Volunteering brings joy to others and helps when feeling homesick

Jarkko Mikkonen / Suomen Punainen Risti
Jarkko Mikkonen / Suomen Punainen Risti
Jarkko Mikkonen / Suomen Punainen Risti

The asylum seekers living in Vantaa wanted to help Finnish people in return, and so they signed up as volunteers for the Finnish Red Cross. This friend group, jointly formed by the local branches in Tikkurila, Western Vantaa and Korso, visits an assisted living facility every week.

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A group of elderly people in wheelchairs has gathered at the entrance of the Suopursu assisted living facility. They already have their coats on, and the only thing missing is the volunteers to help them. Their visit has been long-awaited.

Soon, ten asylum seekers from the Finnish Red Cross reception centre in Auramo arrive at Suopursu, along with a few other volunteers. Their visits cheer up the residents of the assisted living facility every week.

Today they are going for a stroll together, as they do most of the time. A long queue of volunteers and smiling elderly people go out in the sun.

“If we could, we would visit here every day”

The group moves slowly through the streets of Tikkurila. This is a good time to interview Arkan and Riyadh, who came to Finland from Iraq in September.

“Volunteering among the elderly is truly wonderful. I miss my family a lot, and these visits make me feel like I’m with my family,” Riyadh says.

“We have received so much help from the Finns. Now, we want to give something back. If we could, we would visit here every day,” Arkan says.

The number of visits is limited by the fact that the reception allowance isn’t enough for that many bus trips in a month. The city of Vantaa supports the voluntary work of the asylum seekers in the group by issuing them a grant to cover travel expenses once a week. This brings joy both to the volunteers and the elderly.

The help of the volunteers is valuable

“We would get bored without these activities,” says Maire Loikkanen, 82, who has lived in Suopursu for ten years.

She was joined on the stroll by Toini Törönen, 92, Sirkka Sipilä, 86, and Tyyne Mustonen, 77, among others. 

“Often, I’m the very first person waiting to get outside,” Tyyne Mustonen says.

Sipilä and Törönen nod, and say they always wait eagerly for the visits.

Elina Mattila, the coordinator of voluntary work in the city of Vantaa, thanks the volunteers for the valuable work they do. The personnel of the assisted living facility do not always have the time to interact with the residents in an unhurried fashion.

Music can bring people together, even if there is no common language

The asylum seekers themselves were the ones to suggest visits to the assisted living facility, says Michael Pearlman, who started as a Red Cross volunteer in the spring.

He works as a “volunteer responsible” in the visitor group and helps the volunteers with matters such as the trips from the reception centre to the assisted living facility and interpreting the conversations between the English-speaking asylum seekers and the Finnish-speaking elderly.

“It’s great to see how much joy these visits bring both to the volunteers and to the elderly,” he says.

The programme for the next visits is already being planned.

“One of the Auramo residents can play guitar. We are planning to organise a dancing event for the Suopursu residents!” Arkan says.