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!

09 Jul

Living the dream of Henry

World Village Festival

Siaka (the second from the left) participating in the World Village Festival.

Siaka Dippa moved to Finland a few years ago. New country and culture didn’t feel that strange after he joined the Finnish Red Cross. As a former volunteer of The Gambia Red Cross, he has been happy to see that there are many similarities between different Red Cross societies.

I was a volunteer in The Gambia Red Cross Society. It started as a branch of the British Red Cross Society in 1948, and became an independent national society in 1966.

Unlike the Finnish Red Cross, more than 80% of the volunteers are young people aged between 15 and 30, and this cohort of people are the backbone of The Gambia Red Cross. Like other members of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, The Gambia Red Cross places great emphasis on supporting activities relevant to young people as they are 60% of The Gambia’s population.

Many people in The Gambia become Red Cross volunteer when they start primary school, usually at the age of six or seven. However, my case was different as my journey to the Red Cross started late. It was in my eleventh grade when I got invited to join one of the most active Red Cross links in The Gambia-Bundung Home Link with over 100 other very active and dedicated volunteers.  A home link in The Gambia is what is referred to as a branch in the Finnish Red Cross. I remember the first activity I took part in was a National Youth Drama competition organised by Youth In Development and Change (YIDAC) and guess what, we won!

Gambia RC Training

This marks the beginning of a journey serving humanity through the Red Cross and I cherished every single moment, from an international youth camp commonly known as Bantaba to the polio vaccination and Malaria campaigns, reproductive health, disaster preparedness and response, leadership training and first aid camps among others.

I joined the Red Cross because I wanted to serve humanity. I felt that there is someone out there who might be vulnerable or might need help and by volunteering in the Red Cross, I could change the person’s life. In addition I want to live the dream of Henry Dunant who called for the creation of an aid organisation, not only for the wounded in war, but to aid in all manner of disasters needing an organised response.

For many like me, Gambia Red Cross serves as another home, where skills and hidden talents are developed. They made us to believe in ourselves.

Jukka Louma

Photo Jukka Louma

Moving to a new country. I had no idea about its people, culture, weather or work. I had mix feelings. I was happy because I was going to study but leaving behind family, friends, work and all the different voluntary activities was the saddest and the most difficult moment.

The confusion didn’t last long after arriving in Finland as I found a new home and a new family, the Finnish Red Cross. Just with a simple click of a computer I got an information package of all the activities within Helsinki and Uusimaa district, especially those that are conducted in English.  As if that is insufficient, I was invited to an introductory course about the Finnish Red Cross. I never hesitated to sign up because I was hungry to know all the bits and pieces of the national society and how I could get involved.

One of the clubs that I was interested to join right after the introductory course was Betania International Club which is open for everyone and provides a meeting place for people from various backgrounds. I started to go to Betania and was lucky to meet different people. With some of them I’m still in contact.

Five months after my arrival, an application to the Youth delegate training course was announced and I applied, luckily I was selected. This course prepared me to work as youth delegate for the International Red Cross Movement through the Finnish Red Cross. Shortly after our training together with other participants, we established an international youth club (FRC International Youth Club), a group for young people between 15 and 28. I continue to volunteer in different activities including visits to schools, campaigns and festivals among them Hunger Day Campaign, World Village Festival and Lupa Välittää.

Siaka received the Youth Volunteer of the Year award from the Helsinki and Uusimaa district this May. Photo Tuula Korhonen

If you ask me today, I will say Finnish Red Cross solved the puzzle! I haven’t done much because of the language barrier, but I am happy I could serve humanity. I am even happier of the fact that my humble efforts can be linked to those countless others who make a difference to the world.

Having experience both national societies, I have come to realise that each national society design their activities based on the need of the people. Therefore I would say there are a lot more similarities than differences as all Red Cross societies in the world work in accordance with the seven principles of the movement.

No one is too poor to volunteer and you don’t have to wait until you retire. The experiences you gain while volunteering can never be learned anywhere else. There is a lot more to be done.

Siaka K. Dibba