Finland is really good at stopping bullying. Here's how they're doing it.

Imagine you're back in middle school or high school. The bell just rang, so you're walking to your next class, minding your own business.

Then you walk around the corner and see this:


Photo from iStock.

What would you do?

Unfortunately, this is a pretty common scene.

About a fourth to a third of all students report that they've been bullied in school.

And while a single bad encounter might be easy to brush off, bullying often doesn't happen just once. For many kids, it's a long, awful campaign of continual harassment, injury, and exhaustion.

Even the most resilient kids can have trouble dealing with that. And bullying can also cause depression, anxiety, health complaints, and even dropping out of school. It's not great.

So back to that question: If you saw bullying, what would you do?

Finland has been asking folks this question for a while, and they found that the answer people give is really important.


Finland's school system is top-notch. Photo from Milla Takala/AFP/Getty Images.

Finland has one of the most successful education systems in the world, so it's not surprising that they've used this question about bullying to pioneer a brand new and super effective bullying prevention program in schools.

Finland's anti-bullying program is called KiVa, short for "kiusaamista vastaan," which means "against bullying."

KiVa includes many different resources, like tools for teachers and parents and in-classroom lessons. But one of the most interesting aspects is how the program focuses on teaching bystanders what to do if they see bullying. Teachers are not always around, so they can't always help. But other students often are.

"Our findings are the first to show that the most tormented children — those facing bullying several times a week — can be helped by teaching bystanders to be more supportive," UCLA professor Jaana Juvonen, said in a press release about a recent analysis of KiVa's efficacy.

One of the most interesting ways KiVa teaches this bystander empathy is through computer games and simulations.

Image from KiVaProgram/YouTube.

In one of the games, the kids take control of cartoon avatars that are put in a variety of bullying situations they might encounter in school.

"For instance, they might witness a bullying incident and they have to decide what to do; whether to defend the victim or do something else," Johanna Alanen, KiVa's International Project Manager, told Upworthy in an email.

"There are different options on how to defend the victim," Alanen explained. "Their choices have consequences and lead to new situations.

Basically, the programs are kind of like choose-you-own-adventure stories for bullying, allowing the kids to see what consequences might come from certain actions, all in a virtual setting.

The students are also given advice and feedback about what to say to someone who has been bullied.


Photo from iStock.

"In the game, students can practice how to be nice to someone and what kind of nice things you can say to someone who would like to be included in the group or is new in the school," said Alanen.

By asking the kids what they would do in certain situations and giving feedback and advice about it, the program can help teach the students to be more empathetic and supportive of bullying victims.

And the data shows that the program works too.

Juvonen's analysis found that KiVa reduced the odds of a given student being bullied by about one-third to one-half.

That's huge. And not only that, but early data shows that the program might also help reduce depression and increase self-esteem for kids who have already been bullied.

Photo from iStock.

Now that Finland has adopted KiVa as their national anti-bullying program, it's being tested other countries too — Italy, the Netherlands, and the U.K. — and it's being evaluated in the United States.

Bullying is a perennial, awful problem that's tough to eliminate. And there's probably never going to be a one-size-fits-all solution.

But programs like KiVa show that even at a young age, empathy is one of the best tools we have to make the world a better place.

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Brian Olesen never imagined he would end up homeless.

The former U.S. Air Force medic had led a full and active life, complete with a long career in the medical field, a 20-year marriage, and a love of anything aquatic. But after hip surgery and chronic back pain left him disabled in 2013, he lost his ability to work. Due to changes in eligibility requirements, he couldn't qualify for federal veteran housing programs. His back issues were difficult to prove medically, so he didn't qualify for disability. Though he'd worked his whole life, having no income for five years took its toll. He got evicted from a couple of apartments and found himself living on the streets.

But in 2018, two things completely turned Olesen's life around. He was able to both qualify for disability and to move into an affordable housing community in Miami's Goulds neighborhood called Karis Village.

When people think of affordable housing, they don't usually picture a place like Karis Village. The 88-unit development is brand new, and built with an attention to design that is not always expected for developments that serve as home to people on limited incomes. The apartments have tile floors, marble countertops, and all new appliances and furniture, and the grounds are beautiful and well-kept, with a playground and common areas for residents to gather.

Brian Olesen in his kitchen at Karis VillageCapital One

Karis Village isn't just a housing development; it's a home and a community. Half of the units are set aside for veterans who have experienced homelessness, like Olesen. The other half are largely occupied by single-parent families.

"To me, this building was just a gift," says Olesen. "All of the different parties that got together to put this building together… making half the building available to veterans. We've got no place to go."

Addressing veteran homelessness was one of the goals of Karis Village, which was built through a partnership that included Carrfour Supportive Housing — a mission-driven, not-for-profit affordable housing organization in southern Florida — and Capital One's Community Finance team. More than just an affordable place to live, the community has full-time staff on hand to help coordinate services—from addiction recovery programs to transportation options to job search and placement. Also included are peer counselors who provide emotional and psychological support for residents.

Karis Village, an affordable housing community in Miami, Florida.Capital One

Carrfour President and CEO Stephanie Berman says the core function of the services team on site is to build a supportive community.

"Often when you think of folks leaving homelessness and coming into housing, you think of shelters or some kind of traditional housing," she says. "You don't really think about a community, and that's really what we build and what we operate. What we're really striving to create is community. We find that our families thrive when you create a sense of community."

The intention to create a supportive community at Karis Village was a priority from the get go. Fabian Ramirez, a Capital Officer on Capital One's Community Finance team, says the bank did a listening tour in southern Florida to explore community development and affordable housing options in the area and to hear what was most needed. After deciding to partner with Carrfour, the bank provided not only an $8 million construction loan and a $25 million low income housing tax credit (LIHTC) investment to help build Karis Village, but it also kicked in a $250,000 social purpose grant to help fund the social support services that would be put in place for residents.

"It's not just all about providing the brick and mortar," says Ramirez. "It's about being able to contribute to the sustainability of the development and of the lives of the people who move into the building."


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Olesen says he and his fellow residents benefit greatly from the network of support services offered in the building. He says a counselor comes to meet with him once a month, sometimes right in his apartment. He also gets help maintaining a connection with the Veteran Affairs office. Other services include social workers and counselors for drug addiction and alcoholism.

Olesen loves being around other veterans, and he says hearing the sound of children playing keeps the community lively. He says anywhere else he could afford to live on disability wouldn't be nearly as nice and would likely involve shared kitchens and bathrooms and neighborhoods you wouldn't want to go out in at night.

If it weren't for Karis Village, Olesen says he doesn't know where he would be today: "I had nowhere to go and this is a safe, beautiful place to spend my retirement."

"I don't think they could have done a much better job of putting this place together and supplying us with what we need," he says. "I have so much appreciation for the ability to have a place to live. And then you add to that that it's beautiful and completely furnished and you didn't need to bring anything—I don't know what more you could ask for."

Karis Village and another development for veterans built the same year enabled the neighborhood of Goulds to meet the requirements set forth by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to declare an end to veteran homelessness in the area.

Ending veteran homelessness altogether is a complex task, but communities like Karis Village show how it can be done—and done well. When government agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporate funding programs come together to solve big problems, big solutions can be built and maintained.

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