The Uummannaq Children’s Home

Tags: Lemn Sissay

Lemn Sissay in the Uummannaq Children's Home

It’s 11am, the ship travelled through night storms and in morning we arrive at Uummannaq, the home of our guide Ludvig. It’s spring in Uummannaq, in winter it’s dark for two whole months and there’s a high suicide rate. We visit a children’s home and dogs howl outside as the social worker greets us at the door. “If they don’t do what we command ” he says in a rich Danish accent “we kick them”. There’s a silence. “There’s high alcoholism in the Inuit people hence the relatively high numbers of children in care.” He is about six foot tall, a tower of a man. “Welcome” he smiled broadly.

After a thorough question and answer session we entered the home. But I had one more question that I’d been dying to ask. A question that I thought would shed light on how the institution protects itself and/or it’s children. “How do you punish the children, when they get angry”. He frowned as if to say why you asking me that. I wanted to know the regime of discipline. How a child is punished will tell me everything about the system. “We take them out into the wilderness, with the dogs, for a few days or weeks and we work through it. Come in let’s go in”.

The children’s home laid on a true spread, cakes and coffee and raw liver with whale meat. We heard the children sing and play instruments and talk and laugh. For me it was a moving experience. I didn’t want to trust it. The children’s home had pictures on walls and bookshelves and comfy couches and it made the children homes of England look like caves. Earlier this week I was in the Times Newspaper for The National Children Homes campaign and I am patron of The Letterbox Club at The Booktrust whose aim is to get books delivered to all children in care.

In the evening we all performed in the hotel. I kicked off with the poem Invisible Kisses – then Martha Wainwright played her music and song, then KT Tunstall, Robyn Hitchcock, Shlomo, Leslie Feist, Vanessa Carlton, Jarvis Cocker. It was a small bar in a small town in Greenland. These are stadium filling artists playing there hearts out to a little crowd in Uummannaq. By 1am all the instruments are packed and we were waiting by the bay for the zodiac boats – straight out of central casting for a James Bond film – to zig zag us to the ship. But while we are in the bay whip lashes of Northern lights skirted across the sky.