The project Immigrants in the everyday life of rural areas, carried out by the Municipality of Punkalaidun, expands the practices of integrating immigrants from Punkalaidun to the municipalities of Huittinen, Hämeenkyrö and Sastamala. Project aims include activating third-sector actors' involvement in integration efforts and promoting the possibilities of immigrants to find work. The project, funded by Leader Joutsenten reitti (The Swan route), is led by Maarit Tiittanen.
Integration in cooperation
Punkalaidun has long and successful traditions in working with immigrants. Since the new project is still in its initial stages, let's take a look at its predecessor, which created an excellent basis for integrating immigrants.
The project, Immigrants to villages, did so many fine things that the report by project advisor Maarit Tiittanen takes your breath away. Strong cooperation and tolerance is the first impression.
Even the share of private funding required for the project was arranged in an original way.
– I managed to gain the ten grand share of private funding from local businesses and associations, 29 in all. I heard from Joutsenten reitti that no-one else has done the same. This method was beneficial in other ways, too: if we need something, we phone each other.
The team effort helped in finding employment for immigrants, resulting in both traineeships and paid jobs. A variety of events were organised with partners, ranging from a fishing day to a Christmas party, everything from clothes distribution days, family clubs, homework clubs, handicraft clubs, clubs for mothers and children, to language courses.
– Our very own football team, FC Vartiola, was led by an Italian football coach who is over 70. He's a wonderful person who has really taught our immigrant boys how to play football.
The best possible integration
Maarit Tiittanen calls the immigrants her children, her darlings.
– We have become one big family. Whenever they have news, they come to me. Almost from the day a baby is born.
With great pride, Maarit lists those who are studying, have completed a vocational qualification, and found a job. One success story to celebrate came up one late winter, as the mother of a family from Montenegro got a permanent job as an institutional cleaner with the municipality of Punkalaidun.
Maarit commends project partners warmly.
– For instance, the plastic manufacturer Vanttilan Muovi is unbelievable, a real gem. They have employed immigrants before, and a while back, the company hired the father of one of our families. This Burmese family had spent four years in a refugee camp before coming to Finland. They used to live in a hut with no water, electricity or even a toilet.
Today, they have a proper home as they bought a house.
– When Vanttilan Muovi had hired the father, we realised that the family was paying a high rent for their housing. The idea came up with the employer: why not help them to buy a house of their own? We considered many options and the family decided on a small house built after the war.
It is a modest home by Finnish standards, but perfect for this family.
– Many astonishing things have happened, but this is one of the absolute highlights.
Rewarded and acknowledged
The project Immigrants to villages won the award of the Leader project of the year in Joutsenten reitti association. The reasons included internationalisation of Punkalaidun and breaking the barriers of prejudice between cultures at the grass-root level.
– Before, reception centre residents left Punkalaidun as soon as they could and moved into cities, but now, thanks to the integration efforts, some of them stay in town, become entrepreneurs and work here, says Petri Rinne, Manager of Joutsenten Reitti.
The project also received a certificate of honour at the Satakunta Rural Gala in autumn 2014. Maarit Tiittanen has an excellent basis to continue her outstanding work in the new integration project.
Text and photos:
Information officer, Leader Satakunta