Read the report of an English volunteer at the Rantamaraton in Finland

From 21 to 22 September, Johanniter Finland provided first aid at the Rantamaraton in Espoo where three German and one English volunteer joined our Finnish member to ensure the safety of all runners and spectators. Do you want to know what it is like being a volunteer abroad taking part in events of Johanniter/ St John organisations?

Read the report of Ben, a volunteer at St John Ambulance who flew from Manchester to Hesinki within the JOIN Volunteer Swap:

“On the same weekend as the Berlin Marathon—the year’s largest Volunteer Swap—a much smaller marathon was also taking place on the Finnish coast. Joining Johanniter Finland for the 13th Espoo Rantamaraton were three volunteers from Johanniter Germany and myself, representing St John Ambulance (SJA).

Group-photo of the Finish team with the three German volunteers and Ben from St John Ambulance (front row, second from the left).

I landed in Helsinki on Friday afternoon. As seems to be a tradition for me every time I use Manchester Airport, my bag had been lost. Not ideal, considering all of my SJA uniform was in it, but I reported it missing and went out to meet Antti of Johanniter Finland. Now running late, we decided to grab a drink and wait for Janina and Eike’s flight to arrive from Germany. Staying at the airport turned out to be a good move though, as I received a text saying my bag had been found a couple of hours later.

It turns out JOIN is a small world – Antti had just been on his own volunteer swap to Germany along with a SJA volunteer whose report on our intranet had actually inspired me to apply for the scheme, and when the Germans arrived it turned out I had previously spoken to Eike over email about a first aid competition in Berlin.

We all headed over to Pekka’s—the head of Johanniter Finland—house where we also met his wife Marja and Regina, who had arrived from Germany a few days earlier. I was surprised to find out just how small Johanniter Finland was; with around 20 members across all of Finland, the Germans & I represented about a fifth of the organisation’s strength during the few days we were there. After some much-needed food, Antti took the girls to their cottage and I was shown to my accommodation. I’d been told I was sleeping in ‘the sauna’, which to my relief turned out to mean a little guest cabin with a sauna, rather than in one.

It was an early start on Saturday. We met up with the rest of the team and spent some time setting up our tents and getting to know the site. Over the two days we saw a steady trickle of casualties, from cramps and bloody noses to breathing problems and that perennial marathon classic: bleeding nipples. Throughout each day we rotated positions, getting a change of scenery on ambulance patrols or comparing techniques in shared practice scenarios. The highlight of the event was almost certainly the race for under-5-year-olds, which was adorable.

After we finished on Sunday, we stopped at the Johanniter Finland station to see some of their kits and to help clear up. There was a bit more of a military edge to some of the kit, which makes sense in a country with mandatory military service, and whilst the building itself needs a bit of work before it is fully functional the Johanniter Finland team have big plans for it (and, of course, offers of help from me and the Germans). We toured a bit of Helsinki and then headed onto Pekka & Marja’s for a BBQ where we all exchanged gifts. I gave the Finns a pair of my epaulettes to pin up in their station, the Finns gave us all some Johanniter Finland clothing and the Germans had some brilliant Johanniter Playmobil figures for everyone.

No-one was flying out until late on Monday, so we took the time for a more comprehensive (and better-lit) tour of Helsinki. This included a visit to the Ritarihuone, or House of Knights, for a guided tour of the Finnish nobility. Another thing I had noticed through talking to the Finns was that Order membership there, which in the UK is open enough to stick in an email signature, is much more secretive, like a Masonic order or something. Regardless, the building was very impressive.

We finished up walking along the Finnish coast and eating at the famous seaside Café Ursula, looking out towards Estonia. We headed to the airport and said our goodbyes. I am sure I made a good choice for my swap – with all due to respect to Berlin, it would be hard to beat the Finnish coast as a backdrop for an event, and the chance to learn from an organisation equal parts similar (being full of keen volunteers) and dissimilar (being about the size of a single SJA Unit) to my own was very valuable.

Thanks again to Pekka, Marja, Antti and all the rest of Johanniter Finland (and of course Tony from SJA and Joachim from Johanniter International who helped to organise it) for a fantastic trip, and hopefully I’ll be running into everyone again before long.”