Suzanne Sandberg was a driving force in the establishment of the Svalorna association, one of Sweden’s first associations focused on international solidarity and aid work that was both politically and religiously independent.
Suzanne Sandberg was born in Stockholm in 1915. She spent the majority of her life living outside of Sweden. Her mother Maggie Stille was the daughter of the manufacturer Max Stille and her father, Louis Golidman (Goldmann), was a merchant who had been born in Russia. He had lived and worked in France since he was a teenager. Suzanne also had two younger siblings. Suzanne’s parents divorced when she was seven years old and subsequently Suzanne and her siblings were brought up by their mother in France. The family also spent time in Germany. When Suzanne Sandberg was nine years old she was enrolled at Cours Ozanam, a French Catholic boarding school. Suzanne Sandberg has described her years at that school as comforting and definitive in terms of the direction her life would later take. She converted to Catholicism at the age of 17, and the following year she graduated from high school with top marks. She then spent time working in Paris and England. Given the politically unstable situation in Europe, the family decided to return to Sweden in 1936. Suzanne Sandberg’s childhood had provided her with a solid linguistic and cultural knowledge base, an understanding of entrepreneurship, and an international network both within and outside of the Catholic Church. All these were deciding factors in the establishment of Svalorna.
After returning to Sweden Suzanne Sandberg married the pilot Karl Erik Sandberg in 1940. She was a housewife during the years her children were growing up, as was the norm for the better-off at that time. When the French Catholic priest Abbé Pierre, who had founded the solidarity association Emmaus, visited Stockholm in 1958 Suzanne Sandberg attended his lecture explaining the principles behind Emmaus – which are to help those who are in most need and that those of the younger generation who were better off should spend a year of their lives in aid of those who needed it most. The seeds for Svalorna were sown, along with those for the Swedish Emmaus movement. Abbé Pierre and Suzanne Sandberg found that they had several views in common and formed a lifelong close friendship. Suzanne Sandberg’s religious convictions drove her to establish Svalorna and Abbé Pierre appointed her to run the association. She also longed for work outside the house and in this international association she could express all her abilities. Svalorna became constituted in February 1959 with Suzanne Sandberg as its first chair. Svalorna’s co-founder was Dagny Arbman. The association was financed through memberships and sponsors whilst the field work was undertaken by volunteers.
The first project run by Svalorna operated in Lima, Peru where Suzanne Sandberg’s sister lived. Using her own and her sister’s networks, the Peruvian Emmaus movement, and the Catholic Church Suzanne established the contacts – including the president’s wife – required to provide the necessary material, financial and social resources to jump-start an aid agency in the country. In 1960 the first group of Svalorna volunteers were sent out to spend a couple of years doing unpaid voluntary service in order to set up and run aid services such as children’s homes, medical centres and vocational schools. One section of Svalorna’s activities was thereby up and running. A few years later Suzanne’s colleague Dagny Arbman opened Svalorna’s Indian section.
After ten years on the steering committee Suzanne Sandberg left Svalorna and Sweden, initially in order to live in Spain, but subsequently she settled in Israel. She continued her social activism in both those countries, working in various projects. Towards the end of her life she returned to Sweden. She was actively involved with the Catholic congregations of first Marie Bebådelse and then the Sankta Eugenia parishes in Stockholm.
Suzanne Sandberg died in Stockholm in 2015.