Coming to Finland was always about education. I was born in Angola, but we were forced to flee because of war when I was four. My parents from then on jumped between Portugal, South Africa and Mozambique. These are my countries. Along the way, growing up and studying between these three countries I ‘paid’ the price of cultural unfairness. When I changed countries I had to go back a year to get official recognition. I lost two years in total and this set off my huge passion for education. The problem for me after this was that the other students would always be younger than me, which makes a huge difference when you hit your teens.
All my life I had heard about Nordic education, but I was always too South in the world. I didn’t know anyone from the North and I never thought I would one day end up in Finland – besides natural curiosity and desire. Eventually I moved to Finland one year ago, when I was 47 and my daughter 11.
“My parents jumped between Portugal, South Africa and Mozambique. These are my countries.”
Before I ended up in Finland I lived in Portugal working and studying at night. But then the opportunity presented itself to go back to Mozambique, where I spent 14 years founding and running my own design and communications company. In Mozambique I helped an an American and Canadian lady design a cultural magazine. It was a changing point for me and over the subsequent years it went from a newsletter to a high-quality colour magazine about the best of Mozambique, which laid the grounds for a TV programme. The programme ran on a daily basis and eventually I was going into schools on a communication programme centered on the importance of reading.
I divorced when I was 38 and ended up a single mom. My daughter and I ended up going back to Portugal. In Mozambique I had to do my best, my very best to input as much as possible to education in Mozambique, where everything was needed from walls to teachers, books to programmes. There was just so much to do and I did everything from pro-bono to full-blown programmes with the government. I felt like the education kept being an unfinished work for me. I had invested everything I had in Mozambique when my own child was born and a new investment had to be made.
“All my life I had heard about Nordic education, but I was always too South in the world. I didn’t know anyone from the North and I never thought I would one day end up in Finland.”
My daughter is everything for me. I had a risky pregnancy and I decided to breastfeed as much as possible. At the time, my gynecologist in Mozambique told me straightforward in privacy, “Marta, time to choose which baby you really want to keep.” That was the very first time I really cried and I understood that from then onwards my life would be defined by my daughter. In 2008 I landed in Portugal with a 2-year-old still in nappies and I’d just ended breastfeeding. Portugal was entering a very deep economical crash and I had a well-paid job for one year. The next 8 years were pure nightmare not getting a job that would pay me more than €500 per month. But I insisted in my child’s education and persevered up to the end of her 4th year.
By that time a friend of mine was going back to Finland, her home, and I proceeded to organise our coming to Finland. That is when this all began and I knew that Finland would become my child’s home. Consequently, mine.
After months of preparation we finally arrived in Turku with a project that for many reasons did not pull through and I saw myself going to Helsinki to fight to stay. My desperation was so big that I did not manage to put my child in school. Eventually I went knocking on a social worker’s door in Espoo to help me put my child in school and she actually told me, “Go back to Portugal and if you don’t I will file a complaint on you, because we will have a child in Finland not going to school.”
“My daughter has integrated well and she is being educated in Finland. And that is a longtime dream I had. We have to fight for our dreams right?”
Our first AirBnb resulted in us finding the help that we so anxiously needed and I got my child into school finally. It was the very first step. After that we stayed in nine apartments. My child’s birthday last March was a day where she was accepted in school and yet another roof change.
For myself I tried to get a job and I was knocking on every single door to get a job. After no success a friend helped me out and told me that a company would open vacancies for work in the summer. I applied and begged that my CV would not be a problem – and it was not, because I got the job. I also landed a second job.
We came to Finland for the sole purpose of education, and education is what will help this whole process pull through. My daughter has almost completed a year in school, she has learned the language and English too. I still have to go through this process and will in time.
My daughter has integrated well and she is being educated in Finland. And that is a longtime dream I had. We have to fight for our dreams right? For me Finland is all about resistance, survival, sisu, persistence and consistency. I’m good with that!
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