“Having an influence feels sometimes very easy in Finland”

Helen Hamzaaghaei standing outside a building at night, looking through the wall of windows to her left.
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17-year-old Helen Hamzaaghaei was elected to the City of Vantaa’s Youth Council with the most votes. Making decisions and advancing topics related to young people feels natural to her.

"I took an interest in politics already at a very young age when watching the news with my father. He was very knowledgeable and interested in world politics. I would ask him how everything works and he would explain things to me in a way I would understand. 

I was born in Finland but my roots are in Kurdistan. That’s why we would watch the news in many languages – in Persian, Kurdish, Turkish and Finnish. It gave me perspective and also got me to consider how others see topics and how I see them. I understood that my opinion is not the only right one. 

I have always liked to lead, to have responsibilities and to make an impact. When there was a student council election in my elementary school, I immediately wanted to take part. I am now serving my second term on the Vantaa Youth Council, which is a politically non-aligned impact group that advances topics related to young people in Vantaa.

Young people in Vantaa get to elect the council members. After I applied for the second time, I messaged the head of the council to ask whether I had been elected for a new term. I heard that I had gotten the most votes. I can’t even describe the feeling I had. I was in complete shock.

Now it feels like I have a lot of responsibility. So many people have given me their trust to represent them on the issues that matter to them.”

Helen Hamzaaghaei sitting at the pianos in the underground of Myyrmäki station, colourful wall mural stretching left to right behind her.
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The Youth Council has real impact 

“Politics works in Finland. It makes me believe that we can all have an impact. Democracy is taught in already the lower grades in school, for instance by letting the students elect the student council members. It teaches children to vote, to consider who they want to vote for, and to understand that everyone can make an impact if they want.

I want to influence decision-making because I can and because I have very good opportunities to do so. Why wouldn’t I use this opportunity if I enjoy it?

Influencing politics is almost ridiculously easy in Finland. Young people can exert influence through the Youth Council, and later on anyone is able to run for parliament, join a political group or take part in a demonstration. It is an amazing thing. 

Our work at the Youth Council has a real impact. If we don’t agree with a certain decision, we can speak out and the decision will be reviewed. The council is there so that young people are heard. We feel important.” 

Helen Hamzaaghaei standing in front of a colourful wall mural, facing the camera.
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Everyone has freedom of speech in Finland 

“Freedom of speech is well protected in Finland. Everyone is able to, for instance, state their opinion on a political party or the president on Facebook or Instagram without getting into trouble. In some countries this is not possible. 

I have also personally encountered hate speech but I feel able to rise above bad comments.  The issues I am advocating are so important that anonymous people can try all they want to bring negativity into my life – they won’t succeed. 

I wish that Finnish schools would teach more about different cultures. Students could, for example, tell the others about their own culture and history. From Syria, Somalia, France, Estonia and Spain. Racism would decrease if people were more informed.” 

Helen Hamzaaghaei leaning against a tree in a park and looking towards the camera, Christmas lights and apartment blocks can be seen in the distance.
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Helsinki is a city of opportunities 

“My Kurdish roots have had a major influence on me. My background has motivated me and taught me empathy and humanity. I don’t think I would be myself without my Kurdish roots. 

Even becoming interested in politics and having the urge to have an impact trace back to my Kurdish identity. My grandfather was a very political person. He went to war and died in battle. I feel that he did that for the sake of our future – so that we would be be safe. I never got to meet him, but I am determined to pick up where he left off. 

Human rights are very important to me. There are many countries where they are not respected. I want Finland to help such countries more strongly than it does currently. 

I would tell people moving to Helsinki that this is a city of opportunities. Everyone has an opportunity to become anything as long as they work towards their dream. My plan is to study law after high school, to work as a lawyer and to perhaps run for parliament at a later point.” 

Helen is a high school student at the English School of Helsinki and a member of the Youth Council of Vantaa. “We Finns perhaps don’t even know that we have many more opportunities to exert influence than in many other countries. We have been brought up with it.” 

“My favourite places in Helsinki are the Market Square and the Esplanadi Park. I love to listen to music at the Market Square and to look around. It’s calming.” 

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17-year-old Helen Hamzaaghaei was elected to the City of Vantaa’s Youth Council with the most votes. Making decisions and advancing topics related to young people feels natural to her.