Weera Kulppi
Weera and Eliel Kulppi. Photo: Sajan V Nambiar

Weera Kulppi, a young sociology student from Finland, is in Kerala with a stated mission – to empower girls, enabling them to make their mark in the world.

She learned about India and Kerala from sociology lessons and was overcome by the cultural diversity. She didn’t have to think twice for her to decide on the Oriental voyage journey with her 3-year old son Eliel Kulppi, who is fascinated by trucks and speaks fluent English.

She chose Kerala because she had heard a lot about the state from one of her bosom friends who had been here some time back.“India is colourful. Your history is so intriguing. And the music awesome,” gushes the 23-year-old when asked about the factors that attracted her.

Weera, as part of her project in Kerala, is collaborating in an art exhibition by the inmates of Sukritham Girls Home, the brainchild of V K Mahadev Prasad and friends, formed to take care of less-fortunate girls.

The artist in her mentored the girls, aiding them in identifying and honing their creative talents during her over 6-month stay at the refuge. An exhibition of their unleashed creative energy made available for public viewing at Gudhaam Art Café, Gujarathi Street on 16th and 17th of September. Weera intends spending half a year here.

Like most foreigners, she finds it hard to cope with the harsh climate; especially for her son. The food is spicy. “But I am getting used to it now,” she adds with a smile.

Weera was astonished by the way people take collective responsibility for everything happening around them. “In Finland, you are totally a state subject. In the case of any difficulties, people approach the government. But here people resolve issues on their own. They are also ready to help each other.”

Weera Kulppi
Weera Kulppi with the inmates of Sukritham Girls Home during their Onam celebration

 

The young mother, however, is a bit annoyed by the gender inequality prevailing in the society. In the short span she has been here, she was able to notice the disparity, which she said, is evidently embedded in our culture. According to her, it has to change. Finnish women are more or less on equal footing with men.

Weera cannot digest the idea of women shifting to the house of their husband after marriage. “Being a young mother, maybe, I wouldn’t have been able to continue my studies if I were from here,” she said.

Despite this, she has fallen in the love with Kerala which, she said, is unique in its syncretic and accommodating culture. Religion is dying in Finland, she observed. On the contrary, here it is flourishing. So many religions and languages are able to co-exist, she says, her eyes widening in awe.

Talking about her family, Weera said her mother Sari Taipale, a teacher by profession and sister Saana Kulppi, a student of business administration, are her driving forces. 

This daughter of a primary school teacher revealed aspects of their education system, which will make our mind boggle. Most of the 62,000 educators in 3,500 schools are professionals selected from the top decile of the nation’s graduates with a mandatory master’s degree in education. And they are the most respected in society even ahead of university professors! It used to be so once upon a time here also.

All this resulted from the bold decision made by the Finnish Parliament in 1963 to choose public education as the best means to achieve economic recovery. Nearly 30 percent of students are beneficiaries of special help during their first nine years of school.

Of these a large number are immigrants from Somalia, Iraq, Russia, Bangladesh, Estonia and Ethiopia, among other nations. Finns believe that children from rich families can afford to be taught by stupid teachers, whereas the weak require excellent tutors.

The success of this revolutionary initiative became apparent in 2000, when the first results from the Programme for International Student Assessment, a uniform test given to 15-year-olds in more than 40 countries, showed Finnish youth to be the best young readers globally.

Three years on, they topped in mathematics. By 2006, the country was first out of 57 countries in science too. According to 2009 PISA scores the nation came 2nd in science, 3rd in reading and 6th in maths among nearly half 5-lakh students worldwide.

Teachers there spend fewer hours at school and spend less time in classrooms than teachers elsewhere. This extra time is gainfully employed to build curriculum and assess their wards. Children too spend far more time playing outside, even in the height of winter. Homework is minimal. Compulsory schooling does not begin until age seven.

Ninety-seven percent of 6-year-olds attend public pre-school. They are showered with food; free health care, counseling and taxi service if needed. Our heroine learnt the alphabet at the by our standards the ‘old’ age of seven, when she enrolled in school!

The sun and the beaches have bowled over the young woman. Sunlight is a precious commodity in Finland, land of the midnight sun. While Finns have to agonise for months to catch a glimpse of the sun, Kerala is blessed with abundant sunshine. “The land is blessed with incandescent light and I am definitely going to miss the sun when I return.”

Another rare thing that she discovered precious thing is Jack-fruit, which is prohibitively expensive back home. “Common people cannot afford the fruit. I have once tasted a frozen jack-fruit,” shes savours a memory. “It is much in demand and is prized for its health benefits.” Weera and Eliel celebrated Onam with the inmates at the Home.

Weera definitely wants to come back and keep the Kerala connection alive as there is so much to learn and experience from life here. She plans to take a train to Delhi, from where she will fly to Finland. She believes the train journey will help her further have a peek into the pristine soul of India, the birth place of the Buddha, social reformers, asetics, saints, renunciators, Mahatmaji and Mother Teresa.