(All images: Johanniterorden)

Throughout 2020, we will be highlighting the Queen Silvia Nursing Award partners that bring the scholarship to life in their respective regions.

Currently in its 6th year, The Queen Silvia Nursing Award motivates nursing students in Germany, Finland, Poland, and Sweden to contribute to the quality of life and care of the elderly and people living with a dementia diagnosis. This program is made possible with the dedication and commitment of partners with a firm focus on the growth of nursing talent and nursing opportunities.

Johanniterorden (The Order of St. John in Sweden) is one of the original partners of the Queen Silvia Nursing Award in Sweden, and continues to support the program today. This organization is recognized worldwide for its good works, coming to the aid and support of people who are in “spiritual or corporeal distress.” We interviewed Hospitalier Richard Kuylenstierna, a doctor and former clinic manager at Karolinska University Hospita, about The Order, its international and national engagement and what it means to get engaged in challenging times.

Before delving into Johanniterorden’s commitment to the QSNA could you let us know a little more about eh history of your organization?

Happy and proud to do so.

Johanniterorden or The Order of St. John was established in Jerusalem late in the 1000s, with the sole purpose to provide care and help for the sick and needy without any regard to race, color or religion. The Swedish order was founded in 1185 at a monastery in Eskilstuna, about 100 km west of Stockholm. At that time, the Swedish Royal Houses and other members of the nobility were very active supporters of the Order as well as the city of Eskilstuna. 

From there, the Order established a monastery in Stockholm, and at the end of the Middle Ages, it had expanded down to southeast Sweden to the town of Kalmar. We’ve had a long and interesting history here in Sweden, and today we’re headquartered at Riddarhuset in Stockholm with His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustav as our High Patron and Her Majesty Queen Silvia of Sweden as the first Honorary Member of the Order.

We need to have a strong resolve and take personal initiative, and dare to get involved to help those who probably can’t return the favor.
The time is now to step up and get engaged.”
Richard Kuylenstierna, Johanniterorden (The Order of St. John)

You might even know our sister organization, the Order of Malta. It also has an extensive legacy in humanitarian assistance. Our two organizations continue to cooperate even to this day as we are bound by a similar shared mission to help the sick. Together we are the next largest aid organization after the Red Cross with almost half a million volunteers worldwide in total.

What are some of the projects that The Order is known for internationally?

In 1882, The Order of St. John established the St. John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital, and it was granted the Royal Charter by Queen Victoria at that time. It was established in Jerusalem to address the high demand for eye care in the region.  It is apolitical and remains the only charitable provider of expert eye care in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem where patients are treated regardless of ethnicity, religion or their ability to pay. It is still in operation today and we continue to weave in new opportunities to develop contacts for the hospital through our network. For example, we are really proud that we recently established an exchange program for experts between the hospital with St. Erik’s Eye Hospital in Stockholm.

Another project of importance is our support of a home and school for orphaned children in Tallinn, Estonia. This is a charity established through the personal engagement of one person particularly, Mati Sinisaar. It provides a secure environment for a number of at-risk girls and boys that would otherwise have a minimal chance of a normal upbringing without this institution.

We have also regularly, for many years, supported a summer camp for handicapped young Estonians. Young volunteers mostly from the European Order from St. John families organize, execute and operate the week-long camp that constitutes an important break for the disadvantaged guests.

Tell us more about the work you do locally in Sweden?

Over the years, we have distributed millions of SEK worth of aid.

We have a relatively easy way in which people can ask for support and assistance. Every year there is a submissions process in which people can download our request forms and submit it by the end date. Submissions for Swedish requests will open this year between 15 May to 15 August.

We receive about 900 to 1000 requests a year, and our volunteers at The Order review all of the submissions at each of our four regional locations throughout the country.

What kinds of requests do you receive during these submission periods?

Oh – it can be anything actually. From private individuals, we have received requests to help with everything from a pair of new glasses to even dentistry fees. As we are deeply established in Sweden, we might be able to help in different ways as well. If for example, a vulnerable applicant needs a new bed, we might have someone in our circles who can provide that directly with The Order covering the cost. We try to leverage our strengths in the community to help those with the greatest need.

The work we do here in Sweden mainly consists of our volunteers reviewing and processing the requests.

I can imagine that The Order has more requests than available resources. How do you address that?

That is true. We will always get more requests than resources allow. We review the requests carefully and with the full knowledge that we cannot support everything that demands our attention. About 50% of requests by individuals will be approved. But we are in agreement as volunteers that we need to prioritize and weigh the importance of each submission. It is hard but very meaningful work at the end of the day.

How long have you been associated with Johanniterorden, Richard?

I have been volunteering with The Order for the past 10 years. It is so rewarding being part of something bigger, that helps others and can impact society. It is really exciting to be proactive in a different way, one which is driven by communities helping communities. When things are really challenging, we need to be able to look for help from each other without prejudice or judgment. It is an honor to be asked to provide assistance if you can provide it.

In Sweden there has been a gradual professionalization of services over the years, where it is up to the authorities to address problems or challenges rather than individuals or the communities. The coming months, especially with the current Covid-19 pandemic, will really test that assumption – not only in Sweden, but worldwide. We need to have a strong resolve, take personal initiative, and dare to get involved to help those who probably can’t return the favor. The time is now to step up and get engaged.

Being part of the process of giving isn’t work at all, actually. It is a lot of fun and gives much more to me in return.

What kind of organizations do you support outside of the Queen Silvia Nursing Award program?

We give to a number of organizations and charities. We also look at those that align with our research and initiatives. In Sweden, this means that we give to Stiftelsen Silviahemmet (Her Majesty Queen Silvia of Sweden’s Dementia Foundation) as it is deeply committed to the quality of life and care for people with a dementia diagnosis as well as their families.

Stiftelsen Silviahemmet is also quite special in that they have a duo-pronged role with dementia knowledge in Sweden. It not only operates a daycare for those with various stages of cognitive impairment, but it is also dedicated to the further education of nurses with dementia care through the Silviasyster (Silvia Nurse) program. This is critical because we are always looking at the care question, but if care expertise and knowledge can be passed onto the next generation of talent, then this is extra meaningful.

What does supporting the Queen Silvia Nursing Award mean to the Order?

What makes the scholarship really special for us is that we are nurturing the next generation of expertise in dementia care driven by themselves! Because the scholarship is awarded to the talent that submits ideas, recommendations, innovation in elderly and dementia care, we know that by supporting this award we can get more young people involved and interested in this space.

Working closely with young people is especially fantastic. Their energy and enthusiasm is infectious. They are not afraid of coming up with new ideas and seeing possibilities rather than problems. What could be better than working with such passionate talent?