How to Develop a Health Promoting Project in the Arctic – Visit to Paamiut

In Greenland, it is regulated by law that every town has a cross-disciplinary health and prevention council with representatives from the police, the health care system, the municipality, and the local health promoter. This council is responsible for initiating and coordinating health promoting activities in town and in the surrounding settlements. In the Department of Health and Infrastructure I work very closely together with these local resources, because they are the ones to implement many of the national strategies and action plans on a local level. Hence, to get a better understanding of the local challenges and to keep the good relations I will make trips around the country to visit the local health promoters.

Some weeks ago I went to visit a small town just south of Nuuk named Paamiut. It is a small town with only 1,500 inhabitants and a great opportunity to experience how the small communities work. There are only two flight departures from Paamiut every week, so I have to stay there at least 4 days, but that gives me some time to visit all the relevant places.

This time the main purpose for my visit is to meet with the local health and prevention council – and what a great experience! This visit made me realize how different Greenlandic life is outside Nuuk.

I encountered the first challenge arriving in the airport and realizing that there is no taxi service in this town…??!! Fortunately I met a guy, who could see that I was kind of lost, so he offered me a ride to the hotel. The hotel is more like a bed and breakfast, where a woman comes by twice a week to hand out keys to newcomers – but it is nice and clean, so I am happy :) The next challenge of the day is when I want to buy lunch… Apparently there are no public restaurants or cafes, where I can buy a sandwich or anything alike. The only place to go is to the local fish factory to buy lunch in their canteen…. So I decide to cook at the hotel instead, where there is a communal kitchen.

I am beginning to settle in and I can finally start all my meetings. I have planned a few meetings in Paamiut before I left Nuuk, but I have kept plenty of room in my schedule for unplanned meetings and activities and I am so happy I did. Already within the first hour of my stay in Paamiut, a man contacts me in the street and asks if I want to participate in a group session for single parents recently recovered from substance abuse. Later the school contacts me and asks if I will come make a presentation for the teachers on alcohol use among children, and finally I am asked to come visit the local family centre where they support new mothers and fathers to become good parents.

All of these meetings and visits are not only important for the local community, but also for me. This visit has really shown me, how life is in some of the smaller towns along the coast in Greenland, but it has also shown me how hard people are trying to make things better in these small communities. When doing health promotion, it is so important to understand the context where the health promoting activities are going to be implemented. Especially for as a Dane in Greenland – I have to be careful not to judge or make assumptions from my own culture and upbringing. Instead I have to work closely together with the local experts (those people living in those places) and then empower these people to do health promotion in the community. If I really want to make a difference, this is what my job is truly about.


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