Finnish youth stands up to bullying

Aras Muhilden dressed as Superman and his friend as Batman, spreading Christmas joy among children at a local Finnish children's hospital in December 2016.

Aras Muhilden dressed as Superman and his friend as Batman, spreading Christmas joy among children at a local Finnish children's hospital in December 2016.

There were days when he wasn’t even in through the school doors yet before he was injured or told how worthless he was. Some days he had friends, others he didn’t. He could never trust anyone.

One day, he felt like the only solution was to take a knife with him to school.

Aras Muhilden is today a 25-year-old proud father of two who lives in Tenala, Finland, with his wife, children and two dogs. He has a job as a waiter and is very well liked by both his friends and colleagues. This, unfortunately, was not the case in his childhood and youth.

In 1995, when Muhilden was four years old, he moved to Finland from northern Iraq with his family. They were forced to leave during the Iraqi-Kurdish Civil War that lasted from 1994 to 1997. The family moved to Tammisaari, a town of a Swedish-speaking majority in southern Finland. Muhilden then started kindergarten and it didn’t take long before he started experiencing bullying.

“It was pure hell,” Muhilden said. “One day you had friends, the next you didn’t. I did my everything to be liked. Some days I cried in front of everyone at school and just wished the hell would end.”

Muhilden believed bringing a knife to school was his only solution. He was 10. All he wanted was to scare the bullies. At the time, he didn’t want to confide in any of the teachers because he was afraid the bullies would know and the situation would worsen. He didn’t confide in his parents either, assuming his mother was too busy with his sister and thinking he was the only boy in the family and thus couldn’t be weak in front of his father.

At one point, suicide was an option to escape it all. But by bringing a knife to school, Muhilden expected his problems to end. A few weeks later, the bullying diminished but it only disappeared in his late teens, when he enrolled in a vocational school.

Growing up, starting a family of his own and having two young children got Muhilden thinking he doesn’t want them to experience the struggle he went through as a child. He always felt an urge to help end bullying by raising awareness and kindness among children.

After reading a lot about bullying in Finnish schools, Muhilden decided it was time to act.

“It just hit me one day,” Muhilden told me. “I have been bullied myself, I survived it, and I realized I could do something for bullied children that no one ever did for me.”

Muhilden’s anti-bullying project, named Making A Better World, aims to help and support bullied children, especially ones in hospitals.

Muhilden has so far spoken out about his bitter experience at a local school. On Dec. 23, Muhilden and his friend spread Christmas joy at the Turku University Hospital (Tyks), dressed as Batman and Superman, respectively.

Muhilden had gathered Christmas gifts from sponsors to give out to sick children. His vision for the project is that, ten years from now, people all over the world would participate so that they can together help people in need. He wants people to know that there is some good left in the world. All he wants is to give children hope.

“I don’t want anyone to feel alone,” Muhilden said. “Because when you’re alone, you’re afraid of putting your hand out and ask for help. If there’s someone already offering the help to others, it’s easier to accept it.

“When you’re young and bullied it feels like everyone has given up on you and like you have no one there for you.”

Muhilden added that the horrible memories will always be there and that bullying really can affect a person a lot both when it is happening and later in life. He also believes one should be able to let go and not let something that happened years ago to affect your life now and in the future.

He says the key to help the victims of bullying is to make them understand that it doesn’t have to end badly and show them that no one has given up on them. It is also important to be there for them when they need help. He also believes that showing the bully what the effects of bullying are and how it affects the victim is important. The key is to get them to dig up their conscience and to show them it’s not a funny game for anyone.

“Always believe in yourself and never give up hope,” Muhilden concluded.

Cover cartoon credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV