Time is money – so the saying goes. Now you can donate and even exchange your time to help people. There are many examples of this in Finland.

At the Kivipuro activity and service centre in Seinäjoki, the pages of a newspaper rustle. Two men are bowed over it. One of them is reading and the other listening. The pages turn slowly as the men are deep in conversation. “The day always brightens up when Jyrki comes around”, says the older of the two men, 90-year-old Eero Tolkki, who is blind.

The younger of the men, Jyrki Yliniemi, has the title of “lukulahjoittaja”: reading donor or volunteer reader. This means that he donates his time: he voluntarily spends time reading to a person who needs this service, in this case Eero Tolkki, an avid listener. As well as time, reading requires a good voice and an active brain – attributes that don’t wear out but are strengthened by use. “The main thing, though, is the stimulating conversation and the opportunity to keep up with current events”, Eero adds.

There are two things in Eero Tolkki’s life that bring him pleasure: conversation and walking. Being blind, he needs help with both. Jyrki visits Eero every week, even though he works as editor-in-chief and channel manager at Kevyt Kanava, a company specialising in radio media. How on earth does he find the time?

Dozens of donors find time

“Time is a matter of organising. You have time if you want to find the time. Helping somebody gives you a good feeling. And some day the roles may change and I may need help myself”, Jyrki says. When Eero heard about the volunteer readers and was offered this opportunity, he was ready to accept it right away, as the days in a care home can be long. Eero had to move into the home when his wife Sisko began to suffer from dementia. He himself lost his sight gradually over a period of years. “Luckily I have another friend who takes me for walks, and my family also visit”, says Eero. Originally volunteer reader activities were started up by the Southern Ostrobothnia branch of the Alzheimer Society, with the Seinäjoki Library as coordinator. Now the reading sessions have become established as an everyday activity that takes place at four local care centres. “At the moment there are 33 volunteer readers in the Seinäjoki area. They are ordinary people who are interested in books and reading. The library coordinates the activities with the readers and the care home. The care home also has its own contact person who gives the readers guidance”, says librarian Jaana Savela of Seinäjoki City Library. There are volunteer reader activities in many libraries around Finland with dozens of care homes involved and hundreds of volunteers donating their time.

The person offering help may at some time be the one who needs help: Maala Nieminen, Hanna Koppelomäki, Esa Nieminen, Monika Halinen, Sari Parviainen and Piksi McArthur (left to right) are part of the Time heals community. Photo (CC BY-SA): Kalle Kervinen

Everyone’s time is equally precious There have always been good-hearted people willing to help others. In the countryside, neighbours helped each other. In towns, there is a long history of volunteer work. Now we’re talking about time donors – people who give their time to spread good around. You can also spread good by exchanging services – in other words, the time donor receives a service in return, but in another form. The Helsinki Timebank (Stadin Aikapankki) operates on the principle of reciprocality. The basic idea is that everyone’s time is equally valuable. Everyone can “sell” their time and offer their own skills or expertise, whether it be cleaning or repairing a bike.

You don’t pay for the services with money – payment is in the form of giving a “tovi”, the timebank’s own currency, which translates as ”a little while”. For one hour’s work, you get one time credit, which goes to your own account. You can spend your credit to “buy” a service from someone else.

Time heals in Helsinki

The Tovituki (Tovi Support) system operates on the same principles through the Aika parantaa (Time Heals) Network, an initiative of the Helsinki Timebank. Tovi Support is about assisting others through one’s own (physical and mental) resources. Although the support given does not replace professional help, even small services available through the network can be of the greatest value. Besides that, giving help to another may have a beneficial effect on the giver’s health. So Tovi Support is not about recycling services – it’s something completely different: an exchange of personal capabilities!

There are several ways in which Aika parantaa works. You can, for example, come to group meetings, take part in Tovi walks, which are hour-long support walks, arrange a personal peer support meeting, or write a letter to an unknown recipient. At the moment, RAY (the Finnish Slot Machine Association) is funding a project to spread knowledge about Tovi Support during the years 2013–2016.

“The idea of Tovi Support is to help people cope. A person who has the resources supports another who needs help in coping. The roles may very well change later on. The person offering help may at some time be the one who needs help”, says the founder and coordinator of Tovi Support, Hanna Koppelomäki.

The Aika parantaa network was created by Hanna Koppelomäki when she learned about the timebank operating in Helsinki and began to consider how peer support and timebanking operations could be combined. “It does not replace professional help, but it can assist in finding such help”, adds Hanna Koppelomäki.

“We are all the same tribe”

English teacher Teija-Riitta Perttula from Helsinki has been a member of the Helsinki Timebank for four years. She has been involved in Tovi Support almost since its foundation four years ago and has her own account there, where her time credits are saved. “All those who receive Tovi Support are members of a timebank, so they know we are not professionals and we don’t provide professional help. The recipient and the provider of Tovi peer support usually meet about five times. A person may be so depressed after a divorce, for example, that they are unable to cope, even to go shopping. In that case we may just go out together for a walk.”

Teija has enjoyed being involved in many ways. She has got to know new people and through the timebank she herself has had help in moving house. Now she has been able to test how it feels to be a provider of peer support. “I’m interested in all kinds of volunteer work. I want to do something for the common good. The truth is we all belong to the same tribe, we are human beings, living by the same principles. All the people I have met in the course of these activities have been fantastic human beings”, Teija tells us.