May 17, 2018

10 Questions: Heidi Furu

Heidi Furu is the Finnish volunteer of the year.

  1. What do you do first when you wake up?

I love slow mornings. I sit on the sofa with my children. Usually I hold my youngest one on my lap. We enjoy the quiet house and we talk about what is going to happen during the day. I eat breakfast and I pray. I have arranged my working days so that I don’t have to hurry in the mornings. I have time for myself and my kids.

  1. You have made a significant impact with your work with disadvantaged people. How did you find your calling?

Around 15 years ago I started to think about my childhood and teenage years and how the way my grandmother and father helped financially disadvantaged people and treated them with respect has impacted the choices I have made later on. My grandmother always helped the friends and relatives around her and she donated money to mission work. She told me interesting stories about the Finnish woman Matilda Wrede, who visited prisons, helped inmates all of her life and became their friend. My father has a small electric installation company. He hired former addicts and criminals. I also had wild teenage years and many of my friends became juvenile delinquents and started using alcohol and drugs. I have kept contact with them all these years. As a consequence, it was easy and natural for me to talk to them and befriend them.

I didn’t plan or even couldn’t dream that the work would grow and develop as it has. We had busy years taking care of the family. I was thankful for being a mother of our four beautiful girls. Anyhow I felt that something was missing and I had a feeling that I would love to do something more and help people.  I just didn’t know what do and where to go. Five years ago, my friend, who is ex-prisoner, invited me to the streets and just talk to people.  We immediately somehow connected with the drug addicts. They invited us to their residences. I was horrified to see how bad these people’s situation was. I felt that I cannot close my eyes to their needs. They were so happy that somebody came to visit and listen to them. I wanted to do more and show that we care and God cares. I started organising the work and asked other volunteers to come to help us. I arranged dinners and supported the team we worked with. The homeless, drug addicts and ex-prisoners liked our work so much and the feedback was so awesome that I knew from the first big barbecue party that something has happened and I had found my calling.

  1. What is your typical working day like?

I do not have a typical working day. My typical working week includes mostly organising volunteers, supporting and listening about where they are going in their lives. I hang out at our meeting place and I sit and listen to peoples’ needs. Most of the time they also ask me to pray for them. I’m working with applications, informing on social media, sending e-mails, speaking on the phone with drug addicts who are not doing well and not able to come to our meeting place. I get phone calls from prison and I tell what kind of help our organisation can offer when they get out from jail. I keep contact with our partners and take part in planning huge charity events in Helsinki. I visit dormitories and residences. Some of the time I plan ways to improve our financial situation so we can continue our group meetings and our visits to the dormitories, and feed and clothe those who are in need.

  1. What has been the most memorable project during your volunteering career?

It is always wonderful to hear when someone has gone to rehabilitation and tried to rid themselves of drugs. A man who has spent all of his life in a correctional institution and prisons once came to our dormitory meeting. We sat, listened and talked with him for many hours. After dinner, he thanked us and said that we are the first people in his life who met him as a person, and not as a homeless criminal or drug addict. We became friends and more than four years later we are still in contact with each other.

  1. Who or what inspires you and why?

I am inspired when I hear stories of entrepreneurs who have started from scratch and made a breakthrough, or have been innovative and creative, like the story of the Kirsti Paakkanen (Womenan, Marimekko). The way she leads the company and treats all workers is magnificent. I can but admire persons like Mother Teresa, William and Catherine Booth (the founders of the Salvation Army) and the Finnish pioneer in prison work Matilda Wrede. They all took big risks, impacted society and were very courageous.

  1. Your efforts in social work with substance abusers has taught you a lot, but how could we all help and care more about our loved ones?

Selfishness doesn’t make anyone happy. Real happiness comes through helping others. We cannot wait for a perfect moment or an even better situation in our lives. We have to start today. Help those who are close to you: your children, partner and parents. Talk to your neighbour. Visit elderly people in your neighbourhood. Help a single-parent family. Buy them cinema tickets or help them to clean their house or wash their windows. If you meet a homeless person on the street or someone who needs help, buy them some food, shoes or a jacket. Sit with them and listen to their story. We can show love to each other all the time wherever we go. We all can learn kindness. Our being and actions should give people the feeling and confidence that we accept and value them.

  1. When are you at your happiest at work?

When I see people with a smile on their face or when I hear people laughing. When we have a group of people and we go to do something fun together, for example we go by boat for a picnic. It is great when people feel freedom and experience peace, love and joy in spite of difficult circumstances. It is also important to know that everything is well with my children and family.

  1. How do you relax?

I spend time with my husband and my kids. We do sports together with my husband. We go to the gym three times a week and to the forest for a walk. I hang out with my friends. We have film nights with my family. We have always placed a lot of focus on our marriage even when our kids were small. When things are well in the marriage and at home, it is easy to relax.

  1. What is the one item you would take with you to a deserted island?

The Bible.

  1. What is your number one tip for someone who would like to help others and participate in social work?

Do not waste any time on your sofa thinking about what you should do to help others or where your calling is and what kind of social work would fit to you. Make contact with different volunteer/social organisations or the church and ask how you can take part in their work. Get out of your comfort zone. It is not important that you find the right work immediately. It is important that you start to do something to help others. Don’t give up easily if you feel that things aren’t perfect. Try different kinds of things and ways. If we just think about ourselves and look for something that makes us satisfied and happy, maybe we never find a way to serve others. At the same time when we have compassion and desire to influence society, we have to see each individual person as valuable. When we have the right motive and we love people as they are, we can find our calling.

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