SERVICE OPERATION SAAPAS
The Saapas project has a long history going back to the early 1970s. During that time the Keimola-rock concert was organized and quite many young people got drunk. In the concert area the rain was pouring down while they were sleeping in tents and water started sipping trough, but most youngsters did not feel it because alcohol had blocked their senses, putting their health and perhaps even life in jeopardy. There was a demand for someone to provide first aid and psychological support to those in need, and it was a group of parish volunteers that gave a helping hand. After this event the idea of helping drunken youngsters at concerts and festivals started to grow. At the turn of the 1980s it was understood that the trained volunteers may be used year-round special youth work in various positions. That is how the Saapas project spread to the biggest cities in Finland. The project has been successful and continued growing, and nowadays over 20 voluntary groups are operating throughout Finland.
Saapas is based on Christian values. The core principle springs from the idea of helping those in need, but what makes this project different from other forms of social work is the attitude of volunteers, which is based on empathy, understanding, and care. Volunteers treat youngsters as equals and respect their freedom of choice and instead of pressuring them to change from above, they try to make them want to change from within.
Saapas at a glance
The word “Saapas”‚ in Finnish means “boot”, and the reason why the project has this name is because volunteers usually walk the streets on foot looking for drunk youngsters. Most of the time, the Saapas group is compromised of a number of volunteers headed by one or two full-time parish workers. In order to become a volunteer, one has to be over 18 years old and should receive special training (first aid basics, communications and problem solving techniques, etc.).
Each parish has its own schedule, but normally the Saapas group goes patrolling every Friday or Saturday and during holidays or major events such as festivals or concerts. They drive around in a minivan or walk on foot from about 7 or 8 p.m. to midnight looking for drunk teenagers at the metro stations, parking lots in front of malls, etc.
One of the primary goals of the Saapas group is not to take away the alcohol from youngsters of break up their gathering, but to simply talk to them and try to understand their needs and problems. If they see that a teenager has certain social problems or is suicidal, they turn his or her case over to the social services. If someone needs medical help they will provide the first aid. The Saapas group can also offer youngsters a ride to home or another place where they could stay overnight. Finally, if some of teenagers seem to be aggressive and want to start a fight, the Saapas group can either call the police or try to talk them out of it, without interfering in the fight.
What makes the project successful is that most volunteers have once been in the place of the youngsters that they are nowadays trying to help. Therefore they understand their needs and problems. Another factor is that the youngsters trust the Saapas group and feel confident that the volunteers will only provide help if they ask for it and will not force it.
For more information, contact:
+358 – 400 105 071