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PLACE FOR GROWTH: Home accommodation in the core of civic and democracy education

The events in the fall of 2015 changed the lives of many Finns as record numbers of asylum seekers came into the country and they were placed in reception centres all over the country. Many of us who were volunteering and working in the reception centres regarded the way of living a little odd. Of course the Finnish reception centre system is in many ways more reliable and humane compared to many other countries but still it was agonizing everyday experience to see people crammed into confined spaces in institutional settings.   

There are many factors that may affect the everyday life in the reception centre and make living difficult in one. These include hierarchical relations between the residents and the staff, lack of resources, the scarcity of reception services compared to the needs of the clients in a vulnerable position and the lack of their participation in the whole.

These factors also affected the establishment of Home Accommodation Network when the Finns and asylum seekers got to know each other locally, many through the actual reception centre. Not only was a lot of concrete home accommodation needed but also solidarity, because anti-immigration sentiment and racism had become acceptable during the summer and autumn of 2015. Little by little that change also became visible in the form of structural racism, legislative changes and different practices of authorities that narrowed the legal safeguards of the asylum seekers.      

We noticed that our role had changed but also that a certain continuation had emerged, as we later moved on from the reception centre to make home accommodations happen and support them. The local group of the network organized discussion events, demonstrations, parties and other community activities, and new home accommodations were started through those. There were both organizations and actors of the local congregation working with us. The asylum seekers were with us making things happen. The thought of them as objects of help only was just amusing at that point.

”Helping” and learning

There are many dimensions to a civic engagement activitity like the Home Accommodation Network. The whole includes opening one´s doors to a stranger, a person fleeing war or persecution and usually also supporting that person in many way as well as societal advocacy for betterment of social cohesion between population groups. Many accommodation providers and other network activists are still saying that the need to help is the primary motivation to get involved in the activities but at the same time the importance of sharing, doing together, learning and growing as a person are also mentioned.  

Even if as network activists we are “helping” the newcomers in getting attached to the society, we are continuously learning new things about our own culture and our social norms, about the societal practices and structures that are experienced as problematic and at the same time about the viewpoints and backgrounds of the newcomers. New tastes and colours are mixed with familiar ones, bringing out new ones and a new window to the world is opened.  Along with social crises the criteria of the accommodation providers have gotten new – or new old – ecological dimensions. One reason for providing accommodation can be for example the will to diminish one´s carbon footprint by sharing the household, or bringing up one´s children into understanding other people´s distress as well as the nature of helping.  

The meaning of civic engagement is emphasized in difficult situations

One of the aims of free civic engagement activity, like Home Accommodation Network is to build more just and humane society. In this context also social-pedagogic viewpoints and work practices come to mind. Their aim is more community based and societal education.   

Social pedagogy is of course a field of science and education but its practical applications can also be described as up-bringing that emphasizes social growth. Researchers Elina Nivala and Sanna Ryynänen have written about social pedagogy and how to apply it. They emphasize the fact that also certain civic education themes can be seen as social pedagogy work, especially those that are strongly present in non-governmental organizations´ activity, like human rights and peace education, environmental education, being a responsible consumer and global education. *)

Observing societal faults critically and advocating for change has always been centre stage in the workings of Home Accommodation Network.

After the pandemia asylum seekers are again arriving to Finland from different countries, and the Ministry for Internal Affairs estimates that 20 000-30 000 Ukrainians fleeing war is coming to the country this year 2023 and 10 – 15 000 next year. Also the authorities´ notion of civic activity is getting more established, partly because of the challenging reception situation last year. Home accommodation is still very popular option among those arriving to the country. Therefore Home Accommodation Network is needed now and in the future so that those seeking international protection would find home amidst the disarray.  

Text: Eva Kuhlefelt, Community Mobilization Adviser

Photo: Outi Neuvonen

*) Nivala, E., Ryynänen S., Sosiaalipedagogiikka. Kohti inhimillisempää yhteiskuntaa (2019)