Six women who moved to Finland from abroad met each other during a course arranged by the Public employment and business services ten years ago. All of them had the same question in mind: how could they support each other in integration into their new home? This is how Raahe’s multicultural association was born.
“Immigrants can be faced with a variety of difficulties and suffer from mental problems, unemployment, and homesickness. Getting to speak your own native language, receiving peer support and making new friends are important for everyone,” says Ekaterina Zon, the chairperson of Toivo ry.
Zon moved to Finland from Petrozavodsk 16 years ago and ended up in Raahe because of her husband’s job. She has been involved in Toivo for nine years, at first as a club leader and then as a language teacher. She became the association’s chairperson in 2015. She graduated as a schoolteacher in Russia.
“As a person with an immigrant background, I know how difficult and lengthy the process of adapting to a new culture and environment can be,” Zon says.
Hanhikivi 1 project brings more residents to the region
As the Hanhikivi 1 project progresses, more non-Finnish companies and employees will come to Pyhäjoki and its neighboring areas.
The work to promote the integration of immigrants in Raahe has also experienced major changes from the early days of the association. Only Finnish language courses were available in the region ten years ago, and Toivo mainly arranged cultural and culinary events during its early days. Clubs, a crochet workshop and Finnish language teaching were introduced later.
At present, the association arranges courses in Finnish, Russian and English language and culture, events, camps, and a variety of hobbies for people of all ages, such as cooking classes, arts and crafts workshops, as well as music, theatre and dancing clubs.
“Our main goals are assisting people moving to Finland from abroad in integration into society and promote cooperation between Finns and foreigners.”
Fennovoima’s sponsorship assisted in expanding the language course offering
The association is funded through membership fees and support from sponsors and the town of Raahe. A small fee for language courses is also collected.
Fennovoima has been sponsoring the association for three years. The sponsorship has enabled expansion of the Finnish language course offering, for example.
“Bridging the gap between cultures benefits everybody.”
This year, Fennovoima challenged all parties applying for its sponsorship to lower the threshold for children to start a new hobby.
“We arrange an open house event in September each year to encourage all interested people to see what we offer,” Zon says.
Pandemic moved courses online
The coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact on the association: events and camps have been cancelled, for example. In addition, the association will not celebrate its tenth anniversary until next year.
The autumn started with classroom teaching, but the COVID-19 situation has been closely monitored and the association has quickly reacted to changing recommendations.
Zon says that language courses can well be arranged online, too. Some clubs for children have also been offered in a virtual format. There have been some problems with the switch to remote operations, however.
“We clearly need more digital expertise.”
Zon believes that the increasing number of children and families participating in the association’s activities indicates that the association has succeeded in its work. She also encourages Finnish families to join the fun. For example, the clubs and camps for children are excellent also for children whose native language is Finnish.
“Bridging the gap between cultures benefits everybody,” Zon assures.
Toivo ry – Raahe’s multicultural association
- Established in 2010 by the first chairperson Ljudmila Heikkinen and vice chairperson Anna Virtanen.
- Around 80 members from countries such as Russia, Estonia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Poland, Kyrgyzstan, and Finland.
- Aims to promote cooperation between Finns and foreigners to enrich cultures.
- Arranges Finnish, Russian, and English language courses, events, and hobbies for children and adults.
- Has one Finnish language teacher, three children’s club leaders, and one family club leader.