Yes, we’re putting labels on people. A while ago I went to hear a Somalian woman speak about integration. In Norway, the immigrants are labeled as walkers if I translate from Norwegian. Now this woman states what is so true, that we all are walkers through life regardless of our background. Life is a journey with only one end stop…!
I am laughing when this woman talks about integration because when I was young the word integration was used about disabled people like myself. Integration was to get people out of the institution and into ordinary society as they named it. For children, this was going to a public school where your family lived, for grown-ups, it was getting their own apartments or house. Now all this sounds so good, doesn’t it? I have heard people saying life outside the institutions was scary because of all of a sudden they had to organize life themselves. Help was no longer given in the scale they were used to and they never were prepared to live out in the ordinary society. People with cerebral palsy like myself could get a stay at a training center for independent living, that is very good, but life on their own still came as a shock to many.
I was one of the children chosen to be integrated by moving me away from special school at the cp institution. I was too clever for them I was told. Happy to go to the same school as my sibling I was looking forward to this, and I was also told that my fellow pupils would get some information about me before I came to the class. I learned later that this never happened. I wonder if that was one reason for me always being bullied at school, it was my walking and my speech they always made a comment on, and the boys were the worst! This made me a shy child. I learned much more at my local school and I remember I loved learning. But did this make me integrated? I was always the weird girl in class and never really one of them.
In my grown-up age I am one of them together with my friends, but will always be seen as the disabled woman before the smiling outgoing person I now am.
I can draw my experience to so many groups in Norway today. Immigrants especially. Refugees are lucky to get an introduction program to Norwegian living and language, but not everybody can make use of this because some who comes cannot read or write, women especially sometimes experience that they fall out of the programme because in today’s society people don’t think that there are some who cannot read or write. I have learned through my travels to Africa that if you exchange phone number with a friend you need to ask them if they can read and write to know if you can text them or send voice messages! People coming to the reception centers for refugees centers have to find out on their own how the Norwegian society works because they haven’t the right to take part in the introduction program before they are granted a residence permit.
So when people have taken part of the introduction program, are they integrated when the programe ends for them?
This amazing Somalian woman said one man told her if she climbed the mountain Besseggen she would be an integrated person! I laughed because I climbed the Pulpit rock when I could walk better than now! Was I integrated by doing that?
I can draw this line to people having mental or physical challenges and therefore need a training programme to be prepared for work. This program can last for 4 years depending on how well the participant develop when on the job training programme. My daughter is on one of these programmes because she has Attention deficit disorder and OCD. The school never worked for her, and she hasn’t fully completed senior high school. That means she hasn’t any graduation papers, and the way society is no papers means it’s very difficult to find work. Now, these training programmes are supposed to help people like my daughter to get work they can do in a satisfying way. What if my daughter didn’t have a diagnose? Having these diagnoses puts her in a box of people. Is she fully prepared for work after the 4 years on the job training programme? She will still have the same challenges. If these 4 years doesn’t lead to a job that is right for her what then? I, of course, hope she finds a way to cope with work so she doesn’t end up sitting at home feeling different and dismissed. It’s great to see her happy after 2 years trying to get work the traditional way.
We all want to contribute to society. We all belong to society one way or the other. We all walk through life whether we are immigrants, disabled or have other challenges. Our way is often determined by ideas of a standard human being with a job and a family. Since when were humans so equal that our lives fitted a specific standard?? In Gambia, I have yet not seen one woman wearing the same dress ( wedding reception not counted) The uniqueness and variety of African dresses can represent how different we people are. We are what we are, I bought a dress in Gambia that was me. No matter how often I wear the dress I will never be African because of the color of my skin. Integration is acceptance of who we are, not only by the ones around us, but definitely by ourselves.
Accept I don’t walk land talk like others because of my cerebral palsy, Accept you need a job adjusted for you, Accept your brown skin tells everyone that you are born in another country, If I accept I am different, that I am me, I believe it’s easier for the people around us to accept us as who we are, how we look like, what we do for a living. I find it exciting that everyone is unique and different.