News Archives

Norwegian youth explore issues of poverty at United Nations

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo courtesy of Liberato Bautista

Students and teachers from Soltun Folkehogskole in Norway visit the U.N. headquarters in New York.
Feb. 8, 2006

By Linda Bloom*

NEW YORK (UMNS) — A group of Norwegian youth are exploring how they can help eliminate hunger and poverty through meetings at the United Nations and a journey to Mexico, Brazil, South Africa and India.

The 11 young people are students at the Soltun Folkehogskole, a folk high school in northern Norway owned by the United Methodist Norway Annual (regional) Conference. They are enrolled in Soltun’s “Backpack Surprise” course, which concludes April 6.

The group arrived in New York on Feb. 4 for a weeklong visit. On the agenda were meetings organized by the United Methodist Office for the United Nations, including attending the U.N.’s 44th Session of the Commission on Social Development.

Accompanying the 18- to 21-year-olds were the Rev. Alte Svanberg, a teacher and United Methodist pastor, and Martha Ray Muniz-Johnsen, a teacher and anthropologist.

“We wanted to focus on poverty, and the U.N. is a good place to start,” Svanberg said.

One of their first contacts was Amin Husain, global youth coordinator of the United Nations Millennium Campaign, who told the youth that 1.2 billion people live on less than one U.S. dollar a day.

This situation is what the United Nations defines as “extreme poverty,” he said. “We’re talking about people who have absolutely no chance of bettering their lives.” Many of them can be found in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

The Millennium Development Goals, adopted in 2000, are a commitment from both rich and poor nations to the same action plan. The first seven goals detail what poor countries should do to eliminate poverty, and the eighth goal calls upon rich countries to finance that effort, Husain added.

The public’s awareness of the goals is “very low,” he noted. That is why the millennium campaign — symbolized by a white wristband — was created. Forty different national campaigns have been established with local nongovernmental organizations to inform citizens and encourage politicians to honor commitments.

In the United States, that campaign is called “One: The Campaign to Make Poverty History,” and supporters include the United Methodist Board of Church and Society.

Husain told the students they could help by becoming informed on the issues of hunger and poverty, joining the national campaign in Norway, and educating others.

“There’s very little public awareness about the goals,” he said. “It takes grass-roots movements to get these done.”

Attending the U.N. meetings and talking with representatives of nongovernmental organizations in New York will assist the students with their own awareness of poverty, according to Muniz-Johnsen.

“Norwegian youth live in such a quiet and safe environment,” she explained. “They have never lacked anything.”

Although it’s called a “high school,” Soltun, established in 1971, is a place where students can explore different interests before starting their university studies. “It’s kind of a gap year for students (between high school and college),” Svanberg said.

For Marianne T. Bjorndal, the appeal of “Backpack Surprise” was the opportunity for a long, international trip.

Bjorndal was prepared for New York because she had learned a lot about the United Nations and the Millennium Development Goals during her last year of high school. “It’s nice to learn more and see what’s really being done about the problems,” she said.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo courtesy of Liberato Bautista

The Soltun Folkehogskole group attends a U.N. forum with United Methodist staffers Liberato Bautista (standing, left) and Julie Taylor (standing, far right).
Ingrid H. Gjeraker pointed out that as a normal tourist to New York, she would never have the type of in-depth exposure to the United Nations as she is experiencing with the Soltun group. “I just wanted to see new places and meet new people,” she added.

Other members of the group include Bjornar Eriksen, Trude Liavag, Maire Jacobsen, Ida Pruglhei, Kristin Husabo, Vegard Skogheim, Marius W. Hovind, Marianne Eriksen and Kirsti T. Hoigard.

A relationship with the Soltun Folkehogskole was formed when the United Methodist Board of Church and Society cosponsored denominational training events on substance abuse and addictions there in 1998 and 1999, according to the Rev. Neal Christie, board staff.

A few years later, Bishop Oystein Olsen, based in Oslo, talked with Christie about helping Norwegian United Methodists study the role of the denomination’s Social Principles in the daily life and ministry of the church. Jim Winkler, chief executive of the Board of Church and Society, led Bible studies during the 2004 annual conference in Norway, and Christie led a retreat for deacons and elders in Oslo and Hermon.

Two young adult participants in that retreat recently attended a board-sponsored seminar and young clergy gathering in Washington. “We hope to jointly host another training on justice and peace for the community and church at the folk school in 2007,” Christie said.

A Norwegian pastor, the Rev. Yngvar Ruud, was a United Methodist participant in the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples in 2005. Last August, Levi Bautista, a Board of Church and Society staff executive, traveled with Ruud to the folk school.

“We jointly held discussions with faculty and staff of the school on the Social Principles as well as global issues from the perspective of our United Nations and international affairs ministry,” Bautista said.

According to its Web site, “Soltun Folkehøgskole (Folk High School) is an international school working for peace. Our peace program will influence many of the activities at the school and the campus. Soltun, like an international airport, accommodates for young people from all walks of life. Color, language, belief, culture, handicaps and more are resources in our efforts to make a living community.”

More information and resource materials about the One Campaign can be found at online.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or


Audio Interview with Amil Husain

We have a promise from every country in the world.

Related Articles

NCC study guide focuses on poverty goals

Religious leaders call on G-8 nations to end poverty

Norwegian pastor explores Sami roots

Church coffee shop serves up hospitality for neighborhood


Soltun school

Board of Church and Society: One campaign


U.N. Millennium Campaign

Millennium Development Goals Poverty