We conducted eight GLA sessions over a period of five months. In total, 47 Gårdsten residents participated in the sessions.
Reflections about the situation and desired changes
Three overarching themes were identified by Gårdsten residents: 1) pride in Gårdsten yet need for improvement; 2) adolescent and parent needs for support; and 3) the importance of communication and meeting places. Although we had specific prompts related to dental health and nutrition, these topics were not central in the discussions.
Pride in Gårdsten yet need for improvement
Gårdsten was depicted by the participants as a nice place to live in, with beautiful surroundings and nice people who care for each other. However, residents disliked how the area was portrayed in mass media. This is illustrated by a quote from one woman:
“Media describes Gårdsten as a problem area. I'm so tired of that. That's not how it is. There are, of course, a few criminals. But there are only a few.”
Even if Gårdsten mainly was described with pride by the participants they also emphasised two negative aspects. One was problems with littering and garbage disposal. The discussion was about “the other” not having knowledge and taking responsibility. Blaming other groups was an element in this discussion about littering, while most of the other reflections were built on the community as a whole. The other problem mentioned was that public services and facilities are closed down or relocated to other areas. They expressed a feeling of being abandoned by society. This was summarized as
“Everyone moves away - only we, the poor ones, are left.”
Adolescent and parent needs for support
Responses to the prompts and the subsequent discussions stressed adolescent and parent needs for support. Support to revitalize parents’ night patrols (i.e. people walking the neighbourhood to increase safety by being available and by marking the presence of adult society) and extended possibilities for children’s homework assistance were mentioned by the participants. In addition, residents emphasised the need for improved collaboration between schools and parents. Language and cultural differences were described as barriers to feeling supported in Gårdsten. Children acting as interpreters for their parents was viewed as a failure, and parents described the need for supportive interpreters who can act as liaisons with the school specifically.
“A young girl threw away all information received from the school. She was not doing well in school. It went bad. Those at school booked time with her mother. They told the mother that she did not manage school. The daughter interpreted and said: “Your daughter is good at school!” The mother smiled. They saw that she did not understand and explained that the daughter did not receive any grades. The daughter said to her mother: “She has top grades!” The mother smiled and appeared even happier. The school staff understood that something was wrong. They called for an interpreter. The mother cried and cried. Was very sad. Her daughter had been lying. You should not allow children to interpret for their parents!”
The importance of communication and meeting places
Emphasising communication as essential to health and wellbeing of their families, residents who did not have Swedish as their native language were eager to improve their Swedish skills. They wanted time and places to practice. For women with small children, it was hard to find these opportunities. Residents expressed desire for public meeting places for practicing Swedish where they could bring their children. One woman described that both parents and children need places to meet:
“We want to meet others. You can do that at a meeting place. Communicate with others. Swap ideas. Get to know different cultures. Will then be easier to integrate into the Swedish society. Easier to exchange experiences. Those who have lived longer here can share experience with others. The children also get to know the society in which they will grow up.”
In addition to emphasising the importance of learning Swedish, the difficulties of understanding information and the Swedish society in general were highlighted by participants. Residents said to achieve wellbeing they needed easily accessible information about many aspects of life in different languages. Residents also expressed the need for multiple information formats including written text, pictures, word of mouth, personal encouragement, and invitations. The need for receiving adequate information was described as a matter of safety.
“You need information in your own language so that you understand 100%. Otherwise, you only understand some. You have to understand everything that says. It will then be easier to understand systems, society, care... It is not the same here as where we come from. The communities are very different. Everything is new; medical care, healthcare centers, the Social Insurance Office. All! Communities are different. If you get the right information, you will be safer.”
Suggestions, goals and actions
Based on the priority themes, the participants set four targets of action in Gårdsten:
- To advocate for better communication,
- To present their experiences, feelings and suggestions in a public report and an exhibition,
- To start a language café,
- To arrange a clean-up day.
An overarching goal was to advocate for better and various ways of communication. In addition to the specific suggested actions below, this was a future mission for themselves and others. They wanted better communication in the neighbourhood, for example, with the housing company, among the residents in Gårdsten and in the society in general. Improved information from and access to authorities was important.
“Information in different languages is needed to be able to look for a job, social insurance, employment service, school.”
According to the wishes of the participants, the research group took responsibility for the writing of a report and the arrangement of an exhibition where communication was one of the main themes. The content of the report and the exhibition was developed together with the participants. All texts were approved by the participants and the report was summarized in Arabic and Somali. The participants identified stakeholders to receive the report and to invite to the exhibition. Stakeholders included residents, housing company, representatives of the city, the local health centre and school, politicians and local associations. The report was disseminated within Gårdsten in both printed form and electronically by residents participating in the project and by stakeholders in the municipality. The researchers disseminated the report in their networks, which included local public health officials and politicians of the city. In addition, it was available at several public places in the neighbourhood.
The purpose of the exhibition was to gather strength to be able to continue work for a language café, more communication and future changes. Places where people can meet and practice Swedish were ranked as a high priority. It was considered as an important measure in the struggle against isolation, segregation and communication barriers. One woman expressed it like this.
“A language cafe is good. There I can practice the language and get in touch with other people. Good to communicate. Good to practice Swedish. At the same time, I can use my own language. You become less isolated. Several women are isolated.”
Participants formed an action group with the goals to inquire about the requirements and to find potential collaborators for a language café in or near Gårdsten. The work of this group resulted in weekly open meetings run by some of the participants in cooperation with the Red Cross, hosted in the premises of the municipality.
The suggestion to arrange a clean-up day was not put into action. This issue was an expression of different needs from the residents (e.g., some wanted to meet and discuss with children and young people how to take care of surroundings, others hinted that certain “others” (lingual and cultural groups) were not keeping the area clean). Thus, the reason for suggesting a clean-up day was not only a matter of taking care of the environment, but also a way to meet and communicate with other people in Gårdsten. Participating residents decided to abandon the clean-up day since they learned that such clean-up days are arranged several times a year by the housing company although this was not known to all participants.
In the aftermath of the GLA sessions
After the report was disseminated in the community, additional education about health, nutrition, and dental care was requested by visitors, including not only the original participants, at the public meeting place. When this need was expressed, the research group enabled the education by connecting dieticians and dental hygienists working within public child health care services with the visitors of the public meeting place. This resulted in several meetings with information shared and discussion about healthy food and teeth. Additionally, the research group was invited to a youth recreation centre in the area to conduct similar GLA sessions. The initial response was very positive, and the participants gave some reflections individually and as a group, but we did not reach the action phase. One of the main themes for the youth was the importance of politicians knowing about the less-than-ideal situation in Gårdsten. Another was mixed feelings toward the presence and behaviour of the police in Gårdsten and other areas in the suburb. Some youth expressed that they felt safer when the police were around, while other youth described that police were rude, checking on people “just because we live here.”