It has been 8 months since I arrived in Finland and started my 11-month European volunteering for the Blue Ribbon Foundation. Now, that the end of my volunteering is near, I am writing a about this experience.
Back in September 2022 – a year after graduating from social work school – my aim was to continue learning and find new outlooks and ways of working to help people in need. Also encountering inspiring people and getting to travel and explore a new country played a part in my decision to become a volunteer. I was very interested in volunteering with homeless people, a group that I never had the chance to meet in my previous jobs.
During my internship, I got to discover different services of the organization one by one: Nuoli, Mosaiikki, and Illusia day centers in Helsinki, Vantaa, and Espoo as well as Ruusulankatu’s and Vuorela’s housing units. I also had the chance to be part of some events such as two fundraising campaigns and the Night of the Homeless.
I remember expecting less vulnerable situations than what I saw in reality.
My responsibilities as a full-time volunteer have evolved and diversified throughout the months. I enjoy spending my time with customers, cooking together, doing arts and crafts and other activities at Toimintatorstai. My tasks could also be as simple as serving our customers warm coffee, porridge or just being present.
In France, the Nordic countries are often referred as very advanced in their education and social care system. I remember expecting less vulnerable situations than what I saw in reality. I learned that the vision one has of a foreign country might often be embellished or inaccurate.
However, getting to live and volunteer in Finland for a few months really allowed me to deepen my knowledge about homelessness and addictions. I learned the Finnish government’s way of drastically reducing homelessness through Housing First principles.
As a foreign social worker, I am glad that my first experience in working with homelessness is in Finland.
The first few weeks of volunteering were very exciting. Everything was new and yet to be discovered. But a few months in, the harsh reality of what I was witnessing daily became too much. The language barrier, culture and work ethic differences as well as being quite far away from my home country were getting difficult. Thankfully, by talking about those difficulties and finding new ways to make this experience exciting, I was able to appreciate being a volunteer again.
Despite the few mentioned difficulties, I am – so far – very grateful for my ESC experience. It has surely allowed me to challenge myself, take a step back from my life in France and choose a path I am excited about. As a foreign social worker, I am really glad that my first experience in working with homelessness is in Finland. I truly believe that I will bring some of what I have learned here into my future experiences.