About the blog

This blog is about my Comenius experience in Finland

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

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

Babies sleep better in subzero temps

NewsPosted by Sylvie Hendrickx Sun, December 04, 2011 19:27:51

Study: Babies sleep better in subzero temps

The old Finnish custom of putting babies to sleep outdoors in winter now has scientific backing. A study by the University of Oulu finds that babies who take their naps outside in the fresh air sleep up to three times as long as those slumbering indoors.

“Yesterday when it was -11 degrees Celsius, ten-month old twins Anni and Aatu slept 3.5 hours outside, but this morning they just took a one-hour nap inside,” says mom Outi Rajanen, echoing study findings.

Special precautions should, however, be taken when putting infants to sleep outdoors, notes researcher Marjo Tourula. Babies need to be bundled warmly and should not be left out for extended periods.

According to Tourola, -5C is the optimal temperature for outside slumber. The study indicated that parents seem to know how to dress their babies adequately at this temperature.

The practice of parking sleeping babies outside became widespread nearly a century ago, when it was first promoted by the father of Finland's maternal health clinic system, Arvo Ylppö.

From:, dd 02/12/2011

Finland joint second least corrupt country

NewsPosted by Sylvie Hendrickx Thu, December 01, 2011 20:39:58
Corruption perceptions index shown in graphical form.

Finland has moved back up Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index. Last year Finland was the fourth least corrupt nation in the world, but this year it has moved up to joint second position with Denmark, after New Zealand in top spot.

The index ranks countries from zero to ten on the basis of answers to 17 surveys and assessments. Higher scores signify lower levels of corruption, which the organisation defines as 'the abuse of entrusted power for private gain'. New Zealand’s score this year is 9.5, while Finland and Denmark were given a mark of 9.4.

Last year Finland got 9.2 points and came in fourth, although Transparency International warns that a country’s score cannot be compared to its score in a previous year.

Eurozone countries hit by the debt crisis were among the lowest scoring European Union countries, partly because of what Transparency International calls their failure to deal with bribery and tax evasion.

Finland has seen heightened debate about corruption in recent years following several election funding scandals.

From:, dd 01/12/2011

Cost of religion set to rise

NewsPosted by Sylvie Hendrickx Mon, November 28, 2011 21:06:11

Many of the Lutheran faithful are to pay a bigger slice of their income to the church next year, as church taxes will rise in 37 parishes. The increases are relatively large, ranging between 0.1 and 0.15 of a percentage point.

Members of Finland’s established church, the Evangelical Lutheran church, pay a percentage of their income as a membership fee. The money is collected by the tax office and passed on to the church.

The biggest church tax rise will be in Humppila, in the south west, where the cost of Lutheran church membership will go up by 0.3 of a percentage point to 1.9 percent of a believer’s income. The largest parishes to raise taxes will be Mikkeli, Kajaani and Jyväskylä. In Mikkeli the church tax will be 1.5 percent after the rise, in Kajaani it will stand at 1.65 percent and in Jyväskylä it will be 1.45 percent.

The only fall in church taxes will occur in Konnevesi, where they will fall from 2 percent to 1.9 percent. The highest church tax is currently 2 percent, which is charged by eight parishes. Four of those parishes are in the province of Åland.

The lowest church taxes – just one percent – are levied in Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa, Kauniainen, Turku and Kaarina.

The Lutheran Church’s finances have suffered from resignations in recent years, following the introduction of online resignation services.

From:, dd 28/11/2011

Are sick leaves misused by bosses facing controversy?

NewsPosted by Sylvie Hendrickx Fri, November 25, 2011 21:11:19

EK doctor says overstressed managers should take unpaid time off

People in managerial positions in Finland often seem prone to take sick leave when facing public controversy.

Most recently Maija-Liisa Partanen, Director-General of the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health (VALVIRA), went on sick leave in the wake of a controversy over allegations that VALVIRA had failed to discover a number of people working as doctors without actual medical qualifications.

Jan Schugk, head physician at the Confederation of Finnish Industry (EK), sees this is a misuse of the sick leave system. Schugk feels that managers should have a higher threshold for stress than others.

If a person is genuinely under so much stress that he or she is unable to function, Schugk feels that the proper solution is to apply for unpaid leave, and not paid sick leave.

“Naturally the limits of a person’s endurance come at some point, but it would seem that it is too easy to withdraw. We doctors are excessively understanding of these situations.”

The basic requirement for sick leave is that a person should have an illness that is so serious that it prevents him or her from working properly.

“Anger is not an illness. Depression is if it meets the diagnostic criteria. There is no sudden depression. In acute stress reactions the state is easily noticeable by others”, Schugk emphasises.

Schugk has also observed that employees tend to follow the lead of their bosses.

“I get reports almost every week that doctors are granting people sick leave for an acute stress reaction.”

According to Pauli Juutti, director and trainer at the JTO School of Management, learning pressure management and tolerance of stress is a key part of management training.

Juutti says that the best of managers are the ones who are physiologically the most stressed. This involves so-called good stress, when the job is rewarding.

However, he says that when stress becomes excessive, the collapse can be dramatic, particularly for people who get feelings of euphoria from their work.

From: Helsingin Sanomat, dd 24/11/2011

HIV spreading on Finnish-Russian border

NewsPosted by Sylvie Hendrickx Fri, November 18, 2011 22:44:38

Russian Karelia has seen an upswing in HIV infections this year. The worst situation is just across the Finnish border in Sortavala, a destination for many Finnish sex tourists.

Some 940 HIV cases are registered in Russian Karelia and ten more are diagnosed every month. The situation is especially bad in Sortavala, just 60 kilometers east of the Finnish border.

A new campaign is now underway to slow the spread of the virus. Most infections are carried by under 30 year-olds, so information campaigns have been tailored to target teens in schools—particularly girls between the ages of 15 and 19, but some boys take part, too.

The pilot project teaches pupils about the virus, its spread and effects. Financing has been provided by the Finnish Foreign Ministry.

Finnish sex tourists

HIV education has just started at Sortavala School Number Three, where girls are taught about safe sex. Lessons not only cover the mechanics of the disease and its spread, but also attitudes. HIV carriers in Russia often meet with prejudice and discrimination.

"Those with the disease shouldn’t be ostracised," says Katja Surotsevan, adding that the course changed her attitude towards those infected.

The group’s young girls are also aware of what sex tourism from Finland can mean.

"Tourists from Finland can bring it with them,” says Nastja Kuznetsova.

Arina Konstantinova, a former student who volunteers in the city’s HIV centre, takes a different approach.

"If Finns come here for sex, they can also protect themselves,” she says.

Child abuse suspects arrested

NewsPosted by Sylvie Hendrickx Tue, November 08, 2011 16:31:32

Police suspect three men of sexually abusing several boys and spreading child pornography. Of the suspects, two have been in contact with children through their work. One is a qualified teacher and the other a voluntary worker.

All the victims are boys, and the youngest at the time of the alleged attacks was 11 years of age. The case refers to tens of cases that are alleged to have taken place between 2004 and 2011. Two cases involve aggravated child sexual abuse.

The suspects are between 30 and 40 years old, and they were arrested in Kuopio, Tampere and Oulu. One is still in custody.

The preliminary investigation turned up tens of thousands of images and hundreds of video recordings of child pornography. Some of them show violence against children. Police suspect that the accused also distributed pornography online.

The case has now been passed to the prosecutor., dd 08/11/2011

Next »