Mette Eliseussen

Expedition Guide

Meet Mette Eliseussen. Norwegian by birth, Mette is celebrated worldwide for her devotion to the betterment of people – especially children. As a multilingual activist, she has worked tirelessly to educate others and improve the quality of life for the peoples of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Algeria, and the Sahara.

Her grassroots activism has led to many positive changes, and even a Nobel Peace Prize for her group’s role in its landmine banning campaign. Mette has successfully accomplished a variety of work, including organizing speaking tours in the US and over 20 European countries, training field researchers for surveying landmines, and designing/managing projects for the Save The Children in Afghanistan and Norweigan Peoples Aid in Sahara and Algeria. Mette is also trained in, and has practised, emotional first aid to trauma victims.

Besides grassroots activism, Mette’s research has also been implemented as an agent for positive change. This research has been featured in the women’s univer­sity for Afghan Women in Peshawar, Pakistan for TV-aksjonen Kvinner Sammen & The Afghanistan Committee, a field study of Afghans at home and in Pakistan. Additionally, her imperative research has culmin­ated in a multi­media produc­tion for Norwegian schools, and action research amongst Muslim girls exposed to arranged and forced marriage on behalf of ‘Uteseksjonen’ in Oslo. In 2012, Mette researched the ERW situation in Eastern Cambodia as editor in chief and designer of the public­a­tion, ‘In Search of Safe Ground’.

“As humans, we all affect nature, but we have the power to make a positive impact through our actions. That’s what I believe in. Our only hope is to try and change for the better. In my personal experience, when you see it with your own eyes, it becomes more real—that’s what I experienced.”

Personal Note

I am a Norwegian woman, born and raised in Norway. Despite that, I’ve spent most of my adult life living abroad, across various countries and continents. By the time I turned 18, I had already experienced life on every continent. Currently, my time is divided between working in the disarmament sector for half the year and serving as a guide or expedition leader on ships for the other half.

My journey as an expedition guide in polar regions began in 2006. Prior to that, I worked as a guide in Norway and occasionally in other places, although it was sporadic. From 2006 onwards, I have primarily worked on ships in Antarctica and the Arctic, usually dedicating half or a full season, depending on the schedule. While off-season, I have occasionally worked in war zones. My guiding adventure commenced in Antarctica, followed by exploring the Arctic region. Since then, I have been returning to the Antarctic and Arctic almost every season, except for the COVID years. Moreover, starting from 2013, I have been specializing in wilderness expeditions on ships in the Pacific Islands and Australia.

Reindeer calf in Svalbard during summer

My Norwegian background is a mix of Sami ancestry and German heritage from my mother’s side, while my father’s mother came from a Saami family. Although they weren’t nomadic, they had a few reindeer for milk and transportation. I take pride in my Saami heritage, but my grandmother’s family faced struggles and discrimination up north. She wasn’t allowed to speak the Saami language in boarding school, which made me embrace diversity and challenge mainstream norms.

Growing up in southern Norway, my Saami background wasn’t widely known, so societal problems didn’t affect me much. However, I saw the challenges my grandmother endured due to her heritage. Her strong connection with nature inspired me; she taught me about edible items in the forest and the joy of harvesting.

My father aimed to break away from stereotypes by becoming an electric engineer, while my nature-loving mother is a teacher. They introduced me to running and orienteering from a young age, and I started competing in running at 12. Early on, my mom involved me in instructing kids in windsurfing and canoeing during camps, which ignited my passion for guiding.

In 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, I was deeply moved by the plight of the Afghan people and felt compelled to help in any way I could. In Norway, I joined a grassroots movement. Our primary focus was to raise funds and gather essential supplies to aid the Mujahideen in their resistance against the Russian forces. We collected money from concerned citizens and organizations and sent critical resources such as weapons, school books, and medicines to assist the Afghan fighters and civilians caught in the crossfire.

As our efforts grew, so did my passion for making a direct impact on the ground in Afghanistan. I felt it was necessary to understand the situation firsthand and work directly with the people affected by the conflict. Therefore, I decided to travel to Afghanistan to dedicate myself to working with children and women who were particularly vulnerable in the midst of the war.

During my time in Afghanistan, I witnessed the devastating effects of landmines on civilians. Innocent lives were shattered, and families were torn apart by these indiscriminate weapons. This deeply affecting experience led me to co-found an organization aimed at raising awareness about the dangers of landmines and advocating for their complete ban. It was an uphill battle, but I believed that through our collective efforts, we could make a difference and protect countless lives.

Back in Norway, I felt an urge to do more than just supporting the war effort. I wanted to educate people, especially the younger generation, about the war in Afghanistan and its impact on Afghan culture and society. I embarked on a mission to travel across Norway, giving lectures to school children and young adults, sharing stories and insights into the harsh realities faced by the Afghan people. I wanted to instill in them a sense of empathy and understanding, encouraging them to embrace diversity and stand against injustice.

As my involvement deepened, I joined forces with Save the Children to provide aid and assistance in Afghanistan. However, tragedy struck during one of my trips to the country. A devastating landmine accident claimed the lives of a colleague from the Norwegian NGO Afghanistan Committed and several Afghan men. The incident left me shaken and more determined than ever to work towards a safer and mine-free Afghanistan.

Through my work with Save the Children, raising awareness about landmines and their dangers became an integral part of our mission. We shared stories of victims and survivors with the world, urging international bodies to take action. One particular initiative involved collecting artwork from 20,000 children in Kabul who participated in a competition to draw their lives with landmines. These poignant artworks served as a powerful tool to communicate the gravity of the situation and the urgent need for action.

In 1992, the campaign to ban landmines gained momentum, and during my time in Kabul in 1995, we established an organization dedicated to working towards a total ban on landmines in Afghanistan. Our tireless efforts finally paid off, and in an extraordinary achievement, we witnessed the creation and management of the treaty to ban landmines. Many countries joined the treaty on its first day, marking a pivotal moment in the fight against landmines worldwide.

However, the impact of my time in Afghanistan stayed with me long after I had left the country. The constant fear and vigilance had become second nature while living there, and even after my return to Norway, it was challenging to let go of those emotions. Simple tasks like walking through a field without fear were newfound revelations.

The ban on landmines not only dealt with addressing the existing landmines but also focused on clearing and dealing with them in a systematic manner. This led to the development of a mine action community, collaborating to remove landmines and educate people about the dangers they posed.

Since 2008, my focus has shifted towards the Pacific Islands, where a significant problem lies dormant from World War II. During the war, battles raged across the Pacific, and after the war’s end, many weapons and explosives were left behind, creating a persistent threat to the people living there.

The impact of these munitions has been severe, affecting generations and hindering economic growth. The islands’ inhabitants have had to live with caution and fear, as the presence of explosives limited their land use and farming capabilities.

My husband, John, and I have been working diligently to address this issue in the Pacific Islands. We have been advocating for more countries to join the treaty and assist the affected nations in clearing the munitions. Progress has been slow, but we have seen recent developments and increased assistance for this crucial cause.

During our work, we maintain a strict policy of not handling ammunition ourselves. Instead, we rely on locals and specially trained police officers to deal with the dangerous explosives safely. Our mission is to create a safer environment for the people of the Pacific Islands and provide them with the support they need to move beyond the shadows of the past.

Our journey has been filled with challenges and hardships, but the determination to make a positive impact and bring about change has been unwavering. As we continue to push for a safer world, we are reminded of the resilience and strength of the human spirit, and we remain hopeful for a future free from the scourge of landmines and munitions.

Initially, when John offered me the opportunity to become a guide, I saw it as a temporary adventure – something to do for about three years. But I got hooked. Being out in nature, learning about it, and spending so much time surrounded by its beauty thrilled me. Even when I was back home, I couldn’t stop reading and exploring more. This love for nature is what keeps me going as a guide.

My main interests lie in marine life and its political aspects. With a background in sociology and political science, I find myself captivated by the geopolitics and ongoing developments in Svalbard. One of my passions is studying polar bears. Working alongside the esteemed marine mammal scientist, Ian Sterling, has been a stroke of luck. I’ve eagerly read all his books and articles, and whenever we collaborated, I soaked up his knowledge about bears and their behavior in the Arctic. Through years of observation, countless hours on ships, and endless questioning, I’ve been fortunate to gain valuable insights about bears from both Ian Sterling and my own experiences.

As an expedition guide, my greatest joy comes from witnessing people step into the Arctic and have their own transformative experiences. Seeing them go from stressed and tired to relaxed and immersed in nature is simply incredible.

During our trips, we encounter people with diverse views on climate change. Drawing from my own experiences witnessing the impact of landmines in certain regions, I take the opportunity to raise awareness about climate change and its effects. Having spent many years in the Arctic, I’ve observed significant changes, and it’s crucial to connect these observations with scientific knowledge about climate change and its connection to human actions.

While I might not always change someone’s perspective completely, we strive to encourage individuals to consider their impact on the environment and take positive actions. We all influence nature, and we possess the power to make a difference through our choices. That’s what I firmly believe in—our capacity to change for the better. For me, when you see these changes firsthand, it becomes more tangible and real, and that’s precisely what fuels my dedication.

Zodiac Cruise in Svalbard by Mette Eliseussen

What I absolutely love about Secret Atlas is their operation with small ships, accommodating mostly 12 guests or a few more. They’re genuinely passionate about making a difference, not just running tourism but also addressing climate change and contributing to citizen science. I discovered them through word of mouth and eagerly joined for my first season.

Looking ahead, my hope for Secret Atlas is to collaborate with our guests to create positive change. Our trips deeply touch people, and many are driven to take action. By seizing this opportunity, we can achieve incredible things together. It only takes a few motivated individuals to make a significant impact, and we should never underestimate the power of our guests, the organization, and the guides working together. On our small vessels, we have the privilege to connect with people daily, discussing ideas, challenges, and solutions. Inspiration sparks, and things start rolling. People can make a huge difference once they return home and leverage their networks.

I’m really proud of the achievements I’ve made, like creating a treaty to ban landmines and getting Pacific countries involved in a second treaty. But I don’t want to stop there; I want to apply the knowledge and experience gained from campaigning to new challenges. Being an expedition guide is such an inspiration, and after 17 years, I still love meeting people, discussing important topics, and experiencing wildlife together.

Working as an expedition guide is a dream job, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. It’s amazing to meet so many wonderful people in such breathtaking places.

My advice to others is to come with an open mind, essential gear, and a camera. But during the voyage, put the camera aside and fully immerse yourself in the experience. Be present in the moment, connect with others, and enjoy this incredible journey together.

Meet Mette

For a more personal connection with Mette, we encourage you to connect with her on Facebook or LinkedIn. Discover more about Mette and her husband John in our blog article, ‘From the Frontlines to the Arctic: The Guides Saving Lives in War Zones.’

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