If you cannot speak the language, nobody believes you have the skills

Registered nurse Nezal Mohammad Majid

Nurse Nezal Mohammad Majid was used to working in a war zone in northern Iraq, removing bullets and stitching wounds. But she was puzzled by what went on in a Finnish health care centre. It was all very strange, and she had to start to learn the profession all over again. The first thing to do was to learn Finnish.

Nezal Mohammad Majid, a Kurd who moved to Finland as a political refugee, learnt to take responsibility at an early age. Her parents were killed when she was just 11. She lived with her grandparents and started to take care of the sick when she was 17.

She trained, got married and worked as a nurse for 12 years.  But the profession of her husband, who was a sculptor in a small town near to Kirkuk, started to attract hostile criticism.

“The statues my husband built were destroyed, our lives were threatened, and shots were fired at our home. When we found a bomb in my husband’s studio it was obvious we could not stay in Iraq.”

Her husband fled to Iran and later to Turkey. Nezal stayed behind in Iraq with her two sons, but a couple of years later they were smuggled into Turkey. The family requested political asylum, and it was granted in Finland. When they moved here all they knew about the place was that it was one of the Nordic countries.

“I can manage independently at work. I only need help now understanding doctor referrals.”

“It was a winter morning in 2002 when we arrived at our new home town of Hanko. Our son looked out of the window and asked: ‘Mummy, has there been a war here?’ Everywhere it was empty, deserted and quiet.”

Two weeks later she started to learn the language. When the Turku University of Applied Sciences started a nursing course for immigrants, the family moved to Turku. Nezal studied evenings and weekends.

“All my days were taken up with study. Professional vocabulary, information technology, the names of drugs – everything was new. I wouldn’t have managed without my husband, who temporarily left his own job, looked after the home and let me concentrate on my studies.

Nezal’s knowledge of the language improved, the studies got easier, and there were trainee places to be had. When she graduated, she started work the next day in the Department of Internal Medicine at Turku University Hospital.

“I was afraid that the patients wouldn’t understand me, or I them. But there was no need to fear. I didn’t feel awkward at any time, and my colleagues were always ready to give me advice.”

The contact has now been temporary for 18 months. Nezal’s next goal is a permanent position. Getting a job will help ease the desperate shortage of trained nurses.

“When I get a permanent job the next dream is our own home. After that, we’ll help the children with their careers.

Text and photograph: Jukka Huusko, Jukka Vuolle and Jukka Uotila
The Ministry of Employment and the Economy

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