Saturday, June 04, 2016

On a new platform

This blog has been discontinued while I am looking for a new format.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The deepest circle of hell

Yarmouk refugee camp was a thriving community just near city center of Damascus, Syria. After the civil war started, it was surrounded, besieged and bombed. Those who could leave, left, and those who were too late or who did not have anywhere else to go, became the prisoners of this perhaps the largest de facto prison in the world.
The situation is so bad, that the UN Secretary General said recently: "In the horror that is Syria, the Yarmouk refugee camp is the deepest circle of hell".  According to UNRWA, the UN agency in charge of humanitarian assistance to the camp, as an average, in 2014 camp residents received 400 calories in food aid. Just for the record, minimum for emergencies for an adult person is 2,100 calories. This situation is nothing less than starvation. From an initial population of over 160,000 Palestinians, about 18,000, among them 3,500 children, remain stranded, with no way out and no safety inside.

When starvation and violence is the beginning of the end of every day, life becomes hell. Not just difficult,  but hell. This situation is brilliantly and accurately in a video "Please, please take me out here", done by BBC´s Lyse Doucet, who at one point (watch at 2.40) needs to cross the line as a journalist, and comforts the person she is interviewing.
I have nothing much more to say. Watch it for yourselves. And share it widely among your networks. And remember, at the sunset of today, this will be the end of another day of hell at Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Fatimatu Yamsa knew she was going to die

The text below this photo by Reuters Sigfrid Modola is straightforward and clear in its simple brutality: (...)  "A mother holds her child while attempting to take cover as repeated gun shots are heard close to Miskine district during continuing sectarian violence in the capital Bangui today January 28, 2014. At least 13 people were killed in Central African Republic on Monday as the top U.N. human rights official warned of escalating reprisals against Muslims and urged foreign governments to do more to stop the country being torn apart". (...)  Unfortunately, the international media attention is looking in another direction, bringing you news about music awards, drunk pop stars and the latest about fashion. This was pointed out in a very eloquent way by ambassador Power, who in this tweet makes her point in a very poignant way:

But there are good reporters out there, telling the story, such as Sigfrid Modola from Reuters, or Thomas Fessy from BBC, or Marcus Bleasdale. They are taking risks and doing their job, to show the rest of us how war is changing the human landscape of Central African Republic.  Why we don't see more journalists on the ground, it's difficult to say. Perhaps of fear. Perhaps of lack of funding or support from their bosses. And I also understand journalists who are not traveling there. I do find it difficult stop looking at those eyes, that fear of mother and child: One cannot go back to write about banalities after witnessing images like the photo above.

Another kew witness to what has happened in Central African Republic is Peter Bouckart, from Human Rights Watch. In his dispatch "We will take our revenge" I found a story that I found extremely important, not only because of its sadness, but because some people are still doing the right thing, even though hate and revenge is drowning the hopes for peace.

Fatimatu Yamsa was a young Muslim woman. She wanted to leave the city of Boyali,  escaping from the violence which has changed everything in a matter of days in Central African Republic. With her was her 7 month old baby.
Knowing that she was going to die, desperate to save her baby, Fatimatu asked the Christian woman sitting next to her in the truck, to take the baby and pretend it was hers. Fatimatu wanted her baby to live.  Fatimatu and two other Muslim women and their four children were taken out of the truck. One child managed to escape, but the others were taken into the local Mosque by the Christian militias. These three women and three children were hacked to death with men - and children - all blinded by hate.

Often when tragedies like this happen, we are paralyzed by its terror and maybe we may feel somehow content that it's far away, it's not close enough, we don't care, we may even don't know where that country is. It's difficult to stop these crimes to happen. It's then difficult to see how the social fabric, that intricate bond between groups of people can mended, when violence is changing everything around us. If we don't have enough observers, those who can find the stories of cohesion, then there will be one single narrative, and that is a dangerous thing, because it can leave violence alone, to continue its devastating force. We know from the story told by Peter Bouckart, with the tragic example of Fatimatu Yamsa, that there are people in times of war who are not murderers. There are people who have saved people from the other side. There are people who have done their best to work for peace, but their voice is too lonely, too weak, too seldom. We have to find them, and we have to give them a powerful microphone, and to amplify the message of compassion, solidarity, love for life. It should not be that difficult. And we need both more journalists on the ground, and we need agencies who are willing and able to support the reconstruction as soon as possible of the social fabric in Central African Republic.

And yes, Fatimatu's baby was saved. The Christian woman did the right thing, and reunited the baby with Fatimatu's family. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Hope is not an anchor; it's a sail

”Imagine if governments could tell people: What is happening to you is not right! What is happening to you is unfair! But the situation at the moment is not like that. Internal displacement is a betrayal. It’s a betrayal because someone is displacing you. And the country you are a citizen of is not protecting you. Imagine then there is a legal framework that says ”in spite of something terrible happening to you in our country, we are going to help you, because that is my right and duty as a government. That is my duty as a citizen, as a fellow brother and sister. That is hope. Hope is a sail. It can bring you somewhere. When you move forward you change something. You change what you had before, you change where you are going. And that, friends, is development. 

What was that all about?

A month ago, I was invited to do a TEDx in Arendal, Norway. And you know, it's a TED talk, so first, one goes flattered, then one goes terrified. There are strict rules for how such a speech is to be done, and one of the important rules, is that the speech has to be memorized and not read from a script. So I accepted the challenge and started the process of writing. 17 drafts later, with good inputs from my team at the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center as well, and some last minute improvisation, here is the result: 

I tried to tell a story about what hope means for people in extremely vulnerable situations, starting from my own story from many years back. 
If you think this talk can be useful, feel free to share the video with your friends and network.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Leaving Timor-Leste

A new year has started. After four years of hard work, the NRC office in Timor-Leste is closed, according to plans. Now my family and I we are having few days of holidays before returning to Norway. Indeed we are a little bit exhausted....It takes a lot of energy to start a mission but closing one is as challenging, if done right.
I have been abroad from Norway since March 2005, first two years in Darfur and four years in Timor-Leste.
There are many things to say about what happens in a job like this during six years. If I was to write a list of things I have learnt during this time, that list would be a book. And perhaps it should be, one day. But not to worry, it will not be something of the cheesy stuff or Hollywood material. If I was to write, I would write about the lessons of resilience that I have learnt, when listening to people in crisis and how they show how powerful people can be when survival is the most important thing to do. I will not forget the tears, the faces and the stories.
Something very beautiful happenned to me in the last weeks I was in Timor-Leste. In a ceremony in Dili on November 28th, at the celebration of the 30th anniversary for the proclamation of independence, President Jose Ramos-Horta awarded me with the Order of Timor-Leste, and I am most grateful. (For an article in Norwegian, click this link).The best thing about this award is that it has many shareholders, since there were hundreds of good people in NRC Timor-Leste who have done an exceptional work, while providing assistance and help to people in need.
My family and I leave behind in Timor-Leste many good stories, friends, experiences and our beautiful dog Pancho, who is now adopted by a good family.
When we first came to Timor-Leste four years ago, the situation was completely different and the challenges were everywhere. Situation has changed and now new opportunities and tasks lies ahead for those colleagues working with development issues. For me, first step is to return to Norway and we will see what comes next. After six years abroad, I look forward going for a long walk in the Norwegian forest.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

When important things go cyberforgotten

Some three years ago I was working in a place called Kalma IDP camp in Darfur, home to more than 90.000 internally displaced people (IDP). Very often they were on international headlines, due to their claims on abuse and violence, and sometimes due to violence inside the camp as well. Many reports and events have occurred since I was working there, and the situation for many of these families has not changed much, although it seems like the general violence has diminished, due to the presence of African UN forces on the ground.
Last month I was made aware of this footage and note aired by CNN, and the curious thing is that I did not know about this note. I remember the interview, but in the limelight of so many complicated events during those difficult months, I never saw it on TV. (For the record: my family name is misspelled at the beginning of the interview).
I realize that there so much information that is stored in places where we will never find them, and reality is still there, sometimes in our face, but we simply ignore it, due to so many reasons. Some of these reasons is the perception of an overload of information; sometimes it is because of political convenience, and sometimes, it is just because we think we don´t need to know everything around us. When finding this note last month, I thought I did not want to forget these people, as they do not forget us. So here they are, as I remember them from three years back.

The CNN note was published on January 26, 2007 — As seen on Foreign Exchange with Fareed Zakaria. The Pulitzer Center Director Jon Sawyer traveled in early 2006 to Sudan, where he spent a week with African Union peace monitors in Darfur.

Saturday, December 18, 2004