After the precious visit to the Prime Minister Mr. Jyrki Katainen, we all headed to the place where we spent a weekend with Finnish families. On the way to Hankasalmi, about 400km north of Helsinki, I was enjoying the view from a long-distance train. It was 30 minutes after saying goodbye to Helsinki city that I realized Finland was literally “a country of forests and lakes.” How many lakes did I pass? How many trees did I see? Finland started to present different face to us.
Since the beginning of August, we have had a chance to meet a lot of experts and public figures to get to know about Finland and its society. Being mostly in Helsinki capital area, we learned how they developed their country in the fields of technology, culture, education and welfare. Interestingly, most of the presenters who spoke to us mentioned at least once about the Finnish nature and agricultural background in explaining these issues. When Ms. Tarja Halonen, the first female (“but will not be the last” as she said) president of Finland, came to give us a wonderful speech, she started with the historical background in Finland. “We have a long and dark winter in Finland. So we have to work hard” she said. Although we have been told so, we had not seen the life of Finns until we actually spent the weekend with them.
Hänninen Family, who kindly hosted me and Hang, a Vietnamese participant, has three daughters and two sons. They are farmers. They have their own barn with more than 50 cows and milk them every morning and afternoon.
On Saturday, we had a chance to go there with Kari and Päivi, the parents of 5 children. From 6 o’clock in the morning, as checking each cow’s health conditions by hand, they set the machine and milk cows one by one. It was impressive to see how efficiently they did it. Then, when they finish milking, they put the cows in the meadow, and clean up the barn. This takes them almost three hours and they repeat it in the afternoon. At the same time, they have to work on gathering grass to prepare for the winter to come.
In farmers’ life, they do not really have “holidays” as they take care of animals everyday. They share their work and help each other with family and neighbors. Also, a good environment is essential for them. There is a lake in front of the house. Luckily, they have no neighbors around, so I could go to sauna and swim in the lake without clothes, without caring anything else. I felt so close to nature.
Meanwhile, urbanization attacks this small municipality’s economy. When their oldest daughter was born in 1990, there were over 90 children born in the same year, but now, it is decreasing to less than 50. Young people tend to move into cities and schools in the countryside close down. Päivi, a hardworking mother, said they are planning to have a machine renovation so that their children would continue their farm in the future. “I want them to study and experience many things, but I hope they will come back later” she added.
Each family has its own story, and I would not say that what I have seen is what it is all about. But at least, I saw a different side of Finland. I found some basic values they share in their life; care for nature, helping each other, and believing in children’s future.
Mr. Katainen said “Finland faces challenges every 20 years. Each time, we recreate a county again, and we get richer and better.” As far as I learned from two weeks of stay, Finland has many things to be proud of, including the values its people share. Let’s see how it would be in the next 20 years.