The Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue looks for broader support
Iceland will welcome 2.1 million tourists in 2023. While some may seek out a city break, segmented by organised day tours on coaches with like-minded travellers, many will venture further afield, veering off the paved lanes of the Ring Road into the highlands, in search of a more intimate encounter with Iceland’s famed – and oh so Instagrammable – nature.
While the vast majority of those visiting Iceland will return home with only fond memories, some will encounter trouble during their travels. The people tasked with rescuing tourists and locals alike who find themselves in less than ideal situations are the volunteers of the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue, or Landsbjörg.
Since its formal establishment in 1928, Landsbjörg’s operations have been entirely dependent on donations from the public and the hard work of its volunteer crews. The association runs fundraising campaigns throughout the year, with its cash cow being the annual sale of fireworks in the lead up to Iceland’s notoriously explosive New Year’s festivities.
Now, with the number of tourists in the country outnumbering locals five to one, Landsbjörg is looking to visitors for support.
“Tourists visiting Iceland are a bigger proportion of those that need our assistance,” Landsbjörg representative Jón Þór Víglundsson told the Grapevine. “Especially in the winter, which is understandable because driving in Iceland during the winter time is often difficult and you experience weather situations that you have never experienced before.”
In early July, Landsbjörg launched the Root For Safety campaign, seeking $30 or 30 euro donations from visitors to Iceland. For each donation, Landsbjörg will plant a tree in the benefactor’s name in association with the Icelandic Forestry Association.
“When we are called out, we often experience a lot of gratitude from those that we are helping,” Jón Þór said. “We never ask for payment from those in need – we wouldn’t want to make people hesitate to call us – but we have experienced people asking how they can donate. And this campaign is an answer to that. It’s basically just an initiative to give our foreign guests the opportunity to donate.”
Visitors to Iceland won’t have to get themselves in trouble in order to encounter a Landsbjörg volunteer and support their cause. The association has dropped an old rescue shelter and a couple trees right into the main arrivals and departures hall of Keflavík International Airport to draw attention to their campaign. It includes a screen with a QR code so you can make a donation before spending until it hurts at the duty free.
“The rescue shelter in Keflavík airport is just a part of it,” Jón Þór said of the scope of the summer fundraising effort. “We started a social media campaign. We’ve made hangers that some hotels are going to put up in their rooms, so people will see a Root For Safety sign on their door knob. Car rental companies are going to do the same.”
It’s a massive coup for Iceland to have a roster of 4,500 volunteers on call at any time to assist people in need – not to mention the 15,000 more individuals giving their time to upkeep Landsbjörg facilities, prepare food for search and rescue workers and more. So long as Landsbjörg is 90% funded by public donations, it’s in everybody’s best interest to bolster their efforts as much as we can.
“We are there 24/7,” Jón Þór concludes. “We never ask why. We just ask, ‘how can we help?’”
Support Landsbjörg’s Root For Safety campaign at www.icesar.com/en/support-us
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