Recognition

In Finland, an emphasis on diversity leads to human rights award

HELSINKI, Finland — Just after the birth of her fourth child, Melody Karvonen made a somewhat unusual career change.

While still on maternity leave, Ms. Karvonen decided to end her 10-year career in architectural drafting and instead moved into human rights. She first participated in a project aimed at the elimination of racism.

In that campaign, organized by the Red Cross and the Mannerheim's Child Protection League, she led groups of youth and children in discussions on racial tolerance in society and the beauty of human diversity.

Fourteen years later, after her initial steps had broadened into a career devoted to the protection of human rights, Ms. Karvonen, 51, was named the Human Rights Worker of the Year by the Finnish League for Human Rights.

Dr. Pentti Arajarvi, a member of the League's board of directors and husband of the President of Finland, Tarja Halonen, was the keynote speaker at the award ceremony on 27 September 2003. Also present was Mikko Puumalainen, the Finnish Ombudsman for Minorities.

In her acceptance speech, Ms. Karvonen said that the principles of the Bahá'í Faith provided a basis for her work.

"Today there is a lot of emphasis in the world on diversity and coexistence, but less on how we can work better together," she said.

"People often concentrate on the differences of culture, but in my work I try to focus on how human beings can live together. As Bahá'u'lláh said: 'The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens.'"

Ms. Karvonen was born in Iran — her maiden name was Naghmeh Izadi — and moved to Finland in 1973. She is married to Finnish-born Jarmo Tapio Karvonen and has four children. She has served as a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Finland since 1997.

After her initial two years as a volunteer in human rights work, she accepted a position with the Red Cross as a refugee adviser for the newly established Center for Asylum Seekers in Joensuu, in the east of Finland.

For five years she represented the Police of Joensuu as an educator for tolerance and cross-cultural understanding.

Other projects she has been involved with include a program to reduce violence and racism among youth; the establishment of a school curriculum that encourages world citizenship; an evaluation and development of an international meeting center in Joensuu; and the "Be Equal, Be Different" project, shared by Finland, Holland, Italy, and Ireland, which seeks to reduce discrimination in the workplace.

Ms. Karvonen often accepts invitations from throughout Finland to address groups on topics such as cross-cultural understanding, tolerance and understanding, and the equality of women and men.

Ms. Karvonen is currently working as an immigration counselor for a project funded by the European Social Fund, under the auspices of the European Union.

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