The founder director of RDRS Bangladesh Dr Olav Hodne was born in 1921 in Norway. But he spent most of his adult life living and working in India. He came with his family in 1948 to Cooch Behar, then in north-east India, to work with the Santal tribal people. With his advanced ideas of social work, he determined to do what he could to improve the lives of the poor and disposed, still much affected by the political division of the sub-continent after Independence from Britain in 1947.
His strength, administrative skills and political acumen were much tested during and after Bangladesh’s War of Independence in 1971 when millions of war-affected people struggled into India. It was the devastation resulting from that divisive and destructive battle that persuaded Dr Hodne to cross into the new nation of Bangladesh to provide support – or relief and rehabilitation to the returning Bangladeshi refugees in north-west region of the new born country.
Wherever he went, Olav worked tirelessly for 50 years among refugees, tribal communities, beggars, the landless, poor farmers and destitute women, regardless of caste or creed. Comfortable at grassroots, he encouraged thousands of villagers to access local resources and decision-making process to ultimately secure control over the direction and progress of their own communities. He was also extremely successful in arguing the case internationally for resources and support to be given to Cooch Behar Refugee Service (CBRS) and RDRS Bangladesh, even after he had formally retired and returned home to Norway. Dr Hodne carried out his duty as the Director of RDRS upto 1974.
In 1967 he wrote down the story of the Lutheran Santal Mission in India in his book “The Seeds Bore Fruit”. In recognition of his dedicated services he was awarded the Nansen Prize in 1976 by the United Nations. In 1980, he received the highest award of the Norwegian Red Cross and in 2005 accepted the Wittenberg Award from the Luther Institute in the United States.
Dr Olav Hodne passed away on 29 October 2009 in his homeland Norway.