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Helsinki Police Department was available to answer any questions the immigrants may have at the kick-off event of Week Against Racism at Narinkkatori in Helsinki on Monday, March 20, 2017. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Monday afternoon saw Narinkkatori in Helsinki’s Kamppi transformed into a hive of joy, happiness and love thy neighbor. The ordinarily drab thoroughfare was alive with fanfare and festivity all in the name of creating a more understanding and encompassing community.

Based around the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (21 March), Red Cross in Finland are once again instigating a week dedicated to education and campaigning against racism within the Finnish community. The week was kicked off with a pop-up celebration.

My daughter and I decided to investigate. As we neared the area, there certainly was excitement in the air. Balloons were everywhere, live bands performed creating a great atmosphere and a real sense of joy. As we moved from stall to stall happily chatting to each representative, my daughter’s eyes lit up as one of her favorite songs started booming from the speakers. To our delight, a flash dance group suddenly started a routine amongst the crowd. More people gradually added to the size of the group and there was a fabulous feeling of community with people of all different ages, sexes and cultures joining to dance in unison.

[alert type=red ]”1,250 hate crimes occurred throughout Finland in 2015, 53 percent higher than in 2014.”[/alert]

Janette Gronfors, one of the event organizers at the Helsinki Red Cross NGO, was excited by the turnout. “This event was run to create awareness about discrimination. Other events will be run throughout Finland all week. 1,250 hate crimes occurred throughout Finland in 2015, 53 percent higher than in 2014. This is due to the global dislodgement of so many people over this period. We want to put a stop to discriminative behavior in our community.”

Organizations working alongside the Red Cross in their anti-racism project inhabited the stalls surrounding the quadrangle. They were well equipped to help anyone with advice and warm drinks. “All our employees are volunteers, which means that any donations are used 100 percent towards assisting refugees. As well as employment, we also provide courses to assist refugees integrate and speak at schools to educate the next generation about anti-racism, said Minna, who runs an organization called Refuhome.

For those who needed assistance with the law, there was a service called Riku (Victim Support Finland), an organization that guides and supports victims of crime, their family and witnesses of crime.

The national anti-racism campaign of the Red Cross is organized every year during the same week as the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

At another stall, a representative of the Ethnic Relations Board, which part of the Ministry of Justice, said that they work with minority groups, youth, refugees and the disabled by performing crisis work and influencing government policy and visibility in these areas. The UK model is currently being implemented in Finland to increase inclusivity by involving four elements: attitude, a sense of security (physical and psychological), integration and participation.

We played kick the soccer goal with Football Players Unite who believe sport plays a large part in uniting people from different backgrounds. They have many players from different backgrounds who are new to the city and utilize soccer to make friends and integrate.

The police and fire brigade were also represented in full uniform. “We are part of this event to create visibility within the community and for people to use the opportunity to ask us questions,” said Mattila from the Helsinki Police Department.

After speaking to many stalls, we found ourselves leaving the celebration with a warm fussy feeling, a feeling of being part of a special, caring community. We also left covered in stickers, badges, balloons and face paint which was also quite amusing. I have faith that the message of unity and inclusivity within our community is being spread successfully throughout Finland by the good people of Red Cross and their many supporting organizations.