After flying from Norway that afternoon, Edvard Eidsvåg (Eddi, for short) was left wide awake on a late night in March. He wandered the streets around his Dupont Circle-area hotel, searching for those many view as the outcasts of society: the drug addicts and the homeless. That night in March, Eddi sought out the very people he claims society tends to ignore.
Eddi is Founder and CEO of People Project (or Pøbelprosjektet), a Norwegian organization dedicated to providing opportunities for at-risk youth. He and his colleague Lene Walle, Regional Manager of People Project, arrived in Washington, DC on March 6, 2016 on an exchange sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Oslo. They met with DC Central Kitchen, the Corporation for National and Community Service, and a host of other social entrepreneurs and educators to examine how U.S.-based organizations view the issue of at-risk youth.
Hours after arriving in the U.S. and talking with people living on the streets of Washington, DC, Eddi pinpointed the major obstacle in implementing programs dedicated to providing opportunities for those who have fallen through the cracks. The sentiment would be echoed during most of him and Lene’s meetings in the U.S.
“They feel that no one sees them as they are, they just see them as a problem. And they want to be seen as people,” Eddi said.
Despite Norway’s robust welfare system, a 30 percent high school dropout rate plagues its younger generation, which often resort to drug use and crime. To combat this trend, People Project provides a 6-week training program and career networking opportunities, along with follow-up activities.
People Project’s model is similar to that of Alliance for Concerned Men, a DC-based nonprofit Eddi and Lene visited during their exchange. Born in the early 1990s out of the desire to end the District’s murder epidemic, Alliance for Concerned Men works to save the lives of youth in high-crime areas of Washington, DC. Alliance’s Executive Director Tyrone Parker and President “Rico” Rush Jr. shared advice and inspiring stories of accomplishments with Eddi and Lene during their time in DC, many of which are chronicled on the walls of Alliance’s Anacostia headquarters. Real change begins by changing the construct of the American dream.
“I didn’t see myself as a part of the American dream—I didn’t see myself in a suit and tie going to work. But they made me see myself as part of that,” Carl Boone, So Others Might Eat Service Coordinator and Alliance for Concerned men volunteer said.
“We need to teach them that you are the American dream!” Eddi piped in.
After completing their DC programming, Lene and Eddi traveled to Detroit, Michigan where they met with organizations working to address the city’s economic disparity. The city is still reeling from the 2007-2008 financial crisis, but that has not dampened the spirit of those working to solve the problems.
“Human spirit is the common denominator,” Parker said, “And our responsibility is to keep beating the drum, no more, no less—God does the rest.”
With 2,000 Norwegian youth and counting having been accepted into People Project, Eddi and Lene are beating the drum. After exchanging ideas with U.S.-based organizations dedicated to solving the same issues, they are now better prepared to expand opportunities for Norwegian at-risk youth.