At first the word dugnad confused me. “Come to the dugnad in my new home in Nesodden, we will be painting”. Why would we paint in a bunad? Isn’t it a very nice dress to paint in? You must admit those two words sound a bit the same to non-Norwegian ears: bunad and dugnad. But then someone explained this concept I had never heard of before moving to Norway.
A dugnad is work Norwegians do voluntarily and for free with other members of a same community in order to avoid feeling guilty every time they meet their neighbours or the other parents at the kindergarten or the school band. I am exaggerating as always. The truth is dugnads are a wonderful concept which allows adults and children to work together towards a common aim which can be repairing a house for friends, selling toilet paper and cakes for a football team, baking waffles for your kid’s school or cleaning the common garden with your neighbours. It gives you a great excuse to talk to people and make new friends.
Isn’t it kind of nice to know that in our modern urban individualistic lives there is still space for communities and work for the common good without involving any money?
The many social rules surrounding Norwegian dugnad
As always in Norwegian culture there are unwritten rules which everyone expects you to know and follow: Firstly, if you are asked to bring a cake to a dugnad, it is unthinkable to bring a cake you just bought at Baker Hansen. Imagine, in front of all these parents who woke up at 6am and started cooking despite a heavy week at work and 3 screaming children, you open the box of Baker Hansen and TaDA! No no, some commitment and a little suffering must be involved in a dugnad. The cakes and waffles you make must have the taste of your own sweat in them. And if you used jam with blueberries you picked yourself it is even better.
Secondly, you cannot refuse to participate in a dugnad, unless you have very good reasons. Especially if you are participating in a dugnad which will also benefit you or your family. In my borettslag they wrote in the minutes that “those who cannot help with physical work at the dugnad must bake waffles and be in a good mood to encourage those working”. So if you are very old, or very sick, or very pregnant you might have a good excuse not to carry heavy things in the garden. But unless you are very sick (not flu sick, more like cancer sick) you have to contribute and show that you would really like to clean those trash trolleys 150 persons have been using for a whole year. But sadly you have to sit on the side handling rømme (cream) and strawberry jam instead of mops smelling like dead people.
Norwegians invented the world’s biggest dugnad: TV Aksjon
This kind of concept exists in many communities where people need each other to survive, especially in remote areas which Norway used to be. Sameligne konsepter exist in many languages, like gotong-royong (Indonesian), naffir (Sudanese Arabic), mink’a (Quechua), talkoot (Finnish). But none of these cultures have raised the concept of communal work to a national spirit of solidarity for others who are not part of their direct community like Norwegians do with the TV Aksjon.
TV Aksjon is the world’s biggest dugnad, and a tradition in Norway. It all started more than 40 years ago when the national broadcasting agency NRK made a day long programme to help the refugees from Biafra. Since then, every year up to 100 000 volunteers go from house to house to collect money for a cause one Sunday of October every single year. They are called bøssebærer because they carry a bøsse, a plastic or tin box used to collect money for a cause. The TV Aksjon can benefit people to get access to water, help refugees, fight for women’s rights, fight against diseases or environmental disasters. The chosen organisation has several hours of TV programmes broadcasted on NRK on the day of the action, with superstars and politicians coming to support the cause.
Can you believe that up to 75% of the population takes part in this national effort of solidarity for a cause every year? This includes the bøssebærer, all the volunteers in the city councils, the churches, companies and private persons giving their time and sometimes money for this great action to happen. No communal effort in any country (unless forced by a communist dictator) mobilises such a high percentage of a country’s population.
This year the TV Aksjon will happen on the Sunday 18th of October and will be helping to protect the rainforests and secure the rights of people who live in the rainforest. This cause is very dear to me because when I am not The Frog in the Fjord I work at protecting the rainforests of Indonesia. For us working at the Rainforest Foundation it is constant struggle to make sure the forests and the people depending on the forest to survive are safe. The indigenous communities and local organisations we will send the money to need your help, just for a day!
7 reasons to take part in this year’s TV Aksjon:
- You will know what the true dugnad spirit is, marching with thousands of other people to raise awareness and funding for a good cause in all the neighboorhoods of Norway. You might even make friends and understand Norwegian culture a little better!
- You will help fight the disappearance of the rainforests , being eaten day after day by oil palm plantations, soya plantations, cattle ranching etc.
- The King of Norway is a supporter of Rainforest Foundation’s cause this year. How cool is that?
- Sting, the international super-star, is going to come to Norway for this event
- Being a bøssebærer takes only 2 hours of your time on Sunday 18th of October. It’s the time it takes to watch 2 episodes of Game of Thrones.
- During a whole day you can watch NRK and see images and films of what the rainforest really looks like, with its amazing trees, colours, children and rivers.
- Norwegians love their nature, so do the people living in the rainforests. Help them save their home and continue gå på tur!
So tomorrow, don’t forget to be a guardian of the rainforest, and join the world’s biggest dugnad. You can participate by sending money, or by registering to be a bøssebære by calling 02025 to go from door to door from 4 to 6pm tomorrow (it is still time to register until the last minute). And I promise no one will ask you to clean a garbage locker, it is only about smiling and enjoying this year’s TV Aksjon sunday!
This blogpost was published in the Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang on 17.10.2015 under the title Bli integrert i Norge? Delta i verdens største dugnad.