Nearly 1,900 miles northwest of Denmark lies Greenland, the world’s largest island and an autonomous part of the Kingdom of Denmark. Greenland has about 56,000 residents, but this number shrinks by an average of 350 people every year. Many leave to go live in Denmark, where they find greater economic opportunity.
About 18,500 Greenlanders now live in Denmark. Research studies have reported that while
almost all of them miss Greenland, fewer than one-third consider going home. The country has many social problems — high rates of alcoholism, a struggling school system, and the highest suicide rate in the world.
Still, there are a few who choose to go back to Greenland, to fight against these issues — like Georgine Graversen and Sussi Wille Broge. Both have lived in Denmark for several years; they completed their educations, married and gave birth to their children there, but always longed to go back to Greenland. They want their children to be able to explore what nature has to offer, and to know where they come from. Both mothers feel a responsibility to give something back to this place. For a lot of Danes, Greenland is synonymous with no more than igloos, dog sleds and alcoholics — but for Greenlanders it is so much more.
Sussi Wille Broge’s oldest daughter Ivalu plays outside their home in Nuusuaq, a suburb of Nuuk, Greenland’s capital. Both Ivalu and her sister Nuka have Greenlandic names. An aerial view over Greenland, somewhere between Kangerlussuaq and Nuuk. Since they are a long way from their grandparents in Denmark, the Wille Broge family spends a lot of time on Skype. This afternoon they Skype with their “aanaa” (grandmother) and “aataa” (grandfather), Sussi’s parents. The girls tell their grandparents about their new life here in Nuuk, about school and new friends. Sussi missed the Greenlandic tradition of “kaffemik” while living in Denmark. It is an informal way of celebrating events like birthdays, where all guests drop by for a short while and leave when the next guest needs the seat — but not before tasting every single cake on the table. “I want to give [Greenland] to my children. I want to give them the sailing trips, the kaffemik, the scent of heather, and playing with other children in the streets and on the rocks,” says Sussi Wille Broge. She recalls all of these things from her own childhood and remembers how difficult it was when her own family moved to Denmark, when she was eight. Moving back to Greenland has also improved the family dynamic. “Back in Denmark we were heading towards stress and divorce like so many others, caught up in the mentality of ‘wanting more.’ By moving here, we have tried to change course,” she says. Georgine Graversen was born in Nuuk and moved to Denmark with her Danish boyfriend Nicolaj when she was 18. They lived in Odense for eight years before returning to Nuuk a year ago. Moving back to Greenland was a way for Georgine to tackle many of the social problems associated with Greenlanders. “If I just shut up and did nothing, then nothing would change. I want to show that even though you come from a family with some social issues, you can still be a well functioning citizen. And you do not have to live in Denmark to do it,” she says. Nicolaj Graversen cleans a reindeer he shot a few days earlier while hunting with a group of friends. The ability to utilize nature was something he and his wife Georgine missed while in Denmark. “I feel so blessed that I’ve found a husband who knows Greenland and loves Greenland like I do,” says Georgine Graversen. “If I had found a man in Denmark, I am not sure I would have been able to convince him to move here. I’ve been lucky!” In 2003 the first residents moved into a new suburb on the other side of the bay from Nuuk, called Qinngorput. The population here is diverse, including middle-class families like the Graversen family and many former residents of Blok P, a poor residential area that was demolished in 2012. The rent in Qinngorput is significantly higher than it was in Blok P, so a lot of the residents are struggling to make ends meet. Georgine picks crowberries, a fruit native to the area. The Graversen family returning from a sailing trip into the fjords. They picked crowberries, went fishing, and ate freshly prepared fish soup in the boat. Before the move to Greenland, Sussi worried about how her girls would handle the big transition and whether anyone would play with them because they look and speak differently than Greenlandic children. But the two girls threw themselves into their new life with great enthusiasm. “When they come home from school and have learned a new Greenlandic word, I almost weep of pride,” Sussi says. Ivalu and Rasmus hug. Myggadalen, or “The Mosquito Valley” is part of Old Nuuk, Greenland. The first day of school is one of the biggest events for children in Greenland and everyone wears the national costume. For Ivalu’s first day of school in August, her aanaa made her this colorful beaded shirt.
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The photo essays featured on Narratively this week were originally developed as part of Family. Life. a collaborative student project initiated by Syracuse University’s Newhouse School. The project explores the feelings, relationships, obstacles, and identities of families through visual stories produced by photography schools around the world.