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April 23, 2004

Pakistan Relief Leader Named UW-RF Distinguished Alumnus

An internationally respected humanitarian whose leadership has guided the provision of life-sustaining assistance in food, medical services and security to residents of Third World nations is the recipient of the 2004 UW-River Falls Distinguished Alumnus award.

Sigurd Hanson, with more than 25 years with humanitarian relief agencies, currently serves as the Country Director for World Vision-Pakistan. Stationed in Islamabad, the Onalaska, Wis., native oversees a consortium that is carrying out a $15 million USAID democracy program. He oversees policy implementation, budget and fiscal control, security and personnel management, and represents the agency to government agencies, partners and the media.

Pakistan and Afghanistan have been home to Hanson for the past five years, which included serving with the International Medical Corps and as the Country Director for the International Rescue Committee.

His goal throughout his career has been to help individuals and families to be healthy, self-reliant and safe.

Selection of the Distinguished Alumnus is by nomination of the Faculty Senate Public Relations Committee. In early March Chancellor Ann Lydecker concurred with the Committee and notified Hanson of his selection for this honor.

Interim Chancellor Ginny Coombs reiterated Hanson's recognition, citing his remarkable dedication and impact in sustaining and improving the quality of life for the victims of warfare and terrorism, despite the great risk of personal danger to himself.

Hanson will be recognized during Spring Commencement ceremonies on May 15 at UW-River Falls.

Those best acquainted with Mr. Hanson cited his compassion for those whose lives he seeks to improve.

As an example of the scope of his responsibilities, Hanson, while with the International Rescue Committee, directed over 1,600 aid workers in providing basic necessities and security to tens of thousands of refugees disrupted by the Afghanistan war. In 2002, millions of readers across the world caught a slight glimpse of the daunting task Hanson faced in a series of installments of his "Peshawar Diary," which ran in October and November on

The UW-RF journalism major poignantly shared the human side of the war, which, with prolonged drought and civil war, had produced 1.6 million refugees. As he summed up in a dispatch: "Terror is ugly. So is war."

Hanson was confronted by one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, with an estimated 7 million Afghans in need of food assistance. He directed IRC efforts to provide food, tents, blankets, clothing, potable water and health care to displaced families around the northern Afghanistan city of Mazir-e Sharif as well as near Kabul, Herat and Nangarhar provinces.

Throughout his career working with international relief agencies, Hanson has often brushed up against death himself—with two extremely close calls at the hands of Osama bin-Laden.

In August 1998, Hanson had just left a meeting in the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, when a bomb exploded there. With a simultaneous bombing by bin-Laden followers of the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania, more than 300 persons were killed and 5,000 injured. Hanson immediately joined in the Nairobi rescue efforts.

On September 11, 2001, while on IRC business, he was at the opposite end of the Pentagon when al-Qaida terrorists crashed an American Airlines jetliner into the west wall, killing 152 persons. Hanson was in the United States from his Pakistan post to meet with IRC leaders in their New York headquarters and to visit his family in Onalaska to receive an alumni award from Holmen High School.

"I have had several close calls during my career," Hanson notes. "All I can say after each close call is that 'it is not my time.' I just say a 'thank you' to God and keep going."

Hanson traces his role in relief efforts in part to his experiences at UW-River Falls, where he graduated in 1975 with a degree in journalism and agriculture business.

After participating in UW-RF's Quarter Abroad Program, Hanson expressed a strong interest to work and travel overseas to sociology Professor Bob Bailey, who coordinated the program. The late professor put Hanson in touch with The Experiment in International Living in Brattleboro, Vt. Hanson began his career in 1977 by attempting to counteract the ruin leveled on Uganda by the dictator Idi Amin. Since then he has worked primarily in Africa with the Lutheran World Relief, the Experiment in International Living, Catholic Relief Services and the American Refugee Committee. In 1997 he joined the International Rescue Committee, which was founded by Albert Einstein to assist the opponents of the Nazi regime of Adolph Hitler.

Hanson joined World Vision-Pakistan in 2004. He holds a bachelor's of science in ag business and journalism from UW-RF, and he pursued master's studies in education at UW-RF and in international administration from the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vt.

As a UW-RF Distinguished Alumnus, Hanson joins such other distinguished recipients as President of the China Exploration and Research Society Wong How Man, former NASA First Astronaut and Space Shuttle Commander Daniel Brandenstein, Metropolitan Opera Singer Patricia Steiner, and Dr. Michael Ebersold, a neurological surgeon at the Mayo Clinic who included among his patients President Ronald Reagan, the late King Hussein of Jordan and President Zayed of the United Arab Emirates.


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