Integration is a two-way street

This week the Jade II Project team and I had the privilege of attending seminars related to two aspects that are central to the work that we do: elderly work and multicultural work. Additionally, the important role of peer support provided by volunteers and project workers alike was a highlighted topic of particular interest, especially because I believe in its effectiveness as a means for integration and well-being.

The first seminar took place on Thursday 1.12. and was organised by the Finnish Slot Machine Association (RAY) -funded Active Age – Never mind the years (Eloisa ikä) programme, of which Jade II is a member project. Coordinated by the Finnish Association for the Welfare of Older People (Vanhustyön keskusliitto ry), the programme’s focus is to promote the everyday well-being of elderly people in society.

The second seminar was organised on Friday 2.12. at Kalliola Settlement (Kalliolan Setlementti) for the Vertsi Immigrant Peer Support Guidance Project (Maahanmuuttajien Vertaisohjaus-projekti). Also funded by the Finnish Slot Machine Association, this was Vertsi’s final seminar, as funding for the project has now reached its end. This low-threshold project’s purpose has been to provide peer support guidance and integration activities to immigrants in a variety of languages such as English, Arabic, Somali, and Sorani Kurdish.

Active Age – Never mind the years seminar

Thursday’s Active Age – Never mind the years seminar’s theme had to do with working within networks in the social welfare and health care fields. Since the occasion brought together a variety of member projects and associations that work with elderly people, a unique opportunity was provided for them to consider ways in which to further their work. Smaller groups were made during the day with the goal of addressing certain issues relevant to the field, such as volunteer work, multicultural training for professionals, and so on.

From the perspective of a student of social services it was an eye-opening experience, and an inspirational one. It also occurred to me that such events are necessary for two reasons: first, it brings potential partners together in order to pool resources and collaborate, such as to think up new ways in which to do elderly care work, or improve upon those methods already being used. New ideas and inspiration can flow forth, helping the individual professional who may be experiencing challenges in their work, for example. Secondly, it gives new workers an opportunity to network and get to know partner organisations in the field. Also, good work can be acknowledged amongst colleagues, which can renew the professional’s motivation.

Vertsi seminar

Friday’s Vertsi seminar – which is the project’s final seminar – presented the work which had been done throughout the history of the project. It was a varied programme, with several members of the client group taking part, speaking about how important the project has been to them. There were also musical performances, a photographic slideshow, and a panel discussion.

I was touched to hear the stories of the client group, to see the impact of the work through their eyes and understand how important such a project has been to them. What is very clear is the necessity of peer support for immigrants during the integration process. As a result, I am glad that Jade II has a similar model: our discussion groups employ the element of peer support, and the project itself is a multicultural one. Also, the peer support aspect in Jade II harks back to the time when a Somali lady was part of the project team, and now with our newest group, the Arabic-speaking discussion group, they have that peer support in Fardoos Helal, who is a project team member from Syria.

Integration is a two-way street

It can be confusing to understand the network since there appears to be an enormous number of projects, associations and organisations in the field, a lot of which are partnered with or members of so-called umbrella projects. What is clear, however, is that there is as much a need as ever for them, particularly when it comes to multicultural work and work with people of immigrant background.

I was inspired by the stories of the client group, by the experiences of the professionals, and by the ability of all concerned to organise and collaborate in the ways that they do. One of the points made by a volunteer is that integration is a two-way street or process; not only does the work help the client group, but it also helps those members of society to grow and expand their own horizons. My hope is that this leads to a society – and world – which is more diverse and embracing of diversity. Perhaps this would lead to an increased level of well-being for us all.

Thank you to the Jade II Project for letting me experience this part of the important work that you do.