By Marit Lundby, Norwegian Red Cross

Loneliness is one of the major humanitarian challenges in Norway. As many as every fifth person in the country report that they are feeling lonely regardless of their age. Elsa Marie Skau from Oslo used to be one of them.

After having worked hard for all her life she found herself hit by the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome disease and unable to get out of bed. It left her with no energy to meet new people, until one day when she suddenly felt better and found herself worried that she would be alone for the rest of her life.

“I like to be around people and I didn’t want to sit alone inside my apartment,” Skau explains.

“So I decided to contact the Red Cross and see if one of the volunteers would like visit me.”

Happy to be a volunteer

Skau reached out to the Norwegian Red Cross’s volunteer visitor programme which aims to bring people with shared interests together. Anyone can become a volunteer and the pairs can jointly decide on what they do and how much time they spend together.

Through the programme Skau met Abebayehu Birhane (48) and feels lucky to have a new friend.

“I could not have gotten a nicer person than Abebayehu. She has been helping me so much,” Skau says.

Abebayhu Birhane, a mother of two, started volunteering with the Norwegian Red Cross in 2014. Before she came to Norway twelve years ago she also used to volunteer in her home country Ethiopia. Her engagement as a volunteer also helps her understand the Norwegian society better.

“I find so much joy in helping others,” Birhane says.

“My Norwegian skills have also improved from talking with Else Marie.”

Birhane, who runs her own cleaning company and takes care of her two sons, visits Skau whenever she can in her spare time.

“We will be friends for life,” she says.

Else Marie Skau (70) feared a life of loneliness and chose to take action. By contacting the Norwegian Red Cross she gained a life-long friend out of Abebayehu Birhane (48).

Norwegian Red Cross volunteer visitor programme

The Norwegian Red Cross has around 50.000 volunteers in different activities across Norway.

One of the key activities is the volunteer visitor programme “Besøkstjenesten” which was started in 1949. Throughout the years the needs have grown and the programme has expanded. More information (in Norwegian):