Lama Kourdi and Aladdin Delli: Refugee woman and man of the year 2022

On working hard, emerging cultures, and growing together as a society.

Having the honour and privilege of meeting someone like Lama Kourdi or Aladdin Delli, who were named Refugee Woman and Man of 2022, is not a typical day: and yet, we do not realise how often it actually occurs. While there is no doubt that they are an example of extraordinary feat and perseverance, they are nevertheless people that now form part of the landscape in Tampere. We are lucky and better off with them in our society.

Aladdin, originally from Syria first went to Russia in 2016 for eye surgery that unfortunately failed, and he went blind. At the same time, his hearing level decreased. Life was difficult in Russia where he worked at a factory for two years and without receiving any assistance.

Arriving to Finland in 2019, the main thing he noticed was the safety that surrounded him. When he lived in Russia, he did not feel safe, while in Finland, he explains with an upbeat voice that “Finns are also very nice and friendly and helpful” and “here you can just say your opinion calmly and safely.”

Lama on the other hand, first came to Finland through Turkey with her husband and their son in November 2015. She came as an asylum seeker. Also hailing from Syria, as a foreigner in a different country you try and find any similarities you can grasp on. Taking off one’s shoes when entering a home, the amount of coffee Finns drink reminded her of Damascus. “I’ve been looking for something small that feels like hey we’re the same here,” She explains something we as foreigners try to find; connection and understanding.

The advice someone receives at the beginning of a new life is important and not many can understand how much it can influence someone. A kind word alongside information can make all the difference and impact a person’s life.

That is why they stress the importance of services existing such as Mainio, “It would be good if everywhere was the same,” Lama points out, “Mainio has employees in different languages all the time, it helps a lot.” She explains, “that when I was at the reception centre, I had a lot of questions on my mind because there weren’t many answers online at the time, even in English, and there were no services to really help immigrants.”

Aladdin, once a customer of Mainio, continues explaining how Yasser Rahman, Mainio’s Arabic language counsellor, helped him and gave him the tools and the support he needed. While others did not fully understand him, saw his lack of hearing and visibility as a hindrance, Yasser did understand and pointed him in the right direction.

Mainio, are the warm welcoming faces that help people until they can fend for themselves. Today, Lama, helps other women from a similar background, learn about the Finnish culture and the services available. She organises professional guests to come in, speaks to the women in her club and wants to continue to break the barriers of prejudice, misconceptions, and misinformation. She also wants to be a better role model for her children.

She remembers her own situation of how when she arrived, her child was four years old and for a whole year they were to stay in a single room 24 hours. No child friendly space was available. No proper health care. Without citizen rights, there was not much available to you. All she wished was that she could learn Finnish and get to know Finnish life better, but it was not possible during that time.

Lama and Aladdin visiting Mainio at the International House Tampere. Picture by: Akseli Leppälä

Lama has a Bachelor of Philosophy, is studying for a Bachelor’s in Social Services, works as a language and cultural assistant in early childhood education services. She is also, a mother of three.

Aladdin is a trained physiotherapist and speech therapist. Everyone seemed genuinely surprised that he wanted to learn Finnish immediately and find work. “People thought that my main wish was that I would get Finnish citizenship. And I disagreed. Yes, Finnish citizenship is a nice thing, true, but my main goal in life is that I work.”

Today, Aladdin, dreams of working and dreams of getting into the University of Applied Sciences in Tampere to study Social Services. He studies every day and everything in advance. He also expresses his gratitude that he has helping hands, and a great aiding keyboard which he shows us proudly with huge smile. He also volunteers in Suurella Sydämellä, a network dedicated to help with Finnish integration and wants to continue helping others through his many skills and speech videos.

However, not all dreams come true immediately.

For employers and foreign employees, there is a lot of mistrust from both sides they both explain and there are a lot of skills being lost in the background where full language proficiency is not always needed. To improve this situation, every side must do their part; it is not one dimensional. Foreigners need support from services such as Mainio, help by being given an opportunity to work, language courses aimed at employment and maybe that way employers can learn to understand foreigners better.

Aladdin also rejects the idea of creating an all-foreigners company. He continues explaining that the solution is not creating walls but breaking them down.

It is only with mutual trust and respect that society can move forward.

While both Lama and Aladdin talk about overcoming these obstacles in their paths, they mention how faith and their religion play a huge role in their lives. However, not in the way many would assume.

Lama spent one year waiting for her life to begin at the refugee centre, waiting for what would come, “It was the worst experience of my entire life.” She adds. “It’s really important that you do something. We believe that when your life ends, we will be asked what you have done with your life. But when you just sit and wait, what is the meaning of life for you?”

Aladdin agrees and mentions about his time in Syria, “I was really happy when I put my head on the pillow and I remembered what I did today. That’s why I also studied today, when I go to bed, I remember what I studied in the morning, and it helps me sleep.”

Their words and meaning are a beautiful way to honour their religion and faith.

Both Lama and Aladdin are two amazing individuals with stories that have only begun to be written. They are both talented, qualified, and skilful people that want to contribute and work hard to become part of the Finnish society.  With a little more kindness and open mindedness, we will hopefully be able to look beyond the stereotypes and prejudice and realise that many of the international people we have just passed by on the street, they each have their own journey, their own struggles and try very hard every day to fit in. There is more than meets the eye.

It was an honour and a delight having them come to Mainio at International House Tampere and to end with words of hope for other internationals, from Aladdin:

“Don’t listen to what people are saying to you. Wait and study diligently and patiently, because without knowledge of the Finnish language, nothing can be done in Finland.”

And lastly, from Lama: “Tampere is a beautiful city and there are many opportunities and needs for employees here. Do your best, everyone has their own time, and your time will come, but do your best.”

If you would like information and advice about living, working, and studying in the Tampere region in 14 different languages, then please get in touch with Multilingual Info Mainio at International House.