Siril Bratten came to Kelowna in 2012 looking for a change.
Growing up in a small isolated community in a picturesque fjord setting in Norway, Bratten had experienced bullying firsthand as a child growing up, of trying to fit in with others only to be ignored, often feeling alone and isolated.
She came to the Okanagan as a participant in the international student exchange program run by the Central Okanagan School District, looking for a chance to travel, meet new people and experience what Canada was all about.
What she learned from her stay in Kelowna, about how Canadians and Norwegians are different, led her to start an anti-bullying campaign in her home country this fall.
It began as one voice speaking out through social media, and has caught on across Norway.
Called #1til, which translates roughly in English to #1More, Bratten has used the media attention coming her way from traditional and social media to initiate a #1til recognition period from Nov. 1 to 15, and is selling t-shirts with the moniker to help promote the concept.
Over the next two weeks, she is encouraging Norwegians on Facebook to talk about what they are doing to be more inclusive to others, and what parents are doing to help teach their kids about not being a bully to others.
To Bratten, who is studying to become a teacher, her campaign is about inclusion, about young people including one more person that you might not otherwise invite when going to a social activity—eating out, going to the gym, having lunch, hiking outdoors.
And she added a focus on reaching out to parents, encouraging them to understand that kids who bully others often learn those habits in their own home.
“The media always writes about how bad some kids are, but never asks why are they bad and not nice? Who raises them to be that way? The parents,” Bratten said.
She has created a logo and produced t-shirts to help raise money to cover her campaign costs. One parent who recently lost a child to suicide due to bullying, sent her $100 in support of her campaign.
But she says the drive for her is not about fundraising, it is about messaging. And the media attention, mainstream and otherwise, being generated is helping to spread that message.
Hilla Shlomi, director of the interdisciplinary social work clinic at UBC Okanagan, said the idea of reaching out to parents for mental disorder issues is a unique approach employed by her clinic.
Shalom said that approach is about providing support and information about skills they can learn to cope with their child’s issues.
“It’s sometimes magic for these families to learn some of the coping tools or parenting skills for children with special needs they were not previously aware of,” Shlomi said.
“We always say the home is not the cause for problems but part of the solution. For our clinic, we want to help parents get to a place where they are part of the solution instead of feeling blamed, guilt or frustrated by not understanding what’s going on.”
Bratten said the idea came to her one night recently while she was lying awake, unable to sleep.
She had recently broken up with her boyfriend and even as a post-secondary student, the feelings of isolation, of being left out as a youth, were starting to creep into her adult student life.
She reflects now on her exchange experience as opening her eyes to how outgoing Canadians were compared to the more stoic nature of her native Norwegians.
She spent the 2012-13 school year enrolled at Rutland Senior Secondary.
“I found Canada was far more open to strangers than we are in Norway. If you make a friend in Norway, you have a friend for life, but sometimes it is difficult to get to know people here initially,” she said.
She thinks that is due to the geography of Norway, where summers can be short and winters harsh, and that her country’s socialized government is depended on to help people, whether through socialized health care, social assistance or free post-secondary education.
“I think in Canada you rely more on each other to help one another, while in Norway we rely on our government,” she said.
But Bratten is bringing what she feels is a Canadian philosophy to the bullying problem in Norway, to look out for each other rather than wait for the government to do something to address the issue.
Her dream is to one day become a teaching consultant who is brought into schools across Norway to talk with students and lead courses about bullying, to be part of the public education process on an issue that crosses all borders.
“It might take me awhile to get to that point, but that is what I would like to do,”she said. “To be able to change people’s attitudes about inclusivity, to show that acting together we can make a difference.”