12 Oct

Starlit nights and peace-filled days in the Caucasus


One of the camp’s key messages was that if we all work together we can truly become bigger than ourselves.  Photo: Laura-Marja Lazepka, Katri Nyyssönen and Muhammad Saqlain


In July-August delegations from seven different nations spent over a week in Northern Armenia. While the programme concentrated on learning about humanitarian activities, there were also multiple opportunities to get to know the Caucasus region a little.


ON THE flight to Yerevan we had one major concern on our minds: the +35॰C temperature! In Finland the weather had been nice and cool with a temperature of about +22॰C, and we weren’t fully prepared for the heat in Armenia. When we landed we were greeted by Anna, a very welcoming and soft-spoken volunteer from the Armenian National Society who saw the look on our faces when we left the air-conditioned airport. It was like we were in a sauna that we couldn’t turn off, but soon the intrigue of being in a new place replaced our perturbation.

We drove through the city center at a pretty rash pace without seat belts. It felt like a fun roller-coaster ride (for me, that is – it was terrifying for others!) especially for someone coming from law-abiding, calm roads of Finland. Finally we arrived to a resort some 65 kilometers away from the city of Aghervan. At nine o’clock in the evening it was already dark which was quite different from what we were used to. The bright side was  that it meant  we were going to have many nights with beautiful clear skies, along with moon and stars to look at and marvel!

Each of the three representatives from every delegation was assigned to a group:  Stay Safe and Cute (SSC), Media and Youth Declaration. The SSC group was responsible for maintaining the Code of Conduct and the desired behavior within the camp as well as proactively dealing with any conflicts or health concerns of the participants. The Media group was responsible for publishing daily blogs about the camp activities and posting the day’s pictures on Facebook. They were also responsible for preparing the Game Booklet as well as a movie that revisited various key moments of the camp. The Youth Declaration group was responsible for creating a document to express the purpose of the youth camp throughout various national societies and the Erasmus+ network.


THE BREAD and butter of the camp were the workshops. One workshop was about a game-based role-playing program “Youth on the Run”, tailored towards children, youth and young adults. Many different Red Cross societies have already adopted it and it has spread throughout the Red Cross Movement. The scenario involved two families in a refugee camp who faced different problems. The workshop participants were assigned to different roles such as doctor, policeman, camp leader and  the refugee family. Normally one game takes around 24 hours but in the workshop we played a short 20-minute adaptation.

Another workshop was about how to give psycho-social support and psychological first aid to others in response to crisis or stress. The participants got to know both theoretical and practical tips about how to provide such support both in the Red Cross context but also in their daily lives. At the end the participants role-played situations about providing psycho-social support to people in various situations.

There was also a workshop about volunteer management. We got to know the different types of people engaged in the Red Cross and how to involve them in our social work based on their abilities and needs. The workshop also helped us explore what type of a volunteers we are and which roles might fit each of us best.

A later part of that workshop discussed conflict management. We had two groups participating in role-play games about how to handle conflicts correctly and how conflicts can escalate. Afterwards we debriefed the role-plays together and extracted better practices on how to successfully resolve, de-escalate or defuse a conflict.


BEYOND THE workshops, we had several activities aimed at socializing and connecting with each other. On the first night we had Cultural Night upon which we shared our cultural knowledge, our country’s traditions and our national cuisines. There was also a talent show where the delegations performed their unique numbers. Our delegation performed traditional Finnish dance Letkajenkka with the whole audience. The jury liked it so much that we won the 3rd place.

During the afternoons we often participated in sport activities or games. It was quite fun and everybody had their workout for the day. To enhance the intercultural exchange the lunch and dinner tables were mixed so that participants from different Red Cross societies would sit together. Because of mixer activities like this, the extended intercultural exchange was not limited to the workshops and special occasions: it took place during every minute of the camp.  On the fourth day we had a photo shoot during which everyone could pose wearing national costumes from different countries in a colorful mixture. Many spectacular photos were taken and some of the participants even mixed up the gender of the dress.


ON THE seventh day we were introduced to Vardavar, an Armenian water festival which is celebrated 98 days after Easter. We got to experience a replicated version of the festival where people poured water on each other and had a great fun.

One of the highlights of the camp was the trip to Yerevan. Every delegation got an Armenian guide who told us many things about the Armenian capital. We visited famous monuments and landmarks like the Haghtanak Victory Park, the Alley of Russian Militaries and Yerevan’s central district culminating in a picnic  in Lover’s Park. In the evening we went to the Republic Square and watched fountains give an incredible show of music and light.

On the last day every delegation had a chance to make suggestions and comments on the Youth Declaration and the day culminated in  a presentation of the final version. Its key message was that if we all work together we can truly become bigger than ourselves. We all promised to continue promoting youth empowerment.

The camp finally (and sadly) came to an end on the 9th day with a closing ceremony. After hearing the words of organizers, delegation leaders and group leaders, every participant received their certificate and gift from the Armenian Red Cross.

Overall the camp was a priceless and inspiring experience for us.


Text: Laura-Marja Lazepka, Katri Nyyssönen and Muhammad Saqlain

19 Sep

Camping, ceremonies and cultural collisions


International Study and Friendship Camp was arranged in Austria. Participants spoke 20 different languages. Photo: Yannika Rönnqvist and Sofia Sarkava


Annually for two weeks in mid-July, the Austrian Red Cross arranges an International Study and Friendship Camp in a small city of Langenlois in lower Austria. Around 50 young people from all over the world gather for the camp’s workshops and programs every year. Every participating country usually sends two delegates, aged between 16 and 23.


THIS YEAR Finland’s delegates were Yannika Rönnqvist, 16, from Vaasa and Sofia Sarkava, 21, currently studying in Kuopio. The camp was held in a boarding school owned by a local gardening school, with vast views of the surrounding town and fields of sunflowers and grapes. The lush vegetation was a testament to Austrian summer’s Finn-searing 30°C temperatures.

– I wanted to come to this camp because I wanted to meet new people and learn more about the International Red Cross. Because of my panic-disorder, it’s really hard for me sometimes to get out of the house, so these kinds of experiences help me to heal, Sarkava says.

– I have always been a person that likes to challenge myself and experience new things. So I saw this as a great opportunity to get to travel and meet new people from all around the world, Rönnqvist adds.

Even with 20 different languages spoken, cultural differences were surprisingly low-key. They were most evident when cooking: most participants were quite happy to taste their dishes with the same spoon they then used for stirring, that being something unthinkable for hygiene-conscious Finns.

There were also more somber moments.

– At the end of the first week, me and my Ukrainian roommate were chatting on her bed. We started to talk about salaries and price differences in different countries, and I asked her what the average monthly salary was in Ukraine. I would never have thought that it was so little. In that moment I think I realised how unfair our world is, Rönnqvist says.

Both Rönnqvist and Sarkava agree that one of the the climactic points of the camp was the Festival of the Nations, a closing ceremony of the camp where people from different countries showcase their nationalities.

– Performing is something I love, so this was perfect for me! I got a chance to dance and sing, and to meet even more awesome people! Sarkava tells.


Video credits: Yannika Rönnqvist and Sofia Sarkava, Music: We Are One by Vexento


What tips would you give for traveling?

Sarkava has an immediate answer.

– If you go to this camp, be open-minded. Remember to smile and enjoy. Live in the moment!

– Looking back, I realised that there was a lot of people that I didn’t really talk to that much. I regret that, although two weeks is too little time to get to know about 50 people. Don’t hesitate talking with everyone. You are only going to experience this once in a lifetime, Rönnqvist concludes.


Text: Tapio Pellinen

18 Aug

“No plans for the summer, so of course I wanted to go to Austria!”

21-year-old Katariina Kojo, a volunteer from Häme’s district of the Finnish Red Cross travelled to Austria for the Red Cross’ friendship camp for two weeks in July 2016. Now Katariina shares with us what she experienced and what she learned about different cultures.

Destination: I participated in the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movements’ International Youth Camp with a special focus on friendship, so called friendship camp. It was organized by the Austrian Red Cross.

Purpose of the trip: To meet youth Red Cross volunteers from all around the world, learn about new cultures and also learn about Red Cross.

Languages used: Mainly English. The participants in the camp spoke over fifteen different languages.

Weather: It was warm, usually between 27-30 °C degrees. Some rain showers and lightning occurred too.

Living arrangements: The camp was on a boarding school. We slept, ate, cooked, danced and studied at the same building almost all the time.

Why did you decide to go for this trip?

I had no plans for summer and when I noticed there was a chance to go to the camp, of course I wanted to! A friend of mine has also been there before and he told me that the camp is awesome and I should go. So I did!

What surprised you the most about the culture and cultural differences?

One of the most surprising moments took place while I was baking Finnish cinnamon buns during so called national night. The differences between in baking culture of Finland and Central Europe were much bigger than I though. For example other participants did not understand that someone could measure sugar with deciliters. In the end I had to search on Internet how much sugar weighs and tell the amount for them in grams. Also, others had never heard of fresh yeast. Also some other ingredients were a bit different as well. After all, the cinnamon buns were quite tasty anyway.

If you could change one thing about your experience, what would it be?

I would take with me more suitable clothes for the warm weather. Though I knew it will be hot, I still packed too few shorts and tops in my backpack.

Had you any feelings of homesickness?

Sometimes the tight schedule, constant socializing and a lack of sleep made me miss home in order to spend time just by myself. However the other participants made me feeling like a big family so my homesickness was not bad at all.

How has the trip expanded your worldview?

You can never learn enough from other cultures or know too many people! It is a priviledge to know people for all around the world. The fact that all the campers are also volunteers for Red Cross makes the principle of universality very concrete. It also inspires me to volunteer even more in Finland. Together we are a powerful universal network!

What were the highlights of your experience?

All the new friends I got! The motto of the camp was “Be part of it!” We all really were part of it, we were a great team. I know that some of the participants are also reading this: I miss you!

Katariina’s tips for travelling: Be open-minded and do not expect everything to go as you’d prefer. Sometimes it happens that you have to stay out when it rains or spend 12 hours at the airport. At first that kind of things might sound annoying but can actually turn out really nice experiences!

Text: Katariina Kojo
Photos: Markus Hechenberger and Holly Kellner / The Austrian Youth Red Cross


You too want to travel with the Finnish Red Cross?

Keep your eyes open on the Finnish Red Cross website and social media channels, and ask your local Red Cross officers if they know any youth trips coming. Then just do the application, don’t overthink it and just be you!

21 Apr

Humanitarian law helps us to react on crimes against humanity

Is it legally allowed to bomb enemy headquarters, if innocent civilians are known to move in the area? Can the opponent use methods of torture to acquire potentially life-saving information from enemies in captivity? In order to determine answers to questions like these, commanders of military operations often rely on the support of legal advisors, who help interpreting the rules of war. At the Finnish Red Cross’ humanitarian law competition, university students got a touch of real life decision-making, as their knowledge was put to the test.

With the international humanitarian law conventions in one hand and law books in the other, 14 students from all over Finland gathered in Helsinki for the Gunnar Rosén International Humanitarian Law Competition. This meant four intensive days of role-plays, workshops and lectures that culminated in a moot court, a simulated war trial session where the most successful participants took the roles of prosecutor and defence.

The session was judged by a panel of renowned international experts, Christie Edwards-Orkin, Director for International Humanitarian Law at the American Red Cross, Julie Tenenbaum, Regional Legal Adviser of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Erkki Kourula, judge of the International Criminal Court and Kari Takamaa, legal advisor of the Finnish National Defence University.

In real life, court representatives investigate their case and build arguments for months, but other than that, the experience was as close to an actual session as it comes. In preparation for the moot court, the participants trained by implementing their theoretical knowledge on several practical cases. Like legal advisors in the field, they had to take in a lot of background information and closely study conventions in order to give grounds for practical decisions to military commanders, media representatives and government leaders.

Daniela Karlsson, Christian Saja and Emil Vartiainen, students of Law and International Law at Åbo Akademi, had traveled from Turku to take part in the competition and felt that they had learned a lot already during the first days.

– As someone who has mostly studied Finnish law, this has been a great way of gaining an international perspective and in-depth understanding of a new field. I also like the fact that this is a totally new way of learning, compared to writing essays at the university library, Daniela Karlsson says.

A long tradition around the world

The legal rules of war protect those who do not participate in armed conflicts. It emphasizes the protection of uninvolved civilians, but also wounded and imprisoned soldiers as well as those who have dropped their guns. International humanitarian law also defines permissible methods of warfare in order to advance peace building and limit the usage of techniques that cause unnecessary suffering.

– Advancing and informing about international humanitarian law is one of the core missions of the Red Cross and one of the reasons behind the creation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. That is why it is our responsibility to spread knowledge. Knowing about the rules of conflict also improves people’s media literacy and helps making sense of conflicts, says competition coordinator Elina Almila.

“Competitions are a fun way of bringing the law out of text books and into real life.”

The Gunnar Rosén International Humanitarian Law Competition was the first of its kind in Finland, but the Red Cross has a long tradition of arranging similar competitions in other countries, as evaluations show that this is a good way of activating a younger crowd.

– Competitions are a fun way of bringing the law out of text books and into real life. When preparing for cases by doing research, forming their own arguments and receiving direct feedback, participants are likely to learn effectively, Almila says.

A need to discuss about international conflicts

The smallest team of the competition was made up of law students Jasmiina Jokinen and Terhi Raikas from University of Helsinki. Raikas tells that she originally became interested in international humanitarian law due to long drawn out conflict in Syria.

– I have Syrian relatives, so the crisis has touched me on a very personal level. The massive migration that the conflict has led to proves that we need to discuss these issues, not only where the war happens, but here, since it also concerns us, Raikas says.

Despite the fact that headlines about the terrible things people subject each other to in wars sometimes makes one wonder if any rules are being followed at all. Jasmiina Jokinen points out that international humanitarian law gives an important framework for judging what is acceptable.

– It is true that war crimes happen and war is pursued in ways totally behind reason, despite humanitarian law. However, without any rules, things could be far worse and we wouldn’t have any tools to react on crimes against humanity, Jokinen says.

The Finnish Red Cross arranges introductory courses in international humanitarian law several times a year. Click here to view dates and to read more about the work with international humanitarian law (in Finnish).

Text and photo: Mikaela Remes