Operation Day’s Work: a story of Nordic solidarity

Imagine your kids taking the day off from school, only to go to work for the day!

Wait, what? Schools are supposed to educate children and prepare them for adult life. Not urge them to drop school for one day and work. Is this accepted? Would you accept something like that? Even if it were for a good cause?

This is the case in some of the Nordic countries for one day every year. Students are allowed to skip school, their headmasters approving that and giving them no absence on that particular day. It is for a good cause and it has already become a tradition.

Students volunteer to work for one single day to help people in developing countries have the same opportunities in life. But despite traditional volunteering, this Operation called “Day’s Work” includes money. Like real money. Students work and get money to be donated to the cause.

Could that be part of the educational agenda and curriculum? Do students and parents approve it? How about businesses and institutions?

Read on to find out more about the most inspiring day of the whole year, where conventional rules change and solidarity gets in the spotlight!

What is the Day’s Work Day then?

It is actually the culmination of a whole year of preparation and campaigning about a good cause. Be it protecting the handicapped children in Uganda or young mine workers in DR Congo.

Late October or early November, on this particular day, that the local Solidarity Action Day organization sets, students in Denmark and Norway skip school and go to work.

It is a one-day job, something they can help businesses or local institutions and authorities with, for a couple of hours. Be it cleaning, filing, any other light manual work or even office work, like working on social media or to prepare a presentation.

Alternatively, they can pick up the special collection boxes to use with their fundraising acts, like selling cakes or singing on the street.

What the students earn must be donated to the cause. But hey, things are serious here. There are rules to safeguard the action.

How does it work?

Noone wants businesses to exploit motivated young students as cheap labour. There is a fixed compensation for 5 hours of work and extra compensation for 2 additional hours if needed.

Students can’t work more than 7 hours that day. There is also a process to follow so that everything is in order. Businesses and institutions publish their job posts for the day. Students register in the yearly Action Day and receive a special card with an ID number.

The card states where a student will work and how much he or she will earn. So, that businesses have a proof they gave the money and the students to be called to donate the whole amount to the local organization, that handles the fundraising.

They contact the business they choose and it’s a deal! Kudos!

How did it start?

It all began in Norway. And the story is so engaging. They wanted to honour Dag Hammarskjöld. He was a Swedish economist and diplomat, who was appointed as the Secretary-General of the UN back in the ’50s, at the age of 47.

Hammarskjöld is the youngest ever Secretary-General of the UN and admittedly, the most successful one in the history of the UN. He put his mark on many major international issues, mainly with developing countries.

To honour these achievements, they decided to celebrate a “Dagsvaerk” Day every year. You know, Dag was his name but also means “Day” in the Nordic languages (Dag’s Work but also a day’s work). Smart, huh?

What’s in it for me?

It is about solidarity. The purpose of this action is to understand that not everyone on this planet has the same opportunities.

And seldom something is for free. Students need to sacrifice one day of their education (something they take for granted) and work hard to earn money that will go to a good cause. To people who don’t take other more fundamental things for granted, like safety and health.

There is no wonder why this type of action kicked off in the Nordics, as they share the same values and guiding principles:
freedom of choice. Students are not forced but do it voluntarily and consciously.

inclusivity. Everyone can participate and donate. But especially marginalised groups are the ones that have to receive the support.

active citizenship. Students are the citizens of tomorrow. They need to know how it is to work and earn money. And that they also have obligations, not only rights.

transparency. The whole earning and donating money thing is open and transparent so that no one can take advantage of it (or the students).

togetherness. Students, schools, businesses and institutions are all together in this. There is no you and me.

So, next time you take something for granted, consider that it is not the case for so many other people across the globe.  And it is our obligation to show solidarity to anyone in need. It may be us tomorrow.

Image: Nancy Bundt - Visitnorway.com