Does Norwegian friluftsliv (outdoor recreation) support integration of immigrants and contribute to a higher quality of life? Nature interpreter Live S. Danielsen in Norwegian Nature Inspectorate invites people who have escaped war to experience peace in nature.
- Our intention was to give the immigrants a safe and comfortable experience with Norwegian nature. We also wanted to create a safe space where they could share their stories, says Danielsen.
Three groups of immigrants at Bjørnebekk asylum in Ås were introduced to Norwegian Friluftsliv. They were invited to take part in the simplest way of practicing Friluftsliv: Play, co-create the trip, share food, make fire and share stories around the fire. The days were developed in collaboration with the asylum, including representatives for the immigrants.
Many Norwegians go into nature to reflect, enjoy silence, find inner peace, to connect with something innate inside and to experience being alone without being lonely. Nature provides a unique atmosphere where friends and families can come together around the fire and experience community and belonging.
- I was curious to what extent Friluftsliv would feel strange to the immigrants, and if they would like it. What kind of relationship do they have to nature? Some say experiences in nature are healthy for all humans and that we are biologically adapted to love nature. Other cultures have different traditions than we have and by that other ways of being close with nature, says Danielsen. Nature is trees, water, wind and animals, and more. We find nature all over the wild and more cultivated parts of the world. People in many cultures meet for social events in nature.
She underlines that we do not have animals in Norway that are dangerous to us, we have the right to walk in nature regardless of who owns the land. This enables the Norwegian people to connect more easily and deeply to nature. Friluftsliv and the silence in nature can be healing and therapeutic for war torn people who want to restore inner peace. Danielsen believes it might be a good investment to show them this opportunity. Danielsen experienced this some years ago while mentoring immigrants.
- We invited them to sit alone in the forest for 20 minutes, something that was unfamiliar for most of them. One of the comments from a man has stayed with me since:
- I have experienced much war, he said. - This is the first time I have felt that my thoughts have become quiet.
- That’s all it takes, I thought, says Danielsen.
The sun was low these cold winter days. Photo: Live S. Danielsen
|Amal Alyoussef (Syria/Libanon) had made a delicious salad with mint and parsley. Photo: Live S. Danielsen|
A woman burst into tears and told us how much she missed her son who had been killed. Then her eyes suddenly were glowing and she said: As a family, we used to go to the sea and the forest to picnic. This place, and what we do here, reminds me of what we did at home.
All participants were asked what they missed most about their homeland. Most said they missed the family and especially their mother. One of them told me that when she went into the woods, she felt the forest as her mother. To walk among the trees here was like being embraced by a mother.
Being with asylum seekers in this way is some of the most meaningful work I've done, and I was touched by the experience of so much joy. We had three trips, and the last day - when it was 14 degrees Celsius below zero – several participants returned.
- They had prepared themselves better this time and had a grill (metal rist to barbecue - what is the right name?), marinated chicken, baked potatoes, salad and enjoyed being warmed by the reindeer skins. I also wonder if this was the first time in history a reindeer skin has been used as an Islamic prayer rug, says Danielsen, smiling.The atmosphere of community on a friluftslivs trip with camp fire, singing, cooking and storytelling seems to be medicine for loneliness at the asylum. It was magic around the fire, we felt like one big family despite the fact that we come from different cultures, was some of the feedback after these trips.
- Our tradition of outdoor recreation is valuable both for ourselves and for other cultures. Knowing about the outdoor recreation traditions in Norway can contribute to a sense of belonging. This is because many of the immigrants connected with nature at home too and felt a sense of peace and community then. It is also because it is a good start to become part of the Norwegian society. It is often easier to make contact with new people on trails in the forest than on the street, says Live Danielsen.
One of Norwegian Environment Agency’s (Miljødirektoratet) responsibilities is to teach people about friluftslivs traditions. Friluftsliv is a simple way of spending time outdoor, and it does not require much equipment. It is a way of getting personal experience with and knowledge about nature, and making people interested in taking care of it. Research has also documented physical, social and emotional benefits from practicing friluftsliv. The days were successful. The key elements to this success was our focus on community experience, making fire and cooking food over afire, sharing knowledge and stories, close collaboration with Bjørnebekk administration and the immigrants and a focus on nature connection experiences.
Friluftslivs trips like this can also have benefits outside of the Norwegian Environment Agency’s main responsibility. Most of the immigrants have had traumatic experiences and feel lonely. A warm welcome considering this will support integration. Friluftsliv and nature can contribute to inner peace, and support integration even deeper. Norway works internationally for human rights and peacemaking. Inner and outer peace is strongly connected. Carefully designed friluftslivs trips can contribute to Norway’s commitment to restore peace in communities, both in Norway and internationally.