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A Norwegian NAV course seen through Latin American eyes

A Norwegian NAV course seen through Latin American eyes

| Text: Flor Santamaria Mujica

I remember the day the Norwegian Labor and Welfare Administration, (NAV), sent me that letter answering about a non-economic help I have applied weeks before, I needed to speak with a counsellor. I said I was a journalist and that I wished to find a job which would match fields of my competence, so I wanted to speak with someone.

I was happy to receive at last communication from NAV but not for long. To my disappointment, the answer was “we have studied your case and we concluded that you can find yourself a job. You are educated and you can speak Norwegian. You do not need our help. Good luck ahead.”

I got so sad, trapped in a hopeless situation as I was more than six months unemployed and not receiving the daily support because my past jobs were small and of various branches. “We can’t help you.”  

Why not? I wondered. I am not even asking for money. You cannot help because I have an education and speak the language? Is that a crime? I felt discriminated for my knowledge. 

I am a journalist, I had a top career in my hometown, Venezuela, I married a Norwegian and ended up in Oslo. My professional background never impeded me to try new sources of income or to get integrated and learn the ways of the Nordics. When I received the “We can’t help you” answer, it felt like an institutional rejection.

I was denied the basic right to be listened to. But what was I expecting? From a bureaucratic entity. I sent a complaint to NAV and they offered me a career development course but, what was that?

Slowly by the suburbs of unemployment 

I started the course in the winter. The classrooms were in a building by the highway E18 in Oslo. I could not avoid finding myself humming AC/DC's “Highway to Hell” the first days. I went there all week, six hours every day. With the help of good teachers and the cooperation among the attendees, who would become my new network, I had three months to get employed or enter an internship.

Every Monday a new group would start, and the old ones will move on with more knowledge about how to make a CV Norwegian style, answer questions in an interview, write a cover letter, building a network and listening motivational speeches and workshops work-related.

We were equals there, no matter what degree instruction we had. We were walking slowly in the middle of a road called the Norwegian work market. Some had been unemployed for a year or more; some had been burned out and came back to try again. Our interaction was polite and distant like good colleagues.

Some had the best attitude to find the dream job and others seemed like teenagers grounded in the principal’s office doing extra homework. We laughed bold about ourselves, we were full of stories, we were harsh, but we all were compassionate too

We just want to work

An Eritrean journalist who had some time there once told me that the great majority of the people attending the course just wanted to work. “We don’t want to live from welfare, we want to have a job that allows us a quality of life to move on. but for many of the people here, coming here represents a long and dark path”. He was right. In retrospective, looking at all the personal values of those I met, plus their potential, I thought: “if I were a billionaire as Norway, I would hire them all”.

It is there, in these career developing centres spread of all the country, where I would dig to find my employees.

Another time, a nineteen-year-old Norwegian girl who had never worked before asked me to bake a cake. “I am so much craving for a home-made cake.” But we sat down in the time out room and I asked about the Choco-rush. And filled with frustration tears she replied:

“Why can’t I have a job? They don’t hire me because I don’t have experience. But if I don’t have the chance, I will never have any experience.” 

I was happy to be there to listen to her. Because if someone there had the rights to dream big, it was her. A young woman. Low self-esteem and dreams looking unreachable, it’s the last thing we want in a functional society, I thought. And someone who can make me bake a cake can get a job!

A part of our work was to make an analysis of the offered positions and if we were suitable candidates. It was a Russian mountain of emotions; you could hear us in the lunchtime. Every time asking ourselves, Am I qualified for this position? Breaking through our insecurities every time we got a rejection. But we kept applying for job after job. Like Sisyphus, rolling a rock to the summit every day, again and again. 

You need to be like an athlete to enter the work market in Oslo, and not talking about finding your “dream job” or if you have a Scandinavian name, which not having it makes it harder. I asked my teacher Karen once, who gets the job?

“The one who finds the motivation.” Or the one with the big fat connection, I added! 

But in the end, what started out feeling like an AA meeting, turned out to be one of the most honest experiences I ever had in eight years in Norway, I saw many professionals back on track again, and it felt good.

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