Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Interview with Irja Piispanen, Lutheran Priest...

I have now started my work placement in Viisari, which is a resource centre for adults with learning disability and mental health issues, in Hameenlinna, a small city one hour north of Helsinki. 
This morning I met a visiting priest, Irja Piispanen, who had come to the centre to talk with some of the service users.  I have been quite surprised at the close work of social services and the church that I have seen so far in Finland so I thought I would have a chat with Irja to find out more....
I am Irja Piispanen and I am from a small town called Nastola, near Hameenlinna.  I only work with clients with disability, both adults and children and trained to do this after my religious studies at university.

What do you do at Viisari?
When I come to Viisari I go and chat with the client and if someone wants to talk to me alone they can.  This morning I spoke to one client for over an hour about her problems so I took on a counselling role.  We can offer prayer but of course I will ask if it is ok.  Normally they will say yes.

Do you come to Viisari often?
Now I only come a few times a year.  It's not enough!  However quite a few people from here go to the church in Hameenlinna.

Is this normal for the church to work alongside social services in Finland?
Yes, it's normal.  There are priests trained up to work specifically with clients with disability.  I must find ways to meet those clients but the social workers are very open to us. 

What do you think of services for adults with disability in Finland?
Today in Finland they want to stop this kind of centre.  (Viisari is a traditional buildings based centre)  In Lahti, (a nearby city) for example they are going to stop this kind of place.  Instead they want to give activities at home or find employment.  However I feel we need these kinds of houses.  The work they are doing here is real work.  The weaving they do here is real work.  I'm not sure we can find enough work for these clients outside places like Viisari. 
IN the past there were large 'hospitals'/ institutions where adults with disability lived together and these were normally in a forest.  The clients could go outside by themselves.  Now that the clients live in cities it is difficult for them to go out alone. 
I have just been with a young man of 35 who confessed to me that when he lived in an institution he came home to his 'family.'  Now that he is living alone in a city he said that he comes home from work and no-one says hello.  He really is alone in his flat.

Do you think that foundations like Viisari will need to work more with other third sector places in the future?
Yes.  In the future in Finland we must find ways to work with other groups, we must find other methods.  It's a pity that Finland is richer than before but at the same time the money we are getting from the government to work with these people is getting lesser and lesser.

What are the current social problems in Finland?
The biggest social problems are arising from the fact that while the rich get richer, the poor are getting poorer.  It's the same all over Europe.  Even though some of the social democratics are in power there are too many of the Kokkmus (right wing) in power also.  Our government decided yesterday to make a huge healthcare reform.  RIght now each town has to take care of the sick and in the future the reform will mean this is scaled back to five districts managing healthcare in the whole of Finland. 
Today there are a lot of people who need food in Finland, instead of getting a bag of food here you get a ticket to use in the shops. 
One of the biggest problems still is alcohol abuse.  Alcohol politics - I would like to change this!

Tell me a little about females in Finnish Society...
Well in Finland it was '88 or '89 when we got the first female priests in the Lutheran church.  It's been over twenty years now and most people think it's okay.  However in the Orthodox and Catholic churches there is no talk of female priests! 
I studied religious studies alongside male priests although when I graduated I couldn't become a priest at that time.  Initially I taught religion in schools. 
Then I trained to be a priest when my children were older....My husband is a priest also so he was away from home a lot. 

However....Generally now in Finalnd we are equal with men although it's often on the news that for every euro men make in Finland, women make 80 cents.  IN the church we get the same salary. 

Here is a link to a story in the Helsinki Times on the health care reforms that Irja spoke of....

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