Healthy air, last sunny days of late September and Serra Guarneri with its natural Reserve as a splendid setting for learning.

The project “On the move. Experiential Education for social inclusion “took place from 12 to 20 September 2018 with 22 participants plus the staff of 10 partner countries: Italy, Belarus, Lithuania, Armenia, Romania, Greece, Georgia, Ukraine, Poland. Educators and Youth workers who participated had the opportunity to professionalise their work with young people at risk of exclusion developing their competences in outdoor education.

The training sessions followed the typical cycle of formation for a group of participants from different cultures and background, giving space in the first days especially to mutual knowledge and team building, so as to build a basis of trust and cooperation within the group.

All the activities were carried out outdoors in the Environmental Education Center of Serra Guarneri and in the nearby natural reserve, allowing constant contact with nature, far from city life ​​and distractions of new technologies.

The proposed activities have aimed at a professional growth of the involved youth workers who first of all took up the challenge on themselves, to be then able to transmit and guide young people in their communities at risk of social exclusion. All the activities followed the basic principles of “safety first of all” and of the “challenge by choice”. Safety first of all, because it is the basis for carrying out activities requiring certain equipment and challenge by choice, because how in all non-formal learning contexts, the single persons chooses the level of “challenge” they wants to undergo, how much to go outside of their “comfort zone” to enter the stretching / learning area. And in fact one of the first activities to be carried out was about the three learning areas: comfort, learning and panic zone.

The other fundamental component for an outdoor education is respect for nature, which it is translated into” leaving a place better than you found it”. Respect for the environment surrounding us and for our planet in general expands the horizon of our individual responsibility and allows us to appreciate the Earth as a generator of a safe place where to live, re-establishing an important inner balance especially for those who feel excluded from the society where they live. Teaching to appreciate and respect the environment, and using it in activities that challenge physical and intellectual aspects, allows to work on a deeper level, in which we are obliged to show ourselves in the our authenticity, with our expectations, weaknesses and fears.

The team of trainers led the group in perfect safety in a path of increasing difficulty that allowed the participants to be aware of their uniqueness, strengths and weaknesses, and of their own ability to work in a diversified group, where difficulties and contrasts can easily arise. The skills acquired on the field coming from practical experience can be counted among those ones really acquired.

The theoretical sessions on outdoor education have been complementary to the practical activities, always followed by a de-briefing moment, a good practice that allows the group, with the guidance of the , facilitator to reflexively return on what happened to gain awareness and fix it to explicit conceptual frameworks.

Fun, creativity and thinking “out of box” made outdoor experiential learning particularly interesting and stimulating for the young youth workers coming from ten different countries.

Ropes, carabiners, harnesses, maps and compasses are the tools participants learned to use, with the guidance of a certified expert.

Through orienteering in the woods we started to build a group spirit and the contact with nature and surrounding trees, developing among others things the sense of orientation.

The main activity of the training was an expedition to the montain in which the group had to take care of its preparation and its development, divided into small working groups with responsibility for certain aspects: tracking of the path and orientation, food and logistics of the camp. On the wonderful mountains of Madonie Park the group managed to reach one of the peaks most coveted by hikers, Pizzo Carbonara, and to return to the starting point with maps and compasses, without using their own mobile phones. A challenge and a dive into a real contact with nature, people, own limits and hidden strength tha thas often no way to come out.

Furthermore, the creation of support pairs (buddy) allowed a constant support for learning, which then led to the writing of the acquired skills in the youth pass, one of the crucial moments of the final evaluation.

All the activities have been reconnected to the work that youth workers play in their own community with young people at risk of exclusion, allowing their rethinking and adaptation to the context.

And this is what the participants have experimented once back home, also thanks to the support of the manual created by the partner organization Iairs: https://issuu.com/iairs/docs/outdooreducation_from_theory_to_pra/6.

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