The VAPAA 'Volunteering in Refugee Work' Project (2013-2015) - The Finnish Red Cross
The main objectives of the VAPAA ‘Volunteering in Refugee Work’ Project, funded by the European Refugee Fund, include: to develop volunteer activities to support vulnerable refugees, to increase knowledge about refugee issues, to increase cooperation in integration support between NGOs and authorities, and to develop skills for volunteers to organise activities with and for the benefit of refugees.
Good models created during the project will be collected into an “Integration Guide for Organisations” and the guide will be distributed to different actors. The project is implemented in ca 15 municipalities which receive resettled refugees.
So far, the project has engaged new local volunteers in building contacts and organising activities together with refugees. Some of the activities have consisted of providing material and housing assistance, helping refugees build contacts with the local community and get to know their surroundings, group activities such as language-learning and cooking clubs, first-aid activities, handicrafts and small-scale agriculture in groups, visits to local firms in order to create employment opportunities, as well as homework help for children, among others.
During sightseeing tours and at camps organised by the Red Cross, refugees are familiarised with their surroundings and the Finnish countryside, and they have the opportunity to meet Finnish friends and enjoy leisure activities, such as fishing in Pudasjärvi municipality.
The programme has also included visits to local businesses, farms and associations involved with forestry protection and care. The goal of these visits is to provide insight into training and employment opportunities for vulnerable refugees, as well as to involve refugees, and give them an active role in the planning of the activities.
Horticultural activities have also proven to be an activity in which many different associations can be involved. In Sonkajärvi and Lapinlahti, for example, the Lions Club and the 4H-club have joined the Red Cross and the Martha Organisation (a Finnish home economics organisation) and become involved in horticultural activities together with refugees. These activities are beneficial as they provide a feeling of success and accomplishment regardless of previous training or language skills. Moreover the participants learn about different kinds of local vegetables and how they can be grown as inexpensive ingredients in a healthy diet, according to the season.
Different kinds of training have also been organised to increase the refugee families’ safety in everyday life such as the “Safety at home” and the First Aid training. Through their participation in these trainings, refugees become familiarised with how volunteer associations function, thereby increasing their self-esteem and acquiring skills to help others in the community. It has been an objective, and at the same time a challenge, to motivate local FRC volunteers to involve newcomers in different types of activities that require different levels of qualification, and which would meet the refugees’ personal needs and aspirations. So far, the feedback from refugees has been very positive and they have felt that through their participation in the first aid groups, and being on first aid duty at events, they were able to return the assistance the Red Cross had provided them.
The project has also been very important in showing local decision-makers how civil society can be a part of the refugee reception system as well as create new local networks. Through this project, the local volunteers have had success in advocating for reception placements in the municipalities by highlighting their important role in supporting refugees and the local authorities, thereby strengthening the Finnish resettlement programme.
Pictures: © Finnish Red Cross