A very scary journey to school
In Helsinki, the capital city of Finland, in the middle of November, the sun rises a little after 8 a.m. and sets before 4 p.m. This means, that if school starts at 8:15, as it does for many Finnish kids, they will have to take their journey to school, and sometimes back home too, in darkness.
And this will only get worse before we reach the winter solstice, which lands on 22nd of December this year, the year 2018 if you’re confused. On that day there will be only 6 hours of daylight in Helsinki, and a bit over 2 hours in Rovaniemi, Lapland, where Santa lives. At the very northernmost parts of Finland, a town of Utsjoki, the sun goes down on November 25th and does not rise again until January 17th, 2019. That’s almost two months of no daylight. It’s called the polar night.
You need a something to keep away the darkness, and for me right now, it’s glitter. Fish friendly kind, because microplastics are baaaad. While writing this, I’m constantly distracted by just how shiny my arms and hands are, it’s like frozen snow, so very sparkly. Maybe next time I’ll save the glitter for private time, so work doesn’t get affected. But for now, I’m a mermaid!
For kids on their way to school, it’s reflectors. Well, not to actually keep away the dark, but to help you see the futures of Finland in that darkness. We try to install street lights on walkways and bicycle paths, as well as the streets meant for cars, so it’s not total darkness, but it’s not enough. Like at those northern parts of Finland, the kids that go to school live far apart and not all of those streets, roads or paths, have lights.
But aren’t the parents taking the children to school, and watching over them? No, not in Finland. Finnish school days are short and start times are determined by every school and class for themselves, and we Finns have to work too. Many times the parents daily commute starts even before the child wakes up. This means that the child will have to wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast and get themselves ready to school all by themselves. That’s a lot of responsibility for a nine-year-old. And this was just the part that happens in the safety of their well lit home.
Even if the parent is there to care for the morning activities, the journey to school itself is for the child, alone. Sometimes they live close to a friend, and can go to school together, and that’s always better. Even as young as seven-year-olds, on first grade, have to manage their way to school and back alone. The limit to get a taxi or a bus pass for school journeys is 5 kilometres, this means that if your school is less than 3,1 miles, you have to walk, or ride your bike to school. Or ski. Some people do that too. Sometimes the parents choose to pay for the bus passes themselves, if the limit isn’t reach but they feel it’s for the best.
And to walk to school for miles in total darkness alone? Scary, isn’t it. You have to cross roads and not all of those crossings have traffic lights, and there’s no crossing guards in Finland. Also sometimes there’s no walkway or bike path and you have to walk on the side of the road which the cars drive on. And if you have ever driven a car at night, you know it’s really hard to see anything that’s not directly in front of your headlights. It’s a very scary journey for a very small child.
This is why reflectors need to be used. The driver of a car or a bus does not see you on the road if you’re not wearing reflectors. And those reflectors have to be good ones and you should wear at least three. The more the better. So we don’t lose any lives. We like our lives and we like our children, most of the time, so let’s keep them safe.
The writer of this story is a member of the Mom of Finland community.
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