AWG 2016

Arctic Winter Games building volunteer culture in Greenland, say organizers

Unlike North America, Greenland doesn't have a strong volunteer culture - but Arctic Winter Games organizers say that the 1,700 volunteers working during the Games are proof that's changing.

'We wanted to make sure the whole country was in this project'

Maliina Abelsen, the general manager for the 2016 Arctic Winter Games, says that she hopes one of the lasting legacies of the event will be a strong volunteer base both in Nuuk and across Greenland. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)

The 2016 Arctic Winter Games is the largest event ever held in Nuuk, and organizers are hoping that one of its lasting legacies will be a significant impact on volunteer culture in the Greenland capital.

Organizers in Nuuk have spent years gathering enough volunteers to work the Games. About 11 per cent of the city's population of 17,000 have been enlisted, as well as many volunteers from other communities in Greenland. They've been conspicuous around the capital during the week, dressed in bright, lime green jackets.

Dressed in lime green, volunteers are easy to spot in Nuuk. About 11 per cent of the capital's population has stepped up to help with some aspect of the Games, according to organizers. (Bo. O Kristensen/AWG 2016)

It's something that Jens Brinch, the president of the Arctic Winter Games International Committee, is hoping will continue after the Games end.

Unlike North America, Greenland does not have a strong volunteering culture, something that Brinch hopes will develop as a legacy of the event.

"I think it's very important that you're able to support your society," says Brinch. "You're feeling that you're a part of it."

Many of the volunteers are pulling long shifts, working through the day or late into the night. Often, they're called in last minute, according to Maliina Abelsen, the 2016 Games' general manager.

"We wanted to make sure the whole country was in this project," she says. "I know we've had a success with that, because there's so many volunteers from all around Greenland."

Although volunteering is, by definition, altruistic, Abelsen says that benefits are already showing themselves for those who stepped up.

"We've been focusing a lot on meeting new people," she said. "You see new friendships."

Youth program, English courses part of effort

Because of the lack of a volunteer culture in Greenland, Abelsen says that organizing the 1,700 volunteers needed for the Games had plenty of challenges. English classes were organized in advance of the Games, as well as courses on hospitality and dealing with people from other countries.

The host society also adapted a youth ambassador program to bolster its volunteer effort, modeled off a similar program in the Northwest Territories.

According to Abelsen, Greenland teens are typically more shy, and volunteering at the Games has brought them confidence. Youth are volunteering in all aspects at the Games, from taking photos for the newsletter to assisting at venues.

"Big events take a lot of planning" she says. "The volunteer part of the games is a big part of that."

With files from Cheryl Kawaja, Elyn Jones


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