Sunday, July 17, 2016

A quirky Dutchman showing the way....

While at work, I work with refugee teenagers that came here on their own, I often look at the guys and wonder:"How the hell do they get through the day, each day, every day?" They have nothing to do, next to nowhere to go to, no family, little friends, very limited resources and loads and loads of time....... and a continuesly turning and grinding mind.... There's tv, there's the internet, but seriously... how much time can you spend in front of a screen in your room before going stark raving mad??
Last autumn I introduced scale modelling to them. Building plastic scale models, just to pass time and do something creative. It was a huge success. Of the anticipated 4-5 kids that I figured were interested, I ended up doing sessions several hours long, with up to 14 kids and I had to pry knife and glue from their hands late at night.
So I figured I should try something like that again. Like that, as in "getting them away from a screen and do something". And since Sweden is comprised of woods for more than 50% these days (55% according to some sources) I figured I'd introduce them to the great outdoors, the greener side of Sweden. And there was a catch, well more than one actually.... For next to none of them had really seen the woods, other than from the sidelines; through the window of a vehicle or next to the road. So a number of them were scared or at least very wary of that great, mystical world behind that green wall outside their bedroom window. Another catch was the total lack of proper equipment, meaning no decent shoes and clothes, let alone gear like backpacks or some such. This meant finding a way and a location for them to take it all in in a relaxed and comfortable manor. The location was being handed to us, by being able to use the local scouting groups facilities, the way I had to provide.
I have been making plans and gathering information for these last few weeks now and I created a sort of handbook that we could use. Because there was another, sneaky catch; most of the info provided was written in adult Swedish, often too hard for the boys to understand. It had to be plain and simple Swedish. So that meant a lot of searching, rewriting and translating too. But in the end I came up with a great handbook. Great because they can read and understand it, it has all the essential ingredients and topics with explanatory images, it did not become a 10-volume encyclopedia and best of all; they thought it was great and above all useable. So did some of the staff, so I am quite proud of that achievement. Great in another aspect, since even I (re)learned a thing or two.

A few days were planned ahead, where I would take those interested out and as those dates grew nearer I was getting more nervous. Had I thought of everything? Did I take all the necessary precautions and steps and how would I do, teaching and showing a group of teens/young men? After all this was an absolute first for me, too.
I need not have worried. A small group showed up, just 4 of them, but they were motivated and looking forward to it. Some backed down, because they were uncomfortable with the idea and others because of pressing arrangements elsewhere, like summerjobs. And there were those who tagged along on just one of the days too.

I also took them to show them "my world"...
And we did well if I may say so. We talked about things like the Swedish allemans rätten (everyman's rights), flora and fauna, some first aid like insectbites or injuries, how a simple mishap can turn into a serious situation and what to do when that happens. We even had some geartalk, having me showing my things to them, telling them what I thought are basics and essentials. We did a 3-day "course", which included foraging (loads of blueberries being thick, ripe and juicy) and at the end of that we prepared food over an open fire. Not just a barbecue, but food including potatoes and vegetables. I was planning on doing a banana-dessert, but all those vanished, before we even got to the food cooking part. Which incidentally included how to build a fire, which means we have to make one and how to use them.

All in all a very successful introduction, leaving everyone involved feeling very content.
I am most certain that we will have a part 2 and hopefully many hikes. The ones who accompanied me were already asking me about camping, staying out for a night and things like that. I was able to show and teach them a good deal, they all kept and read their handbook and during the talks and discussions I learned a great deal about them too. It felt great to hear that they felt at ease out there, since it is a vastly different environment then what they are used to and I noticed they also "suffered" from that inevitable effect a forest has on most; they fell quiet and relaxed, being at peace for those hours we were out there. It was a total success in that I managed to take away their initial fear, wariness or anxiety, so that they could enjoy themselves.I opened up to them and they opened up to me, which meant we could pass information back and forth and listen to each other. Because we were a small group, we could focus on each other and the subjects at hand without distraction. But most important of all them could relax for a few hours and we simply had fun.
Unfortunately privacy regulations prohibit me from showing the good times we had.
I feel honored to have had them with me........ and I am very much looking forward to taking them out with me again.


  1. you have almost brought me to tears with your wonderful story. Ron, I am so proud of you and what you have done. Those boys will remember you until the end. That Dutch guy in Sweden.