A candidate for recipient of the Distinguished Service Award must have demonstrated their life service or volunteer activities that reflect Oberlin’s values by directly improving the quality of life for humanity.
Anita Fahrni has been a volunteer, educator, and political activist in the areas of education, international relations and networking with women on the local, national, and international level.
Living in Switzerland since 1970, Fahrni served for eight years on her village executive council and for 11 years as a state legislator. However, for the past 14 years, Fahrni has devoted most of her time to Mongolia, where the needs in education are great. “I went to the UN Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995,” she recalled, “and then started networking with women’s organizations. A colleague from my years of teaching at Tunghai University in Taiwan (1966-1968) suggested I go to Mongolia to meet active women there.” Those personal contacts began in 1998 and inspired her to collect and ship much needed books to Mongolia, now totaling more than 400,000 volumes.
As the founder and director of the Swiss Program for Language Instruction and Teacher Training, in addition to providing media, she has placed over 150 volunteers to teach in Mongolian schools and universities and invited Mongolian students and teachers for training in Swiss schools. The 101 Mongolians to whom the program has offered one year of study in Switzerland and the 45 teachers who received three months of additional training now influence education in their own country.
Fahrni also collects, ships and distributes school furniture, laptops, blackboards, office supplies and sports equipment for institutions throughout Mongolia. Her extensive networking there now supports artists, women politicians, NGOs, and service clubs. Fahrni also serves on the board of the International Takhi Group, the Swiss organization which has reintroduced the Przewalski’s horse into the Great Gobi B Strictly Protected Area, extinct in Mongolia earlier.
As head of the Committee for International Relations of the Swiss National Council of Women and invited by the Korean Democratic Women’s Union, she led three Swiss delegations to North Korea and organized two visits to Switzerland of delegations of North Korean women. She has also organized exchanges for Swiss women in business and politics with women in America, China and the Ukraine.
In May 2010, the Democratic Party of Mongolia awarded Anita Fahrni the Medal of Peace for her contributions to that country in the field of education. From the Academy of Art of the National University she received the Medal of Friendship. She was granted an honorary PhD from the National University of Mongolia (2012) and from the State University of Khovd (2013) and is an honorary professor at Otgontenger University.
In 2015 President Elbegdorj personally presented her with the Order of the Polar Star, the highest honor possible for a foreign national.
Fahrni earned a BA in French at Oberlin College.