November 2, 2015
For a long while now I’ve been thinking about writing a blog. Many of you might know that I use Twitter on a daily basis. Sometimes, however, 140 characters is just not enough space. When I read in the newspapers or on social media about events around the world that inspire me – or in some cases upset me – I want to share my personal views and experiences.
Today I learned that the First Lady of the United States, Ms. Michelle Obama, will be traveling to Qatar and Jordan to focus on girls’ education. Her post in her travel diary about the trip, in which she discusses the Let Girls Learn initiative and encourages others to join her “virtually,” is inspiring.
So, in my first post, I’d like to share with you my thoughts on this subject. Education in developing countries is near and dear to my heart.
First off, I think it is important that leaders such as Ms. Obama use their positions in society to bring attention to critical issues around the world. Role models have a unique voice that can break through the “noise,” especially here in D.C. This time, the First Lady is continuing her efforts to bring attention to the importance of girls’ education. Similarly, my Prime Minister, Erna Solberg has made girls’ education a key priority for Norway and her government.
I myself have a very personal connection to education for girls, as well as boys. In 2008, I was posted as ambassador of Norway to Afghanistan. I served there for more than two years, during which time I had the unique opportunity to engage and make personal friends with many Afghan people and to learn about their culture.
One of the main priorities I was tasked with was to scout out over 100 locations where the Norwegian government was to build primary schools for young Afghan children. It was an amazing project to be a part of. I worked closely with Afghan authorities on finding locations for the schools and ensuing that we provided the right learning conditions to accommodate Afghan cultural and religious needs.
I learned a great deal about the importance of working on this project together with the Afghans in order for both sides to have equal commitment and ownership that would ensure the schools would be a success.
Most of the schools we built were located in the Northwestern part of Afghanistan in a province called Faryab. We also built vocational schools that could teach the students trades, everything from pottery and cooking to mechanics and sewing. It was very impressive to see how quickly these young people learned these trades, and some of them even started their own small businesses.
Below I have shared a photograph of one of the many opening days at the schools we built. It was indeed a great pleasure and honor to be there with the children and their parents, seeing the smiles on their faces as they stood there eagerly waiting for the doors to be opened.
Like all schoolchildren on their first day, these girls and boys were nervous and excited, as they didn’t know what they were about to embark on.
However, it’s not just about building schools, it’s also important that we ensure that there are teachers to support the learning environment. The next step is, of course, to provide secondary education. In other words, this is just the beginning of a huge and important mission. But we know, and have seen, that education is fundamental in the success of any nation’s social and economic development.
What Norway is doing in Afghanistan is important for the children and their parents living in Afghanistan, but also important for Norway and its people. We gain new experiences and learn more about what we can do in the future in other places around the world. Today the embassy collaborates closely with the Brookings Institution and the Global Partnership for Education on this issue.
I want to wish First Lady Michelle Obama good luck on her important journey. This trip is yet another example of the huge potential we have for a stronger cooperation between Norway and United States, a cooperation I hope will be further strengthened during my remaining time in D.C.