Óli Örn Atlason


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Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

I started of studying to be a teacher because I was always certain that I would be a good teacher but a series of events led to me applying for a job as a manager 7 years ago and I‘ve been here since. I graduated with a B.A. in education, added Dipl.Ed teachers education on that I currently I‘m waiting for the ‚right‘ topic for my master thesis which is the only thing I have left in my master studies.

Can you tell me of your first impressions of Ingigerður?

I don‘t remember the time I first met Ingigerður but I clearly remember the movie she came to watch in the youth club that one night. It‘s also one of my favourite movies. I remember though that she told me that it was her favourite movie. She remembers me as a guy with earrings and wearing a red hoody. That was basically my uniform at the time – jeans and a read hoody. I still only wear jeans and a hoody… so much that the teenagers have created a ‚Oli Fonix starterpack‘ which is like a stereotypic thing that a group of people wear… but only for me.

Can you tell me about your work and your approach?

I really make an effort to learn all the teenagers names – because I can – I‘m around them most of the time and most of the day so it‘s a thing that I feel that I must do – so I can show them that I want to know them that much that I learnt their name. It makes them feel that I want to invest in a relationship with them. That‘s probably why a first meet or a first impression gets lost somewhere on the way but I still remember Ingigerður participation because of her artistic impressions and that she was willing to compete or take part on our behalf. Even if she was shy she had much to contribute in communications with other teens.

In your opinion why is a youth worker different than a teacher?

Actually, I am a qualified teacher and I feel like I‘m a facilitator/educator/non-formal teacher in my youth club. I contribute to their personal development by the way I behave, the way I talk/communicate, by my attitude and by my views. But I have always been very interested in youth and the adolescent years since I took part in youth socializing myself, I was very involved in my youth club as a teenager. I really care about my teenagers and so much that I feel that I am constantly working, which is a good thing. For example, this Saturday I had a long talk with one parent because of something that happened on a dance the evening before (we had a big dance in our municipality). She apologized for contacting me on a Saturday but I said it was ok since I was always at work so to speak. I really like that though, because the teens welfare really matters to me.

I contribute to their personal development by the way I behave

I guess much of it is linked to positive reinforcement.

Do you think you might care too much? Or more say than most of the teachers at the school?

Yes, I think a bit more. Not to the mark that I‘m obsessing about it or taking work home with me but in a positive healthy way…
Youth clubs in Iceland are very diverse in how they operate and what they have to offer. That has to do with the fact of how the staff are trained. What their background is and what they are good at. Eventually youth work in Iceland always depends on the staffs strengths, the teens strengths or areas they (either of them) want to improve on or explore.

What impact do you think your youth work has?

It came as a nice surprise that I and the work had such an impact on Ingigerður. It was nice to hear that the first thing she identified was confidence because that is eventually what we want to impact… the young person’s personal development and equip them with tools and skills to tackle life. But when you think about it, it‘s an encouraging environment where we are trying to have the teenagers challenge themselves in a controlled environment. I guess much of it is linked to positive reinforcement.

I thought that the impact we made was on a smaller scale and that it had more to do with skills and tools but after working with a group this winter I see that young people are thirsty for knowledge. I have set up a project looking at conspiracy theories and this really interest the young people. So I guess it has something to do with knowledge and how it is acquired. Young people want to learn and want to be critical of the things around them.

I also know that I have had an impact since we have young people that were in the club years ago drop by when they pass by. They are maybe going to the pool next door and drop by either on the way into the pool or after the swim… and I know that they are there to say hi to me or to visit the place that they felt safe or at home or just felt good in. It is reassuring that so many do that because that tells me that we have had an impact of some sort. Maybe it is way more than I think it is, but an impact nevertheless. I used to be a peer educator and the moment I realized I could not save the world but could talk one teen out of taking drugs or just to do it later when they had thought about it, that made the difference, and also made it worthwhile, to be listened to.

Do you have a vision in your job as a youth worker or a manager  – is it linked into something bigger?

No not really. And I have been thinking more and more about this. Since Birmingham last fall/autumn my vision has been all over the place. I have been focusing on various stuff and being more aware of all the aspects of the job we do. But I guess it is the more you know the more you know how little you know!

Targeted youth work and the way youth work in the UK has been focusing more towards targeted approach is also something that we see here in Iceland. At the moment it has not got anything to do with funding but more to do with the possibilities of our open youth work but we in the youth work field are the first to experience cutbacks when the economy takes a blow.
I have been reading up on policy and the lack of policy in Iceland is so sad. We could be great but instead no politicians or party or anyone is focused on this voiceless group that are the young people. Of course we have youth councils, and Samfés‘s youth council is the biggest one and democratically elected and just this year there was created a platform for cooperation between a group of the biggest youth councils.

So my vision is clearly to raise the voices of the youth and help them find their own voice but at the same time my vision is probably further from where it was when I first started.

I had a good idea of how things should be in a youth club since I was very invested in participation when I was a teen myself. From the age of 13 to 16 years old I would show up every day. I did not take part in the club activities but I was there to hang and to be socializing, listening to music and such. I really believe this had an impact on the kind of youth worker I am today.

I really believe this had an impact on the kind of youth worker I am today.

by Pauline Grace (2016)

Pauline Grace is a youth worker and head of the MA programme youth work at Newman University in Birmingham/UK.

Photos: Portrait © Óli Örn Atlason, youth work ©  Fönix youth club

Video: © poywe/Alexandra Beweis


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