The Hyvä Joulumieli (Christmas Spirit) campaign helps less fortunate families to forget their everyday troubles for a moment, at least for the holidays. Inka Poikela can still remember what receiving a food voucher felt like.
Almost exactly seven years ago Inka Poikela, 34, had moved from Sodankylä to the Oulu area. The small Laplander community had started to feel uncomfortable to the young single mother.
Her father had passed away some time ago due to a seizure. The father had always provided important support for his daughter and his granddaughter Silja, 14.
At that time, Poikela, who had moved in to a terraced house in Jääli and was unemployed, had not written a shopping list for Christmas with the 7-year-old Silja. Frankly, Poikela isn’t much of a Christmas person.
However, one evening Teea Tunturi, director of the Red Cross district of Kiiminki, was jogging in the cold and brought a gift for them. It was a Hyvä Joulumieli voucher worth 70 euros.
– It did make me cry. For us, 70 euros is still an unbelievably large sum. Without it, we wouldn’t have had a ham or chocolates, let alone gifts for each other, Poikela laughs.
The youth activities of the Kiiminki district started at the moment when Poikela received the voucher. She and Teea Tunturi realised that Kiiminki did not have anyone to organise youth activities. Poikela took on the task, being an experienced helper.
Since she was 11 years old, this Laplander woman has had a passion for fire service. She dragged Silja to the fire station before the child could even read – the girl was brainwashed, so to speak.
At the moment, the youth group meets every two weeks. The group discusses first aid, drugs and sexuality, and also keeps company for the elderly, for example.
From uphill to downhill and back
Inka Poikela moved to Kemi when she was only a teenager to begin her studies to become a practical nurse, and before that she had spent a year in process training at a paper mill. She cancelled her studies after a few years when Silja was born. The relationship with the child’s father did not last long.
Poikela returned to Sodankylä and tried to continue her studies in Rovaniemi. She also worked on fire service and ambulance duty. In the end, being a student, working as a shop assistant in a Tiimari store and raising a child were impossible to balance, even with the help of her father and support families. The relationship between Poikela and her mother was in a bad way because of the latter’s alcoholism.
– Starting to hear rumours about me and my child was the last straw. That hurt me. That’s when we decided to go to Oulu, Poikela remembers.
The beginning in Oulu was not easy, either. However, Poikela finally restarted her practical nurse studies. In 2010 she was in luck and got a job in an intensive care unit.
Then Poikela faced significant challenges to her health. The knee she had hurt in a football game at secondary school started acting out. – I pushed the clutch of the car and my knee cracked.
This meant two operations and sick leaves for a year and six months. The letter of appointment for the intensive care unit was not continued.
Soon the world crashed down again. A year ago Poikela was diagnosed with a brain tumour. After a few weeks spent in fear, the tumour was removed by an operation and it was diagnosed as benign.
She only told Silja about the severity of the situation after coming home from the hospital. Like her mother, Silja is a worrier. It had felt like one person worrying would be enough.
Listening to Poikela’s story does not feel heavy, however, because black humour tinges the story every now and then. In retrospect, she is happy that the doctor forced her, an eternal fighter, to take a sick leave of six months after the tumour was removed.
– I’m not one to feel sorry about the past, even though I naturally have some dark moments. However, stopping for a time was needed after all those years. I made an unbelievable number of jewels and participated in Red Cross activities.
Light in the future
In Oulu, mother and daughter have noticed that people do not tolerate poverty very well in large cities.
Teenaged Silja has also learned to save money. Among friends, she does not feel pressure to spend money on her free time. – I tell them straight away that I don’t have money.
Inka Poikela feels sad for the perpetual prejudice that poverty is the person’s own fault or caused by pure laziness. Lack of money can also make it easier to be left out of social circles. That is why the Hyvä Joulumieli voucher means a lot to many people.
– Poverty and need are often invisible. I wish that people would tell the social services or the Red Cross about those in need. Even a little help can make the holiday spirit better.
Proceeding the coming Christmas, the Poikela family received a big and certainly self-earned gift in October. Poikela received a job as a practical nurse in a mental health and substance abuse services unit in Kiiminki. Even now, Christmas is one holiday among many for her.
– All I need for Christmas is a Christmas tree. I love its scent, Poikela says.
Text: Minna Peltola
Photo: Maiju Torvinen
Original story published in www.redcross.fi in 10th of December 2014