Why Donate Blood? An Interview

Many people want to help others in meaningful ways, but perhaps it is difficult to know how. Blood donation is a lifesaving decision that is becoming more popular and has achieved great success over the years due to medical improvements. UNYA volunteers from Aalborg had an interview with Bitten Aagaard, the medical professional responsible for the Blood Bank in Aalborg about the topic. For the World Blood Donor day, we would like to share information about blood donation and encourage more people to donate blood.

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What is it like to donate blood?

Why should I donate?

According to Bitten, there are two benefits. “One of them is mental, because you actually have the resources to help someone else. There is an altruistic element to it that makes you feel good. The other benefit, here in our blood bank […], is that you get your blood pressure checked every time. That is not decided by law, but it’s something we want to do for our donors. There are also other tests taken, such as the virus’ hepatitis B, C and HIV tests, and we also check hemoglobin levels every time a donor comes here. […] However, I think what makes donors come back […] is the mental part of it. It feels good to help someone else without necessarily getting paid back.”

“[…] you have the resources to help someone else.” – Bitten Aagaard

When can I become a donor?

To become a donor, you must register at https://bloddonor.dk/, then you will receive an email from your local blood donor asking to come for tests. Otherwise, for the Blood bank in Aalborg, someone who wants to become a donor can go to the secretariat and register as a donor. Depending on the waiting list and on the region, you can wait up to six months before donating your blood.

Can I donate blood?

According to Bitten Aagaard, anyone over eighteen years old can be a blood donor. If you are seventeen years old, you must present an authorization from a parent. Also, the donor must be over 50 kg, otherwise it could be a danger for him to donate such an amount of blood. On top of that, the donor must be in a healthy condition and there are specific criteria that defines the health of someone.

Where blood donations take place in Aalborg.

How much blood is donated?

There are different types of blood donations that the donor can chose. The two types most commonly used are full blood and plasma donations. Thefull blood donation is where the donor gives 460 ml of pure blood. The other one is a plasma donation, where 600 ml of pure plasma is donated. For the full blood donation, thirteen percent of blood is taken for donation.

What is a plasma donation?

Plasma is a clear, straw-colored liquid portion of the blood that remains after red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets and other cellular components are removed[1]. Bitten explains the plasma donation: “[…] in the plasma donation, […] you fill out the same questionnaire, you go to the donation room and the needle will be put in your arm, and then draw out a full blood donation. The blood will centrifugate and the plasma will be at the top and the cells at the bottom. Then the plasma will be kept out and the rest of the cells will return to the donor. That means we only take the plasma, that’s what we need, and the donor gets the cells back. That means that the donor doesn’t have to have a quarantine, which is a break from the donation as if the donor donated a full blood.” Furthermore, you only need a two-week break between your plasma donations, whereas a full blood will need three month intervals.

Where can I donate blood?

Once you have received an appointment, you go to your local blood bank where a nurse will draw your blood that will be used for another patient in need. There are also blood buses, circulating all around the country in which you can also donate blood.

Did you know?

  • The need for plasma donations is raising quicker than the need for full blood donations.
  • The blood type O negative is universal. It can be transfused to any patient in need of a blood transfusion.
  • If you can’t donate blood, you can recruit.
  • If you have been on holidays outside the northern region, you might have to wait weeks or even months before you will be allowed to donate blood. This is due to your exposure to dangerous pathogens such as malaria, dengue fever etc.
  • According to the interviewed doctor, per year, 10 out of the 20 000 donations get nerve injuries caused by the needle insertion, which heal after several months.
  • During a plasma donation, there is a liquid called citrate that is put in your blood to prevent coagulation.
  • In Denmark, The clinicians have reduced the amount of issues with red components since 2008.
  • Plasma can be used to make medicine (immune globulins and albumin).
  • To be a donor, you must speak and understand Danish, live in Scandinavia for 1 year and have a Danish social security number



Interviews conducted by: Mathilde Thibeault-Jacobsen and Erin Cara Jalk

Article written by: Mathilde Thibeault-Jacobsen

Interviewee: Bitten Aagaard

Article edited by: Michaela Higgins Sørensen

On 5 Continents with the UN: Life as a UN Couple

What do the people in the United Nations actually do? How does it feel to be a UN diplomat? What is the life of a UN couple and their family like? These were the questions the event on Thursday, the 31st of May covered. Finn Reske-Nielsen, along with his wife, Bodil Kundsen shared the stage and their interesting life story with their audience. With over 35 years of experience in working for the UN in Switzerland, Zambia, Namibia, Timor-Lest, Paupa New Guinea, the United States, and Laos, Finn Reske-Nielsen lead an eventful career that left an impactful mark on the countries he worked in, as did his wife, Bodil Kundsen. 


             The first posting the couple had was in Zambia. With a post-graduate degree in Political Science and Public Administration from Aarhus University, Nielsen recalled, “I walked into the office in Geneva and thought I’d be getting a post somewhere like Malaysia due to the refugee crisis that was going on there at the time, however, they told me I was going to Zambia. I was too embarrassed to ask where Zambia was at the time, however, I said yes”. Finn and Bodil spent 2 years in Zambia where Finn worked at the Office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), and then moved to Switzerland where he also held a position at the UNHCR. Bodil explained that it was quite the shock to move back to a first world country such as Switzerland where they had ‘everything the average person needed and more’, whereas in Zambia it was difficult to come across daily household products such as soap.  


           Bodil further elaborated that once they were done with their first two posts, they didn’t want to go back to Denmark as she said, “we hadn’t had enough and didn’t want to go back home just yet”. They carried on to spend over two decades more abroad, away from home. This didn’t come without its challenges as Bodil explained that they had to do everything themselves when they moved, from finding accommodation to moving all their furniture. In Timor-Lest this was a particularly challenging task as at the time the country had just gone through a significant amount of political upheaval after independence. “Trying to find accommodation in a country that had basically just burnt down was a challenge, however we managed”, stated Bodil, “and we found a nice small house. It had some windows missing, its roof was also ruined and there were a lot of mosquitos. I remember we had a table with wheels that we could roll from one end of the house to the other with just one push! Over time we got to know some people and managed to buy back the original parts the house was missing and fixed it up”, which got a chuckle of disbelief out of the audience.  


           While Finn was working in the assessment mission in Timor-Leste where he assisted in planning the governance sector of the new mission, Bodil found work in teaching as she has a background in education. Bodil found work in nearly all the countries they lived in, and even became the headmaster of an international school in Namibia that she founded, however with the nature of Finn’s career, he was transferred frequently. “Every time I handed in my CV to a new school, they asked me why I had quit my previous job, and every time I had the same answer: my husband was transferred!”, Bodil said laughing.

         Despite being uprooted time and again, Bodil found work wherever she went, and was even the prime minister of education for two days in Laos. Bodil and Finn viewed moving around as a way of expanding one’s mind as Bodil said, “we didn’t want to live in a small box in Denmark, we wanted to go out and explore the world. I encourage everyone to go out and explore the world. Even if your job doesn’t have anything to do with your thesis, take the opportunity, you will learn and develop so much more”.


        Bodil pointed out that “many people view the diplomatic life as some luxurious experience where one would live in a mansion, have servants and drink gin and tonics all afternoon, but the reality is that you have to work really hard every day. It is not easy, you are thousands of kilometres away from home and you have to start from scratch every time you go somewhere”. Finn also shared that the devastation in some countries is quite harsh, “we have seen the natural and man-made disasters affect the most vulnerable first hand, and the most vulnerable are the poorest people every time”. Working in Namibia was particularly harsh as at the time it was under Apartheid rule where white people earned $15,000 on average per year, and black people earned $63 per year. The schooling systems were also segregated, and Finn and Bodil had children that had to go to catholic school where they were hit when they misbehaved.


        There were many challenges through their journey, but both Finn and Bodil had highly impactful and inspiring careers. They truly broadened their minds and enriched their lives, and the lives of others, through their work. The most important thing to take away from this event was that you shouldn’t be afraid to go work abroad as it is a highly rewarding experience, however challenging it might be.  

Written by: Michaela Higgins Sørensen

Edited by: Dominika Floriánová

Commentary: Pride of Cultures Aalborg

Commentary: Pride of Cultures Aalborg

May 12th, 2018 marked an exceptional day in Aalborg through celebrating diverse cultures. UNYA Aalborg proudly participated in representing the organisation by setting up a South East Asian inspired stand that stood among others from Romania and Hungary, to mention a few. There was a fantastic atmosphere all around Gammel Torv, and the party undeniably started when a group of participants cheered during the parade around the venue, waiving multiple flags and spreading exuberant joy through their singing. “Unity in Diversity” was an essential aspect of the event, which was more than visible throughout the afternoon.

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Participants Dancing after the Bulgarian Performance 

The many participants enjoyed the singing, dancing, social atmosphere and the diverse selection of food the day encompassed. “This is a special moment to unite and to say thanks to this beautiful country called Denmark”, said Ronald Tomas Gaterol Mora from Venezuela, who spread marvellous positive energy throughout the day. “I really appreciate how this day has served as a platform to celebrate our cultural diversity right here in Aalborg”, Ronald continued.

There were several stands from all over Europe with a variety of delicious, well-presented foods. The European Youth North Denmark had a stand as well, and it was a great pleasure to get the chance to see the diverse foods from different countries. If I were to pick my favourite stand, it would be the Romanian representatives as their decorative ideas and efforts were so unique and well presented, they were really spot on! I also appreciated the traditional Bulgarian attire, and especially their traditional dance, which was a special experience to watch and even join in on.

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The Decorative Romanian Table

Another intriguing and thought-provoking part of the Pride of Cultures day was the Hungarian table with vegan food. We asked the representatives in charge of the stand if they wanted to talk to us a little bit about why they created a vegan stand, and they told us, “we don’t have to eat animal products to be happy, to be healthy or to live”, said Horvath Adam, who is an inspiration to any aspiring vegans out there, including myself. Horvath told us that veganism could be a worldwide thing no matter what culture; in essence, all cultures can find a vegan alternative when they are cooking their traditional food, even in a heavy meat and dairy-based cuisine like that of Hungary’s.   

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A Bulgarian Dancer in Traditional Clothing

At the end of the event, Simona Trifonova, the president of the European Youth North Denmark, shared one of the most important messages of the event with us over a short interview. Simona brilliantly said, “we are all fighting for a more united and stronger solidarity base and a more peaceful Europe”. She also expressed with great appreciation to the EU, “we are trying to make people realise how much the European Union has given us, and in reality, there are a lot of people who don’t always realise this. I am from Bulgaria and I have the chance to study here and meet all kinds of people in Denmark, which is an amazing opportunity”. I would say Simona’s thoughts and answers promote the 11th of the UN’s Sustainable Developments Goals, which is about creating sustainable communities and cities, as unity among humans in a city or region would unquestionably be an important starting point for the Goal 11.

The Pride of Cultures was a day of festivity that brought the many cultures of Aalborg

A Participant Enjoying Food from the South East Asian Stand

together to celebrate one another. The event achieved its goal in uniting cultures as people from all over Europe, and outside of Europe, were dancing Bulgarian traditional dances, eating food from Romania, South East Asia, Hungary and Bulgaria, and sharing knowledge. Most importantly, they were engaging with one another, learning about each other’s cultures and sharing joy and harmony throughout the event to create a more peaceful Aalborg, and Europe.

By: Hodan Farah

Edited by: Michaela Higgins Sørensen



Human Rights in the Action Against ISIS, with Associate Professor Ben Dorfman


In the last event UNYA Aalborg organized on April 5th, together with SILBA, Ben Dorfman provided a discussion on human right issues in the fight against the Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh).

Ben Dorfman is an associate professor at the Institute for Culture and Global Studies at Aalborg University. He holds a Ph.D. in History and is actively researching in the fields of human rights and history. Recently, he published 13 Acts of Academic Journalism and Historical Commentary on Human Rights: Opinions, Interventions and the Torsions of Politics, a book presenting human rights concepts through concrete analyses of international conflicts, social justice issues, and historical scenes in the form of successive essays aimed at students, academics, and the broader public.

As we were reminded by Prof. Dorfman, ‘human rights’ and associated concepts all boil down to a simple thing: the way humans treat — and are treated by — one another. Discussions around such issues ultimately address the case of human beings, their lives, feelings, and suffering.

A global frame for human rights may be found in the terms of the UN Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR, a more principles-based text) and documents like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR, having more legal value). Other frameworks, such as the European Convention on Human Rights, are also important.

Looking at the content of these texts, violations of the following rights have been made in the conflict concerning Syria and Islamic State: right to democracy (UDHR, articles 12, 18—21), the right to life (UDHR article 3 and 6), the right to cultural self-determination (ICCPR article 1), and the right to avoid torture, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment (UDHR article 5, ICCPR article 7).

The talk started by a historical perspective and clarification of the context, starting from the 9/11 events in 2001, military operation of US and allies in Afghanistan and Iraq, and, especially, the further occupation of Iraq. The historical perspective was important to Prof. Dorfman, who clearly stated that, “as citizens, we have a duty to learning where the issues we face come from”. However, he insisted that historical understanding neither grants legitimacy to the violation of human rights, nor supports claims of cultural self-determination as a basis for violence. Instead, the historical perspective helps underline the humanity of the situations in which we find ourselves, and provides grounds for reflection on how to solve international tension.

The growth of IS in Iraq and Syria was facilitated by a lack of coordination in the opposition to Bashar Al-Assad, and problems in the administration of post-War Iraq and the civil conflicts therein. Prof. Dorfman also pointed out that IS has been very effective at marketing itself as being ‘the real fighters’ against ‘the West’.  These messages have massively, together with Western stereotypes, have helped extremist groups win political points, especially among young people.

The US and allies, as well as Russia (where it was reminded that the vast majority of bombing campaigns in Syria have not targeted IS) challenge the right to life with those bombing campaigns, perhaps especially of civilians. Cases of disrespectful treatments of prisoners by US soldiers (e.g. the case of the Abu Ghraib prison, of which pictures were extensively distributed) were also mentioned as breaches of the right to avoid degrading treatment and punishment and having provided IS with further material for propaganda.

Meanwhile, IS has responded with cruel and inhuman actions themselves, such as beheadings of journalists and aid workers, where the video footage has been shared online. IS has also pushed for terror attacks especially in the West, employing the ideologies of “individual jihad” and “low-cost terrorism” which date to Al-Qaeda.

Allied airstrikes have by far killed more people than IS terrorism. However, in the West and perhaps globally, terrorism and the related digital footage have a greater psychological impact. Prof. Dorfman illustrated this with some deeply shocking video footage from IS, together with an important reminder that “bombings can violate human rights and challenge the right to life as much as beheadings and terrorism – they just don’t work out visually in the same way”. In each case, human beings are directly affected by these actions.

The talk was followed by a series of questions and answers from the audience. The discussion revolved around the issues of validity of use of force out of human rights concerns, asymmetrical warfare (like distant drone attacks and airstrikes), and potential approaches to solve the conflict.

When it comes to the validity of the usage of force, the audience was encouraged to remember that “killing in any context is theoretically a human right violation”. In the context of the fight against IS, it seems clear that both intervention and non-intervention have led to undesirable outcomes. Honesty about the risk of rights violations with intervention and the human costs that will result from decisions to intervene appears essential – that so the terms of intervention are understood; and that also because intervention is clearly necessary sometimes to prevent further rights violations. As reminded by Prof. Dorfman, a framework for the derogation of rights in times of emergency exists (e.g. ICCPR article 4), although invocation of derogation requires serious reflection. As Dorfman argued, derogating rights the situation should not lead us too far from the spirit of rights principles: “I think it’s important to put idealism front and centre, and assure honesty in our actions so as to minimalize senses of marginalization and the idea that rights standards are to be used as a weapon against anyone”.

Regarding marginalisation, Prof. Dorfman suggest that a way forward could have consisted of, and perhaps should still consist of, bringing groups like IS to the negotiating table so as to hear their claims. This could allow us to distinguishing between legitimate claims, and purely destructive anger and raw grabs for power. Dialogue would ­– of course ­– be a difficult step, as negotiating with those we consider evil can be hard. However, it could also lead to defusing the power of the organisation, or changing its character.

The discussion session was also an occasion for Prof. Dorfman to remind the audience of a number of essential points when it comes to human rights. Firstly, that security is an important enabler of human rights, but is not their end goal (which is allowing humans to live fulfilling lives).  Secondly, creating a hierarchy on human rights is undesirable, as all should be considered important – that though the right to life does seem fundamental. Thirdly, the issues at stake are complex and it is essential to look behind appearances and simplistic messages. Lastly, an essential dimension of promoting human rights is dialogue, which may require inviting partners we dislike or oppose to the table so that they have a chance to express themselves – that so we can give a fair hearing to the human community with which we have to deal, have attempt to tamp down the most inflammatory political claims or, at least, claim we have listened before we begin to bomb.

[Thanks to Dominika Floriánová and Michaela Higgins Sørensen for the kind feedback on the first version of the article, as well as Prof. Ben Dorfman for the talk and contribution.]

UN diplomat Finn Reske-Nielsen on international development cooperation


Former United Nations diplomat, Finn Reske-Nielsen, was the guest speaker at last event organised by UNYA Aalborg. Finn discussed a number of interesting ideas regarding international development cooperation. Personally, I would describe the discussion as a light and easy conversation. I had expected Finn to be more on the serious side of the scale. However, he seemed intrigued by the comments and questions he received from the audience. The conversation was homogenous in a manner, as it seemed as if everyone agreed with one another on some level, and if they didn’t, they discussed their ideas openly. The questions and comments that the speaker received levelled well with the presentation he had prepared, and made for a fruitful discussion.

In a recent interview that the UNYA team had conducted, Finn was asked how the UN could get more developed countries to contribute to international development. “Persuasion and begging” replied Finn, less humourlessly, as he explained that the UN does not have the capital to fund big programmes. If the UN intends to plan a major project, Finn clarified, the donor countries, the rich countries and the developed nations must contribute financially. Mr. Reske-Nielsen made an interesting point in regard to the benefit in assisting with development in developing countries, “when you provide successful development assistance and you lift countries out of poverty, you create markets”. Therefore, investing in the development of countries creates economic benefits for the countries, which choose to invest.

The UN has set 17 goals for Sustainable Development ‘17 goals to transform the world’. The first goal that the UN has is to end poverty, everywhere, and in all its forms. The goal claims that the economic growth of a country, should contribute to creating sustainable jobs that promote equality. This is a major goal that developed countries can contribute to by investing in the development of the developing countries. Additionally, as previously states, investing is beneficial in terms of economic growth, which further provides security, for both the nations helping and being helped.

UN_goalsGoal number 17 of the UN’s sustainable development is entitled ‘partnership for the goals: revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development’, and emphasises the points that Finn made in the interview, and in his presentation. This goal emphasises the need to redirect the money in the world in creating sustainable societies and environments for the people, by claiming that the planet and the people should be in the central focus. It claims that in order to build a sustainable community we need to have “a shared vision at a global, regional, national and local level”. Mr. Reske Nielsen claims that if a private company chooses to operate in a developing country, they have to make sure that certain factors such as infrastructure, transport, and communication are in capacity. This point is also emphasised by goal 17, as it claims that long term foreign investment is needed in developing countries to strengthen these factors.

If you are interested in global politics and issues, please join us for our next event about Human Rights Action Against ISIS. We will have another guest speaker, Associate Professor Ben Dorfman, who will share his riveting insights on the topic.

A Brief Background on Associate Professor Ben Dorfman


Ben Dorfman is an associate professor at Aalborg University’s Institute for Culture and Global Studies, as well as the chair of the Board of Studies, Language and International Studies. His research areas include world, political, intellectual and cultural history, human rights and historical representation. He is originally from the United States, having studied and worked there. He taught history and philosophy before he moved to Denmark to teach at AAU. His interest in history, and particularly in human rights has inspired his career, and also the publishing of his recent book: 13 Acts of Academic Journalism and Historical Commentary on Human Rights.

Professor Dorfman’s path to this point in his career hasn’t been a straight and narrow one as he has had many jobs and actually started his degree out as a music major, “I wanted to get into the arts and maybe become a jazz musician, but once I started studying music, I realized that what I was really interested in was the philosophical meaning of the arts, and the way art tells us about history. I have always been interested in history throughout my whole life”, he reflected during a recent interview the United Nations Youth Association had with him. This realization is what made professor Dorfman pursue a major in history as “history is the grand overview of human experience”, as he put it. Professor Dorfman finished his education with a PhD in history, with a specialization in the history of ideas, which focused on concepts, philosophical ideas and modes of thinking.

Working at AAU was professor Dorfman’s first job that brought him to an international level in his career. This was a significant step for his career as his focus has been on the global issue of human rights, with AAU’s Institute for Culture and Global Studies serving as a perfect environment for his academic endeavours. Professor Ben Dorfman is an accomplished academic with a passion for human rights and how he can contribute to make the world a more peaceful and better place.

We hope you are excited to hear from him at our upcoming event that he will be speaking at: ‘Human Rights in the Action Against ISIS’. It will start at 17:30 at the International House North Denmark. Find out more on the Facebook event page.

Refugee Stories: Closing the Gap


The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) defines a refugee as “any person forced to flee from their country by violence or persecution”. It is widely known that since 2011, the world has seen the highest levels of displacement ever registered. The UNHCR estimates that nearly 65 million people have been displaced due to conflict and persecution during 2016, and that 20 people are forced to flee their homes every minute. According to the Danish Immigration and Integration Ministry, during 2015 and 2016, considered the peak of the so-called refugee crisis, 36,108 people sought asylum in Denmark.

In the face of such figures, it is easy to become numb to human struggle. People are turned into menacing ‘waves’ or unwanted ‘flows’. As an organization founded with the aim of guaranteeing respect for human rights, the United Nations’ role in this scenario is to make sure refugees are safely resettled and can restart their lives with dignity.

UNYA believes that a fundamental part of this process is to address it locally. The purpose of this event was thus to contribute to narrowing the distance between local populations and people with a refugee background. A gap which is evidenced by commonly expressed misconceptions and stereotypes attached to the label ‘refugee’, and might generate obstacles to integration or become fuel to anti-immigration policies.

In collaboration with the Danish Refugee Youth Council (DFUNK), UNYA gathered 3 speakers willing to share their journeys and experiences as refugees in Denmark.


Alex Berg, the first speaker of the evening, shared with the audience his three-week journey from Syria to Denmark in 2015, his thoughts on his country, his journey, and his new life in Denmark. Alex’s journey from Syria, like many other refugees seeking asylum, was not a smooth one. Treading through ISIS territory, travelling through dangerous transportation means and living in uncertainty by putting his life in the hands of smugglers, Alex successfully made it into Denmark, leaving his family, education, and possessions behind.

“If you are a male between the ages of 18 and 42 in Syria”, said Alex, explaining why he made this life-altering decision to leave Syria, “you are subject to be called for the army to serve the military where there is a 90% chance that you will be killed fighting on the battlefield”. Alex was studying at university in Damascus and was applying for a master’s program at the time, however, his reservation was cancelled because of the war. By default, he would have to join the military service, which in those circumstances would most probably mean a death sentence.

In Denmark, Alex has integrated into society enthusiastically. He voluntarily accepted a Danish host family who he meets with every second week and during holidays, has completed Danish language school and is doing a bachelor’s of humanities at Aalborg University. Alex has adjusted to life in Denmark over the past two years, although not without challenges.             


The second speaker, Taisir, is also a Syrian citizen. His home city Raqqa was one of the most affected by the war. Like Alex, he enjoyed a good life in his country before the war broke out. He has a bachelor’s degree in English literature and had been an English teacher for six years. Leaving home was not an easy decision for him, but a necessary one. “I came to Denmark in order to open a new page in my life after the war had destroyed everything I knew. I left behind my family, my friends and my childhood memories”.

Taisir opened his speech with the question, “Do you guys know falafel and hummus?” to which the audience responded with ‘oo’s’ and ‘ahh’s’. “Well, they are from Syria!”, he informed the room with a hint of pride in his tone. It is important to him that people associate Syria not only with violence and tragedy, but with its positive contributions to human history and to our everyday lives. “Most of you know Syria today as death, destruction, and war. However, I want you to know that Syria was a credit to all civilizations. For example, the first wheat planted was in Syria during 700BC”.

During his journey, one of the experiences that shocked him the most was an encounter with a judge in Macedonia, who asked for 100 to let him and his friends continue on their way up north. It took him 4 months to arrive in Denmark, where, for the first time, he joked, he was the one to look for the police, instead of the other way around.

Despite the strenuous journey, it was extremely important for him to get here. His choice of destination involved the contacts he had in Denmark; friends who resettled in the country before him. They had told him that the Danish asylum system included an integration program and it was generally faster than other countries. As he needed to rebuild his life from scratch, he was determined to go wherever he would have the best chances.

Taisir has been in Denmark for about three and half years now. Currently, he is in the first year of his master’s studies in Culture, Communication and Globalization, at Aalborg University. He has volunteered as an Arabic-English translator in his asylum centre. He speaks Danish well and is an active part of DFUNK, mainly as a storyteller.


The final speaker, Patrick, was born in Rwanda, but in 1994, when the genocide occurred, his family chose to flee and seek refuge elsewhere. Patrick explained, “My father was told to kill my mother because she was a Tutsi and he was Hutu, but my father didn’t do that because he loved my mother very much, and he loved me, too”. Patrick and his family sought refuge in several camps across southern Africa, including Tanzania, Kenya, and Zambia, but returned back to Rwanda when they received news that the civil strife was over. Upon their return, his father was called into questioning by the police, and never came back. “My mother had a son who was Hutu, and she herself was Tutsi, and that was a crime”, Patrick stated. Patrick’s mother did not want to give him up, so she chose to leave Rwanda and start a new life for them elsewhere, and ended up at a UN refugee camp where they eventually found their place in Denmark.

“When my mother told me we were moving to Denmark, I said what is Denmark?” Patrick recalled with a wide grin on his face, about to deliver an amusing anecdote from his childhood. “Remember that Jackie Chan movie?” his mother replied, “It’s kind of like that”. So, as a young boy moving from southern Africa to Denmark, Patrick pictured Denmark as an exciting Jackie Chan movie. Patrick’s integration in Denmark was not so difficult. He was young, highly adaptable and liked to play football with the other kids, so he learned fast. Patrick feels at home in Denmark as he stated, “If someone asked me where I am from today, I would say Denmark because it is the one place I have lived the longest in”.

There were a few challenges Patrick experienced due to his turbulent childhood, as he said, “I was behind in everything, I had to fight if I wanted any chance to make it”. And fight he did as he went on to a gymnasium, then a bachelor’s in philosophy at Aalborg University, and is currently doing a master’s in sociology, besides coordinating DFUNK’s Outreach group, with the mission of spreading awareness about refugee-related facts.

Listening to the stories of Alex, Taisir and Patrick was a highly educational experience for the audience and the UNYA team. The 3 speakers shared with us their journeys that were sad and emotional at times, however, all 3 of them included some humour in their presentations and shared many positive aspects of their life in Denmark. The most important lesson to take away from this event was to realize that there is a person behind the term ‘refugee’; a person with hopes, dreams, goals and inspiring stories to tell.

Aalborg Students’ Inspiring Sustainability Projects


UNYA held “Student Talks” about enthralling student projects in the field of sustainable development to raise awareness among residents about the students’ involvement in creating a more sustainable Aalborg. Three projects were presented by three groups of Aalborg University students.

The first group of students stood up to present their outstanding project, which was “Urban Energy and Environmental Planning – Cities & Sustainability”.

These students developed a sustainability-oriented project for Aalborg East in November 2017 under the student competition named “Aalborg East 2030 – Visions & Investments”, organized by Himmerland Housing Association, supported by Aalborg University, the Mmunicipality and Business Network 9220. The goal of this competition was to gather ideas for sustainable development of Aalborg East by 2030 taking into accont the Sustainable Development Goals set by the UN.

28951224_1625962224161558_6160213314241560576_oTheir project was based on revitalizing the Planetcentre in Aalborg East by creating liveability through public spaces and shared services. Aalborg East, in general, is characterised by isolated neighbourhoods and infrastructure prioritizing car usage. Therefore, public life in the streets is sparse. The Planetcentre is an old shopping mall from the 1970s and is characterised by frigid and empty spaces. Therefore, the students chose to revitalise it to increase its attractiveness and to boost the liveability of the area. They focused on responsible use of the area, products and materials, community involvement, sharing economy and accessibility by bike and walking. Furthermore, they developed an exciting timeline with progressing events and activities at the Planetcentre until 2030. Their enlightening project definitely drew the attention of Himmerland Housing Association, Aalborg University and municipality in the competition.

29027556_1625963167494797_5169896076005605376_oThe next project was developed by Erasmus+ master students from the “Joint European Master in Environmental Studies – Cities and Sustainability” programme for the same competition in November 2017. The project, which I am a part of, was focused on a different field of sustainability, namely integrating sustainability education into the existing system of school education. The major objective was to ensure quality education for the youth, and decent work, good health and well-being for the residents of Aalborg East in a longer run. Our main credo was that better quality of education in the East will bring more people to the area and will enhance the liveability as well as improve the economic situation there.

The project focused on establishing a new department in one of the schools of Aalborg East. The proposed department had several internal and external functions to manage the new study focus. The exceptional part of this project was the proposal of a membership card specifically for the residents of Aalborg East to increase the liveability and to boost sustainability education at schools as one of the offers for parents. All over, this outstanding project was noticed by the school manager and other persons during its development in November 2017, but has not been considered further due to the current different focus of the municipality in the development of school education.

28872747_1625963007494813_3764275102477189120_oThe last presentation was held by the students engaged in International Network of Green Agents (INGA). INGA was established by the Sustainability department of Aalborg municipality and focuses on students’ involvement in the transition towards sustainability of Aalborg city. It is a quite new organization (established in September 2017) and has been first coordinated by the Australian manager Timothy Shue. Now, INGA consists of 9 interdisciplinary students from Aalborg University coming from different countries. The previous year, within 12 weeks, the INGA 1.0 team has assisted the Centre for Green Transition to assess the current stage of the campaign “Gør os alle grønnere” and to develop further strategies for the campaign. The outcome of their project gave 8 recommendations for future steps. Indeed, they are not going to finish with one result! This year, they will continue to assess in a campaign and with sustainable transition of the city with a new upgrade INGA 2.0. They are willing to foster collaboration with different actors, such as universities, AAU Case Competition, AAU Match, etc. to broaden their potential. Moreover, they will assist in developing the Sustainability Festival 2018.

For more information about the projects of each group, please contact the following emails:


Our speakers addressed the following SDGs:


From Scandinavia to the Tropics: Advocating for the Necessity to Protect our Oceans


Last week, the United Nations Youth Association brought some tropical vibes to wintry Aalborg. The topic Coral Reefs and Denmark: Looking beyond the Island Paradise raised some issues of international concern regarding the health of our oceans in the era of climate change.


A mixed audience of students, professors, divers and citizens keen to know more about the topic attended a short lecture that opened the door for debate about the future of coral reefs and the oceans. Consequently, UNYA screened the Oscar-shortlisted documentary Chasing Coral (2017) to illustrate the points made during the lecture.

The focus of the event was to raise awareness about the importance of coral reefs for the oceans and the economy across the globe. The need to keep our oceans healthy and work for greener policies that help combat human-induced climate change became even more evident in the mass coral bleaching events that took place in 2014, 2015 and 2017. They were the longest and deadliest events in recorded history and affected the reefs all around the world.

Saxon Reef, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

These deadly events represent an environmental disaster and are not something that started in the long and distant past. They were first documented in our lifetime. In the 1980s, the first ever global coral bleaching event was recorded by scientists. However, this was only the first sign of what was to come a few years later, in the 1990s, 2000s and now again in the 2010s. Coral bleaching events are now predicted to become stronger, deadlier and more destructive, due to human-induced climate change. Bleaching occurs when the water temperature rises above normal. One or two degrees Celsius above average is more than enough to trigger the deadly event. With higher temperatures, corals stress and they expel the microorganisms that recover them, which give the vivid colours that corals have and which provide them with almost 90% of their food. In this case, corals turn into a ghostly white skeleton, which will die in a few days if the waters don’t cool down.

Corals are microscopic jellyfish-kind-of-like organisms that can be soft or hard. Soft corals are often confused with plants and hard corals with rocks, but this is not the case and they are far more than that. Hard corals create a hard limestone covering where they grow. Over time, these microscopic animals can create a structure the size of a house. When many coral colonies grow together, they build a reef. The vastness that these structures can achieve can be appreciated even from space. The Great Barrier Reef in Australia is the most spectacular example of it, stretching for more than 2600 km. off the North-Eastern coast of Australia. To put things into perspective, its size is comparable to the distance between Aalborg and Istanbul.

Reefs provide food and protection for the communities that live in, on and around them. Globally, it is estimated that almost one billion people live in a proximity of less than 100 km. to a coral reef. Moreover, these ecosystems are extremely rich in biodiversity. They occupy less than 0,1% of the Earth’s surface but are home to more than 25% of all marine life. In addition, they are extremely beneficial to the economies of the surrounding countries, in that they provide abundant sources of food and fish, which these countries rely upon. But not only that, they also provide a very good incentive for European countries, such as Denmark, by selling fishing licenses to them. Also, coral reefs provide protection from natural phenomena, such as storms and tsunamis.

There are several problems that coral reefs face today; from coral bleaching, rising sea levels and water acidification, to outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish and overfishing. The most urgent problems appear to be those triggered by climate change, such as coral bleaching. This problem causes the coral to starve to death. In the short run, a bleached coral can recover if the water temperature decreases. If the water doesn’t cool down, a continuous period of bleaching will kill the coral. A dead coral means a dead reef and dead reefs lead to a dead ecosystem. The question is then, can we afford to have a whole ecosystem extinct? If we can’t save this ecosystem, what does this mean for the next ecosystem to be threatened?

Kaafu Atoll, Maldives

Healthy oceans are a global concern. One of the few strategies where the international community has found common ground is that we need to reduce our carbon emissions because they have a direct impact on reefs and oceans. With this presentation, UNYA proved that the science behind coral reefs and the health of the oceans is not a closed field of study accessible only by the scientists who are already in it, but also by ordinary citizens who want to have a positive impact on the planet.

By presenting a topic that is more often than not relegated to the scientific community, UNYA incited the attendees to take action in their everyday life to reduce their environmental footprint. To achieve this positive effect you don’t need to go far away in the tropics to provide hands-on assistance. The small gestures, such as reducing your water and energy consumption, can have a big impact on the planet if they influence the people around you to take action too. By knowing more about this topic and spreading the word, the people around you are more likely to be influenced and to get involved in reducing their environmental footprint.


How do the actions of an individual in Denmark affect what is happening in Hawaii, the Maldives, French Polynesia or the Great Barrier Reef in Australia? With this question in mind, UNYA gave an overview of the present situation in the oceans around the world regarding the dangers for coral reefs, their importance for the global community and the involvement of international organisations to protect reefs and oceans against climate change. It bridged the gap between the problems that tropical and Scandinavian countries face. It raised awareness about the health of our oceans by making the topic relevant for an audience in Denmark. Ultimately, it addressed the challenges that every member of society faces when they take actions that have an impact on the planet.


EVENT PHOTOS: Michaela Higgins Sørensen and Alex Berg