As known, we Finnish Red Cross volunteers are organising different kinds of activities at Pansio reception centre here in Turku. Activities which are run by Red Cross volunteers are usually coordinated by some Red Cross branch. Since the early 2000’s, Ruissalo branch has organised several clubs and one time basis activities in the Pansio centre based on the needs of asylum seekers. One of our newest activity is a family club. The club has been active from the beginning of 2017. During the years 2015 and 2016, when we had a peak in a number of asylum seekers, most residents in the Pansio centre were men, as families with children and women were immediately transferred to other centres. Due to this, for couple of years our volunteering activities were mainly targeted for men. Today, women as well as several families with children stay at Pansio for some weeks or months. Thus there is a real demand for activities which are designed and targeted for them, too. This is a reason why the family club was established and is now running at the Pansio centre.
We, volunteers, organise the family club once a week, every Thursday evening. At the same time there is also a Finnish language club. By organising the clubs at the same time we aim to support the residents of the centre by its best possible manner – parents can focus on learning Finnish and children can play while parents are studying. So, even though our club is called family club, mostly children are coming to the club to play. Every now and then also parents pass by and spend some time with us.
So, what we are doing at the family club? I would say that every gathering is a bit different. What we are doing depends much on it how many children attend and how old they are. Nevertheless, I would say that almost every time we do some crafts and drawing. Several times we have been doing necklaces and bracelets or figures out of hama pearls. These are especially girls favourite. Often we also play different games, a big fun have been a swaying tower game. As realised, not all children want to focus on doing something with their hands or playing games, but they rather play with different toys that we have in our club room. Especially, when toddlers come to the club, legos, other blocks or rattles are in a great use. Thus, as volunteers, we have to adjust and find the best solution for every child to enjoy each club gathering.
“We seldom have a common language but this has never prevented us from having a good time together in the club.”
As known, Pansio reception centre is functioning as a transit centre which means that asylum seekers are seldom staying there longer than some weeks or months. The status of the centre impacts on our family club, too. Often at the club we hear that parents are saying “we go to Salo” (since there is a reception centre near Salo). Due to this we maybe meet them and their child/children only once. This message from the parents is naturally also a good sign as the premises at the Salo reception centre are more suitable for the families than at the centre in Pansio. In addition, as children and families living in Pansio have often just recently arrived in Finland, we seldom have a common language but this has never prevented us from having a good time together in the club. We have been smiling and showing things while playing together. Languages which are spoken and heard at the club are various – Arabic, Farsi, Dari, Russian, Somalian, Portuguese, French, Spanish, English etc.
It is, unfortunately, evident that the majority of the children participating in the family club have faced some hardships and challenges in their life and they may have some trauma which is affecting in their behaviour. Neither the reception centre is an environment which offers the best solution for children to grow and spent their time. Due to these challenges some children are reacting with clearly visible manner at the club gatherings, too. We, club volunteers, have realised that some children tend be quiet and shy and some are restless or have challenges in a group with other children. However, all these reactions and behavior are understandable when considering various life stories and challenges which these children may have. Our role as a volunteer is not to solve these problems. However, we have to react on these challenges which children have and we are obliged to inform workers at the centre about these.
Naturally, often some immediate reactions with children are also needed by volunteers. Depending on the challenge during the club, we instruct some of the children more carefully in playing with other children, we play one to one with some of them when possible, we encourage them to join to play and participate and we give them a hug and comfort them when needed. Nevertheless, a volunteer does not need to be a superhero or super nanny. We are trustworthy company for the children who are participating in the family club. In other words, anyone who cares, loves and likes to be around children and play with them is a suitable volunteer. None needs to have a specific educational or professional background for joining the family club as a volunteer.
“A volunteer does not need to be a superhero or a super nanny. We are trustworthy company for the children. – – – Anyone who cares, loves and likes to be around children and play with them is a suitable volunteer.”
We are currently a group of eight volunteers who are running the family club. Nevertheless, we have rather nicely managed to run the club on weekly basis. As we are a small group we are mainly organising our shifts for each Thursday through a WhatsApp-group. Through the group we are also sharing our thoughts and sending greetings from club gatherings for each other. As we are not too many at the moment, our wish is to get more volunteers to run the club with us. Especially, when bright evenings and summer is coming it would be great to combine club activities both inside in the play room and outside in the yard – for being able to do this we would need couple of helping hands.
I joined the family club in autumn 2017. Since that I have been a family club coordinator which mainly means that I make sure that we have at least two volunteers for each Thursday attending the club. Besides this, I aim to inform about issues which supports our volunteering. Before I joined the family club I had a two year break from volunteering at the Pansio reception centre. The break was a good thing for me, as after the break I found a new passion for volunteering at Pansio. Having a break is sometimes good! By saying this I would like to add that volunteering must always give a pleasure and joy for a volunteer. A positive feeling offers the best opportunity for us, as a volunteer, to give the best support for people who are in a vulnerable situation. If one joins to the family club as a volunteer it does not mean that the person needs to attend the club each time or for several months or years. Each of us can fit our volunteering based on our current life situation. We give our best when we are at our best!
“We give our best when we are at our best!”
Before fnishing, as a coordinator of the family club, I want to thank all other club volunteers: Fanny, Hanna, Inka, Johanna, Jonna, Josua and Maikki. At the same time I want to welcome all new volunteers for the club. If you are a cheery and open minded person who is ready to react on children’s needs, be in contact at perhekerho.ruissalo(a)rednet.redcross.fi
See you around,
Coordinator of Family Club
FRC/ Ruissalo branch
P.S. Each person volunteering at the Pansio reception centre should participate in introduction course about Finnish Red Cross multicultural volunteering. More information from Voluntary Service Coordinator Rosa Rantanen rosa.rantanen(a)redcross.fi