A Small Contribution that Goes a Long Way

Today, members of the ACN Peace Committee had the chance to get a better look into the heart and soul of Midlands Children Hope Project. Technology was not our friend today as we tried to connect via skype with Lene. Lene works with Midlands and sit on the board of directors and is currently in South Africa. Because of our technical issues, Lene sent a long e-mail in response to the many questions that ACN Peace Committee members had and we wanted to share the story of Midlands and the children of Gweru, Zimbabwe as told by Lene here.

How did Lene end up involved with Midlands?

SONY DSC“I started off as a volunteer in Antelope Park on the medical & lions project. After spending 8 weeks in Zimbabwe, and getting to know all the kids at the orphanage and the street kids, I felt that I had to do something more. I couldn’t just go home, and continue my life like nothing had happened. When I signed up to become a sponsor through Midlands Children Hope Project, Anita (manager) asked me if I wanted to join the organization. I didn’t even have to think twice about the answer, cause it was obviously that I wanted to do something more for these kids. I met Anita and Thomas, who were the ones who started the organization in February 2012. We sat down to have a look on what I could do, and how I could be a part of the organization. I started off being in charge of all the sponsors, and to get the sponsorship program up running in a better way then it was. Last year at this time we had 30 sponsors, now we are close to 90 sponsors. These sponsors all pay on a monthly basis, and are paying everything from 25NOK/month, to 500 NOK/month, all depending on what they can afford and what they want to pay. This money goes to paying for 38 kids in Gweru, Zimbabwe’s third largest city, to attend school.

Who is Midlands?

“Today we’re five people working in MCHP, all volunteerly. I’m the project manager, and Ida has taken over my role as in charge of the sponsors. We’re taking all the administrative costs ourselves, because we want ALL the money to go where it’s meant to, to the kids.

There’s five Zimbabweans also working full time at the orphanage and the drop-in. These are not getting paid at all. We’ve asked the question “why are you doing this, when you could have a job where you could get paid?” The response we’re getting then is:”if we’re not doing it, who’s gonna take care of these kids?” We do pay for the school fees for their kids, but other than that they’re not getting anything in money. MCHP does have 5 Norwegians, and 1 from New Zealand (who’s MCHP New Zealand).

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Where does the money that MCHP gets from sponsors go?

“The last year the organization has grown bigger, and as we got more sponsors, we’ve also got more money. This is why we’re now not only supporting the kids so they can attend school, but we’re already started building a new orphanage for them. The orphanage they have today is really small, and there’s 24 boys at age 4-16 years who’s living there, and sharing the 13 beds they have. At the new orphanage we will have room for about 80 kids, and they will all have their own beds! We will also be able to take in the street girls at the new orphanage, and that’s a thing we’re not able to as of today. The girls are often owned by some very rich men, who’s abusing them in all kinds of ways, and after everything they’ve been through, we cannot put them together with a bunch of teenager boys.

ACN Peace Committee is collecting bottles to cash in and the money will go to Midlands. But is it enough, worried students ask?

“The money will absolutely make a difference, and there’s no such thing as a small amount, cause everything helps. 5 NOK is enough to give a child a hot meal! And 50 NOK is enough to buy rice for the orphanage, and there are 24 boys – for a week. So everything really helps!”

IMG_4527Who are the children? What’s their story?

Meet Wilson:

My name is Wilson, and I’m 17 years old. The first time I came to the orphanage, I was a kid. Now I’m a grown up. To live on the street gave me a lot of challenges. Often I went a whole day without food, and some days I found something to eat. The bigger boys bullied my, and started fighting me, to get the food I had found. In wintertime it’s worst living in the streets. I didn’t have any warm clothes, no blankets, nor any place to stay. Before my parents died my life was so much easier. We lived in a rural place, but it was better then living on the streets. The reason why I had to move was because no one could take care of me, and it had to quit school, while all the neighbor kids still attended school. I met Mr. Ndou (Question) in 2006 in the streets of Gweru. He talked to me and decided that I could move into the orphanage. Here I was able to start school, we got food, and the people were so full of love. I feel safe at the orphanage, and really want to thank everyone who helps us to be able to live here.

Why do you do what you do?

Well, we might not change Africa, or even Zimbabwe. But we are changing the lives of the people we’re helping. We are giving them a better and brighter future, and we’re giving them a chance to actually change their lives, and to become something good in life. And we know these kids. It’s not just some kids we saw on TV, and felt sorry for. This is Tafadzwa, Wilson, Edmore, Piniel, Munashe, Tatenda. These are all the kids we know, these are all kids we really love, and we really want them to have a good life. Tatenda is now turning 5 years, we found him at the streets when he was 4 years, because his parents threw him out once he started getting sick. They didn’t have money to take him to the clinics, so they threw him out. My nephew is the same age, and I would never let my nephew stay on the street. And in just the same way, I would never stop fighting to get all the kids off the streets. These are kids that told us their stories, while we both were crying. These are kids that, even though they have nothing to smile for, they’re the most happy and thankful people I’ve met in my entire life. These are kids that’s never experienced having someone that look after them, and that cares about them. But these are all kids that really deserves it! They deserve to be given a chance in life, just like everyone else!

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Our Future Through the Eyes of War Children

by: Nardos Tekle

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom

On November 5, 2013, three of ACN’s regular bloggers (myself included), and ACN’s peace committee coordinator – Becky Norvang, attended a seminar on diversity hosted by the British Council in Oslo. The goal was to bring awareness to diversity’s biggest obstacle – our implicit associations towards race, gender, disability, etc. The seminar was very educational, and it is safe to say that we were all inspired by the great presentations, discussions, and personal stories. However, what I found very fascinating was the presentation on the psychology behind our implicit associations by Mads Nordmo – a PhD student at the Department of Strategy and Management at NHH.

Mads Nordmo explained how we begin to develop implicit associations as toddlers due to the way our brain processes information by categorizing. We immediately develop preferences for anything that makes us happy or feels good, people that resemble us, or places that are safe. Quite rapidly, these preferences become automatic, and anything that is slightly different from what we already associate with being positive, will automatically become negative. In other words, children are not by nature racist or bias and as Nelson Mandela once wrote, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion…” Children, however, are sponges who soak up everything they see, hear, learn, and feel.

So what happens when children are constantly exposed to prejudice, racism and stereotypes about people from other groups? Well, according to this psychology, they will either unconsciously or consciously internalize these biases until they eventually become automatic. While at the macro-level, diversity continues to be misunderstood as a threat because of the never-ending circle of unconscious (and, in some cases, conscious) dislike.

It is very interesting to see how clearly and practically this psychology applies to children in war zones, in particular. There are millions of innocent children caught up in the middle of wars they didn’t start, and they are far too often the ignored victims. These are the children robbed of childhood, the children exposed to extreme violence and as a result, learn to hate so deeply that they are willing to whatever it takes to kill – even if it will cost them their own lives. These are the children who are brainwashed and then handed rifles. These are the children that are both psychologically and physically damaged, the children that will forever be haunted by the horrors of war. These children are the future that will either determine peace or war.

This pattern can be found in any conflict-affected country, just pick one, any one, and see for yourselves. When it comes to war, children are the most vulnerable victims namely because they have not yet developed the right coping mechanisms necessary. They need to feel safe, they need to be loved, and they need constant reassurance that they will never be abandoned. When all these things are stolen from them, their innocence becomes replaced by pain, anger, hate, and revenge. And in countries such as Israel and Palestine, Pakistan and Afghanistan (just to mention a few), vulnerable children become valued resources for armed groups and the training beings early through textbooks. If, or when, textbooks are not an option, televisions and radios are there to ensure that everyone knows whom the enemy is, and that the enemy is responsible for all the pain and devastation. What does this mean for our future if children can easily be taught to hate to the point where they are willing to die in order to kill.  What does this say about our future?

warchildThere are countless of documentaries, articles, and published books on this subject. There are also a number of organizations dedicated to help war children, one of the well-known organizations being: War Child – an independent humanitarian organization. There are many stories and articles on their website aimed to bring awareness of the consequences of ignoring children in war zones. After all, they are our future and we are all affected.

This is what War Child has to say about our future,
“You only have to look into the eyes of a child is conflict today to know what the wars of the future might look like”

This, I believe, is a wake up call for us all. But how can we help these war children, who, believe it or not, are our hope to a peaceful world, our future? How can we restore hope and repair the damage that these children have been exposed to? Furthermore, how can we protect children from exposure to prejudice, racism and stereotypes that are all the ingredients for war?

Midlands Children Hope Center

  by: Mai-lynne Deibel

IMAG0308I spent the summer of 2012 doing volunteer work in the city of Gweru, Zimbabwe. I worked on a project call “kids and lions”. I lived at Antelope Game Park and every day me and the other volunteers were driven to different places in the Gweru area. We worked at a few different places like a middle school, a kindergarden, and my favorite – the drop-in center (Midlands). At the drop in center, we would first walk around Gweru, picking up homeless people, mostly kids, but some adults.  We would take them back to the drop off center, which was located in a church. There we would talk to them, play with them and give them a hot meal. For most of them it would be the only meal they would get that day.

Spending time with these kids was heartbreaking, but also giving in so many ways. I got very close to two young streetboys, age 11 and 13. My first day there I sat and talked with them and they told me how tired they were and how cold it was to sleep outside. I told them they could sleep now and that I would satch them while they slept. Both boys put their head in my lap and slept for hours.

These kids have nothing more than the clothes they had on them and, with nights in Zimbabwe in July often dropping to zero degrees Celsius, I can’t even imagine what is must be like for them, sleeping under a bush by the street with no shoes – only a shirt and shorts. When I last spoke to the people at Midlands, I was told that the boys now finally moved into the orphanage and started school. I am just so grateful for the opportunity to meet and get to know those wonderful boys. They have no idea how often I think about them or how much they have changed my life.

About Midlands Children Hope Project:
IMAG0240Midlands Children Hope Project was started up after Anita Svendheim and Thomas Nordberg’s volunteer trip to Zimbabwe in 2011. Here, they visited Midlands Children Hope Centre that work for the street children in Gweru. Every day was a struggle to cover the children’s basic needs, especially in a community where the street children are portrayed as thieves and criminals in the making. As a result, Midlands Children Hope Project was created.

Main aims
1) To cover the street children’s school fees so that they will have the motivation, knowledge and opportunity to create a different life for themselves.
2) Support the build of a new orphanage for the children where they will grow up in a good environment. Here, the staff will also have the opportunity to put up projects to make the orphanage self-sustained.

The organization
Midlands Children Hope Project is a charitable organization by Norwegian law and work with sponsors in Norway, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. We do not take anything to cover administrative expenses, so every dollar that is given to us will go straight down to the orphanage in Zimbabwe.

How can ACN Peace Committee help?

Saving Syria

by: Tony Halsteindal

The Syrian Civil War has been going on now for 2 years and 7 months, and although it is impossible to estimate exactly how many casualties there’s been so far, there seems to be a general agreement that the death toll has surpassed 100 000. This is including both combatants and civilians. Instead of considering a military response, the international community seems to be taking a more diplomatic approach. Since the UN reports proved that chemical weapons have been used in Syria, and in fact killed civilians as well, the international ban on chemical weapons provided an approach for a diplomatic solution for the crisis.

Whether or not if it actually was the Assad regime who used them is somewhat disputed. For the most part there is a wide belief that it was the Syrian government, but Russia, Syria’s main international ally, urges the possibility for a rebel culprit. Nevertheless, as of 1 October the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) entered Syria and began their supervision of the destruction of Syrian government’s chemical weapons stockpile. For their ongoing efforts in Syria the OPCW has been rewarded with the Nobel Peace Prize of 2013. Does this prove that diplomacy can end wars? That the conventional response with military force isn’t necessary anymore?

In my opinion I have to disagree, even though I would be glad to see the day where diplomacy would prevail over military force, I’m sad to say that this isn’t it. Even if we get rid of all chemical weapons Assad has, it still leaves him with a wide range of legal weapons he can continue to kill his people with. In fact, this whole chemical disarmament agreement might even be a mistake. Before the agreement, a US military response was to a certain degree likely, although it would never be approved by UN Security Council because of a Russia and China opposing. The chemical weapons disarmament then came to a reality after US Secretary of State John Kerry stated that the US might not carry out a strike if the Syrians complied. Shortly after, the Russians urged Assad to agree to the terms. This makes it evident to me that Assad is only biding his time. If he manages to win the war before the destruction is complete, which according to plan should be done by the first half of 2014, it would give no reason for anyone to intervene with military force. This is a war that already is in its third year, so I reckon that it is unlikely there is a chance Assad can prevail so quickly. With this deal we are only prolonging the suffering of the Syrian people. And even if Assad would win within the time-frame of the deal, that would mean goodbye to a democratic Syria.

I believe that military intervention is the best course of action, but even so, a war with Syria shouldn’t be handled lightly. The rebels that are opposing Assad are far from a unified bunch. To make matters worse there is a portion of the rebel groups that has ties to al-Qaeda. Fortunately, these groups are opposed by most rebels, but it has led to clashes between rebel groups as well. With this in mind, it is understandably a growing opposition to military intervention. We are just leaving over a decade of war in Afghanistan to what might be a new decade in Syria. Although, I don’t think it will take a decade, but at least years considering these geopolitical complications.

In one of my previous posts I’ve shown a disagreement to the introduction of democracy in Afghanistan because of lack of maturity in the people. I don’t think that’s the case here. Mostly because the conflict sprung from the Arab Spring, a movement solely dedicated to introducing democracy to several Arab countries. Wanting democracy shows a certain amount of maturity, a readiness to fulfill the requirements for a successful democratic nation. I think the reason why democracy has succeeded in the Western hemisphere is because it happened through revolutions started by the people itself, and this is why I think democracy will succeed in Syria as well once the Assad regime is overthrown.

The only thing missing now is the necessary military interventions to make this come true. Sure, a military intervention will cause casualties, and probably even civilian, but I believe that a prolonged civil war would heavily outweigh the casualties caused by the international forces. It’s about time we saved Syria.

Why Azerbaijan?

“And so let us always meet each other with a smile, for the smile is the beginning of love, and once we begin to love each other naturally we want to do something.” 
-Mother Teresa
Nobel Lecture, December 11, 1979

I’ve been to Azerbaijan twice, and I will most definitely go back.

Often when I ask people what they know about Azerbaijan, they say “oil, Eurovision Song Contest and Baku”. That’s not a lot considering there’s 9 million people living there. How could it be that a country in the middle of Iran, Turkey, Russia and the Caspian Sea, who all are more widely known here in Norway, is so rarely mentioned?

I don’t know, but I can show you some of the reason why I’m so interested in Azerbaijan, the culture and the people, and where my love for the country comes from. All pictures are taken in October 2011 and October 2012.

By: Ole Hofsøy

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Baku seen from the promenade next to the Caspian Sea

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Cleaning of Fountain Square, Baku

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Evening traffic in Baku

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Construction of the Flame Towers in Baku, October 2012

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Lada seen in the old town, Baku

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A local salesman on the way from Baku to Sheki

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A mechanic outside of Sheki

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A young boy in Surakhani Raion, outside Baku

Embracing Diversity

by: Nardos Tekle

There are 196 countries in the world today, approximately 7,000 languages, and apart from the major world religions, there are hundreds of other religions and lifestyles practiced by the 7 billion individuals inhabiting earth. Despite the fact that these numbers are estimates that undergo continuous updating, they reveal something important about our world. Namely diversity. Although some believe that diversity contributes in strengthening society and creating success, many argue that diversity is the root cause of conflict. Diversity opponents on the other hand claim that in a world of diversity, conflict is inevitable[1]. What does this mean for peace?

My feelings on this issue are mixed. On the one hand, I agree that diversity has throughout history caused a lot pain. A lot of blood has been shed due to people’s inability to deal with and accept the cultural diversity around them. The wars in the Middle East and the most recent Syrian civil war are only a few examples of the sad realization that humans still to this very day, struggle to coexist without conflict due to the inability to cope with diversity. On the other hand, I don’t entirely believe that conflict and warfare are inevitable due to diversity. All previous and ongoing warfare due to diversity have a loud a clear message. Forcefully imposing one’s ideologies and theories about life is not going to make the world a better place. What about the basic human rights that each individual is entitled to? This message in my opinion seems to be repeatedly ignored and thus contributing to the failure to learn form the past, history repeating itself, and the devastating and heartbreaking consequences we are surrounded by.

In my opinion, embracing diversity is the key to attaining peace and creating a better world for ourselves. Of course, many will probably disagree with my opinion by emphasizing that conflict and warfare are issues far too complex to be settled by one simple solution – the same solution that many consider to be the cause of conflict. Sometimes, we search very hard for answers and solutions that are right in front of us. Yes, I personally believe that the one solution, the key to attaining peace is as simple as understanding that diversity is not the enemy of peace. Attempting to change and influence people (usually by forceful means) that differ in appearance, belief or lifestyle, is what threatens peace.

We are quick to judge and avoid people who are different from us, and we base our knowledge on stereotypes. We label people who fail or refuse to abide by our rules, beliefs, and lifestyles, as: “the enemy”. This is the world we have created for ourselves. Neighbors killing each other because of their religious views or ethnicity, and prejudice and discrimination have become defense mechanisms. Considering the fact that our diversities are a part our identities and make us all unique, its only natural to be willing to go to great lengths to protect our identities. But putting aside our diversity for a moment, we as humans all strive to be happy and fulfilled in life.

I personally believe that world peace can only be attained once we learn to eliminate our ethnocentric mindsets, and embrace and appreciate the beauty of diversity that exists in our world. Perhaps countries in dispute could make the effort to embrace the diversity they are exposed to, as a method to settle their differences rather than use violence. Perhaps if all the nations that are at war against each other put as much effort into learning about other nations and embracing their diversity, a great deal of pain and disaster would be avoid in our world.

I am not claiming that embracing diversity is something that can be done overnight. No, it will take time, dedication and the honest willingness to accept and understand the people we come across and their diversity. Perhaps inviting that one neighbor in your neighborhood with a different background or religion from yours to your house for a cup of tea is a great place to start. In the words of Nelson Mandela, “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.

On the run: My story as a Refugee

by: Ole Hofsøy

As a former scout, I’ve had countless experiences I would never dream of, but although I can think of many interesting, fun and even scary events, there is ONE EXPERIENCE that gave me a push to the interest I have for INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS and HUMANITARTIAN WORK.

The year was 2005, I was 13 years old, and it was time for my first national camp (Free:05) for scouts. Finally, it was my time to meet thousands of scouts from all over the country, and even some who came all the way from other countries. A week with fun activities and new experiences.

Two times during the week the camp lasted, the camp would change focus to another theme. The camp opened with SKILL, before the focus changed to FREEDOM, and the camp ended with focus on FESTIVAL.

The focus on Freedom started on Tuesday. The organizer got together with the Norwegian Refugee Council and arranged a roleplay called «ON THE RUN». The scouts were made into refugees from Somalia, and the goal of the roleplay was to GET FROM SOMALIA TO NORWAY and apply for asylum.

Each participating group represented a family, and all participants got NEW IDENTITIES for the next two days. Each group also got a guide who would guide us until we came to the border, and the guides and the military forces would only speak English (remember that we were all young Norwegians). This would be more MENTALLY CHALLENGING than physical, so if it got to much to handle, we could «pull» an «emergency brake».

All over the route, there were military forces waiting to «catch» people. If you got caught, they would take your backpack unless you had any reasons why you needed to keep it, such as medicines. There were also some military posts which we had to go to, but there they wouldn’t catch us, but ask us about our family and give us different tasks to perform.

Soon after we started, we entered a big field where our guide told us to camp until we got any new instructions. After a little while, the GROUND STARTED SHAKING, and PEOPLE SCREAMED at the top of their lungs. A huge group of soldiers were here, CHASING US, so we had to get our stuff and run, we were not going to get caught!

Right before the first real military post (the border to another country), one of our group members twisted his foot. He didn’t want to quit, so we were told that if any soldiers caught us, we could tell them about the foot, and they would let us continue. After all, we couldn’t run very fast, but we should still try not to get caught.

At the military post, we got one minute to unpack our backpacks, and after they checked that we didn’t bring anything illegal across the border, we got one minute to pack our backpacks. Whatever we didn’t have time to pack, WE WOULD LOSE.

We managed to get across the border, but our guide didn’t come with us, from now on we had to manage to get further ON OUR OWN. The first that meets us is another military post. At this time, we were two in my group considering pulling the emergency brake, BOTH ONLY 13 Y EARS OLD. The rest of our group were older than us. Soldiers had spread all over an open area in the forest, and every family was sent to one soldier. When all soldiers were busy with a family, groups would be held back at the border. When we got sent to a soldier, we saw entire families doing jumping jacks, we heard people singing and some were RUNNING FOR THEIR LIVES. We wouldn’t get away from this post without earning it.

Considering what we saw and heard, we were lucky with the soldier we got sent to. He acted like he was really angry, and threaten us with different tasks, but after a short thinking break – and I remember this like it was yesterday – he said: «I don’t know if I just like you, or if I’m very tired, but I’ll let you go. Take your things and run, if you’re not around the turn down the road in two minutes, I WILL SHOOT YOU.» We didn’t hesitate to get our things and run, even the guy with the twisted foot ran.

Now it started to get late, and everyone was TIRED AND HUNGRY. It had gone many hours since the last time we ate something, and everyone was ready for a break. Luckily, the next post was the last one for the day, and finally something else than a military post. As we closed in on the post, we saw a banner hanging over the forest road we followed. «Camp No Hope». Shortly after the banner, we met some humanitarian workers telling us that we were going to spend the night here at the refugee camp. Every family got a small area to stay inside, and we could not talk to anyone outside our group, because interacting with other families in refugee camps often comes with the risk of getting infected with MALARIA. I don’t remember too much of our stay there, as I fell asleep shortly after we arrived. After a few hours, I woke up to see that we finally had something to eat. A tiny portion of rice, but it was at least something. In the middle of the night, we were awakened by an alarm, and the humanitarian workers screamed that SOLDIERS WERE ON THEIR WAY, and that we have to get going.

We got a new guide, but he didn’t want to talk English, so we could more easily (in Norwegian) than we did the day before. People were running, and quickly we fell behind most of the other groups. We heard the soldiers closing in on us, so we decided to go up into a hill covered with rocks and tall grass. After two military cars and a group of soldiers had passed the hillside, we stood up to see better, and to sneak us down without getting caught, but suddenly a guy from another group whispered to us: «Shh, there’s two soldiers coming up the hillside with flash lights, SHUT UP AND LAY DOWN! We lay there for about ten minutes before we finally got going again. The next post we came to was a small village.

We had arrived Norway, finally.

Now we got some food, met health workers who checked us for diseases, and we applyed for asylum in Norway. We met a group of old women that checked our belongings to see what we brought in to Norway, and after we had been to all posts in the village, we were sent up a hill, to the FINISH LINE.

We got som food and warm drinks, and were told that we had to wait there until all groups came to the finish line before they could give us any information. When they finally came with the results, they told us a little bit about how it is to be a refguee, and that we They also told us how many pulled the emergency brake, and which families got asylum. I don’t remember how many families there were, but only two families got asylum. The DISAPPOINTMENT WAS INTENSE, after all this we didn’t even get asylum.

This was the first time I really got some knowledge about how it is to be a refugee, and even though this was hard for me as 13 year old boy who wasn’t fluent in English and not in the best physical shape, this wasn’t even close to .

At the Folk High School I attended, we had a BOY FROM SYRIA in our class who had managed to come all the way TO NORWAY FROM SYRIA. I had a really interesting talk with him where he told me his story. He ran away with his uncle and a group of other boys and men. They , didn’t have any food or water, they got caught several times by ARMED FORCES WHO KILLED MOST OF THE GROUP. I believe there were somewhere between 9 and 11 in the group, all having Norway as final goal. Four of them made it Italy, but two of them died in a car accident, and the only two survivors was the boy from my class and one other man. Finally he made it to Norway.

If I compare what I experienced with his experiences, I can see some similarities, but what he experiences so intense and terrifying. In two days, we got from Somalia to Norway, no one got killed, a few minor injuries occured, but we had medical help available. We got food, an the tasks given by the military were adjusted to the people in each group, SO IT WOULDN’T BE TOO HARD.

The last few years, I’ve seen more and more about humanitarian organizations in news and social media focusing on refugees, but personally, I would like to see even MORE FOCUS ON THE SUBJECT in educational institutions. I believe that most people would learn a lot about participating in a roleplay like the one I participated in. Not because we necessarily can get the experience of being a refugee, but because we’ll learn how it is living with the fear of getting killed every day, and I believe that the organizations behind these kind of roleplays have a lot of great information about being a refugee both before and after the roleplay, and that they can answer most of the questions you might have after going through something based on the reality of refugees.

If we want peace and understanding, one of the most important things we need is knowledge. I know I learned a lot of this experience, and that is maybe one of the reasons why I’m so drawn to the topics of international relations and humanitarian work.

We’re Back!

by Tony Halsteindal

IT’S A NEW SEMESTER and a new Peace Committee has now embarked on a new school year here at the American College of Norway. This time around we are doing things a bit different. Since we’re are starting earlier than usual we are hoping to get more done and take a more pro-active approach towards peace.

Last semester we focused mainly on creating discussions surrounding issues of peace, which is very important in and of itself. Before anything can be done, it needs to be discussed. Well, this year we are hoping to get something done as well.

With this early start WE ARE FEELING OPTIMISTIC that our projects will pan out, with our sub-committees engage in planning of a fundraising event, a reach-out project looking to bring back the retro idea of ‘penpaling’ using social media, and blogging. And why wouldn’t be optimistic?!

We have a great set of new students in our committee this year, who are all enthusiastic and inspired to continue the “fight” for peace. With all this ‘doing’ we’ve got planned, we still haven’t forgotten about the vital ingredient from last semester, namely creating a discussion. The blog will be up and running to make sure that discussions are created. And with us this year we’ll have three regular bloggers on this site. Me, returning from last semester, Nardos Tekle, and Ole Hofsøy. I have no doubt that we have a great year ahead of us.

DESPITE ALL THE ‘TALKING’ we did last year, we still accomplished a lot in terms of creating a discussion and awareness. We were lucky enough to be able to send two of our students to the Nobel Peace Prize Forum in Minneapolis – Jordan Seneca and Elsa Lilja Gunnarsdottir. Jordan even held a presentation in Minneapolis explaining what we’d been doing here at ACN, as well as going into depth about three central questionS for peace development: What is peace? What is a global citizen? How can we ensure lasting peace? Meanwhile at ACN, students followed attentively the Nobel Peace Prize Forum over a live-stream and also arranged fun activities during the breaks. This ‘Weekend of Peace’ was all achieved thanks to a few student who volunteered to set it up – Emma Gjerdseth, Cheyenne Paris, Andrew Wynne and Maria Andersen.

BUT THAT WASN’T ALL WE DID! We had a wide range of contributions to the committee from a diverse set of students. Artwork was created based on impressions of what peace meant from our more artistic students – Charlotte Isabel Dos Santos and Live Skarbø. Charlotte also contributed with a song called “So Tired”. Another musical composition came from Sigrid Ravn Ryan, with a song called “Lost in Thoughts”. Sigrid even went so far as to make an amazing music video with fellow ACN’ers in front of the camera. The songs and video are available on this blog. Check ‘em out!

BUT LET US NOT FORGET ABOUT THE BLOG. Regular bloggers included myself, Elsa G., and Isabell Grønnslett, but the blog also had one time contributions from several of our students. A big thanks goes also to Hayley Kuntz who administrated the blog and served as a right-hand for our student advisor, Becky Norvang, when dealing with the Peace Committee. To tie the projects all up, we held a presentation here at ACN going through all that we’d done that semester. We were even lucky enough to have Barry B. White, US ambassador of Norway, as a guest speaker.

So we accomplished a lot, but THE “FIGHT” FOR PEACE IS FAR FROM OVER. With an earlier start to the Peace Committee this year, we are eager to step up our game. The next year will be an exciting one and I am very eager to see what our new group will come up with.

The Importance of Accepting Change

by Elsa Lilja Gunnarsdottir
 
My experiences at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum have made me believe in the power of ideas. If we focus on making one small step, and we do so unselfishly, we have the power to change the course of history. It is that simple.
 
The incredible speakers at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum have proved that I can say this in all sincerety, and I ask you to believe that this statement is not naive. We need to reinforce the belief in small ideas. Muhammad Yunus has proved that a small idea can in fact change the world.
 
I have a small idea. My idea is to change the opinions and attitudes of just a few people. I want to convince people to believe that personal gain shouldnt always be the most important motivator. Benefits for the greater good can actually benefit you in the end.
 
For instance, you will probably not be happy about paying taxes, but if those taxes can be used to provide affordable and accessible health care, it could save your life in the end. By changing the ideas of just a few people, I believe that they can inspire other people and thus create a chain of change. Anyone can do it. Very few believed in Muhammad Yunus’s idea, claiming that it would never work, that the system doesn’t work that way. He proved them wrong.
 
If people are willing to give up their stubbornness and unwillingness to change just for a moment, if only to listen to other ideas, it could inspire them to regain optimism. I believe change is impossible without optimism. If you say things will never change, then they never will for you. That is also just as simple. I ask you to believe the fact that you have the power to alter your life.
 
William Ernest Henley put this beautifully in his poem Invictus;

I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul 

You hold the power to change your destiny, and you have the control to change your ways. It is a small but powerful idea; believing that change lies not in an uncontrollable faith or in the hands of government officials, every single one of us has the ability to influence and to create change. All it takes is an idea and the belief in that idea. 
Believe me, I am incredibly stubborn, yet many of my ideas about the world have changed because I have listened.
 
So I say, listen to the people around you,you may not agree with them at first and I realize it is very difficult to compromise your views for some one elses. Our minds arent as easily molded as when we were kids, and it will just become increasingly more difficult. I am not saying this is necessarily a bad thing; it has made us more critical and perhaps given us better judgment, but it has also made us less open to new or other opinions.
 
Muhammad Yunus mentioned this in his Nobel Peace Prize Forum speech; he said that it’s incredibly difficult to change the minds of adults because they have already made up their mind, and they are so committed to their ideas of right and wrong, it is like they lose some of their optimism and close their ears to change. I would encourage adults to listen to those younger than you, it might seem like they know less, but their ears are more open and they might even tell you something you dont know (or that youve never been open to). 
 
My small idea is, Be susceptible to change. If you believe your fate is locked in its current position, you are wrong. Anyone can change the world, the speakers at the Forum have proven that. But nothing can ever change unless you are willing to accept the idea that it can. We live in an unpredictable world. If people would never have been open to change and optimistic to new ideas, we would still be rubbing two sticks together to make fire. 
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