“Don’t say ‘No’ when oppor­tu­ni­ties come knoc­king”

Woman smiling

Vanes­sa Phe­ka­ni came to Oulu from Malawi. She hold a bac­he­lor’s degree in public admi­ni­stra­tion and socio­lo­gy, and a mas­ter’s degree in educa­tion and glo­ba­li­sa­tion from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Oulu.


My name is Vanes­sa Hele­na Phe­ka­ni, I am from Malawi, whe­re I was born and rai­sed. I hold a bac­he­lor’s degree in public admi­ni­stra­tion and socio­lo­gy, and a mas­ter’s degree in educa­tion and glo­ba­li­sa­tion from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Oulu.

I have been living in Oulu for four years now. When I first visi­ted here in 2017, I remem­ber thin­king: ‘Wow, this reminds me of my city back home!’ I come from a small city whe­re you have easy access to eve­ryt­hing. I love the fact that, in Oulu, I can still ride my bike to work and back.

Oulu is a very peace­ful place to live and you expe­rience very litt­le ‘hust­le and bust­le’ here. Life doesn’t feel rus­hed. I can go to work, I can rest, I can have a good work–life balance here, and I real­ly apprecia­te that.


I work at the Oulun Vas­taan­ot­to­kes­kus­ten tukiyh­dis­tys ry, which in English, is the Oulu Recep­tion Cent­re Associa­tion. I work under a pro­ject cal­led Moni­nai­sil­la Poluil­la, which works with immi­grant women, hel­ping them to inte­gra­te and build their networks. We also plan and orga­ni­se acti­vi­ties and events for the women to help crea­te tho­se networks and friends­hips.

I love my job because you meet so many people and you learn so much. You get to unders­tand dif­fe­rent cul­tu­res and sha­re dif­fe­rent expe­riences, and for me, that is such a beau­ti­ful and life enric­hing thing.

Woman sitting at the sofa


Befo­re coming to Oulu, I had been wor­king as a pro­fes­sio­nal pro­ject coor­di­na­tor in Malawi, and I had been buil­ding my career. I knew that I wan­ted to con­ti­nue along the same path in Fin­land, so the first thing I did was to scout out the orga­ni­sa­tions that I wan­ted to be associa­ted with. First, I volun­tee­red my time at Vuol­le. The­re I was invol­ved in a pro­ject with the youth and young girls, and I volun­tee­red as a wor­ker at the kids’ sum­mer camps.

I then joi­ned the Save the Children orga­ni­sa­tion. Ini­tial­ly, I volun­tee­red as a ‘peer expe­rience’ educa­tor, but then I was awar­ded a small cont­ract on the same pro­ject, and I spent a year wor­king with Save the Children.

After that, I volun­tee­red at the Mul­ticul­tu­ral Cent­re Vil­la Vic­tor for one month, because they work with immi­grants. I knew that I real­ly wan­ted to work with immi­grants and to disco­ver how the city could have bet­ter pro­gram­mes to faci­li­ta­te their inte­gra­tion. From my own expe­rience, I could see that the­re was a gap in this area. Recog­ni­sing that Vil­la Vic­tor is an inte­gral orga­ni­sa­tion wor­king in that field, I felt I would be able to cont­ri­bu­te to their work.

After that, I got a job with a clea­ning com­pa­ny, and this was the first time I was inter­viewed by a Fin­nish orga­ni­sa­tion. When I star­ted the clea­ning work, it was a financial neces­si­ty, but I also apprecia­ted that I would be able prac­tice my Fin­nish. Short­ly the­reaf­ter, I was accep­ted onto the mas­ter’s pro­gram­me, and couldn’t take many shifts but is till main­tain my clea­ning work cont­ract to date. Howe­ver”, a couple of months later, I found the job that I am cur­rent­ly wor­king in.


I think my mot­to has always been: ‘Don’t say “No” when oppor­tu­ni­ties come knoc­king’. Wha­te­ver they ask, say “Yes,” because it will be an oppor­tu­ni­ty for networ­king.

One door will open other doors, and that is how I was able to mode­ra­te for the TEDx Oulu event: I was able to par­tici­pa­te in this very special event because people had seen me wor­king in dif­fe­rent spaces, as I had networ­ked a lot. Some­bo­dy refer­red me and said: ‘I think this per­son will be of great value to the TEDx pro­gram­me’. It was an amazing expe­rience to par­tici­pa­te in the TEDx Oulu 2020.

When I first arri­ved in Oulu, the­re were many acti­vi­ties whe­re inter­na­tio­nals could meet. I made my way to all of them, and even when I was exhaus­ted, I would make the time. I would go even when I didn’t speak the lan­gua­ge, because each expe­rience would add value and pers­pec­ti­ve on how I could go about job hun­ting, or wha­te­ver else it was that I nee­ded to do. I would advi­se all immi­grants to join the­se events. Put your­self out the­re, and if you want to go ahead and orga­ni­se somet­hing, just do it.


The Africa cul­tu­ral day was an event a friend of mine sug­ges­ted, her name is Oju­la­pe Akinwu­mi. When she told me about her idea, I knew it would be great. I was the MC for the event, which was held in Oulu. Our big head­li­ner was a band cal­led Group Cala­bas­se; they are huge here, and they made the day real­ly amazing.

We also had dif­fe­rent ven­dors of African descent or people who have con­nec­tions to Africa. We had a beau­ty and fas­hion col­lec­tion; we had a lady who sup­ports an orp­ha­na­ge in Africa; and the­re were res­tau­rants and indi­vi­duals who sold African food. We also had DJs who played Afro pop music, and we had a fas­hion show. We had people sha­ring their own expe­riences of Africa and how they’­ve inte­gra­ted into the com­mu­ni­ty here. We also had a tri­via quiz run­ning throug­hout the day: we gave people a chance to sha­re their know­led­ge about Africa, and the­re were prizes to win.

On the day, when we saw how the event trans­pi­red, we rea­li­sed just how impor­tant it was. It was huge to be able to sha­re our cul­tu­re, not just for our­sel­ves, but for our children, for the Finns who live here, and for the other people who live here and who know not­hing about our dif­fe­rent count­ries and our cul­tu­res. This was the first of its kind in Oulu, and we hope it will be a recur­ring event. We hope to get sup­port from the city or from other orga­ni­sa­tions that work with mul­ticul­tu­ral com­mu­ni­ties.

I would say that I am very con­nec­ted to the African socie­ty here. We try as much as pos­sible to con­nect with one anot­her, to meet up and to hold events toget­her. It’s a group effort by a col­lec­ti­ve in rela­tion to the city of Oulu itself. I think the­re’s still a lot of work to be done, and the­re is a lot of space for growth. I think that many mul­ticul­tu­ral people should start to step up and say they want to crea­te their own spaces, because the­re is room for this in Oulu.

I would say to any­bo­dy who moves here: Be open min­ded. Make a plan. What do you want to do?

A good thing about Fin­land is that the sys­tem works. If you put your mind to somet­hing that you real­ly want to do, the sys­tem can work for you. Be open to new expe­riences and be open to chan­ge. Be wil­ling to pivot and grow. Be wil­ling to redisco­ver your­self and rein­vent your­self: it’s never too late to start again! Fin­land is a beau­ti­ful count­ry. Once you get used to the weat­her and the lan­gua­ge, it beco­mes home!

This article was ori­gi­nal­ly publis­hed at oulutalenthub.fi

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