Thursday, 29 November 2012

Sanna Vierikko is TAMK's Erasmus Student of the Year

Sanna Vierikko, a third-year Social Services student, won the TAMK Erasmus prize for 2012. Vierikko did her student exchange in the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, in January - June 2012. She also did a training in a homeless shelter.
The prize was given to one staff member and one student by TAMK International Services to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Erasmus exchange.

Erasmus is the largest university exchange programme in Europe. In addition to student exchanges, it also supports exchange of teachers and staff, as well as cooperation both between universities as well as between universities and companies. Over 2,5 million students have so far done their exchange in another European university. The Finnish universities joined Erasmus 20 years ago.

Both studies and training

Vierikko has many good things to say about her exchange:

- I got the idea of going to Slovenia at the info session in TAMK. There had also been some Slovenian students in my class. I got interested in Slovenia because it is a small, mountainous country and has good connections to other countries around it.

- Studying in Slovenia was very different: even if the university was big, our faculty was small. There were more than 1000 exchange students but our faculty has only 16 of us. We read a lot of articles, wrote essays and met personally with the teachers or professors. Each subject also had an oral exam: 2-3 students, 2-3 hours, and a teacher who asked questions. At first I was scared but the teacher asked more questions, and eventually it was easier than a written exam.
Social Services Deparment at the University of Ljubljana
- In March-May, I also did a training in a homeless shelter. It was nice to work in my own field and meet local people, too, Some 30-50 homeless people visited the shelter daily. Our job was to listen and discuss with them. The language was a bit of a challenge: about half of the homeless spoke English. The homeless bought a magazine from the shelter for 0,50€ and sold it on the streets for 1€. That was an important source of income to them.

- The training was tough. I hadn't done any training before but I wanted to challenge myself. It was good to combine the studies and the training - the training alone would have been too tough.

The national poet of Slovenia is France Prešeren. His statue is in Ljubljana.
The exchange students made a trip to the Skocjan Caves
The dragon is the icon of Ljubljana
- Everyone should go for an exchange - especially when TAMK supports it financially! When you are working it is not so easy any more to go abroad.

- My exchange was great: it gives you so much, you meet new people from all over the world. I also saw how social services work in another country - I have learnt to appreciate what we have here in Finland.

Downhill skiing in Krvavec ski centre in Slovenia
A great example of a student exchange

TAMK International Services used the following reasons for selecting Sanna for the best student exchange:

"Sanna has utilised the Erasmus programme to become more international: she took part in the Slovenian language Erasmus Intensive Language Course (EILC) in January 2012. She also prepared actively for her studies and training in Social Services. Sanna completed all studies planned - even 7 credits extra.

Sanna communicated and arranged well her exchange both at TAMK and in Slovenia. She followed instructions given and filled in all required documents in time.

Sanna's exchange report was informative, concentrating on the similarities and differences of Finnish universities and social services.

Sanna has been a perfect example of an Erasmus exchange student!"

Text: Mirja Onduso & Piri Hiltunen, International Services
Photos: Sanna Vierikko & Mirja Onduso

Monday, 26 November 2012

Intensive course in Tanzania 22.10.-1.11.2012

Advertisement of the course in the University of Saint August

Intensive course in Mwanza, Tanzania was full of experiences which broadened our world view and provided food for thought. North - South- South Code-Net is a Project funded by Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Its goal is to increase collaboration, understanding and possibilities to collective learning both between North and South and South and South. Partners in cooperation are University of KwaZulu Natal from South-Africa, St. Augustine University from Tanzania, Catholic University and Ministry of Women and Social Affairs from Mozambique, University of Tampere and Tampere University of Applied Sciences. Altogether 17 students and 8 teachers participated in the course. Those two weeks we spent in Mwanza included interesting lectures, great new acquaintances, field visits and an opportunity to explore the incredible nature of Tanzania.

View from University's library
During the course we got a reminder that even though our cultures and societies in different parts of the world are different, our basic needs and values, the things that really matter deep down, are very similar. In social work and in life in general, giving hope to another person is an important force which sustains life and carries you against all odds. Despite where we are, we need other people to feel we are important. Without diminishing science, theories and research, people in need require basic things and someone to be there for him or her, the feeling someone really cares.

Problems in society should be seen as everyone’s own problem. We all as professionals in social services and as individuals have a possibility and also obligation to try to influence sociological issues. From what we heard on the course, we got the feeling that in social work in Africa you can see a strong effort to influencing sociological issues. In their work the importance of informing, education and participation stands out. 

Art from Kuleana's restaurant
Work is done with and in communities and families. Information is needed in changing the myths and beliefs. A prerequisite for changes in society are cooperation between officials and policy-makers, and structures and laws which support the change are needed.  An important task for social workers is to give information of social problems to authorities and try to increase citizens’ participation. On the course we were challenged to think of our own roles as activists in social work and influencing society. Do we take a stand on the social evils we see and do we try to influence those?

Art at Kivulini

One of the biggest subjects of the course was family and its cultural differences. Even though we knew that family and relatives are important in Africa, it surprised us how the family is involved almost everywhere. Extended family is a basic necessity and all the sectors of life are connected to it. Without knowing the subject better, we easily start to idealize family-centeredness compared to western individualism. Families’ and communities’ secure and primary aim in social work is to strengthen their own possibilities and strengths. Anyway the reality in Tanzania is that 50 % of women experience abuse and violence in the families, and 60 % of them think it is acceptable. Women have only rarely an economical and mental possibility to leave an unsatisfactory relationship. Violence and abuse are also explained by cultural issues. Several humanitarian organizations strive to affect these situations by increasing people’s knowledge of violence, human rights and manipulation. When people get more appropriate information they can question the prevailing practices, and change is possible. Alongside children’s education women’s education is considered very important, because women are central persons in raising the children and teaching life values.

Aids is a huge problem in Tanzania
The host university has 13 000 students, but there is no training program of social work. That is why some of the student colleagues were sociologists. In Tanzania the education of social work is newly developing. The only university in Tanzania where social work is taught is in the capital city Dar es Salaam. In Mwanza social work field has many kinds of workers, whose educational background is different, and there are lots of voluntary workers too. In Tanzania almost anyone who considers themselves a social worker can call themselves a social worker. People who have higher education in social work are rarely working near the clients. Hiring highly educated social workers, psychologists and therapists is very expensive and the organizations which have external funding cannot afford   highly educated personnel.

Visiting help organization for disabled people
The course made us to think of the relevance of development aid. Is current aid effective, is it aimed and used right? What kind of help would really be effective? In Tanzania development aid is considered to be important, but there are also problems involved in it. Many factors of social services depend on foreign funding. Funding comes from many different sources and coordination and communication between these sources is inadequate.

Making the services sustainable requires political will, decision making, and legislation, which support social work. Work should always be done locally. The old phrase: “Carried water does not remain in the well” is true in this case too. If we want to make a lasting change, we have to focus on the local needs. We need to go to the people, families and communities and ask what they really want and need?
Many of the problems which came up during our trip felt big and insurmountable. From time to time, the extent of the problem made us feel desperate and powerless. After all our image of Tanzania, Tanzanians and their way of life is very positive and warm. In the middle of trash and misery we saw lots of beauty, good will and hope. We were treated openly and always with happiness. The national park of Serengeti offered us a unique experience. We had a chance to witness the great migration of thousands of animals through the savannas and we saw also languid lions and other animals in the expansive nature.

Take a step backwards and ask yourself: why do I know what I know, why do I believe what I believe?

Dance in the farewell party

With warm and excited greetings,
Outi Pohja, Katriina Turku and Hanna Korppila-Hiltunen

More information of the places we visited:
Street children organization Kuleana:
Women’s rights organization Kivulini: