Interview with the multicultural planners at Hivpoint

Interview conducted by Sofie Skovfoged Gregersen.

Meet Niina and Michelle! They work as multicultural planners for Hivpoint where I, Sofie, have been volunteering since December 2018. Hivpoint does HIV prevention and they provide support to people living with HIV. When we were told to interview a person who works our dream job, I immediately thought of Michelle and Niina. As they work closely together as a team, I interviewed both of them in order to get a more accurate picture of what their work entails. They form the multicultural team at Hivpoint. Michelle has been with Hivpoint for 2 years and Niina for almost 7 years.

The interview took place at Hivpoint’s office in Unioninkatu in Helsinki on March 27th 2019.

First and foremost, I’m interested in what Michelle and Niina do on a daily basis, so I asked them tell me about the major components of their job on a daily basis.

Michelle starts out by saying that their job is just like an regular job in a lot of ways: lots of emails, lots of communications..that’s usually the first thing they do in the morning when they get to work. But then, the day to day life in their job depends on the specific project that they’re working on at a given time. Recently, Michelle and Niina have developed a Health Buddy-programme where they provide training to people that they’ve chosen to go out into their migrant or refugee communities to be sexual health advocates and trainers, and hence, a lot of their work recently has been about the planning and organisation of this programme. Furthermore, Michelle does the content for their social media and website, and Niina provides counselling and support for people living with HIV. They also have a World Village-event coming up in May, and also a youth camp, and when those dates approach, they will focus on those things in the days leading up. Niina explains that they do have days that follow a similar structure: an example is testing days, where they have walk in HIV testing clinics. However, most of their days rarely look the same, which is one of the reasons why they both really like their job.

I’m always very interested in how people come to enter workplaces that work with HIV and sexual health, so I want to know when Niina and Michelle realised that they wanted to enter this field, and perhaps, did they know that they wanted to do this when they were studying?

Niina begins by telling how her ending up at Hivpoint was a happy coincidence: she was studying to become a public health nurse, and, as part of her studies, she had to do an internship. She decided to do it with Hivpoint, after she had a school visit at Hivpoint with all her classmates and got super excited about the place. It was so different from what nurses usually do, she says, and she loved the 4 weeks she spent at Hivpoint. After her internship, she was lucky to get offered a job at Hivpoint, although she had not thought of working in the HIV field whilst was studying.

Michelle’s trajectory to Hivpoint is very different from Niina’s. Michelle became interested in maternal health and development studies while she was doing her undergrad. Her undergrad, however, was in genetics, so it was a little hard to combine these, she explains. After a minor in International Development didn’t do it for her, she went to Canada on exchange. Here, Michelle focused on global public health and took a few really good courses on HIV related to global health. Upon her return to Finland, she finished her undergrad and worked for a researcher for a year in a lab, but she wanted to go back to public health. She went to the US do a Master’s in International Community Health where she focused on women’s health. She did a couple of very interesting and relevant internships – one in Liberia, where she developed a project and analysed why some women delivered their babies at home and why some delivered in hospitals, and one in NYC with the United Nations Development Programme with a group called HIV/AIDS practise.  This was the first time Michelle worked professionally with HIV, and she really liked it, so after finishing her master’s degree, she stayed in the US where she worked in different organisations dealing with sexual reproductive rights and HIV. After 7 years, Michelle moved back to Finland and as there aren’t many jobs in Finland focusing on sexual and reproductive health and rights, she was very happy to find Hivpoint.

As Michelle and Niina come from somewhat different disciplinary backgrounds, I’m interested to know what skills they need for the job they’re doing now and how they apply these skills in their work.

They explain that although it’s not really a skill, the most important thing in this job is to share the values of Hivpoint. Hivpoint adopts a human rights approach to their work, which means that human rights are at the core of everything they do. They add that an important skill is being open to trying new things: the courage to push for something new, even if there is a chance that it might not work out. Collaborating with others, and observing the practise of others, and implementing different practises if they work. Something else that’s very important, they say, is how you interact with people, how you meet the people. Whether this is a skill that can be learnt or not is hard to say, but for their work, it’s crucial that you, as an example, are able to handle the person’s reaction to their test result.

As I would love to do this sort of work in the future myself, I ask Michelle and Niina what their favourite part of the job is.

Michelle explains that one of the things she loves about the job is that they are very free to develop their work into a direction that interests them. As long as they plan something and have a good explanation as to why it’s needed, they are free to do it, which means that they are able to design and implement really cool projects. Michelle and Niina both agree that they are lucky that they work so well together, and although they disagree at times, they discuss and work towards a solution that they are both happy with.