The Joy of Giving Joy…by Cleaning



It is hard to realize the value of the ability to do everyday household chores before you encounter a person who, because of one reason or another, has not been able to clean their kitchen in years. And how much you can do by just taking up a bucket of water and a rag: you are not only cleaning a long-neglected stove, you are helping the person who has to use that stove daily to have a real home, a place where he can live and feel like a person with dignity.


A group of students from the Silta-klubi residence in Helsinki got to experience the magic of small, practical deeds in a social project in Lithuania this June. The project took place in a small town called Lekeciai and was organized together with a local social worker, Alvyda. With her irreplaceable help, the people in the community who were in need of helping hands had the courage to open their doors to a bunch of strangers with cleaning gear and good intentions. The presence of very dedicated Alvyda seemed to make it much easier for her customers to accept our help. After all, it is surely not easy for an adult to admit that they need help in normal things like organizing and cleaning their house.


The practical point of the project was to help by cleaning. However, what really made the whole project worth while were the encounters between our group and the people whose houses we visited. First there were moments of hesitation: the faces of the houses’ owners  seemed to ask who are we, and why on earth would we want to organize their cupboard and take down the spider webs from the ceiling? Still the visits always ended with heartfelt thankfulness and a smiling and laughing farewell.


Despite their humble circumstances and physical disabilities, the locals whose houses we cleaned always wanted to show their thankfulness by being as hospitable as they could. An old lady absolutely wanted to offer us whole cucumbers to eat, and she didn’t have enough for us all, so she went to borrow some from her neighbour. This was a real effort for her: she is over ninety years old and walks slowly with crutches, every step causing her pain. But there was no stopping her. These gestures made us all really moved and motivated to continue our visits with a cheerful spirit.

Thankfulness was a mutual feeling: even though we were the one’s who were offering our time and energy, in reality the helpers were on the receiving side at least as much as the helped. After many hours of scrubbing and sweeping the physical exhaustion could not beat the sheer joy that grew from having shared time with the locals. When the social worker was worried that she’s making us work too hard, we could honestly tell her that we were really not that tired at all.

By Anna-Riina Hakala