The wings of Kolibrí

Text by Laura Gazzotti, produced for the project Building Spaces of Encounter for Plurilingual Families. The case of Kolibrí Festivaali – 2019 Funded by Moniheli ry. This article tells the experience of the creation and evolution of Kolibrí Festivaali, and was taken as the base for the Seminar/Workshop “Building Spaces: the case of Kolibrí Festivaali” held at Caisa Kulttuurikeskus on 03.03.2020. A leaflet explaining this journey can be found below.

Kolibrí Festivaali is an interdisciplinary and multicultural, free and open art festival for children and their families organized in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area since 2015. The Festival invites artists, scientists, educators and cultural workers of different backgrounds and origins, to make up an intergenerational and plurilingual program with no counterpart in the Nordic Region.

Kolibrí is a festival for all families, produced and run by members of a migrant community, our roots are with the Spanish and Portuguese speaking families. This community has been an active and visionary community in Finland working for the promotion of different cultures, arts and languages- as we will see further ahead – notwithstanding it’s being a linguistic minority, its cultural diversity as well as its marginality regarding local recognition and knowledge of the arts and skills related to childhood [1]. 

In Finland, the population of Spanish or Portuguese linguistic heritage amounts to approximately ten thousand people, counting adults and children. Uniting the two groups of Spanish and Portuguese speakers, we constitute the ninth biggest group of minority language speakers in Finland. We represent three continents, thousands of cultures, two languages with their local and regional variations. A whole universe of diversity.

Kolibrí takes place every autumn in the cultural centres (4) of Finland’s capital, and in the public libraries (10) of Helsinki and its Metropolitan area. Sometimes there are also activities in schools, universities and other associative spaces. 

Kolibrí is an intergenerational festival. We plan and promote activities for:

  • pregnant women, 
  • children from 0 up to 13 years
  • parents, grandparents and other adults that form the “extended” family (such as godparents). 

Participants of the Festival are mainly families residing in the Helsinki Metropolitan area, however there are a few courageous ones who travel for hours to attend our activities, from other cities or neighboring countries. These families are of different origins, many have ties and/or affinities with Ibero-American countries and the languages spoken therein. There is also ever-increasing participation of local families and from other communities who value spending quality time and sharing highly artistic activities with their children [2]. A salient fact is that “an important part of Kolibrí’s public are parents with a university education and mastery of several languages” [3].

What does Kolibrí offer?

Kolibrí offers the opportunity to experience, in a safe and positive atmosphere, the diversity of contemporary Finnish society. Everybody is welcome to participate in the Festival, without linguistic barriers. 

The events are primarily a space for an adult-child community encounter of quality, mutual learning, recognition and dialog. The festival offers the possibility to:

  • enjoy a program for the whole family that while of high artistic value, is also educational and plurilingual in nature.
  • use of the heritage languages (currently mostly Spanish and Portuguese but others are also represented in the program)
  • enjoy quality time with family for those interested in cultures in general,
  • discover, as far as the adults are concerned, the diversity and complexity of contemporary Finnish children, in continuous transformation.

The Kolibrí program proposes a flexible assortment of multiple activities which include a combination of the following components:

A) Multidisciplinary workshops of long (3hs) and short (45 min) duration based on the concept of 1 + 1 (one child, one adult). We have had dance for mothers and babies, animation, music and songs, sensorial experimentation, graphic arts, architecture, circus, plastic arts, traditional and modern dances, puppets, comets, football, brain teasers and mathematics, Bubbles and physics, handicrafts among others. The workshops are interpreted in at least two languages: Spanish/Portuguese/ + English/Finnish/Swedish/English. We have also had program in Arabic, Catalan and German.

B) Storytelling (These sessions are in Spanish or Portuguese)

C) Performances including circus, dance, theater and music concerts, depending on the artists invited. These may or may not be bilingual, mainly Spanish/Finnish or Portuguese/Finnish.

D) A closing party for the whole family!

All complemented by:

E) Activities for kindergartens/community in the vicinity of the libraries,

F) Special performances and exhibitions (done in cooperation with embassies, libraries and different associations)

G) A biennial seminar on bilingualism done in cooperation with researchers, activists, NGOs. Planned specifically for families who speak both Spanish and/or Portuguese at home,

H) Exchange and formation program with professionals illustrators and and authors of children’s literature. Usually the guests of honor of Kolibrí conducts master classes in local universities and training activities with professional artists and illustrators (e.g. from the associations FIBUL and/or Kuvittajat). In 2018, we also produced a seminar discussing picture books for children with Planeta Tangerina (PO) and Etana Editions (FI),

I) Program to promote reading in Portuguese and Spanish, through book donations made to the HELMET library system, schools and for families. Done in cooperation with Iberoamerican embassies, publishers and other institutions.

The Finnish society is already a diverse one. In 2013, the population statistics showed that about 90% of the population growth in Finland was owed to persons of foreign extraction [4] . With increasing arrival of refugees this is an ongoing tendency, notwithstanding the severity of Finnish immigration policy in the last years. For this reason it is vital to motivate immigrant communities to participate in society. The task of discovering and boosting the capability of these contemporary children who embrace their diversity with natural ease, beyond adults’ prejudices, should be a priority. The Finnish society is in constant transformation, diversity is its present as well as its future. Immigrant communities and their descendants are amongst the most active motors of this process. If we are part of the problem, we are also part of the solution. 

Kolibrí proposes to local libraries and cultural centres an agenda for children and their families, a program with local and international artists, that promotes diversity and multilingualism. We see this as a concrete strategy to dissipate the fear of the other, of the unknown, and to foster a society capable of learning to live together.

The principles of Kolibrí are based on the following concepts: global education, lifelong learning for all and active learning.

Components of a space for encounter from the perspective of a migrant community – Ilustration from the case of Kolibrí Festivaali (Taken from Gazzotti, Botero, Fiebig 2020). This leaflet can be downloaded below as a PDF document.

Whom does Kolibrí work with?

We work at many levels:

  1. Locally with artists, cultural activists and educators of different disciplines, residing in Finland, many of whom conduct their own initiatives in Portuguese and Spanish, and increasingly in other languages too. These actors of the Finnish cultural scene have (sometimes) a vested interest in sharing their work with an intergenerational, multicultural and plurilingual family audience. We naturally work also with cultural producers at libraries and centers that open their spaces for us.
  2. Internationally, every autumn since 2016, we invite to Finland a prominent artist of children’s literature and illustration from the Ibero-American world, to work with not only the families, but also with Finnish professionals and students in the field of illustration and literature for children. Our first guest was Isol Misenta, Argentinian writer and illustrator, winner in 2013 of ALMA, the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. In 2017, the honour went to Isidro Ferrer, Spanish designer and illustrator, recipient of the National Design and Illustration Award. And in 2018, Yara Kono, Portuguese-Brazilian writer and illustrator, winner of the Portuguese National Children’s Illustration Award. In 2019 we had the influential Chilean cartoonist VICAR (RIP), known to Finns as he was one of the most prolific Donald Duck illustrators. These activities strengthen our ties with the members of the community and also stretch them out. A renowned artist has the power of attracting a larger audience with his/her published and/or exhibited work as well as through his/her experience.

How is Kolibrí financed? With whom does it cooperate? 

  • Production and artistic direction: 50% funded by grants and projects, 50% voluntary work (First years this was done with 100% voluntary work)
  • Programming/communication/ translation (in four languages): 98% voluntary work.
  • Technical production: 100% financed by partner libraries, cultural centres and galleries.
  • Local artists participation: 100% financed by Finnish public funds (municipal), libraries and cultural centres own funds, Ibero -American embassies contributions, cooperation with NGOs working in Latin America, small enterprises, professional and other associations, and the Finnish-Ibero-American Institute in Madrid.
  • Guest of honour participation: 90% financed by embassies, and other cooperation partners
  • Children’s literature: 100% financed by embassies, publishers and institutions promoting Ibero-American children’s literature
  • Seminar on bilingualism: 90% is voluntary work, presenters, production and communication, 10% grants. Space 100 % financed by cooperation partners.

Who are we at Kolibrí?

The team that created Kolibrí, are a group of talented, curious women and mothers from different Latin-American countries, highly educated, sometimes without an economically stable situation or the salary to match their expertise. They are constantly preoccupied by and active in the promotion of the linguistic and cultural heritage of their children. They are all are active users of the excellent framework of children’s culture proposed by the neighborhood cultural centres as well as of the system of public libraries and their repertory of children’s literature in Spanish and Portuguese. 

Today when celebrating our 5th year the Kolibrí team consisted of both Spanish and Portuguese speakers. Women (also mothers) are still the majority of the team, however some active fathers and other professionals with no children are also starting to participate more in the organization. (See e.g. the 2019 edition team)

How we got here?

The above characteristics of the pioneers made it easy to take the initiative to create a significant and emphatic proposition. We started thinking: what do we need and what are our values regarding the society and the education of our children? Where would we like it to function? What talents and expertise do we have in our community?

The original nucleus of the Kolibrí production team was very similar to the one that between 2011 and 2013 produced Cinemaissíto, a festival of Latin-American cinema for children, part of the larger Cinemaissí Festival. We wanted to know how to “help our children to practice, learn and love their second language”. We thought our children should be able to perceive that: 1) Spanish and Portuguese are not secret languages that they speak with their mum or dad who don’t speak Finnish or Swedish at home; 2) both could be spoken and heard in Helsinki, without traveling far from home.

Though belonging to a minority, we have a lot of intuition and a great capability of improvisation. We also have social responsibilities and are subjects of law, and as such, beneficiaries of some of the ever more mistreated Finnish social policies, namely: maternity and paternity leaves, universal child allowance, social housing, rental allowance, support for mother tongue literacy, unemployment insurance, system of support to study in adulthood, among others. All these measures provided us with some resources to think about and to generate new projects, as well as encourage us to do a lot of voluntary work, a valued practice in local culture.

Already in 2012, as producers of Cinemaissíto, we realized that watching films was not the most active way to enhance the use of the heritage language. We knew that these heritage languages find themselves at a disadvantage; while being anyway a fundamental tool for grasping – firsthand – the knowledge and experience of the cultural diversity they represent. 

Also, in a society, like Finland, where children take responsibility and manage their own autonomy from very early ages,  we wanted to reclaim a wider and inclusive concept of family. We couldn’t shut ourselves out of this. We had to open this proposal to everybody. We also accepted another great challenge: to bring in the grandparents. The Chilean refugees have started joining the ranks of grandparents and are playing an important part in the lives of children. However, we were mostly thinking of the Finnish grandparents of bicultural children and their presence in the lives of their grandchildren. We wanted to offer all, a time and a space to learn and have fun together. 

In 2013, guided by these reflections, we elaborated a proposal for an educational and artistic, intergenerational, multidisciplinary and plurilingual festival, all at once, which won a grant from the Kone Foundation. With those funds we went out for the first time to the suburban districts of Helsinki, to Vuotalo and Malmitalo respectively with a free, very colourful and unique program, where children were creating/playing /singing/dancing together with their parents and other adults and seniors. This grant seed funding helped us create the Festival that we really wanted and allowed us to enjoy it with our children, all of us making new friends.

In 2014 we were invited by David Muñoz (ES), a Helmet library bus employee in Espoo as well as a very active father in promoting the Spanish language, to bring our proposal to the libraries of Espoo. We noticed we were growing wings.

In 2015 Kolibrí was born officially in Espoo, in the metropolitan area of Helsinki, as festival with a biannual program, in spring and autumn. We celebrated with a kite week in five libraries in the Espoo area: Entresse, Sello, Iso Omena, Kirjastoauto (library bus) and Saunalahti libraries and finished with an outdoors fiesta in Helsinki, in Malmitalo. 

In 2016, we proposed the festival to Annantalo, Art Centre for children and young people, to celebrate the Helsinki Day from a multicultural perspective on June 12th. 2500 people came for this event alone!

In 2017, we decided to create the multicultural association Kulttuurikeskus Ninho, to shelter this and other projects ( Having the association has helped us apply for other funds, have more transparency in our operations and document our processes and learning better. However the experience and history created by the loose initial women that form the working group, has been the basis of everything.

For 2018 and 2019 we decided to concentrate our efforts to produce only the autumn festival, while diversify our offering even more. We are putting efforts in increasing the participation of fathers, involving other communities and working with new themes (like science communication). We are also doing advocacy for the “big picture” and realizing other projects besides Kolibrí.

Why is Kolibrí necessary?

Kolibrí responds to the needs of families and of those persons and institutions linked to children’s culture. Needs that have particular value in the context of increasing intolerance (locally and globally) towards the other, the different, that one who speaks another language or looks different. 

1- For families of two or more cultures, Kolibrí furnishes important building blocks for the identity formation of bilingual children. The appreciation and enjoyment of a disadvantaged heritage language, the opportunity to use it, to learn it, children and adults together. All of these provide the necessary means to contribute to the development of a complete and well rounded personality.

2.-For those who enjoy spending time with their (extended) family, Kolibrí offers, free of charge and nearby, a high-quality, diverse, plurilingual venue where to participate, with the youngest and the oldest of the family, without any language barriers, year after year. 

3.-Kolibrí provides all those involved in its realization (producers, volunteers and artists) with a shortcut to social inclusion, integration, visibility and well-being. In many cases their jobs in Finland do not correspond to their work or professional experience. Thus, the project allows them to put their energy, professional and creative experience, into action, without linguistic barriers.

4.- For official institutions of children’s culture, Kolibrí offers a concrete, practical, ludic and rather affordable opportunity to promote the use of disadvantaged heritage languages by bicultural children. Kolibrí provides a practical proposal on how to address diversity issues and fight against racism from the challenge itself: the migrant communities themselves.

In a nutshell: we, as a community, are part of the history of linguistic politics of this country and, little by little, we are starting to be part of cultural practices for children. We are interested in being part of the present as well as of the future of this diverse society in order for us to learn to live together.

Our Sources of Inspiration, what our particular community brings:

The source of our inspiration was found, on the one hand, in the initiatives of the Iberoamerican community, and on the other, in the significant growth of Finland’s Spanish and Portuguese speaking population which doubled between 2005 and 2015 [5]. Our community has been very active and visionary. This are some examples:

  • In 1978 the Gabriela Mistral Club, (CGM), is born, created by families of Chilean refugees in order to keep alive the Spanish language for their children. Further on, the Club opened its doors for the children of other Spanish speaking migrants. They had their own methodology, working with monitors, running workshops in Spanish, the afternoon snack was shared by all. They also organized camping trips. It was there the Theater group La Luna Negra, as well as the band Atahualpa, composed of children of the club, were born. The group had a meeting place of their own and were subsidized by the Helsinki City and the Ministry of Education. Their 20th anniversary was celebrated in 2001 in the Lablatino Festival (the first big family event of Ibero- American culture with around 3000 attendees). CGM has been a reference in children’s education and in the promotion of the teaching of the disadvantaged mother tongues in Finland. The first classes of Spanish for the children of the Chilean refugees were given in the club, in the beginning by the mothers, then by a teacher: Gustavo García paid by the City of Helsinki. Later on, this access was extended to other Latin American children. In 1987, the proposal passed into law in the state of Finland. This is how the still ongoing second mother tongue classes for the children of migrant communities got started  The CGM pursued their activities sporadically until spring 2007.    . 
  • In 2006 during the Helsinki Latin-American Film Festival, Cinemaissí, started a program for children, Cinemaissíto, with Lumi Eronen (Finland) in charge. Initially based on the idea of presenting Latin-American cinema realized by children, for children. Later, additions were made to the program, such as: Animaissíto, stop motion animation workshops with Luciano Rocha and Claudia Calabi (BR) in 2008.  a circus workshop: Celso de la Molina (CL) in 2009. 
  • In 2007, Spanish language reading groups were introduced by Tres Nubes lead by Mariana Salgado (AR) and Tuutikki Tölönen (FI), both mothers of bicultural families. Wishing to promote the second heritage language, they created a space for weekly encounters, where storybook-reading was one of many activities.This is how Tres Nubes was born and active during 11 years, experimenting many formats and suggestions, all of us growing and learning a lot in the process. They had the support of the Rikhardinkatu library. This idea gave birth to other active spaces like Tres Manzanas in the Iso Omena library in Espoo and Tres Cerros in the Kallio library in Helsinki.
  • In 2012, Maria Luisa Lozano Letelier (COL-BR) created the Grupo Cultural Gente Brasileira (Cultural Group of Brazilian People) in order to promote the Portuguese language and the Brazilian culture  for children.They were backed by the Sello library in Espoo. The group ceased its activities in 2016.

Our community is small but growing: Between 2005 and 2015, the Spanish speaking population in Finland, doubled , as a result of the arrival of Spanish immigrant families and the baby-boom in 2009 and 2010. Of the 5.509.984 inhabitants of Finland 0,6% of us are registered as having a foreign mother tongue. 10.076 persons are registered as native Spanish or Portuguese speakers. 11% (1163) of them are between 0 and 14 years. 60% live in the province of Uusimaa where Helsinki is situated [5]. Our current baseline is focused on around 686 children from 0 to 14 years and their parents. The majority of these children speak Spanish or Portuguese as their paternal heritage [6].

Participation in Kolibrí has evolved as follows:

  • 2011: 50 children (Cinamissito: just autumn, one day event)
  • 2012: 200 children (Cinamissito: just autumn, one day event)
  • 2013: 700 families, 3 days (triple turnout)
  • 2015 Spring: 1600 adults and children (double the audience of 2013)
  • 2015 Autumn: 300 families with children, ~ 1900 persons
  • 2016 Spring: 3000 adults and children
  • 2016 Autumn: 1500 adults and children (ISOL MISENTA as guest)
  • 2017 Autumn: 1500 adults and children
  • 2017 Autumn: 1500 adults and children (ISIDRO FERRER as guest, with our first exhibition)
  • 2018 Autumn: 3500 persons (YARA KONO as guest, our second exhibition)
  • 2019 Autumn: 2800 people (VICAR and O Som du Algodao as guests)

Successes (while experimenting with different formats)

  • Kolibrí is the most ambitious children festival organized by any other immigrant community in Finland, it also has few counterparts in the Nordic countries.
  • The quality of the program and the response from the community, as well as the plurilingual and intergenerational methodology.
  • The support of Ibero-American embassies that are now interested in children’s culture program, notwithstanding this not being a priority in their promotion policies.
  • Building up a platform for artists, activists and educators, where to present, divulge and run projects for children with diverse cultural/linguistic backgrounds.
  • Working with libraries and cultural centers in the periphery of the metropolitan area (e.g.: Espoo libraries, Vuosaari, Malmitalo). They have capacity to develop multicultural processes and to work with children, particularly those of them who spend their after-school hours yearning for suggested activities while waiting for their parents to pick them up.
  • Having an association. This brings a different level to our dialogue with institutions, other local actors and the fiscal authority.

Challenges to address in the next years:

  • Keeping the level of engagement and developing professionalism, with several challenges and dependence on volunteerism.
  • Sustainability of our own and of external funds.
  • How to keep a program that unites families speaking Spanish and Portuguese, Finnish and Swedish while broadening the invitation to include other migrant communities.
  • Improving the proposal in order to include fathers in the organization, the so far silent key actors of this community
  • Involving other key actors ( e.g.: teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, the Cervantes Institute and the Camões Institute)
  • Improving possibilities of local and regional cooperation (we are receiving offers)
Storytelling at Kolibri Festivaali 2018 – Grandparents read in the Iso Omena library (Photo (c) Marina Kristalli


[1] I’m referring to the numerical representation of this community of speakers both against the dominant languages, and also regarding one of our fundamental interest, the theme of children’s literature of Ibero-American origin. In Finland, the attention given to Ibero-American children’s culture is very recent and scarcely representative, taking into account the state, progress, headway, capabilities of, and recognition received worldwide by as well its authors, illustrators as their publishers. Finnish translations of Spanish and Portuguese language children’s literature started in early nineties with two books: José Parramón and Maria Rius “Viento” (Lasten Keskus, 1989), Jorge Amado “O gato malhado e a Andorinha Sinhá: Uma história de amor” (Otava, 1994). Once well into the new millennium, were translated: Rubén Darío “Margarita está linda la mar” (2010), Elvira Lindo “Manolito Gafotas” (Tammi, 2012), “Pobre Manolito”(Tammi 2013) and Horacio Quiroga “Cuentos de la Selva” (Alligaattori, 2014). Apart from the Spanish writer, Elvira Lindo, a contemporary author, all the other authors are classics. So far, none of the Ibero-American winners of the Astrid Lindgren or Brothers Grimm Awards have been translated into Finnish (this doesn’t apply, however, to literature for adults). Fortunately this might be changing, Finnish publisher Etana Editions bought the rights for “Cem sementes que voaram” by Yara Kono in 2018, part thanks to Kolibrí.

[2] In the past editions of the festival (2018 – 2019) we have been able to identify at least 10 different languages used by the participants to communicate with each other – in addition to English, Finnish, Swedish, Spanish and Portuguese.

[3] Ninho yr Elements for a Future Strategy , Internal consulting report for Kulttuurikeskus Ninho (2017) Suo&Co

[4] Source: Tilastokeskus (12.1.2018) (16.4.2019)

[5] Tilastokeskus (Statistics Finland) 2016. However, these facts do not tell the whole truth because n the Civil Register it is not possible to mark two heritage languages. Many bicultural families prefer to select one of the national languages. There are people who have registered Catalan, Vasco, Guaraní, Quechua among others as a heritage language. These come from 20 different countries: Spain, Mexico, Peru, Finland, Colombia, Cuba, Chile, Argentina, Ecuador, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Bolivia, NIcaragua, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, Paraguay, Equatorial Guinea. See also: Jarna Piippo (2016). Mother Tongues in Basic Education. Spanish and Portuguese in the Helsinki metropolitan area.pp.82. Finland, Helsinki University.

[6] According to the research of Jarna Piippo (op.cit pp 80, 2016). See also Tilastokeskus (Statistics Finland), mixed marriages with Iberoamerican men are the most frequent: Finnish women married to Spanish and Brazilian men and Finnish men married to Spanish women. (12.1.2018)