Employment: International Struggles and Successes
by Britt Bergendahl
Our TE office started in October 1994 with an empty room. One
supervisor and four members began with great enthusiasm to equip a room on the ground
floor of the Goteborg Fountain House in Sweden.
To keep the cost down, we all went out to a "do-it-yourself"
furniture company. It was a challenge to get all the screws to fit into different tables
and chairs. Such a challenge, in fact, that for some time we did not have enough chairs
ready for use and so we had to work in turns. We got up early, as early as possible in the
morning, to get access to a place to sit down and work.
At the same time as we were having "the problems of the
furniture," we began to try to influence potential employers. In the beginning, we
had to have conversation after conversation with every possible employer before the idea
of TE began to make sense to them.
There were about twenty-five members out of a hundred and fifty who
could imagine going out on a TE immediately. It became quite a press on us five people in
the TE office to get jobs as soon as possible, but at the same time there was joy and
strong engagement throughout the whole house about what we were doing.
We started with a campaign to educate and inform people about TE, both
within our own clubhouse, and out in the larger community. Towards the spring, we started
to invite different businessmen in the city to visit our clubhouse, and to talk with them
about our activity and about TE. Most of these contacts were for restaurant work and
cleaning jobs to begin with. Still, however, we had no real nibbles, but we were building
a great network of contacts to work with.
By now we had gotten our own telephones, so we started calling
different companies and introduced our idea of "employment without absence." In
my opinion, it was difficult and impersonal to introduce ourselves via the telephone. One
incident in particular left me with the belief that our contacts were more powerful and
helpful when we made them in person. I had told the personnel manager over the phone about
the clubhouse and TE, and he asked me: "Are they dangerous? Do they fight?"
There is, at least in Sweden, a great deal of prejudice about mental illness. Although
there will always be struggles against these unfair prejudices, we have a much better
chance of overcoming them when we meet people in person and they can see who we really
are. It is hard, BUT WE DON'T GIVE UP!!!!!!!!!
Before the TE office started at our clubhouse, the whole house had
helped to get twenty-five of our members employment of their own, and helped a great
number of members return to school and study.
Today, one year after the start of the TE office, we have three TEs in
full swing and about six contacts which probably will result in actual TEs before the end
of the year.