Celebrating Diversity in Finland

By Trainee Osama Sharkia

Have you ever been to a bright country? Tried many kinds of potatoes? Seen thousands of lakes? Spent the whole summer in saunas? NO!? So, let me take you through my experience in Finland!!

Everything began when KRAN informed me that I could go to Finland to participate in a European project with another 2 trainees in Finland for 7 days starting from 1st of July and ending on 7th of July. I felt so excited and motivated as I had never been to Finland or any another European country before and that made it more exciting. The plane took off on Sunday 30th and everyone was ready for the project. We arrived in Turku in the evening and we had a great reception and the dinner was ready. After we had dinner we went to our rooms and had some rest after a long journey!!

Day 1

The first day was the introduction day. All he participants introduced themselves and got to know each other, then there was a presentation about the course which we were going to do.  After that they did a presentation about Step Europe and here is a part of it:

StepEurope is a youth focused international organization registered under Finnish Law in 2015. The idea of the organization came in 2014 when four young people from Finland participated in an international training in the UK. One of the themes of the training was youth organizations. The participants’ task was to create the idea for a youth organization in their own country. In the end, when the youths came back to Finland, they wanted to make it come true and StepEurope as an organization was registered.

The organization’s main objective is to activate young people and help them to develop their potential. To achieve this objective, they arrange youth exchanges, organize and participate in workshops and training, have regular meetings and offer internships and volunteer work. They also want to increase youngsters’ awareness of different cultures to reduce racism and break boundaries.

StepEurope aims to build a strong network with different NGO’s both at the local level and European level. They work with partners from Italy, UK, Romania, Croatia, Sweden, Greece and Kosovo at European level. Locally also, they cooperate with many organizations.

Then we did some activities to develop team work skills, for example ‘protect the egg game’.  This was all about building a cover that could protect the egg if you dropped it from 2 meters high with limited materials (one cup, package straws, one balloon).  The idea was to let the whole team work together and make a stable cover.

We ended our day with an international evening when all the participants presented their countries on tables by preparing some food drinks and of course music and dances. We brought Scottish cake, Afghan nuts, English tea and Arabic coffee then we had fun with the others.

Day 2

The second day was about cultural diversity. We did many activities that define each country’s culture and figured out the divergences, for example we had to draw an onion and prioritize beliefs, habits, ways, behaviours, and actions inside the onion layers starting with something impossible to change and ending with those which are easy to change.  When we presented our work (we started individually then we worked in groups) every one found some of his or her beliefs in different layers of the onion and every one was surprised that actually this was an example of diversity, that is, respecting each other above everything whatever their beliefs or backgrounds.

Later on we discussed NGO’s which stands for Non-Governmental Organizations.  These are usually non-profit and sometimes international organizations independent of governments and international governmental organizations (though often funded by governments) that are active in humanitarian, educational, health care, public policy, social, human rights, environmental, and other areas to effect changes according to their objectives. Then each group presented its organisation.  We presented KRAN and everyone was impressed, and we learnt a little bit about the other organisations, for example:

KEPA DIEK is a Greece organisation which works with the Roma people and children.

ASAP, which is an Italian organisation that does tutor activities and English teaching and half of the costs are paid by Step Europe.

Europe direct NAI Spanish organisation runs courses twice a week for young people and helps the homeless.

And we finished with a nice evening when we watched a British movie which was about diversity.


Day 3

On the third day we spent the whole day discussing migration.  First of all, we wrote the migration alphabet then we worked in groups and had discussions about migration. Each group had to work on 7 letters and find the key which connected them.  After that we had to present our work and answer the questions.

After we had finished all that, we hosted a guest from the Red Cross and he explained to us how the Red Cross helps refugee and asylum seekers and how they come from their countries to the countries of their dreams.  We examined what we should do when a war or conflict happens in a country, what should we do what the essential things that we would need to take urgently.  Then he presented how Finland treated refugee and asylum seekers and what programmes they go through. In that evening we had a small party with multicultural music.  I can say it was a nice end to a long and useful day.

Day 4

On the fourth day they introduced the Compass which is the manual for human rights education with young people.

Compass was first published in 2002 within the framework of the Human Rights Education Youth Programme of the Directorate of Youth and Sport of the Council of Europe. The programme was created because human rights education (HRE) – meaning educational programmes and activities that focus on promoting equality in human dignity – was, and remains, of incalculable value in shaping a dimension of democratic citizenship for all young people and in promoting a culture of universal human rights.

In between this, we watched a video about the Council of Europe, which is an international organisation whose stated aim is to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe. Founded in 1949, it has 47 member states, covers approximately 820 million people and operates with an annual budget of approximately 500 million euros, they promote human rights, democracy rule of law and peace.

After this introduction they designed for us some educational activities that helped us to understand the Compass properly so they asked us to work in groups in which each group designed or drew a picture or shape which presented the following: How can we become a good human rights educator? My group decided to draw clouds that represented knowledge and rain drops which referred to beliefs; and flowers which meant the skills that you gain after being educated.  We learnt a lot from this activity after that we were divided into four groups and each group worked on an educational activity that we had to do the next day and the day after.  Finally, on that day we tried the sauna which was the Finnish sauna.   It was my first time and I was so excited but I did not know that it would be so hot I felt like I was going to melt but after that I got used to it and felt relaxed especially with my friends.  We started telling stories and having fun.  It was spectacular.


Day 5

On the fifth day we began the day with an activity that one of the groups delivered it from Compass. It was about beliefs.  They asked us to draw sun shine lines and then write what we believed in, in order to compare them and discuss them. The second activity which another group delivered was about discrimination, so they asked us to do a role play as a refugee or people who were racist.  After that we discussed it then guess what?? We had a day out in Turku we visited the theatre, the museum, the harbour, the river and we had dinner in an Italian restaurant.  After that we had a party in Turku till midnight.


Day 6

On the sixth day we delivered the rest of the activities.  My group`s activity was about poverty and racism.   First of all, we asked all the participants to stand behind a line and gave each one a role card which they had to act out the role.   After that we asked them some questions on the issue of  poverty, for example, can you go on holiday once a year, are you able to invite your friends out, all these kind of questions and if they answered yes they would be able to move one step forward and after we finished all the questions we discussed each situation in the role play .

After we finished all the activities there was a presentation about Erasmus+.   This is a part of it:   The Erasmus Programme (European Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students) is a European Union (EU) student exchange programme established in 1987.Erasmus+, or Erasmus Plus, is the new programme combining all the EU’s current schemes for education, training, youth and sport, which was started in January 2014.

Part of it is about mobility which is to engage more than 2 countries in non-formal educational activities. It is for young people who are aged between 13-30 plus, their youth workers and leaders.  There is a maximum of 60 and a minimum of 4 participants.   The countries who can participate are European countries and their neighbors and it lasts up to 21 days.

There is also the European voluntary service (EVS) which is for youth workers.   It supports the professional development of youth workers.

What do they do? They participate in seminars and do some training and some study visits, job shadowing, observation and international co-operation. Lastly, we had a sauna again and some fun.


Day 7

On the seventh day it was evaluation day so we exchanged what we learnt and discussed every thing and gave a feedback.   During that evening we closed with a ceremony and had a farewell party. I can not describe my feelings that day it was a party but a sad party it was hard to say good bye to them.  We danced, drank, ate some cakes, learnt some Finnish dances but with sad emotions.


Day 8

We spent our final day in Helsinki.   We visited Helsinki`s cathedral and the market square and we bought some presents for our families and friends and had dinner in an Arabic restaurant.

Before I forget when you go to Finland and go back to England you will not be able to eat potato at least for one month because during the week we tried all kinds of potato: boiled, fried, grilled, raw and potato salad.   They love potatoes in Finland but that is not an issue as it is a lovely country with lovely people.  I really would like to visit it again and participate in many projects like this one.   And I would like to thank KRAN for giving me this opportunity to build my confidence up as a trainee.

So What I learnt so far from this project is The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences. These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies. It is the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing environment. It is about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual. As a trainee in KRAN I will deliver what I have learnt to the others in the youth form and that will be in different ways for example:

Doing some activity which explain Understanding and appreciating interdependence of humanity, cultures, and the natural environment.

Practicing mutual respect for qualities and experiences that are different from our own.

Understanding that diversity includes not only ways of being but also ways of knowing;

Recognizing that personal, cultural and institutionalized discrimination creates and sustains privileges for some while creating and sustaining disadvantages for others;

Building alliances across differences so that we can work together to eradicate all forms of discrimination.


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