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Bringing hope and home closer to seafarers

Bringing hope and home closer to seafarers
Yashika F. Torib March 15, 2023

IT was one of those long, freezing and dark winters in Finland. There were still a few more hours to dawn until Sanna Rasi, a port chaplain at the Port of Tornio, could open her office and welcome seafarers for the day.

She settled for a quiet day ahead when a man came running out of the dark and rapped at her door.

"I know your place isn't open yet, but can I come inside? I need good internet, my wife is about to give birth," the voice said urgently.

The Finnish Seamen's Mission center, seated in the middle of a freezing winter, was suddenly filled with warmth and joy as the Filipino seafarer watched his wife give birth from the other side of the world. The wailing of his newborn son came along with dawn.

"He was far from home, but he was able to share that significant moment with his family. We shared a non-alcoholic beer to celebrate his fatherhood," Rasi said.

Such moments are one of the many highlights of Rasi's mission as a port chaplain. She started serving the Finnish Seamen's Mission in 2019 out of the sheer desire to help and learn from people of different cultures.

"I was a prison officer, then a teacher before serving with the Finnish Seamen's Mission. There were no seafarers in my family, and I did not know anyone from the maritime industry. I simply wanted to help people and learn from them," she said.

Rasi became the only welfare worker for the two ports in northern Finland — Kemi and Tornio.

In that same year, Rasi was introduced to the International Christian Maritime Association (ICMA), an international association of nonprofit organizations working for the welfare of seafarers around the world.

"The ICMA group was amazing! I was surprised to learn that there are a lot of professionals around the world who have also opted to serve in ports. I was not alone!

"During the days when I felt that I could not survive all by myself, I had people that I could call for support. ICMA's network of seafarer welfare groups around the world makes our work better and more effective."

Thereon, Rasi was able to share her struggles with fellow volunteers. This included times when the seafarers she is assisting entertained thoughts of suicide, or when they are inconsolable from losing a family member and not being able to return home to grieve.

"The most common concerns of shipboard officers are homesickness, loneliness, problems with their fellow crew, loaded work schedules and a lot of mental issues," she said.

"We have a good place by the port where they can come, sit, relax and share their thoughts with a professional worker. We also offer free internet connection and transport services should they need to go to the market, pharmacy or doctor. If a seafarer needs special support while onboard, we have people who can board their ship for longer, deeper, and better assistance. It's all about conversations, hope and support.

"I think the most important thing for seafarers is the knowledge that they can speak with us openly, even with the most painful things, without any fear of consequences. They are already very grateful for a simple conversation over a cup of coffee, Rasi explained.

Rasi was among the 45-man group of seafarer welfare volunteers from all over the world who visited the Philippines to get to know the country's culture and maritime industry.

"It was a very educational, eye-opening and productive experience. We met amazing people, learned about their maritime support systems, and got to know their culture. The crowd in Manila was just overwhelming because I came from a city of only 21,000 people," she quipped.

"It was very good to see the country where many of the seafarers I work came from," she concluded.