This week, the Gravis headquarters in Jodhpur is proudly hosting two foreign visitors: Wahiduzzaman Siddique and Otto Vainio. Wahiduzzaman hails from Bangladesh, and now studies at the University of Tampere, Finland. Otto also attends school in Tampere; the same city where he was born and raised. Both students are pursuing master’s degrees at Tampere. They are both active members of the student union on campus known as ‘Tamy’. Tamy has a longstanding partnership with GRAVIS; the two have cooperated on many projects over the duration of 20+ years. Tamy’s current initiative with GRAVIS aims to improve health through nutrition and sanitation. Efforts in nutrition and sanitation include the construction of toilets, establishment of horticulture units, and installation of bio-sand water filters. Community outreach and education have sizeable roles in the shared goals of GRAVIS and Tamy as well.
GRAVIS is especially fortunate to host Wahiduzzaman and Otto as Finland is celebrating its 100th year of independence today, 6 December, 2017. On the same date in 1917, Finland declared independence from the Russian Grand Duchy. Finland’s severance from Russia was facilitated by the dissolution of the Tsarists Russian empire following World War I. Even while it was under Russian rule, Finland was allowed a high degree of autonomy. This can be attributed less to the benevolence of the Tsar at the time, and more to the Tsar’s disinterest in Finland’s land resources, characterized by a lack of cultivatable land. Despite being recognized as autonomous by Russia in 1918, Finland fought two defensive campaigns against Russia in both 1939-40, and 1941-44. Today, diplomatic relations between Finland and Russia remain complicated; although, Russia is Finland’s 5th largest trade partner. Prior to coming under Russian rule, Finland was controlled by Sweden for 500 years. Swedish is still spoken by some Finns today: an enduring remnant of Swedish annexation.
After securing independence in 1917, Finland was the poorest European state. The former economic position of Finland is surprising when compared with its current social and industrial high-standing. Despite taking a serious below after the 2008 financial crash, the country of 5.5 million now has a booming IT industry and is a hotbed for tech startups. Finland boasts a GDP that is slightly higher than the average of other EU members. Annual taxation is high, between 46-7%, but tax dollars are used to maintain the country’s impressive infrastructure. Education in Finland is free, and school children are being taught programming beginning in their 3rd year. Finland has a large middle-aged/elderly population; this demographic is cared for by superb health care systems. After 2002, the country’s government became secular; although, a minimal tax is still collected on behalf to two churches.
Finland’s progressive socio-political model is commendable, and this day gives us an opportunity to recognize Finland’s successes as an international community. A gathering at the GRAVIS headquarters today, an acknowledgement of Finnish accomplishment, was attended by members of four different nationalities. Attendees shared their impressions of Finland and listened while Otto graciously shared details about his home country. Afterwards, everyone enjoyed cake and some Finnish chocolate compliments of Otto. Otto is pictured cutting and serving cake while staff, interns, and volunteers smile on. We are honored that Otto is with us to celebrate the centennial of Finland’s independence!
Written by Pentti Hanlon, Dickinson College, USA