As an adult learner, the asylum seeker needs training to support his or her life management skills. Finnish adult educators therefore face the challenge of learning new teaching methods and practices.
Refugees and asylum seekers together constitute a group that often gets left out of national and EU co-financed development projects. The Finnish Becoming More Visible (BMV) project in the period 2005-2007 targeted this important group at just the right time, as the European Union´s policy on refugees and asylum seekers is being harmonised.
The project, which was financed by the European Social Fund (Equal), evolved a model where those involved in adult education and training and asylum seeker reception centres can work effectively together. The aim was to raise asylum seekers´ quality of life and increase opportunities for employment in Finland and their home countries. That is important because the time needed to process an application for asylum can be as long as a year.
The project also focused on improving the professional skills of reception centre and adult education staff and keeping employers and policy decision-makers informed.
Using the learner´s own strengths
For many asylum seekers being educated or trained as an adult has been a whole new way of thinking. That was certainly the case for Cheraghali Mohammad, who is from Afghanistan and who worked on a farm back in his native country. Having fled the troubles there he settled for a while in the neighbouring country of Iran, where he made a living in the building industry.
He first used a computer on an internet users´ course organised by the BMV project at Tampere Adult Education Centre. The Farsi-speaking instructor taught the 26 year old Cheraghali the basics of using a computer. When he was introduced to image processing it was obvious he had a talent for it. Now he wants to study oil painting.
New lessons for the teachers
The project attached special importance to the development of teaching methods. This special group is a challenge for even an experienced trainer, however. Kristiina Teiss, who was responsible for the Women´s Life Management Skills group at Tampere Adult Education Centre, was suddenly made aware of just how important the study group was.
"I had to become sensitive to the real needs of the women asylum seekers. The fact that they went from the reception centres to get involved in other activities was self-empowering for them. The contacts the women made between themselves became stronger, and that created opportunities for peer support," she explains.
Functional methods were used to practise life management skills. Special attention was paid to the women´s own skills and expertise. The teachers at the Adult Education Centre led tailor-made workshops in such fields as make-up and drama.
The group would discuss issues as diverse as their own childhood memories and the position of women in the Finnish society. The course included visits to places it would be useful for them to know about and where asylum seekers could be made visible and their views heard.
"The groups helped me to realise what the Adult Education Centre can offer new arrivals. It cannot be taken for granted that even someone who has lived in Finland for some time will pluck up the courage to join a Finnish group. Life management is a lot more than just picking up the Finnish language quickly," says Teiss.
A lot of study material
The BMV project was part of the Asylum Seekers´Active Partnership network operating in six European countries. The project, which in Finland was judged a success, resulted in a lot of material being produced to support asylum seekers and those who work with them.
But the material is also very suitable for other forms of immigration work. The series of publications entitled Empowerment is a collection of best practices, suggestions and tools to get asylum seekers involved, to motivate them and to empower them in educational and training courses, the reception centres and in the context of NGOs.
The English-language publication Empowering Asylum Seekers - Developing Good Practice describes the situation regarding asylum in different countries and provides basic information on the notion of self-empowerment.
Numbers of asylum seekers in Finland: 2,472 arrived in Finland in 2006. Just 17.4% were allowed to stay in the end. (Source: The Refugee Advice Centre)
The BMV- Project is a partner in the ASAP - Asylum Seekers´ Active Partnership, with ATLAS from Scotland, INTEGRA 2004 from Italy, IN CORPORE from Lithuania, InPower from Austria and MUR from Poland.