Prominent Refugees, 12 April 1967
Batulo Mohamed Essak
Batulo Mohamed Essak found herself far from her sunny Somali home, resettled as a refugee in Lapland, yet she managed to adapt her life and skills to her new situation.
The daughter of a Somali diplomat, Essak finished school in Somalia and moved to Moscow to study nursing. When war broke out in her home country, she decided to flee to Finland. Arriving by boat in 1991, Essak was housed in the Lapinjrvi refugee camp, in the southern part of the country. There she learned Finnish so as to communicate with the local community, which stood her in good stead when she was resettled in the northern town of Kemi, in Lapland.
Initially it was not easy to adapt, and the language difficulty was only part of the problem. Essak had qualified as a midwife in Moscow, but her diploma was not valid in Finland. She decided to go back to studying to acquire Finnish qualifications. She was able to re-register as a midwife in 1995. From 1995 to 1998, she worked at the Woman's Clinic in Helsinki, where she had also done her practical training.
However, when her contract ended, Essak could not find a job in her chosen profession. So she used her language skills and began working as a freelance translator for Somalis arriving in Finland, helping them apply for unemployment and other benefits.
Essak feels she was lucky to have received an education in Somalia and in Russia. This brought her to work on a long-term project in adult education for Somali women. She provides information on health education, pregnancy, childbirth, post-natal care, women's diseases and mental health. She helps Somali women integrate in the Finnish community.
Essak has also held lectures in Finland about Somali culture. She currently works full time as a translator for Vantaa Region Community Centre, but hopes to return to work as a midwife, the job she loves.