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Selected historical milestones from seventy years of Norwegian People’s Aid, 1939-2009

1939      Following the end of the Spanish Civil War, Karl Evang, on behalf of Aid to Spain (Spaniahjelpen), presents an initiative to LO for the establishment of an organisation ”which is to undertake health work in Norway and is able to step in when the population of Norway or other countries is under threat of necessity”. The secretariat of LO approves the foundation of Norwegian People’s Aid in the autumn of 1939. Aid to Spain and Workers Health and Rescue (Arbeidersaniteten) form the basis of the new organisation. Arrangements are also made to ensure that company health services and occupational hygiene have a place in the new organisation. These tasks are later phased out following the passing of the Working Environment Act in the mid-seventies and the Law concerning company health services. 

The Soviet Union’s attack on Finland of the 30th November leads to the foundation of Norwegian People’s Aid being brought forward from February 1940 to 7th December 1939.

On the 11th of December, Haakon Lie travels to Finland as Norwegian People’s Aid representative for talks with the Finnish authorities about humanitarian aid requirements as a consequence of the war. Over the winter, Norwegian People’s Aid collects 1.7 million kroner (corresponding to 48 million kroner today) in aid of Aid to Finland. This was before the great development in prosperity in Norway and bears witness of tremendous engagement. 

 NPA gets involved with national health issues and puts public baths on the agenda in Norway. Very few people have their own bath at home. As many as 20,000 Lofoten fishermen have no access to baths throughout the fishing season and, as late as 1959, around 3.5% of the country’s schoolchildren still lack access to baths.  

1940      Norwegian People’s Aid mobilise medical services across the country at the outbreak of the war, Workers Health and Rescue being able to provide 14,000 trained first aid workers at 129 different locations. The organisation is also active in helping Willy Brandt, later to become the German Chancellor, to Sweden when his life was in danger following the German occupation of Norway.

NPA arranges a holiday for almost 400 ”tired housewives and children from war-torn districts” at Sørmarka, outside Oslo, and at Utøya in Tyrifjord.

1941      The Germans confiscate NPA assets and close down the organisation’s activities in September. The organisation regroups in exile and elects a new board in Stockholm. Work is started for Norwegian refugees in Sweden and plans are laid for work to be done when Norway is again free.

1945      Norwegian People’s Aid receive over 650,000 dollars (15.7 million 2009-kroner) from the American trade union movement for emergency relief and reconstruction work in Norway. The Housewives Holiday Committee is established. 

1946      NPA stands behind the establishment of health centres and company health services across the whole country.

                NPA is responsible for the conversion of the minesweeper “Vefsna” into the X-ray vessel, the “Franklin D. Roosevelt”. With American support for equipment, the vessel sails along the Norwegian coast taking X-rays of large swathes of the population in the fight against tuberculosis.

Norwegian People’s Aid and the Red Cross together establish Aid to Europe, which is to provide humanitarian assistance across war-ravaged Europe. To begin with, work is concentrated in Finland, Greece, France, Italy, Yugoslavia, Poland, Rumania, Hungary, Germany and Austria. Two large collections in 1947 and 1948 bring in 13.5 million kroner.  

                NPA, the Actor’s Association and the Author’s Union take the initiative to establish The Norwegian Committee for Spain. More than 40 organisations become affiliated. At General Franco’s death in November 1975, democracy returns to Spain. The Committee for Spain ceases its operations in September 1979 after 33 years’ tireless work in solidarity with the Spanish people.

1948      The battle against tuberculosis spreads. Norwegian personnel are active in Aid for Europe’s Tuberculosis Committee in Ecuador, Israel, Ceylon and other countries across the globe.

                NPA establishes the company A/S Millimek for the occupationally disabled in Oslo. Work for the occupationally disabled and for rehabilitation become central activities in NPA’s domestic programme.

1952      Aid for Europe is closed down and the Norwegian Red Cross, Norwegian People’s Aid, Norwegian Church Aid and Save the Children work together to bring about the establishment of The Norwegian Council for Refugees. This organisation later becomes a foundation and, in 2005, changes its name to Norwegian Refugee Council (Flyktninghjelpen).

1956      In Hungary, the uprising against the authoritarian communist government and its soviet politics leads to the invasion of the country by the Soviet Union. Thousands of civilians are killed. Norwegian People’s Aid takes the initiative to provide practical humanitarian support to the Hungarian people. 

1960      The peak year for ”housewife holidays”. Over 6000 women and children are involved in holiday activities under the auspices of Norwegian People’s Aid.

1962      NPA sets up the Action Committee against drowning accidents and, later, the Action Committee against accidents in the home. NPA actively undertakes public information campaigns and supports voluntary swimming tuition and bathing sense initiatives in nursery schools, after school care centres and primary schools. In 1973, 363 people accidentally drowned in Norway. In 2008, the figure was down to 86.

1963      NPA purchases Kure farm at Rygge and opens Norway’s first nursing home for epileptics. At the same time, an information campaign about epilepsy is started to increase understanding and awareness of the illness.

1963      Norwegian People’s Aid and the Red Cross organise Norwegian assistance following the earthquake in Skopje.

1968      NPA runs 155 loan centres for medical aids for the disabled. The loan of crutches and other aids continues until the 1980s.

1972      NPA health and medical work is reorganised. The purpose is to increase activity among young people, establish more groups and to take greater part in preparedness work.

1972      Norwegian People’s Aid Oslo runs a field hospital and first aid stand-by services at the Norway Cup for the first time. This practice continues today.

1975      The labour movement collects 7 million kroner for reconstruction work in Vietnam. The Labour Movement’s International Support Committee speaks out for increased international involvement in the labour movement. LO resolves to ask Norwegian People’s Aid to take responsibility for the task.

1976      Norwegian People’s Aid agrees to take up the LO commission and Vesla Vetlesen is brought in to place this important issue firmly back on the agenda. Portugal was an obvious target for involvement following the carnation revolution and support to the trade union movements in Chile and South Africa on behalf of LO were the first important tasks. Cooperation with and support to the liberation movements In Zimbabwe, South Africa and Namibia were also taken care of by Norwegian People’s Aid.

1979      In cooperation with Health and Rescue, ANC representatives are invited to instructor training in first aid, civil preparedness, midwifery training and some laboratory techniques. The first course lasts 3 months with 5 participants. Cooperation is broadened to include the Namibian liberation movement SWAPO and a special health raining centre is built in Angola in 1986 from funds raised during the 1983 TV collection. The final course is conducted in 1991. In all, 1000 people from the ANC have received training which provides entry to higher education institutes within the health arena.

                NPA, in collaboration with the Yugoslavian trade union movement, helps with emergency relief after the earthquake in Yugoslavia. The following year, an earthquake in Algeria leads to similar cooperation with the Algerian trade union movement on reconstruction work within the affected areas.

1980      LO enters into a cooperation agreement with Norad concerning support to the organisation’s international aid work. This leads to LO setting up its own aid secretariat. A new platform for NPA’s international work is drawn up. It covers disaster work, emergency relief and cooperation with liberation movements. The International Section is maintained and efforts increased.

1981      NPA mobilises to ease the food crisis in Poland with the ”Poland doesn’t need sympathy, Poland needs food” campaign. Cooperation with SOLIDARITY is broken off when the state of emergency comes into force in December. After consultation with LO, NPA undertakes cooperation with the Catholic church to ease need in Poland. Further cooperation with NKL means that people are able to buy gift-cards in all Coop shops (then Samvirkelag). This helps bring about an efficient organisation of the sending of aid consignments from Norwegian families to families affected by the crisis in Poland. 

1982      The budget for international work is increased from 3 million kroner in 1980 to 40 million in 1982.

                Norwegian People’s Aid is involved in the fight for the Palestinians during the war in the Lebanon. Cooperative agreements are made with the Front for Palestine and the Socialist Doctor’s Association. Together with Health and Rescue, a medical team is sent to Beirut, where an operating theatre is set up in the basement of the American Hospital. NPA personnel are present at both the Shabra and Shatilla incidents. This was the beginning of the long-standing engagement supporting the Palestinian case. From 1986/7 this engagement is extended to include Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza. 

Support is established for people from El Salvador in refugee camps in Honduras and Mexico.


1983      NPA  is granted NRK’s TV collection. Just under 70 million kroner is collected for “Human Dignity”. This is 14 million less than the previous year. One important reason for the reduction in funds collected was NPA’s decision to focus on the battle for liberation in Southern Africa, the difficult situations in Central America and Chile, as well as Palestinian living conditions in the Lebanon after Shabra and Shatilla in 1982. The choice of campaign profile was consciously taken even though one was aware that “Human Dignity” would not sell as well as “hungry children”  and was likely to lead to a reduction in funds collected. Carl I. Hagen raised the issue of NPA’s TV collection in the Norwegian Parliament and questioned if Norwegian municipalities should support the collection.

1985      NPA initiates the Ski Festival and, later, the Summer Festivals to give psychiatric patients improved opportunities for activities. 

1986      NPA enters into cooperation with the humanitarian division of the SPLM liberation movement in South Sudan. This cooperation develops into an extensive engagement which continues even after the peace agreement in Sudan. NPA engagement in South Sudan comprises the largest NPA programme.

1987      A cooperation agreement is negotiated with Norad covering development cooperation with partner organisations in Southern Africa, Central and South America, and which is the foundation for extensive development cooperation in 24 countries. At its centre stands the development of democracy, with a twin focus on the rightful distribution of power and resources and the importance of collaboration with local partners.  

                A collaboration agreement is entered into with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for NPA to take on the task of assisting the ANC in the construction and running of civilian camps in Tanzania, and assisting with scholarships and other initiatives granted by the Norwegian authorities.  

1988      NPA sets up its first refugee reception centre at Klemetsrud in Oslo. Activity in this area peaked with the running of 25 such centres. Currently, NPA runs 9 reception centres across southern Norway.

1991      NPA initiates the establishment and running of volunteer exchanges in Norway.

1992      Parliamentary Secretary Egeland at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs challenges Norwegian organisations to engage with the problems created for the Cambodian population by landmines. A separate mine division is created within the international division, subsequently to clear mines and other explosives in more than 23 countries. 

1996      NPA establishes a ”Joint action against racism” in collaboration with LO. NPA helps businesses and organisations set up racism-free zones and offers courses in Diversity and Dialogue. The Human Library is later established as part of the work for increasing tolerance.

1997      NPA takes an active role in the political work which results in an international ban on landmines. Jody Williams and the Mine Campaign, of which NPA is a member, receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

1998      NPA establishes guardian arrangements for children seeking asylum (unaccompanied underage asylum-seekers).

2004      The mine-dog centre in Sarajevo is established. Now the leading such centre in the world, it annually trains 75 dogs which are employed in the work of clearing mines and other explosives around the world.  

2008      NPA plays a central role in the international campaign for a ban on cluster munitions which leads to an agreement which is signed in Oslo on 3rd December.

2009      Current work is concentrated on two core areas: ”Protection of life and health” and ”Rightful distribution of power and resources”. This is just as valid in our domestic programmes as in our international work. NPA has considerable engagement in Europe, Africa, Asia, Central and South America and the Middle East, and cooperation with local organisations which stand for democracy and solidarity are at the core of our activities. NPA has developed into one of the most significant bodies in the work of combating landmines and cluster munitions in terms of both clearance and political lobbying to ensure that obligations under the mine convention are fulfilled and that more countries commit to the cluster munitions convention.   

The overall NPA budget of 700 million kroner in 2009 divides into about 300 million to emergency relief and development work, 200 million to mine clearance, 60 million to refugee work in Norway, 10 million to other national activities and 15 million to the organisation Norwegian People’s Aid itself.

Sources:  ”50 år i krig og fred - Norsk Folkehjelp 1939-89” by Guttorm Lyshagen

Anniversary issue of ”Appell” no. 2/3 1999 ”Solidaritet gjennom 60-år”

Annual accounts 2008 (Case paper to meeting of the board 2/2009)

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