Refugee child finds friendship with Finnish ‘grandmother’
Finland / Freedom Stories / 19 oct 2017
A young refugee girl has found sanctuary and unexpected friendship with her adopted ‘grandmother’ in Finland. Two year old Diana and her father Azaldeen were among 100 refugees resettled in the small, picturesque community of Nagu in 2015. They had fled Iraq after the kidnapping and disappearance of Diana’s mother in their home city of Baghdad. Helping to ease their transition, retired residents Mona and Kaj took the pair under their wing and soon began to care for Diana as if she were their own granddaughter.
Nagu is a small island community located in the Swedish speaking region of Finland, with only 1,500 permanent residents. Mona retired to the island 17 years ago, and as soon as she heard that the community would be receiving 100 refugees, she wanted to do what she could to make them feel at home. She and other members of the cultural association started preparing for their arrival by speaking to organisers of courses and clubs, to ensure that they would be inclusive for the new arrivals. ‘Welcoming refugees isn’t about organising a lot of strange separate activities for them. It is about making sure they feel welcome to be part of what the local community is already doing’, said Mona.
Azaldeen left Iraq with his daughter because he felt it wasn’t a safe place to bring up his child after the abduction of her mother. ‘We were always afraid’, he recalls. When they first arrived in Finland, Diana was nervous and clung to her father, who himself was struggling with grief. However Azaldeen found an immediate bond with retiree Mona and began affectionately calling her ‘mother’. When he began attending Finnish language classes once a week in the nearby city, Mona offered to take care of Diana.
Two years on and Diana is blossoming. ‘She has grown incredibly fast and transformed from a very anxious child to a girl that communicates and relaxes’, says Mona. ‘She will have a very bright future.’ Diana and Mona have developed a stable routine where Diana can relax, play with the dog and visit the horse in the neighbour’s stable. Most importantly she feels safe, loved and cared for. Azaldeen and Diana now have refugee status and residence permits and have no plans to leave Nagu. ‘I don’t want to move Diana again now that we finally have found a big family here’, Azaldeen said. ‘My family is Mona and Kaj and the others on Nagu.’
‘Nagu is a good and loving place. This is our home now.’