Sunday, 12 September 2010

Bears on the Square, Northern Lights and Giraffes on the Balcony.

It is 06.30 in the morning (04.30 if you are living in the UK). For much of this week I have been in Helsinki as part of the Nordic Mental Health Nursing Conference. I have enjoyed a long and productive relationship with colleagues living and working in Finland, and have been coming here for many years on joint projects, conferences and teaching. It always feels a little like coming home. I was here with some of my colleagues from our mental health directorate, and between us we presented 13 papers and two posters on our research and scholarly activities in the School, more of which later.

I had a chance to look around the city on the afternoon before the conference. There were two experiences that stuck in my mind. The first was sitting in the beautiful Temppeliaukio Church. This is a church whose interior was excavated and built into the rock, but is bathed in natural light entering through the glazed dome. Just sitting there in this natural light listening to soft organ music and feeling the stillness was a wonderful experience and one I will treasure for a while.

The other experience that struck a chord was coming into Senate Square and finding the world tour exhibition of the United Buddy Bears – The Art of Tolerance had arrived in Finland. The bears have been on the road since 2004, and Helsinki is their 20th stop. There are 142 individually painted bear sculptures, each just over two metres tall. Each of them represents a nation recognised by the UN and have been painted by an artist from that nation.

The United Buddy Bears project was initiated by Eva and Klaus Herlitz of Berlin. They wanted to raise thoughts about cultural diversity in the world and tolerance between peoples. That I was able to see this exhibition and become part of the work seemed important given the stories of the pastor in the US threatening to burn another religions sacred text on the anniversary of 9/11. Thankfully a more tolerant position was finally adopted, and the burning did not take place. Coincidently, I was in Finland on the day of the 9/11 attack.

Tolerance was also an unintentional theme to emerge from the collective works presented by my colleagues and me. For example, tolerance in terms of the aging process, sexuality, perceived societal risk, self harm, embracing the non professional voice in providing care, recognising the rights of young people. These presentations connected well with others who discussed developments in primary care and mental health and well being.

Indeed, two colleagues stood tall and proud with heads raised right above the parapet in presenting their work on making mental health promotion everyone’s business. Two flawless presentations cogently set out the arguments and a possible way forward in improving our educational preparation of students in this area and possibilities of working more closely with non professional organisations.

It can be difficult to present your work at such a large conference. I also received an email telling me about another colleague who had presented this week at the NET conference in Cambridge. This was the first time she had done so, and although finding the experience a little daunting was very proud to have been given the chance to present her work about mentoring at an international conference.

I was in Tallinn, Estonia yesterday, with a group of colleagues from Norway, the Faroe Islands, Ireland, Finland, and Denmark for a brief mental health nurses meeting. This city has a large and almost intact medieval quarter. It was lovely to sit outside and enjoy a peaceful moment in the early autumn afternoon sunshine before returning to Helsinki on the high speed ferry.

And those giraffes, well in the municipal building across the road from my hotel are two life size model giraffes peering down at people passing by. Like my colleagues these two giraffes have been sticking their necks out all week. Unlike the giraffes, I think my colleagues have all made a much bigger impact.