Harri Toikkanen-A report of my stay in ADL Zavidovici

03 Dec 2012

To begin with, I can say I was very content when I heard that the place for my stage would be ADL Zavidovici – a type of organization I had asked and hoped for in my application. And skipping right to the end, I think the internship turned out to be even more than I hoped. For an unpaid internship, the balance of learning and working – taking something and giving something back to the workplace – was optimal in my opinion. Of course, because of the limitations I had to face, I couldn't assume a position as the most important single piece in the machinery of the organization, but because of the support of my friendly colleagues I could feel more than just an observer with my own duties to complete and own responsibilities to fulfill.

The biggest of the limitations that challenged me was, of course, the language: 2 months is a short time to get used to a new language without the previous experience in it. Again, I can only thank my colleagues who understood this and made their own effort to break the language barrier. The possibility to attend Italian classes was one of the things that came to me as a positive surprise. The classes helped me in constructing my basic knowledge in the language and assured me that this would be the beginning of my process of learning Italian. Functioning in an environment of a foreign language isn't always easy: I felt the biggest feelings of frustration on the moments when I had to struggle to understand discussions on topics that interested me much. The most frustrating moment is the inevitable feeling of having to regress to a lower level, when there is a need to concentrate hard on understanding the simplest things. Somewhere in the future I see myself visiting ADL again and being able to communicate in fluent Italian with everybody.

Another limitation for working only temporarily in this type of organization is the theme of confidentiality and privacy that is heavily embedded within the work. When dealing with fragile human lives and traumatic experiences that the refugees have had to face, it is not always wise and sensible to have around an extra observer asking questions about everything. I see as one of the most important aspects of my internship meeting the refugees and asylum seekers personally, but not as the person who would begin straight away with questioning their history and background. I think that in a situation such as they are facing, they don't necessarily need more people like that around them, but rather someone who would relate to them more as a friend and another normal person. This type of approach actually gave me the most interesting and fruitful part of my stay in Italy: the discussions that I had with the people, not beginning with me asking questions, but their own initiative to tell me their stories and views on life.

In the practical side of the work, I had to ask myself: “Which of my skills could be made use of working here?”. Finally I ended up doing a wide range of task including text and photo editing, research, “library duties”, photographing, cleaning and helping with anything that anyone needed a hand with. The variety of the tasks helped me in seeing the many sides of working in ADL Zavidovici, understand better the people that the organization is working with and the information that is being processed. I think that my tutors succeeded well in handing me different tasks and they should continue the same way in the future: assessing the trainee's skills, possibilities and limitations and deciding the tasks based on that assessment.

From the beginning to the end of my internship, I saw my confidence in the work as well as my knowledge of the refugee-issues growing. Through the research that I made, I could compare the basic elements of the reception systems in different countries of Europe and place Italy on the scale in terms of asylum applications received in a year, the amount of refugees residing in the countries as well as the integration schemes implemented. This also provided me with an useful reflection to the immigration issues of my own home country: It gave me a better insight into the current public discussion, darkened with the shades of fundamentalism, that is raging on in Finland – and actually almost everywhere in Europe. This is the type of knowledge that I want to make use of in the future in my work career, which I'm hoping to go towards a work place such as ADL.

For this type of work the context for my internship was also “the best possible”, from the point of view of the urgency. Italy's close proximity to Africa and the current “Emergenza umanitaria Nord Africa” made it sure. Being on location to see the overstrained immigration system and the people who are working their backs off to keep it from falling apart completely - and taking away people's lives on it's way down – was an eye-opener. Another important close range experience was the trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina: this also came as something very unexpected and made me feel very grateful for the people of ADL. During the journey, the discussions with the local people and hearing the history of the country during and after the conflict from someone as experienced as Agostino taught me a lot. It made me more aware of what the refugees might have had to face in their countries of origin before emigrating abroad.

This is how I see ADL Zavidovici now that the internship has almost finished: It is an organization that works on a vast array of issues dealing with developmental problems and the integration and support of international protection seekers and beneficiaries, trying to help through education and cooperation – be it with local authorities and communities or the institutions of the international system. The workers of ADL have to face challenges in communication not only between the international protection seekers and beneficiaries, but also with the surrounding community, while trying to operate under limited funding in a time of crisis in immigration in Italy. Despite the constant challenges, the work environment in ADL is top-notch and the employees have a great team spirit, far better than I've experienced in any of my previous jobs.

I'd like to thank everybody from the bottom of my heart for making my stay in ADL very pleasant. I'd like to give special recognition to Maddalena and Maria who took their time in guiding me, despite the fact that they already have a heavy work load and responsibilities to fulfill. To everybody in ADL: You are dealing with issues that, in my opinion, are on the top of the importance scale. I hope that you remember that also when the communication gets difficult with the refugees and manage to keep your patience. Keep up the good work!

Where we are

Agencija lokalne demokratije
LDA Zavidovici

Omladinska 10
72220 Zavidovici, Bosna i Hercegovina
Tel/fax +387 32 877 008
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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