A chance encounter with a Swedish couple cycling along the Nakdonggang River in the West of Busan caught my attention. The couple, Sanna Ghotbi and Benjamin Ladraa are dedicated human rights activists on an extraordinary mission. They embarked on a 48,000-kilometer cycling journey through 40 countries to raise awareness about the struggle of the Sahrawi people in Western Sahara, a territory largely under Moroccan occupation.
In this interview, I delve into Sanna and Benjamin’s experiences in Korea, particularly in Busan, to understand how these experiences have shaped their understanding of human rights and activism. The couple shares insights on their cycling journey, their advocacy for the Sahrawi people, and the challenges they’ve faced along the way. Their inspiring story highlights the importance of raising awareness and taking action to support the Sahrawi people’s right to self-determination.
The Couple’s Journey and Advocacy for Western Sahara
Sanna Ghotbi and Benjamin Ladraa’s passion for human rights led them to become advocates for the Sahrawi people and their right to self-determination. Their initial encounter with the Western Sahara issue was a shocking revelation, given the lack of coverage in their academic studies and the human rights forums they participated in. Sanna learned about the situation while applying for a job at a Swedish NGO that worked in Western Sahara, while Benjamin discovered it during his 2017 project, walking 5,000 km from Sweden to Palestine to raise awareness about the occupation.
Driven by curiosity and a desire to learn more, Benjamin attempted to visit Western Sahara in 2019. Gaining entry proved challenging due to Morocco’s restrictions on journalists and human rights defenders. Upon arriving, he faced hours of interrogation and constant surveillance by Moroccan secret police. With the help of his Sahrawi friends, he managed to escape a car chase, reach a safe house, and conduct interviews with former Sahrawi political prisoners who had experienced torture by Moroccan authorities.
After meeting Sanna, the couple decided to visit the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria together. There, they connected with local organizations working on various aspects of human rights. Inspired by the resilience and determination of the Sahrawi people, Sanna and Benjamin devised an ambitious plan: a cycling journey spanning 48,000 kilometers and 40 countries to raise awareness about the Sahrawi cause.
History and Background of the Sahrawi Refugees
Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, has been the subject of a long-standing territorial dispute between the Sahrawi people and the Kingdom of Morocco. In 1975, Spain withdrew from the territory, leading to a conflict between Morocco, Mauritania, and the Sahrawi Polisario Front, a liberation movement seeking independence for the Sahrawi people.
In 1976, the Polisario Front proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) and fought a guerilla war against Moroccan and Mauritanian forces. Mauritania withdrew from the conflict in 1979, while Morocco continued to assert control over the territory.
The construction of a 2,700-kilometer-long sand wall, known as the Moroccan Western Sahara Wall, by the Moroccan forces in the 1980s separated Sahrawi families and created a massive border. The wall effectively divided the territory, with Morocco controlling the western part and the Polisario controlling the eastern part, which includes the Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria.
In 1991, a ceasefire was brokered by the United Nations, with the promise of a referendum on self-determination for the Sahrawi people. However, this referendum has yet to take place, leaving the Sahrawi people in limbo.
The Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria have been home to tens of thousands of Sahrawi people for over four decades. Living in harsh desert conditions with limited resources, they rely heavily on international humanitarian assistance. The camps have developed their administrative structures and institutions, including schools, hospitals, and various organizations focusing on human rights, women’s rights, and youth empowerment.
Challenges and Motivations on the 48,000 km Cycling Journey: The Human Tapestry that Sustains Hope
As Sanna and Benjamin pedaled through the undulating landscapes, their journey was punctuated by a series of formidable challenges. From treacherous mountain passes and unrelenting headwinds to the scorching heat of the desert, the couple endured a multitude of hardships. Yet, it was the more subtle obstacles they encountered—such as the emotional toll of witnessing firsthand the plight of the Sahrawi people—that tested their resilience and steeled their resolve to persevere.
Despite the vicissitudes of their journey, Sanna and Benjamin found solace and motivation in the people they met along the way. The rich tapestry of human connections they wove spanned cultures, languages, and borders, serving as a wellspring of inspiration and support. Strangers offered shelter, meals, and words of encouragement, buoying the couple’s spirits as they forged ahead. These encounters with the innate goodness of humanity not only fortified their commitment to the cause but also fueled their belief in the power of ordinary individuals to effect extraordinary change.
Experiences in Korea and Busan: Parallels between Korean and Sahrawi History – A Tale of Two Struggles
As Sanna and Benjamin traversed the bustling streets and serene countryside of Korea, they were struck by the remarkable parallels between Korea’s tumultuous past and the ongoing struggle of the Sahrawi people. Both nations have been scarred by occupation, forced cultural assimilation, and the cruel partition of families. The echoes of Korea’s history under Japanese rule reverberate in the Sahrawi people’s fight against the Moroccan occupation, offering a poignant reminder of the common threads that bind humanity’s shared experiences of oppression.
Yet, Korea’s remarkable transformation from a war-torn nation to a thriving, prosperous democracy offers a beacon of hope for the Sahrawi people. Through unwavering determination and resilience, Korea has emerged from the ashes of conflict and carved a path to freedom that the Sahrawi people can aspire to follow. As a testament to the indomitable spirit of human resilience, Korea’s journey serves as a powerful reminder that even the darkest chapters of history can give way to a brighter future, so long as the flames of justice and self-determination are kept alive.
Memorable Interactions with Koreans – A Tapestry of Kindness and Culture
Throughout their journey, Sanna and Benjamin have been touched by the warmth and generosity of the Korean people they have encountered. From local shopkeepers offering steaming cups of tea to fellow cyclists sharing tips and stories, the couple has found a wellspring of support and camaraderie in Korea. One particularly memorable encounter involved a family who graciously invited them into their home for a meal, sharing stories of Korea’s past and forging connections that transcend borders and language barriers.
The couple’s experiences on the 4 Rivers Path, a scenic cycling route stretching from Seoul to Busan, have been nothing short of breathtaking. Winding through a stunning tapestry of landscapes, the path offers a glimpse into Korea’s rich cultural heritage and natural beauty. As Sanna and Benjamin pedaled through verdant fields, past tranquil rivers, and alongside bustling urban centers, they were struck by the harmonious coexistence of the traditional and the modern in Korea. The 4 Rivers Path, in many ways, embodies the essence of their journey: a quest to understand the world and its people, and to uncover the myriad stories that bind us together.
The Impact of the Cycling Journey on Sahrawi People and Their Struggle
As Sanna and Benjamin traverse the globe on their bicycles, they are not only raising awareness about the plight of the Sahrawi people but also creating a platform for knowledge exchange and action. By sharing their experiences and shedding light on the human rights violations endured by the Sahrawi people, the couple’s journey has inspired countless individuals to learn more and take a stand. Through grassroots efforts, social media campaigns, and engaging with political leaders, these newly-mobilized supporters have the potential to effect meaningful change for the Sahrawi people and their quest for self-determination.
The importance of international pressure in resolving the conflict in Western Sahara cannot be overstated. It is through the collective voice of the global community that the Sahrawi people’s plight can be brought to the forefront of international discourse. By fostering a sense of global solidarity and urging governments, international organizations, and human rights advocates to take action, the couple’s cycling journey is contributing to a broader movement that seeks to hold the responsible parties accountable and ultimately pave the way for a peaceful resolution to the Western Sahara conflict.
Common Misconceptions about Western Sahara
The complex history and ongoing conflict in Western Sahara have given rise to several misconceptions, which Sanna and Benjamin seek to address during their journey. One common misperception is that Western Sahara is not a country, but rather a mere desert territory. While it is true that the region is mostly desert, Western Sahara has its unique history, culture, and people – the Sahrawi – who have been fighting for their right to self-determination for decades. Another misconception is that Western Sahara is part of Morocco. In reality, Western Sahara is a disputed territory, and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), which is backed by the Polisario Front, claims sovereignty over the region. Morocco controls the majority of the territory, but this control is not recognized by the international community. By addressing these misconceptions and others, Sanna and Benjamin aim to foster a more accurate understanding of the situation in Western Sahara and to generate support for the Sahrawi people’s quest for independence.
Memorable Moments in Busan and Korea – Embracing the Land of the Morning Calm
Sanna and Benjamin’s journey through Korea was filled with unforgettable moments and experiences. As they cycled across the country, they forged deep connections with the Korean people they met, many of whom opened their homes and hearts to the couple. These new friendships provided a warm and supportive environment, allowing them to fully immerse themselves in Korean culture. In addition to these personal connections, the couple was also captivated by the breathtaking scenery that Korea had to offer. From the vibrant colors of the autumn foliage to the serene landscapes of the countryside, Sanna and Benjamin found solace and inspiration in the natural beauty of their surroundings. These experiences, combined with the kindness and generosity of the Korean people, made their time in Korea truly unforgettable and further fueled their passion for raising awareness about the plight of the Sahrawi people.
Future Plans and Continuing Advocacy for the Sahrawi People – A Lifelong Commitment to Change
As Sanna and Benjamin’s epic cycling journey comes to an end, their dedication to the Sahrawi people and their quest for self-determination remains as strong as ever. The couple is determined to continue raising awareness and advocating for the Sahrawi cause long after their journey has concluded. They understand that real change is brought about through consistent efforts and a sustained commitment to making a difference.
With this in mind, the couple is already exploring a myriad of future projects aimed at fostering empowerment and unity among the Sahrawi people. These projects may include organizing workshops in the refugee camps to teach various skills, creating a network for people with similar experiences of oppression, and working with international organizations to amplify the voices of the Sahrawi people. Sanna and Benjamin’s unyielding commitment to the cause ensure that their advocacy for the Sahrawi people will continue to grow and make a lasting impact on the world stage.
The Importance of Supporting the Sahrawi People’s Right to Self-Determination – Upholding Justice and Empathy
As the world continues to grow more interconnected, it is crucial that we recognize the importance of upholding international law and caring about the suffering of our fellow human beings. The plight of the Sahrawi people serves as a potent reminder that we must always strive for justice, no matter how distant or seemingly unrelated the issue may appear. By actively supporting the Sahrawi people’s right to self-determination, we are not only upholding the principles of international law but also fostering a greater sense of empathy and compassion in our global community.
Sanna and Benjamin’s incredible journey sheds light on a critical yet often overlooked cause. Their story serves as a call to action, inspiring readers to learn more about the Western Sahara conflict and take concrete steps to support the Sahrawi people’s struggle for freedom. By raising awareness, educating ourselves, and engaging with the Sahrawi cause, we can help bring about the long-awaited resolution that the Sahrawi people so desperately need and deserve.
A Journey for Justice – Reflecting on Sanna and Benjamin’s Remarkable Efforts
As I reflect upon Sanna and Benjamin’s extraordinary journey, I cannot help but be moved by their unwavering dedication to the Sahrawi people’s cause. Their 48,000 km cycling expedition serves as a testament to the power of human resilience and the indomitable spirit of those who champion the rights of the marginalized. In their quest to raise awareness about the forgotten conflict in Western Sahara, the couple has undoubtedly inspired countless individuals around the world to take action and stand in solidarity with the Sahrawi people.
Their story is a poignant reminder that change can begin with the actions of just two committed individuals. By sharing their experiences and shining a light on the struggles of the Sahrawi people, Sanna and Benjamin have made a lasting impact on the fight for self-determination in Western Sahara. Their journey has stirred feelings of admiration and empathy within me, and I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to document their inspiring story. I hope that their unwavering commitment to justice will continue to resonate with readers and inspire us all to advocate for the rights of those whose voices are often silenced.
Supporting Sanna and Benjamin’s Cause
If you are inspired by Sanna and Benjamin’s story and want to contribute to their mission, please consider offering your support by visiting their website and learning more about their advocacy work. By doing so, you can help further the cause of the Sahrawi people and their right to self-determination. Every bit of awareness and assistance counts.
You can support Sanna and Benjamin by visiting their website here: https://www.patreon.com/SolidarityRising/membership
Together, let’s make a difference for the Sahrawi people and join Sanna and Benjamin on their journey toward justice and peace.