CSF Alumni Travel to Norway for Oslo Freedom Forum

Aziz and Isabella at the Oslo Freedom Forum.

Two CSF alumni, Isabella Marte and Aziz Oguntade, recently traveled to Oslo, Norway to attend the Oslo Freedom Forum (OFF) as the winners of a CSF alumni essay contest generously sponsored by the Human Rights Foundation (HRF), which hosts the OFF.

After the eight-hour flight, Isabella and Aziz arrived in Oslo jet-lagged but determined to make the most of their time, visiting City Hall (where the Nobel Prize ceremonies are held), the Vigeland Park, and the harbor promenade, and catching the changing of the guard ceremony at the Royal Palace all on their first day. Mid-afternoon, Isabella’s brother, Darius, also a CSF alumnus, arrived after making his own way to Oslo to join in the fun with his sister.

Aziz says goodbye to his parents at Newark Airport. They drove directly to the airport from Aziz’s high school graduation earlier that day!
Almost in Oslo!
Aziz, Darius, and Isabella stop for a quick photo after picking up their OFF nametags.
The CSF alumni take their seats before the first round of speakers at the Oslo Freedom Forum.

For the next three days, the alumni attended the OFF, which brings together human rights activists and supporters from all over the globe. This year’s speakers included the first female Olympic athlete from Afghanistan, the co-founder of Cambodia’s main opposition party, and Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, as well as activists fighting authoritarian regimes in Uganda, Russia, China, and many other countries. In addition to speakers and panels, the forum featured musical performances from Colombian singer-songwriter Carlos Vives, cellist Joshua Roman, and Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero.

For Isabella, the speaker who had the biggest impact was Olga Gonzalez, a Venezuelan activist who lost her husband during a peaceful protest under the Maduro regime.

“Despite his death, Olga continues to advocate against the regime and has helped dozens of families who have also been victim to human rights violations,” Isabella explained. “Her story emphasized the need to fight against oppressive systems, even in the face of adversity. Through her story, I have been inspired to learn more about the Maduro regime and its effects on Venezuelans.”

Aziz was inspired by listening to Paul Rusesabagina, who saved more than 1,200 Hutus and Tutsis during the Rwandan genocide, and whose story was the basis for the 2004 movie, Hotel Rwanda.  

“He did something extremely courageous by means of saving hundreds of people. He even got kidnapped and brought back to Rwanda during 2020, when he was 65 years old! At that age, he was still standing against the regime in Rwanda and still advocating for the freedom of those wrongfully imprisoned,” Aziz shared.

“I look at Paul Rusesabagina as a strong person and a role model for those who stand against authoritarianism across the world,” Aziz said. “[He] exemplifies exactly what it means to be yourself, to be a good person, and to help others, and I want to be just like him.”

After spending each day being inspired and awed by international activists, the CSF alumni took full advantage of the extra hours of light each evening (sunsets were around 10:30pm). They visited local sights including the Akershus Fortress, a thirteenth century medieval castle and military base, the Oslo Opera House, and the Munch Museum, which houses three versions of Edvard Munch’s most famous painting, The Scream.

Aziz got a front row seat at a live podcast taping with Hotel Rwanda hero Paul Rusesabagina (center) and two of his daughters.
An interview with Twitter founder Jack Dorsey.
Aziz takes in a black and white print of The Scream at the Munch Museum.
Isabella on the roof of the Oslo Opera House.

For Isabella, who just finished her second year at George Washington University, the trip to Oslo marked her first time in Europe. She has previously visited relatives in the Dominican Republic and traveled within the U.S.

This was an even bigger adventure for Aziz, who had never flown before, let alone been out of the country. Making the day even more memorable, he had just graduated from Cardinal Hayes High School that morning, and came to the airport directly from his ceremony at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Offering travel advice to other CSF alumni, Isabella shared, “Sleep! In all seriousness, jet lag is real and it will catch up to you. But more importantly, be open to new experiences. Going to a different country grants you the opportunity to learn more about a different culture, which I believe is essential to better understanding others!”

Aziz agreed that jet lag left him exhausted, but he found Norway to be incredibly engaging. In his opinion, Oslo “is a cheaper, walkable, and more enjoyable version of Manhattan, and I would go there many times again if I had the choice.”

Isabella summed up her experience saying, “The Oslo Freedom Forum was very inspiring for a young college student like me. It exposed me to many human rights issues that I would have not been aware of otherwise. My biggest takeaway from the Oslo Freedom Forum is that ‘no one is free until everyone is free’ and we must continue the pursuit of freedom and justice for all people.”

Special thanks to Alex Gladstein, Elle Ota, and Thor Halvorssen at the Human Rights Foundation for sponsoring the essay contest and working with CSF alumni to provide them with such an amazing opportunity. We are also grateful to the Human Rights Foundation for regularly including CSF alumni in their annual one-day Oslo Freedom Forum event in New York City. Both the CSF alumni who traveled to Norway and those who experience the Oslo Freedom Forum in New York will carry those memories with them forever, benefiting from exposure to examples of perseverance, resilience, and human flourishing in the face of injustices.

Isabella and Aziz catch up with Elle Ota (center), Program Officer at the Human Rights Foundation.
Isabella, Darius, and Aziz meet Human Rights Foundation President Alex Gladstein (right).