About the blog

This blog is about my Comenius experience in Finland

Demand for day-care rockets - Mothers go back to work

News about educationPosted by Sylvie Hendrickx Mon, January 09, 2012 18:18:04

Day-care places for children are getting harder to come by in Finland's major centres. Some municipalities have seen a nearly two-fold increase in the number of children applying for day-care at the start of the year.

All of Finland’s biggest cities are experiencing difficulties with the number of children seeking day-care. For example, the number of those seeking a place in Tampere went up to 350 from last year’s 200, while Jyväskylä municipality received nearly 300 day-care applications compared with 160 the previous year.

The biggest demand for places in the capital region is in Espoo. Most day-care places sought are for children under three years old.

The pressure on places has been attributed to different factors, including higher birth-rates in the past few years and the threat of recession pushing mothers back to work in the capital region.

The Association of Kindergarten Teachers in Finland blames municipalities for poor planning when it comes to policies affecting small children.

The Association cites cases where municipalities have closed down kindergartens, only to find that they are desperately needed again in a few years’ time.

From:, dd 09/01/2012

Around 100 street beggars remain in Finland

NewsPosted by Sylvie Hendrickx Mon, January 09, 2012 18:15:55

Around 100 street beggars from Romania and Bulgaria have remained in Finland for the winter. They have found shelter in overcrowded one-room apartments and on the streets as no new camp has been constructed. The National Bureau of investigation says some of the Romania roma may be here against their will. However, claims of human trafficking are not being followed up as the roma remain tight lipped.

Those working among the Romanian roma say that most of them stay overnight in small apartments housing dozens of people. In Vantaa, one person has given shelter to around ten people.

Each of them presents harrowing tales of difficult and poor conditions back home, and of their poor state of health. Thanks to the Helsinki Deaconess Institute, they are able to receive medical attention. At a day centre in the Sörnäinen district of Helsinki, the street beggars can wash, cook and rest.

All say they beg money to help their children back home. It has cost them between 150 and 300 euros to get to Finland, they claim.

No investigation into human trafficking

According to the National Board of Investigation (NBI), over ten people were convicted in Romania for human trafficking last year. They had brought people to Finland and forced them to beg, play in the street, steal or work on building sites for low wages. The NBI took part in the investigations.

Since last summer, investigations have not continued. Romanians living in Helsinki say they have not heard of cases of human trafficking.

“I can’t say how many have been forced here. We must assume they are here of their own freewill,” says Detective Jouko Ikonen of the NBI.

Those working among the Rumanians believe that the majority are here of their own freewill.

Earlier this month, YLE broadcast a BBC Panorama documentary that showed organised child begging in Britain. Mothers with their young infants entered Britain, begged on the streets only to return home to Rumania with their income.

The NBI doubts a similar operation exists in Finland. Preventing human trafficking is an aim of the Finnish government.

“It can’t be ruled out but it is not visible on the streets of Finland,” says Kari Siivo from the National Bureau of Investigation.

Last autumn, police disbanded a camp housing Romania beggars in the Kalasatama district of Helsinki. Many of the residents were given money to leave the country, but some are still here.

From:, dd 09/01/2012

Time flies when…

What's happening in Finland?Posted by Sylvie Hendrickx Tue, December 13, 2011 10:11:09

Times flies when you are travelling

I joined a French teacher assistant in Espoo. This city is part of the Helsinki region. We did some shopping after visiting EMMA, the museum of modern art. The day ended in Helsinki with a visit at Fazer and watching people skating on the market place next to the train station.

I also went – with another teacher assistant - by plane to Oulu, which is 571km up north. We stayed there for three days during which we had a few first experiences.

First time we did couchsurfing.

First time we swam in an ice cold river.

First time we had a try at parkour.

First time we had such a short day: sunrise at 9.53, sunset at 14.24

Finally, I spent a weekend in Turku with five other teachers assistants.Turku is the European Capital of Culture 2011. It’s also known as a ‘Christmas city’.

We had the visit of some firemen in our hostel’s bedroom on Sunday morning. No, not for a strip-tease. Can you believe that the alarm went on just because – in a four person bedroom – one girl was drying her hair and two other girls put on some spray deodorant?!

No wonder we went to the “Fire! Fire!” exhibition later that day.

Time flies when you are having many pikkujoulu

Pikkujoulu is a small pre-Christmas party.

One of the school’s pikkujoulu was an evening at the theater followed by a Christmas diner in a restaurant. The holidays will start in eight days and I still have six pikkujoulu to go.

This is definitely something to import to Belgium!

Time flies when you work three days a week

Week 49 was short, and not because of Saint Nicholas.

It started on Monday with the independence ceremony at the castle where all the 6th graders were invited. Key words of this tradition: nice dresses, nice costumes, speeches, singers, drinks and food.

Tuesday was a bank holiday as Finland celebrates its independence day on the 6th of December. I first went to the independence ceremony at the ice-skating ring (speeches, choirs, singers, ice-skating show,…). Then we gathered at a teacher’s place to bake some traditional Finnish food. It was a great day.

The other weeks have been ‘normal’ working weeks.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have now been observing Swedish lessons in upper-secondary classes.

And I’m happy the pupils don’t laugh at me when I have to say/read Finnish words.

Time flies when the days are short and dark

Week 50: sunrise at 9.28 and sunset at 15.06.

It has been snowing for a week. We had a lot of snow on some days while we mostly had sleet on the other days. But everything is still white! The white snow brings light in the streets when you walk outside before 9.30 or after 15.00.

Time flies when the end of the year is already so near

Not sure I’ll be posting before the holidays…because time flies and I still have many things to do.

These are my plans for the Christmas break.

21/12 – 25/12: Back to Belgium to enjoy Christmas with my family and to see some friends.

26/12 – 28/12: Going to Lapland with my sister, nephew, brother and sister-in-law. We are going to do some husky-sleigh and of course meet the one and only real Santa Claus!

29/12: visit of Helsinki

30/12: Going to visit Tallinn (Estonia)

31/12: Having a great New Years Eve in Helsinki and watch the fireworks on Senate Square.

3/01 – 5/01: Going to Russia to visit St Petersburg

I think I have now enough excuses if I don’t reply directly your emails, messages, comments,… but you can still call/text me in case of emergency smiley

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2012 !!

Lucia brings light to dark December

Finland, Finns, FinnishPosted by Sylvie Hendrickx Tue, December 13, 2011 08:25:37
Tuesday is Santa Lucia Day, the festival of lights. According to tradition, Lucia, a young woman dressed in white and wearing a crown of candles, brings light during the darkest time of the year.

This year, 19 year-old Nora Peltola from Vihti was voted in as the national Lucia during a charity fund drive.

She will be crowned by Justice Minister Anna-Maja Henriksson at the Helsinki Cathedral at 5pm. After her coronation, she will descend the steps of the Cathedral and lead a procession towards the city centre. Many other towns and schools also select their own Lucia.

Over the next weeks and months, these young women and their entourages visit hospitals, retirement homes, prisons, orphanages and schools, bringing light, song -- as well as buns and coffee.

Schools also have their own Lucia Day celebrations. Since there can only be one Lucia at school, many little girls, wearing store-bought plastic crowns, stage their own Lucia processions at home for their families.

The Lucia tradition can be traced back to St. Lucia, an Italian martyr who died in 303 A.D.

The Nordic Lucia tradition began in the 18th century in Sweden. In the 1900s, the tradition spread to the Åland Islands and to other Swedish-speaking regions in Finland.

From:, dd 12/11/2011

Northern Lights

Finland, Finns, FinnishPosted by Sylvie Hendrickx Tue, December 13, 2011 08:21:41

Finnish Northern Lights become YouTube hit

Northern Lights in Sodankylä on October 23.

The Finnish Tourist Board says its videos of Finland’s Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) have been watched over a million times on YouTube over the past two weeks.

”We’re really pleased by the success of these videos,” says the organisation's director general, Jakko Lehtonen, who points out that Norway has attempted to brand Northern Lights as its own national phenomenon.

The elusive, beautiful Northern Lights are most likely spotted in the fells of Finland’s far north.

The Sodankylä Geophysical Observatory studies Northern Lights, forecasting where the colourful streaks are best seen.

“While the likelihood of spotting Northern Lights is greater on Norway’s northern coast than in central Lapland, it’s often cloudier and rainier on the coast,” says geophysicist Tero Raita of Oulu University.

From:, dd 12/11/2011

Great acoustics, but don't cough

NewsPosted by Sylvie Hendrickx Tue, December 13, 2011 08:09:09

The Helsinki Music Centre's Symphony Choir, the Helsinki City Orchestra, the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Sibelius Academy Orchestra performed together at the Centre's opening in August 2011.

The acoustics and services at the new Helsinki Music Centre concert hall have been getting a mixed reception from the general public. While the acoustics have been widely praised by performers, the hall's sensitivity to noise from the audience has been a problem.

After decades of putting up with the less than satisfactory acoustics of Finlandia Hall, Helsinki concert-goers have had to learn a few new lessons. Audiences in the Helsinki Music Centre concert hall can neither whisper nor cough. One concert this past autumn was even paused because of distractions originating from the audience.

According to Concert Operations Manager Antti Pylkkänen, the main hall's acoustics have created some challenges for staff.

"We are looking for the best practices, what is acceptable and what is disturbing," says Pylkkänen.

He adds that it is a fact that the excellent acoustics mean that not only the music, but also everything else can be well heard throughout the hall.

"This is the fact that we're now wrestling with at the Music Centre."

Since its opening, there has also been discussion of the Music Centre's services. Coat check and refreshment services have been criticised as being slow. Pylkkänen points out that the Centre is new not just as a concert venue, but also as a service provider. An effort is being made to expand the number of spots where concert-goers can purchase refreshments.

No coughing, please

The general manager of Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Tuula Sarotie, notes that audiences have started to gradually adapt to the demands of the new concert hall. There is already less coughing heard than was the case in Finlandia Hall. However, Sarotie is adamant that audiences should not make their own contribution to a concert.

"If a member of the audience is indifferent to others, comes to a concert and, for example, falls asleep and starts snoring, or brings small children to a concert and doesn't take into consideration that children need to be taught how to behave in this situation, then something has to be done about it, one way or another," Sarotie says.

The Radio Symphony Orchestra's general manager does point out that in most cases people themselves realise that they may be disturbing the enjoyment of others and leave the hall on their own.

From:, dd 12/11/2011

Finland’s child murder rate highest in the West

Finland, Finns, FinnishPosted by Sylvie Hendrickx Sun, December 11, 2011 20:48:08

More children are killed in Finland than in any other western country, according to the Sunday newspaper supplement Sunnuntaisuomalainen. Finland has especially high statistics on the number of fatal assaults on under one-year-olds.

Some 50,000 children each year suffer some form of assault from their parents. Children are most often killed by mothers afflicted by mental problems.

According to research led by child psychiatrist Anne Kauppi, about 200 children in Finland lost their lives at the hands of their parents in 1970-1994. Risk factors in such cases include self-destructive behaviours among parents, their heavy use of alcohol and domestic violence.

However, in the last 50 years the risk to be killed by parents has declined due to abortion law, increased welfare and support for families.

In the last few years, the number of cases has nonetheless risen.

Kauppi says that mothers and fathers need more tangible help.

From:, dd 11/12/2011

Christmas "excesses" criticized a century ago

Finland, Finns, FinnishPosted by Sylvie Hendrickx Sun, December 11, 2011 20:47:01

Finnish Christmas traditions are a mixture of many cultures and many different historical periods. Not all of the customs or decorations that most Finns consider traditional are even very old. However, some old traditions have survived and even strengthened — among them, criticism of the excesses of the season.

The typical Finnish Christmas these days is marked by an abundance of food, drink, song and gifts. Food and drink, especially, have always been an important part of the holiday. In past centuries, the daily diet was simple and plain, and so a real effort was made to set a festive table during the holidays, according to Kari-Paavo Kokki, director of the Heinola Museum.

"Even the very poorest of families aimed at making sure bellies were full at Christmas. There were critics of excesses at Christmas, of food and of overly expensive gifts already, I think, at the beginning of the 1900s."

Sweets are a integral part of Christmas today. The shelves of supermarkets groan with the weight of chocolates of all kinds. Once upon a time, the custom was to fill a table with homemade sweets.

"Sweets tables started to be common in upper-class homes in the early 1800s. They included different kinds of candied fruits, raisins, marzipans and meringues. These tables were kept stocked for the whole of the Christmas holiday season, and this is a custom that has survived in Finnish homes," explains Kokki.

Christmas cards still popular

One more old tradition that is still very much alive and well, even in today's wired world, is the sending of Christmas cards.

Christmas cards came into popular use in the 1880s in Finland. At first they were all imported from abroad, mainly from Sweden and Germany. The early ones might not today even be recognized as Christmas cards at all.

"They were, for example, pictures of flowers. The themes began to take on a Christmas flavour in the early part of the 1900s. That is when the elves and Santa and sleigh rides by Jenny Nyström [Swedish artist, 1854 - 1946] began appearing. Those have continued in use right up to our day."

The traditions of the Finnish style of celebrating Christmas were portrayed in the works of Martta Wendelin (1893 - 1986).

"Through her cards and book covers, she created for us an image of the traditional Finnish Christmas, the kind of Christmas we all want to have. Her cards are still very popular and are reprinted over and over again," says Kari-Paavo Kokki.

From:, dd 10/12/2011

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