Project “Euro-Hike - youth empowerment through sport and nature" took place since January 2019 till May 2021. Project was based on innovative combination of sport activity for all /trekking, hiking/ and outdoor experiential practices of self-development and nature connectivity.
The content of two empowerment hikes that were held in Cantabria mountains /Spain/ and Madeira Island mountains came from participants of the treks - trainers, educators, youth workers, guides - who wants to explore with us the notion of MOUNTAIN HIKE as a tool for empowerment and self-development.
While many sports activities and games require special equipment or training to get started, hiking/trekking is relatively much simpler and more beneficial than any other exercise.
Literally, anyone can put on a pair of shoes along with few necessary gears and equipments and start moving into the woods for a little fresh air. The scenery, accessibility and diverse nature of hike trails make this heart-healthy pastime attractive for people of all ages and fitness levels.
Our goal was to allow European youth organisations to develop and reinforce network of partners active in youth empowerment by trekkings/hikes.
We wanted to increase our capacity to operate at transnational level, exchange good practices, confront ideas and methods of strenghtening youth through sport and physical activity, in connection with nature.
Our objective was to produce and disseminate innovative outputs on youth empowerment trekkings. We helped and supported networking of European youth educational and sport organisations.
Hiking allows to maintain the body in good working condition simply by walking which is really a good exercise. It improves the physical as well as mental health and the list of benefits from hiking and trekking is infinite. It is a pursuit that allows people to determine their own limitations, strengthen the potential and reshape life goals. It is proved as well that hiking/trekking can stimulate development of relevant life skills and competences, e.g sense of leadership / inner leadership as well/, decisiveness, personal power, self-sufficiency, risk management and prevention, self-assuredness and self-confidence, goal orientation, skill of overcoming obstacles, cooperation and teamwork and many others.
That is why there is a need that sport-related organizations and European institutions start to perceive importance of the hiking/trekking as a relevant tool in combating social and economical problems of the young Europeans.
During the lifetime of the project we focused our activities on networking. Also we intended to identify and share "good practices" in empowering youth through trekking and hiking. We prepared, developed and implemented educational tools and innovative approaches towards
youth empowerment /documentary movie, educational tools description/. It was important to organise as well awareness-raising activities on the added value of sport and physical activity in relation to the personal. Activities also had a purpose of social and professional development of individuals. We prepared activities to promote innovative synergy between the field of sport and the fields of health, education.
The content of two empowerment hikes were held, one of them took place in Cantabria mountains and second one was on Madeira island.
From 3rd till 10th of September 2019 Permacultura Cantabria hosted the first empowerment hike in Cantabria /Spain/. The goal of the hike was to invite experienced outdoor trainers and educators, who could create the program with us and share their know-how in nature-based
non-formal education. Together we spent a week in a community of 18 youth workers, nature guides and outdoor youth trainers from Latvia, Madeira, Poland and Spain exchanging our tools and methods on the way.
Program of the hike:
1 DAY: Arrival to Santander
2 DAY: Negro at Rubalcaba, from Llanos
3 DAY: Tresviso picos de Europa + Hot Springs in the river
4 DAY: La Ruta de les puentes, reserva del Saya
5 DAY: Ruta Del Cares in Asturia
6 DAY: Costa Quebrada from Santander COSTA QUEBRADA from SANTANDER
7 DAY: Evaluation
During the hike we used mainly community-based methods of non-formal learning. The program was predominantly delivered as a group experience, with time and space for personal reflection. Exchange of innovative outdoor tools among 5 organisations from Europe / Medeina Foundation, Permacultura Cantabria - Spain, Teatro Metaphora - Madeira, Club Pes Livres - Madeira, JASMA – Youth Development and Cooperation Multicultural Union - Latvia/
We developed innovative program for youth empowerment, so as to face life challenges, e.g. transition and identification of the next stage of life, navigation of life changes or new responsibilities. We wanted to explore great potencial that lays in trekking/hiking, as ‘Reaching a top” and ‘climbing a mountain’ may be metaphorical expressions which refer to mountains a symbol of determination, the end point and a more or less easy to reach a goal, and they represent the idea of ‘being able to do it’ and represent success.
We wanted to create a common, vivid space for learning, where everybody was welcomed with their own contributions and experiences.
We spent 6 days walking, trekking, hiking and sharing our know-how in the topic “how to empower youth on the way”. Also we used methods like bringing the "box" of your treasures, outdoor methods and practices that share with others. Link to the publication.
Every day we had at least two slots for the outdoor practices /about 50 minutes each/ and one slot for the warm-up and energizer before
we set off.
1 DAY: Western area of Madeira /Fanal, Porto Moniz, Cabo Girao, Camara de Lobos/
This day we combined some walking activity together with some of the most amazing sightseeing experience in the Western area of Madeira. In the immensity of Fanal plateau, begun this beautiful about 1 km trail. Among some climbs and descents, there are breathtaking landscapes, where stands out the lush vegetation that surrounds the entire area of Laurissilva forest dominated by tils. This was a ideal spot for relax and enjoy this wonderful place to absorb positive energies. Our next step was at the beautiful village of Porto Moniz known for its natural volcanic swimming pools. On the way to Funchal we stop ate Cabo Girão, one of the highest cliff in Europe, the highest in Madeira. Standing on panoramic skywalk above 580 m above sea level we got the best experience ever. Our last stop was in one of the most picturesque cities on Madeira – Câmara de Lobos. We saw fleet of painted boats that have been pulled onto the foreshore. At one of the bars you will have a chance to try poncha – one of the typical Madeiran drink.
2 DAY: Trekking Rabacal - Risco - 25 fontes
The trail begun on the regional road (E.R. 110) and goes down about 2 km to the Rabaçal government house. The trails diverged along two parallel levadas located on different levels. Trail PR 6.1 went along Levada do Risco, at 1000m above sea level, after 1,2 km taking the hiker to an impressive waterfall, which falls horizontally creating a ridge in the rock.
After coming back to Rabaçal, we went down to PR6 where we visited the 25 Spring Lagoon (Lagoa das 25 Fontes), created by the waters which come down from plateau Paul da Serra and mysteriously appear from behind the wall that forms the lagoon, where we saw more than 25 springs. Legend says that whoever was to dive here would never come back up to the surface, which is what happened to an Englishman who wanted to break the superstition and was never seen again. This area includes the Madeiran Laurisilva Forest which has classified as a Natural Heritage Site by UNESCO, since December 1999 and is part of the European network of important community sites - Natura 2000.
3 DAY: Trekking - porta Sao Lourcenco /trekking + return by boat to Quinta to Lord Marina/
Visiting some of the finest cliff scenery on Madeira, this walk explored the long thin peninsula at the eastern end of the island. The paths were good, but undulating - whether you get close to the edges is up to you. This peninsula is volcanic in origin, and is mainly made of basalt, although there are also some limestone sediment formations. The peninsula is classified as a partial natural reserve.
The semi-arid climate and its exposure to North winds have sculpted the low vegetation and explain the lack of trees, which distinguish this area from the rest of the Island and is a veritable natural heritage. Here we saw the Island’s basal plate at its best and several rare and endemic plants. Of the 138 species of plant identified on the peninsula, 31 are endemic (exclusive) to Madeira island.
Along the way, you could marvel yourself with the fabulous seascapes of the north and south of the Island. On the horizon to the South you can see Ilhas Desertas (Deserted Islands) and to the North the Porto Santo Islands.
At the end of the trail there is the Sardinha house, the base for a group of Ragners who work for the Madeira Natural Park. It is a perfect place for you to gather all the participants.
In order to discover the cost line and beautiful bays of the eastern end of Madeira we went for the boat trip. During about 50 minutes we werre enable you to explore the north cost, nice sea both and ensure the safety return to Quinta do Lord Marina.
4 DAY: Trekking - Pico Areeiro - Pico Ruivo - Achada de Teixeira
This energetic ridge walk begun just at third hightest pick of Madeira Pico Areeiro and heads to Pico Ruivo, the highest summit of Madeira. Most part of this path we had to face up going down and climbing the steep steps. Extremely beautiful landscapes await travelers as they cross two types of ecosystems, both of which are part of the European Network of Sites of Community Interest - Natura 2000 Network: the Central Mountainous Massif and the Laurisilva Forest.
5 DAY: Trekking: Larano - Boca to Risco - Machico
This walk connected Porto da Cruz to Machico through an old footpath once used by the local people. The walk offered magnificent perspective over Atlantic Ocean as well as the Penha d’Aguia, Ponta de São Lourenço and at the end Machico although the trail made in narrow path, so was recommended for experience hikers.
During our time on Madeira Island, we also prepared a movie documenting our hiking experience,exchange of knowledge and learning new non-formal methods.
During our hikes in Cantabria & Madeira Island we shot educational movie "Euro-Hike" so as to share with a large European public outdoor methods and practices that international group of trainers from Poland, Latvia, Spain and Portugal shared on the way. The movie is on Creative Common license, so you can freely screen it and share with your audience.
Anna's article about hiking experience
What benefits did you get?
It was the opportunity to communicate using senses and express myself through a relationship with surroundings. I could touch deeply the issues of emotional awareness, mindfulness, body, mind and breath work. I feel that I developed myself in the adventure therapy & wilderness approach. I could conducted my workshop (mandala with intention, sound/sensory walking) in English and developed my intercultural skills. Each day allowed reaching the joy of life, feeling the flow and being open to the streams of consciousness (through the body and from the senses). I could worked on expanding perception and awareness. I could to see the details of the surroundings (the earth, the sky etc.) and in the same time to pay attention to myself and to other people as well. I could find the present moment through the sensory doors. I could feel deep connection with the environment and create a space for unknown. I remember singing, laughing and joy together. No expectations. Joy of here and now. Dance. Reconnecting together with our inner child 😉 Feeling harmony, peace and being grounded. Celebrating every moment together.
What did you learn?
Thanks to this experience and other participants I am closer to the themes of nature, land-art, hiking and adventure therapy. I experienced that using the nature based activities can help to express the "inner world" and allow to deeper communication with other people. I can feel the connection between human and nature in more holistic manner. We can build a very intimate dialog with surroundings.
Every evening we met together in a circle to share impressions and feelings we have had during the day and it was a good space to hear other stories and perspectives. We could improve the quality of our relationships and teach problem-solving together. I feel that relationships are important. Relationship with myself, relationship with other people and the Earth – through the level of presence in the world.
It was a very liberating and enriching experience. I can really feel that contact with nature can have a positive effect on improving the quality of psychophysical well-being and mental health (through the nature I can reduce the level of stress, minimize negative emotional and anxiety states, and calm down thoughts related to everyday problems and worries). I am the psychologist and I really feel that using all of our senses helps to reduce stress and tension and anxiety, and regulate difficult emotions. You can focus on being here and now, appreciating the benefits of the surroundings. You can focus all your senses on the nature that surrounds you and relax. Working with the breath and body in nature helps to calm down and be with yourself here and now. Meditation and mindfulness practices can improve our sense of self-worth and life satisfaction.
I have learned some techniques and tools that could be used for growing self and eco-awareness and empathy for other beings. Tools which can help to renew a connection with nature. It was really creative process of contact with nature.
What was the most relevant experience for you?
I have learned a lot about nature based activities and cooperation with the group (the challenge connected with process and structure;).
Whole process was for me as a huge anti-stress practice based on ecopsychology. I like methods and tools which concentrate on outdoors activities, deep communication with environment and ecological perspective.
The trip was full of mindfull awerness of sensory experience in nature, voice expression and day by day getting free of our voice and emotions – like that time near 25 fontes . I remember our group trust walk  blindfolded in open air exploring our vulnerability and boundaries (being ready for unknown;). I remember working together with intention through mandala  in the beginning and then in the context of waterfalls , singing together our song “the river is flowing” for each heroes’ paths – I really enjoy to support others in their journey. I remember the experience of working with elements such as water, earth or wind in our practice with talents (we have chosen some element of nature with which we can somehow identify – ). I remember wind dance without the wind;) but still opening for new dimensions . And the breath session . And the practice of consciousness of every step – like learning to walk again… in more conscious way [16, 17]. I am really inspired by nature and people I met. It was for me external and internal journey with sight, touch, hear and feel [4, 5,7, 8,9, 11, 18].
For me contact with nature can shape our identity, we can restore the knowledge about the connection with earth and be more mindful and empathic. It reminds me that we are part of greater wholeness. I can connect with the world and other people on more emotional way. It was really great experience in my life, very inspired. Personal and professional growth 😉 I want more such initiatives as participant and trainer –
I really feel that we can go deeper with such nature-based activities, with body-mind connection, with human and nature relation – to express ourselves and to understand more our environment and increase the empathy 😉
Kasia's article about project
I’m very grateful and happy that I could participate in the trekking project “Euro-Hike – youth empowerment through sport and nature”.
We started our journey on April 27th by flying to Madeira - an amazing green Portuguese island. For the next week, together with other trainers who work with young people, we had the opportunity to experience the power of nature and how it can be used in our work. Every day during the trekking there were workshops. Each activity was unique - whether it was the one in the misty forest of Fanal, experiencing the element of the wind on Ponta Sao Lourenço, experiencing the element of water the water during the Rabaçal - Risco - 25 fontes hike, or during hiking the peak Pico Ruivo.
What made a great impression on me was that each of the workshops was perfectly integrated into the landscape of the place and the existing atmosphere. And nature showed its incredible power: water as a symbol of purification, letting go, starting a new cycle; wind as a symbol of bringing new creative possibilities, new ideas, new solutions; earth as a symbol of gratitude for her abundance and all her gifts; fire as a symbol of strength, energy, passion, struggle.
This project from start till the end was like one big reward, starting with the opportunity to visit the amazing place that is Madeira. The choice was ideal - the island has wonderful opportunities to lead workshops by the method of hiking as a tool for personal development. Just knowing that we were coming there was amazing. Realization a project in such diverse and beautiful natural conditions (mountains, ocean, sun, wind, rocks, forest, waterfalls, fog, rain) allowed me to discover how all the elements can be used in many ways in a my trainers work. It has opened my eyes to many possibilities and ways of coaching people that I haven't noticed before. This practice has already brought me new ideas for incorporating elements of nature into the workshops I lead.
Participating in the project exposed me to a variety of methods of working with nature. The train the trainers method allowed me to see the best practices of other trainers and benefit from their experience. The hiking method allowed me to personally work with my emotions. It also made it easier to integrate the experiences. The wandering method also facilitated the integration of the lessons learned in the form of meditation and work with intention and gratitude practice.
I came home full of good energy, new ideas and possibilities that I’m now going to develop in my work as a trainer. It was also an interesting experience for me to experience the group process - from the formation of the group, through the first codification of rules, first difficulties, ways of dealing with changing working conditions and creating creative experiences. It was an amazing experience to lead my workshops called Leader of my life, on the trail leading to the highest peak of Madeira Pico Ruivo, among the climate of rocks and fog. I could’t have dreamed of a better place. The symbol of the proximity of the peak reminds me that it is worth fighting for my dreams and not giving up. Every day, more and more, become the leader of your life - the life you dreamed of and the life that is best for you.
Participating in the project changed my life on many levels. It allowed me to believe in myself through the opportunity to lead workshops in English. It confirmed that our dreams are just a matter of time. It showed that our path of development depends only on us - on our choices and courage.
Irina's article about Euro-Hike
When I first heard about project “Euro-Hike – youth empowerment through sport and nature” I instantly became very excited. Why? Because even the name had my three favourite things — hike, sport and nature. I was waiting this project for a year thinking how can I contribute and how many things I will learn. Then everyone knows what happened in the spring of 2020. Every European did not know if we will have life like we used to, if we will have opportunities like we had within Erasmus+ projects. And then awakening happened — another circle of life. Life started to fall into new normal and we had another change to make this project happen.
Awakening. This is the one word that I would use to describe experience that I had during our project in Madeira during one week. The island itself awakens some new feelings. It looks like eternal spring where everything blows constantly. People here are very kind, they have sense of community — being in (more or less) isolated environment helps you understand that people suppose to be rock to each other. I think we have learned that for our group as well — how to be there for each other. We were making breakfast together and keeping our home clean. We were sharing things and even water (making sure that there was hot water for everyone while showering). In the evening we were singing. Well, my new friends were singing. I know I don’t have a good voice, so I usually do not sing, but I liked to listening my new friends. I think, I even will start to sing, because I loved how open and free they have looked.
All of the participants bring something with them to share — some exercises that would bring something new in us. For example, we had “Mantra” exercise — we had a time to think out our inner motivations for this project. We had some interesting insights, people were mentioning their past and future, their contribution into it. During another day, we were hiking in this magical forest where fog was so intense that nothing in radius of 3 meters were visible. We were given notepad and pencil. We started to walk in silence. During this exercise I was given opportunity to feel surrounding, to observe nature around me as if I was not there. I tried to draw them, even though I am not an artist. I realized that this is what we do in live. We observe nature and try to imitate it with out technology. I am engineer by life and that always fascinated me, that people’s finest inventions were borrowed from nature.
During all of our hiking trips we were connecting with nature and its elements. My favourite was wind. For me it is such a strong and powerful element, but at the same time it is helping life to be spread around planet. It helps birds and bugs to fly, It helps flowers to grow further. We were dancing at the cliff with the wind as if we were the wind. It helped me to fell my body in a more sensual way.
I overall we had a chance to take something new from this magical island. We were awakened and reminded that life goes further and we need to work on ourselves to be part of it.
Renata's article about the project
Close Encounters of the Third Kind, or Some thoughts on being a part of the Eurohike Project.
Well, do you want to hear a bit of a story on what-when-where-how and why you for a project about being, learning and experiencing outdoor hikes with a crazy (good) bunch of people from different EU countries?
If so – I dare you to follow some of my personal stream of consciousness – and pardon me in advance for some jumping in thoughts and reflections.
Brief intro, which might help (or not .) to understand some of the text bellow: I am Renata, born, raised and living in Latvia. All of my more or less adult life I am involved in NGO work, being volunteer, youth leader, youth worker and finally free-lance trainer in the field of non-formal education. Meaning, I work with the people in all sorts of social / educational project for more than 20 years. I do not consider myself as a “Bear Grills” type of person – but I am not “a stranger in the nature”, thus it is quite logical, that I use outdoors also within educational projects, programmes and activities as much as I can.
What did I learn, get, understand and discover within the Eurohike project?
As to me all the outdoor hiking projects have many layers (as onions and Shrek do .) and they provide unique experience both professionally, personally and personally-professionally (if such wording exists at all).
Professionally – you learn new approaches and perspective on how “being in nature”, could be used for working with people, what kind of methods you could borrow and then introduce into you own work. But even more – it makes you question your own approach and style, reflect on what you use and not, and if not (or yes), then why? Sounds kinda philosophical and vague, but to my mind this sort of reflection is extremely important for your professional growth at a certain point.
Then, as a trainer working with individuals or groups of people, you may have a bunch of knowledge, methods and tools to use and share, but essentially you work “as yourself” – meaning that your “professional” personality is what matters the most.
And when you are in the outdoor project such as Eurohike, being with like-minded and professionally close people (who are same-same, but different) helps to reflect on one’s professional personal qualities, helps to make kind of check-up on what your strengths and pitfalls, look for skills, knowledge or even new areas for development and growth.
Besides, what I see from my personal experience, NGO people quite often are the ones in danger of burn out, and these type of outdoor hiking programmes provide both the option for professional development and prevention or even cure of the burn out. Even more, this gives us some sort of “the excuse” – we don’t just “spend nice time hiking and enjoying ourselves”, we learn, we grow, we bring things back to use in our daily work, for the people and communities in our countries. And vice versa – things we share with the others in the group will come back to the communities in other countries.
Last, but of course not least, every encountering with nature, every activity, introduced by another trainer, gives you a chance to understand yourself better, to discover some nuances about own personality, see yourself from a different angle.. basically, sort of a nature psychotherapy in a way.
I might apologise again, if it didn’t sound specific enough – but how would you explain the feeling and thought, which kick you in a strong breathing exercise, after which you go up to the highest pick of Madeira, or the silent walk in the misty forest, which opens up your fifth, sixth and one-hundred-seventy-third sense? They don’t call it outdoor experiential learning for nothing – this is something you get and reflect from your own personal experience, and this is what you should try ,)
Written and signed in May 2021, in Jurmala, Latvia
by Renata Kalivod.