Finland has much to learn from Third World in family relations

Family ties are strong in rural
Kenya. (Photo: Barry Lewis
Corbis/Helsingin Sanomat)

Finland has certain problems: many people numb themselves with antidepressant drugs and alcohol, people bully and harass each other at work, a young man will fire into a crowd of people, a father kills his family. Finnish people should learn something from developing countries, wrote Johana Pohjola in an article published by Helsingin Sanomat daily newspaper.

"Rich Western countries have an entrenched notion that we are the forerunners and creators of development," said Eva Nilsson, development policy advisor at the Service Centre for Development Cooperation (KEPA, focal point of Social Watch in that European country).

"Finns are good in their everyday lives, but not in their private lives. In Nepal things are the other way around," said Bhola Dahal, who worked for a long time as an advisor for development cooperation at the Finnish Embassy in his country, which is one of those that receives Finnish aid to help fight economic poverty, inequality, and instability. Such countries are referred to as developing countries.

But who will help Finland? Certainly not Nepal, which would seem to have some suggestions available for improving the quality of life on the personal level, nor would the other developing countries, because they are not being asked.

But now we are asking, wrote Johana Pohjola in her article. How would you solve Finland’s social problems, Mr. Dahal?

The Nepalese man has a list that is ready, as if he had thought about the matter before.

"Harmony in the community and the support of the family are important. Sharing and caring in the family, support of the generations, and the grandparents," he says.

"Children who are cared for by their grandparents grow up to be good people. Children learn to care for their younger siblings. They hear stories that are inspiring, but which also tell of difficulties."

According to a Nepalese saying, a guest arriving in the evening is like a god. It means that guests need to be fed with food and love. Unselfish hospitality is the path to human well-being, Dahal believes.

Finns should eat and more time out of doors than they do now, says Ethiopian Tibebu Bogale.

"When you’re inside, you’re alone with your problems. Outside you can meet people and talk to them. You stop thinking about your problems and others can offer support," says Bogale, who works for the Save the Children Foundation.

Bogale, who studied in Jyväskylä, urges Finns to support each other. Asking for help is not an admission of weakness – it is quite the opposite.

"In Ethiopia everyone belongs to a group, such as a neighbourhood, or a working community. People know that they are not alone with their problems."

"In developed countries independence is encouraged. We encourage people to help each other. Society helps economically, but not all problems are economic," Tibebu Bogale says.

Kenyan Georginah Gichohi notes that developing countries also have loneliness, depression, an alcoholism. However, problems there are easy to share if family ties are strong and people have time.

"Greeting people is an important part of interaction. Kenyans often ask about each other about their health and their family members. This encourages individuals to open up," says Gichohi, who works as an aide at the Finnish Embassy in Nairobi.

"A smile also relieves tension and awakens confidence. Finns should be friendly and spend time with other people."

Thanks for the advice, Nepal, Ethiopia, and Kenya. One would imagine that they would come in handy, in light of the development policy programme, which states: "Development cooperation also involves interaction and common learning, making use of development in both the South and in the North."

Iina Soiri, who helped draft the programme, says that the sentence is mostly an expression of principle. There are no immediate plans to bring consultants from the developing countries to teach Finns community living.

"I would not consider it impossible, but I do not believe that people are thinking about that at such a concrete level. The question is mostly that of a response to the colonialist idea that the developed countries know the answer to everything", says Soiri, an advisor at the Development Policy Section of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

"Our starting point is that the developing countries could have better solutions. There are common challenges and ideas that work in both directions.”

The Africa project of the Helsinki Deaconess Institute was set up to develop methods of functioning in a community, which have been taught by a Namibian trainer in Finland. "With the help of the community it is possible to achieve a great deal. In Finland people don’t always believe that non-material support would help. We are so accustomed to so social welfare," says programme director Antti Elenius.

He likes the African saying: if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go with others. "Community means tolerance for people and differences, and it is not easy. It is built by respecting the parents."

Attitudes are a big practical impediment to such give and take. "Rich Western countries have an entrenched notion that we are the forerunners and creators of development," says Eva Nilsson, development policy advisor at the Service Centre for Development Cooperation (KEPA). Bhola Dahal feels that countries that receive aid are seen as less intelligent. "The attitude, that it might be possible to learn something from developing countries, does not exist."

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