In the 3 weeks that I have been working with the Jade II Project, I have witnessed the positive impact the various activities arranged by us have had on our group participants. This positive impact has manifested itself in the smiling faces seen during field trips and activity sessions, the words of appreciation spoken at the end of an afternoon, and the empowerment of a client being able to have a better grasp over matters concerning their own life, even if that grasp merely extends to socialising with others. Being a low-threshold project means that participation in activities is first and foremost voluntary, and that minimal demands are placed upon the participants. This makes involvement in such projects convenient and easy for the prospective client, since there are often little to no prequisites to joining the groups. Because the field of social services is concerned with the well-being of individuals, among other things, the significance of such low-threshold projects in achieving that end cannot be overestimated.
Three language groups of aging migrants make up the client base that is central to Jade II’s daily work. These groups are Arabic-speaking elderly people, Mandarin Chinese-speaking elderly people, and Somali-speaking elderly people. In the time that I have been with the project so far, I have accompanied the Mandarin Chinese-speaking group to the Museum of Technology, where they got to see many Finnish technological marvels and learnt about the part technology played in Finland’s history, as well as Laurea University of Applied Sciences, where the group was introduced to health-related gadgets targeted at the elderly to assist them in their daily lives. They also learned a little about West African culture, thanks to a theme day arranged by the school. The group were taught a West African dance choreography, and even got to play a talking drum – a typical instrument found in West African countries such as Nigeria. Both these visits proved to be successes. This was no clearer than when I viewed the expressions of joy on their faces while they learnt the dance choreography, and heard roars of laughter as they moved to the music. I realised then that it was not at all about me or the part I was necessarily playing, but it was about the opportunity which they had to discover something new in life and make of it what they will. If we helped to provide that opportunity, then that is enough.
With the Arabic-speaking group I have been privileged to present to them various subjects of interest at their own request. Some of these subjects, which would form the basis for weekly discussions, included blood donation, everyman’s right (jokamiehenoikeus), and childhood. With this group we have also welcomed visitors who have presented topics of interest, such as Polli Ry who told us about informal care (omaishoito), and Adil Alsharki, a group member and poet, who read some of his poems to the rest of the group and lead a discussion on the same subject. On the particular occasion when Adil shared his poetry, I could sense that they were all positively moved. The fact that the whole of the session centered around this subject, with their thoughtful reflections and interested questions, told me that this was a good time to not exert any degree of influence over the session, but to let the group guide itself.
With the support of the Jade II Project the Somali-language group has recently taken steps to become more independent during some of their weekly meetings. In a guidance session last week it was mutually agreed by the group members and the Jade II team that this growing independence as a group would happen, and we considered how they could go about achieving that. This Thursday it so happened that two group members had brought topics for discussion to the group, and they were able to organise themselves and make good use of their time together. Towards the end of this same session, one of the group members had brought some Somali clothing and handicrafts to show. Fardoos agreed to model the clothes, and Susanna and I were invited to join and take a few photos. During this time the group members were in high spirits, laughing, smiling, singing, dancing and ululating! Again, we were not directly influencing their exuberance, but merely providing a place for that exuberance to manifest.
What I observed on all these occasions is how the group members of each respective group seemed to come alive. These undemanding group sessions, activities and excursions are surely contributing to the well-being of the individual. The fact that these are being experienced within a group setting is an additional trigger of well-being, since feeling part of a community is vital and a well-known aspect in community social work. Psychologically, this tells the individual that they belong, that they are accepted, and that their participation is an important contribution. How wonderful it is to see that this project’s work is having such a positive impact. Also, I have learnt that it is just as important to know when to give space to the group as it is to know when to become involved.