Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,
I am honored to have the opportunity to address you at this very special event. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Finland, but also the 90th anniversary of the Finnish Seamen's Mission in the Netherlands.
Foreign trade has always been vital for Finland. Finnish seamen sailed the oceans long before we became an independent nation. Finland has always got its prosperity mostly from exports, and free trade is something we cherish like the Dutch.
We tend to forget the invisible men who made goods move. In the world of running water, electricity and internet connections, it is difficult to understand what life was like for a seafarer 90 years ago. Or what life was like for their families, who did not have a word of their father, husband or son for months after months.
The church saw these invisible men, and wanted to help them. Every seafarer was an individual in need of care and attention. That is why the Seamen's Mission was founded. Through the Mission, seamen were able to have their basic needs fulfilled. They got company, they got familiar food, their home sickness was eased.
I would also like to recognize other invisible people, mostly women: the volunteers in Finland, who raised funding for Seamen's Missions, for example by organizing bazaars in local parishes. My late grandmother was one of these volunteers. My mother used to joke that granny is again knitting socks for drowned sailors. - And of course, among you, dear friends, there are also many such volunteers today. Thank you for your precious work.
The world has changed from the early decades of last century. The international trade has increased, but the number of people on board ships has decreased. Today's "seafarers" are different: they are truck drivers, students, employees of international companies, au pairs and Finns living abroad for various reasons.
The Seamen's mission has also changed. It has been able to adapt itself to the needs of the new time. Today, the mission offers activities also for children, youth and senior citizens. A library, sauna, café and yes, a Finnish shop to ease the cravings of our most Finnish taste buds - we are so happy and grateful to have all this in Rotterdam.
The Seamen's mission has found innovative ways to finance its functions. Opening the Christmas market at Finse Huis was a memorable experience for me. I arrived early, but I was not the first one. Young Japanese women were already waiting at the door. The word had gone around, that a visit to the Netherlands in December is not complete without a visit to the Finse Huis Christmas market to stock on Finnish design, which is well appreciated in Japan. Creating such a reputation is just one indicator of success.
It is with great gratitude that I think of all the social work and support to the Finnish community that the Seamen's mission is offering. The resources of Finnish diplomatic representations abroad are shrinking. The consular assistance given by the Embassy in the Hague is restricted to the most acute cases. In this changing setting, the support the Mission can give to individuals is essential. The Embassy of Finland really appreciates your contribution and our co-operation. This is also true with regard to elections. The fact that the Seamen's Mission organizes a polling station also in the upcoming presidential elections is well-appreciated.
Let me also thank you for your active and creative role in the Finland100 committee in The Netherlands. Having Ismo Alanko in Rotterdam was a great idea!
The Seamen's Mission has been able to live in time, recognizing emerging trends and needs. Who knows what this world will look like in 20 years from now on, let alone in 90 years. I am convinced that this Mission will always find its place and ways to serve.
I would like to end my speech by stating: Long live the seafarer's mission! Let it serve another 90 years.