Monthly Archives: May 2012

Those Who Stay Home With Kids – Should They Get Paid?

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credit: Motifake.com

Finland is a welfare state, where people have the right to a variety of benefits in different phases of their life. Sounds perfect, and in many cases it is.

But with all these crisis, we have to save and choose. Every time the government has to decide on a new budget, heated debates arise as nobody wants to see their money cut. Well, I guess it’s the same everywhere.

One of this spring’s political debates has been whether it’s ok to pay for moms and dads (well, mostly moms) who stay at home with kids. Some politicians suggested that this benefit (“kotihoidontuki” in Finnish) should be cut. And the storm rose. “The children are the most important thing there is, taking care of the household is hard work” etc.

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Home is the best place for kids, swears Nina Mikkonen, a public person representing the more extremist wing of Finnish housewives. She also announced in a newspaper interview that Kindergartens were a creation of Nazism. Credit: HS.

In Finland you get this benefit for a maximum 3 years, the longest period you can stay at home without losing your permanent job.

However, many economists argue it’s stupid to pay someone for staying home – for years. One expert even commented that women are lazy not going back to work. “You’re welcome to our home for a couple of weeks and see how it is”, a some moms responded.

Some say that staying home too long might be like a prison to women, ruin their career opportunities and even cause poverty. Credit: Taloussanomat.

Surprisingly, one reason for cutting the benefit was gender equality. They say it’s bad for women’s careers’ to stay out for so long. There should be other options like working less hours.

If everyone started to work when their children get 2 years old, this would mean 15 000 more women working. Wow!

Fo me, the question has no right or wrong answers, as every family is different. You should be able to go back to work as soon as you want or stay at home – without being critized in either case. Well, I don’t have kids but I’d certainly like to have these opportunities if I did.

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Thanks to a precedent case, Spanish housewives can now try to get compensation for “their loss” in the court.

How about elsewhere in Europe? I just read an interesting article from Spain, where a lady called Piedad F. was married to Vicente B. for 15 years, she had Master in Law but could never work as she “had to” stay at home for years taking care of their daughter.

The Highest Court decided that the husband has to pay the ex wife 108 000€ for compensation after the divorce – even if there was a marriage settlement. I wonder if there’ll now be more partners demanding “their rights”. Very interesting…

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Karjalanpiirakka, an amazing Finnish pastry

It’s raining here in Tampere. I wonder if the summer will ever come to Finland. I’m here to visit my parents for the weekend, but for now the best option is to stay on the sofa and read a book.

I’m home alone, because my father just went to bake 500 Karelian pies to be sold tomorrow morning at the market place – they really are a big hit! “We’ll sell them in 5 minutes”, he’s boosting.

My father’s origins are in the Eastern part of Karelia, a region that Russia invaded during the Second World War. All the Finns were “thrown out”, they were given about 24 hours to leave their homes, collect all the belongings they could and escape to what is now Finland. The Karelians were relocated all around Finland, the family of my dad in a town near Tampere, where she met my mother… So there’s something positive in the tragedy.

My dad travels a lot to Russian Karelia. Some people still speak Finnish there and he loves to revisit the familiar places – even if he was very small, when they had to go.

Because of the harsh history, Carelians feel very strong about their culture. Also my father belongs to a Karelian friendship association.

Karelians have a fame to be very hospitable. When we go to visit my Karelian aunt, she always fills the table with an amazing amount of food. So, it’s easy to understand why they have brought many delicacies to the Finnish gastronomy. The most famous food is probably the Karelian pasty or Karelian pie, which are now very popular around Finland.

There are many variations of the recipe depending on the region, village or even the house. Once, when I was taught how to bake these pies by some grandmothers, they almost almost got into a fight on which is the correct way to make the pie.

Anyway, the common recipe includes a thin rye crust with a filling of rice. You normally eat the hot pasties with munavoi, butter mixed with boiled egg. However, the pies can be eaten with almost anything: cheese, ham, salmon, vegetables…

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This is how it looks like! Or should look like. Some delicious, fresh Karelian pies.

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Karelian pies can also be made with mashed potatoes, like here, or with carrot. Credit: Ilta-Sanomat.

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This pie is called “Sultsina”. It’s a fine pie that used to be eaten with special guests. It’s normally filled with rice or semolina porridge. Credit: Yle.

I’ve visited Karelia a couple of times. It feels very special, as part of my roots are there. Here come some photos I took during my trip in 2005 – to get in the Karelian mood. As you can observe, nowadays the region is very poor.

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This is Aunus, a Karelian town on the Russian side. A very typical village path with a very typical grandmother walking on it.

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The Aunus river on a hot summer day. In the winter living here is completely different, very hard.

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The grandmothers in Russia are really something! Strong, wise women who take care of the household and especially of their boys and husbands, who in many cases like vodka a bit too much…

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A typical Karelian wooden house in Aunus region. 

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Being a Refugee in Finland

The last couple of days I’ve been in Seinäjoki, a city about 3 hours’ train trip away from Helsinki. Seinäjoki is the capital of the province of Southern Ostrobothnia, and with a population of 58 000 it’s one of the fastest growing urban centres in Finland. Even if you wouldn’t believe it.

It was my first visit to this town, which seems very small and, sorry to say, ugly. Well, this is nothing “personal” as it happens with most Finnish towns. During the fast urbanization in about 1970s, most of the old pretty houses were torn down and replaced by boring concrete blocks. This destruction is a tragedy for our cultural history.

Anyway, to compensate there is some fine Alvar Aalto architecture. Lakeuden Risti is the symbol of the city.

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The church by Alvar Aalto is the proud of Seinäjoki – with some other building designed by Aalto. Credit: Yle.

It was my first time in Seinäjoki. Sometimes traveling inside your own country is a lot more exotic than going far away. You think you know what you’ll get, but nope: people act different, they speak another dialect etc. Very eye-opening!

Why was I there? At my work we organise events called Markets of Possibilities, which take place around Finland in about 20 cities each year. So we travel to see how they go.

In these events Finnish NGOs tell about their work and offer “exotic” food and program. The aim of is to bring out the multicultural side of Finland and tell the locals what they can do “for a better world”.

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Markets of Possibilites are fun events. Here’s the Choir War in process. Don’t know about the technical quality of the signing, but these ladies were devoted.

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Flashmob by local students. They had also danced in supermarkets etc. Go Seinäjoki!

There, I met there The Refugee Woman of the Year, Malalai Rahim from Afghanistan, as she participated in a panel about refugees’ replacement in Finnish cities. Finland has agreed to receive 750 so called “quota refugees” every year, but the problem is that some municipalities don’t want to have them.

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Malalai Rahim, this amazingly active lady, seems to know everyone in Seinäjoki.

This year, Seinäjoki has promised to receive a group of 20-30 people from Congo, but the neighbouring towns have said “no”. It’s a sad thing, especially as we talk of so small numbers. I think Finland, being a wealthy country, could receive more people. But our country is still very homogenous and people are a bit afraid of “opening the borders”. Even if we’ll definitely need more foreign work force in the future.

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Panel discussion held in Seinäjoki about quota refugees and their replacement. Speakers included a representative of UNHC, vice mayor of Seinäjoki, immigration officer and Malalai Rahim.

Malalai Rahim made a big impression on me. She spoke very good Finnish and her story is amazing. The talebans threatened her life, as she was a woman working as a doctor in Afghanistan, so she had to leave. In Finland, she studied the language and went to the university to get another degree, to be a gynecologist. Now she works in a hospital in Seinäjoki, has 5 children and is actively involved in local politics trying to help newcomers. Me and my colleague, who were just about to complain how tired and stressed we felt, fast shut up.

Malalai made good points about refugees’ integration in Finland. We need to make our social integration program a lot more efficient! It’s not enough to give people a bit of food and money; everyone needs to feel meaningful and get to work, too. Otherwise you stay at home, get isolated with your problems and soon you are not even able to raise your children. I really hope this idea has some impact, coming from the mouth of someone who truly knows what suffering and life as a refugee are about.

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There is already one Congolese family living in Seinäjoki, and in the fall there should be some more quota refugees from Congo arriving. Getting ready for the Finnish winter… Credit: Yle

As a refugee, one should never lose faith and become bitter for what you have to go through. You MUST raise your head and go on. But a little help is needed, and it’s our responsibility to offer it.

Everyone should remember that things can change fast. What if one day we need to leave our country? How would you like to be treated? We have experience about this in Finland, as during The Second World War almost 80 000 children were sent to other Nordic countries as refugees. They were called The Finnish War Children.

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Finnish war Children in Turku. Credit: Wikipedia.

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What is a quota refugee? Within its refugee quota, Finland accepts for resettlement persons defined as refugees by the UNHCR (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and others who are in need of international protection. The refugee quota is verified in the state budget for each year.

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Today, I took part in a fundraising seminar for NGOs. This was the second work-related (fundraising) seminar in short time, so I’m really getting “educated”… Well, there’s still a long way to become a professional. But the subject is a very interesting, even if the NGO I work with doesn’t do fundraising and I work in communications, not in making people feel the urge to donate.

One of today’s sessions was very interesting. The lecture was given by Riikka Kämppi, the lady who lead the presidential campaign for Pekka Haavisto, of whom I wrote earlier in Is It Possible to Have a Gay President in Finland? In the end it wasn’t, as he got second, but the electoral campaign was an authentic success story.

Kämppi told us that they started the campaign in a desperate situation. The Green Party, Vihreät, had lost in the parliamentary elections, Haavisto’s support was at 3% (compared to the most popular one, the current president Sauli Niinistö, whose support was about 60%).

However, right from the start the goal of the campaign was to win – too much modesty is rubbish. Only that the campaign budget was 100 000€, so I guess many thought the idea was totally crazy.

Sounds familiar nowadays… Credit: Future Fundraisingnow. com.

Kämppi shared some valuable advice with us – and they are valid for many kinds of projects. Here some of them…

  • Be completely honest about your goals, especially internally. For example, everyone inside the Green Party saw the campaign Powerpoints and knew exactly about the campaign’s goals.
  • If your own means are scarce, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Most people are willing and even desiring to do that, when asked in a right way.
  • If you have little money, target it wisely and leave out all the less relevant things. Even if people get angry.
  • Copy the best ideas from others – it’s perfectly fine.
  • Let people participate using and creating different ways and channels. And let them do it NOW, as things go by fast, epecially in social media, and our memory is short.
  • Wonderful ideas get spontaneously born among “your fans”. Social media played a key role in this campaign, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube are very cheap and you can reach an amazing amount of people in short time. As the message spread, people started to make cookies, art work, signs in the snow or whatever with the significant number 2. They also donated a lot of money – the final budget was more than 700 000€!

This flashmob and video was independently created by supporters of Pekka Haavisto. Amazing! Finlandia is kind of a national anthem of Finland, a very meaningful song.

Last but not least, don’t be afraid of conflicts! Kämppi told us that now, when she introduces an idea to people and everyone agrees, she thinks the idea must be too lame. If something makes people strongly oppose, there’s probably something good there. 🙂

Tips for a great campaign

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shooting the streets of Helsinki

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Practising street photography. According to my  teacher, this photo has a perfect golden cut! That was nice to hear, even if while shooting you don’t think about these things… at least I don’t.

So, I’m back & blogging. The last couple of weeks have been quite hectic. We spent the first days of May on a holiday in Berlin – a wonderful, lively city  of culture I want to visit soon again! Truly, this place has something, maybe because of its harsh history… don’t know.

Further, last weekend I participated a course on Street Photography. It was a great, eye-opening experience and at the same time very intensive, as we both studied theory and history of this interesting genre and got to explore the streets of Helsinki by ourselves by taking our own street photos.

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These two guys were on their way to a ice hockey match and looked just great. The theme for our photos was intimacy and we had to find repeated colors around, so here we go…

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One of the tricks of street photography is to use reflections: on showcases, windows, wherever you can find one.

On the second day of the course everyone “had to” choose 12 of their photos to be shown and commented by the others. I was a bit nervous, as I love photography but haven’t really studied it. Also, I feel that my knowledge of the technical stuff is very limited. So it was wonderful to receive some positive feedback, – like everyone did, of course. Our teacher was gentle with us, even if we all got homework to learn more about focusing and camera technology. Something you easily forget especially while taking photos on the street where situations normally are over in just a few seconds or minutes.

But in photography, if you don’t control your camera perfectly you might miss The Perfect Picture just because your camera’s settings are wrong. And that feels bad.

In street photography, another trick is “repetition”. Here’s an exercise about that – I found even 3 pairs at one shot!

I liked the ensemble of the soft colours: on the girl’s cuddly blouse, the tram and the showcase behind. But damn it, the photo is not sharp!

So, my goal for this spring and summer is to really learn how to use my camera – and this can only be done by practising: taking thousands of photos. Our teacher said that for every 1000 photos he takes there are 100 OK ones and 1-2 excellent ones. So even professionals have it tough.

My camera is nothing special, it’s a basic system camera by Sony with a lens of 18-200. For me it’s just fine. Some of the participants of the course were showing off with their big expensive cameras but in the end, looking at our photos, all of them seemed quite the same level when it comes to the common problems of focusing and limiting the image right.

One of the themes given for our photos was “intimacy”. For me, these girls offered a good example. And it was a chilly Saturday night.

Anyway, I felt happy when the teacher said that I really control the composition and color, as these are the two aspects I’m really interested in – not only in photography but in all arts, interior design etc.

All in all, street photography truly is a new discovery to me. When I travel, I love to take photos of people and the little incidents and situations happening spontaneously on the streets, but I’ve never analysed the concept further.

There is a long and vivid tradition of street photography with its conventions, rules and heroes. Now I just want to learn more. I guess this is what happens when a course has been successful – it makes you feel that you know so little but in a positive way – and it gives you the basic tools to go further and discover a new, interesting world.

Here’s a couple of links for street photography beginners like me…

  • Matt Stuart, who is one of the most appreciated and well-known street photographers of our days. He really has captured some legendary moments!
  • Hannes Heikura, a modest guy and a great Finnish photographer (not only “street” one) who mostly works for Helsingin Sanomat, the major Finnish newspaper.
  • Shoot the street, a webpage I came across, promoting street photography.
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