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The Finnish community gets together to help the Panzi Hospital


Dec 16, 2009

By Mirva Lempiäinen

If one had to compile a list of discussion topics to avoid at Christmas parties, rape would no doubt be high up there. Yet on Dec. 16, 2009, more than 100 New York Finns and their friends got together for Finland Center’s holiday party at the Salmagundi Club to break the silence surrounding this exact issue.

The purpose of the event, “A Holiday Celebration with Meaning,” was to raise funds for the Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. For years, the hospital’s gynecologist Denis Mukwege has patched together the bodies and lives of the battered women, who have become victims in the long-standing war.

“Sexual violence is the weapon of choice,” said Lisa F. Jackson, a documentary filmmaker whose documentary, “The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo,” played a central part in the evening’s program.

“It’s been shown to be more effective than bullets,” she said. The Panzi Hospital treats about 3,600 victims of sexual violence per year, many of who have been ostracized from their communities. The most disheartening thing, Jackson said, is that many of the women are now repeat visitors in the hospital that has become “a fistula factory.”

Despite being 76 minutes long, the film captured an attentive audience of about 20 people. Meanwhile, the rest of the guests enjoyed themselves by listening to the soulful tunes of singer Janita in the Parlor, and by challenging the billiard World Champion Mika Immonen for a game of billiards in the Lower Gallery.

The evening also provided the guests the chance to nosh on Nordic-style hors d’oeuvres served by Smörgås Chef, and to bid on items in a silent auction, including a dress designed by Paola Suhonen, some Ghanian woodcarvings and Finnish Christmas baskets.

In the event’s opening remarks Finland Center’s President Jaana Rehnström thanked the audience for “coming here and choosing not to remain silent.” She also talked about the values of health, education and women’s empowerment being Finland’s greatest exports.

Rehnström announced that the holiday party would kick off a yearlong campaign of fundraising efforts for the Panzi Hospital. Ritva Jolkkonen, the Consul General of Finland, gave an overview of Finland’s development assistance to Africa over the years, and thanked Finland Center for tackling such a difficult topic.

Jackson said she was happy to see that her documentary was making the rounds among the Finnish community in New York and that the Finns were enthusiastic about raising money for the Panzi Hospital.

“Ultimately it’s a tremendous help because there are women who need these services,” she said. “Once people know, you’ll want to do something.”

Ossi Närhi of Hastings attended the event with his daughter, Amy, and won his bids on three Ghanaian woodcarvings for $110. “I think it was money well spent,” he said, calling the event a “wonderful occasion.”

Panzi fundraiser income and expense statement 1/13/2010



From Ukraine to New York via Finland


Nov 24, 2009

Viktoriya Papayani is a talented as well as beautiful pianist, who met her husband, Finland Center’s Music Director Kalle Toivio, while they were both attending a music course at Suolahti, Finland several years back. Now settled in New York, the couple are a wonderful gift to the Finnish, as well as the larger New York, community! Viktoriya presented a program at the Salmagundi Club on Nov. 24 which caused the audience to erupt in cheers along with the applause. We were treated to compositions by Schumann, Rachmaninoff, Vivaldi transcribed for piano by Bach, and Ginastera, each piece introduced by the artist with illuminating as well as witty comments. The artist displayed both technical skill and sensitive expression; she deserves to be heard more often!



Sibelius Concert with Jussi Makkonen & Kalle Toivio


Oct 17, 2009

The tunes of Sibelius filled the room at the Salmagundi Club in New York City on a recent Sunday afternoon. Although much of the music was familiar to Finns and other Sibelius fans, some of the tunes have not commonly been heard arranged for the cello, played with superb skill and passion by Jussi Makkonen, accompanied by Kalle Toivio on piano. Makkonen interspersed the music with interesting background information. The two artists have exactly the same birthday and are on what they jokingly called their “60th Anniversary” tour  (both are 30 years old) and will be heard again in Boston on Saturday, October 17. For information about that event, please contact us at For more info about the artists, see and