"We want to strengthen the belonging of young immigrants"

By Ester Laurell, Contact Point Åland
Published on 30.12.2019
Type of content: Interview

In English


- Who are you, and why are you doing this?

- I am Sari Tuuva-Hongisto and a researcher and an RD-expert in Juvenia Youth Research and Development Centre here at Xamk, South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences. I have a background in cultural research. In the TELL-project my research looks into stories of belonging and participation. I took part in designing the project for the Central Baltic.  

- And I am Sirkka Komulainen, a Research Manager, also at Xamk, and I am the project manager for TELL. I am a sociologist with a long research history on minority group issues.

- What was your motivation/the team’s motivation to create this project?

- The motivation and the starting point for the project was a wave of immigration to Finland a few years ago, especially the sudden rise in the number of young immigrants. At the time the city of Kotka was statistically the Finnish city, where the number of young immigrants rose the most. This new situation created the need to strengthen the integration, participation and belonging of young immigrants. We at Xamk were also interested in storytelling and drama-based methods. One youth project at Xamk already used a social circus method, and there were more arts based project plans on the way.

- The idea to combine arts based method with integration and language training was very well received at Ekami (vocational education college in Kotka). The group of 16-19-year-old is a hard-to-reach one regarding participation into projects. The strong experience of the Ekami professionals was very much needed to get started.  

- How was your partnership formed?

- In the project, Ekami operates as an external expert, and Folkuniversitetet (Uppsala, Sweden) works as a project partner. Folkuniversitetet also provides language and integration training for immigrants so they operate in the similar way to Ekami. Folkuniversitetet has a lot of experience of various development and project work. This enables integrating creative methods into immigrant training. Folkuniversitetet had previously developed a very interesting and exciting game called ”Human rights and democracy”. We just cannot wait testing the game in Kotka. Once the game has been tested, we will exchange experiences between Finland and Sweden.

- The key objectives of the project are to develop concrete ways for strengthening of skills, participation and belonging.

- What are you most proud of – so far?

- The team spirit in the project has been splendid. Enhancing participation and belonging by way of drama and storytelling has been especially inspiring. Creative methods provide the young immigrants with clear and concrete ways for self-expression and learning skills needed for integration and future employability. The Swedish human rights game, where the players seek solutions to everyday problems and ethical questions, helps in finding ways for active citizenship in a western society.

- Both methods – storytelling and the game – thus prevent dropping out of society and enhance belonging and participation. This was considered as significant by participants themselves in terms of belonging: language learning, getting to know your neighbourhood and surroundings, working together, and expressing yourself are important in that one gets to be seen and heard.

Has there been any challenges?

- We note that in the workshops and the project overall, trust-building has been very important. It is however sometimes challenging to build that trust into the society or within a group. We have thought about these issues a lot in the project group, i.e. trust, privacy and publicity. For instance, many young immigrants do not have much trust in authorities. Therefore, we have paid especial attention to obtaining consent for research, data and publications.

- What are you up to next?

- The next steps in the project involve sharing experiences from workshops in the two countries. The human rights game goes to Kotka to be tested, and Uppsala gets ready for using the storytelling method. The researchers will also eagerly take part in the workshops!

- We also very much look forward to hearing the told stories of participation and belonging, reflections on the methods and evaluation of the human rights game. For the latter we will apply an Abilitator-questionnaire, created by the Institute of Occupational Health in Finland. 

- Thank you, and good luck!