“The Centre of Something”

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So this island of Tromsø was described by an old man who had the honour of introducing one of the Nobel Peace Prize ‘runners up’ – Greg Mortensen – who had come to speak about his new book and work with schools in Afghanistan, invited by the University’s Centre for Peace Studies.

“The centre of….something”.

This got a laugh, even a clap if I remember correctly, from the audience. It made me smile. Somehow this wee accidental phrase seems to sum up the feeling that I get from this special little place. Perched way up here on top of the world, there is a definite sense of being somewhere ‘significant’. For its size and situation, there is certainly a lot going on.

Alongside Ozzy Osborne and The Prodigy making an appearance for the biggest rock festival of the north, both ‘Redd Barna’ (Save the Children) and Amnesty International have had their regional/national (respectively) meetings here in Tromsø this month. These conferences have been a great way to pick up some more Norwegian and meet new people from all over Norway and the world, while at the same time have been really interesting to see how familiar organisations work in new contexts.

As a volunteer with Redd Barna, we meet every other Sunday afternoon to lead some activity for refugee kids. I’ve been to a few of these now… a welcome party, bowling, film night… its a great challenge with a mix of ages and nationalities and languages; some kids speaking English, some only Norwegian, some neither, and always in a fun and – ideally – carefree atmosphere. Refreshing for myself also to have some time just to play!

Reviving the Amnesty Int. student group from a dormant previous year, we have several enthusiastic members (adhering to the ‘International’ part of the name, with only 2 Norwegians so far…) and did our first action last week for the launch of the campaign to improve rights for slum-dwellers, with a focus on Kenya. After a stall in the morning at uni to gather signatures and support, we headed into sentrum and built our very own ‘slum’ in the middle of the town square. Perfectly timed as the sky opened with heavy snowy rainy sleet just as we began to construct our cardboard-box structures… but with cheery music helping us along and free coffee to give to passers by as we lured them in to help out/sign our petition (people are as scared of free stuff here as they are at home..!) we managed to create something which looked vaguely like a jumble of cardboard houses and hopefully got some kind of message across to some people. I hear Edinburgh Amnesty students did something along the same lines? Nice to know the similar actions are happening all over the world.

We also made use of all the 250-odd delegates at the landsmøtet (national meeting) with a ‘flashmob’ action involving ‘spontaneous’ singing/chanting in the central library with a message about freedom of speech. (I’ll send round the link for the video of it next time after they get it on the web…!)

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