What we would like to do is to promote the potential of young people, encourage them to think more freely and to work more independently, and to help them in understanding themselves and other people better. By doing so, we aim to stimulate ideals and values in their minds that according to our belief supports human culture, politics and religion.
Extract from Kristian Schjelderup’s ceremonial speech,
March 18 1939 (my translation).
The founders of Nansenskolen Norsk Humanistisk Akademi at Lillehammer were Kristian Schjelderup and Anders Wyller, both Christians. The political atmosphere in Europe was that of increasing support of fascism throughout Europe, and Hitler was in power in Germany. Jewish communities throughout Europe was experiencing an increasing amount of hatred, violence and social stigma. In Norway, Quisling was gaining political sympathy. After World War II his name became synonymous with “traitor”. The purpose of Nansenskolen was to play a role in “the fight against a mentality of violence, racial prejudice and intolerance”. Like the rest of Norway, the school was occupied by the Nazis during the war.
Fridtjof Nansen – the agnostic, humanitarian and diplomat – gave name to the school, which opened in 1938. Humanism has nothing to do with religion and it is not a view on life. It is an attitude. It revolves around what it means to be a human – and what it entails to show respect for human life. And ultimately, how we behave and relate to other humans, regardless of colour, religion, culture, or political stance. The purpose of my visit to Nansenskolen was to present my talk on “Peace-building in post-genocide Rwanda through cooperative work”.
Lillehammer is a town that is close to my heart. My father’s home town. I spent many of my school holidays there, at my grandmother’s place. I would walk and ride my bicycle through Gågata and the streets. Occasionally there would be only my grandmother, Sigrid, and I. Her heart was good as gold. I loved her to pieces. She lived in a large white house, located just a stone’s throw from the shores of lake Mjøsa, and right next to the train tracks. Her garden of flowers in multiple colors and different kinds in between. As a child, when trains passed by I used to run and hide inside from the monsters. Particularly when they conveniently honked their horns just as they passed by. Too loud and noisy! I still do not like loud noises, but normally I can’t hide from them.
For anyone, going back to your roots is special, because it brings back memories. It makes you aware of where you belong, and who you are. It is a part of being human. However, some people take advantage of the concept in defining aspects of identity in terms of exclusivity. Who belongs, and who do not? It becomes an issue of “us” and “them”, which was the case also in Rwanda, among Hutu extremists.
Today Nansenskolen Norsk Humanistisk Akademi is one of many “folkehøgskoler” in Norway. High school graduates take a year out after 12 years of school. There are no grades, so there’s no stress. Or you can put in your best effort, and take advantage of it. Adults may also study at Nansenskolen. While visiting the school I noticed the man who I figured was the oldest student in class. His name is Adolf, and is 83 years old. I greeted him, and commended him for taking up studying in his age. “Well, you know”, he said, “these young people, they have to find their way after finishing here, and reaching towards new goals. I don’t need to do that. I just learn.” I like his attitude to continue to study and learn in older age. After all, you don’t stop to learn or develop when you are +60. That would have been kind of boring, I think. Don’t you agree?
Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue is located on the premises of Nansenskolen. I went upstairs to the second floor, initially only to meet staff at the Center. I entered to see Steinar Bryn having a rest, but he didn’t mind getting up to talk to me. Bryn is a Senior Consultant at the Center, and has years of experience from peace and dialogue work. He has worked in several divided communities in the former Yugoslav countries of Bosnia-Hercegovina and Croatia. Even today children of Croat, Serb and Bosniak backgrounds are attending different sessions at school. Morning session and afternoon session. They have different sets of text books, and different curriculum in school, that represent their own perspectives of history about the countries that used to be Yugoslavia. Education can be used as a tool to prevent or promote conflict. Children in divided communities have little or no contact with one another. University students fear or dislike meeting students of a different background than themselves.
When I went to the town of Mostar in Bosnia-Hercegovina as a student in 2011 I was told that students will not even cross the bridge to “the other side” – in their home town. Fear and suspicion was alive and well among people, and still is. But there is progress. Bryn has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize four times for his peace and dialogue work, once in 2009. However, someone else gained the recognition. President Obama. In retrospect, I find that rather interesting… I am crossing my fingers that Bryn and the NCPD will receive the award this year.
Just as Bryn and I were talking, the women’s team sprint at the Olympics was starting. We watched the final on his computer in his office. Bryn, the secretary and I watched team Bjørgen and Flugstad Østberg win the competition. Quite amusing. And it reminded me of the Olympics at Lillehammer twenty years ago, when I was 15. I was lucky enough also not only to discuss the topic of peace-building and dialogue work with Steinar Bryn, but he also gave me reports and papers about their work. That made my day! 🙂
Thank you to staff and students at Nansenskolen for your warm and friendly welcoming! 🙂
Being a Norwegian, sometimes the best way for me to find peace is to go places where I know it is quiet and peaceful. In the woods, or the mountains, by the sea, or going skiing. While staying at Lillehammer I spent two nights at Nevra Høyfjellshotell in Nordseter. A friend of mine, Ronny, works at the hotell, and I stayed with him in his staff flat. He is also practicing Buddhist principles and aims to implement them in work to help others as well. I don’t mind discussing Buddhism and Buddhist principles, but somewhere along the line I lose track of the topic. For instance, when it comes to I not being “me”, or you not being “you”. Ehm… eh, well…. Or how electromagnetism affects bodily functions…? I am sorry to say, I don’t know. Maybe I should. But I think his idea of setting up a massage parlor and to practice Buddhist principles to help others is a brilliant idea. A little less materialism and consumerism in society would be nice. Good on you, Ronny! I am cheering for you.
For me, it works perfectly well to go skiing. Can there be anything more serene and peaceful than pure nature?