Friends from next door

Altti Näsi / Finnish Red Cross
Friends Toini Niskonen (left) and Maija-Liisa Kallonen.
Image: Altti Näsi / Finnish Red Cross

Toini Niskonen has been working as a volunteer in Lempäälä for several years. She first met Maija-Liisa while taking out the bins, as Maija-Liisa lives in the building next to Toini’s block of flats.

Let’s see one another
  • As many as one in five Finns feels lonely, at least occasionally.
  • Loneliness can feel like being invisible or empty or not belonging anywhere. It can also manifest itself as physical pain
  • Approximately 9,000 volunteers around the country are taking part in the Finnish Red Cross’ friend visitor activities. Annually, around 32,500 people receive help thanks to these activities.
  • Click here for more information on the friend visitor activities!
However, the actual friendship between Toini Niskonen and Maija-Liisa Kallonen did not begin until after the passing of Maija-Liisa’s husband, when Toini found out that Maija-Liisa would like to find a friend through the Red Cross. 
Toini decided ‘to become friends with Maija-Liisa straightaway’.

Their meetings often begin with a quiz

The two women see each other often, thanks to the short distance. They meet for coffee, and Toini likes to start with a few quizzes or riddles. 
This time, too, Toini digs out her notebook from a weaved basket and asks:
“Which question cannot be answered ‘Yes’?”
Maija-Liisa finds this amusing. Finally, after a few laughs, Toini reveals the answer:
“It is easy: ‘Are you sleeping?’”

Mutual interests support their friendship

The friend visitor activities add content to both of their lives. It feels good to exchange news and discuss hot topics while sharing a cup of coffee. 
Part of the reason why Toini and Maija-Liisa have been able to find common ground is that they are both from the countryside. That is also why they both enjoy making things with their hands. 
Paintings and dinnerware that Maija-Liisa has made can be seen in her apartment. She has also created the cups they are drinking coffee from right now. Maija-Liisa would also like to point out that she never buys baked goods but makes everything herself. 
This time she has baked a shrimp pie, some cream puffs and donuts. Toini, on the other hand, makes beautiful cards and specialises in graphology, i.e. different styles of handwriting.

What do the friend visitor activities require?

Toini says that the most important characteristic for someone interested in volunteering as a friend visitor is the ability to be empathic:
“Being empathic helps if you are a friend visitor, meaning you have the ability to step into another person’s shoes, if necessary. Beyond that it is simply a question of chemistry. Maija-Liisa and I clicked immediately, but you should not assume it will go as smoothly as that with everyone.
Luckily, people and personalities vary.”
Listening to Toini and Maija-Liisa’s stories makes it clear that both women immensely enjoy the friend visitor activities. 
In some of her previous volunteer tasks, Toini has run into challenging situations, which is normal. However, with a good sense of humour and support from her Red Cross branch she has managed to overcome these challenges. 
If you are considering joining the friend visitor activities, you should first give them a try by contacting your own local Red Cross branch. 
If you find you enjoy volunteering as a friend visitor, you could perhaps become a regular friend visitor to someone in need of one.
Text: Altti Näsi