The positive image of the city of Forssa in southern Finland has taken a hit in recent times, with frequent anti-migrant demonstrations and even a mass brawl breaking out in August.
On Tuesday, all 170 of the city's 9th grade students together with production company Gutsy Media, launched a project called May the Forssa Be With You! which seeks to curb and discuss racism and violence.
The project consists of local 15-year-olds talking about the concept of peace through their own personal experiences. The children assemble into small groups and record their speeches on video. All in all, 20 groups of teenagers are filming themselves talking about the prerequisites for peace. The resulting videos will be posted online.
Giving a voice
Finnish-Iranian activist Aram Aflatuni from Gutsy Media says that May the Forssa Be With You! gives young people in the city a voice. The negative associations related to Forssa, he says, are not the whole story.
"The impressions people may get have nothing to do with what people are really like," Aflatuni says. "Our idea is that all people are inherently good, and that goodness shines out when we are at our best and surrounded by friendly people. This project allows youths to speak positively about peace and personal experiences."
Team leaders from Gutsy are on hand to help with the recording and the group discussions. The guides come from various walks of life, such as journalism, comic art, directing and teaching.
Before beginning their group talks the students will be treated to encouraging video greetings from celebrities such as MP and former environment minister Pekka Haavisto and singer Jonna Tervomaa.
Culture and Education Department chief Jarmo Pynnönen says he expects to hear new points of view on what Forssa represents.
"Forssa is much more than the prevailing feeling might be," he says. "I'm excited to see what kinds of issues the children raise."
Aflatuni says that young people are full of unbridled potential.
"A person who is encouraged and whose goodness and positive qualities are bolstered will respond with goodness," he says. "People often think that youth is some kind of in-between stage or a period of messing around. That kind of thinking belittles the potential that young people have," he says.
"Young people have always wanted to make the world a better place," Aflatuni continues. "Research shows that 84 percent of the world's youths feel that their mission in life is to make a positive change. We as adults often disavow the significance of children and teenagers."