thinks.

She does, however, mention the instructions given to volunteers, according to which volunteers should not burden their friends with their own worries.

The instruction is there for a reason – but Jenni and Ronja have never had to worry about it. Their friendship allows for them both to unburden their minds.

They both feel that there is a need for more friend activities – throughout Finland and in all age groups.

“There are a lot of lonely people, and many people can find friends through friend activities. Life without friends is very lonely,” Jenni says.

This article was originally written by Maria Paldanius for issue 1/2022 of the Red Cross Avun maailma magazine.