Tuesday, May 21, 2013

When "Silence" Means "We Care"

Look at this building!

You're looking across one of the busiest areas in Helsinki: in back of you is Kamppi, the main bus terminal and on the other side of the yellow building is the main Helsinki Central Station.  Thousands of people walk through this square every day. (You can see the brown building far to the right.)

What is this oddly-shaped building doing in such a prominent spot?

I heard about this building from Lindsay Whorton, another Fulbright grantee, who came here to experience the atmosphere and simply enjoy the peace and quiet.  She told me this building has another purpose -  to provide social services to anyone who needs it - right here in the middle of the busiest part of town.  Free.

Seriously?  I needed to see it for myself.

When I arrived (in a room adjacent to this space), there were four or five people standing around interested in my arrival but busy in their work.  They were of varying ages and looks - one looked conservative, one looked edgy, one was young, another was middle aged. I asked the edgy, middle-aged man if I could enter the, "Silent Church" and he said, "Sure.  Go ahead."

I walked into this room - this exquisite room - and it was silent.  Of course.

I didn't sit.  I just observed.  And enjoyed it.  

It was fabulous. 

 I've learned throughout my travels that Finns realize that most people, if not all, need help at some point in their lives, and this includes not only physical and financial help but psychological and spiritual help, as well.  When I walked back to the outer room I approached the man "with the edge" and asked him about how they provide social services here.

He said they provide time with social workers and/or church workers for anyone who walks in the door and needs it.  Sometimes people need short conversations and sometimes they need longer conversations, but the interactions (and assistance) are always free, one never needs an appointment, and the person in need may remain anonymous.  The conversations can be as long as the person needs them to be. 

Right here, in the middle of town - open 365 days a year  - the help is here even when everything else in Helsinki is closed.

Thank you for setting a new standard for excellence in mental health care, Finland.

This building is affectionately called the "Silent Church," or, Kampin Kaapeli, and in 2010 it won the International Architectural Award.

1 comment: