Last meeting for spring term 2016

Development geographers in a park

Development geographers in a park

On the spring term’s last meeting  of development geographers we had picnik in a park and we played a game designed by Nina. We had fun time rolling a bottle and asking questions related to research and studies. This was a great way to start summer!

I wish everyone nice summer wherever you are!

A Meeting for Students: Migration, 24th Feb

Last week we met with a few students to plan activities for development geographers. We decided to arrange a series of meetings during the spring term, where we will watch short documentary/film and discuss about specific subject. The first subject is ‘migration’ and we hope that all who are doing their Bachelors’ or Masters’ theses related to migration could come to share something about their work! Everyone else is also welcome to discuss! The meeting will be arranged in Kumpula campus in Suppa at 24.2 between 17.30-19.00. After that we can still continue to some other place to talk!

Also we will plan forthcoming meetings, so come and tell which subject you would be interested to take part!

See you!

Activities for development geographers

Welcome to plan some common activities for development geography students for the spring term. We could arrange together some film screenings, discussion sessions or reading groups. Come and share your ideas! We will meet at Monday 1st Feb at 12.00 at Kumpula Campus, near sofas. If you cannot come that time, but you are interested to join, you can send me an email, johanna.maliniemi@helsinkiXfi.

See you there!

Field trip in Ecuador

Soili Laurila

I had a chance to take part in the field trip in Ecuador that was organized for geography students last October (18.10.-31.10.2015). Our group was formed by 2 lecturers and 14 students from the University of Helsinki and 8 Ecuadorian students from the Universidad Estatal Amazónica (UEA) based in Puyo. We started the field trip from Quito, the capital of Ecuador by visiting some Ministries (and we even met a Minister!) and activists. We had carried out literature review earlier before the trip and this was the first time we could get firsthand information for our research projects. We had 4 different research topics, which I won’t explain in detail, and concerning deforestation, tourism and hydroelectric projects, accessibility of schools and ethnicity of indigenous Kichwa. You can learn more when the report gets printed out and published online.

A waterfall that we saw on the way from Baños to Puyo

A waterfall that we saw on the way from Baños to Puyo

Our field trip continued from Quito through the beautiful city of Baños, surrounded by amazing waterfalls and cloud forest. As we reached Puyo and the local University UEA, we met the Ecuadorian students taking part in the field trip. The research would then be carried out by groups that had both Ecuadorian and Finnish students involved. Once we got to the Pastaza province, we stayed at the CIPCA research station, which was located near small town of Santa Clara. Typical morning at CIPCA started waking up to a rooster crow way too early. If it wasn’t the rooster, then it was some exotic bird that I couldn’t name. We got up early, had breakfast at the station cafeteria and after that we spread out to go on with our research in the field. I was in the ethnicity group, which worked closely together with the accessibility group. Over the next days we conducted interviews and carried out surveys at the schools of Santa Clara, Ahuano and Sarayaku. The two nights trip to Sarayaku was a once in a life time chance to visit a remote community in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Getting there meant a long canoe trip along the Bobonaza River and the return trip to Puyo was made by small aircrafts. Walking the same paths that the children use to get to their local village schools was an adventure in itself.

The Universidad Estatal Amazónica

The Universidad Estatal Amazónica

Presenting our research results at a formal event at the UEA was the great finale after working hard to get the data and analysis together. The presentations were given partly in Spanish, partly in English at the auditorium with full audience. Some of the local lecturers gave their comments and what really made the occasion special was that we were handed diplomas. After stressing out how the presentations would turn out, this moment was full of joy and relief! Unfortunately it was also a time to say goodbye to our Ecuadorian friends as we started our journey back home. At the end of the field trip we still had few days off, which we spent in Finnish like temperatures in Oyacachi that is located in the Andes around 3500 meters above the sea level.

Getting ready for the canoe trip to Sarayaku

Getting ready for the canoe trip to Sarayaku

For me this was the first time in South America so the trip was full of new experiences. As I only knew few words (gracias, uno, dos, tres…) in Spanish, I was somewhat dependent on the translations provided by my fellow students. Obviously this could be quite frustrating and required an extra effort from others involved. The whole experience was a great lesson on how to do fieldwork in practice. Making decisions in a group had its own challenges, especially when there were conflicting interests among and between groups. Fieldwork also meant long hours sometimes without food and in this case in tropical conditions. It was also dealing with uncertainties as in the field things have a tendency to unfold differently than originally planned. Some things can’t be planned and it’s constant adapting to the new situations. Time gets whole new meanings and you better get used to waiting as moving in a big group isn’t always that smooth.


Visiting a class room in Santa Clara School

Visiting a class room in Santa Clara School

Despite all written above, we did have numerous unforgettable moments. The field trip made it possible to visit class rooms, conduct small surveys with children, interview teachers, principals and parents and interact with local people in a way that you normally wouldn’t. At the end of the day we had carried out a proper field research. That’s quite remarkable considering the limitations of time and defective language skills. All in all, the experience was amazing and it’s hard to put in words all the emotions and explain everything that happened during those two weeks. However, I do encourage everyone to go out there, travel, explore and take the chance of making a field research!

Children in front of the Kali Kali school in Sarayaku

Children in front of the Kali Kali school in Sarayaku

Why are we development geographers?

Johanna Maliniemi

At the last meeting we ate gingerbread and discussed why we are development geographers. There were as many answers as there were students!

Being able to have an influence was one of the first answers.

Last meeting in Studying Development Geography-course

Last meeting in Studying Development Geography-course.

– When I was 18, I applied directly to study development geography, because I wanted to change the world, says Nina Miettinen.

Many of us wanted to change world to a better place, but we also discussed that it is a difficult work. Development is a complex issue. Politics, economy, environment and human rights are all interconnected and it is not simple to make the change you want to see.

– I want to be part of the positive change or at least not to harm, Soili Laurila corrects.

Johanna Hakanen thinks that when you know more, you are forced to do something, and you also know how to do it. Even if the work is complex it feels that it is important, as Sara Haapanen thinks that our study field can affect to people’s lives.

– In development geography real life and research come together, Lim Yew summarizes.

Development geography is a subject where you are free to concentrate on various issues, and this was seen as a benefit.

– You can concentrate on what you want, says Marija Launonen, who has familiarized with indigenous people’s rights.

The other way round you could say that you don’t need to concentrate: if you want to do research on various different issues, you are free to do so. The field is not boring and there are new things happening all the time.

– As geographers we know a lot about different places, and we are able to use our skills, says Tommi Lapio.

– And if we do not know, we know where we find answers, Amica Dristig continues.

We also discussed whether the term development geographer works best to define us. Heikki Rahikainen told that his interest has changed more towards international politics.

– I would even say I have an identity crisis with the disciplines, he says.

Others would still include Heikki’s interests in development or in regional studies. Rebecca Jones told also that she is actually majoring in human geography but she is interested in development issues. The field of development geography is multidisciplinary, so actually it has things in common with many other disciplines. Geography is our own tool but we share many common interests with i.e. development studies.

Also there is a common thing among all geographers which Amica notices.

– We like maps and travelling!

It is a great opportunity that we can do research and at the same time we are able to see new places and get new experiences. We are in a great position to learn about development, societies and environment not only in a computer lab or library but also on the field in different countries and different situations.


MSc thesis in Geography got the second prize in the Master’s award in development studies!

UniPID and the Finnish Society for Development Research awarded Noora Stenholm the second prize in the Master’s contest, last November 2015. Stenholm got the credit with her thesis “Gendered perspectives on rehabilitation after involuntary resettlement in urban Sri Lanka.” Stenholm’s thesis concern on resettlement project in Sri Lanka, and she did fieldwork in Colombo.

Sri Lanka/Noora Stenholm

Sri Lanka/Noora Stenholm

“I did a qualitative research in a slum in a development project where groups hit by floods and tsunami, were resettled” Stenholm explains. She interviewed women about various issues dealing with their physical environment, living standards, employment, social relations, safety nets and possibilities to take action. She also interviewed project workers and town planners. Information was compared to their situations before the resettlement.

“Results vary, but I found that the community has a great impact on adjustment. In Colombo there are many involuntary settlements; however the project that I observed, is considered to be a successful one”.

This year, 25 Master theses have been submitted to the competition. The ranking criteria include societal applicability, impact and innovativeness of the work

“The award feels good! I think one of the reasons why I got it, is that I did my research on a new theme and in a new environment”, Stenholm comments.

“My interest in urban space and involuntary displacement was awaken during a lecture in development studies in 2012. Then I happen to travel to Sri Lanka twice before my field research, first for vacation and then on a study trip organized by the geography department. I have read about the country’s history and during my staying in the country, I have better defined my research questions. Local researchers and other people we met during the geography field course assured me about their relevance”, Stenholm explains.

After the field research period, Stenholm started an internship at the Finland Futures Research Centre (FFRC), where she is still working as a researcher.

“I am in the team Sustainable Development Futures, doing research about renewable energy, sustainable development, climate change and capacity building in Southeast Asia and the Caribbean”, she writes from Vantaa airport, on her way to a conference in Yangon, Myanmar.

“I could say that my educational background has been great for my career in the field of environment and development. At the geography department I have received much support and encouragement for my professional life. My current job is extremely interesting, challenging and developing… and still I would like to go back to Sri Lanka, one day”, Stenholm plans.

The first award prize was granted to Tomi Launio, for his thesis “Population Dynamics and Livelihood Change on Ukara Island, Lake Victoria”; while the third place was awarded to Paula Pankakoski, for her thesis “Place and Belonging – an Ethnography of Rural Migrant Children in Beijing “.

You can read more about Stenholm thesis here: Noora Stenholm, Gendered perspectives on rehabilitation after involuntary resettlement in urban Sri Lanka

And about the award prize here!


Research with students is fun!

Paola Minoia and students on the field trip in Ecuador

Paola Minoia (left) and students on the field trip in Ecuador

I am Paola Minoia, docent and lecturer in development geography. I have done all my previous studies in Italy with research periods abroad and my PhD thesis was on “water and identities” in Northern Sudan. I started working in Finland in 2008. Before that, I was working at the University of Venice, and going back in time, for UNDP in Lesotho and Egypt, and in various projects: with the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the UE, NGOs, local administrations. I can say I got various hints on different working places and (govern)mentalities dealing with development!

In Finland I have continued doing research especially on water and environmental justice and politics, in the same time increasing my teaching experience applying experiential learning. Besides students’ activation in class, I have seen that it is possible and very fruitful to involve Master students in research. In my type of studies, field research is very important, and students have the opportunity to work at the Taita research station in Kenya for their theses. A few have been involved in various projects, for instance the Academy-funded TaitaWater (here is the project report). Our department has also organised field courses in the Global South. I have been personally involved in 3 trips: one in Morocco in 2011 (please have a look to the video  and to the report), one in Sri Lanka in 2013 (the report is here), and a recent one in Ecuador, in October 2015 (here is a news published by the Universidad Estatal Amazonica). Soon we will publish a report, stay tuned!

Development geographers’ visit in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Heikki Rahikainen

“What will you become once you graduate?” This is the question that I have heard so many times. I don’t have any straight answer to that question, sometimes I just like to reply “I don’t know” or “a drunkard” (as it is a very popular and respected type of employment in Finland). Of course I have thought this question a lot like any other student.

We visited Markus Teir, Antti Putkonen and Nora Klami in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

We visited Markus Teir, Antti Putkonen and Nora Klami in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

So, many university students worry about their future employment as we don’t (usually) graduate for a certain occupation. What about us development geographers? One possible employer for us could be the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, which we visited last week. We had three speakers, who were diplomats with their study background in geography. They told us about their work in development aid and answered to some of our pre-given questions. However, I feel that the most important part of the excursion was about the job opportunities. As the employment opportunities in the ministry are highly contested between, say, political scientists, law studies and geographers, it was great to know that many geographer actually work there. The “geodiplomats” gave me a lot of confidence that it is possible to get involved in diplomacy although you are not majoring in international relations, law or business.

Career as a diplomat could be an excellent choice for a development geographer. We do have many skills and knowledge of issues that are useful in diplomacy. Perhaps to most useful “skill” that came up was the generalist nature of our studies. Development issues are also always important. Of course, we can’t compete with certain things, for example with the knowledge of laws, but that even isn’t the point, as diplomacy requires a range of different types of people, knowledge and skills.

However, diplomacy also brings its own challenges. As it came up in the excursion, diplomacy is more of a lifestyle as it (usually) involves working for years in foreign countries and readiness to act at any time of the day. This means that one has to make compromises in, for example, family life. The work can be quite unpredictable and complex, which itself may be even desirable, but it can also create very stressful situations. These things must be considered seriously but as we were told, most diplomats make their whole career in the area of diplomacy as it is so interesting and rewarding.

Thinking about the future, geography isn’t an obstacle, it’s much more an opportunity that opens range of possibilities. It will not give us any answers by itself: it’s up to us ourselves to make a good use of it.

Career opportunities for development geographers

Johanna Maliniemi

I think most of us have decided to study Development Geography, because we had a desire to change the world a fairer, safer and equal place. Study years have passed fast, and Master’s students need to really consider how to try to fulfil their goals after graduating. Volunteer work is always nice, but with many thousands’ euros study loan, you also need to think the salary. Great news was heard in our 4th seminar: there are many options to combine these goals!

We had two visitors in our meeting, who inspired and encouraged us by sharing their own paths in development career. The first speaker was Outi Hakkarainen from Kepa, who works as an officer for advocacy and development policy. Kepa is the umbrella organisation for Finnish civil society organisations who work in field of development cooperation, and Hakkarainen has worked there more than 10 years. Her career path went through Latin America, as Hakkarainen went to Mexico after studying and worked there years with issues of democracy. After years in Latin America, she decided to work in Finland and got work at first in Stakes and later in Kepa. Hakkarainen has a long experience of field of civil society, which is also goal for many development geographers.

Image/ Tuija Pakkanen

Image/ Tuija Pakkanen

Our second guest was Tuija Pakkanen from WSP Finland, in which Pakkanen worked in an urban architecture unit as an urban analyst. She has also a lot experience working abroad, as she has been in the US, Nicaragua and Nepal. Pakkanen is a good example that it is not only NGO’s in which development minded people can work. She has been working for various private sector companies which deal with environment. After finishing her Master’s studies in development geography, she got one year contract in the US Forest Service in California. After the experience in the US she got a GIS and forestry related job in Arbonaut Ltd in Nepal funded by the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs bilateral development cooperation programme. Pakkanen worked couple of years in Nepal, but then she wanted to work in Finland and got work in WSP. She thinks that by working in private sector, you can also change the world because you can make the companies to work sustainable way. She has used GIS skills a lot in her work, but she told that you do not necessarily need to be expert of GIS to get the works but to have some experience and confidence that you are able to learn more. You will learn the skills while working anyway.

Activism was mentioned by both guests to be a good quality in job seeking. Hakkarainen tells that she has always participated in activism and encourages students to do so. Activism and volunteer work would be a great place to learn also while you are studying. There are many student associations and other organizations were students can participate. Either it doesn’t need to be just hobby kind of thing but Hakkarainen mentioned that she sees it as a life style. Other mentioned qualities in job seeking were flexibility, interest in political issues, teamwork, quick to learner, open and active mind.

Benefits of being a development geographer were discussed also, and one of the key quality is, that geographers understand the wide issues and sees the multidimensional causalities. The development geographer is a person who understand how environment, society, markets and politics have impacts to different levels of society and who knows what could be the actions to change system to more sustainable and fair.

Migrants’ lives and the negotiation of their identities

Lim Yew Chen

Conference Building

This is the building where the conferences are held (RMIT Storey Hall). You can find more information about this particular conference from the following link:

 During the first week of November, I attended two conferences in Melbourne on migration in the world in the Asia-Pacific region. I am interested in the lives of migrants in the lower rungs of the society they moved into, and participated in the conference “Transient Migration in the Asia-Pacific: Identities, Social Networks, and Media” hosted at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.

The working group I took part in, explored the lives of migrants from countries like the Philippines and China to developed countries like Hong Kong and Australia. Presentations started with Catriona Stevens speaking on how low-educated, economic migrants from China arrived in Australia for temporary work but soon found it challenging to return back. This has made them “reluctant settlers” in Australia, where they stay because of the better education system that is offered to their children. This sudden influx of transient to permanent “identities” in Australia affects both policies and also their assimilation into the country. Next, Evelyn Kwok presented on the exploitation of Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong by their employers, the public and the Hong Kong government, with only a salary of 450 USD monthly for a 6 day work week. She also charts their identity construction through their place-making strategies in urban spaces. Lastly, Assoc. Prof Farida Fozdar presented on the lack of understanding on migrant workers’ social and cultural needs when Australia opened its borders to economic migrants to resolve its economic concerns. All these presentations have one key theme in mind that relates to development geography, which is the global movements of transient migrants and their marginalisation and exploitation if they are in the lower rungs of society. The presentations explore their “identities” i.e. their nationality, ethnicity and how this in turn affects their assimilation or segregation in their host countries. Indeed, migration is a challenge with increasing globalisation where diasporas and individuals are constantly challenged of their identities and their idea of home.

Inside the conferenceAfter this working group, the week of conferences ended on a poignant note- that academics should also look at how their researches can provoke thoughts and influence policies. As we study in various courses in development geography, hopefully we will also be able to apply our knowledge and research to help create a better place for those who are exploited and marginalised.