New JHL member Milla Heino got help when she was a teenager, and now she herself is helping young people – These are the words that every young rainbow person deserves to hear

“Welcome as a member of JHL!”

Original article written in Finnish by Samuli Launonen Photos: Janica Karasti Reading time: 3 mins

When Milla Heino Worked at a kiosk in a small town, young people were hanging around there without support and without anything to do. Heino then understood what she wants to do with her life. Motiivi magazine’s series of articles about new members continues.

This time in our series of articles, we get acquainted with Milla Heino (23) who lives in Oulu. Heino is studying to become a social pedagogue at Oulu University of Applied Sciences. In addition, she supports rainbow people as an employee of Seta in Oulu (Seta = a Finnish LGBTI rights organisation).

Heino has lived in a total of six localities. The twists and turns of her childhood and youth made her sensitive to helping other people. Now she is helping rainbow youth in particular to find their place in the world.

Heino sat for a coffee with Motiivi magazine in the centre of Oulu on a Thursday evening in spring.

After graduation, Milla Heino wants to work with families or within child protection. She would want to have children of her own one day, too.

How has your day been like so far?

– In the morning I went for a long walk with my dog Luna. After that, I sent a couple of messages to Seta’s support persons in Oulu. Then I had an internship interview, I hope I’ll get a place for internship! Next I had a lecture – I was going to go to my school but ended up going home and attending the lecture over Zoom. Tomorrow I’ll have time to work on my final project and reply to messages sent to Seta.

You’ve lived in six localities. What has led you to those places?

– I was born in Huittinen, and from there I moved to Sastamala with my mum when I was 10. My childhood family includes my dad, mum and a little brother who’s two years younger. My parents broke up when I was 8, and in secondary school I mostly lived with my mum.

I moved away from home at 15 when I went to study at an equestrian upper secondary school in Ruovesi. I spent three years there. I came to Oulu two years ago to study social pedagogy. Nowadays my mum lives in Turku, my little brother in Tampere and my dad in Huittinen with his own family. My family is now in Oulu: I have a partner and a dog.

And Oulu is close to your heart?

– I’ve fallen so hard for Oulu I’m not sure I ever wanna leave! The people here are easy-going and warm. They talk to each other and care about each other. Oulu has a lot of parks and nature, even in city centre. I like the sea, and it’s easy to go admire the view in Pikisaari Island.

Customers occasionally have bigger challenges than what Seta’s non-governmental organisation services in Oulu can cope with. That’s when it’s good to know about other social networks and services, too.

For one year, you’ve been working for Seta in Oulu as the only paid employee. How did you end up there?

– I was an intern at a youth centre and carried out online youth work on Instagram. There I noticed that Seta’s member organisation in Oulu is looking for an employee. I was like “Oh gee, I wonder if I should apply, that sounds like something I wanna learn about, and I already know something about it, too!” It fit in well with my studies at this moment. The work is all remote because Seta hasn’t had an office in Oulu since the coronavirus pandemic.

Why is it important for you to support young people?

– My sense of justice drove me to the social sector. I can’t even lie all that well! The values I was taught at home were that you have to be honest, and that people aren’t bad.

In my opinion, people must be equal, and everyone deserves the same rights. I don’t get discrimination and oppressing minorities.

It’s easy for me to understand young people. When I was young, I rebelled a lot too, especially towards mum and dad. I moved away from home and became independent when I was really young.

What are your tips for encountering a young person?

– Young people may speak in an unpleasant, biting tone and seek attention in a different way than, say, children. And yet, they’re longing for a warm encounter. They’re really sensitive, and people aren’t always able to encounter them in the right way. Being young is a difficult stage also for adults and other grown-ups, but rebellion is a part of it.

My advice is to be yourself and to not be intimidated by a young person. Understand the person and remember how you were like when you were young. Everyone’s youth years are different, but everyone knows how it’s like to be young and to look for your identity and place in the world. It’s a sensitive time. Easy-going jokes may help, and kindness is key!

Heino sometimes works on her final project in a café, too.

When did you realise that you want to work with young people?

– In my early youth, I was a young church volunteer on confirmation camps. In upper secondary school I was a bit lost, but I knew I wanted to do some kind of people-related work. I reflected how I got along well with young people already on the confirmation camps and understood them. Furthermore, I had a desire to make a change because of my own family problems. I wanted to be a better social sector employee than the ones I came across back then.

Later, I worked at a small-town kiosk for a couple of gap years. The town youth centre wasn’t great, and young people were spending time in the kiosk. Occasionally I had to ask them to get out, but I wouldn’t have wanted to do that. I knew that they would then be outside, freezing and doing something stupid.

Elderly people on the other hand would come to waste their pension money on gambling machines, and it felt wrong to sell them gambling games. It felt like I can listen to them and help them. I then got the feeling that I want to work in the social sector.

What kinds of encounters did you have with social sector professionals when you were young?

– I didn’t have an easy childhood. I dealt with professionals because of my family, although I wasn’t re-placed or anything like that. In upper secondary school I had all kinds of life experiences, and I dealt with the school welfare officer, a social worker and even a psychologist.

The encounters differed from each other depending on the situation and professional in question. As a rule, the professionals encountered me gently when I was a child and young person. Regardless, I sometimes got the sense that I wasn’t being listened to, or that my perspective wasn’t appreciated or understood.

Working for Seta’s member organisation in Oulu also helps Milla Heino with her final project, the subject of which has to do with rainbow youth.

How much of yourself and your own experiences do you bring to youth work?

– With young people you have to put your personality on the line, and defining a border is a challenge when building trust and acting in the role of a professional. I’ve practiced it during my internships at youth centres and in youth services. You have to think about it when constructing your professional identity.

Young people don’t trust you unless you give something of yourself. It’s up to the employee to decide what one wants to share. I always tell them something, but nothing too personal.

It takes time to build trust. Some young people trust me right away, for others it takes a couple of weeks. The purpose is to support a young person instead of crossing an ethical border and starting to care for me. If a young person is feeling hopeless and alone with whatever is bothering them, I can tell them they’re not alone, I’ve been through this as well.

I encounter young people by e-mail at Seta. In my remote work encounters, I aim for a gentle, accepting manner.

How are rainbow youth doing?

– Rainbow youth need more understanding. Even school survey statistics show they are in danger of marginalisation. There’s a high risk of depression and suicide. In youth services I had the chance to follow outreach youth work activities. I met many young rainbow people there, too.

My final project has to do with encountering rainbow youth. Everyone should meet people as people. Homophobia and minority phobia in general are deep in our society. Some people don’t think about the words they use about other people. Rainbow youth feel very distressed because of the offensive language that’s used about them. There’s a shocking amount of minority stress.

You’re not alone. There are other rainbow people than you and me out there.

It would help rainbow youth if even social workers were able to encounter them. However, also the employees of schools and day care centres should have competence. There should also be competence in child and youth centred services in general. Most professionals know how to encounter rainbow youth, but there’s always room for improvement. I myself make mistakes too, I’m sure of it.

More knowledge and information are needed about equality. That’s when society’s attitude, too, would change and the default attitudes towards rainbow youth would not be disparaging. Of course, rainbow people now have more room than in the past. I myself am young, too – young enough that I haven’t witnessed how it was like in earlier years. It must have been horrible to be a rainbow person.

What would you like to say to a young rainbow person?

– You’ve already come this far. That’s what you should remember, regardless of what it is you’re struggling with. Whatever the future brings, you can get through it because some experiences have brought you to this point. You already have the strength to survive and thrive. Thank yourself and be proud of the fact that you’ve already come this far.

Although rainbow people have a very small amount of room in this world, the amount is constantly getting bigger. Never mind which feature of yours it is that doesn’t fit the norm (sexual orientation, gender or something else), don’t hesitate to be yourself, even if it’s terrible. Don’t lose yourself because of the rest of society. You’re not alone. There are other rainbow people than you and me out there.

Milla Heino is worried about the gang phenomenon. – Mental health services are overflowing with patients. How badly wrong do things have to go before people will do something that actually helps young people?

Friends from school encouraged to join the union

Welcome as a member of JHL! How did you become a member?

– Before I started my studies, I worked in commerce and was a member of another union. As a student of social pedagogy, I wanted to join a union that supports and safeguards my own sector.

My friends from school joined JHL and they got me inspired, too. For me, the most important reason to belong to the union is security in working life.

What requests do you have for your trade union?

– There’s already a lot of information, but the information could be more easily approachable. The approach could be more simple.

Young people have grown up in a social media society, and they need everything to be simply listed and easily available.

What’s great is that JHL seems to offer a lot of courses and community activities for young people.

Read the previous articles in the series about new members:

”When there’s life, there’s hope” – New JHL member Ruth Lutete explains how she integrated in Finland after initial difficulties

Star of the Olympics and African champion – JHL’s new member Ayisat Yusuf-Aromire rose to the top of football, although she wasn’t allowed to play the sport