Power out – helpers present

Juha Hankkila / Finnish Red Cross
Juha Hankkila / Finnish Red Cross

Large-scale power outages in the beginning of January demonstrated the strength of the Red Cross volunteers’ aid in Kainuu. The situation was worst in Suomussalmi and Hyrynsalmi.

Juha Hankkila from Hyrynsalmi has been volunteering with the Red Cross for two years. When a power grid failure caused problems in the local community, volunteers were ready to act.

“We worked from dawn till dusk for several days. We gathered at the town hall at eight in the morning and moved on to field work when the day broke at nine. At best, we came back as late as ten in the evening,” says Hankkila.

A spirit of service sparked in Hyrynsalmi

In cooperation with the authorities, the volunteers drove around sparsely populated areas checking the situation with power, water and heating in the homes of elderly people, as well as the general condition of the residents.

“It was great to see that having the help of the Red Cross activated the townspeople to help each other, as well. It set off the spirit of service around the community. And the municipality did good work and cooperated with the Red Cross seamlessly,” says Hankkila.

“People are resilient and want to get by. For example, there was an elderly couple living in a house without power. The wife would have agreed to leave for temporary accommodations provided by the municipality, but her 98-year-old husband wanted to stay. So their daughter came to spend the night at their house and we saw that they would get by. You only know the true situation when you get on the spot and meet the people.”

On Saturday, 6 January, the Red Cross sent a trailer full of backup generators, water canisters, mattresses and blankets to aid with the power outages in Kainuu.

 
 

“We distributed water in lidded buckets around the municipality, as the water pumps were out of power. We also distributed mobile phone powerbanks provided by the municipality. Many people got by in a house without power: They heated the sauna and the oven and melted snow for water,” says Hankkila.

People in emergency situations require not only tangible aid, but also presence

Juha Hankkila remembers people’s gratitude for the aid and care.

“The elderly people’s relatives also thanked us for the tangible aid. Even though many people get by on their own, they too felt the need to discuss the exceptional situation. Moral support is important: It activates you to take care of yourself and others. We have an important mission to spread awareness of the fact that no one should be abandoned.”

The Hyrynsalmi branch of the Finnish Red Cross also received aid from the neighbouring branches, where the power outages were not as severe.

“We were ready for more large-scale evacuations, as well, but the situation did not get that severe. In one case, for example, a woman over 80 was living alone in a house that was getting cold, and the woman was already getting somewhat alarmed. We guided her to the temporary accommodations.”

The spark to help started with the reception centre

Juha Hankkila was interested in the activities of the Red Cross, and as a reception centre was established in Hyrynsalmi in September 2015, he took action.

“I helped with establishing the reception centre: I assembled beds, organised donated goods with other volunteers and worked as a night guard. We had 124 asylum seekers from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.”

As the number of asylum seekers has decreased, the Finnish Immigration Service has closed down several reception centres, including the one in Hyrynsalmi.

“They really liked it here in Hyrynsalmi, because all the services are close by and the people are approachable. They say they still miss it here.Also, the people in Hyrynsalmi learned a great deal about life and about refugees.”

“People here are still sad because the reception centre was closed down. The townspeople cried, and the refugees cried.”

According to Juha Hankkila, the desire to help other people comes from somewhere deep inside. It is natural.

“It feels really important to be involved with helping others. It is a basic human quality to feel the need to help and care for others when there is true need.”