Fatim Diarra: An Activism Journey Rooted in Scouting
She comfortably reclined in her chair and put on a big smile. She seemed to know very well what a positive reaction a big smile can produce in others. What better way to begin an interview than in a cheerful mood.
My interviewee has worn many hats throughout her journey: a diligent student, a dedicated teacher, a devoted Scout, an influential member of the Finnish national youth council, a passionate EU policy adviser and a committed city council member. Fatim Diarra is a woman for all seasons.
Raised in a middle-class family in one of the Finnish capital's local communities, Fatim has developed aspiration and enthusiasm to make this world a little better than it currently is.
Scouting, the cradle of adventures
Scouting welcomed her with open arms at the age of seven when her family decided to settle in a new neighbourhood.
"I had no friends at that time and my parents thought I would be able to make new friends by joining a local Scout unit"
she said in a nostalgic tone.
Little did she know that a journey of 16 years in Scouting would sow the seeds of lifelong friendships.
"Today, when I look around me, I see that most of my best friends are from the Scouts".
Lifelong friendships sounded super impressive. But what else can this unique movement offer to an individual like Fatim?
She did not need to ponder for long. The word quickly sprang to her mind:" Internationalisation"She knowingly said. That notion of feeling the connection with the larger world. It is not something books can teach, according to her. It is a way of life that you embrace in your interaction with the "Other person" who is different from you. She was certainly referring to the international dimension of Scouting and the enormous possibilities that it offers to young people to travel overseas, experience new cultures and interact with new people.
"I have travelled to countless places as a Scout. I have even made it to the continent of my ancestors: Africa. That made me discover the deep-seated passion in me for international affairs."
Indeed, her passion found the right space to crystallise in roles related to international Scouting events, as a constant desire to connect Finland to the rest of the world.
Today, her professional endeavours as an international affairs and EU lobbying adviser for the National Union of University Students in Finland, are still guided by the same passion of thriving internationally while protecting youth's rights nationally. Her job is about ensuring that any youth-related policy adopted by the EU institutions are in favour of making the lives of Finnish and European youth more prosperous. It is perhaps the same passion that has driven her societal and political engagement.
Fatim, the Activist
Scouting does not only boost the self-confidence of young people but it also equips them with a great deal of skills highly needed to perform well in any societal role.
"As a Scout, I learned how to organise large camps, how to manage a big number of people, how to be resourceful and ingenious to overcome challenges. All of these qualities empowered me to take a leading role in the student movements in Finland,"
she proudly affirmed.
Through Scouting, Fatim made it also to the Finnish national youth council where she remained active for five years.
If Fatim had to use one short phrase to describe Scouts, she would say: "The people who get things done".
I could not help chuckling.
She resumed with confidence:
"It is a movement that teaches you, from an early age, that there is always a better reality and that your today's reality is not a constant unbreakable chain. There are no wishes that are unrealisable in Scouting".
What an inspirational statement indeed!
It is perhaps this very spirit that made a successful politician of Fatim today. She was recently elected as a city council member in Helsinki and she represents one of the largest political parties in Finland.
"Scouting makes you strive to always stick to who you are. That's what guides my political attitude today. Honesty brings me votes," she cheerfully added.
Fatim, the Teacher
Her passion for teaching seemed to be too strong to overlook.
"What brought you to teaching?" I asked.
"The classroom for me is that space where students and teachers empower each other. Teaching simply empowers me to become a better version of who I am. Just like in Scouting, a leader is in a constant need of inspiration from his Scouts," she answered.
On Scouting and Advocacy
"We live in a new reality where standing up for youth rights has become a compelling mission. Scouting needs to become more visible.A politician once told me:
"If we see that there is something wrong in the world and we don't do anything about it, who are we then?"
"I think the same about Scouting. It is one of the strongest youth-led movements that embeds the grand value of solidarity across generations." she concluded with an emphatic and inspiring nod.