Port of Call
Peace Boat participants visit Solheimar, an Icelandic eco-village, Jun 15, 2015
Peace Boat participants visited the different workshops which provide work for the residents of in Solheimar
In Iceland, 60 kilometres east of Reykjavik, lies an isolated village home to a large number of residents who have different kinds of disabilities. The name of this special little town is Solheimar, or "home of the sun", and is considered by some to be the world's first true eco-village. During Peace Boat's visit to this northern European country, a group of participants onboard visited this sustainable and self-sufficient community as one of the optional in-port programmes to learn about possibilities for building an equal and sustainable society.

The Peace Boat participants shared a lunch with the people of Solheimar. The village has grown slowly to house 100 residents.
Solheimar was founded in 1930 by Sesselja Sigmundsdottir, a pioneering teacher with a passion for nature, organic farming and the welfare of disabled community. Initially. it started out as a children's home but that tiny settlement grew into a prosperous community. Only 100 people live there but what makes this place really special is that 43 of them are individuals with special needs. In this village, their disabilities are not what defines them. They are all active participants in the community and have varied and creative employment opportunities, jobs in organic horticulture and forestry in a close-knit community that focuses on environmental issues and vivid cultural life.

Sesseljuh's Center for Sustainable Development provides educational experience focusing on sustainable buildings and environmental issues.
"The aim of Solheimar is to maximize the potential of each individual", explained Herdis Fridriksdottir to the Peace Boat participants. Fridriksdottir is one of the coordinators the project. According to her, Solheimar gives each person a chance to grow, prosper and become an important participant in the group. "The society has the needs of the disabled in focus. The "abled" must adapt to this society. It is reverse integration. This is our ideology: to focus on the possibilities not the limitations", she explained.

Herdis Fridriksdottir (left) is the project manager of the Sesseljuh's Centre. She guided Peace Boat participants around Solheimar
The visit of the Peace Boat participants started in Sesseljuh's, a completely self-sustained house built in 2002. The house functions as an environmental education centre and is the best example to showcase the concept of sustainability, a blueprint for a building that are built without negative impact on the environment. "One of the goals the Solheimar community strives to uphold is to create a self-sustained society, relying on organic production and improving the harmony between humanity and nature. This house is a good example", Fridriksdottir pointed out. This centre holds educational programs and workshops on environmental issues for students at all levels.

The Peace Boat participants played different Japanese games with the Solheimar residents and taught them how to fold origami.
After visiting the ecological building, the group could see the different workshops where the people with disabilities work. There are six: art, woodwork, weaving, candle-making, ceramics and herbalism. Each individual of the community takes part to work in the businesses or workshops each day in order to keep them sufficient, sustainable and continuous. It not only provides revenue to the village but also gives each resident the opportunity to engage in meaningful work as part of a regular routine. The inhabitants of Solheimar are all able to help improve each business or workshop and, in turn, they learn how to be part of a sustainable community.

The meeting between the Peace Boat participants and the Solheimar inhabitants finished with many smiles and hugs
Following the workshops, the participants of Peace Boat ate a meal in the dining room where all the workers, residents and short and long-term volunteers eat their lunch every day. The menu was made up of the many organic products that are cultivated in the village, for example organic tomatoes grown in the village greenhouses. . After the meal, the participants of Peace Boat and some of the residents spent some time together enjoying each others company. The Peace Boat participants taught the residents of Solehiman some Japanese games including 'kendama', and origami. In spite of not speaking the same language and they all enjoyed the games and made paper figures together. The meeting finished with all the participants singing a song in Japanese and with many smiles and hugs.

The Peace Boat group had the chance to learn how this sustainable and self-sufficient community works.
One of the most active participants during the whole activity was Shimonohara Ayumi. She works caring for members of the disabled community in Tokyo and was very happy to have the chance to learn first hand about this Icelandic eco-village. "I really enjoyed seeing a place like this where everybody, abled and disabled, work and live together", she said. Another of the participants, Kawakami Tsukasa, a kindergarten teacher, was very happy with the visit after learning about sustainability through community. "This place is a very good example of how it is possible to live in a better and more sustainable society with a little bit of effort", she said.

Solheimer has always been decades ahead of its time
Although Solheimar has received many propositions to increase the capacity of the town and build new houses, those running the project want to maintain the small size of the eco-village. At present, there is a waiting list of several years exists to be able to live in this small town, the first one of its type. Approximately 30,000-35,000 guests visit the village throughout the year. It has become a popular tourist destination to learn about sustainability through community. At present, there are about 200 places in 35 different countries around the world similar to this sustainable Icelandic community who has been always decades ahead of its time.