Send in Jan Egeland the United Nations superhero man! But really, ISS sent in Jan Egeland so we could learn from his peaceful ways (more like we hopped on the metro to meet him, but ISS sending him in sounds cooler). Steinar told us this would be the summer of our lives and meeting Jan Egeland was certainly a once in a lifetime experience.
This afternoon we wandered over to the Norwegian Refugee Council offices in downtown Oslo where Jan works and he provided us with a brief overview of the work he is doing. What impressed me most about our visit with Jan were the statistics he presented. Currently there are 51.2 million refugees in the world. Thinking about that number is daunting. The NRC has approximately 4200 volunteers working around the world to aid in shelter, education, water and sanitation, food security, and counseling and legal assistance. This past year they were able to aid a little over 4.5 million refugees and their impact increases each year. It’s incredible the amount of good people can do in such dire situations.
Something I’ve been hearing a lot while here in Norway is the debate over immigration and refugees seeking asylum. This debate is just as heated, if not more, in the United States. The tragic terrorist attack in Oslo on July 22, 2011 is one example of this debate being taken to an extreme. Many individuals view immigrant and refugee populations as “free-loaders,” something I feel is a massive generalization and stereotype. How can we jump to such conclusions about fellow human beings? This mindset only deepens the wounds from discrimination and fear that many refugees bear, not to mention further instilling mistrust and the feeling of “otherness.” I asked Jan his views on the debate and although he doesn’t anticipate Europe becoming more liberal in allowing larger numbers of refugees to seek safety in their countries, he does have hope for helping refugees locally. Therefore we need to continue to provide aid both at home and abroad while we work to move conflicts away from physical violence.
Today has been one of the most inspiring days on our trip so far, and Jan Egeland’s motivation is impressive. He definitely drinks protein shakes to keep up all that positive energy and drive to make a difference. We shouldn’t get discouraged though, because peacemaking takes time and practice. I guess you could drink a protein shake if you wanted to, but no guarantees you’ll turn into a peace making machine instantly. If there is one thing I’ve learned so far on my journey in Norway it is that peace is complicated stuff. No brainer, I know, but an incredible amount of logistics, analytics, and field work go into the process. Peace involves perseverance, organization, dialogue, and an action-oriented way of life. Back home in Sioux Falls we have a large refugee community where each of us can make a difference. Take the time to ask good questions and listen as you move through each day. Need some motivation? Send in Jan Egeland. http://youtu.be/Yn-oemgzlEU