Themes of reconciliation and aid run through symposium
Just days after the Jan. 9 signing of a historic peace agreement designed to end the world’s longest running civil war in Sudan, representatives on different sides of the bitter battle shared a stage at PLU.
The Sudan session, which was arranged well before the accord, included three people who were present for the peace pact signing in Nairobi: Janda, Tom Vraalsen, the Norwegian envoy to Sudan, and Roger Winter, assistant administrator for the United States Agency of International Development.
Janda is a representative of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement. A Sudanese Anglican priest, he has served as general secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches. He is dedicated to promoting the protection of human rights, conflict resolution and Africa’s economy.
ElGuneid is a representative of the government that signed a permanent ceasefire with the SPLM. It establishes steps for peace between the mostly Muslim north and the Christian and animist south, but doesn’t put an end to the violence in Darfur, the western region of Sudan.
Violence in Sudan over the last 21 years has killed more than two million and displaced more than four million.
“The war indeed has brought a lot of suffering and tragedy,” said Janda, who listed the number of relatives he has lost, including a sister, brother and niece. “The war to me is not just statistics – it is people, human beings.”
Many credit the Norwegian government for helping broker the peace deal.
“The Norwegian people have been with us through thick and thin,” Janda said.
Vraalsen said Norway has been involved in the peacekeeping mission in Sudan for more than 40 years. The country tried to work out a peace deal in 1993, but realized the opposing sides were too far apart. Still, Norway continued to offer humanitarian aid, as it has in many other areas of the world.
Norway’s success at such intervention relies on several factors, including that it has no hidden agenda.
“We never go into a conflict if we are not asked,” Vraalsen said.
The symposium was the first U.S. celebration of Norway’s peaceful independence from Sweden in 1905, and the theme of peace ran throughout the symposium, which drew more than 1,000 people to hear from diplomats, educators and humanitarian volunteers.
“The whole Norwegian diplomatic corps is here – don’t keep us too long,” joked Knut Vollebæk, ambassador of Norway to the United States, during the opening session.
One of the world’s most prosperous countries thanks to the discovery of oil there in the 1970s, Norway spends 1 percent of its gross domestic product on overseas development assistance.
“The best guarantee for our own progress is others’ progress,” Vollebæk said.
Norway has pledged $118 million in relief to areas struck by the south Asian tsunami, following its tradition of international cooperation.
“Norway’s past has been its asset,” Vollebæk said.
There is no colonial past, no hidden agenda, and Norway doesn’t aim to fly its flag in every country it helps.
“The moral obligation is there,” he said.
One country that has benefited greatly from Norway’s benevolence is Namibia, which shares a bond with PLU as well through the Norway/Namibia Project. The Namibia Association of Norway (NAMAS) seeks to empower the Namibian people with the knowledge and leadership skills to advance their young democracy.
“To us in Namibia, Norway is a small country with a big heart and a genuine commitment to peace and development,” said Sélma Ashipala-Musavyi, charges d’Affaires for the Embassy of Namibia in Washington, D.C.
Norway has helped Namibia emerge from a bloody past filled with deep-seated hatred to a peaceful democracy. The country still faces huge challenges, Ashipala-Musavyi said, including a high rate of HIV/AIDS, lack of education in rural areas and a high rate of unemployment, which can result in crime.
To strengthen the young country, the government has prepared a long-term development plan, which it will follow through 2030, and is working to buy land that was lost before independence.
NAMAS has been a huge help. “We cannot thank you enough,” Ashipala-Musavyi said. “The only way to say thank you is to make sure we succeed.”
Other countries in the world also face health crises, and many say the United States must play a bigger role in reducing disease. Throughout the world, 1.2 billion people live on less than $1 per day, Vollebæk said, and poor hygiene and preventable disease kill a child every three seconds.
Others who are working on global health issues, including graduates working abroad, echoed those comments, saying increased awareness and action are required to end senseless deaths. Dr. William Foege ’57, a global health expert who advises The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and is a member of the PLU Board of Regents, said he was gratified to see so much money raised so quickly for tsunami relief.
“But I feel conflicted,” he said. “I wonder, did they know that 250,000 children died in the world, mostly of preventable diseases, that week? Did they know the same thing happened the next week and the next week?”
Poverty and lack of resources help contribute to violence and terrorism, Vollebæk said, so fighting for solutions benefits everyone. He attributed the root causes of terrorism to a lack of a good government, violations of human rights and unjust distribution of resources. Social, economic and political justice can reduce terrorism, he said. It’s an enormous task, he said, but a critical one.
“Peace must be made real and tangible to the daily life of every individual,” Vollebæk said.
“Only through common efforts will we be able to create a better and more secure world for all of us.”
Wang Center recognizes peace builders who affirm the human spirit
A Norwegian diplomat, a pair of polar explorers and a Norwegian group dedicated to empowering the people of Namibia received Peace Builder Awards from the Wang Center for International Programs. (see related stories)
Honored were Tom Eric Vraalsen, Norwegian special envoy to the war-torn African nation of Sudan; Liv Arnesen and Ann Bancroft, who with their daring and grueling expeditions across thousands of miles of ice promote peace and understanding; and the Namibia Association of Norway, which responds to poverty and injustice by helping people in the African republic build skills.
The Wang Center Peace Builder Award recognizes global bridge builders who exemplify hope for humanity, whose lives are centered on a vision of the just and good, who have demonstrated that they will not be defeated by difficult circumstances and who affirm the resilience of the human spirit.
Wang Center founders Peter ’60 and Grace Wang presented the awards on behalf of the university at a celebration banquet on Jan. 12, the first night of the center’s symposium Pathways to Peace: Norway’s Approach to Democracy and Development. The Wang Center works to educate for a just, healthy, sustainable and peaceful world.
Wang Center Director Janet Rasmussen said the Peace Builder Award recognizes that the road to peace is not built by nations, but by the collective achievements and contributions of many individuals.
“Recipients understand that peace making is a vocation, a calling that assures the needs of self are always subordinate to service of others,” Rasmussen said.
Also, Chuck Nelson, a retired administrator who helped thousands of Norwegians come to Tacoma to study at PLU, received Norway’s prestigious St. Olaf Medal for his significant work in promoting relations between Norway and America.
Knut Vollebæk, ambassador of Norway to the United States, presented the medal on behalf of Norway’s King Harald. Nelson was director of international admissions and retirsed after 30 years at PLU. He and his wife, Lois, helped countless students.
Polar explorers make stop at PLU before their next adventure
As a child, Liv Arnesen was fascinated with stories of Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl’s adventures at sea aboard his Kon-Tiki fleet and created a tiny replica that she floated in puddles near her Oslo, Norway, home.
Arnesen and Bancroft came to PLU to celebrate their Norwegian-American alliance during the year of Norway’s centennial and to promote the curriculum. They expect millions of children around the world to follow their expedition through the Web. (You can follow along with their expedition or review the curriculum at www.plu.edu/wangcenter.
Bancroft and Arnesen used their talks with schoolchildren and PLU audiences to make bigger points than simply relaying their stunning accomplishments, such as their 1,700-mile crossing of Antarctica. They talked about how the lack of wind on the windiest continent delayed them, forcing them to ski at one mph rather than sail at a much faster and more comfortable pace.
“What do you do when things don’t go as planned?” Arnesen asked students at Annie Wright School in Tacoma. Sometimes, you have to improvise and discover how much you really can do, she said.
Even at temperatures as low as 35 degrees below zero, alone on the ice for 94 days, they enjoyed themselves.
“We laughed every day,” Bancroft said. “We learned that laughter and humor is a very powerful tool to keep you going.”
They encourage people, especially children, to follow their own dreams and find the adventure of their lifetimes.