tiistai 27. toukokuuta 2014

Risks, identities and a variety of social security systems made our last day in the summer school


Lectures of the last day of the summer school were provided to us by Heather Ottaway from the University of Cardiff, Wales and Svajone Mikene from the University of Mykolas Romeris, Lithuania. Ottaway talked about risks in the child protection. People's understanding about risk has changed over time. A Globalisation of the world has changed the nature of the risks and the way of people reacting to them.  People don’t trust professionals such as social workers as tight as before. In the globalizing world, the social worker must be well aware of the society around him or her when assessing the risks. That’s because the risks are placed in social, historical and cultural contexts. For example, children’s working is seen as the risk in western countries but in some societies it is taken as a necessity.

The second lecture to us, the summer school students, was offered by Svajone Mikene from the University of Mykolas Romeris, Lithuania. The topics of her lecture were an identity and a professional identity. The identity means the person's own understanding about whom he or she really is. People have many identities tied to their contexts. One of these is the professional identity. The identity, including professional, changes and develops in their contexts. For example, the social worker's professional identity shapes among environments and the work experience.

On Friday, we had six student panels from different countries. The presentations were offered by the UK, Swaziland, the Czech Republic, Pakistan, Zambia, Nepal and Japan. The students reported on their presentations about their societies, social problems and social work. The societies and social security systems of Swaziland, Pakistan, Nepal and Zambia are certainly the most different from ours. Society of Pakistan is affected by the state religion, Islam. In Swaziland, Zambia and Nepal the lack of the resources of the societies affects the well-being of citizens. The student of South African’s Swaziland told us how 43 percent of the citizens of their society are chronically poor. The State and the government of Swaziland don’t have effective structures to repair and to control these things. Social work in Swaziland is still a developing profession and there are only six social workers in the country! Lack of money has complicated the Nepalese life, too. Nepal is patriarchal society where there is a lot of gender-based discrimination, domestic violence, trampling of the children’s and women's rights, plenty of involuntary abortions, marriages tied at very young ages and human trafficking. In the presentation of the student of Zambia, the topic was social problems faced by elderly people. They very often face poverty, abuse, lack of social protection and discrimination. Social work could help those elderly people by providing them free healthcare and homes.

The United Kingdom, the Czech Republic and Japan seemed to have quite well-developed social security systems. In those countries, also a role of the social work is more stabilized than in the countries that I have considered before. The topic of the student panel presentation offered by the UK was learning difficulties in England. This is an important issue in England where up to 905 000 citizens have some kind of learning difficulties. Social Work helps people with learning difficulties assessing their needs and sharing payments so that these people can buy supporting services to themselves. Nowadays the UK has begun to pay more attention to the treatment of people with disabilities. For example, they have given more regulations to the physical interventions, the controlling of hospitals has been tightened up and generally thinking that home care is the best place for disabled people has risen.

Especially, from the presentations of the Czech Republic and Japan I found things that Finland could learn about. The major in the Czech social security system is a special protection for people with disabilities in the labour market. Employers must provide the sheltered works for disabled people.  This kind of system would maybe solve the problem of the social exclusion that also Finnish disabled people usually face. Japan, in turn, seemed to be the empire of the elderly people! Like in Finland, population of Japan is aging rapidly. The percentage of elderly people is high, so the care of the elderly -related issues are an important part of the social policy. In Japan, the elderly are very often at work. The resources of the elderly people are utilized by supporting the interaction between generations. Japanese student showed us a video clip, where the elderly were taking care of the children in the playschool. I think that Finland would have much to learn from the Japanese way to relate to their elderly people. Their resources should be recognized and they should not be seen only as a burden of the society.

The lecture week of the 17th international summer school in social work ended at the participants' grateful thanks and the students getting their certificates. Also I want to thank all of the students, the lecturers and the organizers! We are the ones who can make a better day.

Tea Romppainen
Student from the University of Lapland

Cultural Diversity and Social Work


The main theme of Thursday’s lectures was cultural diversity which was addressed both by Juri Killian from the University of Kassel in Germany and Inga Gaižauskaitė from Mykolas Romeris University in Lithuania. In addition the German and American student panels presented us some of their local social work practices.

In his presentation Mr. Killian talked about the German immigration policies and how it has evolved since World War II. Although the history and the present of immigration are very different in Finland and in Germany both countries seem to share the same expectations for the future immigrants: ”high qualified migrants” i.e. people with good education as well as young and healthy people for low paid jobs in elderly care, construction sites etc. At the same time as they are welcomed inside the EU and the countries mentioned, refugees, asylum seekers and other unwanted groups of people find it even harder to get through the borders. Mr. Killian’s presentation was followed by an interesting discussion about multiculturalism at different levels.

Ms. Gaižauskaitė based her lecture on IFSW ethical guidelines as well as Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity by UNESCO. She challenged us to think about which cultures we belong to and what European identity is and could be. Our cultural background plays an important role when in contact with different cultures. Ms. Gaižauskaitė reminded us that culture is inherited and learned and it is not easily changed. We as social workers and individuals experience cultural diversity and globalization from our own cultural perspectives. As an EU member Lithuania is prepared for immigrants on macro level e.g. in legislation. But there is a huge cap between macro and micro level as individuals and communities are still not prepared for multiculturalism.

German students gave us an interesting insight in social work in Germany, in both private and public services. The biggest social work field in Germany is working with young people. The students presented a hypothetical case of a young drug addict and his treatment options as well as plenty of information and first-hand experience about the work at a youth center in Kassel. The American students gave us a glimpse of the areas of social work they have expertise in. It was interesting to learn about the different methods and programmes they use to help people as many social problems are similar in Europe and in the USA. We were impressed by the large amount of practical training both the Germans and the Americans have in their curriculum as they had clearly gained expertise from these experiences. Apparently, the Americans also knew that ice hockey is a good ice breaker in Finland.

Tens of delicious dishes from all around the world were served at Pot Luck Dinner on Thursday evening.

Meri Isojärvi, Maija Kujala and Ulla Mehtätalo from the University of Lapland

perjantai 23. toukokuuta 2014

Learning Disabilities, Whistle-blowing and Cage Homes


On the third day of the International Summer School in Social Work we got to learn about a few current social work topics in Hong Kong and Finland. Dr. Ben Law from University of Hong Kong introduced us to his special field of expertise, social workers’ role in helping children with learning difficulties along with their families. In Hong Kong social worker may be the only person to teach a dyslexic child and his or her family how to cope with learning disabilities in school and everyday life when professional help is out of reach because of low income. The topic raised good questions about what social work consists of. How do we separate problems that social workers should tackle from those that should be left to other professions? Or is such division even necessary?

Researcher Laura Tiitinen from University of Lapland presented us her research topic, freedom of speach violations, silencing and media whistle-blowing in social work. According to her study all these are phenomena that Finnish social workers face when trying to talk about and change unethical and illegal policies and social work practices. After facing silencing social workers may turn to social or mass media for whistle-blowing and often risk losing their jobs. This raised questions such as what are the true motives for silencing and what needs to be done to get the commercialized mass media interested in these topics to build public pressure and change the policies.

Student panels from Finland and Hong Kong also took place on Wednesday. Finnish students’ informative and entertaining presentation introduced various views of the Finnish welfare state, its services and their clients. Both teachers and fellow students were impressed by the Finnish students’ acting skills and rewarded them with a storm of applause. Students from the University of Hong Kong gave a very thought-provoking and shocking presentation about the housing problem in Hong Kong. Due to high population density and high apartment prices people are forced to live in inhumane conditions that risk their health and wellbeing. Lack of affordable and adequate housing prevents people from starting a family and living the kind of life they dream of. As the group pointed out having your own home is a very simple dream, yet it seems extremely difficult to realize in Hong Kong.

 The ever so lovely Team Hong Kong: Serena, Stephanie, Gilly, Julie and Kris

Meri Isojärvi, Maija Kujala and Ulla Mehtätalo from the University of Lapland

Eating Rudolf and other ice breaking means in The Get Together events during The International Summer School

When I was assigned to write the blog about the evening gatherings of the international summer school of social work, I was like “Oh grab!” In English. Double Grab! Because, as you might know us, the gawky Finns: not talking to the strangers, avoiding to speak another language besides the Finnish (if that) to other people? Sulking and pouting, being formal and avoiding making ever so awkward eye contact? If you think the Finns are something else, it is just some kind of postmodernist jargon related to the discussion about multiple and varied identities… Right.

But hey, what do you know!

After listening to the Finlandia”  (the classical peace composed by the famous Finnish composer Jean Sibelius during 1899-1900) I was in a mood, called in Finland as “Sisu” (if translated, it has something to do with your stamina or guts, I guess…). Well, despite the Sisu, when I arrived at the first gathering on Monday evening, The Welcoming Reception, I took my seat from the back of the room as far from the center of the action as possible and respectfully tried to hide myself behind my laptop as if to look very busy. Unfortunately, my disguise attempt hold no longer. So, I gave the machine away and started to eat.

And the food! On the top of the iceberg, there was the reindeer pie, my favorite. While eating the Rudolf, I pondered how the contemporary western food culture as a ritualistic act has become a central point to us to be with each other. Food brings people together, even the serious and formal Finnish people like me. The shared ritual of eating interconnects us; eating together reminds us of our family and friends. By eating your needs get to be satisfied, you feel safe and relaxed; the ice breaks. You boldly participate and get the conversation and even your “Rally English” starts to sound not so bad anymore. Imagine that!

Afterwards, I thought that being in the welcoming reception it was like being in the most vivid and talkative night club party ever, from my Finnish perspective at least. Although there were not shimmer lights, music too loud or persuading drunken men after you, people from many countries around the globe were mingling, talking and laughing and exchanging their thoughts and experiences. There weren’t any trace of the shy, embarrassed English tangling people trying to make sense whatever does it mean you are talking about (as it may was in the lecture hall earlier, I think). Actually, before I even noticed I had bubbled passionately all the topics of my master thesis and didn’t even have a clue to have so many English words to describe about it! So, Thank You Vera from Austria!

Yeah, that was a great evening! But the best was yet to come!

When the Wednesday evening arrived, I put my Kalevala shirt on (You know the famous painting “The Defense of the Sampo” (1896) made by the iconic Finnish painter Akseli Gallen Kallela illustrating the mythological story of stealing the Sampo (some kind a magic device) from the Finnish National Epic: it´s a very daunting image of the two supernatural witches fighting each other… but no, it was not a statement!) and headed to the University premises to participate in the second gathering, The International Evening. I think the main aim of the evening was to get to know each other and one´s national and cultural characteristic by an informal way.

 And what did I learn?

Well, I already knew Finns fancy to the saddest and melancholic music (as it seems to be with the Lithuanians too). Austrians like to get together in pubs, drink Schnapps made out of pine cones while exchanging their opinions about the behavioral patterns of human reproduction. Hong Kongers have the most vivid New Year´s traditions originating from the myth of an old man and dragon and of course they have “the ever so easy to use -chopsticks”. The Germans are quite good in organizing masses to move, but that´s not so strange after you have met the Angela Merkel who tells everybody to be in love with them. Besides the similar music taste, Lithuanians have the oldest language in the world. How cool is that! Also the geographical middle point of Europe is located in the Lithuanian ground.

As-Salamu Alaykum Pakistan! You have the most beautiful and extraordinary architecture in your country! I wish to visit there someday. UK, the land of magic and muggles and the world famous Royal Family and Rock Stars. Your music unites the people! And what can I say: Your language is ever so fascinating! And finally the US, the country of Jeopardies! I never stop be amazed by the Americans’ everlasting enthusiasm, joyfulness and the spirit to throw oneself to the task at hand.

Yeah, despite my exhaustion after a long day, I think the evening was really nice!

Afterwards, while I was walking back to home with the fierce witches Väinämöinen and Pohjan Akka, (who had made a truce!), I was contemplating considering myself a very privileged person in many ways. Although I myself remain spouting gawky Finn, I really am grateful to have a chance to experience the summer school´s liberating spirit in the gatherings. 

So, I´d like to Thank all the participants for the most interesting, inspiring and unforgettable evenings! It was really great meeting all of you! And one day, at the corridors of the headquarters of the UN in New York, when I meet you there, I´ll remember that despite all the overwhelming ferocity in the world, there are people, the social workers, who have the most vivid spirit to cooperate with to make The World a Better Place :)

Johanna Puolakka
Student, The University of Lapland

Picture: "The ever so easy-to-use chopsticks"
Teacher, Arja Kilpeläinen, The University of Lapland

torstai 22. toukokuuta 2014

About Sex Work, Asylum-seekers and Neoliberalism on the same day

On Tuesday in the International Summer School, we concentrate on some actual social problems in Europe. According to Dr. Johanna Hefel´s lecture sex work is not just the oldest profession in the world but a very big business, too. Sex work is illegal and punishable by law in some countries for example in Albania and Romania. In many others, like in Finland, sex work is legal, but regulated.  There is a huge diversity in sex work. At the movies, like Pretty Woman, we can see one aspect of the phenomenon. Other aspects are not so pretty. Worldwide there are 4.5 million people in the world and about 70 000 - 140 000 people in Europe who are forced sexual exploitation. The actual and global problem in sex work is human trafficking, which is one kind of slavery. Human trafficking is defined as a crime. Nowadays everyday life is filled by sexuality.  Still attitudes towards sex work are diverse. Like sex work, also attitudes toward sex work have different cultural and social backgrounds in different countries. In Finland sex work is hidden. We don´t speak about it, because it’s so sensitive a subject. In summer school, we discussed if sex work is an individual or a social problem? In our view it is a social problem, because the structures of society should be preventing from being exploited to sex work.

In the Austrian student panel, we became aware of another big social problem in Europe. The problem is the situation of asylum-seekers. The amount of asylum seekers has rise rapidly in Europe, especially in Lampedusa in Italy and in Melilla in Spain. The problem is so huge that Italy and Spain can´t handle it by themselves. To Lampedusa asylum-seekers come in old boats and they are often brought back to the sea. Many of them are drowned and dead. How can we solve this social problem? The best way to help asylum-seekers is to help them in their own country. Another way is to let them come to Europe and organize basic living, housing, health services. Most of all they need mental support to survive traumatic experiences, which they have had.

Dr. Christian Stark told us about neoliberalism and how it influences on social work. Including this ideology we can’t afford the welfare state any longer. This could mean the economization of social work. In that case the weak and powerless people in need are replaced by profitable customers. Then competition will dominate instead of solidarity.

Kirsti Pöyliö & Eveliina Ojaniemi, students from University of Lapland

keskiviikko 21. toukokuuta 2014

Social Work from a Global Perspective, International Summer School in Social Work and the Social sciences at 19.5.-4.6.2014


17th International Summer School started on Monday with 79 participants from 14 countries, for example United States, China, Germany, Austria, Swaziland and Japan. First, Professor Merja Laitinen had an introduction about the University of Lapland. The University of Lapland was founded on 1979 and it is the youngest university in Finland. The faculty of social sciences was established in 1982 by the social work program. 

The second lecturer was professor Stanley L Witkin from the University of Vermont, which was founded on 1795 in Burlington. Professor Witkin, who is a little bit younger than the University of Vermont, has been part of the International Summer School from its early beginning. It was  a great honor to have him here again. Besides, Professor Witkin is not the only well-known thing from Vermont, Ben & Jerry´s ice cream comes from there too. Professor Witkin’s main topic was social work from a global perspective. It was interesting to notice how social work is a western product and how even global social work is focused on western values. In the western world there is an influential ideology of the consumerism and our way of looking the world is often materialistic.  One of the main issues in global social work should increase the knowledge about different cultures, different ways to do social work, international trends and social conditions in other countries. What could be a better way to learn about these things than International Summer School?

Professor Marjaana Seppänen from the University of Lapland told us about Finland as a welfare state. There have been some changes in the welfare system in Finland during last decades, for example economic cuts, increasing liberalism and polarization between poor and wealthy people. Is Finland still a welfare state because of all these changes? Still as Professor Witkin reminded us, Finland is the best country in the world for example to be a mother and Finland has the best education system, too. It let us to think that in global perspective we still have a quite strong social welfare system in Finland.