People of RCN

May 22, 2017

Justin Tata (’00 – ’02)

May 22nd, 2017|

As a young boy, I soon had to get used to fleeing from the violence of civil war. For two years, we roomed the jungles. During the day, bombs rained on us, and at nights we were constantly on the move. I made it to Kaya, a small border-town with Uganda, leaving my siblings and some family members behind. Evenings and mornings were filled with burial activities. Children, men, women and the elderly all died in numbers. At this stage, I accepted that one day it would be me. However, somehow I made it across the border into Uganda.

Having reached relative safety from immediate threats, a main challenge now was being to afford an annual fee of $2 for primary education. I then was accepted at a secondary school in the largest town in northern Uganda. My school fees were covered by UNCHER, but I had to overcome the transporting to and from school myself. I was so happy with two meals of beans, lunch and dinner for the four straight years. Doing well in the class, I was notified by the UNHCR education program to keep working hard. Two years later I was accepted at UWC Red Cross Nordic.

The first person to welcome me at Oslo airport was an alumna, who requested me to pick up my baggage at the conveyer belt. She was puzzled by my reply that all I had was this small hand bag. Arriving in Flekke, students and teachers were welcoming and full of life. Social life was so exciting that it almost made me forget where I came from. Studies were challenging, but manageable. During my second year, some of the questions I had about politics made it harder to focus on academics. My knowledge about the world grew so much, but my understanding of reality was still insufficient. My house mentor was helpful in walking me through life, encouraging me to let go of my past. I was silently praying to get my feet into any college and finally, I received an offer to College of the Atlantic in Maine.

My College dreams were short-lived by the events surrounding the 9/11. Getting to the USA was near impossible for a refugee student with Geneva Convention Travel Document as passport. But I did not give up and after 111 days received my entry visa to the US. Although interesting, life there was not all milk and honey. In 2009 I graduated with a master degree in urban and regional planning, then moving from California to Maryland and Boston, before moving back to South Sudan.

My return to home in South Sudan, was the best choice for me, but at a high cost too. I got to experience first-hand independence of the world’s youngest nation and took part in the forefront of nation building. Due to tribal discrimination, I failed to get a job with UN-Habitat. But I continued to search and after seven months got a lower level job, where I was equally paid with certificate holders. It was still in one of my areas of expertise, land reform programs. It was for the South Sudan Land Commission, sponsored by the Canadian Government, implemented by UN-Habitat. After nine months without receiving any payment I left the job and started my own practice for architectural and urban planning – where my services were taken for free by respectful government officials. In order to survive, I shut down the practice and joined Tetra Tech ARD to implement a USAID land reform program. I became responsible for this in my home state of Western Equatoria and delivered the first successful land reform of its kind in the nation. The US ambassador, Susan D. Peige, and the USAID Country Director, for the first time travelled outside the capital Juba to attend the inauguration of my land reform project. A well-established country land authority; I personally designed and built the simple structure and trained the staff.

On December 15 2013, we were back into another civil war. I returned to Juba, working for the City Council for 6 months, without receiving payment. But I liked my work, leading the team on installation of the first solar powered traffic signal/lights in the country. I dedicated much time with work on awareness campaigns with the City Mayor on national TV and radio, educating the nation on the use of traffic signals. Something so little could have much impact, not only on saving lives and protecting property, but also putting smiles on faces. Given a level of illiteracy at 87%, the army used to think that the red traffic lights were meant for them since their vehicle plate numbers are coloured red. The yellow lights were also misinterpreted to be meant for government officials since their vehicles have yellow plates. Green were for the commercial vehicles, leaving no rights for private cars on the road. Those misinterpretations soon died after our campaign, even though I was often challenged by officials who did not like the effects of it.
My second project was installation of street signs to help emergency response operations. I continued to support the Ministry of Roads and Bridges in collaboration with NTU/AS from Denmark, who were developing a nationwide human resource development program for the transport sector. This again was interrupted by the July 2016 outbreak of war in Juba, when I lost my house in a bomb shell. At this stage I had also began to lecture for the University of Juba on architecture and urban planning. I was made Head of the Department and later Acting Director to upscale the Department of Architecture to a new School of Architecture and Urban Planning. The new school hosts three departments: Architecture, Urban Planning and Land Administration. My university joined Eastern Africa Land Administration Network (EALAN), a consortium of 12 universities in eight East and Central African countries, where I was later elected Executive Secretary for the regional network. We are supported financially by the NUFFIC Funded program of the Dutch embassy in Kegali, Rwanda.

Despite all the blessings and the progress I have made, there is no shortage of difficulties. Inflation has hit us hard. In just 3 months, the value of a civil servant’s salary dropped from $5,000 to $60 a month. Despite these hardships I continue to embrace the little gifts life bestows on me and truly value living and working in my country – making my contributions to building it up. For me, nation building has many fronts, from providing equitable land access to influencing curricula and education programs. My work in land reforms is now extended to include the East and Central African region. And I do serve as chair of UWC Sudan, with the aim that this will also be a contribution to build my country.

Sara Al-Husaynat (’16-’19)

May 8th, 2017|

Sara, from Iraq, is one of our students on the Foundation Programme. She was born with Osteogenesis imperfecta (OI) – brittle bone disease. She has a fragile body and significantly reduced stamina, but her character is strong, her mind is sharp and inquisitive, and she possesses a well-developed sense of humour. In Iraq, she explained, children are supposed to go to school at the age of 6. However, at the time when children of her age were starting school, she was embarking on years of operations and physiotherapy, mainly in Austria. Her father became a volunteer with SAAR (Society for Austro-Arab Relations) after a chance encounter in a hospital in Basra when he was seeking medical help for his daughter. This organization has funded Sara’s treatment, among other things. Eventually Sara started school at the age of 8. In her mainstream school it was difficult to be in a wheelchair and she was afraid of her boisterous classmates who ”kept jumping around” and easily could have fractured one of her bones in play. Her mother accompanied her to school and sat in classes with her every single day throughout her school career.

When Sara was offered a scholarship to study in Norway, her family was understandably concerned about the potential risks. To make this possible, Sara’s father was invited to accompany Sara to the 3-week RCN Summer Course, giving him the opportunity to meet with staff, observe practices, advise us on the support Sara might need, and much more.

Sara with her English teacher

Sara with her advisor

Sara faces a lot of challenges here, learning to get around in her electric wheelchair, adapting to the winter weather, figuring out how to meet the demands of the daily schedule without getting exhausted. When she needs to rest for an extended period to recover her energy and get relief from discomfort, she sometimes has to takes a day off, which is one of the reasons why she feels very grateful to join the Foundation Programme. For many participants int he programme, it gives them the chance to get used to an English-speaking environment. In Sara’s case, it enables her body to get used to the environment. Now much more comfortable with the academic systems and the residential expectations, she is learning to manage her time, gaining understanding of how to cope with very different demands from what she is used to. She is looking forward to returning as a confident First Year student in August, 2017.

One of Sara’s greatest joys here is meeting people from different backgrounds. Back home she could not see her friends easily outside the academic day and it was hard to develop strong friendships. Here she is able to chat with her friends at any time, communicating in Arabic, English and German. She is also learning Norwegian as part of her Foundation timetable, along with a full programme of lessons. She is very grateful for the safe community, teachers, the Extra Academic Activities (EAC), and Project-based Learning weeks. Through “The Knights” EAC, she is trying new activities such as canoeing, kayaking and swimming, savouring the fresh air and beautiful nature around her. Working closely with a physiotherapist at the Red Cross Rehabilitation Centre which shares our campus, she is becoming more aware of what her body is capable of doing. Through Haugland she has also met others with OI for the first time.

“I find my new life wonderful, but hard. Thanks to the Foundation Year that difficulty is slowly decreasing.”

For profiles and news of other students and alumni, click here.

April 24, 2017

Tove Veierød (RCN Board Chair ’11-’17)

April 24th, 2017|

Tove Veierød has been the Chair of the UWC Red Cross Nordic Board for six years. Last weekend’s Council Meeting was her last as Chair, although she will be at the College for Graduation, and in future years she will return as an honorary member of the Council.

Here is Rektor Richard Lamont’s tribute to Tove which he delivered at the dinner for Council members on Friday 22nd, April.

I first met Tove in London in the offices of Heidrick and Struggles in April 2012 as she was leading the team commissioned to select a successor to John Lawrenson, the Rektor of RCN. I remember quite distinctly how she radiated immediate warmth and encouragement as I fielded some challenging questions from other members of the selection committee – present here this evening – about the perils of social media, cyberbullying and pornography.

Tove was someone I immediately felt that I could work with – and work for.

As some of you will know, Tove committed part of her professional career to politics and served Norway as a Labour politician, as state secretary to the Minister of Culture and Science, and later as Minister of Social Affairs. One of Tove’s political legacies is the progressive and supportive legislation here in Norway towards paternity leave. She also made a significant impact on our region – Sogn og Fjordane – by introducing the first state-sponsored vinmonopolet which was met with equal amounts of delight and dismay from the local population.

However, her greatest legacy to our region has undoubtedly been her commitment to UWC Red Cross Nordic. Tove, by training, is a teacher and has a genuine and unstinting commitment to education – and she certainly understands the machinery and madness that comes with the territory of a residential campus and an educational model focused on deliberate diversity.

What strikes me most over the past five years of working together as Rektor and Chair of the Board is her indomitable spirit and inexhaustible energy – from transcontinental flights together to her contributions to the strategic working groups for both RCN and UWC International.

Tove even called me one morning from hospital. She had broken her leg late one evening after flying back into Oslo airport – post operation and with a morphine drip near at hand, Tove thought she should call me on a few college matters before the morphine took a full grip on her senses.

Tove also contributes wholeheartedly to UWC International and was elected to be the ‘Chair of the Chairs’ – chairperson of all the board chairs of all seventeen UWCs and member of the International Board. This election was testament to the esteem Tove is held in by her peers within UWC – and with great skill and grace, Tove has steered her team to new levels of collaboration and shared understanding.

It was Tove’s idea to bring the International Board members to the College in February 2016 so that they could connect with students and staff and see our College in its wintry landscape – and she was rewarded with fresh snow, blue skies, and a skiing expedition for the guests with the Knights at Langeland. Tove recognised the complex logistics that underpinned the success of the event but, for the organising team, it was worth it to see the pride emanating from Tove as she introduced her colleagues to a College steeped in Nordic values and traditions.

Jens Waltermann, Executive Director of UWC, describes Tove’s contribution as follows:
“During her tenure as Chair of the Chairs Committee, Tove has fundamentally transformed the role and – maybe more importantly – the spirit of the Committee. The Chairs have become a group of people who know and respect each other and who explicitly wish to work closely together to strengthen the whole UWC movement! It was Tove’s clear but subtle sense of leadership, her warmth and determination and her charming way of convincing people that made Chairs meetings not just productive, but joyful events. By doing so Tove has contributed enormously to the future of UWC and has made this organisation much closer and much stronger as a result. We cannot thank her enough. And we will dearly miss her in the Chair’s role – but are happy she will remain part of the UWC family.”

My father taught his children the importance of a line from a Rudyard Kipling poem:

[To] ‘walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch’

As a surgeon, he understood that this underpinned his professional life within a hospital environment – the ability to connect with fellow doctors, nurses, porters, administrators and, most importantly, patients and their families.

For me, Tove exemplifies this line from Kipling – she connects gracefully with the royal patrons of UWC – Queen Sonja of Norway and Queen Noor of Jordan – as an ambassador of our College and, at the same time, enjoys the opportunity to connect with students, teachers, alumni and many other supporters of RCN. When she is on campus, she takes the time to drop into the kantine to connect with the kitchen staff and, last summer, she
generously agreed to come and participate in the first half of Staff Introduction Week. When we have receptions in our house for Board and Council members, Tove always steps forward to help with the preparations and hosting – and the washing up at the end of the evening.

I admire Tove immensely for this ability to ‘walk with Kings [and Queens] – nor lose the common touch’.

There is simply no trace of ego to Tove.

She is always there for sage advice, a steady and gentle hand on the tiller of the College, and at the same time there is a steel to her which one should not underestimate. She knows the potential of the College, the challenge and responsibility associated with deliberate diversity on campus and expects those around her to commit wholeheartedly to UWC values, the UWC mission, Nordic values, and the College’s strategic plan. She has high expectations of us.
I remember well a conversation in lower kantine at the Council Meeting 2012 when she took me aside one morning as Rektor-elect – with Ingegerd, the Vice Chair of the Board present – and told me my first job as Rektor must be to examine (and change) the residential side of life at RCN – and improve the student experience.

And, at the same time, she understands the importance of home. She often calls me in the office on a Friday late afternoon, and asks me why I am not home with the family.Encouraging and timely emails appear on my screen. She genuinely cares for those who work with her.

It is for a Rektor to find the right balance between change and conservation, supported and challenged by an engaged Board (and Council). It has been an immense privilege to work alongside Tove as Chair of the RCN Board – at all times engaged, challenging and deeply supportive.

Tove has served two terms as Chair of the RCN board – six years of voluntary service and she stands down at the end of this academic term.

Time on Sunday 22nd May at the Board Meeting to draw your tenure, Tove, as Chair of RCN to a close – and time to pass on the gavel of responsibility to Kristin Vinje, your successor.

Time now for Tom, your children and grandchildren in Oslo, your house in Harstad, and the occasional mid-winter escape to Gran Canaria.

From New Mexico to Changshu China, from Mahindra to the Nordic countries, you have been a proud ambassador and champion of UWC and Red Cross Nordic.

And you have been a trusty servant and trusted custodian of this College.

Picture presented to Tove VeierødTove, I would like to invite you up in a minute to receive a gift – on behalf of the Council, the Board, the students and the staff – and presented by Tess, the outgoing Student Rep on the Board.

It is a watercolour painting of the fjord and our college that we have commissioned from a local artist. We hope that you will place it on a wall at home and that it serves as a proud reminder of what you have contributed to the architecture of the College, past, present and future.

I very much like the end of a poem called ‘The Cathedral Builder’ [John Ormond] in a which a medieval stonemason decides ‘to give it up, / To leave the spire to others’, reflects on the process, the trials and tribulations of contributing to the building of a cathedral stone by stone and quietly, looking upwards, whispers to himself, both modestly and with quiet pride, ‘I bloody did that’.

Chair. Educator. Listener. Supporter. Volunteer and Friend.
We shall miss you – I shall miss you.

Thank you.

Richard D A Lamont
Rektor
Council Dinner – Friday 21st April

 

Pär Stenbäck

April 19th, 2017|

The Chair of the UWC Red Cross Nordic Council and Vice Chair of the UWC International Council has been profiled on the UWC website.
Click here to read what he has to say about Politics, Youth and Global Reach.