Video: Making a Difference

By Ann Curry
NBC News
updated 12/15/2006 7:22:25 PM ET 2006-12-16T00:22:25

With just days left as the U.N.'s chief humanitarian, Jan Egeland isn't slowing down.

Ann Curry: "It's been non-stop for you today."
Jan Egeland: "Yeah, but it's non-stop every day."
Curry: "Why is that?"
Egeland: "Every day, every night, for three and a half years, so I'm tired. Because there is always a crisis in the world, you know? Time is running out for me."

He's reached across language barriers and political barriers, meeting the world's worst and best to help those who need most.

Time magazine called him the world's conscience.

"He put the U.N. on the map in the humanitarian area," says Norwegian Ambassador Johan Lovald.

He's credited with giving a voice to millions otherwise forgotten in Northern Uganda, Congo and, most publicly, Darfur and Sudan.

"What we could see was massive burning of villages, something that I call ethnic cleansing, and of course, using those two words together meant a lot," Egeland says.

He's also credited with creating a system to get aid workers anywhere in the world in just a matter of hours, which proved invaluable for the largest relief effort in history after the catastrophic Indian Ocean tsunami two years ago.

Early on, Egeland called rich countries "stingy," causing the U.S. government to bristle before giving more. Several billion more.

"It helped shake up a lot of countries to really understand the gravity," Egeland says.

He says he got his outspokenness from his mother, who still calls him regularly.

"'Be tougher,' she says. I say, 'I'm tougher than anybody else.' 'You're not tough enough' she says," he recalls, laughing.

"He's been a wonderful voice for the poor, the weak, and the deprived," U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan says. 

Egeland soon returns home to his family in Norway, weary but thankful.

"Don't ever believe that aid workers are very sacrificing people because they have the privilege of doing this," he says.

And because of his privilege, countless lives have been saved.

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