On Wednesday, June 8, H. E. Mr. Martin Yttervik, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Norway to Lebanon, visited the Notre Dame University-Louaize (NDU) Main Campus. Accompanying the Ambassador on his visit to NDU President, Fr. Bechara Khoury, were the Deputy Head of Mission at the Norwegian Embassy, Mr. Svenn Husem Wroldsen, and Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) Country Director in Syria and Lebanon, Ms. Benedicte Hafskjold. Present at the gathering were Vice President for Academic Affairs (VPAA), Dr. Michel El Hayek, Assistant Vice President for Academic Support (AVPAS), Dr. Simon Abou Jaoude, Former Minister and Chairperson of the Board of Trustees (BoT), H.E. Dr. Ziyad Baroud, and Director for the Office of Public Affairs and Protocol (OPAP), Mr. Majed Bou Hadir.
H.E. Mr. Yttervik and his associates enjoyed the showing of a walk-through of NDU’s history at the President’s office, followed by a video presenting NDU’s IDEAL Program with the SKILD Center, a feat that the guests admired immensely. The Ambassador commended the University for its unique initiative towards inclusivity in higher education, describing it as moving and a ground upon which both Norway and Lebanon may further their relations. “It is impressive to see such a wonderful institution built and developed and very much in line with our own philosophy from Norway, where we have the same priorities within education,” said Mr. Yttervik. He added that the Embassy will be sure to act in implementing its own counterpart in Norway. Further, he plans on sending journalists to NDU to cover the IDEAL Program and its success. Ms. Hafskjold likewise praised the holistic approach of the University towards this goal as it occurs within higher education. She relayed that within her work with the NCA, “special education inclusion is often only available in elementary and secondary schools.”
Fr. Khoury highlighted inclusive education as a cause worth pursuing particularly amid the crisis in Lebanon, stating, “When the national crisis affects education, our mission becomes more complicated. But as we said, we are trying to take advantage of our history to empower the future.”
Dr. Abou Jaoude underlined such a history at NDU, recounting the story of the first visually impaired student to attend the University in 1998: “She graduated with a BA in Journalism, and was called by the late Gebran Tueni to work at An-Nahar.” She later pursued a career at the Ministry of Social Affairs and currently works at the communications office at the Lebanese Central Bank. Dr. Abou Jaoude continued, “NDU was the first University, not only in Lebanon, but in the Middle East to take on the initiative of special education.” He recalls how the Maronite Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary held the first conference on special education with an emphasis on learning disabilities, organized by NDU in 2001. “This was especially important for us to instill these programs in Catholic schools across the country,” he said.
In a visit centering on cultural dialogue, a brief history of Norway’s industry was given, particularly the vital role of women working in and leading Norwegian factories, going as far back as 1893, who brought about the first workers’ strike for fair treatment and wages. Women later were able to secure the right to vote in 1916. In parallel, Dr. Hayek addressed the shared interest of democratic citizenship, citing NDU as a pioneer in adopting student cabinets and elections at the university level. The focus on the inherent dignity of the person is one example of the mutual concerns between Norway and Lebanon: such an alignment facilitates the collaboration between the two institutes, with the assurance of working towards a common goal.
The visit then continued with a physical walk-through of the Main Campus, where the Embassy guests visited the NDU Museum, the tour concluding with a luncheon at the cafeteria. Such a successful meeting with inclusivity and civic duty as its focal points is a shining light towards a fruitful collaboration between the Norwegian Embassy and NDU. From edifying the person to creating civic accountability, there is no doubt that this relation will nurture a future of hope and tangible progress. Thank you to the Ambassador, the First Secretary, and the Deputy for their interest in our community and enthusiasm for our common mission.