Shaah & Sheeko; Ebracing identity in the multisensory space for adolescent girls: Summary of a study made in ELO-project

Teksti | Hafsa Dahir , Fathi Osman Mohamed

Our project with ELO was a functional study concentrating on offering a safe and comfortable environment in Multisensory Space for bicultural adolescents to embrace their identity by discussing issues that are related to the Somali community. This is a summary of our thesis Shaah & sheeko; Embracing Identity in the Multisensory Space for Adolescent Girls that was published in Theseus in November 2018.

Our aims for this thesis included encouraging active interaction in the Multisensory Space, practise communication and self-reflection, encourage artistic creativity to explore identity, offer peer support by gathering participants of similar life experiences. Lastly, to offer a safe and comfortable environment in a Multisensory Space where participants can express their thoughts and possible criticism of their culture. We chose these aims because we believed they are necessary in the process of embracing identity. ELO promotes inclusion of multicultural people which correspond to our target group.

Our target group was secondary school aged adolescent girls who are born in Finland and have bi-cultural background. The purpose of creating this group was, because we are authors are Finnish-Somalis and hence, bi-cultural. Growing up between two cultures was difficult and challenging to form an identity which was strong and stable. We were aiming to use peer support as a method by gathering participants of similar life experiences to offer guidance and support. This target group is important because of the sensitive life stage.

Since this thesis was based on our culture, we chose a title which is appropriate. Being together and talking about different topics is very popular in our community. Somalis generally drink a lot of tea. In Somali language we call it “Shaah” and when there is a get-together, tea is always present. In Finland, Somali women mostly come together by visiting each other’s houses or in community centres. Conversation in Somali is “Sheeko”. We wanted to discuss and reflect with our participants, which is why we chose the title “Shaah & Sheeko”.

As this was a functional thesis, we held a total of 6 sessions. Within the sessions, we applied a variety of methods supporting our objectives to empower adolescents practice self-reflection. The adolescents had activities suitable and appropriate for them that can benefit them during this life stage. The methods applied were well connected to multisensory space, as these methods can be supported through sensory stimulation, e.g. art. Multisensory space encourages active interaction and supports self-expression, which intertwines our methods to the space. Multisensory space also helps in exploring artistic creativity and reflecting on own identity by offering an opportunity to build the space and make it look original. These methods included peer support, art activities, constructive communication and lifespan narration.

Our responsibility was to observe if the multisensory space has helped participants be more confident in their identity, if they felt encouraged to use creativity to express their thoughts and emotions about their identity, if they got an opportunity to practice communication and self-reflection and how did peer support empower participants in embracing their identity.

Objectives of Thesis:
  • Observing the identity of the participants in Finland
  • Using art as a medium for self-reflection
  • Encourage creativity and self-reflection in Multisensory Space
  • Reflect on the communication within the Somali community
  • Reflecting on traditions and norms, which affect the bi-cultural adolescent

Multisensory Space

According to Laurea (2018), the aim of ELO-project is to encourage the integration of the immigrants in to the Finnish society by improving and promoting the interaction between mainstream population and the immigrants. The main idea behind the methods used by the project is to learn from the society through action and mainly by a method called Multisensory Space, hence this practical method is the main utility of our thesis.

Multisensory Space has been used in several projects and is an established concept and why we chose to do our thesis project in the Multisensory Space in Tikkurila, was because it was a new experience for us and we wanted to learn how to lead a group in a creative environment. We were familiar with the space, because we have had classes in the space and it was always exciting. As a learning environment it is original and innovative.

Since creating the Multisensory Space, several thesis projects have been made and most of the projects focus on the socio-cultural empowerment. Socio-cultural encouragement refers to activities that support the empowerment of individuals or groups and support self-initiative. Socio-cultural stimulation is particularly needed when people’s own resources are low. Socio-cultural empowerment aims to motivate, strengthen, and demonstrate individual resources, and to involve the individual. Inspiration supports the fact that a group or individual designs and executes activities that improve their own life situation or environment. Socio-cultural inspiration can support the integration of people into a particular community or society. It is essential to find the common points of the old and the new culture and to work on them in everyday life. (Aistien 2018)

A good physical learning environment can inspire an individual to learn and take responsibility about learning. The design and construction of the sensory space also functions as an open learning environment in which learners themselves can create a common space by sharing their own expertise and acting as a peer-to-peer network. Multisensory space as a method achieves an experimental, collective and project learning. Multisensory space can be used as a space which helps in reflection and definition of identity. For immigrants of different ages, the multisensory space can act as a producer of good and familiar experiences, and in distinguishing of own identity. Also, people of the mainstream society can conduct a discussion on identity issues, reflecting the importance of a local community, local identity or Finnishness in a globalizing world. (Aistien 2018)


The location of this thesis-project was in Laurea Tikkurila campus in Vantaa. First session was about introducing the project, second session was done in an Art Room in campus. During the session the girls’ received a good impression of the art room. This is due to, the art works decorated on the walls and it helped to be inspired for what we were about to do. All participants were painting, the atmosphere was energetic and fun, because they had similar tastes in music.

The activity allowed us supervisors to examine the group dynamic. The painting helped grouping to take place for being an activity that promotes and encourages inclusion. We observed that the girls had positive interaction with each other. The music had a clear effect on the atmosphere. This concludes as art activity worked, because they were able to put their frustration on to the paper. During this session girls had a lot of energy. From the session we concluded that the girls had a strong sentimental attachment to Somalia.

Third session was about building the space together. The space reflected well towards their personal vision of the space. It allowed the girls to work together along with us and allowed us to become closer with them. We could observe their identity as bi-cultural, when they decided to create the space where they split the space into two sections; one half was Somali and the other Finnish. After the construction of the space was finished, we asked how they want us as a group to sit. It was interesting to see that they chose the Somali side. Multisensory space successfully worked as a tool to contemplate identity.

Constructive communication was a method that was not consciously practiced by the girls. The concept is broad and multidimensional. We took the most relevant parts of communication issues, which related to adolescents, family and friends. We wanted to share the most efficient features that can cause a big impact, with just awareness. Multisensory space was simple and intimate, which helped talking about personal issues. This concept helped the participants to learn to be aware of where they lack in communication. The girls mentioned how useful this method is and will try to implement it into their lives. One of the main observations made was the fact that in our culture sensitivity and vulnerability is dismissed. This constructive communication method helps in embracing our feelings and needs and encourages active interaction through dialogue.

When it came to the wedding theme, the multisensory space worked the best, because it was clearly relevant to the topic and all the aspects were very present (music, clothing, food). One the best points was that there was a Danish quest attending the session, who offered us external perspectives towards the traditional attitudes on dating and weddings. She pointed out matters, which we were oblivious to recognise, because we took some things for granted, due to being part of this culture. These matters would have not been presented if it weren’t for the quest. The subject of the wedding is very broad, and the discussion continued for a long time. The session could have been held more than once to cover it all. Due to the strong interlink of the space to the topic, it established a safe environment to discuss about this topic, that would have not been necessarily discussed in other places, such as school or home.

The sixth session had the strongest relation to self-reflection. The aim was to memorise the past and to think about the future. Through the life narration the girls were able to realise their low and high points, most memorable moments and trying to acknowledge the reasons behind them. The visualisation of their life span, helped them see how they have developed. This method can be used throughout their personal life. We used images of us supervisors to create a slideshow of us over the years in different life stages and it worked as an inspiration for the girls to talk about theirs. Self-reflection is important in building an identity within the Finnish society. It essential to start the process early. ELO encourages discussion about identity issues, which this session strongly interlinks with.

Peer support was one of the main concepts of the thesis and especially in the art activity session. Participants had same experiences, which helped in creating connection. Multisensory space works well in supporting peer support, because in the process of building the space, the participants and supervisors all work together and participants are able to create new memories and experiences.


During the thesis process, we observed that people have a need for peer support groups. When working with multicultural clients, the current trend is to focus on integrating immigrants, but forgetting the youth that was born or raised in Finland most of their life. It is important not to forget the youth with bi-cultural backgrounds. Problems that are present in many of the bi-cultural youth communities could be decreased through peer support. Nowadays some of the problems present include: identity crisis, feeling excluded, and lacking self-expression.

By creating support groups where both generations could be present can help to create an honest dialogue regarding both the ethnic identity and the identity of the residing country. Having a group consisting of the same ethnicity can help to strengthen the identity of the confused adolescent and in return support the integration of the elders. Or, to gain a better comprehension on how the ethnic youth living in Finland have developed, in contrast to the ones living in the motherland.


We were able to offer a safe and inclusive environment for our participants with the help of the Multisensory space. By building the space, girls and we worked together and created a space, which raised topics about ethnic identity.  We connected well with the participants and helped them discuss topics related to the Somali community. We were able to develop an idea, which supports the vision of the Elo-project and add a new perspective, in how to help bi-cultural adolescents embrace their identity. Identity development is a long-term process, but it’s beneficial to start the progression as soon as possible. Being aware of own strengths and weaknesses is vital and practising self-reflection throughout one’s life can only increase the wellbeing of the individual.

Multisensory space helped in encouraging active interaction in building the space process, helping in bring up topics by visually seeing pictures or hearing sounds relating to the themes. We believe the Multisensory space works better as transportable, because then it can reach more people in their own environment. We advise future project leads to make the Multisensory Space in a more informal location.

Engaging senses can create an environment that can influence the atmosphere in variety of ways. The multisensory method helped to encourage inclusion, even though people tend to have an impression of adolescents that they can be problematic. An observation we have made, is that bi-cultural adolescents need an environment where they can express their thoughts and feelings safely without judgement. There is a need for programs like these, led by people who have had similar experiences as their target group, as it can encourage the teens to express themselves. Our earlier perceptions about the challenges in our community got re-enforced, due to the teens having experienced similar situations. As we are older than the target group, we thought things would change and improve over time, only to realise that they have mainly stayed the same. This shows that our ethnic culture is very consistent and persevering. This could be caused due to the religious influence acting as a basis for the interactive patterns of the culture.

The multisensory space can function as an instrument with different target groups, communities, environments, etc. because of its flexibility. Self-reflection, which was an essential part of the thesis, can work as a focal point in improving a person’s self-awareness and actions, and through that can affect an entire community. Improving the connection between the parents and adolescents was our main intention in the beginning of the process, but this can be done by initially working with the adolescents and give them the tools to handle the sensitive time they are in currently. Improving the communication and interaction skills of the adolescents early can benefit their lives in the future.

This concept can be developed further by encouraging dialogue between generations and ethnicities. Active interaction in society can decrease exclusion from their peers and their communities. Multi- and Bi-culturalism is an increasing global phenomenon, because of the current events in mass migration, caused by different factors, that create traumas, but also different attitudes and customs, which can flourish in Finland. Therefore, societies need to adapt to different changes and provide different services, that can support the wellbeing of the whole population. The Somali population in Finland has been present for over 30 years, and different ethnicities have started to appear. We emphasise the importance of educating people belonging to minorities, to use their cultural knowledge and combine it with the Finnish professional competences and bring forth a new approaching method in a socio-cultural context.


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