Tips for first-time flight travelers

written by Alice Chunga

 

When I got accepted into the master’s degree program in Social Exclusion and had to travel from Malawi to Turku, Finland, I knew I would have to fly for the first time. It was stressful but also thrillingly exciting knowing where I was going and what awaited me there. Regardless, after my experience, I compiled a list of things that would help any first-time flyer.

 

1. Make sure you have all your documents in one place. Flying can be stressful, with tracking the departure time and gate mixed with the excitement and nervousness of flying. Hence having all your documents in one place eases this stress. You always know in what bag/ folder you have your essential documents so nothing will get lost.

 

2. Make sure you check what you can bring or not bring on the plane. All airlines have a list of things you are not allowed to bring. Some things are given, like explosives and fireworks, however, some things can be more unknown so worth checking this before arriving at the airport.

 

3. Check what to pack in which bag. What you put in your cabin bag is different from what you put in your checked bag. One example of this is the allowed amount of liquids. You are not allowed to have liquids in bottles of more than 100ml in your cabin bag. However, in your checked bag you can have liquids in bottles that exceed 100ml.

 

4. Bring a neck pillow especially if your flight is long. Your neck will thank you!

 

5. To help with motion sickness take some gum. Chewing gum or sucking on hard candy can also help your ears not get blocked during takeoff and landing (prevents or helps with airplane ears).

 

6. Pack a snack. Especially on a long flight they usually have some food or snack that you can purchase on the airplane, however, a more affordable option is to have your own snacks. This way you also assure that you get something you actually like and will have a more pleasant flight.

 

7. Always ask for help if you are not sure about anything. It might seem scary to ask random individuals, but people are surprisingly helpful. Airports also have info desks where you can always get service, but other customers can also be of assistance. You never know that you can run into someone with the same destination as you. Additionally, the info boards with all flight information are also frequently displayed, however, can be difficult to read, so ask anyone to assist you with this matter.

 

8. If your flight has been delayed, do not panic, ask. Flight being delayed and gates being changed is normal, however, annoying and stressful for a first-time flyer. Regardless of these situations, DO NOT PANIC and ask someone for assistance. Some delays can be hours and this can feel stressful, but ask for guidance and check the info boards, and all things will be arranged.

 

I hope these tips were of assistance and will help you when you yourself travel abroad or fly for the first time.

My documented journey: Dorcus Asiimwe

written by Dorcus Asiimwe

 

The story of my journey from Uganda to Finland started in December 2021 when I received the link for the application to the Master’s program from a friend. In January I started filling out the online application and submitted it within the application time. I mostly want to share about the process I went through after receiving the amazing news of being admitted up to my arrival in Finland and how life has been until now.

 

In Kenya for my Visa interview

I received my admission to the program on the 1st of April. Soon after I received admission, my next step was applying for a Finland Residence Permit. I choose to apply online because it is most recommended. Since Finland has no Embassy in Uganda I had to visit Kenya to prove my identity and have an interview. Amongst the requirements when applying for my sake were having a valid passport and not less than 6720 Euros in my bank account to ensure I have enough money for my living expenses throughout the first year of my study.

 

By 4th April 2022, all previous Uganda passports became invalid and everyone who needed to travel from Uganda had to apply for and pay for a new E-passport. I started applying for the new passport in February and I had my first interview appointment on the 6th of April, after this, it should take about 2 weeks to have your passport printed, which timewise was perfect for me having gotten the admission letter a week prior.

 

When I finally received my passport

My anticipation was not right though it instead turned out to be the worst experience throughout the process. The first issue was I could only complete the interview by speaking in my tribal language because I cannot yet speak it fluently. This led to me having to appear at the Ministry of internal affairs four times. It is a hustle getting the appointment but more traumatizing to understand you can be denied a passport on grounds of not being able to fluently speak a language. For the last interview, I went with my auntie who spoke the language on my behalf, which was the only way for me to pass the interview. The excitement was for a short time though because it was then officially announced that there was a shortage of passport printing papers in Uganda. Hence, only people who were going to travel under emergency circumstances could get their passports printed. In such a desperate situation, I consulted a lot of people and went to different offices for help, doing everything possible with no progress but finally, I connected to the right office where I got help and I had my passport.

 

In Istanbul waiting for my transit flight to Helsinki

Consequently, I was running late with booking an appointment at the Finnish Embassy in Kenya, therefore I was advised to book a primetime appointment, which I did and choose a day I preferred. This primetime appointment has a fee but it is worth trying, to avoid delays and to guarantee an appointment at the embassy. My friend was kind enough to financially sponsor me in this regard. Within one week I got a positive decision and in another week my Residence Permit Card was ready to be picked up. Now all I had to do was board my flight in Uganda and fly to Helsinki, Finland and then continue my journey to the city of Turku, my destination.

 

Throughout this process, I relied on the support of students who had gone or were going through the same process and followed all the platforms by the University for advice and clarity.

With my friend, Melina, who helped me along my journey to Turku

I arrived in Finland on the 4th of August and got first-class treatment from my friend and her family who hosted me for a week and gave me the best orientation until I went to my own apartment. Now I am happily studying and enjoying Finland.

At the Street Food event and meeting the rector of Åbo Akademi University, Mikael Lindfelt
Me on one of many bridges in Turku, which goes over the Aura river

Depression in the “World’s Happiest Country”: Notions of Social Exclusion in Finland

Written by Johanna Poggemann

 

When reading up on Finland’s global rankings, one comes across a lot of positive reports: It is supposed to be the most stable (The Global Economy 2021) and the freest country in the world alongside Sweden and Norway (Freedom House 2021) while also having the best education and life satisfaction (OECD 2021). Overall, it is said to be the happiest country in the world (World Happiness Report 2021). Yet, looking deeper, Finland also reports some of the highest depression cases worldwide (WHO 2017).

 

I have always wondered about this distinct discrepancy. How can one country top the rankings both for happiness and depression? And how does this affect its people?

 

Being diagnosed with depression can have several impacts, not only on an individual’s own life but also on their social environment and even the country’s economy. One factor that has not been researched enough in the domain of mental illness in Finland is that of social exclusion. Hence, questions arise: What notions of social exclusion can be found in the exclusion of the depressed in Finland?  How are depressed people excluded from Finnish society and what concept of social exclusion can be used to grasp what is happening?

 

This was the goal for a paper I have written in my “Social Exclusion” class, building on the works of Ruth Levitas (2005), Hilary Silver (1994) and Amartya Sen (2000).  Here, I would now like to present an excerpt of my findings, focusing solely on the analysis of the social exclusion of the depressed in Finland through the lens of Sen’s work. I have chosen Sen because, in my paper, his theory proved to be the most fruitful for this goal.

 

Definition of Social Exclusion

Amartya (2000) is an Indian economist and philosopher who has made contributions to several fields of study. In his works, he connects social exclusion to a specific term – capability deprivation. The capability deprivation approach is multidimensional and defined by its focus on the moral significance of individuals’ “distinct capabilities and functioning that [they] have reason to value” (ibid.: 4). In other words, it is a normative approach that concentrates on the actual capability of persons to achieve their well-being rather than their mere freedom or right to do so. One aspect which can be seen as an example of how capability deprivation takes the form of social exclusion is “being able to appear in public without shame” (ibid.: 4). This corresponds to the significance of participating in community life and living a social life. Focusing primarily on poverty, Sen emphasises that social deprivation/the inability to interact freely with others is an important implication for social exclusion. Another aspect is employment. According to Sen, being excluded from the opportunity of employment may lead to economic impoverishment which, in turn, may lead to other deprivations such as homelessness or undernourishment (ibid.: 5). As a result, social exclusion can be seen as both a part of capability deprivation and a cause of different capability failures (ibid.).

 

Depression in Finland

Finland has the highest estimated incidence of mental disorders in the EU (close to one in five) (OECD 2020). The most common mental disorders, anxiety, and depression, affect above 7% of Finns. While these can affect people for a couple of weeks or months, they can also last a lifetime (ibid.). Finland also places 9th worldwide among countries with the highest depression rates (World Population Review 2021). While the prevalence of mental illnesses appears to have remained mostly stable in Finland over the past 30 years (Pulkki-Råback et al. 2012), socio-economic health differences have increased and are larger than in many other European countries. Correspondingly, mental disorders currently constitute the number one cause of early retirement. Particularly depression poses a more serious threat to the economy and working life than any other disease group (ibid.), which also has serious social/societal implications.

 

Notions of Social Exclusion of Depressed People in Finland

When looking at the relationship between social exclusion and depression, it is firstly important to mention links that have already been identified in earlier research. With this in mind, mental illness as a whole is a rather particular case in social exclusion research because it is both a basis and a result of social exclusion. Thus, the relationship between social exclusion and depression can be described as reciprocal: Depression can lead to social exclusion through a lack of financial resources, low self-esteem, loss of social interactions or stigma connected to the disease (Payne 2013). In turn, poverty and social exclusion can also result in an increased risk of depression (ibid.).

 

Economy and Poverty

In line with Sen’s definition, the economy with its components is an important factor to consider for the social exclusion of depression in Finland. Finland has also been found to have one of the strongest income gradients in health and low income was found to correlate with depression in the working-age population (Pulkki-Råback et al. 2012). Economic inequalities start to appear already in early adulthood, hence, much earlier than in other Scandinavian countries (Huijts, Eikemo, & Skalická 2010). Also, while poverty in Finland is not likely to be a topic of satisfying basic needs, low income is still associated with adversities in daily life. Hence, statistically, low-income households “perceive more threats in the neighbourhood, have poorer living conditions, feel disconnected from the community and perceive low control at work” (Pulkki-Råback et al. 2012: 331). Regarding exclusion from the labour market, several Finnish studies point to a link between unemployment and mental illness (Liimatainen 2000: 7). In relation, somatic diseases, mental illness, and suicide were found to be more common among the unemployed in Finland (ibid.), showcasing again that unemployment can be both the cause and effect of mental illness. This can be seen in accordance with Sen’s capability deprivation as one form of exclusion can ultimately lead to another.

 

In addition, another group of social actors could also be found to be economically excluded from paid work: adolescents. According to a birth cohort study of people born in Finland in 1987, adolescents who had received a mental illness diagnosis in the past were often excluded from the labour market as well as from education as young adults (Science Daily 2021; University of Turku 2021). Lastly, the increase in sickness absence due to depression is another factor that connects exclusion from paid work with mental illness in Finland (Blomgren & Perhoniemi 2021).

 

Society

Yet, the act of being absent from work does not only correspond to economic exclusion, but it also has social implications. Depressed people do not only choose to be absent from work because of their symptoms, but also due to fear of being stigmatised for it (ibid.). Sen even specifically speaks about the freedom to live non impoverished lives as a way of “being able to appear in public without shame” (Sen 2000: 4). Shame is often connected to stigma[1] and stigma is a prominent societal impact factor for depression in Finland. According to a Finnish study, most respondents believed that depressed people are not responsible for their illness, but for their recovery (Aromaa 2011: 7). Thus, many negative traits are attributed to depression and negative consequences are linked with disclosing the diagnosis to others. Here, gender, education and language also play a role as women, people with higher education and those with Swedish as their mother tongue were less likely to hold negative stereotypes (Aromaa 2011; Wahlbeck & Aromaa 2011). In another study, 23% of surveyed Finns said that they would not want to live next door to a mentally ill person and 47% of those who suffer from a mental illness said that they have been stigmatised because of it (Ministry of Social Affairs and Health 2020: 27). In addition, depressed people also reported being afraid of becoming stigmatised in the health care system (Aromaa 2011). Overall, these examples help to show how stigma, as a specific societal and moral factor, can lead to social exclusion. Here, the refusal to engage with depressed people is specifically relevant.

 

Conclusion

As ever so often when it comes to research, I was left with more questions than answers after finishing my paper. There are still several factors that could/should be looked at when trying to grasp the role of social exclusion in Finland’s discrepancy between happiness and depression. : How are the power structures between the included and the excluded? Who has access to care, who makes that decision and what restrictions are there? How is the situation for non-Finnish speakers, immigrants, or asylum-seekers in Finland (cf. The Nomad Today 2019), youth (cf. Wrede-Jantti 2017) and women in comparison to men (cf. Pulkki-Råback et al. 2012)?

 

Considering the social exclusion of the depressed within a more group-specific focus would also allow to emphasise as well as assess the multidimensional aspect of social exclusion more. Hence, my paper as well as this blog post only serve as a first glance into the field of tension between social exclusion and depression in Finland – encouraging everyone to contribute to the research.

 

Bibliography 

Aromaa, E. (2011): Attitudes towards people with mental disorders in a general population in

Finland. National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL). Research 69, Helsinki, Finland 2011. Viewed 30 October 2021, https://www.julkari.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/79867/6dfaa7bd-b631-48fd-9b42-67a26c57d3fc.pdf?sequence=1.

Blomgren, J., & Perhoniemi, R. (2021): Increase in sickness absence due to mental disorders in

Finland: trends by gender, age and diagnostic group in 2005–2019. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health. DOI: 10.1177/1403494821993705.

Freedom House (2021): Countries and Territories. Freedom House. Viewed 28 October 2021,

https://freedomhouse.org/countries/freedom-world/scores?sort=asc&order=Total%20Score%20and%20Status.

Huijts T, Eikemo TA, Skalická V. (2010): Income-related health inequalities in the Nordic

countries: examining the role of education, occupational class, and age. Soc Sci Med, vol. 71, pp. 1964–1972.

Levitas R. (2005): Three discourses of social exclusion. In The Inclusive Society?.

Palgrave Macmillan, London. DOI: 10.1057/9780230511552_2.

Liimatainen, M.-R. (2000): Mental Health in the workplace. Situation Analysis Finland.

International Labour Office Geneva. Viewed 30 October 2021, https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@ed_emp/@ifp_skills/documents/publication/wcms_108222.pdf.

Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (2020): National Mental Health Strategy and

Programme for Suicide Prevention 2020-2030. Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, Helsinki. Viewed 20 October 2021, https://julkaisut.valtioneuvosto.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/162234/STM_2020_15.pdf.

OECD (2021): Education. OECD Better Life Index. Viewed 28 October 2021,

https://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/topics/education/.

OECD (2020): Finland’s mental health challenge. OECD library. 25 February 2020. Viewed

30 October 2021, oecd-ilibrary.org/sites/7d8fd88e-en/index.html?itemId=/content/paper/7d8fd88e-en.

Payne, S. (2013): Mental Health, Poverty and Social Exclusion. Conceptual note no. 9, ESRC

Economic & Social Research Council, University of Bristol. Viewed 30 October 2021, https://www.poverty.ac.uk/working-papers-conceptual-notes/mental-health-poverty-and-social-exclusion.

Pulkki-Råback, L., Ahola, K., Elovainio, M., Kivimäki, M., Hintsanen, M., Isometsä, E.,

Lönnqvist, J., & Virtanen, M. (2012): Socio-economic position and mental disorders in a working-age Finnish population: the health 2000 study. European journal of public health, vol. 22, no. 3, pp. 327–332. DOI: 10.1093/eurpub/ckr127.

Science Daily (2021): Psychiatric disorders in teenage years associated with social exclusion

in later life. Science Daily. 8 October 2021. Viewed 30 October 2021, sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/10/211008105726.htm.

Sen, A. (2000): Social Exclusion: Concept, Application, and Scrutiny (Social Development

Papers No. 1). Asian Development Bank. Viewed 30 October 2021, http://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/publication/29778/social-exclusion.pdf.

Silver, H. (1994). Social Exclusion and Social Solidarity: Three Paradigms. International

Labour Review, vol. 133, no. 5- 6, pp. 531-578. Viewed 28 October 2021, http://heinonline.org/HOL/Page?handle=hein.journals/intlr133&div=51&g_sent=1&collection=journals.

The Global Economy (2021): Fragile state index – Country rankings. The Global Economy.

Viewed 28 October 2021, theglobaleconomy.com/rankings/fragile_state_index/.

The Nomad Today (2019): 40% of asylum seekers in Finland reported symptoms of depression

and anxiety. The Nomad Today. 18 June 2019. Viewed 30 October 2021, https://www.thenomadtoday.com/articulo/moving-to-finland/40-of-asylum-seekers-in-finland-reported-significant-symptoms-of-depression-and-anxiety/20190618194409002206.html.

University of Turku (2021): Psychiatric Disorders in Teenage Years Associated with Social

Exclusion in Later Life. University of Turku. 08 October 2021. Viewed 30 October 2021, https://www.utu.fi/en/news/press-release/psychiatric-disorders-in-teenage-years-associated-with-social-exclusion-in-later.

Wahlbeck, K., & Aromaa, E. (2011): Research on stigma related to mental disorders in Finland:

a systematic literature review. Psychiatria Fennica, vol. 42, pp. 87-109. Viewed 30 October 2021, https://thl.fi/documents/10531/1449887/Research+on+stigma.pdf/d5fde787-3841-4e48-920f-666512f24564.

WHO (2017): Depression and Other Common Mental Disorders. World Health Organisation.

Viewed 28 October 2021, https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/depression-global-health-estimates.

World Happiness Report (2021): In a Lamentable Year, Finland Again is the Happiest

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World Population Review (2021): Depression Rates by Country 2021. World Population

Review. Viewed 30 October 2021, https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/depression-rates-by-country.

Wrede-Jantti, M. (2017): Mental Health among youth in Finland. Who is responsible? What

is being done? Norden Nordic Centre for Welfare and Social Issues, Helsinki.

https://nordicwelfare.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/finland_webb-1.pdf.

 

[1] “Stigma is common toward persons with mental health problems and can be defined as a label that sets a person apart from others, links her or him with undesirable characteristics and leads to avoidance by others in society” (Aromaa 2011: 7). It is highly based on societal norms as well as cultural expectation of what is considered “normal” behaviour (ibid.).

The Start of Another Antiracist Reading List

It is September again, meaning a new start to our Monthly Antiracist Reading List. This year we are going to recommend books to our audience with the help of three themes. These themes will assist in categorizing the book and give them more context and help readers understand what specialization, subject or concern the book in question wants to raise. We will recommend three books per theme, equaling to nine recommended books this academic year.

 

The first theme of this semester will be GENDER EQUALITY. Gender equality highlights different gender inequalities and gives an overview of equity between the genders in different areas of society. Many see gender equality as a binary question, only targeting issues between men and women, however, the issue is much more complex. Within Gender Equality one also must consider race, religion, sexuality, nationality, and class, to mention a few aspects since they all give depth and context to gender-related struggles.

Additionally, gender is not a duality, but gender is rather a fluid concept where people can identify as they desire. Understanding this complexity is also an issue one can discuss from a Gender Equality perspective and something we want to expand on with some of our reading suggestions.

 

The first book within the theme of Gender Equality is already up! It is Sex and Lies by Leila Slimani, who discusses the taboo of female sexuality in Morocco.

For All Those Whose Cares Have Been Our Concern

Written by Tinka Harvard

 

“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless, like water.”

—Bruce Lee

 

Flip Schulke - 4 Artworks for Sale on Artsy
Boxing legend Muhammad Ali (photograph by Flip Schulke)

Few people in my life don’t know that I have run into unexpected racism in Finland, where I am pursuing a master’s degree in Social Exclusion at Åbo Akademi University. I say unexpected because Finland had previously been a place of refuge for me. Nature there can be soothing and healing—ample space exists there to stretch out one’s whole self and to take deep breaths. It is a place where one can roam and find herself. It is a reserved culture bending toward silence. On its better days, it is a respectful culture marked by individuality, which is ironic given its admirable socialism. With help and insight from friends and with my own personal experiences, I have come to understand that Finland, too, is included in the historical xenophobia that permeates Europe, and the racism remains. Oftentimes, the “sins of the fathers” fall to new generations if anti-racism is not a priority.

 

I think of this because I ran across a word recently with which I was not familiar: “Enneagram.” It caught my attention because I heard a woman say that she was a number Two type, for those familiar with the Enneagram of Personality. The woman said, more specifically, that she was a number Two, a helper, and that she likes to help people. I thought to myself: I am like that, too. I enjoy helping. Perhaps I am a Two type as well, whatever that means.

 

For some reason, the above ideas simultaneously floated around in my mind with my childhood experiences of fighting. I used to fight all the time when I was a child. This phase in my life ended around the age of fourteen, at which time, I am guessing, I learned to walk away from trouble—no small feat given that trouble had a way of walking toward me. I would go on walks for hours around my Brooklyn neighborhood, and when I was a bit older, I would visit different neighborhoods around Brooklyn and then in Manhattan. This practice is still with me, and I continue to take long walks wherever I am around the world as a way to bring peace to my life.

 

The point of this tale is that my mild-mannered and easygoing personality and my slowness to anger seemed to be an invitation to other children in my neighborhood to heap abuse upon me. The boundaries of my own emotional and physical safety were constantly being attacked. The thing is, I have outgrown the need to physically fight back to protect myself like I needed to do as a kid. Now, I usually distance myself from bullying or disrespect by walking away.

 

That said, it is hard to walk away from racism because it permeates society and lurks in the hearts of far too many. My mind has been spinning concerning this subject for quite some time now trying to figure out how to care for and protect myself. Personal experiences of racism are difficult to prepare for because each one presents itself in a new and seemingly creative way.

 

I have been frustrated with my inability to figure out how to get people to “back off” in their mistreatment, but I have tried to be kind with myself. What came to me in an instant after quite a bit of contemplation—months if not years or a lifetime of it—is that the problem does not lie with me and what I am unable to do. The problem lies in the aggressor, the transgressor of boundaries.

 

“Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.”

—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

It is a revelation and a relief for me to learn that I do not have to figure out a new way to be. I simply can be my natural self. And when I find myself in the midst of hurtful people and difficult situations and when others feel encouraged to be abusive because of the color of my skin or my mild manner, I can remind the aggressors that they are sorely mistaken and that the problem is with them. This is a nonviolent way for me to “fight back” and to protect my body and heart from the transgressors of boundaries. We all suffer injustices and can speak out in this and other ways against them.

 

“For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.”

—Senator Ted Kennedy

 

 

Master’s degree speech

On June 21st 2022 I, Jasmin Slimani, had the privilege to have a speech to the graduating bachelor’s and master’s degree students. In my speech, I wanted to be honest about the current rough times affecting all students along with how the life of a student is filled with highs and lows, but regardless we succeed and we are now eagerly waiting for new adventures. Below is my written speech.

 

Dear audience, welcome

Kära publik, välkommen

Rakas yleisö, tervetuloa

 

I want to start by thanking the faculty for the opportunity to have this speech at this graduation ceremony of both bachelors’ and masters’ students from the faculty of Arts, Psychology and Theology. I feel privileged, lucky, and honored to be standing up here in front of you all.

 

Jag vill först tacka er alla för att jag får stå här uppe framför er alla dimitterade och era familjer, vänner och partner, för att hålla detta års dimissionstal. Trots att Åbo Akademi är ett finlandssvenskt universitet, måst vi inte glömma den breda diversiteten vi har av studenter, doktorander, forskare och annan personal. Bland annat, har vi även i dag en handfull av studerande som dimitteras från det internationella magisterprogrammet, Social Exclusion, som är det enda internationella magisterprogrammet här på Fakulteten för humaniora, psykologi och teologi. Därmed kommer jag även att köra detta tal främst på engelska, ett språk som är mer inkluderande i detta rum.

 

And for those who just sat cluelessly wondering what I was saying, I basically said that I will be doing this speech in English since otherwise many in the audience will not understand me.

 

As many of you might wonder, who am I and why am I standing here before you. And to answer the latter question first, and to be honest, when I was asked to have this year’s speech I was startled. I started thinking immediately about all the inspirational things I could say, the witty puns and jokes to lighten up the mood and of course also what I should not say in this speech. Regardless, here I am now, still taken by surprise at how I ended up here, maybe I am here because I like to speak and when I do I tend to speak a lot. This was also one of the reasons why I did my master’s thesis partially in the form of a three-part podcast series. As less writing and more talking is the way to go for me.

 

Going then to who am I. I’m Jasmin Slimani and I moved here to Turku in 2016, right after graduating high school, thinking of myself as mature, when moving from my childhood home. How cute of me. After finishing my bachelor’s studies, I wanted to continue right away with a master’s, and luckily, I was admitted into the Social Exclusion master’s program, which I started in the fall of 2019. Going into a master’s I looked forward to the upcoming two years of studies. Things that I eagerly waited for were meeting and hanging out with new people, making new friends, partaking in events, and exploring Turku in new ways. But as we know the past two years did not go as anyone could have planned.

 

The hopes of having study circles turned into sitting alone by the computer. The hopes of having student events turned into having dance parties at home alone. And the hopes of creating new supportive communities turned into a need of finding that support from within.

 

In hopes of not only escaping the situation here in Finland but because I really wanted to do something else than the usual studies, I decided in the fall of 2020 to do an internship abroad. I wanted an unforgettable experience, and to travel a bit further away from the comfortableness of Europe. Hence, I packed my bags with Dar es Salam, in Tanzania as my destination. The hope and idea were to work with girls and women and aid them in any way possible. This included things like, educating them on different issues like sexual health and consent, giving tools of empowerment, and helping these girls and women be more economically independent. But even if I was filled with excitement and eagerness, it didn’t take long for me to realize that the NGO I was working for was money-hungry, didn’t want to make an actual change and the whole organization was run by a greedy fella. Although the internship itself left much to be desired, the experience was unforgettable. I learned a lot about myself in relation to my environment, I met some great and funny people and the beautiful and colorful nature that I was lucky to experience will always stay vibrantly in my mind.

 

I think I am not alone when I say that the past years have been a rollercoaster. It has been filled with unexpected turns, some occasional laughter, and a feeling of rush in your stomach, but there have also been times when you just want to scream. Furthermore, I do not think I am the only one who will admit that the past two years of studies have been incredibly difficult and lonely, not to mention exhausting. The mix of living in a state of uncertainty, boredom, and stress, has definitely not been a positive contributor to one’s studies.

 

Despite everything, the ups and downs that these past years have resulted in, I am not looking back at the time with regret. Having lived and studied through a difficult time and to finally be on the other side, I can gladly say that I have grown. I am not the same little 18-year-old wide-eyed girl who thought of myself as mature when moving to another city. But what I now can say, is that I am at least a wiser 24-year-old, who still has plenty to learn but is grateful for the journey so far. I hope that you all graduates can also see the growth within yourselves. I might not know most of you on a personal level, but I do think that each and every one of you has had battles to go thru or still have obstacles to overcome, however, I want to say that all your journeys are valid, plus you have already come a long way. Whether you see it or not, I can promise you that you have grown compared to who you were two, three or five years ago. For instance, look back at pictures of yourself from a while back and you might look at them with a slight feeling of embarrassment or detachment and that shows a certain growth from the person in the picture. Or for instance, can you have seen yourselves sitting here today, a year ago? or even six months ago? I can say that I did not expect myself to be here, so in honor of you, all graduating pat yourselves on the shoulder because you all have done a great job and you all should be proud.

 

All in all, the past years have presented some of the lowest lows but also some great highs. I have met people I would not have met if I hadn’t chosen Turku to be the place of my studies. I have explored what this city has to offer and found a new love and calmness in nature. I have been more politically invested and I feel stronger and more confident about my opinions and ideology. My time as a student has been fruitful, brought me confidence, and allowed me to grow into the person you all see today. And I wish you all graduates can also list things that your time as students at Åbo Akademi University have granted you.

 

Slutligen vill jag önska er alla lycka till med alla era nya äventyr.

All that is now left to say is that I wish you all the best of luck in all your upcoming adventures.

 

Tack! Kiitos! Thank you!

Albinism in Cameroon

In honour of the International Albinism Awareness Day, on June 13th, we want to share one of Lekeaka Mabel’s blog posts. Lekeaka Mabel wrote three blog posts, which are all part of her master’s thesis called “Albinism in Cameroon: How persons living with albinism experience social exclusion in Cameroon”. Her other blog posts and the rest of her thesis can be found here.

Albinism in Cameroon written by Lekeaka Mabel

 

When White Looking is viewed as a curse.

Whiteness is the centre of the world[1]. Although Cameroon is a black-dominated country, proximity to white gives one more advantages. For example in some tribes like the Bamileke in the western province, fairer (whiter) women fetch a higher bride price than darker women. Skin lightening products are very popular as people constantly seek fairer skin tone so as to attract the advantages associated with being white. However, there exist some groups of Cameroonians who were born “white”. One would think that they would be hailed as kings and queens and showered with love and admiration. On the contrary, they are shunned, despised and even hunted. Herein lies the contradiction that is the life of people with albinism in Cameroon.

 

Albinism is a word derived from the Latin albus, meaning white. It’s a genetically inherited condition where a shortage of melanin pigment affects the eyes, hair and skin[2]. This condition affects the body’s production of melanin, reducing or eliminating pigmentation in the skin, eyes, and hair. This melanin deficiency causes complex visual impairment, altering retinal development and nerve connections to the eye[3]. It also weakens natural defenses against sun damage, placing people with albinism at heightened risk of skin cancer, especially in hot countries. The difference in skin creates adaptation and socialisation problems, with many myths and misconceptions surrounding PWA that have spread over the years within many African communities.

 

In Cameroon likewise other African countries, people living with albinism are given stereotype names, subjected to stigma and prejudice because there are prevailing myths and superstitious beliefs about them not being humans.

 

Testimony by my friend Melissa Longla……..VOICES OF ALBINOS 2 – YouTube[4]

[5]

Melissa Longla in her interview on YouTube says human relations as an albino have been pretty difficult…….

“People make fun of your person. Some think you’re a curse or product of adultery and all sorts of negative things you can think of. Children chant derogatory songs while you walk past the streets and people wouldn’t eat food touched by you…. You have to survive amidst all these,” she explains.

 

One incident which particularly hurt Melissa was back in secondary school when her classmate refused to eat just because she was the one who shared the food at the refectory. “This really weighed down on me,” she laments.

 

“Another incidence was when a boy in my class (form 1) cried all day because he was made to share a desk with me!” Apart from these, Melissa says she has been severally turned down by job officers because employers think people like her cannot fully deliver at work.

 

The life of people living with Albinism in Cameroon is entrapped with difficulties. In all aspects of social, economic and cultural life, children with albinism in Cameroon remain highly marginalized, stigmatized and excluded by virtue of their condition. They remain vulnerable to violence and remain fearful. Despite all these difficulties, violence against children, girls and women with albinism in Cameroon is very much underreported.

[6]

Parents especially mothers of people living with albinism face stigma from the family as well as on a community level. Many women have been sent out of their marriages because their husbands could not understand why two black people could give birth to white skin baby.

 

The plight of albinism is one that needs to be brought to the lime. People with Albinism must not suffer just because they were born different in the same way black people argue that it is unfair for the world to treat them as inferior because they were born black. Being a person with albinism is not a crime and criminalising them is criminal.

 

Share the word, share the awareness and share the love.

 


 

[1] See Alemanji, A.A (2016). (2016). Is there such a thing…? A study of antiracism education in Finland. University of Helsinki.

[2] See Benyah, F. (2017). Equally  Able, Differently Looking: Discrimination and Physical Violence against Persons with Albinism in Ghana. Journal for the Study of Religion 30,1(2017)161-188

[3] See Benyah, F. (2017). Equally  Able, Differently Looking: Discrimination and Physical Violence against Persons with Albinism in Ghana. Journal for the Study of Religion 30,1(2017)161-188

[4] VOICES OF ALBINOS 2 – YouTube

[5] Picture of Melissa and I

[6] The conversation. https://theconversation.com/being-black-in-a-white-skin-students-with-albinism-battle-prejudice-78368

 

The End of the First Edition of the Monthly Reading List

We have now completed the first edition of the Social Exclusion’s monthly reading list. We have compiled a list of nine books which all include anti-racist rhetorics, discusses justice and equality and overall critical analyses of our society. Many of the books happen to be academic, but some are also written in a more playful way, which makes them also attractive to a younger audience and people who are not familiar with academic writing.

 

We have strived to make the list as inclusive as possible, but there are still plenty more books we would love to feature. So without further ado, we are announcing that we are continuing with the monthly reading list next September! This list will include even more books that target Racial Justice, Racial Equity and Antiracism in one way or another. Additionally, we would like for our audience to participate in the making of this list, in other words, if you do have a book, which you would like to share and that targets antiracism, feel free to send in your suggestion via email to @ socialex@abo.fi/ aminkeng.atabong@abo.fi. Let’s collectively build this initiative!

 

Hope the current Monthly Reading List will make for some great reflective readings this summer!

6,765 Summer Reading Illustrations & Clip Art - iStock

Restful summer to everyone!

 

Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self-Recovery

Sisters of the Yam : Black Women and Self-Recovery book cover

The last book on our list will be a book from the recently passed author, feminist and social activist, bell hooks. Her book Sisters of the Yam continues to discuss the black womanhood experience and she explores the emotional health of Black women and how it is constantly being affected by sexism and racism. In her book, bell hooks highlight the link between self-recovery and political resistance and how aspects such as joy and healing are a vital need in the struggle for equality.

 

bell hooks, was a beloved author, respected feminist and social activist who recently passed away at the age of 69. She was a pathbreaking Black Woman and will be remembered through her writings and doings.

Welcome the ‘Stranger’

Written by Tinka Harvard

‘Our traditions says thirty-six times you shall welcome the stranger.’

—Danny Schild, founder of Canadians Helping
Asylum Seekers in Israel (CHAI)

The nation of Israel, created in response to the Jewish people’s history as refugees, is currently trying to ‘stem the tide’ of non-Jewish asylum seekers. In response to an influx of migration of refugees travelling from Sudan through Egypt into Israel, the country has built a wall along the border separating them from Egypt. Although the nation was founded as a refuge for Jews fleeing persecution in light of the Holocaust, the nation is overwhelmed by non-Jewish asylum seekers. Officials, including former and present prime ministers, want to have non-Jewish refugees return to their own countries or a third country. As several Israelis endeavor to separate themselves from non-Jewish asylum seekers, this practice leaves the refugees vulnerable to social exclusion, along with its consequences.[i]

Social exclusion happens over time. It is not an individual occurrence. It is incremental and multifaceted. Social exclusion in a particular instance can create disconnects in many other ways. That exclusion then expands for both individuals as well as groups and communities.[ii] It also affects opportunities regarding education, employment, housing conditions, and mental and physical health. This is a social exclusion that is multidimensional and relational.[iii]

Ironically, religion can also play a role in social exclusion. As one example, some orthodox Jewish communities in Israel separate themselves from all other communities. One reason for this is that orthodox families do not want their children to attend school with non-orthodox children or to play with them. These divisions often involve no personal connections or meeting points outside of one’s own community. Non–orthodox Jewish people cannot live, work, or attend school in orthodox Jewish communities, creating an exclusion of ‘the other.’[iv]

Also, religious guidelines of separation can lead to the violation of social rights and equality, which illustrates how one’s religious beliefs can impede the civil rights of another and break, or at least create tension with, societal laws.[v] While attempting to resolve injustices resulting from religious practices and other inequalities within a nation, questions arise as to how best to attempt to eradicate inequalities in light of numerous social and political considerations that exist both within and without differing ethnic and religious communities.[vi]

Diversity, as it relates to religion, is counter to Israel’s goals.[vii] Presently, in the case of non-Jewish asylum seekers, social exclusion entails likely expulsion from Israel. It also includes socially excluding the refugees while they live in Israel, creating economic instability for them and forcing them to attend separate schools and live apart from the dominant society in segregated housing. Israel’s treatment of non-Jewish asylum seekers has disturbed many Jewish people nationally and internationally, including the former Canadian ambassador to Israel.[viii]

 

‘Jews have been persecuted people their whole existence, while Israel was never perfect, the Israel I grew up with was going to be the land of Jewish people with Jewish people’s values, which were to recognize what we suffered through and ensure that other people didn’t go through that.’

—Jon Allen, former Canadian Ambassador to Israel[ix]

Israel’s goal to have the non-Jewish migrants return to their own countries or to a third country is being met with resistance by faith-based organizations, including Jewish and Christian and private individuals and groups, both secular and nonsecular. These groups and individuals are against separation, social exclusion, social injustice, and its effects. They sponsor asylum seekers to resettle them in third countries. The desire is for the asylum seekers to be able to live safe and free from social injustice and exclusion so that they can live and experience deep equality in their daily lives.[x]

 

Resources for Helping to Welcome Migrants and Asylum Seekers

Upon hearing of a crisis somewhere in the world, have you ever wondered how best to inform yourself, get involved, and help? Many reputable organizations can serve as an entry point.

Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) is an organization that represents asylum seekers in Israel. In July 2017, the organization sent a petition to the Israeli High Court asking the state to grant visas to Sudanese asylum seekers. This was due to the state not processing the asylum seekers’ claims requests for refugee status for years. The reason the court granted the requests for visas is believed to be due to persistent pressure from HIAS. The Israeli interior ministry complied with the court ruling granting temporary residence status to more than two thousand asylum seekers in 2022. Even with the optimistic ruling, all remains precarious for many asylum seekers. What the future holds for them in the long-term remains uncertain, and questions endure. HIAS is committed to standing with asylum seekers for the long haul.[xi]

‘This is great news for our clients, who have been in Israel without basic rights for over a decade.’

—Nimrod Avigal, deputy director and head of legal aid at HIAS Israel[xii]

In Canada, the Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) program serves as a model for helping to provide physical and emotional safety and security for migrants and asylum seekers. Through this program, ordinary citizens can join or form groups to sponsor refugees abroad. The work of social justice and diminishing social exclusion can seem immense. Still, with the help of programs like PSR, anyone can make an extraordinary impact on the lives of refugees.[xiii]

Outside of Canada and Israel, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), also known as United Nations Refugee Agency, is a global organization dedicated to protecting the rights of refugees around the world. The UNHCR is an excellent starting point to get involved.[xiv] Because in the end, “an immigrant is just someone who used to be somewhere else”.[xv]

 

References

[i].     Dina Kraft and Sara Miller Llana. ‘Denied Asylum in Israel, Eritreans Are Welcomed by Canadian Jews.’ The Christian Science Monitor, 21 January 2022. https://www.csmonitor.com/World/2022/0121/Denied-asylum-in-Israel-Eritreans-are-welcomed-by-Canadian-Jews.

[ii].    Hilary Silver. ‘The Process of Social Exclusion: The Dynamics of an Evolving Concept.’ London: Chronic Poverty Research Center, 1 October 2007, p. i. https://ssrn.com/abstract=1087789 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1087789.

[iii].   Marie Macey and Alan Carling. Ethnic, Racial and Religious Inequalities: The Perils of Subjectivity. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, p. 38.

[iv].   Pew Research Center. ‘Israel’s Religiously Divided Society.’ Youtube, 16 October 2016 (video). https://youtu.be/vCH0uecc4dY.

[v].    Adam Liptak. ‘In Narrow Decision, Supreme Court Sides with Baker Who Turned Away Gay Couple.’ The New York Times, 4 June 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/04/us/politics/supreme-court-sides-with-baker-who-turned-away-gay-couple.html.

[vi].   Macey and Carling, p. 37.

[vii].  Kraft and Miller Llana.

[viii]. Ibid.

[ix].   Ibid.

[x].    Ibid.

[xi].   Sharon Samber. ‘Finally Some Good News for Sudanese Asylum Seekers in Israel,’ HIAS Blog, 13 January 2022. https://www.hias.org/blog/finally-some-good-news-sudanese-asylum-seekers-israel.

[xii].  Ibid.

[xiii]. Government of Canada, Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) program. https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/refugees/help-outside-canada/private-sponsorship-program.html.

[xiv]. United Nations High Commission for Refugees. https://www.unhcr.org.

[xv].  Russell Brand. Messiah Complex. Epix, 2013 (video). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=joyrLi0Rjck.