Swapping market for people in need
“You see how these young girls sit right next to the drug addicts. The feeling of safety amazes me in this country,” observes my colleague Noor while we’re waiting for Siw Indsetviken, the manager of the Norwegian organisation Hjelp oss å hjelpe Gateteam Oslo that helps people with drug addiction, homeless and the poor.
Siw approaches us with a radiating smile, and it is obvious: she is happy to do her job. Her story is so inspiring it almost brings back the hope in humanity. Coming from a small village near Oslo, Siw experienced many of her friends becoming drug addicts. She knew they needed her help, but she was not certain about which organisation to join, since most of them were political or religious. So she decided to start her own.
When my father died of cancer in December 2011, I collected his warm clothes, it was -20 degrees outside, and brought them to people that needed them. To the first person sitting on the street I gave a sweater. To my surprise, he was genuinely disappointed, because he liked the sweater and appreciated my gift, but… he didn’t like the collar! Mine was V-neck and he only wore round-neck. That’s when it struck me that they are also people, like you and me, with their own tastes.
It has already been 5 years since Siw started her voluntary work and if in the beginning she would talk to 10–12 people a day, now the place where she and other volunteers stand every Wednesday fills with 150–200 people waiting to receive help. The need for such an organisation is obviously here.
“Hjelp oss å hjelpe has actually been existing for two weeks before I joined them, but, generally, it was my idea to start such a company. Before they were only an unorganized group of enthusiasts. After talking to me, they just let me do what I wanted. “This is yours”, they said. Now I run the street team in Oslo, and also home teams where we help poor families, children, give them presents for Christmas. Our organisation has 14 departments around the country, and I also help in other regions that do not have their own departments. Only this year in the Akershus area, we gave out 3500 Christmas gifts. After that I was crying on Christmas Eve, because it is hard to see so many people suffering from bad economy. But I can’t stop doing that, it’s my madness.”
Apart from working in Hjelp oss å hjelpe, Siw works full-time with Norwegian ice cream producer, Diplom-Is, and raises children. She mentions that she doesn’t receive any help from the government and doesn’t want to. She means that only her independence makes it possible to establish trust between her and the people in need, especially the drug addicts. She comes here to help and not to teach them the healthy lifestyle.
They call us their friends and “Angels”, and we call them “The Street Diamonds”. My job is to help them and others when they need me. When they receive food and clothing, they’re happy, but nothing compares to human support, listening to their stories, talking to them. They say that these conversations mean so much more for them. For many we’re the only friends that don’t do drugs. Sometimes, when they have special occasions, like wedding of their children, we take them out and buy them clothes. They say “please, help me choose the dress, because I know you will be honest”. We make an exception only for children. If young people come to us, we contact the police and the Norwegian Child Service (Barnevernet). We do this because we are trying to “catch” them before they become drug addicts.
Apart from that Siw tries to avoid any connections with the government.
The government says there are no homeless people on the streets of Oslo, and it’s far from true. We know that in Oslo alone, there are around 1500 homeless people. The problem gets even worse in summertime, when people from other cities of Norway head to Oslo because it’s easier for them to get drugs here. Every year we use our own money to buy them train tickets so that they could get help where they are registered. We also follow them until the train actually leaves. I know that the Police is watching us through their cameras, but they do not intervene.
Siw believes that swapping presents a crucial part of her job and welcomes the idea of swap markets. She says that “Hjelp oss å hjelpe” actually functions as one of them.
We go on Facebook and tell people what we’re in need of and what we have. And then they give us food, clothes, etc. We think about the environment and the importance of recycling. Swapping is a positive trend all over the world today, and here we also try to swap. For example, we take your perfume, soap or cream bottles and then make the “toilet folders” out of them. Then we add hygienic bags, razors, nail polish, etc. We put “folders” in special little boxes so that people can take them and leave a note “when it’s over, bring it back and we’ll fill it again”. It prevents people from simply throwing the folder away. That’s how swapping helps to protect the environment.
Siw’s organization has recently become very popular due to the Norwegian TV-series about a photograph who spent 52 days living on the streets (in Norwegian). He mentioned “Hjelp oss å hjelpe” as an organisation ranks as #2 in Oslo, and since then, states Siw, the flow of volunteers has exploded.
Now we have a 3 months waiting list of volunteers. But even before that we got a lot of feedback and help from Norwegian people. We tell everyone who comes by what we are doing. For many people it is easier to bring stuff after they talk to us and see where their clothes and food actually go. We also have an agreement with, for example, Clarion hotel about them giving us food and drinks each month. Food store Meny in Oslo City gives us 150 drinks every two weeks. We have a lot of businesses helping us.
If you got inspired by Siw, like me and Noor, and want to help her organisation, just go to their Facebook page and send a message “I want to help”. The only requirement is to be 18 years old or 16 accompanied with parents.
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Originally published at fineswap.com.