Olof Meurling shared Rokeya’s dream

Olof Meurling shared Begum Rokeya’s dream of empowering the less fortunate and he became one of SUS earliest supporters.  Photo: Maj-Lis Koivisto

Beginning of a success story

Many of the early supporters of SUS were engaged in Service Civil International. Through that organization Olof Meurling met Begum Rokeya and that was the start of a lifelong support for SUS, and a success they never could have imagined in the mid 80s.

In Begum Rokeyas book My way to freedom through the light of experience some of the supporters of her work writes about their lives and how they came in contact with SUS. This is Olof Meurling’s story:

I was born in the small town of Karlskoga. I have three sisters, two elder and one younger. My father was a doctor in surgery and my mother was a housewife. Due to my fathers career we moved some seven times during my youth. Thus I went to many different schools and never grew any deep friendship relations. I was a rather shy, lonely, obedient and ”mother-attached” child. As a young boy I was a wolfcub and later on a scout. My interests were stamp collecting and later photography and darkroomwork. Our family did a lot of outdoors activities like skiing and skateing in the winter, picking berries and mushrooms in the summer.

In a reading family I was the least reader. But I liked school and favourite subject was geography. A lot of discussion at home about politics and society made me somehow solidarity-minded and aware about the world around. Although coming from an overclass environment (three generations of military officers) my father had radical views. All his children became ”leftist” in the 1968-years.

After graduation from school I went to nine months of compulsary military training. At that time I had heard of international workcamps. By working extra at a petrolpump I saved money and went travelling, mostly hitch-hiking, all over Europe. I went to several workcamps and stayed half a year in Israel working at a kibbutz before the 1967 June war. I was still a childish young man but these travels made me more mature and politically aware.

Returning home I felt obliged to go to university although I did not want to. I studied four years at Umeå, the ”red” University in the far north. My subject was town and country planning.

In Umeå I came in contact with marxist-leninist groups but I never joined. I attended a lecture with Abbé Pierre speaking about Emmaus. But it was in the Vietnam solidarity movement that I became an activist. These years I was though, very unhappy, feeling lonely, not knowing what I wanted to become or to be adult. My parents were divorcing, occupied with their problems. The workcamp every summer was mylife-buoy.

In 1971 I moved to Stockholm as I had the possibility to get an apartment. Several years of unsuccessful studies and many odd jobs gave some life experience. The workcamps brought me in contact with the Swedish branch of Service Civil International (SCI) where I worked intensively during ten years as a volunteer and secretary. There my organizing skills came into use in exhange of volunteers and arranging camps in Sweden and India. I gave up my academic career, went on workcamps in India and in Bangladesh where I met Rokeya in December 1981 at the age of 35. I soon felt she was a genuinly ”good” person.

Rokeya wanted to fulfil a dream doing something for the less fortunate which was in line with my belief but which I was unable to realize by myself. But the two of us made it possible! I organized contacts and handled logistics for Rokeya’s extensive travels in Europe from 1986 and onwards. It resulted in the growth and success of SUS, larger than we could ever imagine then. And in which so many people have helped in various ways.

During all years I made my living from distributing newspapers in the early mornings.


These historical snapshots commemorate 30 years of SUS
and the life of founder Rokeya Begum, based on her book
“My way to freedom through the light of experience” and
other background documents. We are publishing snapshots
before and after the 30 years’ceremony to be held in
Netrakona, Bangladesh, on the 2 January 2017


”It was in the Vietnam solidarity movement that I became an activist.”







”It resulted in the growth and success of SUS, larger than we could ever imagine then.”