Kiwanians in Iceland support a progressive weekend retreat for disadvantaged children in the Reykjavik area.
Story by Inga Þórunn Halldórsdóttir and Konný R. Hjaltadóttir • Photos by Guðrún Arinbjarnardóttir
This story and accompanying photos were submitted by the Kiwanis Club of Dyngja, Iceland. Tell us what your club is doing at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bicycles splashing in water sounds fun and indeed not an everyday thing, yet at Vinasetrið (Friends Center) in Kaldársel, Iceland, children get to experience and do things they never dreamed of.
Vinasetrið is a weekend home for children 6-12 years old in need of emotional and social support. Annually, about 100 children get the opportunity to stay there. They come from various circumstances; some are in foster care, while others face hardships at home, such as poverty, illness or lack of support. Many of the children are socially isolated, with few or no friends.
“Getting the opportunity to spend a weekend at Vinasetrið, in a safe and inclusive environment, engaging in play and work, can truly alter the lives of many disadvantaged children,” says Inga Þórunn Halldórsdóttir, president of the Kiwanis Club of Dyngja.
The Kiwanis Club of Dyngja, chartered on December 12, 2012, is a 13-member female club in the Iceland-Faroes District. In the spirit of the Kiwanis mission of helping children locally and globally, the club has been an active participant in many of the district’s joint projects from the beginning, while also launching a special partnership with Vinasetrið. Despite being a small club, it’s very active, vibrant and engaging. In fact, it has been a distinguished district club for the past five years.
The Vinasetrið project was the district’s most notable service project in 2019, and selected as the district’s entry in the 2020 Kiwanis International Signature Project Contest. The general sentiment of the membership is to be humbled by the laurels, but extremely proud of the acknowledgement of their hard work.
“The purpose of Vinasetrið is to give every child the opportunity to experience joy, despite sometimes dreary circumstances or difficulties, in order to learn to trust others and their environment and to receive spontaneous and caring intimacy,” says Guðrún Arinbjarnadóttir, the manager of Vinasetrið.
Vinasetrið has a motto: Joy – Trust – Inclusiveness. As a nonprofit organization, it operates on the philosophy that every child is unique, deserves the best in life and should have an opportunity to have a bright and successful future. That philosophy is also crystallized in Kiwanis’ definition and motto — as well as in the Kiwanis International and Iceland-Faroes District strategic plans — and has an indisputably strong harmony with the vision of the organization: “Kiwanis will be a positive influence in Iceland, the Faroe Islands and the world, so that one day all children will wake up in communities that believe in them, nurture them and provide them with the necessary support they need to thrive.”
Every weekend, 15 to 20 children and a staff of five to seven spend time together, creating a warm family environment that feels like going to the summer house where the children meet their friends and family. Most of the children enjoy such weekends once or twice each month, every month of the year.
Vinasetrið is very much like a normal home, yet without any smart devices or TV. A positive and caring atmosphere is essential for the children to feel comfortable — and to realize that they have been chosen to be a part of it, instead of being sent away. All facilities are well suited for playing and enjoying the outdoors in the diverse and stunning natural paradise of Kaldársel, where the home is located, offering the children various opportunities for leisure and a variety of experiences that many of them miss in their daily lives. Today it could be baking, cooking, reading or cycling. Tomorrow they may go swimming, hiking, bowling, to a theater or a museum.
“It is healthy to be outside, to try different things and get an outlet for creativity and experience the joy of play,” says past club president Konný R. Hjaltadóttir.
Is a new environment a challenge for the children? Here’s what one child says: “When I am at Vinasetrið, I can just be myself — play without having to worry about anything.”
From the friendship between children and adults to challenging new tasks, role-playing games, help with housework and various social activities, there’s no shortage of ways for the kids to become more socially skilled. Thus, it is also possible to break the social isolation confronting many of them. The children are at Vinasetrið on their own terms.
The Dyngja Kiwanis Club has supported the activities of Vinasetrið since 2013. The collaboration is outstanding, and a close friendship has developed. Twice a year, the Kiwanis members organize bingo nights with an attendance of 80-100 enthusiastic players. These events are open to the public, with all proceeds going to Vinasetrið. Members collect prizes and gifts from local businesses, many of which are very supportive and positive toward Kiwanis, the club and the project. Many also have donated gift certificates directly to Vinasetrið. Club members also frequently donate items, such as furniture, toys, household goods and clothing, as well as movie and bowling tickets. They also regularly visit Vinasetrið, and in turn its employees attend Dyngja meetings, bingo nights and other events.
To the great delight of the staff of Vinasetrið, children’s “dirt bikes” were donated this year. The children use the bikes extensively for longer and shorter rides. Thus they have the opportunity to try new things, solve tasks, learn about the environment, appreciate nature and rejoice in victories and discoveries. The Iceland-Faroes helmet project has provided every 6-year-old in the country with a safety bike helmet since 2005. Vinasetrið is no exception and annually receives some helmet donations.
Club members have wholeheartedly embraced the project and unselfishly support the process. They acknowledge it as their club´s long-term signature project and a valuable partnership in continuous development. It also is the future of the club. In fact, the partnership is in the spirit of Kiwanis — supporting activities that enhance and enrich the lives of children in need. The club’s sponsorship of the home is very important to the children, of course, but it also warms the Kiwanis hearts of the club members who serve them.
This story originally appeared in the December 2020 issue of Kiwanis magazine.