Ihmisiä puutarhassa

Plants and friendships are nurtured in Ravilaakso – Vaasa Spouse Programme brings together people from around the world

Saana Heikki
Jenni Tiainen
The Vaasa region attracts many immigrants each year who come to study or work. Many of them bring their spouses or families along. However, adapting to a new country and hometown is not always the easiest task. To address this challenge, the University of Vaasa has developed a solution: the Vaasa Spouse Programme.

Vaasa Spouse Programme was launched in the autumn of 2022. The programme is aimed at the spouses of international students and employees from all the higher education institutions and organisations in the Vaasa region. Its goal is to build a community with local stakeholders and international spouses. Currently, over 70 spouses participate in the Vaasa Spouse Programme.

The programme was created in collaboration with the City of Vaasa, the Talent Coastline Employment project, the Pohjanmaa regional office of the TE Services, and the ELY Centre.

Building a community through gardening

In late spring 2023, Leyla Faheem, one of the members of the Spouse Programme, suggested starting a shared garden project. Programme coordinator Gratiela Dan decided to turn the idea into reality, and in early June, a small community garden was established in Ravilaakso.

According to Dan, the project provides practical skills in gardening in Finland, as well as an opportunity to become part of a multicultural community, learn more about Finland, and get to know Finnish people. The Community Garden Project also promotes collaboration with local organisations. 

The project is created in collaboration with the City of Vaasa and the Omställning Österbotten organization. The city provided an area in Ravilaakso, where they built individual garden boxes with soil for each participating family. The seeds were donated by the Omställning Österbotten organization.

Currently, the Ravilaakso garden is growing carrots, radishes, cucumbers, tomatoes, and chili peppers, among other things.

Nine families are currently participating in the project, but Dan sees the project expanding over time due to growing interest and enthusiasm.

Community garden provides an activity to the entire family

On a sunny summer day, a small group of people has gathered among the nine garden boxes in Ravilaakso. The boxes show small sprouts slowly emerging over the edges.

Two children run towards the garden, following their mother Leyla Faheem. Faheem's husband found a job in Vaasa last autumn, which led to the family's relocation from Turkey to Finland. The family has actively participated in the Spouse Programme from the beginning, which has helped them adapt to Vaasa and network with other immigrants.

The children are also excited to be involved in the garden project.

–It teaches kids to be patient and shows the importance of helping others, says Faheem.

At another garden box, Yasaru Dissanayaka and Sandumi Siriwardhana are planting pea sprouts they received from their child's day care. They moved to Vaasa from Sri Lanka last winter when Siriwardhana got accepted to study at the University of Vaasa. Upon their arrival to Finland, they received a cold welcome, literally: they experienced their first-ever snowfall while waiting for a train at Tikkurila station.


Dissanayaka and Siriwardhana are genuinely excited about the Community Garden Project and feel that it allows them to give back to society. Their child also enjoys the garden.

Dissanayaka emphasizes that in addition to providing vegetables and a community, the garden project also provides soul therapy.

–When you plant a seed and you see the plant growing, it’s quite good for your mental wellbeing, he says.

Community provides support and security

Siti Zulkaply, who moved from Malaysia to Vaasa in September 2021 when her husband got a job at Vaasa University, sees her own garden box for the first time. Zulkaply mentions that growing her own plants and spices adds meaning to cooking, as she can bring flavours from her home country to Finnish cuisine.

Zulkaply says that the Spouse Programme has provided her with a support network, new friends, and various activities that have made her feel at home in Vaasa.


There is a warm sense of community among the group, where everyone is welcomed with open arms. In the garden, they also work together in a spirit of cooperation, taking turns watering the plants. For some, this is their first personal garden that they get to take care of, and everyone helps each other in nurturing the plants.

All the participants are genuinely grateful for the project, thanking the Vaasa Spouse Programme, the City of Vaasa, and other organizations that made the community garden possible. 

The Vaasa Spouse Programme has helped spouses and families adapt to their new environment and network with others in similar situations as well as locals.

New members are warmly welcome to the Vaasa Spouse Programme.

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