Between June 27 – July 4, Youth Association DRONI implemented a professional development activity within a large-scale project titled “Nature Calls – Outdoor Education for Mental Health and Self-Development”. The whole project is composed of two main activities – a training course and a seminar, and one interphase activity, which will be a local action.
The training logic was based on the experiential learning cycle, participants received concrete experience, conducted reflective observation, carried out abstract conceptualization, and finally actively experiment. The integral part of the training was a 4-day hiking challenge, hosting organization has implemented several projects in this national park, using comparable methodologies, and the experience of implementing projects in this national park was very positive.
The aim of this project was to:
- promote outdoor education as an inclusive tool in youth work;
- equip participants with skills for outdoor education including preparation of activities, risk assessment, health and safety measures, and outdoor methods;
- reflect on the learning benefits of using the outdoors: health, lifestyle, connecting to nature, protecting the environment, fighting global warming;
- exchange on lessons learnt from the pandemic and the effects on our target groups Increase youth participation through outdoor education;
- reflect on the use of outdoor education in Erasmus + projects;
- develop further cooperation of partner promoters in the field of outdoor education including Erasmus+ projects such as Youth Exchanges and volunteering projects
Hiking Day 1:
The first day of the hike, wow, how we waited for this, what an exciting moment! We went through a lot, and at the time when we were walking, it was kind of a tense situation, but on the other hand, we learned to act and help in extreme situations, but especially we’ve learnt to support each other. When we arrive at the first camp, the feeling was beyond words, that feeling when you walk for a long time, and finally come to the finish line, a small victory? All the way to this shelter was a long and slow challenge that made us very happy and grateful to end the day in a warm place where we could rest. I don’t know what else to call it, but after a hard road, you will gladly sleep in a tent. It wasn’t that easy to deal for the first time with all the things we had to do, like putting up the tents or cooking for 24 people. But in the end, we manage everything with success and relief. We liked how quickly the 3 groups did their job, everything seemed supported, because there are 23 people with you. The material Team successfully arranged the tents, and the cooking team prepared a super soup. Everyone helped and did what they could. It’s also a time for sharing around the fire and acknowledging that you are over the limits you gave to yourself before we started the hiking. We felt safe with all the people around us. The sessions when we studied comfort zones and when we got to know each other in the first days in the Bakuriani, all helped us to trust each other. Then on a hike, you feel very comfortable in such a group, you feel more yourself. This first hiking day was hard, we went through a lot, but the result is worth it, we looked for different options for solving problems, and communicating as well as we could and we can say that it’s the nature and informal atmosphere that taught us this, thanks for the first day on the hike.
Hiking Day 2:
The second day was not as tough as the first one – we only walked about 5 kilometres to the next camping point and the elevation change was not as drastic as on the first day. The good surprise was that the time the hike with backpacks taken was less than we expected – the last person arrived after about one hour twenty minutes after the start against the two hours according to plan. After arrival and setting up the camp part of the team that wished to stay in the camp stayed in the camp, others headed to climb Lomis mount and to see St. George church. Even though there was the sun in the camp, once we started climbing the mountain we entered the cloud that was floating through the mountain top. It got cold and the visibility drastically dropped to about 30 meters, strong wind has risen. Through the storm, we reached the mountain top, but the usually spectacular view was invisible to us because of the fog. Nevertheless, we enjoyed seeing alpine plants that were not known to us before the summit. After the arrival, we started cooking – today on the menu are beans and rice. After dinner was ready, everyone ate well. In the process, we learned to make Swedish fire, feed the furnace inside the shelter and be more considerate of others.
Hiking Day 3:
Our last morning at the second shelter began with a beautiful sun and a very tasteful breakfast. Everyone was relaxed but also kind of sad because it was our last day at this training hike. Everyone already knew that we had to pack our stuff on time and each of us helped with the common materials to be fully packed and ready. After the preparation, we sat together, and we had one more reflection. In this session, everyone was much more honest than the days before and all of us expressed our opinions. Due to the rainy weather (the past days) the trail that the program team had chosen, was a little bit muddy and more challenging in a positive way. Therefore, we had to take a decision on which way to go. In the group discussion even though most of us wanted to take the more challenging trail, some of us were in our panic zone so we took a group decision of taking the safer one. On our way down everyone was much more relaxed and happier because it was physically easier than the climb to the top. Some people chose “silent hiking” because they really lived this experience. Everyone arrived at the camp safe and sound, and the feeling of satisfaction was big. At the camp, we had to prepare dinner, collect wood to lit up the fire and build our tents. It was the last day, so everyone was already used to the common living, so we had zero problems or arguments about taking our tasks done. The dinner was a delicious one (finally pasta!) and it was on time. Everyone wanted to help each other and this night we finally were in a flow. After dinner we had a really nice conversation around the fire, everyone was communicating with each other and there were no negative feelings hanging in the atmosphere. Some of us laid down and were watching the beautiful starry night. After all of these, we went to sleep with a bittersweet feeling, because everyone knew that our hike tomorrow morning will be over.
The 6th day of our project started in the early morning, at 8 AM. We have prepared the last breakfast in nature and we started to take down our tents for the very last time. While we were doing so, we also took care of the environment around us and made sure we left it as it was when we arrived. After the camp was wrapped, we started our last outdoor activity, where we literally united with the beautiful nature. Without using our binocular senses, we were guided by our learning buddies to a tree, which we later had to find. It was both a challenging and fulfilling experience. When the task was done, the tragedy of departure began. Nature has accompanied us through our whole journey and the idea of integrating into civilization again made us all walk quietly in grief. Upon our arrival, we were embraced by the warm drops coming from our showers. It was a spiritual experience. After refreshing, our tastebuds were ready to conquer new and magnificent flavours of Georgian cuisine. The evaluation began… There were tears, there were laughs, and there was drama. In four groups, we had to discuss the questions, which included talking about our ups and downs, our challenges, successes and our learnings. The whole group agreed that it was hard, tedious, exhausting, horrifying, difficult, scaring, but cool and full of learning. Bakuriani has become a more and more memorable place for many young people from different countries of Europe, The last day of the project was very productive as there were informative sessions, and beneficial reflection activities, which enabled participants to take a deep look over the whole project, tools that we got equipped. We planned local activities for our communities. These activities are based on the learnings and experiences we gained throughout the project in Georgia. Working on planning local activities and dissemination of the project was done by national groups. It helped us to better grasp the ideas of outdoor education from the position of the organizers and youth workers. Sharing our plans with the rest of the group was inspirational and even built stronger bonds for future cooperation between youth workers from different European countries.