maanantai 26. kesäkuuta 2017

Excursion to Monika – Multicultural Women’s Association

In the 20th International Summer School in Social Work we did an excursion to Helsinki between 3-7.6.2017. Part of the excursion was the visit to Monika – Multicultural Women’s Association. Monika-Naiset is a Finnish NGO that operates as an umbrella organization for 13 multicultural women’s organizations in Finland. Organization has three core activities. Most importantly it provides help, support and therapy services to immigrant women and their children who have experienced violence or are under threat of violence. Organization has a crisis shelter Mona for women and their children. Mona shelter is accessible 24/7 through helpline, and it is available nationwide and located secretly. Organization also operates women’s resource center Monika which is open in office hours. The resource center offers therapy, advocacy and practical help individually and in peer groups for victims of violence.

Second, MoniNaiset space offers social activities, counselling and workshops to support women’s integration into the Finnish society. Workshops and individual counselling concentrates on job searching and mapping professional and educational paths.

Third, organization acts as an agent to produce and forward information of immigrants and discriminative attitudes and structures. It empowers member associations and individuals to reduce and dispute racism and prejudices against immigrants. The organization is a highly regarded and visible actor in matters of integration and immigration in Finland.

Organization gets its funding mainly from the city of Helsinki, city of Vantaa, STEA, European Social Fund, National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) and Ministry of Education and Culture.

The Mona shelter and the resource center Monika

Past years have been time of growth for Monika as the flow of immigration to Europe and Finland has accelerated. Last year was busiest so far for both the shelter and the resource center. The number of children in Mona has doubled in past two years. There are also an increasing number of customers who are still waiting for an asylum decision. Obviously it indicates a large number of asylum seekers but also effective spreading of information in reception centers and immigrant society, according to the annual report of organization.

Violence that is faced by immigrant women can be various. Honor-related and culturally bound violence such as girls subjected to female circumcision and forced marriages are executed by community. Therefore for migrant women who are in dangerous situation the threshold to find help can be very high. Also I find it noteworthy that for example last year in 30 percent of cases in Mona shelter the perpetrator of violence was Finnish. A victim is particularly vulnerable if she/he has come to country alone through marriage or relationship.

The MoniNaiset space and Osaavat Naiset project

MoniNaiset has grown too in past years. It offers support for integration and promotes networking and social activities for migrant women. Finnish official integration program is pretty stiff. It is planned individually and takes 1-3 years, depending on person’s education, language skills and age. Women with small children and many pregnancies have difficulties to achieve decent language skills as they have to drop off from integration courses. It is often used possibility among migrant women to get home care allowance for three years after baby’s birth. It also prevents women in certain age and position to finish official integration path. MoniNaiset offers Finnish courses and wider counselling to make a plan for studies and/or to find a job. During group meetings and language courses there are nannies for small children, so mothers are able to join. Children are more than welcome to all activities so it is not a reason to leave out. People get help also in matters of residence permits, family reunion, applying of substitutes and apartments and other advices. There are only few people actually working for MoniNaiset, but nannies, language teachers and workshop leaders are volunteers.

Osaavat naiset is a separate project offering more detailed and long-term support individually and in workshops to get on track with education and working life. Volunteer mentors offer individual support for particularly academic women and they have had good results in past years.

Monika-Naiset organization is a necessary add to services for migrant women. There is no doubt that it is important to have accessible and easily reached help for women who have experienced violence or are under threat of violence. It is also undoubtable that help has to be provided in a multicultural and multilingual way. Violence, whether it was physical or psychological, often weakens victim’s agency and therefore ability to recognize and explicate the situation. The organization has multicultural competence that is needed to confront women and children with wide variety of backgrounds in situations that might be also culturally bound.

Organization’s position as a meeting place, a supporter and an integration catalyst is solid. Being an advocate and an informant between women and organizations and the government has become even more important in past years. At the moment we are living in times when funding cuts and diminishing resources are daily news. Still trust on continuity is strong in the association. Who would like to cut from immigrant women, said coordinator Marisel Soto Godoy as she gave us a tour in the premises of Monika-Naiset in Kalasatama. I truly hope that nobody!

More information about the association can be found:

Sarita Kauppinen
Social work student, University of Lapland

keskiviikko 21. kesäkuuta 2017

Mining as a slow violence in Northern Finland?

Dr. Satu Ranta-Tyrkkö gave a fascinating presentation on 30th of May in the International summer school in social work. Ranta-Tyrkkö is a Finnish postdoctoral researcher from the University of Tampere. Her expertise is on eco-social and international social work, and she’s been doing research on mining industry’s implications on socio-ecological environment in Northern Finland and India. In her presentation she brought up suggestions on what social work as a discipline has to offer to study such implications. Furthermore she says that we can actually use our expertise and position to intervene in the unequal and excessive use of natural resources.

There are few features that make Finland a perfect destination to invest in mining, so it is Europe’s number one and fifth in global comparison. Firstly, Finland is politically stable and the infrastructure is already safe and comprehensive. Second, when mining permit is given, yield is nearly free for mining company, whether it is in foreign or Finnish ownership. Third, there is strong political will to get investments on mining in Finland as it creates employment and temporary growth to areas that would otherwise be economically stagnated. Ranta-Tyrkkö says that the employment effect is around 7000 jobs at the moment, which is many on Finnish scale.

Ranta-Tyrkkö has focused on Sodankylä area to have closer look at Kevitsa and its influence on community. Kevitsa is a large scale metal mine and it has given to small town of Sodankylä a significant economic boost. The employment influence is remarkable although many jobs are related to construction of mining area: when the construction of a mining area’s infrastructure and foundation is completed employment influence starts to decrease. Naturally, there are local people who have reacted to growth in mining industry and educated themselves to suitable field like engineering or geology, but it is relatively rare. Highly educated experts are often operating from abroad or posted to Sodankylä. Shorter vocational education in mining is provided in Lapin ammattiopisto, and it offers longer employment. The mine has indirect effect on services that the increasing population requires.

Ranta-Tyrkkö says that municipal social work practice needs to bend schedules to fit with working hours of miners and construction workers. The same applies to child day-care system, schools and other social and healthcare services as well as service sector operators. The problem is that mines deplete or are otherwise deactivated usually in 20-30 years. Ranta-Tyrkkö says that although Finnish Lapland is sparsely populated, community cohesion is tight. People keep trying to find ways to stay near to relatives, friends and nature. Up North there are very few ways to find a living. Tourism and service sector do not attract men who were earlier working in forestry and logistics. Nevertheless they are men who stay and therefore gender distribution is often skewed.

Perhaps Lappish men tend to have closer connection to nature. Traditional gender roles address men outside and women inside the house in rural Finland. With urbanization leaving to cities and getting high education is strongly women’s act. However people face a difficult conflict when mining industry is spoiling beloved and empowering nature but is also only way to make a living. Ranta-Tyrkkö brings up Rob Nixon’s concept of slow violence. In this case, slow violence refers to a change in the environment that is difficult to detect during the process. The socio-ecological effects of change will only be visible gradually. Also small and perhaps disadvantaged communities have very little to say about mining permits and establishments. Large scale mining investors have political and economic power and Finnish legislation is mainly supportive to industrial development.

Municipal social work has an orientation of here and now, but it needs to be widened, says Ranta-Tyrkkö. Social work deals with and produces knowledge of people’s lives in society. Research and social workers have a perfect position to start discussions on socio-environmental implications of large scale mining and to bring out that extractive industry operators are only visiting but people have to stay in the exploited areas. Ranta-Tyrkkö suggests also that social work as a discipline and as a practice has a chance to stand on front line taking forward transition to more sustainable living. She reminds us that the ecological crisis is also a social crisis.

Sarita Kauppinen
Social work student, University of Lapland
Cultures and Intercultural Social Work

During the 20th International Summer School in Social Work I began to wonder about the concept of culture. How does the culture effect on behavior of people? And how should a social worker take client’s cultural background into account or should it be considered at all? Professor Christian Stark from the University of Applied Sciences, Upper Austria Linz had an interesting lecture about intercultural social work. Different cultures and their impacts on people was also one of the discussed themes of workshop groups during the summer school.

In workshop groups there were conversations about cultural perceptions and how they are seen on behavior and thinking of people. Culture is not something that just exists around us but it is the values, norms, attitudes and the habits that people share. This means that culture affects us via people, groups and communities. There cannot be cultures without people expressing them which means that both people and cultures change each other constantly.

Christian Stark refers people as cultural puppets. This means that every person is primarily a member and a representer of their own cultural group instead of an individualistic subject. Culturalisation causes the idea that knowledge about culture can solve all differences, problems and misunderstandings. But when cultures are continuously developing there is no certainty if the cultural knowledge you have is still relevant. It is also hard to recognize the cultural characteristics when there are multiple subcultures inside the culture and they are constantly mixing and reforming.

Cultural norms and habits can be openly and upfrontly expressed but they also affect subconsciously. One person can have several cultural and subcultural groups to be connected. Social workers need to be aware of that enormous affect cultures have on people’s thoughts and behavior to be able to understand their clients. The successful confronting requires letting the person you meet to be the most valuable information about that person’s own social situation including the culture, not your perceptions.

It is important to be sensitive when you meet people from different backgrounds - but when does awareness and politeness turn into being cold and alienating people? According to Stark there should be a balance between minimization and exaggeration of culture. This includes recognizing differences in a way that does not essentialize being different. It also means to support being different and not subject to the pressures of normalization and homogenization.

Stark talked about canonizing of aliens making a point that being respectful does not mean having no criteria for judgement. Understanding something or someone does not automatically include acceptance. When meeting a person it is different to value the actions of a person and the person itself. As a social worker it is essential to be aware of your own perceptions and values. Reflecting your thoughts and pursuing openness and tolerance are crucial when meeting people with different backgrounds.

In a workshop there also arose an idea of future world where there are no cultures. This means that instead of cultural groups there are only individuals. This idea sounds almost impossible because people have a tendency to categorize and build stereotypes to control and simplify all the information that they are forced to receive and deal with in everyday life. Maybe this world without cultures could be a world without intolerance and value-free stereotypes where all the groups and categories are equally dignified.

Sari Riipi
Social work student, University of Lapland
“There’s no planet B”

Kelly Melekis, assistant professor from Skidmore College (USA), gave an inspiring lecture about connections between social work and sustainability in the International summer school in social work, 27th of May. In my view, social work needs to take a clear stance in environmental and economical agendas on a structural level and I hope Melekis gave new thoughts to other Summer school attendants as well.

There are different estimates about the amount of climate refugees in the world. The United Nations estimates 25 million climate refugees exist today. By climate refugees we understand people forced to leave their home region due to sudden or long-term changes to their local environment. These are changes like draughts, desertification or floods which compromise peoples’ well-being or secure livelihood. These changes have connections to the climate change.

Seeking for a solution to restrict emissions and slow down the global warming has not been simple as there are contradicting views on the responsibility. The latest page in this book was turned by president Trump who declared the United States pulls out from the Paris agreement. USA is the second biggest producer of the greenhouse gases globally so their decision may well speed up the global warming. In the Arctic area the warming of the weather is in fact faster than in other parts of the world. Our winters are becoming warmer than what we have used to in the 1990’s with more rain and less sun due to cloudiness. As a result, our spring and autumn seasons will become longer. All this will have effects on our economy, for example the forest and paper industry may suffer from the changes in what grows in our forests.

Are we as social workers contributing enough to the discussions on climate change or restriction of the emissions? Melekis argues that we are long overdue for developing a vision of what our role will be in a society plagued by environmental crises. Social work is well situated to join this conversation and support a paradigm shift toward a just and sustainable world but our engagement with ‘environment’ has been focused on the sociocultural and psychosocial.

While social work schools and programs articulate a general commitment to social justice and human rights that is not always reflected in specific ways throughout curriculum and does not generally translate to attention to issues of environmental justice and sustainability. In a recent study of US social work students’ attitudes, interests in, and practices related to environment, it was found that majority view environmental justice as an important aspect of social justice and an area of concern for social workers. Melekis calls for more content on environment, sustainability and eco-social issues in social work studies and it is easy to agree with her from the Finnish student perspective.

Lena Dominelli defines green social work (2012): “That part of practice that intervenes to protect the environment and enhance peoples’ well-being by integrating the interdependencies between people and their socio-cultural, economic and physical environments, and among people within an egalitarian framework that addresses prevailing structural inequalities and unequal distribution of power and resources”. Green social work is built on the insights of radical and anti-oppressive social work.

There is no universal definition of sustainability. Many current conceptualizations are rooted in the United Nations Brundtland Report (1987) definition of sustainable development: “a form of development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.“ Melekis reminded that language of sustainability carries a tension. Many argue that sustainability has been hijacked and twisted to suit government and business that really want to continue with business as usual. It is important to critically consider the use of various terms.

It is important for social work students to realize the concrete effects of the global warming on our lives. It is not only the nomads in the distant Africa who face difficulties practicing their livelihoods. In our professional life, we will all the time meet service users whose difficulties have connections to environmental and economic issues. We just need to be trained to see those connections.

The context in which social work operates has changed radically in the era of globalization and neoliberalism with significant consequences for the lives and the relationships of the people social workers serve. How will we respond to increasing environmental degradation and the intensification of impoverishment of disadvantaged nations and groups? Due to the centrality of human rights and social justice in the profession, social work must collectively take a stand on ecological degradation and the climate crisis. As Melekis put it: “There’s no planet B”.

What can we do when we see our clients living in areas where the environment is being neglected, housing conditions are poor and air is polluted? Melekis mentioned 10 million Americans live amongst such high levels of air pollution the federal government considers it to be harmful to their health. There is a concept connected to this and worth having a look at: environmental racism.

Social workers can, of course, support communities affected by natural disasters and many of us are already involved in this work. But what we can do as preventive work is for example raise questions about an equitable sharing of the planet’s resources, establish ‘green’ policies and serve on committees for policy change. Dominelli (2012) calls for community work. In Kelly Melekis’s words we can also engage in sustainable development when mobilizing local communities and ensure that locally relevant and culturally appropriate strategies are in place to respect people, living things sharing their habitats, and the physical environment.

Kati Hjerp
Social work student, University of Lapland

torstai 15. kesäkuuta 2017

When you change yourself, you change the world

Being part of the summer school was definitely one of the most eye opening experiences of my studies. It wasn’t only educative, but also made me reflect on my own mind and thoughts about different cultures and prejudices. At first I was a bit unsure about how I will succeed in the course, because I’m not so confident about my language skills. When I think it now, I couldn’t be more wrong. After a first day it felt like everyone were friends with each other and people were so curious about other countries, that there were always lots of issues we could talk about. Nobody could care less about how fluently you speak English. Sometimes it felt almost like it was easier to talk to people from different cultures, because there were so many thinks you could talk about.
When I think what summer school gave me the most is that I know myself better now and the thought process that happens in my head, when I am with people from different countries and cultures. I can also see now how important it is to social workers that they can communicate with different cultures because of the globalization and issues that comes with it. For the first time it really felt like social work can make big things happen in the world, if we just can work together. Lectures were very inspiring and interesting. Also working in groups was very good way to not only know each other better, but also hearing things from different perspectives.
’Pot Luck’ dinner was one of the best meals in my life. It also seemed to connect people and we went after the meal to the beach to spend time together. Time seemed to have stopped when we talked about our own experiences and our cultures. By comparing our cultures and countries we also found lots of similarities. I also really felt that I got some new friends around the world. I also started dreaming about travelling and the desire to explore new cultures grew even more.
One of the most interesting debates was the debate about refugees. During the debate it appeared that many have prejudices against refugees, but they rarely speak about it. One reason for this seemed to be the fear of being stigmatized as a racist if raising their own feelings. I think feeling can never be wrong. We should think about what makes different feelings and how to interpret our own feelings. As the world is changing and different cultures meet, I believe it is important for people to understand that adapting to a new world may also require exit from our own comfort zone. It is hardly easier to prevent and resolve the various problems of globalization by highlighting cultural differences and people's differences.
My favorite lecture was about death and dying from the perspective of social work. Death is really little spoken issue in our society and I haven’t thought that it is also important element when thinking about social work. I think that everybody thinks about death once a while but rarely ever speak about it. It opens different kind of feelings in people’s minds and when we talked about it in the workshop, it was interesting to see how different cultures have different ways to relate to death and dying.
It is hard to summarize all about the summer school. First time in my life I thought that I could participate in the same course again. Not only because of the wonderful people and super interesting lectures, but also because it made me think so much about my own behavior and attitude when I meet people from other cultures. I feel like most of the social work students have same kind of drive to leave some kind of positive mark in the world and I remembered the words of one song where it is said ”When you change yourself, you change the world”. After the summer school those words make me so much more sense.

Arttu Leppänen
Social work student, University of Lapland


keskiviikko 7. kesäkuuta 2017

20th International Summer School in Social Work, 25th May 2017

We had an honor to have Professor Johanna Hefel from University of Applied Sciences Vorarlberg, Austria, to tell us about Death and Dying in the Context of Social Work Studies. Johanna Hefel´s notion is that death and dying is often seen through mass media glasses that also creates our language. Thereby it also constructs our reality. Linguistic terms that media uses often provokes fear and denial by threatening scenarios, subtext, stereotypes and oversimplifying by using direct causality. Death and dying are often a taboo or shrouded issue when Johanna Hefel rather sees them as natural as life. Social workers should engage in discourse and uncover the power of discourse about death and dying and provide alternative. 

Johanna Hefel likes a participatory approach that means social workers and clients work and learn together and speak with rather than speak about. Social workers should be willing to reflect their personal fears and learn about complexity of life, death and dying. This should be done by sharing instead of keeping in secret. Social workers should be aware of cultural and religious diversity but also aware of their personal vulnerability. This among sharing is empowering. That also means ability and willingness to perceive and accept the transience of life in all fields of social work.

In social work education knowledge of death and dying is mainly focused on suicidality, suicide, crisis and trauma and so professional competences mainly focused on crisis intervention and crisis management. Language at university is often oriented, established and uncritically adopted by the vocabulary of economics.  I would say that this is more and more universal and concerns most universities that are today dependent on business life funding. Language that comes from economics, means also that students are recruited as customers and studies are referred to as products.

Inspired by Johanna Hefel´s presentation, later Friday in our work shop group, we had an interesting discussion about the language we use when talking about death and dying. We discussed for example about impression it gives if somebody “committed a suicide” or it was “unsuccessful suicide”. It comes from a history when suicide was illegal. What should be a punishment for a suicide? And if you happen to fail in killing yourself, you are a total looser. There are a lot of cultural issues what comes to death and dying and most of all suicide. There are also cultural differences what comes to treating elder and disabled people. How do we treat people that are not like most of us or not as good strength as expected? Doesn´t that also show us how much we respect life? Do all the people have same value despite their race, age and gender? Certainly not like we perceive during the Summer School presentations. Language, how it is used and how it constructs our reality, was a major issue in many speaker´s presentations and a topic that included various work shop groups.

We should respect life and understand its value but death has a value as well.  The fact is that we are all going to die one day. And that is natural and will be natural by talking about it. Johanna Hefel´s presentation was a good reminder of that. Death is natural but can also be described by many other words like painful, touching, and comforting and its peaceful presence can be found in graveyard or an old woman’s hands like Johanna Hefel showed us in a very beautiful way in her presentation.

Heli Keränen, Social Work student, University of Lapland, Finland

A positive way to work in social sector

During the 20th International Summer School in Social Work in the Social Sciences 2017, organized at the University of Lapland, I got a chance to attend Assoc. Professor Valdas Rimkus’s lecture on 29th of May. Professor Rimkus is a head of the social work department in Klaipėda University in Lithuania. His lecture was called “A positive social work: from “work” towards “social”.

Social work as a profession is very new in Lithuania. Social workers are not highly considered and the profession is trying to find the way to be heard. In Lithuania social work is considered a part of the health sciences and social issues are seen part of the health care. However, the social workers’ opinions are not seen as valuable as for example the doctors.

The level of life satisfaction in Lithuania is very low. If we compare life satisfaction levels in Lithuania and Finland, Lithuania is the lowest one and Finland the highest one. It is quite unexpected by knowing how common social problem depression is in Finland.

Professor Rimkus told in his presentation how social workers could use the positive approach in the client meetings to make a difference to one’s feelings and emotions, self-esteem and capability of function. One way is to find the positive skills together with the client and work with those as a tool to get an effort to client’s life. Rimkus especially made a point of believing to client’s opportunities to make a positive change in one’s life.

When the strengths of a client has been found those will be used to improve the client’s life situation. Social worker will stand a side and provide help if in needed. Informal social support networks, like a family and friends, are valuable and important and if there is such kind of people surrounding it can be helpful.
At the end of the presentation professor Rimkus pointed out five ways to well-being: CONNECT to another; friends, family, community, society. BE ACTIVE and participate. Often the participation gives you a lot. TAKE NOTICE and open your eyes to see the world which is surround you. Nature, flowers… KEEP LEARNING will keep your brains working and motivated to investigate the life and its opportunities and interests. GIVE others so you will be given back.
I was really impressed about the lecture. This is the way how I think the social work should be done. I feel, that this is hopefully the way in the future how I can implement my social work profession.

Katja Vesa
Social work student, University of Lapland, Finland