Double minorities often forgotten in public services

Written by Johanna Warius, ERI alumna

While there seems tJohanna kuvao be few issues challenging asylum seekers as the Hot Topic #1 in Finnish public debate, an increasingly un-nuanced image of ‘immigrants’, ‘refugees’ and ‘asylum seekers’ is emerging. It should go without saying that, as in any other group of people, there is plenty of variation within these categories.

Health status and disability are two of the factors placing certain immigrant persons at an even bigger disadvantage than those who do not face these issues. The concept of minorities within minorities, or double minorities, is useful in this context. It describes how an immigrant person with a disability or a long-term illness has to endure and be able to solve challenges on two fronts.

Navigating the Finnish social services structure can be a battle for anyone, let alone for a person with lacking language and cultural skills. Add mapping, applying for and using disability services to the regular palette, and you’ll most likely be in need of specialised guidance.

This is what Hilma – the Support Centre for Immigrant Persons with Disabilities, a third sector actor located in East Helsinki, provides. At the Support Centre Hilma clients can get help in dealing with issues relating to public services, housing, employment, education and health care, etc. In short, the idea is to have one place from where you will not immediately be sent to the next counter. Our task is to gather the information and give the support needed to move forward in the situation at hand. Quite often we find that a good solution is available, but the client has not been aware of her or his rights or how to apply for the available services.

Although Finland has (at least up until recently) relatively well-working public services, they are often planned to be used by a rather homogeneous group. This is why Support Centre Hilma also does advocacy work in order to make sure that immigrants are taken into account in disability-specific services and that people with disabilities and long-term illnesses are not forgotten in immigrant integration services.

Finland can and should get a lot better at planning and providing services for its increasingly diverse population – whether we’re talking about ethnic origin, health, disability, gender, sexual orientation, religion or any other identity or personal quality.

An adequate understanding of diversity is undoubtedly key in effective advocacy for diversity-serving public services. Having had the privilege of studying these issues as one of the first ‘eriits’ when the programme was launched back in 2008, I trust I have the required expertise. The ERI programme provided the solid ground that I needed to work with human rights and equality issues in the third sector.

Johanna Warius is a coordinator at Hilma – the Support Centre for Immigrant Persons with Disabilities. She graduated from the ERI-programme in 2011 with a major in sociology.

Annual ERI kick-off event

The annual ERI kick-off event took place on 22nd of September at the Swedish School of Social Science. This year ERI celeIMG_9580brated its new profile with a new major subject, Social and Cultural Anthropology. Representatives from the other major subjects, Social Psychology and Sociology, were also present to introduce themselves to both old and new ERI students. The disciplines were represented by Karmela Liebkind from Social Psychology, Sarah Green from Social and Cultural Anthropology and Aino Sinnemäki from Sociology. Sirpa Wrede, Professor of Ethnic Relations, participated in the event also as a representative of Sociology. Throughout the disciplinary presentations the speakers underlined the importance and usefulness of the multidisciplinary character of the ERI studies. It is valuable to understand both during the studies and later in work life how issues can be approached from different perspectives. It is challenging to attend courses from another discipline than your own, but students should remember that they are not expected to become a specialist in them. Let yourself be inspired and challenged by different disciplinary approaches while becoming an expert in your own major! Afterwards students and staff were offered a chance to mingle over a gIMG_9589lass of wine.

Written by Ulla-Kaisa Pihlaja

Is there life after graduation?

Five international Master’s Degree Programmes from the Faculty of Social Sciences and the Faculty of Arts at the University of Helsinki jointly organized an event titled ‘Is there life after graduation?’ The event was targeted at both current students and alumni, and the aim was to discuss career prospects after graduation. The event was held at Think Corner at Aleksanterinkatu on the 17th of September.

The event offered students a great chance to get tips for job-hunting and to hear about the career developments of the similar-field graduates. The happening started with a panel discussion, where four alumni speakers told about their careers and shared the secrets of their success in theIMG_9463 labour market. The panel speakers represented both academia, the private sector and NGOs. Afterwards, the students had the chance to ask questions and mingle with the alumni. Altogether more than 50 students and alumni took part in the event. The participants of the panel were Meg Sakilayan-Latvala (ERI), Daria Krivonos (REMS), Jan Westö (MES), Chris Denholm (MGC) and Carlos Mendoza (ICE). John Hills, a current ICE student, was the moderator of the discussion.

All alumni highlighted right from the beginning the importance of networking in getting a job. It was mentioned that social scientists need to change their mindset regarding possible employments as there are no guaranteed jobs for master’s degree graduates. According to Jan Westö, this means in practice being open-minded instead of picky. It was added that it is necessary to “go out from your comfort zone” and bravely sell your specific skills to the potential employers. Carlos Mendoza suggests everyone to think from the perspective of the employer: how can I as a possible employee contribute to the company or organization? What do I have to offer that others don’t? Daria Krivonos, who at the moment works with her PhD research, also recommends networking for those who are planning the academic career. It is crucial to know the hot research topics and other researchers in your own field.

When asked about the special skills and advantages of the social scientists in the labour market, all panelists agreed that the analytical skills are something that they have to offer. They are able to independently observe and criticize also topics that are not their particular expertise. Finnish language requirements, moreover, raised a lot of questions among the international audience, and the message of the panelists was clear. Meg Sakilayan-Latvala’s work requires spoken and written skills in Finnish and according to her, it is important to show interest in learning the language. In the beginning the language skills do not necessarily have to be so good, but at least you should not be passive about it. Chris Denholm also reminds that being a non-native Finnish speaker should be taken as an advantage in all possible cases. Sell your native-language skills!

The audience was also interested in internships and their importance, so the alumni gave tips for searching for a proper place. The panelists underlined the importance of (besides networking) knowing the organization or company of the possible internship or work place. By making research beforehand and going to the events the applicant can make a good impression. HowevIMG_9519er, it was stated that the employer will notice if the applicant lies or exaggerates about his/her skills or do not put enough effort into the application. In the end, the alumni panelists encouraged the students to think about the possible work “outside of the box” as there are more doors open than you never thought would be there for you.

Written by Ulla-Kaisa Pihlaja