Three very different educational backgrounds and not making use of any of them. This is the reality of 62 year old Ilselil Halby who celebrates her 25th Anniversary at Danida Fellowship Centre.
By Jan Kjær
Originally a hairdresser, then a draughtsman and finally she took a MSc in Anthropology at the University of Copenhagen. But now Ilselil Halby celebrates 25 years at Danida Fellowship Centre as financial and personnel officer dealing with financial management, employment conditions, payments of allowances, and wages.
“Imagine, I have taken three different educations, and I am not making use of any of them,” says Ilselil Halby with a smile.
In fact Ilselil began her unorthodox career at DFC 7-8 years earlier as junior staff while studying at the university. In 1978 she started by meeting fellows in the airport, and slowly more tasks were added. In 1987 when she graduated as an anthropologist she got her first employment contract.
“I was actually not particularly interested, but the then director of DFC, Line Vestergaard said it was a benefit to have administrative experience. So I thought: Why not? I knew anthropology was not a money spinner and it was convenient with some sort of income.”
Ilselil gave DFC a chance which has developed into a long career.
“It’s shocking to realize that I have been here for so many years. It’s just too much. But it has been enjoyable and fun. I have great colleagues and it is a really good work place fitting my temper very well.”
To cope with the tasks at DFC, Ilselil has later taken a Diploma in Personnel Management at the Danish School of Public Administration.
Are computers really necessary?
Ilselil has worked in three different DFC locations. She started in Dronningens Tværgade, then went on to Frederiksborggade, and 20 years ago it was decided to build the present headquarters at Frederiksberg. She was part of the committee overseeing the construction and it was an exciting challenge to be part of organizing it.
The developments in DFC over the years have been enormous.
“I remember when we got the first computer and the bookkeeper and I talked about whether it was necessary at all. You must think, I am kidding,” Ilselil jokes.
When she started, there were six employees and rules were less strict. Now there are 18 employees working at the DFC office and a lot has changed.
“Nowadays when we hire a junior staff we write an employment contract. I was here for the first ten years without signing one sheet of paper,” Ilselil says.
The power of meeting people
The professional highlights of her long career are many, but one stands out.
“Meeting so many different people with so many different interests and backgrounds has really been one of the greatest experiences working at DFC,” Ilselil says.
“Today I am not so much in contact with the fellows as earlier – only if I happen to have given them too small an allowance,” she adds with a big grin.
The orientation courses in Denmark where the fellows got information about Danish culture and living conditions have also been some of the more interesting tasks for Ilselil. But what has made her continue at DFC for so many years?
“I have stayed here at DFC for so long because I always had new tasks and new challenges. And we are doing things differently all the time,” Ilselil says.
“I have a good working environment with good colleagues and I also like my job. I am trained to be a researcher, where you always discuss how things work. Now I work with numbers and I like it, as it is unquestionable. 2 +2 is four. If it is not four, you must find out why.”
One of the challenges during the years has been the cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs because staff is often replaced, and this affects the institutional memory.
Diversity is a keyword
Ilselil does not consider herself to be mainstream.
“Material things do not interest me. What is important is how you feel about yourself,” she says.
“I am not particularly Danish, but more international in my approach to life. This is reflected in my studies, but not in my background which is traditional Danish working class. My father was a craftsman, my mother worked in a factory.”
Ilselil lives in Blågårdsgade at Nørrebro, the most multicultural part of Copenhagen.
“I love Nørrebro,“ says Ilselil. “Nørrebro is like living in a village. It takes time to go shopping on a Saturday morning, because there are so many people to talk to or to drink a cup of coffee with – because the sun shines.”
“I love the diversity. I like the fact that there is room for everyone.
Snapshots from Morocco
Although working in an international organisation working as financial and personnel officer has not resulted in a lot of travelling. Only once she was sent to Tanzania on duty travel. But Ilselil loves travelling and she just returned from two weeks living on the border of Sahara in Morocco.
“The trip to Morocco was a gift to myself celebrating the 25 years anniversary at DFC. I stayed with the Sahravi tribe which is very similar to the Tuaregs. The men wear scarves covering the head and often also the nose and mouth.“
Under the hot Saharan sun Ilselil also found time for one of her hobbies: photography.
“I like to take pictures and have done so for many years. I especially fancy zooming in on small details. But where do I exhibit my photos?” Ilselil asks.
The hobby actually partly derives from her work at DFC. At the then International Student Centre there was a darkroom, and she made a start by developing black and white photos.