Reflections: An Evening with Papillon Bergen 16.09.19

Last week Monday (September 16, 2019) our Founder, Chisom joined Papillon Bergen for an engaging session in Bergen. The reflections collected from the event, both from Chisom, Leila Rossow (Founder of Papillon Bergen) and attendees suggests that this was an inspiring event for everyone present. There’s nothing quite like a room full of women who uplift each other! Papillon works to bridge the social, cultural, professional and emotional gap for newly arrived people in Norway with a particular focus on women. Here at Diversify, we look forward to future collaborations with Papillon Bergen!

My very short time in Papillon Bergen was everything I hoped it will be and more. I flew in from Oslo on Monday morning (September 16) and was back in Oslo by 8.35am the next day (September 17). Papillon Bergen is founded by the exuberant Leila Rossow, someone I am very inspired by, and quite proud to know and call a friend.  In the hours I spent in Bergen, I learn a lot about the women that Papillon Bergen engages with and the general crowd they attract. These women (Norwegian and non-Norwegian alike) are sensational, with strong histories, identities, backgrounds and cultures. I am impressed and inspired by them. 

L-R: Chisom and Leila.

I am also heartbroken by some of their stories. I was and still am particularly saddened to learn that many of the girls that turn to Papillon Bergen have had their dreams crushed by teachers, counselors and people in leadership roles who continually tell them that they “cannot”. They encourage them to instead set their sights low on “what can be achieved.” For example, I learn about an ambitious immigrant young lady to Norway, who upon telling her teacher/academic counsellor that she plans to become a pilot, had her hopes and dreams dismantled. Her teacher instead tells her that becoming a pilot was certainly outside her reach and as such, not a possibility for her, and went on to list low level jobs they thought was “more suitable”. I am confounded. I wonder, will the same advice be given to an ethnic Norwegian? I have my doubts. Of course, I do not believe that this teacher had ill intent in his/her advisory, but perhaps they are riddled by years of unconscious bias that is buried under structural foundations and preconceptions of immigrant roles that needs unlearning. I discover that this young lady is not unique in her experience, I hear more stories, my heart breaks more. I am told that all the amazing women who lead Papillon Bergen are working to encourage and motivate these girls to carve their own paths and not listen to those who (unintentionally) bring them down. 

Knowing fully well that what these young ladies and women need are people who just listen, Papillon offers a non-judgmental and uplifting ear with an added benefit of a safe community and a vast network of enablers. But even by Papillon Bergen’s own reckoning, sometimes, it is hard to mend a broken spirit. When someone in a power role in our lives breaks us, it can take a while to rebuild the vibrance and self-esteem we once had. Nonetheless, Papillon Bergen is up to the task and they are relentless in their voice. 

After the session, it’s time to mingle. I speak to some of the women. They are heroes, intelligent and so full of life and energy! I wished I could talk to all of them but we do not have time. I connect with most via social media and hope to continue to engage with them. After the session, we go to dinner with the brilliant Leila and her equally amazing team and board member, Arsiema Medhanie, Nawar Sayyad, Simona Temnewo and Rianne Vogels – women whose names, I will never forget. We have the most illuminating conversations; I am soaking up all the knowledge and experiences they have to share – I learn about each woman and what drew her to Papillon Bergen. Like me, they either have full time jobs or are in full-time studies, but they work with Papillon because they are driven and passionate for the cause. I do not want the night to end, but it has to – it’s closing time for the restaurant. We say our goodbyes, and walk to the train station to grab a taxi to the airport hotel where we are spending the night. Got a 6.40am flight to catch!

It isn’t until I get into the taxi that I realize how physically exhausted I am – I had just returned from a work trip to the US on Saturday the 14thand am properly jetlagged. But my time with the women at Papillon gave me so much energy and I am still buzzing on a high from an amazingly inspirational night. Time to go to bed. I’ve got about 4 hours of sleep ahead of me before the next flight. But before bed, as I do these days, I think of things I am grateful for. I am grateful for my time with Papillon Bergen. I am grateful for the opportunity to spend time with the women I met. I am grateful for my privileges, of which I have many. I am grateful for women like Leila Rossow who create the change they’d like to see in their communities whilst remaining an inspiration to me and many others. I am thankful.

I go to bed with a last thought, that days like this reminds me of why I started Diversify in the first place. And I am absolutely thankful.

The inspiring group of Papillon Bergen’s women.
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