As we sit together in Tuula's cosy apartment in Lauttasaari, I feel very comfortable. Tuula prepared coffee and brought some delicious lemon pastries to the table. I feel welcomed, at home, safe. This is the primary thing that attracted many people to join Familia Club since the beginning - Tuula’s kind consideration for others.
At the age of 35 Tuula became a young widow and a single mother to her four children. As she felt the need to share her daily life with other adults, she found herself inviting some friends over. “My home became sort of a “Sewing Circle”, Tuula said. While they mended children’s clothes and knitted wool socks and shared experiences and listened to how things were in the rest of the world, the early beginnings of Familia Club were forming. “I opened the doors to my friends, who in turn brought their own friends” Tuula added cheerfully. There were also foreigners among the invited. “We soon realised this was a great way to bring together foreigners and Finns” Tuula said.
These gatherings, which began in early 1980 were gradually held also in other homes. The meetings were very popular, more and more people joined, and homes started to get too small for these rendez-vous. "The idea of finding bigger premises suitable for these gatherings for adults and children came up then. And the ideal place for our purposes we found in Lauttasaari, the youth house Apaja“. Tuula said. There they could get together for their afternoons with coffee and cakes and moreover organise different activities because of the broad space.
"In our new place Apaja, people brought food from different nationalities to share, toys and games were available for kids to play, coffee was served. Everyone felt that coming to the meetings was truly like coming to a family gathering, with people from many different countries and nationalities”. Tuula added. “Volunteers offered to help organise and facilitate activities. They showed motivation and we were all so passionate about what we were doing”.
As the range of activities increased, the gatherings began to need a formal form. So, in 1988 Familia Club ry was founded. This was a significant milestone in a critical time in the Finnish context where integration and intercultural interaction was needed.
Tuula remembers how certain activities became fundamental to Familia’s identity from the very beginning. “Finnish language lessons were very popular. Many foreigners kept asking for more groups, and we started arranging courses in Lauttasaari’s Youth House Apaja. Childcare was even arranged when needed. Cooking, music, art, and dancing classes such as flamenco among others were organised by volunteers who wanted to share their skills and expertise with anyone who might be interested" she said.
Everyone felt that coming to the meetings was truly like coming to a family gathering, with people from many different countries and nationalities. Volunteers offered to help organise and facilitate activities. They showed motivation and we were all so passionate about what we were doing
Familia Club ry faced moments of joy, but also endured some challenges. As an organization, it was expanding its activities on many fronts and finding more spacious and permanent premises was not easy. “We wanted to organise children’s language clubs, theme nights and larger workshops. A place where we could accommodate more people at the same time was a must, as well as a kitchen to coordinate our cooking clubs”. Moreover, finding enough funds to keep their activities going was ever present. “Having so many volunteers and club leaders to coordinate the activities was a saving grace for the organisation” Tuula concludes.
As late afternoon approached, we asked Tuula what inspired her to start Familia. “I opened my doors to visitors who came to our country decades ago. It was a natural thing to do because I knew how difficult it is to make friends in a foreign country, in a foreign culture with new customs. Because of my father's job I had spent my childhood and youth abroad in various countries”. She said energetically.
Tuula currently lives in Lautasaari. As our interview was coming to an end she reminisced about those times where everything started as just simple gatherings with friends. Her vision for Familia is that it continues strengthening its core values, welcoming people, and promoting intercultural integration.
Interviewer and editor: Yvette Ahonen
Haluamme kertoa juhlavuotemme kunniaksi 35 tarinaa kahden kulttuurin perheistä
ulkaisemme 35 viikon ajan 35 erilaista tarinaa, jotka kuvastavat monia haasteita ja mahdollisuuksia, joita kahden kulttuurin perheet jokapäiväisessä elämässään kohtaavat. Haluamme näiden tarinoiden heijastavan todellisuutta ja tarjoavan vertaistukea, voimaannuttavia kokemuksia ja inspiraation lähteitä sekä lisäävän tietoisuutta kulttuurienvälisyydestä ja monikielisyydestä Suomessa.
For 35 weeks, we will be publishing 35 different stories that reflect the many challenges and opportunities intercultural families face in their everyday lives. We want these stories to reflect reality and serve as an accessible peer support, source of empowerment and inspiration, and increase awareness of Interculturalism and Multilingualism in Finland.