Arto Vilmi (62) is a visually impaired, independent man who has worked for six and a half years as project coordinator for Abilis Foundation. He is a true polyglot who knows more languages than anybody else at Abilis:” oh, four or five fluently,” he modestly admits. At the end of the year he is to retire with mixed feelings.
Drastic cuts will be made to Finland’s Development Aid budget, affecting also Abilis’ activities and resulting in staff cuts. “ Even if I would have loved to stay on, this might be the best solution for me in the end – one can’t have everything,” Arto replies when asked how he feels about retiring. “I’ve really enjoyed working for Abilis, the job is worthwhile, taxing and gratifying at the same time, even dynamic, never mind it mostly consists of long hours of solitary toil,” Arto muses. Two other employees share his workspace, Slade from Zambia and Nathaly from Colombia. A constant clicking of keyboards can be heard from their office.
Partially sighted from birth, Arto’s field of vision is very fragmented: he can only see in patches with his right eye. The left one is completely useless. Arto doesn’t know Braille, however, but reads aggrandized text on his computer and in publications and uses a magnifying glass when needed. In his spare time, he likes to read the Science, a review he has subscribed to for over 30 years. All articles on nature are of particular interest to him. He occasionally visits the library in Kallio, an area of Helsinki he has lived in for eight years.
Nowadays, he lives by the seashore, in Arabia, a part of town that suits him well. The Arabia mall is handy since it’s not too big and the tram number 6 takes him to his office (in Sörnäinen) in 15 minutes. Sometimes it’s difficult for him to distinguish the tram number 6 from the 7B on the stop, especially with the sun in his eyes, luckily there is always a fellow passenger who can help.
Of the six Abilis field visits he has made, the one in 2011 to both Uganda and Burundi with his colleague Tuula Heima-Tirkkonen, has left a particularly fond memory. In the French-speaking Burundi Arto was in his own linguistic element, all I had to do was to listen to his fluent interpretation. The trip went altogether very nicely,” Tuula reminisces.
Arto has been in charge of Uganda, Mozambique, French-speaking Africa (Congo) and of Latin America (Peru). Being a project coordinator can be tricky at times, especially when, often enough, the support we need from facilitators isn’t forthcoming, and we have to do their work, too,” says Arto and adds in one breath, “It’s not a generality at Abilis, though, there are numerous countries where cooperation runs smoothly and where there is no reason to change a system that works.” Furthermore, “ Thanks to my visual impairment, I find handwritten applications particularly taxing, as if the facilitators couldn’t type them on computer,” Arto sighs. Monitoring visits have gone really well, the local hosts have been very helpful in getting him from the car to the project site, for instance. “There simply isn’t enough work for a personal guide on a field visit and it’s very expensive to have one,” replies Arto when asked whether he is accompanied by a personal assistant on these travels. He has a pacemaker since 1½ years and feels great nowadays. Cardiac insufficiency has multiple repercussions,” explains Arto.
Long flights aren’t tiring, it’s a question of having the right attitude. Arto tries to sleep most of the time. Eating on the plane is challenging, he laughs, visibly amused by the scanty space in which even people with normal sight have problems… “I’d like to travel, perhaps to Italy. It might be feasible once I’m retired,” Arto tells. “I’ll also start taking more exercise since I’ll have more time on my hands. I enjoy being alone and never feel lonely,” he adds and grins: “And I’d really like doing voluntary work for Abilis every now and then”.