African youth face many challenges in the Finnish education system, including language barriers and racism 

Fashion parade at Africa Day in Helsinki. PHOTO: JUKE LUOMA
Education was the theme for the Africa Day event celebrated in Helsinki. Tunisian Ambassador to Finland reminded African youth that not all opportunities for a better future lie in Europe.

Seblewongel Tariku

Published 14.06.2024 10:45

Updated 12.06.2024 12:48

Many students with African backgrounds still face racism in Finnish schools. It became apparent in an African youth panel discussion at the Africa Day celebration in ​​Helsinki, an event organized by the African and African European Associations (Afaes) ry in cooperation with the Universal Peace Federation. 

“I have faced racism. Two boys chased me and targeted me all the time because I was different and the only black person in my class. When I told the teachers, nothing happened, and the bullying continued”, ​​​​​​Zoe, a 14-year-old 7th grader shared her experience in a panel discussion organized by the Youth Educational Performance Program (YEPP ry) for the African Day event. 

The school won’t take racial-based bullying seriously unless it becomes physical. But, also words can deeply hurt and lead to depression, Zoe said. 

Another student participating in the panel, Princess, aged 14, mentioned how her mother had to intervene directly.  

“She would talk to the people who bullied me and tell them to stop. I never got help from the teachers or the principal. It hurts me a lot that no one did anything.” 

Also the third panelist, Shiloh, a 13-year old 6th grader, had experiences with bullying. She told how she took matters into her own hands. 

“In 5th grade I got bullied a lot. None of the teachers did anything about it. Then I just started to fight back against the person who bullied me. That stopped the bullying,” she said. 

All the panelists emphasized the need for serious action from parents and school authorities to combat racism. Other major challenge for the students with African background they mentioned, was a language barrier. Difficulties with the Finnish language make the students rely on extra help from the teacher, which is a challenge.  

Ambassador: There are future opportunities also in Africa 

African Day is celebrated annually on May 25th around the world among African diasporas. The date commemorates the founding of the Organization of African Unity in 1963. The theme for Africa Day 2024 was “Education Fit for the 21st Century: Building Resilient Education Systems, inclusive, lifelong, quality, and relevant learning in Africa”. 

The event centered on a panel discussion on how education can be transformed to meet the needs of the 21st century in Africa. African Union has emphasized education as a solution to the continent’s challenges, particularly with over half of Africa’s population being young. 

Tunisian Ambassador to Finland, Nabiha Hajjaji, who participated in the event, encouraged African youth to look for opportunities in Africa.   

“Many African youth aspire to immigrate to Europe, believing it’s the only path to a better future. This is not correct for our youth.” 

The ambassador highlighted that the mindset of African youth must change. They need to realize they have an amazing culture and immense opportunities in Africa. They should leverage these opportunities, sharing technologies and educational advancements with Europe, she said. 

She also noted that culture fosters partnership and cooperation between African countries and Finland, addressing global issues like climate and migration. 

Showcase of Africa’s rich cultural heritage and traditions 

The event organized by the African community of Finland also showcased Africa’s rich cultural heritage and traditions, fostering cultural exchange and understanding between Africans and Finns. 

For 2024, Afaes had selected five countries—Angola, Kenya, Senegal, Sudan, and Tunisia—to showcase their cultural traditions. That included vibrant cultural exhibitions, North African cuisine, and music that drew a diverse crowd. The colorful events saw participation from diplomats, academicians, and youth. 

“The event helps break down social barriers and combats stereotypes,” says Fatima Usman,​​ Chairperson of Afaes.  

She emphasizes these cultural activities help Finns learn about African heritage and play a vital role in promoting integration, enhancing cultural diversity, and building a more inclusive society in Finland. This brings our community closer together. 

​​​At the event, Keijo Mikkanen, Secretary General of the Universal Peace Federation, nominated Virpi Miettinen, a former Miss Finland, and Hasse Walli, a guitarist and producer, for the 2024 Ambassador of Peace Award for their contributions to African education and music.