Friendship Link with SI Kokkola, Finland


In the early 1980′s we were approached to form a Friendship Link with a new club in Kokkola Finland. Kokkola is a town north of Helsinki on the coast, halfway between Helsinki and the Arctic Circle, on the Gulf of Bothnia. Having no official role in the club at the time, I decided this sounded an interesting project to take on and I have not been disappointed. I knew nothing of the customs or culture of Finland and so started a fascinating journey. At first our two clubs just exchanged letters and then when the International Conference in Helsinki was planned things took a more active turn. It was suggested that clubs in Finland should offer hospitality, pre-conference, to their Friendship Links.

Three of our members, myself included, decided to take up this wonderful offer and flew to Kokkola via Helsinki. We were met at the airport and taken by our hostesses to their homes.  In the following days we met the rest of the club and were shown round the area.

At the conference all the Finnish Soroptimists had been asked to wear national dress, all different depending on the part of the country they originally came from. Finland is a bilingual country so Swedish and Finnish is spoken throughout and most people also speak excellent English. Prior to the start of the conference all Finnish Soroptimists had been busy knitting and every member in conference got a pair of blue and yellow socks, each with a few words of greeting inside from the knitter. This was the start of a long lasting friendship.

We invited Kokkola members to visit us, meeting them at Manchester airport and bringing them to my home for coffee and to meet their hostesses. My house became a source of great curiosity, being quite different from Finnish houses –   where was the sauna for a start? In Finland visitors are offered a sauna like we would offer a cup of tea. Everyone has a sauna, ranging from a wood fired sauna in a small wooden building in the garden to a state of the art electronically controlled sauna with its own kitchen and sitting room.

In the days which followed we visited the Ribble Valley and the Lake District and were entertained by the Mayor in the Mayor’s parlour in the Town hall where each was given a souvenir gift by the Mayor. We had a buffet supper one evening when over 40 of us enjoyed an action packed evening comparing notes on the day’s events with each and every host family, and forging lasting friendships.

Our next joint activity was a return visit to Kokkola. Most Finnish families have a summer cottage away from the town which they move to for the whole of the summer. In August when summer holidays are over, the cottagers celebrate the Venetian Festival with bonfires and fireworks and huge candles lining driveways and gardens and we were able to join in these celebrations. Finland has 179, 584 islands and as most summer cottages are close to the water the reflections in the water are spectacular.

Kokkola was first made prosperous by the tar trade and seafaring hence the importance of ship building – from small pleasure craft to large ocean going ships. The most famous boat shown to all British visitors is a small British Landing Craft captured during the Crimean War , known locally as “the Halkokari Skirmish of 1854” Legend says it was captured but in fact it was grounded on an underwater wreck and fell into the hands of the defenders of Kokkola.

Cobalt is another product produced in Kokkola and used in the famous glass trade.. The Mayor of Kokkola presented us all with a cobalt candle holder when he entertained us to lunch.

Fruit –berries in particular, play a large part in Finnish cuisine due to the right to roam, cloudberries, lingonberries and crow berries being those less familiar to us. Residents take their berry pickers up to the hills, pick vast quantities of fruit and fill their freezers for the winter.

I would recommend a friendship link to every club as a way of learning the culture and customs of an area other than your own. It is also the best possible way for a new member to learn the true meaning of Soroptimism ——The Best of Sisters. My Finnish “sisters” are great.

Barbara Ward

Link Correspondent between SI Kokkola and SI Rossendale.