Hrefna Brynja

Spark of Life in Iceland

Since September 2011, Hrefna Brynja has pioneered the use of the Spark of Life Club Program in an aged care facility in Akureyri, Northern Iceland. She has also run the 3-day Certified Spark of Life Club Facilitator Course for Occupational Therapists working in aged care facilities around Iceland enabling a number of homes to introduce this life-changing social program.

I had the opportunity in 2008 to attend a one-day Spark of Life presentation with Jane Verity from Dementia Care International in Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. To me it was a life-changing event. I sat there with tears in my eyes thinking, ‘Is it really possible to make such a difference in someones life? If that is the case I would like to dedicate my life to be a part of this.’ From that day on I started to prepare to work more with people with dementia. I read about Spark of Life both on the Internet and Jane’s book, Rekindling the Spark in the Lives of People with Dementia.My mind was set on attending a 3-day course in Denmark, which I did in October 2009.

My executives had already met Jane when we attended a 3-day course on The Eden Alternative Philosophy in Denmark in 2006. I kept informing them about the Spark of Life. I saw in Jane’s presentation how The Spark of Life is a wonderful way to put in practice the essence person centred care at a detailed, personal level.

When I came home from the Course  I immediately started to work on the Spark of Life Club Program. At that time there was a serious financial collapse in Iceland with cutbacks everywhere. The Homes for the Elderly in Akureyri where I worked suffered badly as many other organizations in Iceland.

Then in January 2010, I started The Sunshine Club, which was successful and gave a lot of joy and pleasure to both the participants and facilitators. Also many of the staff  complimented us and talked about how wonderful it was to see the residents come smiling and even singing from the Sunshine Club.

I had heard about the International Spark of Life Master Practitioner Program  in Perth but it was impossible for me to even begin to think about such a thing in the middle of the financial crises in my country. But then I received a wonderful opportunity to apply and was granted a scholarship from Dementia Foundation for Spark of Life on the grounds that I could partially finance myself. I wrote letters to many organizations and foundations telling about the need for the Spark of Life in Iceland and introducing what lies behind this Philosophy. Many of those I wrote to offered me financial support so a year later I was able to embark on a trip half way round the world to Perth .

Getting to know the Spark of Life and the people behind it was a life- changing event for me. That goes too for Master Program, which was wonderfully orchestrated with  outstanding teaching from Jane Verity and Hilary Lee. The time at the program was very inspiring for me. I met wonderful people from different places and cultures around the world, who all had the same desire; to make a difference in the lives of people with dementia. It was like the group had one heart and one soul. I learned a lot of wisdom those three weeks, a wisdom so deep but yet simple enough for everyone to understand, even people with dementia. What a privilege! For me The Spark of Life became a beautiful frame around everything I  learned and everything I  valued as a person, as an Occupational Therapist and a Licensed Practical Nurse.

The Spark of Life  not only made a difference in my life but it made a difference in the lives of people with dementia where I lived and worked. I could tell you many wonderful stories about how the members of The Sunshine Clubs came out of their shell, told stories, sang songs, danced and shown all kind of physical and emotional expression that really touched my heart and soul. One simple example was a lady with very advanced dementia who suddenly joined us in clapping hands while we were singing and gave us a smile that reached to her eyes.