Introduction to work of Deaconess Foundation to promote Roma inclusion and equality


In Finland, the transient population EU citizens mainly comprises Roma, who face discrimination, inequality, and extreme poverty in their own countries. As a result, they are leaving their home to travel to other locations within EU to be able to support themselves and their families.


Homelessness is commonplace and begging has become a source of livelihood. Discrimination and inequality are not absent in Finland either and this impedes getting equal opportunities, finding livelihoods and acquiring a residence registration. Deaconess Foundation is building a holistic overall approach to address the situation and first started when they began arriving here eight years ago. Our work begins through making sure that basic needs of the Roma in Helsinki are met.

Hirundo – providing acute assistance

Hirundo is a day centre for the Roma population in Helsinki. Hirundo is where they can safely come for a coffee, take a shower, do their laundry, use the internet, and eat their own meals. The centre provides a simple lunch daily to its visitors. In addition to tending to everyday matters, we provide social service and acute healthcare support for our clients.

Many Roma sleep in the parks in and around Helsinki as they are unable to afford housing. During wintertime from October to April, the Deaconess Foundation arranges emergency shelter to house the Roma population. The shelter has 200 bed spaces available in shared rooms and frequently, this is unfortunately not enough.

New opportunities

Second part of the approach is to meaningfully attempt to improve the lives of Roma. The Deaconess Foundation has two projects running currently to do this with similar goals, but slightly different methods. Central to both is finding employment as an alternative to begging. Työtä ja toivoa -project created in collaboration with Emmaus Helsinki has created a co-op called Keikkapooli. It is a labour intermediation service and primarily provides cleaners, trained from the Roma community, for private individuals and companies.

Community Action and Learning at Hirundo -project continues developing new ways of finding employment. Part of this is to teach applicable skills such as languages and reading to aid the process. Through community development workshops, the project aims to build a stronger Roma community, which can then support the population better. The project employs two Roma as workers by experience who gain knowledge of Finnish working culture. New workers are recruited every six months granting this opportunity to many. Through them, valuable insight is also gained into functioning and the mindset of the community.

Finally, the root causes need addressing, and the Deaconess Foundation has started various projects with multiple partners in Romania, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Moldova, Belarus and Ukraine. Locally, they aim to bring new opportunities to Roma and to dismantle old prejudices.

In short, the Deaconess Foundation works to ensure that the Roma who arrive to Finland have their basic need met, teach them new skills, provide alternatives to begging and, finally to change the situation in their originating countries, so they can stay with their families and build a decent life at home.

By Antti Jalkanen, Project Coordinator for Community Action and Learning at Hirundo

Photo Markku Niskanen

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