Interview: What Finland’s Volunteer of the Year Means to Me.

It is the translation of the interview from Finnish language. For the original, see Kansalaisareena.

Ilkhom Khalimzoda, the volunteer of the year, promotes intercultural dialogue and the inclusion of immigrants

For Ilkhom Khalimzoda, who was chosen as the volunteer of the year 2021, volunteering brings a lot of joy and gives back in many ways. Through volunteering, Ilkhom promotes intercultural dialogue, equality, and the inclusion of immigrants.

Ilkhom Khalimzoda was awarded Volunteer of the Year in December 2021. 

– Every week after the reward, people at my workplace and beyond have come to congratulate me and tell me how valuable and significant work I do. I am constantly aware of the importance of nurturing this recognition.

Ilkhom is the chairman of the Finnish Intercultural Community (SKY), which he founded. The community aims to promote intercultural dialogue, equality, and the inclusion of immigrants.

At SKY, Ilkhom has launched many innovative projects. These include, among other things, learning the Finnish language through songs and the Apple Project, which brought together people from different backgrounds to share apples. Even during the pandemic, Ilkhom wanted to do its part to help others.

– When Korona hit, we wanted to help older people. So we gathered a multilingual team of 30 volunteers from all over Finland to help municipalities that needed volunteers for information phones.

Be the change you want to see

Ilkhom is from Central Asia, Tajikistan. He moved with his family to Finland from Latvia, where he lived for ten years. Ilkhom is currently working as a doctoral researcher at the University of Jyväskylä on immigration, intercultural communication, and the media.

In Finland, volunteering helped Ilkhom to adapt to the new culture and utilize its expertise. At the same time, he saw an opportunity to help the multicultural people around him find their potential to make it easier for them to participate in their community and thus improve their well-being.

– Be the change you want to see. Add your spice to your surroundings. Do things that you feel are important, Ilkhom advises.

Many organizations support immigrants and multicultural people by volunteering and enabling them to volunteer. Ilkhom encourages immigrant communities to ask themselves what kind of needs arise within the community and to support the ideas that come from them. Communities should also be involved in activities that increase understanding and trust.

Although volunteering is a universal activity, there are some cultural differences in practice. According to Ilkhom, immigrants may be skeptical of the host country’s acculturation strategies. Finnish society, on the other hand, may think that only immigrants have to adapt.

– When talking about intercultural dialogue, for example, it is often thought that it means cooking different food or giving a presentation about the country of origin. This is also important, but it would be good for the interaction to go deeper than the surface. It should be about discussing values, the meaning of life, and worldviews. In this way, we can find the core values ​​that unite us and find out what sets us apart.

Volunteering brings a lot of joy and gives back in many ways

Above all, volunteering gives Ilkhom social capital. Especially in the context of immigrants, volunteering helps to navigate better in the new society, network, work and make friends.

– Volunteering gives a feeling of satisfaction and belonging, Ilkhom concludes.

There are also occasional challenges associated with volunteering, such as time management and work management. Ilkhom likes to keep volunteering close to other aspects of his life: research and volunteering together with the family.

Also, financially running an association is sometimes challenging when there is not enough information to apply for grants. Fortunately, it has been possible to co-operate with various parties and thus share the activity costs. 

– Volunteering should not be thought of as free work, but as an activity that brings a lot of joy and gives back in many ways. Don’t give up and try to develop the things around you and solve problems wherever you are.

The Citizen Arena Volunteer of the Year will also traditionally serve as an ambassador for volunteering for the next year. As an ambassador, Ilkhom strives to take new ideas and projects forward and create more activities all over Finland. He also hopes to work with various communities, authorities, and other institutions to improve civic engagement and the active inclusion of newcomers.

– There is trust and hope in the title of Volunteer of the Year, and I have to take care of it.

Text in Finnish: Eve Lahikainen

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