We’d like to share some reflections from students who were guests at the Oslo Freedom Forum earlier this fall.
Many of those attending report leaving with a new sense of awareness and responsibility towards injustices. For example, Melanie L. writes:
The pain, resilience, and pure humanity of these people echoed through their stories and gave perspective to those in the audience, who like many of us, were given the gift of freedom and cradled throughout our lives. Growing up in the ghetto, I truly believed that my background of growing up in the foster care system and then coming back to a tumultuous lifestyle was enough pain, but the stories of these people let me see fears and pains as teachers in our lives.
Many of the students identified with Marina Nemat, who at the age of 16 was arrested and imprisoned for two years for protesting Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime in her native Iran. As Rossena P. says,
The idea that Marina was the same age as me when she was put through immense physical, mental, and emotional torture in order to defend her beliefs is extremely frightening. However, her determination to support the freedom of expression in Iran is truly inspiring and motivating.
Another student, Emily C., adds:
The timing of her actions is definitely admirable, especially since she accomplished so much at a younger age than me. The Iranian government still functions as an Islamic republic, and all the injustices Nemat fought against are still functioning. Her presentation put my lifestyle into perspective, as many people are fighting for the freedom of expression in their countries while here it is a given right established in our Constitution.
Daniela L. was impressed by Bassem Youssef, an Egyptian medical doctor who broadcast his own version of the Daily Show, using satire to critique his country’s government. After he was detained for insulting the president and Islam, his broadcast came to an end and he and his family fled to the U.S.:
Bassem Youssef was inspiring and funny all at once. What’s unique about his approach to peacemaking and justice building is that he does so through comedy and parody, which in this country is very common. However, it’s not that way in other countries and that was the reason he had to leave Egypt. It feels as if this world Youssef describes is from another time when actually it’s happening in present day, just across the world. It makes you stop and look at where we are in terms of rights and liberties in comparison to where we started, and how there are still places that haven’t come as far. And what’s most crazy about all of this is that we can go so much farther, and achieve so much more.
Like many others, Lorin B. was struck by the story of Ji Seong-ho, a North Korean defector who told the harrowing story of growing up during North Korea’s famine, losing his leg in a horrific accident, and eventually making a 6,000 mile journey on crutches to escape to South Korea. Lorin writes:
Ji Seong-ho’s story was eye-opening. Ji told us his story of escaping from North Korea and all of the trouble he faced along the way. As he told us of the injury and pain he faced, much of the audience was moved to tears. Ji explained the injustices faced in North Korea, such as how the people were starved and how propaganda was spread to the people. It was amazing to see how after all of the injustice, pain, and trauma he faced, he persevered, and wants to help North Koreans. Ji’s story made me thankful that I live in such a free country and made me think about ways that I can help eradicate the injustices in the world.
Ji’s story also made a deep impression on Adamayra V. , who shares:
I knew about North Korea’s situation before the forum, but seeing an actual defector made it real. Hearing his story humanized history to me. The people we learn about weren’t just cartoon drawings or paintings, they were real people who made an impact on the world. This forum has significantly changed my perspective on history and our world’s current issues.
A new awareness of how grateful they are for their rights and freedoms was a common theme for the students who attended the forum. Many also acknowledged a desire to help those who are not as fortunate. As Tianna H. says:
Listening to the stories of these amazing people brought me to tears, but also made me also aware of what has been, was, and still is happening around the world.
Phoebe L. admits:
I complain about my life all the time, not realizing that people have it way harder in other countries. I hope the people who attended the forum get the message and are able to help expand freedom in any way they can.
And Miriam C. shares:
I learned that I cannot take my opportunities for granted and must be grateful for the privileged life my parents have worked so hard to give me. It inspired me to learn more about current events in countries other than my own. This was a truly amazing experience that made me reevaluate my priorities and will remain with me for the rest of my life.
We are very grateful to all who made this transformative experience possible, and we look forward to offering CSF alumni more opportunities to enrich and expand their education.
To learn more about the Oslo Freedom Forum in New York, watch this recap of the event.