Letters to two PM, a King, a Crown Prince and a President

My little sister Sydney writing her letters (2021) Photo credit: S. Svebakk-Bøhn

Our big sister, Sharidyn interview in DT when she wrote her letter to the Mayor of Drammen (2009)

Me writing my letter to Prime Minister of Norway (2014) Photo credit: O.R. Bøhn

10-06-2021

A few days after the 9 year anniversary, my mum asked my sister and I how we wanted to commemorate the 10 year anniversary since Sharidyn was killed. We had just commemorated the 9th anniversary during covid and restrictions, I was fairly certain that there was no point planning anything since no one had any idea how the pandemic was going to play out in Norway. We sat around our kitchen table brainstorming, until Sydney suggested sending letters to people. Who sends letters in the mail these days? Everything is digital, do they still sell stamps?

Sydney thought that since Sharidyn had sent a letter to the Mayor of Drammen, Tore Opdal Hansen (in 2009), and I had sent a letter to the Prime Minister of Norway, Erna Solberg (in 2014), then she could also send a letter. Her words: Isn't that how we do things in our family, we write letters? But of course our little sister had to out-do her big sisters. Sharidyn and I only sent one letter, Sydney sent a dozen! And not just to one Prime Minister (or Mayor), Sydney wrote handwritten letters to two Prime Ministers (Norway and New Zealand), a King and Crown Prince, and a President, to mention a few.

I am so proud of my little sister, Sydney! She is 11 years old, and already has held 5 speeches/presentations about July 22nd and our big sister, Sharidyn. I will never forget what Sydney says in her speech:

I choose to hold a speech and tell you about my sister, Sharidyn because I don't want anyone else to lose a sister they love, the same way we lost Sharidyn. I like to talk about Sissi and all the wonderful things that she did, but it hurts that I don't remember Sissi in the same way as Savannah, because I was so little. He took Sissi's life, but all our memories of Sissi will live long after her death because we choose to talk about our sister - even when it is sad to talk about how and why she was killed.

Sydney's handwritten letter to PM of Norway (2021) Photo credit: S.Svebakk-Bøhn

Page 2 and 3 of Sydney's handwritten letter (2021) Photo credit: S.Svebakk-Bøhn

Sydney's letter to the King of Norway (2021) Photo credit: S. Svebakk-Bøhn

Front page of local newspaper - Interview with DT (2021) Photo credit: T. Sandberg

Mine and Sydney's interview with DT (2021) Photo credit: T. Sandberg

After spending months thinking up different ways we could commemorate the 10th anniversary, we thought that one of the nicest ways to remember the victims that were killed in the terrorist attacks is to sing a Norwegian children's song Barn av regnbuen (translated, Children of the rainbow) that most Norwegian children will learn in kindy and/or school. We wanted to sing that particular song because many Norwegians walked the streets of Norway in 2012 singing Barn av regnbuen in solidarity for the victims and to demonstrate against the terrorists warped ideologies. I remember that demonstration because me and mum walked hand-in-hand through the streets of Drammen. What I remember the best, was my mum crying as she held my hand.

My little sister and I hope that if you read my post, that you will join us in honouring the victims precious memory by commemorating the 10 year anniversary. How you choose to commemorate the anniversary, is up to you. Don't let July 22nd be just an ordinary day, because it will never be an ordinary day in Norway's history, and it shouldn't be for future generations of children in our country.

How else will we stop July 22nd from ever happening again?

#viminnerdem

#rememberme

A drawing "A heaven full of stars" (2012) Photo credit: V. Svebakk

Photo of lyrics to "Barn av regnbuen" during demonstration (2012) Photo credit: V. Svebakk

Photo of lyrics to "Barn av regnbuen" during demonstration (2012) Photo credit: V. Svebakk

Barn av Regnbuen av Lillebjørn Nilsen

Barn av regnbuen med tekst (Kilde: Sang i skole/Youtube)

Barn av Regnbuen (Tekst)

En himmel full av stjerner.

Blått hav så langt du ser.

En jord der blomster gror.

Kan du ønske mer?

Sammen skal vi leve.

Hver søster og hver bror.

Små barn av regnbuen

Og en frodig jord.

 

Noen tror det ikke nytter.

Andre kaster tiden bort med prat.

Noen tror at vi kan leve av Plast og syntetisk mat.

Og noen stjeler fra de unge

Som blir sendt ut for og slåss.

Noe stjeler fra de mange

Som kommer etter oss.

 

En himmel full av stjerner.

Blått hav så langt du ser.

En jord der blomster gror.

Kan du ønske mer?

Sammen skal vi leve.

Hver søster og hver bror.

Små barn av regnbuen

Og en frodig jord.

 

Men si det til alle barna!…

#RememberMe

25-04-2021 09.30 am

This year marks the 10 year anniversary since the dual terrorist attacks in Norway - the bombing of the Government Quarter in Oslo and the massacre on the island of Utøya on July 22nd 2011. 10 years – (3,650 days) is a long time and a lot has happened in 10 years, but for the families and the survivors, many feel like it was only yesterday since the attacks. To put 10 years into perspective a little closer to home for us - my little sister, Sydney is now 11 years old. And she has questions.

As a part of our commemoration, last year Sydney and I started our Remember Me (#viminnerdem) project. Our mum, Vanessa is an advocate for victims of terrorism and has spoken to people all over the world to create awareness and help other countries make good decisions about how to help families and children like us. But more importantly, our mum advocates for the victims that no longer can speak for themselves. That is what our Remember Me project is about, or rather hashtag #rememberme – remembering the victims of terrorism.

Our project helps remind and teach other children and adults (today) about the victims and who they were and why they are important to us, so we all can take responsibility so that the terrorist attacks in Oslo and on Utøya or the mosque attacks in Christchurch in New Zealand, don’t happen again. The consequences are devastating – and we - the families, have to live with terrorisms brutality for the rest of our lives.

We Talk

We Walk

We Remember

We talk our values. We walk our values. We remember!

#rememberme

Kindness and compassion best sums up the kind of person our sister Sharidyn was. Even though our sister was only 14 years old when she was killed, she "talked and walked her values". We strongly believe that it is important to talk about our sister, at the same time raise awareness about the brutal consequences of terrorism so that 9/11 (New York, USA), 22/7 (Oslo and Utøya, Norway) and 15/3 (Christchurch, New Zealand) doesn’t happen again to another family like ours. There are one too many families like us in the world, and one too many children like us that are growing up, knowing that the world isn’t always a nice place to live in. But we all can make a difference.

How can I support #rememberme Project?

In remembrance of the victims of the terrorist attacks in Norway and in commemoration of the 10 year anniversary, my little sister and I have looked at different ways that schools - children and adults can commemorate July 22nd.

You may already have noticed that there have been a lot of different podcasts, social media events and increased media focus in the weeks leading up to the 10 year anniversary. For many, this may feel overwhelming. Commemorating the 10 year anniversary doesn't have to be complicated. The most important are the conversations people are having at home, at work or at school.

What is our legacy after July 22?

How do we want to remember the worst event in our modern history in Norway?

If the victims were your friends or family, what do you think is important to remember about them?

How do you honour their memory?

#rememberme

Memory project - In loving memory

Me and my big sister, Sharidyn (2010) Photo credit: V. Svebakk

My beautiful sister, Sharidyn (2010) Photo credit: V. Svebakk

22-07-2020 08:23 am

In 2014, our mum started her Memory project. The idea came about after mum had invited a group of July 22nd bereaved mothers and their families to a hotel weekend in Drammen. After talking with the other families about documenting their personal stories about their loved one, mum contacted a close friend of hers a few weeks later who owned a production company in Drammen. Armed with a few tips, mum draftet her first film proposal. After months of working on her project, mum presented the project idea (proposal) in a meeting with representatives in the Norwegian government in 2015 as part of the new July 22 centre in Oslo. Typically as things go in Norway, nothing happened - and mum put her Memory project on the proverbial shelf, or so everyone thought. 

At the same time mum was researching for her doctorate (and involved in a hundre other projects), she also did a deep dive developing her Memory project from research to production stage. If you know my mum, she doesn't do anything half-way. Fast forward a few years ahead, and we have since lived abroad (again) from 2016 to 2018, and moved back to Norway (again) in 2018. After a visit to the July 22 Centre, we were all mildly upset by how the Centre (and Utøya AS) had zero focus on the victims and/or their families. We walked around the Centre feeling like it was the terrorists story that was unfolding in front of us.

Once again, mum decided to try to persuade (or rather guilt-trip - her words not mine) the July 22nd Centre to focus their attention on the victims and the July 22nd bereaved families. Half a dozen meetings later, little had happened in the July 22 Centre in the 6 months that mum had worked on bringing her project into production. The only thing in the Centre, was one very lonely photo - that explained nothing about who the person was or their life that they had lived.

Mum contacted her friend Børge (and his team of experts) again, who had since merged his company with another (now known as Godt Sagt), and asked him if he could help her to bring her project from manuscript to production stage. Without a krone in external funding (otherwise known as my parents), and buckets of kindness and compassion from a dozen or so of mum's very awesome friends, they all helped in different ways to take mum's extraordinary project from idea to the finished promotional video that is uploaded below.

Why is it called a promo (promotional) video?

Because it is the footprint that all the short-films that have been made since with a handful of bereaved families (etterlatte), are based on.

Børge Solem and Jannik Fagerhøi from Godt Sagt setting up their equipment (2019) Photo credit: V. Svebakk

Me watching while Steinar sets up the equipment (2019) Photo credit: V. Svebakk

Honouring a lived life!

In spring of 2019, mum asked me if I wanted to do the interview for the promotional video. Mum knew that it would be hard for me, and was unsure if I would say yes. But I trust my mum, and I know how much work and energy that she had put into developing her project, the interview questions, testing out the different settings for the promo, and everything else that goes hand-in-hand with her project. If the promo-video was successful, then mum's Memory project would be the guideline for a short-film project primarily with the July 22 bereaved families.

In mum's proposal, the short-films would be displayed on separate screens/monitors in the July 22 Centre so that the public could see and hear the bereaved families own stories about their loved one. On a larger scale, mum had planned on her project eventually including the survivors, rescuers and anyone and eveyone (to name a few) that had a story or two to share about the events that unfolded on July 22nd 2011.

The idea of mum's project had never been done before, and if it was done the way mum had meticulously planned, it was going to be expensive. But we live in the richest country in the world, and as history of the 2nd World War had already shown, none of the bereaved families were getting any younger and several of the dad's had since passed away. Their stories about their children, we will never hear.

In June 2019, mum arranged with another close friend of our family and hotel director, Trine Bingen for the location of my interview to be filmed at Clarion Tollboden Hotel. Børge and his team at Godt Sagt set up all the equipment, and armed with mum's carefully crafted interview questions and Børge's many, many years experience as a cameraman and journalist, we got started with my interview.

Before you watch the promo:

Just to give you an idea as to how much work went on behind the scenes before my interview: Mum had worked on the interview questions for almost a year with a team of international PTSD/trauma experts. The interview questions were specifically designed as a conversation. The questions were designed as prompts relating to the person the interview was about. In my case, my sister. The prompts were used to help reduce the effects of re-traumatising the person in front of the camera. Who thinks of details like that?

My mum knew that asking the bereaved families to tell their stories would be difficult for most, and overwhelmingly impossible for many. Every detail of the interview was catered to the individual person/family. Each family owns their story and consents to their short-film being published. Literally nothing was left to chance, hence the reason why mum documented every step of each process, including every meeting she had.

Besides me and Børge, Steinar and Jannik were also in the room monitoring both the cameras that were beelined on me. After the first few minutes, I barely noticed that there was anyone else in the room besides Børge. About an hour and half later the interview was finished. Side note: My very nervous mother sat in another part of the hotel anxiously waiting for me to be finished. 

Steinar Sørensen and Jannik Fagerhøi setting up for my promo-interview (2019) Photo credit: V. Svebakk

Børge, Steinar and Jannik from Team "Godt Sagt setting up the equipment (2019) Photo credit: V. Svebakk

From Post-Production to final product!

But wait, there's more!

Filming the interview was the easy part. (Meaning easy for the experts - not easy talking about the one person I missed most in the world). The real work is the stuff that no-one besides the experts ever see. Once the interview was done, Godt Sagt teamed up with more of my mum's friends who specialises in Post-production. At the helm was, my uncle Shanon who has worked on loads of tv series and movies (Lord of the rings to namedrop one). Uncle Shanon works as a colourist.  Another colleague of uncle Shanons (Alex), specialises in sound, and touched up on all the imperfections that the rest of us don't hear. Hence the reason why the promo oozes every shade of "professional". Mum was hands-on through-out the entire process, as a producer does. After several more weeks of fine-tuning, my promotional video was finally done. Unfortunately the video is only in Norwegian. 

After another half a dozen meetings with different representatives for the Centre and Utøya AS the following months, finally on 18th December 2019, my mum met again with the same representatives from the July 22 Centre and previewed the promotional video and her Memory project aptly named: In memory of a lived life (Til minne om et levd liv).

From december 2019 to february 2020, mum contacted approx. 10 bereaved families and asked if they wanted to be in the first group to make their short film. Because of time-restraints, and July 22 Centre low budget, only a handful of families were chosen in the end. In July 2020, the finished product with the first families was finally released online.

Uncle Shanon at Nr. 14 (2019) Photo credit: V. Svebakk

Uncle Shanon doing his colorist-magic. Do you see the difference? (2019) Photo credit: V. Svebakk

Thank you mum!

Thank you to my mum, Vanessa Svebakk for never giving up on her Memory project or the bereaved families.

Most of the bereaved families will never know how many years you have worked (for free and in whatever spare time you had) on this project advocating for the victims and their families stories to be told in a way that honours their memory, meeting with experts and politicians (among others, that have since taken credit for all your hard work). None of us will ever be able to express how grateful we are to you. Thank-you just doesn't seem to be enough.

On behalf of me and my family (and all the bereaved families that have no idea what you all have done for them), a huge THANK YOU to Børge Solem, Steinar Sørensen, Yvonne Blaavik and everyone at Godt Sagt in Drammen, Shanon Le-Moratti and everyone at Nr. 14 in Oslo, Trine Bingen and her staff at Clarion Tollboden Hotel, Drammen.

Above is in part a third-hand account of some of the processes that my mum went through. Mum details the entire project in her book that is due to be released in june/july. Thank you mum that I am allowed to share your hard work on my blog.