A helper at heart

Suvi-Tuuli Kankaanpää / Suomen Punainen Risti
Image: Suvi-Tuuli Kankaanpää / Suomen Punainen Risti

Ali Ihsan became a Finnish Red Cross volunteer when he was still living at the reception centre. Helping has become an important part of his life.

When Ali Ihsan came to Finland as an asylum seeker, he was impressed by the Finnish Red Cross volunteers he saw working at the reception centre.
– These people, with their work and families, came there to help us without pay. It was amazing, describes Ihsan, 29.
He soon realised that he wanted to be a part of the Finnish society and help others. He was the first asylum seeker in his centre to become a Finnish Red Cross volunteer. Life at the reception centre was mainly spent on waiting and passing time, which left plenty of time for volunteering.
– While studying Finnish, I thought that I wanted to do something, too, instead of just accepting help. I also said to the other residents of the centre that we might as well do something while we wait for the decisions. If even these working people can find the time, we definitely can do it, Ali Ihsan says.
Ihsan, who lives in Turku, is active and likes to work for meaningful things.  One important reason to become a volunteer was also the desire to get to know Finnish people and find Finnish friends.
He has been successful – Ali Ihsan has met most of his Finnish friends at Red Cross activities.
– Finnish volunteers are very happy that I wanted to join the activities.

The elderly appreciate the help

Among other places, Ali Ihsan has volunteered at a retirement home and a youth club. At the retirement home, the volunteers help the elderly at meals: they escort them to the table and help them with trays.
– I feel that they appreciate my help, even though few of them say so. It feels good. At one time I thought about studying as a practical nurse, but I finally decided on a different field, production engineering, Ihsan says.
At the youth club, the volunteers’ tasks include assisting the youth leaders with things like setting up when food is served. Ihsan worked as the doorman at the youth club’s opening celebration.
– It was great that management level people from the city and FCR came there, he says with a bit of wonder, because there is practically no youth work in Iraq.
The position of the Red Crescent, the sister organisation of the Red Cross, is also weak in Iraq.
– The Red Crescent activities do not really have a place in the Iraqi society. Volunteers have wanted to go to clear the areas that were destroyed by the war, but they haven’t been allowed to do it.

Now volunteering at the reception centre

Currently, Ali Ihsan also helps out at the reception centre. Many of the clients of the centre do not have foreign language skills, and Ihsan has explained the principles of volunteering to them. The Red Cross volunteers organise many activities, such as trips and clubs, at the reception centres. 
– I have told people who the volunteers are: we aren’t connected to the police or Migri, we are only at the centre to help. I understand the asylum seekers’ situation, because I have been in their place myself.
Ali Ihsan and other volunteers have also organised lessons in Finnish and English at the centre for people who have just arrived in the country. Ihsan himself has now lived in Finland for two years. His Finnish is constantly improving, even though conversations are still easier in English.
Ihsan has only recently started working at a car factory in Uusikaupunki. The daily commute takes time, but because he does shift work, he also has time for volunteering now and then. He does not want to give it up.
– Helping has become an important part of my life. I want to help people who need help for different reasons. I also want to thank all the volunteers who have helped asylum seekers.
Text: Elina Teerijoki