In the past couple of years my family took part in a brilliant initiative called Joulupuu (“the Christmas tree”) organised by JCI Central Park and made possible by their volunteers’ hard work. In a nutshell, the Joulupuu team collects gifts and distribute them to children currently in child protection. In 2017, about 17 000 children had to be placed outside their homes in Finland. Currently, in the capital area alone, social services serve around 10 000 children placed in child protection. Joulupuu is running its 18th year and last year they collected over 11 000 gifts in the Helsinki region, while in 2016 they globally hit 54 000 gifts (way to go, Finland!).
Children in child protection come from different socio- and economical backgrounds, but they have one thing in common: they won’t spend Christmas with their families. I have written extensively about adoption and the effects childhood trauma has on my own son. Many of the issues he faces daily are shared by children who live difficult family situations. Reaching out to one of these kids with a Christmas gift is not simply providing them with material toys, it’s showing there are people who cares about them out there. I spoke to Juha Hiltunen, logistics manager of Joulupuu 2018. He shared the heartwarming story of one donor who attached a note to the gift and shared she herself had been in child protection. She encouraged the receiving child to hang in there and promised her life would turn out alright and she also would be happy one day. It was a precious message for a child feeling the unbearable weight of profound loneliness. Christmas is a joyful occasion when you can spend it with your family, but it becomes painful reminder if you cannot.
Although Juha is managing the operation logistics in Helsinki, Joulupuu has collection points all over Finland and, starting this year, it offers the opportunity to give your contribution online (beware, until 5.12). The main collection point in the Forum mall in central Helsinki will be open on 13.-16.12 (opening hours: Thu 13.12. h 5 PM – 8 PM, Fri 14.12. h 5 PM- 8 PM, Sat 15.12. h 11 AM – 6 PM, Sun 16.12. h 12 PM – 6 PM). You can simply extend your Christmas shopping and do something impactful. If you are on a tight budget, don’t worry: there is no standard amount, even a 5 euro gift is appreciated. Usually there is a lack of presents for the age range 11-17, so you may wanna target that. If you, like myself, have small children and have no idea what to buy for a teenager, Joulupuu’s got your back. They have suggestions for all ages and pockets. If you wish, you can include a personal note to your present. Juha shared that children truly appreciate entry tickets to indoor parks (say, Rush, HopLop, Superpark, …) or museums like Heureka or Sea Life. It’s a special treat to go to such places and it offers also a relaxed atmosphere for them to open up with their social workers about the issues they faced at home or how they feel (the alternative being the social worker’s office).
In the past few years, I had the chance to regularly volunteer in projects concerning children in child protection. It’s something I haven’t yet shared on my blog or social media, because everytime I try to put down in words what I witness, I get overwhelmed and words fail me. Some of the children in child protection have forgotten what family even means. Their daily life is filled with compromise we wouldn’t dream to ask from our kids. They don’t get to sleep with mom or dad when they are sick and feel vulnerable. They have strict budget for everything: hobbies, birthday presents or parties, Christmas. There is no space for exceptions. Some live in institutions and they can never ask for their favourite dish if they feel down. When you live like that, at some point you stop dreaming just for self-preservation from the constant disappointment. This is why receiving Christmas gifts from caring strangers can truly be a special surprise to them.
I hope you will consider contributing to Joulupuu this year and on all years to come. I wish you all a Merry Christmas!