The Uummannaq Children’s Home is located in a small isolated town on a small island in a large fjord on the North-West coast of Greenland, about 600 km north of the Arctic Circle.
The Children’s Home is one of the northern-most residential round-the-clock institutions for children and young people – in the world! It is Greenland’s oldest children’s home, opened in 1929 as a children’s sanatorium housing children of TB-sick parents. Later, it became an orphanage and by 1992, it had become a children’s home housing young people that had experienced neglect and abuse. It belongs to the Home Rule government of Greenland and has a capacity of 23 Greenlandic children and young people, the current oldest being 23 years old. The kids all come from families with severe social problems. They have little or no contact with relatives, some are orphans, some mentally and/or physically handicapped.
More than 75% of the Uummannaq Children’s Home staff are Greenlander, others hail from Denmark, The Faroe Islands and France. French film makers C’estLaVie films are responsible for much media attention to the Home of late, including the film INUK which tells the story of a sixteen year-old living a troubled life with his alcoholic mother and violent step-father:
“One morning, after pulling the half-frozen boy out of an abandoned car, the social services decide to send Inuk North, to a children’s home. There, Inuk meets Ikuma, a local polar bear hunter, who has his own share of problems. Haunted by his troubled past, his extraordinary hunting skills are mysteriously disappearing. The children’s home’s warm-hearted director asks Ikuma to take Inuk on his annual seal-hunting trip in the hope that, despite the risks, Inuk will learn that he has a valiant past and a hopeful future. They share an epic dogsled voyage and face much more than the bitter cold and fragile sea-ice.
The most difficult part of the journey will be the one they must make within themselves…“
The Uummannaq Children’s Home staff are assisted a great deal by helpers. A social work or teaching background is not needed as much as passion creativity and empathy. Local hunters and housewives support the culture and help keep the homely atmosphere at the Children’s Home, to try to help the kids overcome their traumatic experiences. Educational activities, projects, therapy groups and resocialization is used but generally the aim is to keep the Greenlandic culture central, while staying open to the world around. Activities include hunting and fishing projects, boat trips hiking and dogsled expeditions, art and music therapies, video workshops, camps, education and summer holiday travels.
The incredible CLIP project (Cleaner Life Ice Project) here turns refuse into art and is a lesson for the entire planet:
The new initiative of Uummannaq Polar Institute (UPI) has been extremely successful and plans are underway for much greater collaborations and connections, as a result of tireless work by my good friend and Polar Explorer Moki Kokoris.
Ann Andreasen, the director of UPI and the leader of Uummannaq Children’s Home calls it “simply a re-invention of an old tradition”. Re-use, re-build and re-think – a way to build a more sustainable Greenland and planet as a whole.
AVIF will be supporting the Uummannaq Childrens Home and have a call for any volunteers wishing to spend time helping the children and young people and learning from them about traditional ways of life in the Arctic. A valuable lesson.
The photo below is the melting Greenland ice sheet, from James Balog’s book, Ice: Portraits of Vanishing Glaciers. James Balog has spent the last 30 years travelling all over the planet to highlight the effects of climate change.