Immigrant families lining up for substitute grandparents
By Riikka Haikarainen
The small head, sporting three pigtails, whizzes by when two-year-old Deltrice Ayisi-Agyei climbs from one lap to another.
There are a total of four of those laps in the Vantaa living room: those of parents Dora and Emmanuel, and substitute grandmother and grandfather Ritva Ny and Pauli Ny.
"Grandmother, dance!" Deltrice shouts over the melody coming from a toy radio.
"Do you know how to dance?" Ritva Ny asks
The two, both retired, have been seeing Deltrice since she was just nine months old. The parents, who came to Finland from Ghana, had heard about the substitute grandmother scheme from Mirja Riihimaa who first came up with the idea. She introduced the Ny and Ayisi-Agyei families to each other.
The idea is to match Finnish grandmothers and grandfathers with immigrant families who have no grandparents of their own in Finland.
For more than four years, Riihimaa has brought 15 substitute grandparents together with 11 immigrant families with a total of 37 children. She herself has served as a substitute grandmother for Finnish-Kenyan children.
There is a waiting list of immigrant families, so the need for the service is great.
"This spices up our quiet life", Ritva Ny says.
Confidence between the families began to take hold immediately after the first meeting. During their acquaintance of a year and a half, Deltrice has acquired the nickname Deo, "and we are one family", Emmanuel Ayisi-Agyei says.
The substitute grandparents spend time with the girl every week, often on several days in a row. Their routine includes spending time out of doors, visiting the church parish children's club, swimming, and picking flowers and berries in the countryside.
"Tsiu, tsiu, tsiu!", Deltrice shouts when the sauna is mentioned, mimicking the sound that water makes when it hits the hot stones. The sauna is heated almost every evening at the home of the grandparents.
"She has become extremely important for us. Work used to be important", Pauli Ny explains.
The experience has taught both families about the different cultures.
In Africa the concept of a family is much broader, and family ties are close. "We are trying to preserve that here", Emmanuel Ayisi-Agyei says.
The family plans to take their substitute grandmother and grandfather for a visit to Ghana at the end of the year. "It is a strange country for me as well", says Ayisi-Agyei, who moved to Finland 16 years ago because of the work of his own father.
The extended family of Ritva and Pauli Ny will grow in August when Dora and Emmanuel get their second child. "I have ordered a son", Ritva Ny laughs.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 24.4.2008
More information on substitute grandparenting is available from Jane Kivilahti:
Phone: 044 9544377
RIIKKA HAIKARAINEN / Helsingin Sanomat