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‘An Advocate Always’

By Trish Olson, Assistant to the Associate Dean

After two days of listening to presenters and participating in table conversations at the FD Qualey-Skjervold Conference, I looked for folks to debrief with on Friday morning. I found small groups of FD staff discussing their experiences, and one person told me, “We should have encouraged staff to block off Friday morning to reflect as an individual or in groups!”

One activity that I reflected on as an individual was the question Brother Menkara Tezzat asked: “How have you and your people impacted the planet?” The results of my recent DNA test showed that my heritage is 90 percent Scandinavian; the report also provided history pertaining to Viking invasions of European coastal areas to explain my DNA results that were not Scandinavian. So I could focus on a history I am not so proud of — that of the Scandinavian Vikings pillaging and raiding northern islands and coasts of the North Atlantic, North Africa, Russia, Constantinople, and the Middle East in the late 700s.

But during that exercise last week, I thought of another seafaring Scandinavian, Fridtjof Nansen. While he started his career as an Arctic explorer, he became a diplomat who created the Nansen Passport. The League of Nations issued Nansen passports to stateless people and refugees who needed travel documents, but could not obtain one from a national authority.

Fridtjof Nansen passport
A Nansen passport. Issued by the League of Nations.
Image from Wikimedia Commons.
After his death, Lord Robert Cecil, a fellow League of Nations delegate, said of Nansen, “He was a fearless peacemaker, a friend of justice, an advocate always for the weak and suffering." I am proud of this example of “my people” and hope to reflect Nansen’s legacy in my own life.

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