Welcoming new Helsinki residents

On Tuesday mornings at 10 am, the Kallahti youth centre is filled with the buzz of conversation: that’s when meetings between the Vuosaari group and the national ‘Let’s read together’ network begin. Finnish women teach the Finnish language to immigrant women on a voluntary basis.

Leila Haltia has been working as a volunteer teacher in the Vuosaari group since 2013.

“I read about the network many years ago in a newspaper and became interested: what a great concept! I joined the group as soon as I retired.”

Leila has previously worked as a journalist, as well as a producer of teaching materials, which has helped her in her teaching work. However, anyone can apply to become a voluntary teacher.


A learning process for the entire community

Leila, who was born in Turku but has lived for almost 40 years in Helsinki, views the ‘Let’s read together’ approach as a good way of helping to contribute to her home town and local environment.

“Many immigrants have little contact with native Finns. The ‘Let’s read together’ group provides a low threshold to getting to know us, the teachers: we are voluntary workers, not officials. We native Finns get to make friends with immigrants and each other at the same time. I think that the network’s activities can be viewed as a learning process for the whole community.”


Becoming more familiar with your home town

In addition to studying the Finnish language, the Vuosaari group has also been shown around its own neighbourhood and Finnish society on a wider basis. For example, the group has made joint visits to the Vuosaari Library, the Finnish Museum of Natural History and the Herring Market.

“Map reading, for instance, is a new activity for some group members. Using public transport can also be frightening. Hopefully, by studying districts of the city of Helsinki on a map and travelling to different places together, we can lower the threshold for immigrants to get around on their own.”

Leila points out that voluntary work is also rewarding for the teacher.

“The most rewarding moments occur when one of the students moves forward in life, by getting a place on a course, or a job or citizenship. We celebrate these successes together.”


Text and picture: Piia Raitavuo


Leila Haltia chose Hewida Ahmed as a maker of the Helsinki of the future.