University of Wisconsin-River Falls

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Sept. 24, 2004


International Humanitarian Visits as Part of UW-RF Distinguished Alumnus Day
By Molly Exner
UW-RF News Bureau

An international humanitarian who was named the UW-River Falls 2004 Distinguished Alumnus will give a presentation on global trends at the third annual Distinguished Alumnus Day on Oct. 19 at 3 p.m. in North Hall Auditorium.

Sigurd Hanson, an internationally respected relief worker, has more than 25 years of experience in managing emergency, rehabilitation and development-related actives, primarily in Africa and most recently in the Pakistan/Afghanistan and Central Asia regions. His leadership has guided the provision of life-sustaining assistance in food, medical services and security to residents of Third World nations.

Hanson's presentation, "Our World: Global Trends and Challenges," will focus on social change, competing visions for the future and emerging global trends, specially the growing gap between the rich and poor, the shifting patterns of governance, increasing conflict, environmental limitations and the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Hanson's presentation is preceded by a reception in the President's Room in the Hagestad Student Center at 2 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

An Onalaska native, Hanson has called Pakistan and Afghanistan home for the past five years, where he served with the International Medical Corps and is currently the country director for the International Rescue Committee.

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. He also pursued his master's in education at UW-RF and in international administration from the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vt.

After participating in UW-RF's Quarter Abroad Program, Hanson expressed a strong interest to work and travel overseas to late sociology Professor Bob Bailey, who coordinated the program.

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, Hanson 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."

As an example of the scope of his responsibilities, Hanson, while with the IRC, directed more than 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 Time.com

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

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