In conversation with Naturefriends
Irvin Mujčić is the founder and head of Bosnian Naturefriends – Oasis of Peace (Prijatelji Prirode – Oaza Mira), partner organisation (C-member) of NFI since 2019. In this interview he talks about his commitment, the challenges for the new organisation, and his plans and visions.
Prijatelji Prirode – Oaza Mira is one of our youngest member organisations. What are the priorities of your organisation? Which concrete activities have you been implementing in the past few years?
Prijatelji Prirode – Oaza Mira is located in Srebrenica, Eastern Bosnia, on the border with Serbia. The Balkans is a special European region in many ways: geopolitical, ecological, historical, etc. The Balkans is also a very controversial region, for example, Bosnia has the last European virgin forest and the most polluted city in Europe. However, we must not forget that this is also the European region where the first armed conflict after World War II took place, which led to a three-year civil war and many war crimes against humanity, such as the Srebrenica genocide. I myself belong to the generation we usually refer to as "children of war." We grew up during the war, our childhood was lost there. After the war, we inherited a completely destroyed country: not only in terms of infrastructure, but also spiritually and mentally.
The priority of our NGO is therefore to rebuild our country, from the infrastructure to the relations between the different ethnic and religious groups. The real question is how to achieve this. This is where the concept of nature becomes central as the basis for reconciliation. It is around this concept that we build all the different activities of our NGO. The region itself is rich in natural, human and historical resources and potentials that are not yet developed.
We started implementing sustainable tourism activities four years ago, first by creating a network with different families, and then by involving them in the development of trekking and hiking trails that connect the different villages. At the same time, it is very important to make people aware of the beauty of our land, but also how to protect it. That is why we have started to organize workshops with children on environmental education and voluntary actions to clean up green areas or historical monuments.
We also organize a program for schools visiting the Srebrenica genocide memorial on genocide and human rights education in connection with climate change and environmental education. Two years ago, we launched a new project called "Time of the Bogomils".
We are rebuilding a destroyed village in Srebrenica using ancient traditional methods and as many natural materials as possible. So far we have built four wooden houses and we are in the first phase of building a water mill. This village is the home of the Bosnian Naturefriends. The idea is to gather and promote the best environmental practices and develop new ones in order to build the most sustainable village possible.
How did you get in touch with Naturefriends and what was your motivation for joining the international Naturefriends network? What are your expectations? And how would you like to get involved in the network?
During the war, I landed as a refugee in a small town in the Italian Alps. Nearby, there is a group and a Naturefriends House. It was only in 2014 that I returned to Bosnia and two years later I was contacted by the Italian Naturefriends group with the idea of developing sustainable tourism and a Bosnian Naturefriends group. Their proposal was perfect because it gave a structure to develop ideas that were already there and so we started this adventure together. I personally love the history and courage of the Naturefriends movement. That strong decision to leave city life and go back to nature and try something new. We need something like that in Srebrenica, a radical decision to change the current situation.
I respect and I am interested in getting to know more about the Naturefriends Houses and local groups around the globe. We are still a small group under construction, but I think we can also have a special and interesting contribution to the Naturefriends movement.
The pandemic resulted in a sudden stop of international tourism, and there are still a lot of restrictions, that complicate cross-border travel. What are the consequences for your organisation?
The year before the pandemic, we had more than 4000 visitors, 95% of which came from outside Bosnia and Herzegovina. The first year of the pandemic meant a year without guests or visitors, which is a lot for an NGO that self-finances all its activities through sustainable tourism. But it gave us a lot of time to build our village.
For this year’s Global Naturefriends Days, Dutch Naturefriends Nivon initiated a solidarity campaign to collect donations for your initiative “Srebrenica – City of Hope”. This way, they show international solidarity in a very practical way and fill one of the key values of our movement with concrete action. What does solidarity mean to you? And how can/should solidarity be lived within the NFI network – and outside?
Solidarity is one of the most beautiful human concepts and acts. It simply means helping someone in a time of need. For more than 125 years, the Naturefriends has had the symbol of joined hands as its emblem, which is the way to show solidarity inside and outside the network: joined hands.
Omar Jammeh, Director of the Gambian organisation JUST ACT (Janjanbureh United for Sustainable Tourism and Community Training) – partner organisation of NFI since 2019 – is passionately committed to empowering young people and women in his home country and giving them prospects for the future. He tells us in the interview about the initiatives and projects that support this.
JUST ACT has been a partner organisation (C-member) of Naturefriends International since 2019. What was your motivation to get involved in the international Naturefriends movement?
Our motivation to be a partner in the NFI network emerged from the “Landscape of the Year” in The Gambia and Senegal and from being part of the preparations and implementation of nature hiking trails in both countries. NFI's approach and model became inspiring, especially in the areas of climate change and climate justice, as well as youth and women's empowerment.
JUST ACT stands for "Janjanbureh United for Sustainable Tourism and Community Training". So the focus of your work is the development of sustainable tourism and the training of young people. What exactly are your goals and what does your work look like?
In 2015 JUST ACT was registered as an independent organization with The National Youth Council The Gambia and Attorney General Chambers retaining the same main objectives as JUST ACT Gambia.
Our main objectives are to enable community-led development, to support accredited and non-accredited training through local organisations, thereby developing life skills and income opportunities, to make best use of local expertise in developing training, to enable responsible, sustainable and pro-poor tourism in Janjanbureh and surrounding areas for the benefit of the community while respecting local culture, traditions and the natural environment, and enabling economic revitalisation of rural areas to provide a thriving town for today's generation of students, curbing rural exodus, urban migration and illegal migration.
However, rural-urban migration is declining among the island´s youth as viable projects are currently ongoing and creating income for over dozens including females and migrant returnees from Sahara and Europe.
What is the potential of community-based tourism (CBT) in the Janjanbureh region? What does it mean for the region?
Community-based tourism has great potential and impacts on the lives of both locals and visitors to our community. In Janjanbureh, CBT has meant a lot to the players in tourism and its stakeholders over the past, respectively in the region.
In a precise and simple context CBT creates the following elements:
- Do – hands on experience of local life-not just taking photos
- Learn – the chance to learn something about local life and culture
- Feel – the experience stimulates excitement, interest, wonder pride, etc
- Share – experince with travel companions and local community members
- Benefit – local community members benefit from offering CBT tours
I believe that CBT is a unique model which can lead to a responsible and sustainable tourism development without compromise to environmental hazards or commercialization of local culture – and which maximises the benefits through active local participation.
What projects are you currently working on? To what extent has the Corona pandemic affected you and your work?
Currently, JUST ACT is embarking on two major projects ultimately to mitigate against ‘’Climate Change’’.
1. Poultry and slaughtering house (financed by ENABEL\RIEC):
The COVID-19 pandemic was a major setback for JUST ACT, but over time we were able to develop strategies to find a way to live with it and redesign a tourism-agriculture project that will help to create jobs and also to supply the local market with healthy and organic food. Poultry farming is emerging from the impact of COVID-19 in shifting to agro-tourism and developing an integrated agricultural concept taking into account the value-added chain. More information on the project can be found here: https://www.justactgambia.org/post/a-second-great-building-project-for-independent-just-act
2. Restoration of Mangroves (financed by Naturefriends Germany/German Government):
The mangrove project was born out of the fact that our communities are affected by erosion and salt intrusion due to human activities. Naturfriends Germany have funded the restoration of mangroves on 5 hectares land at Ballangharr in the Central River Region. Community members will be trained in mangrove management and nurseries through the network of youth and women's institutions. The project is planned for three years and the partners for the renaturation come from various environmental groups. (More information on the project can be found here: https://www.nf-int.org/en/about-us/naturefriends-news#Mangroven)
The border region of The Gambia and Senegal, where you are active, was awarded " Naturefriends Landscape of the Year" in 2018 - the first on the African continent. What has happened since then? What have the two years as "Landscape of the Year" achieved in the region, but also for JUST ACT itself?
The "Landscape of the Year" has created cross-border networking for communities in The Gambia and Senegal, especially for rural settlements, through the collaboration of youth and women. Most importantly, the Landscape of the Year has helped to restore our natural habitats by replanting trees, providing training on recycling or cookstove building, and also developing a walking trail in Janjanbureh and surrounding areas, for which young people are being recruited as guides.
Landscape of the YearSenegal/The Gambia 2018–2020
Interview with Omar Jammeh at the Tour d'Horizon in January 2018
Virtual Journey to Senegal & The Gambia 2021 (Day 4)
Since August 2020, IYNF has been led by two presidents: Pari resident in Italy and Lisa resident in Germany. In our interview they talk about their motivation for getting involved with Naturefriends, about their experiences with the dual leadership, and about their ideas for the future.
You took over the leadership of IYNF in the summer of 2020, in the middle of the Corona crisis. What was your motivation to take on responsibility for IYNF in this particularly difficult time? And what challenges have you had to overcome so far?
Lisa: During 2018 I have spent a European Voluntary Service in the IYNF Secretariat. Thereby, I learnt about history, values, network and workflow of the organisation and had a chance to shape my competencies within an international Youth NGO. The non-formal education approach during activities brought focus into my passions: care for nature and people. After the EVS I continued in IYNF as Vice-President for the sake of further stabilising and structuring the workflow in the organisation. Combined with my interests in personal development, a healthy lifestyle, living with the rhythms of nature and sharing intercultural knowledge together with the committed team of Naturefriends I developed the Erasmus+ Youth Worker Mobility “Health & Wellbeing through Nature-based Methods'' (HWNM). The training course will take place in May 2022.
My motivation to stay involved in the IYNF presidium as president wasn’t connected to the pandemic. I saw the need to go on as part of a strong and diverse team to continue establishing effective working structures and develop a motivated team spirit. The pandemic showed that IYNF is ready to widen its expertise in digital education, which besides all the COVID management that the Secretariat had to carry out had an added value to the organisation. I think that the biggest challenge to overcome – and we are slightly getting out of this rabbit hole – was to keep the IYNF presidium and volunteers motivated. The digital connection is an effective addition to youth work but not substituting the benefits of physical interaction. Another challenge, which was catalyzed through the pandemic was to stay focused and present in times of uncertainty and change, and with it an awareness raised that we as young people still have a lot of influence in co-creating the reality in which we want to see ourselves.
Pari: When I first moved to Europe, I had no background in activism. When in 2016 I first was invited to the Gian-Gio national meeting with Italians, I had no idea what political activism and civil responsibilities are. My motivation for being president of IYNF now is born exactly at this point. I would like to fight for getting a more neutral and inactive youth to find the right family with nature-friendly values to fight for our planet.
My experience with this first-time dual leadership system, so far, is very positive. At least from my side of the spectrum, it is a very functional structure, especially when it comes to task decisions and time management. We had so far some very interesting informal online meet-ups during the pandemic times and this helped a lot to stay in line with our connection as presidents.
Pandemic? Yes! It was indeed very difficult. Our presidium team has not yet passed a day together. We tried to keep our online meetings interactive to some extent and try our best to include any need and wish from every member to feel comfortable and motivated. Our secretariat also had a massive amount of lockdown and quarantine on their shoulders. All in all, I guess we were all coping with it well, and kept our energy high till the end of this season. Hopefully, with summer solstice ahead of us, we will get together and enjoy some non-screen time together.
What kept me motivated was the presence of other presidium members. It was important to see that everyone was trying their best to overcome this phase together. And well, it was the case!
How did you get in touch with Naturefriends? And what are your visions for the future of the Naturefriends movement?
Pari: In 2016, a friend in the university, told me about a Gian-Gio meeting. To be honest, after the meeting, I was immersed in nature, having met so many young people and especially having felt included in an Italian context (even if my Italian was not that good) for the first time was a blessing; and for the first time I experienced non-formal education. All these reasons of course, pushed me to be a more active part of the group.
Lisa: It is a longer story on how my path has led me to connect to the Naturefriends movement, but I’d rather tell it during a cup of tea together ;) The short story is that my former relationship has brought me to Prague and to make my living there I was searching for a meaningful working field that was connected to activities in nature and awareness on climate change.
As far as I know, IYNF is the first Naturefriends organisation with a dual leadership. How does that work in practice?
Lisa: The German Young Naturefriends (NFJD) also govern the organisation in a double leadership and the concept was actually inspired by a motion from NFJD at the IYNF General Assembly 2018. The idea behind the double leadership is to flatten the hierarchy in the leadership of the organisation. It helps to distribute representative tasks to more than one person. Another reason for the double leadership is to bring in more diversity into representive functions. To ensure diversity in the IYNF double leadership, its conditions for the constitution are that the persons are from different member organisations and that at least one of them is not identifying as male. In practice the double leadership keeps a closer connection to the Secretariat for strategic planning within the presidium.
Pari: I think it is an opportunity. I must say, having Lisa on the same power position level allows me to have a person next to me when it comes to brainstorming or to discuss matters in advance. I enjoy my professional role next to her as much as I enjoy being her friend.
From a logistical point of view, it has been very helpful so far that you don't have to decide short-term legal-related issues alone, because there is usually another person you can ask for help.
Thanks to Fridays for Future, more and more young people are raising their voices and demanding responsible action – both from political decision-makers and from their parents' and grandparents' generation. Yet far too little is happening to slow human-made climate change and transform our economic system towards sustainability. What is needed to bring about change? And how can NGOs like Naturefriends contribute?
Pari: I am happy that this question starts with mentioning the Fridays for Future movement. During my last years being a climate justice activist, I have gained more and more knowledge on why protesting is becoming a must. Being individually ecological and carbon emission-free helps but it doesn’t go far when it comes to the fast change we need. Well, what do I think Naturefriends can do? Reach out to youth! Via non-formal and informal education we can achieve a lot for climate justice and climate education. Our organization with its grassroots structure, is perfect for advocating in small towns and villages as well as in big cities. Reaching out to youth by giving the young people enough power for activating them is the first step.
Lisa: The change comes from our own mindsets. When we start cultivating habits that are supporting a healthy lifestyle, we start to live according to the rhythms of nature and might be able to learn about what it really needs to be a happy human being. It is connected to build a value based foundation of how reality should look like so that we are happy. Furthermore it is about self-empowerment, responsibility, and choice to make a difference. If we decide to first become role models of the way of life we also expect others to live, then we have to step into this role. And with that it will be likely that community is happening, that like minded people gather and build new majorities for change.
Change is not about you and me or they and us – change is about integrating what is and transforming it. This process has the power to attract different systems, be it the economic, health, social or digital system. Once we are opening up for self-responsibility and thus self-love, we will see that all the small choices within individual change are interconnected. We just need to believe in and serve life.
Naturefriends organisations can support this paradigm shift of conscious co-creation by contributing to its community with activities that are focusing on the deeper levels of individual’s engagement. The aim is to support young people reconnecting to their true selves so that they become aware of their purpose by developing methodological frameworks that reconnect us to ourselves and to the environment.
Susi Raub-Vogler has been International Secretary of Nature Friends California since 1999 and represents her organisation within the international Nature Friends network. In this interview she talks about her motivation, her work for Nature Friends and her visions for the future.
You have been playing an active role with the Nature Friends in California for many years – why did you get involved with Nature Friends and what made you decide to become involved in our movement?
Ultimately, I must thank my parents for my involvement in the California Naturefriends, who emigrated from Germany to San Francisco in 1960. Their need, to find reprieve from big-city culture shock, led them to t he “Nature Friends Tourist Club” of San Francisco that was established in 1912 by Austrians and Germans. My parents rejoiced in finding what felt like a connection to “the old country” in a beautiful setting that reminded them of the Black Forest.
I was born into the club and have been a lifelong member. My father was the Naturefriends California International Secretary for 28 years until I assumed his position in 1999. It was natural for me to continue in his footsteps, as I enjoyed the wonderful benefits of growing up in the Naturefriends organization and under his international experience. I strongly believe, in order to foster any and all healthy environments, we must encourage healthy human activities and community, and this is what the NF promotes. Through such community we can motivate people to help preserve what we value so greatly – our natural environment and friendship. The enrichment I have gained from the Naturefriends has been invaluable!
Naturefriends have very diverse focuses in different countries. Many groups organise leisure-time activities for their members and run Naturefriends Houses. For some organisations, policy work is also a focus – from lobbying for strong nature and environmental legislation to working for peace and human rights. What are the priorities of your organisation?
The priorities for our organization are exposure to nature and the preservation of it through access and awareness, to provide community for wellbeing, and to continue and share our cultural traditions of the founders per their mission statement. Over time our organization has become multifaceted in people and activities. Each one of our Naturefriends houses has acquired its own atmosphere and culture that adds to our club diversity and interest.
My roll mostly involves networking within the club and occasionally with outside interests. I have also organized and run activities. Additionally, my experience with the Naturefriends encouraged my work as an outdoor and environmental educator.
Due to the long travel distance to Europe, where we normally host our international conferences and encounters, it is hard for you and your colleagues to participate on a regular basis. Do you nevertheless perceive yourself being part of an international movement? And what does “Internationality” mean to you?
Well, Zoom meetings have proven to be a great benefit since the various Naturefriends countries can meet virtually and share their initiatives; with the added bonus of reduced environmental impact! I feel, in these increased climate awareness times, we more or less are part of an international movement. Internationally, we are connected by environment, by atmosphere, by oceans ... “Internationality” can be perceived as the drive of the international climate movement, which is at the forefront of current events. We are all affected and connected – all nations are more or less impacted by one another’s actions.
On a NF organization level, we are a non-political faction of the original Naturefriends, but as individual members, we take an interest in international hopes of reducing our looming global climate and human crises, not to mention all the other impacted species on earth. I am confident that the NF is a vehicle of solidarity, aiding “societal discourse” for our planetary crisis movement that can’t progress fast enough. We, as members of the Naturefriends are the ideal group to encourage rise to the climate movement. Individually, in any moment, we can make wiser decisions, as well as a collective. The pandemic has provided valuable introspection into society and its fundamental need to care for things, especially humans that will lead to better care for our habitat.
At the beginning of the pandemic, solidarity – one of the core values of Naturefriends –was a central topic in the societal discourse in Europe, but as the crisis has continued, it has moved more and more into the background. What is the situation like in your country? And which role can NGOs like Naturefriends play in making this value a reality?
Solidarity in the US was compromised under our previous administration due to the chaos it created. I think there is an inherent disadvantage to acquire solidarity in larger populations. I also think the loss of solidarity is symptomatic of distrust regarding a new challenge in society such as the pandemic. NGOs like the Naturefriends could be instrumental in generating “societal discourse”. Membership involvement leads to collaboration and to a potential “critical mass” to make a difference. I’m hoping the pandemic gave us enough pause to recognize the unsustainable and unhealthy pace of life we are living, and that we need to re-evaluate our societal goals and realize the existential threat that we have unnecessarily brought upon ourselves and to the rest of our planet. Although, our earthly problems are huge and complicated, we can find hope and purpose in way of care and love.
Clara Wengert is a member of the Board of Naturefriends Germany and since the XXIV NFI Congress in 2020 also Vice-President of NFI. In this interview she talks about her motivation for getting involved in Naturefriends work and her ideas for the future.
You have been engaged with Naturefriends on different levels for many years. How did you get connected to Naturefriends? And what motivated you to become actively involved yourself?
My first contact with Naturefriends was when I was four years old and took part in regular meetings of a children's group in my neighbourhood. Through the group, I was able to take part in various holiday camps in Germany and abroad as a child and later as a teenager and I gathered many memorable experiences. Through my participation in the national conferences of German Young Naturefriends, I was unexpectedly given the opportunity to influence the framework conditions of such camps for other children and young people by taking over the leadership of the Advisory Board for travel and sports. Two years later, I took over the federal leadership of the German Young Naturefriends in a dual position, before I was elected to the Federal Board of German Naturefriends in 2017.
What drives me in my voluntary work are the ideas and values of Naturefriends, the comprehensive understanding of sustainability in its dimensions and the need to shape society in the framework of the socio-ecological transformation.
Until 2016, you were in a leading position of German Young Naturefriends. As the executive director of the “Bundesjugendring” (German Federal Youth Association), you are responsible for youth issues in your professional job, too. What does successful youth work entail for you and where do you currently see the greatest opportunities and challenges – especially in view of the Corona crisis?
For me, successful youth work means an active youth association that implements the topics of the Naturefriends movement in an independent and self-organised way. The crucial factor is active youth work on the grassroots level that gives young people the opportunity to shape their environment, represent their interests and have fun together through regular group work, holiday camps or campaign work.
The Corona crisis is taking away the very important diversity of formats from active youth work. Contacts can be maintained in the short term via digital events, but normal youth work is not possible. The current challenge is therefore to keep groups alive and to develop offers for young people despite all the difficulties. At the same time, the pandemic with its restrictions forces us to set new priorities. It offers the opportunity to rethink our way of life and pushes politics and society to implement urgently needed changes in the direction of a more environmentally friendly way of life. Social problems such as poverty, precarious employment or unequal opportunities are also being exacerbated by the crisis and are thus increasingly coming into political focus. Perhaps we will succeed in changing course towards a more solidary society.
Naturefriends Germany are very active on an international level, e.g. within the network Naturefriends Global. How important is internationality for you in connection with the Naturefriends movement?
Internationality is a basic component of the Naturefriends movement. Since the founding of Naturefriends, international activities have taken place at all levels of the movement. Many local groups have direct contacts with local groups in other European countries, but also in African countries or in South America. Especially the activities with our partners in Senegal, Togo and The Gambia are currently an important pillar of the work of Naturefriends Germany. The desired cooperation at eye level enables a very active international exchange on both sides, but also offers a visibility of Naturefriends within Germany in this thematic field.
Solidarity is one of the core themes of Naturefriends. We try to contribute to international solidarity with several concrete initiatives, such as the Landscape of the Year in Senegal and The Gambia or the various Climate Fund projects, and we also campaign for solidarity at the political level. At the beginning of the pandemic, solidarity was also a central topic in the societal discourse, but as the crisis has continued, it has moved more and more into the background. What role do NGOs like Naturefriends play in the current situation in your point of view? And how can we effectively contribute to more solidarity right now?
It was indeed remarkable that the media and society focused on global developments and a lot of international solidarity was noticeable at the beginning of the pandemic. It was always clear that such a pandemic can only be overcome together. Unfortunately, this focus was soon completely lost. Closed borders and suspended train and flight connections even to our neighbouring countries would have been unimaginable just a short time before.
I think that NGOs currently have an important function as societal actors. They draw attention to the situation and demand political solutions. Naturefriends therefore continue to make offers to their members – even if increasingly in the digital space. They make it clear that incidence figures must not be the only issue and that solidarity must continue to be in our focus in the national and international context. When states retreat more and more to a national way of thinking, we as Naturefriends must keep putting our finger in the wound. Even if personal encounters are not possible at the moment, solidarity within one's own Naturefriends group is possible on a personal level, e.g. through telephone campaigns or support in everyday life.
In the international context, our top priority now is to keep existing structures and programmes alive, to remind policy makers and stakeholders that national ways of thinking will not lead to the goal, to ensure that we can get back on track after the pandemic, and to avoid that many things will be cut or simply will not have survived the pandemic.
Wilfried Meulenbergs was elected Vice-President of NFI by the XXIV NFI Congress on 28. November 2020. He has been active for Naturefriends for many years – both for the Flemish association ATB "De Natuurvrienden" and on an international level. In this interview, the passionate mountaineer talks about his commitment and his ideas and visions for Naturefriends' work.
How did you get involved with Naturefriends and what made you decide to become active for our movement?
It was on a perilous hike in the Lechtaler Alpen (Austria) that I met my first Naturefriend, who advised us to follow a mountaineering training, in order to make the next hike a bit less adventurous. So, I ended up joining the Schulungskurs and Meisterklasse Eisgehen, at the Hochgebirgschule Glockner-Kaprun of Fritz Moravac. This was the start of an ongoing meeting of great Naturefriends and exploring of wonderful mountains all over the world.
After finishing my mountain-guide education in Switzerland, I joined the Belgian Naturefriends and became their trainer and eventually their technical leader. As mountaineering already had taught me the joy and advantage of international friendships, I was glad when ATB-Natuurvrienden gave me the opportunity to have formal engagement in NFI, first as an expert for mountaineering and later as board member.
Naturefriends have very diverse focuses at national and regional level. Many groups organise activities for their members and run Naturefriends Houses. A central theme is also the political work for the concerns of Naturefriends – from nature and environmental protection to working for peace and human rights. What are your personal priorities?
I joined Naturefriends through my two main passions: love for nature (especially mountains) and joy in meeting people in different cultures. Within Naturefriends I discovered an extra dimension: the social one. Our “Berg frei!” really has struck me, and I now realise that these simple words and the shaking hands in our emblem, have a deep and very important meaning. Moreover, i learned that my passion for mountaineering and travelling, cannot be lived without respect for nature and people, and that sustainability is the keyword for our future. So, the trainings and expeditions that I help organise within our organisation, are not at all just about “mountaineering”, but are about nature, sustainability, respect, solidarity, …
And there lay my priorities in working with people in the framework of our activities: let them enjoy the good simple life, close to nature, helping each other on the track, friendship and solidarity being so much more important than reaching a summit or any prestigious goal! In this, we Naturefriends are a unique “brand” within the outdoor business, our mission is not to gain more money, get more members, but share our strong values with our participants and members.
Internationality and solidarity are central values of the Naturefriends movement, which also distinguish us from many other "leisure organisations". What does it mean for your association ATB "De Natuurvrienden" to be part of an international movement? And how are the traditional values of Naturefriends perceived by your members?
I keep on hearing (and reading in evaluation forms) from participants, that what they experience in our activities and trainings is really different from what they experienced in other leisure organisations. Mountaineering tends to have a lot of machismo, competition, and would-be-heroism in it. None of all these are in our activities. Our trainers are “guides at the side”, instead of rope-pulling machos. Our groups stick together, help each other. We cook healthy (and together) on our camps, we camp environmentally clean, we do not exploit nature but respect it while being in it, … Again and again, people become enthusiastic guests in Naturefriends Houses, even after only one night in one of our beautiful houses of our international network. And once they hear, we have (Nature)friends in Africa and even at the other side of the ocean, they just marvel and feel happy to join this movement that works towards a better world to live in.
COVID-19 has severely restricted the work of Naturefriends in recent months. Many Naturefriends Houses had to be closed, joint trips and other activities cancelled. Unfortunately, an end of the pandemic is not yet in sight. What particular challenges and opportunities do you see for Naturefriends in the current situation?
Even though me, my family and friends also suffer from the loss of possibilities, due to the corona-restrictions, I see it also as (one more) wake-up call: we are vulnerable, the capitalist paradigm of growth is NOT at all sustainable. Even in this crisis, we see again the merciless “Matthew Effect”*: the most vulnerable suffer the most, hand-workers lose their jobs, the most educated can work from home, the West buys vaccines at any price but poorer countries stay behind, in the refugee camps on the islands people live in ever worse situations, …
So again, we Naturefriends have to stand in the line for more solidarity and sustainability. It will need some out-of-the-box thinking, not to restart our activities in a “business-as-usual” way. It needs thinking and planning: How can we open our activities more for the vulnerable of today (in Belgian migrants and refugees, and especially the so-called “sans-papiers” are the number 1 vulnerable)? 100 years ago, our founders worked to get the deprived workers “out of the dirty factories and towns” to let them enjoy nature: today other groups are deprived. Why not for example open our houses for them following and remembering our “Berg frei!”?!
* Matthew, 25,29: “Those who have, will get more. Those who have none, will be taken…”
Ursula Vetter has been part of the NFI board team as Vice-President since the XXIV NFI Congress
on 28 November 2020. The German-born Ursula has been active for Naturefriends Italy for many years and talks about her plans and ideas for the international Naturefriends activities.
Ursula, you have been involved with Naturefriends Italy for many years. How did you come to Naturefriends? And how did it come about that you now also want to work for Naturefriends on an international level?
I got to know the Naturefriends movement right after my arrival in Italy in 1998. At that time I came from Paris, where I had been teaching at a Waldorf school for more than 10 years, and I felt more attracted to culture than to nature. As partner of Luciano Busdraghi, for whom the Naturefriends House Gran Pino and the Naturefriends movement were the centre of his life, Naturefriends also accompanied me during my integration in Italy. After the birth of our daughter in 2005, I first began to know and appreciate the importance of a stable community, of living outdoors in direct contact with nature. Since 2017, I have been a member of the board of the Italian Naturefriends GIAN. One of our main goals is to bring the movement out of its "house-centricity" to a national level that can grow into a community beyond geographical and sociological differences. From the beginning, I was inspired by how the Italian local groups are involved in partnerships with people from America, Africa and the Balkans - as well as the fact that the Italian movement was created because of the initiative of the French Naturefriends.
Friendship, partnership, international encounters are at the heart of the international Naturefriends movement. This is also where I feel at home as a German who considers France a home and has now lived in Italy for over 20 years. Another step towards NFI for me was the meeting with the International Young Naturefriends in the Naturefriends House Gran Pino in Cecina in 2018. We were all impressed by the dynamic, committed, warm, international atmosphere that these young, enthusiastic people brought with them.
Naturefriends have a very diverse focus at national and regional level. Many groups develop attractive leisure activities for their members and/or run Naturefriends Houses, others focus on political work, although here too the topics vary - from nature and environmental protection to working for peace and human rights. What are your personal priorities?
In recent years I have become increasingly aware of the importance and relevance of the Naturefriends logo of two different coloured hands meeting in a firm handshake. The others are different, but in the encounter lies the solution, in respecting, acknowledging and supporting each other. Respect for the environment, but also a respectful encounter with fellow human beings, these are the core values of NFI to which I feel connected and committed. This is no longer just about the mountains and Europe, but about the whole world - the sea is also free!
My personal priorities certainly lie in respectful encounters. This can of course take place on trips, in seminars and suchlike, but it is put to the test in Naturefriends Houses in particular, where people from different backgrounds and with different interests meet. This respect on a small scale, in the microcosm of Naturefriends Houses, is mirrored on a large scale in the macrocosm of the globe. We live in a global world. The fact that this is not shaped by multinational corporations but by exchange, cooperation and mutual support is also due to us and especially to an organisation that works on a local and national as well as international level.
COVID-19 has severely limited Naturefriends' work in the past year. Activities in nature were often only allowed alone or with families, Naturefriends Houses had to be closed, joint trips cancelled, meetings were often only possible on a virtual level. The future is uncertain, but it is clear that the pandemic will be with us for a long time. What role do you see for NGOs like Naturefriends in the current situation?
Especially in the current situation, it is important to create moments of human encounter as often as possible and to use all niches to make them possible. Outdoor activities are allowed in many countries, we have learned to deal with mask, distance, and hygiene measures. Wherever we see an opportunity for people-to-people encounters, we should seize it, locally, nationally, and internationally. We have learned to communicate with each other in a virtual way and in many cases this has even led to an intensification of contact. However, we must not be deceived, this way of communicating leads people into increasing isolation.
With more than 350,000 members, the international Naturefriends network is one of the largest NGOs worldwide. What unites us are our common values such as solidarity and global justice, which we bring to life with international activities such as the Landscape of the Year or the Naturefriends Climate Fund. Nevertheless, it is often difficult for us to reach individual members and motivate them to participate in international activities. Do you have any ideas on how to better succeed in involving the members?
One point is definitely direct information: every member should also be informed about NFI activities at the local level. Especially there, the current sanitation crisis has brought us a bit further, social media is followed more closely and direct contact with individual members is easier. However, as we are a movement based on local groups and the aim is to sensitise them, we should try to invite local groups to look beyond their house and their locality and feel part of a big movement. A first step could be partnerships between local groups of different countries; mutual visits, joint actions lead to personal contacts, create an awareness of belonging to the same "family" and therefore also being interested in the concerns of this family.
In the village of Finkolo in the south of Mali the construction of a storage hall for agricultural products was completed a few weeks ago. The new storage hall, which was financed by donations from the Naturefriends ClimateFund, enables hygienic storage of agricultural products. Moussa Traoré, President of Naturefriends Mali, tells in an interview why the storehouse was needed so urgently, how the population in Finkolo reacted to the project and how much can be achieved even with comparatively small projects.
The Naturefriends Mali have been active in Finkolo for many years and support the regional agriculture, which is specialized in the cultivation of vegetables. Why was a storage hall needed?
Moussa Traoré: Due to climate change, periods of drought are increasing. There is no longer a regular rainy season, sometimes there is a complete crop failure. In the new storage hall, the agricultural products can be stored for a longer period of time - so people can survive periods of drought better and market their agricultural products better and with fewer losses.
The project in Finkolo was implemented very quickly thanks to numerous donations from European Naturefriends. What does the project mean for the people in Finkolo? What were the reactions from the population?
I take this interview as an opportunity to thank the donors, the European Naturefriends. At the beginning it was not foreseeable whether, given the security situation in Mali, the construction of this storage hall would be financed. Thank you for your trust!
And now to your question: For the people of Finkolo the project means help, support and a contribution on the way to sustainable development. The realization of this project has aroused joy, satisfaction and great commitment among the population. People are sure that agricultural products are now better protected against the negative effects of global warming. They will be even more motivated to work in vegetable cultivation, their main source of income. I can promise you that the effects of these various projects will have a positive impact on the agricultural productivity of these committed women!
I would like to thank all naturefriends for their donations in favour of a population that needs them so urgently. These donations are a strong help for the recipients, motivate them and give them much hope.
In Europe most people do not know much about life in Mali. What is it like working for an organisation like the Naturefriends in your country? What are your priorities?
Our organisation 2ADIB-MALI/AMIS DE LA NATURE is an association whose work is regulated by its statutes and rules of procedure. The Board of Directors, which is appointed by the General Assembly as the supreme body of the association, determines the priorities of the work at several meetings per year.
We work in the humanitarian field, in the protection of nature and the environment, wherever safety is guaranteed in Mali. Our work priorities concern:
- nature and environmental protection
- commitment to sustainable development
- Poverty reduction
- commitment to primary school attendance for all
- organisation of work assignments for volunteers from all over the world to promote ecotourism
You have been active as President of Naturefriends Mali for a very long time. What motivates you especially for your activity?
Three concerns motivate me for my activity as main actor of Naturefriends Mali:
1. to fight against poverty
2. to combat climate change as a threat to our society
3. to give joy to those who need it by supporting them.
In general, where necessary, I want to put myself at the service of society! My grandfather used to say at night by the fire: "My boy: always take good care of yourself, make your contribution wherever necessary, enjoy this beautiful life, because it is short, and try not to die a meaningless death."
Kostas Foteinakis | President Naturefriends Greece
Kostas Foteinakis was one of the founding members of Naturefriends Greece and has been the President since 2012. In his interview, he highlights projects Naturefriends Greece are working on and how they deal with the difficult economical circumstances in the country.
How long have you been part of Naturefriends, what is your role and why did you become involved?
I am one of the founding members of Naturefriends Greece (NFGR), that is, since 2007. A year later, in 2008, the NFGR became a full member of the NFI. At that time, I was chairing a local ecological group and we wanted to get in touch and cooperate with a European or an international environmental organisation, because we believed that major environmental and social issues, such as climate change, human rights, the right to work and education, democratic, sustainable and equitable development, the preservation of the world's cultural heritage and biodiversity must be addressed not only at the local or national level, but at the EU and international level as well.
In 2007, we conducted research into environmental organisations that have both social and political specificities and we found that NFI meets our requirements. In 2007, the process was initiated by other organisations in our country to set up the NFGR. So, we contacted them, and I signed as a founding member - this was the legal formation of the organisation. From 2008-2012 I was a Board member and since 2012 I chair the organisation.
The reasons that triggered my participation in the NFI in 2007 remain the same until today, while other reasons have already been added, for example, migration, the rise of the extreme right, etc.
Naturefriends Greece is one of the smaller organisations, yet one of the most active ones especially on Social Media. How important is the international network for your work and how do we support one another online as well?
Working with NFI and making use of the positions, suggestions, etc. of the organisation are particularly useful to us. Many of the NFI announcements, resolutions and press releases are translated into our language. Two recent examples are; a) Human rights matter - also in tourism!, and b) the resolution of the last NFI conference " Climate change is the real threat, not migration!”.
We have also translated the recent GREEN 10 EUROPEAN ELECTIONS MANIFESTO https://bit.ly/2x4i02G and the Berlin Declaration on “Transforming Tourism” (Summary) https://bit.ly/2N0bMMl. We believe that if there was no cooperation between NFI and NFGR, people in Greece would not have gotten to know the MANIFESTO, the Declaration and many other related useful documents.
Significant "tools" for our action and for the formation of our positions, in my opinion, are the following NFI documents; (a) The Manifesto for a New Europe, 2007, which is still current, apart from the position that it had at the time when it was written in favour of the European Constitution, and b) The Climate Chapter, 2008. Both of these documents have been translated into our language.
At the same time, the NFGR collaborates with other organisations and European networks. One of these is the Seattle to Brussels Network / S2B on matters of the European Union's trade agreements with other countries or groups of countries, such as the trade agreement between the EU and Canada, the CETA.
Greece has been through tough years, with the economy struggling and massive financial cuts. What are the consequences for an organisation like Naturefriends? How did you overcome those obstacles?
It is a fact that the economic cuts and harsh measures have partly affected our organisation. What has played and still plays a role in every group and organisation, and not only in the NFGR, is the uncertainty about their future and the other priorities that society sets to survive, such as unemployment (from 27% happily declined to 19%), debts to banks threatening to get even the only-home, the welfare state, the refugee crisis, pensions, and so on.
However, even in times of intense political and social crisis, the interest of Greek citizens in the environment, as recorded in EUROSTAT's surveys, is one of the highest in the EU, although there is a difference between expressing interest and acting.
The NFGR under these political and social circumstances, first of all, reduced members' contributions by 80% to special categories of unemployed, underemployed, etc. At the same time, we have developed solidarity actions, not only towards our members, but also towards those in need. The unfavourable climate influenced, but did not suspend, the functions of the NFGR - however, we, the leadership group, developed a feeling of responsibility and contribution, something that is reflected to our action as well.
Naturefriends Greece focuses especially on political work. Which areas are you most active in and why are they important to you as a Naturefriend?
The NFGR has voted for the 2018-2022 Operational Program under the title "The future belongs to those who prepare it today". This is a well-known phrase by the African-American activist for political rights, Malcolm X. (the summary is available in English http://joom.ag/LF4Y).
We are more active on the following topics:
- We participate in public consultation on draft laws relating to the environment and to other issues such as tourism, sustainable development etc. We make use of our volunteers to prepare the proposals. The most recent intervention is for the Energy Planning and Climate Change. This action is not particularly visible to society and apparently unknown to NF members in Europe and around the world. These interventions have not only legal and technical characteristics, but a social background as well.
- NGFR is the main coordinating power to the STOP TTIP CETA TiSA movement and the social media administrator for this movement (Blogs, Facebook etc).
- We participate as members of the Civil Society in Parliament's special committees on environment and trade.
- We support the major struggles against gold mining in Halkidiki and hydrocarbons across Greece.
- During the World Days we show our positions through activities that we organise - we do not consider them a panacea, instead, we use this occasion to promote our positions. Usually, we organise outdoor visits to parks and natural spaces, for example we organise walks during the World Wetlands Day, World Mountains Day, etc.
- We take advantage of the 17 SDGs, despite the fact that many people in our country consider them to be in a “wishlist”. We promote them and we claim them.
- Our great weakness is a) the small number of members and, by extension, the lack of financial resources, b) the lack of youth, etc
- Our great strengths are our members, volunteers and partners.
On the occasion of the interview, I would like to inform you that the NFGR is implementing, alongside the other actions, two programs; a) the Less Waste - Better Life (the reduction and ecological management of urban waste may be the biggest and most complex problem in our country), and b) the “Go to West - We Discover West Athens”, which includes guided tours in a degraded area with significant historical trails, a workshop on sustainable development and a city guide. For these topics we will come back with a newsletter specifically addressed to NFI members around the world.
Finally, I would like to inform the NFI historic members, who have a picture of the NFGR, that we have managed to recover the status that we lost between 2010 - 2012 and that, methodically and stressfully, we will keep on struggling to protect and promote nature, biodiversity, and the cultural heritage, by participating in networks of citizens and institutions in Greece, Europe and around the world.
Simon Neal | National Secretary Friends of Nature UK
Hello everyone and Greetings from the Scottish Borders! My background is in geographical sciences and have spent the last 20yrs working in the tourism and sustainable living field. Interests include hiking, nature, travel and ways in which we can tread lightly on the planet. I've been involved in Friends of Nature for some 15 years now, initially as Environmental Rep and for the last 9 years as National Secretary.
Simon, you have been playing a leading role in the development of Friends of Nature UK – what has been your main motivation?
A strongly held belief that Friends of Nature is a unique 'bottom up' grassroots organisation in terms of reliance on volunteers, the house network and commitment to the environment. Without being dramatic, I do feel that our movement offers a kind of strategy or framework for everyday life. We can all try and make the world a better place through our daily actions and choices, whether in isolation or coming together as a group.
Friends of Nature UK is a small, but very active organization, with 4 core groups, 8 houses, members spread across the whole country – and it´s run on a totally voluntary basis.
How do you manage to strengthen cohesion within the organization? It is a challenge! We are a small group by European standards but are fortunate in having an enthusiastic core of members. At our house in Kirk Yetholm we have a committed band of volunteers who help run the place on a daily basis, in Norwich there is an historical cluster of some 80 members who meet regularly for walks and social events. We increasingly try and maintain a sense of group cohesion, retain and encourage new members via the internet and social media.
What are your aims and main activities? And what does it mean to you to be a member of the international Naturefriends movement?
Our overriding aims are to enable and inspire people to explore the outdoors, to appreciate nature and to engender a sense of 'stewardship' and responsibility of their lives and for the planet. We achieve this, albeit in our own small way, by providing communal places to stay (our houses) and meet and share ideas with others from all backgrounds of life. Sustainability is the latest buzz word... this is what we have been doing for years! Being a part of NFI adds the wonderful dimension of meeting and sharing views with others from different cultural sets. In the end we have so much in common.
What will be the biggest challenges in the next 10 years – for Friends of Nature UK and for the international Naturefriends movement?
Spreading the word about Friends of Nature/Naturefriends and what we stand for is perhaps our biggest challenge – not just to retain members but to actively reach out and tell others of what we do. I strongly believe that 'word of mouth' is the best form of advertising. If we all enthuse about the ethos of FoN, show what we have to offer and encourage others to join, we will flourish. NFI needs to provide the international platform to showcase the individual organisations, get our name out there to a new audience and provide the essential glue for binding us together.
On behalf of myself and Friends of Nature in the UK, we wish everyone Naturefriendly Season's Greetings and a healthy, happy and peaceful 2019.
Hynek Pečinka | President of Přátelé přírody z. s. (Naturefriends Czechia)
Hynek Pečinka, the President of Přátelé přírody z. s. (Naturefriends Czechia), talks about his participation in the "Naturefriends Sports for All" project and the many new ideas to be shared with members. He is also looking forward to the next international meetings with Naturefriends groups.
You have been active for Naturefriends Czechia for many years now. How did you find the Naturefriends movement and what was moved you to invest your time all those years? Can you tell us about your experiences with Přátelé přírody z. s. which impressed you the most?
I started my career in “green movements” already in 1990 as a boy scout and later on I joined young environmentalists. In 1995, I became a member of the Duha organization, which was by then a part of Naturefriends Czechia as its youth branch. There I volunteered at the beginning as a youth worker in my local group in Olomouc and ended as vice president of the whole national organization. By 2010, I felt I need a break or change from youth work and that is why I and several others founded an “adult Naturefriends” local group in Olomouc and started organizing outdoor and cultural activities for adults. Nowadays, the local group has 70 members and runs more than 60 events a year. Since 2010, I have been also active in the national board of the Czech Naturefriends and I have been trying to motivate our members to move things forward, cooperate and be more visible on the local, as well as on the national level.
I can remember several experiences, which show that my efforts bear fruit. In 2012, we started to organize a 4-day-long national gathering once a year and people met for the seventh times this October; happy to see their friends from other local groups and also some new faces. The nationwide Friends of Nature Day has been held also already for several years and makes us visible amongst the communities our local groups work in. But what impressed me most, was the bus trip to the kick-off event of the Landscape of The Year Upper Rhine which was connected with exploring the neighbouring parts of the three countries bound in the campaign: Germany, Switzerland and France. More than 50 Czech Naturefriends took part in it and spend their time together for more than a week, many of the friendships last up to now – and you know, personal attitudes are what makes every structure and also our movement stronger.
If you ask what moves me to invest my time in that kind of things – it’s simply my style of living, I like people and doing meaningful things for them and with them. And I also think everyone should leave something good for the others behind and give back what he/she once received.
Přátelé přírody z. s. is one of the smaller member organisations of NFI. What does it mean for you to be part of the international Naturefriends movement? How do you take part in the network of NFI – and how do you profit from it?
You see, being a part of any international structure means a lot of opportunities for everyone who likes to see the world around you from a different “flight level”. The fact that the Czech Naturefriends are a part of a larger “family” of similar-minded people with similar interests opens for us a door to mutual cooperation: travelling, meeting interesting people, taking part in decisions, which can influence us, and sharing knowledge. Simply said, it means doing things internationally together and learn from each other with respect to his/her specialities.
The motto of our association is “We are keen on nature, history and culture. We like influencing the world around us.” And being a part of the Naturefriends movement helps us to get new impulses and also to share our expertise in these fields of action.
This year, Naturefriends Czechia are participating in the Erasmus+ project „Naturefriends Sports for all“. The aim is to give member organisations tools so that they can develop outdoor sport activities for people with disabilities. In the spring and in the fall, you attended workshops about accessible hiking and climbing. What are you take back to Přátelé přírody z. s.? Which activities would you like to develop?
Most of our local groups are active in outdoor sports such as hiking or skiing, some of them already experienced having a person with disabilities as a participant of an outdoor event but it is a new topic for some of them. That is why we welcomed the idea of the project Sports For All, sent our participants abroad and promoted it amongst our local groups. We would like to share the gained knowledge in a weekend-long workshop in the upcoming year so that our organizers could be more open towards joined activities for people with and without disabilities and are more confident and prepared for the “what ifs” which may appear when organizing such events. As far as I know, there are not so many Naturefriends in Czechia who climb. Therefore, we will better to focus our workshop only on hiking.
In October, the Annual Conference of Naturefriends International took place in Vienna, where many ideas for future activities were discussed, as for example the Global Naturefriends Day in 2020 or the continuation of the Erasmus+ project. Which activities would be especially interesting for you?
I, personally, welcome all actions which make Naturefriends International not a platform of chiefs of the national associations but bring opportunities directly for the members. For example, the information that you can take part in a workshop with Naturefriends from other countries - and not being a delegate in a conference - is more perceptible for individual members if you are asked what Naturefriends International is good for. I would therefore prefer any projects focused on transboundary cooperation, change of experience or common campaigns with a tangible effect such as Global Naturefriends Day. This is more valuable than tons of position papers and declarations.
Sékou Kader NANAMOU | President of Naturefriends Guinea (ALUSFADE-GUINEE)
Sékou Kader NANAMOU is the President of Naturefriends Guinea, which started to implement the current Naturefriends Climate Fund project in October. He speaks about the project and about his work for Naturefriends Guinea.
Naturefriends Guinea just started to implement the current Naturefriends Climate Fund project in the biosphere reserve in the Nimba mountains. What is the goal of the project?
The project is supposed to increase awareness for climate change among the people of Guinea and especially the local community in the Nimba mountains. We inform the people and show them how the improved stoves work – that way they can see how they can work against deforestation and global warming.
In addition, the project will encourage the local administration and the finally the government to take measures against the consequences of climate change and to improve the existing ones. It is also possible to start partnerships to create synergies from actions and measures in other parts of the country.
How are the new stoves different from the old ones?
The differences are enormous! In comparison to the traditional stoves, less wood is needed, they heat up quicker and retain heat better, save time because the cooking time is reduced, they are more economic, support environmental protection (less deforestation), protect people’s health as they emit less smoke.
You have been the President of Naturefriends Guinea since 2006. Why did you run for this position?
It’s simple: Being Guinean I know that the socio-economic development is not only the government’s responsibility. Thus, we founded ALUSFADE-GUINEE, a non-governmental organisation. Since I have a university degree and management skills, I ran for the position of President of the NGO to support the sustainable development of Guinea – and maybe even the whole African continent.
ONG ALUSFADE-GUINEE is very active for climate protection. What do you focus on in addition? What does it mean for you to be part of the international Naturefriends movement?
Besides environmental protection, which includes many projects for climate justice, we are active in many additional areas: For example, agriculture, livestock, fighting illiteracy, health (especially regarding sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS), politics and human rights.
Being part of the international Naturefriends movement has many benefits: Exchanging experiences, financial possibilities, efficiency, leadership and success in our fight for a healthy environment for the people.
Hannu Puhalainen | President of Naturefriends Finland
Hannu Puhalainen, 66 years old, living in the city of Rovaniemi, is the president of the Naturefriends in Finnland, and he also acts as the chair of the local association of nature friends in Rovaniemi. As his home is in the Finnish Lapland, nature and trekking have been elementary parts of his life.
In this interview he talks about his personal motivation for his commitment to Naturefriends and about his ideas for the future.
Tyovaen retkeilyliitto, Naturefriends Finland, was founded in 1971 as a national sports association. What are your aims and main activities today?
We aim at strengthening our operations further, by arranging different activities and promoting the trekking and nature values in the way that people would get interested and start being active in issues concerning nature. We also want to increase the number of our local associations so that we could be present in all parts of Finland.
We coordinate and support the activities of local associations. We maintain our own cottages and rent them mainly to our own members. We publish a magazine which is the connecting link integrating our members and enhancing cooperation between associations.
What is your personal motivation to get involved with Naturefriends?
For me the major motivation is to meet people sharing the same values, being in the nature, enjoying the sounds and silence of nature, fishing, berry-picking, camp fires with coffee and sausage. I also enjoy helping and supporting other people to get connected with the nature.
Tyovaen retkeilyliitto is a small, but very active organization, with around 1.700 members.What does it mean to you to be a member of the international Naturefriends movement?
As a member of international naturefriends we get information and inspiration of events and trends in Europe. Today, Naturefriends are bringing also Africa’s nature and environmental issues closer to us. We hope that the international aspect is attracting younger people to join our activities. So far we have not been able to fully utilize this opportunity in our operations.
What will be the biggest challenges in the next 10 years – for Naturefriends Finland and for the international Naturefriends movement?
For us in Finland the major challenge is to attract young and active people to our organization, and to maintain the number of members at least at the present level.
For international Naturefriends movement, I think that it is important to find the balance between local and global. The shared, common activities should be interesting enough to attract a wide audience, and at the same time the local country organisations should see the benefits of global cooperation. Communication and interaction in joint projects could contribute.
(september 2018; the interview was translated from Finish into English by Hannele Pöllä, Coordinator of International Affairs at Naturefriends Finland)
Maritta Strasser | Executive Director of Naturefriends Germany
Since the first of July 2018, Maritta Strasser is the new Executive Director of Naturefriends Germany. She takes over from Hans-Gerd Marian, who will retire after his many years spent working for Naturefriends Germany. Maritta talks about her ideas and plans.
With more than 70.000 members, Naturefriends Germany is the second biggest member organisation of Naturefriends International. Where do you see your strengths and priorities for the future work?
There are so many activities within Naturefriends Germany: Sport courses, holidays, the Naturefriends houses, nature conservation projects, cultural programmes… Naturefriends do a lot and most of it with volunteers. I think this is really impressive. However, we are not known well enough. We should be more self-confident. We have a lot to offer! We should be more pro-active in asking the people who take part in our sport courses or visit the houses to become members
Where do you personally see the biggest challenges?
I would like to emphasize the need for growth for Naturefriends so we can lay the ground for a sustainable future. Thus, I would like to focus more on effective public relations work. I want to promote a change in culture within the association. I would like to make sure we are more open and inviting, especially to reach young people. Working together with the youth association is very important for me.
Naturefriends Germany see themselves as a “political leisure association” . What is meant by that exactly? And how important is political work for you – at the national as well as at the international level?
We are basically the campfire where people, who think that there is something fundamentally wrong in our country, come together: Nature is ruthlessly being exploited more and more, in order to accumulate wealth for only a few. We are powerless alone and can only create change together. Since not only nature, but also people need to relax, we not only fight together but also enjoy sport activities and free time together.
We are needed more than ever. The political parties have less and less answers to the challenges of our time. Their power is declining. Thus, it is up to the civil society to develop social alternatives – for a policy of isolation, for the redistribution from the bottom to the top and for the ruthless exploitation of our planet.
An important goal of the international work done by Naturefriends is to promote the values of our movement, as for instance international solidarity, and to actively contribute with for example the Naturefriends Climate Fund or the Landscape of the Year in the border region between Senegal and The Gambia. In your opinion, how important is international engagement for a movement like Naturefriends?
Personally, I think global engagement is very important for two reasons: First of all, climate change and depleted global resources know no borders – they are global problems, which can only be solved with an enormous global effort.
Second of all, solidarity is our core value and solidarity can know no borders, if taken seriously. Because exclusion and limiting support to certain groups of people is definitely not how solidarity works. Since we are all people, we are equal in rights and free. Our diversity is our treasure.
Ciprian Costa | President Naturefriends Romania
Ciprian Costa is President of Naturefriends Romania and recently attended an international Naturefriends workshop about creating accessible outdoor sport activities in Vienna. In conversation he talks about highlights in his work within the Naturefriends organisation and about his visions for the next years.
You have been active for Naturefriends Romania for many years now. How did you get in touch with Naturefriends and what made you decide to be so committed over the years? Can you describe the most impressive moments with Prietenii Naturii Romania?
25 years ago, while I was a student in Timisoara, I was a member of a mountain club, partner of NFI. I loved the “nature and culture” motto and all activities, but also enjoyed being a member of a “ big family”- Friends of Nature.
One of the most important moments was when Romania became an "A" member of NFI.
Other important steps: the prize for Cabana Codrin at the Climate Competition; Landscape of the Year – Danube Delta; 2 new associations Friends of Nature in Romania; introducing the Banat area in the project “Hiking Europe”; in 2017 we succeeded in a new way to keep records of all our members.
Prietenii Naturii Romania is one the small member organisations within NFI. What does it mean for you to be part of the international Naturefriends movement? How do you participate in the international network and how does that benefit you?
We are a small organisation which exists in the Western part of the country and we also have one NF house. Our members have contact with other NF organisations from Europe. We participated at workshops and seminaries and shared our experiences with the other members. When travelling abroad throughout the year, our members use as much as possible the NF houses.
This year, you are taking part in the Erasmus+ project “Naturefriends Sports for all”. The member organisations are given tools to develop outdoor sports offers for people with disabilities. The first workshop, where you were present as well, just took part in Vienna. Why do you think that project is so important?
I liked this idea from beginning and the first workshop in Vienna was extraordinary. Because these activities in nature for people with disabilities are quite new in Romania, we almost have no infrastructure for them. This was the first step for us to understand and learn more about what people with disabilities need and how we can fulfil those needs.
2028 – where do you see Naturefriends Romania in ten years? What is your vision, what are you excited about and which challenges will have to be overcome?
In 10 years? It will be a challenge for us to have at least 10 local organisations with more than 100 members each, 10 NF houses, and many more activities.
Mamadou Diallo | Secretary General of Naturefriends Senegal (ASAN)
Mamadou Diallo, Secretary General of Naturefriends Senegal (ASAN), expressed his excitement that ASAN will be right in the centre of the international Naturefriends activities when he gave his speech during the opening of the Landscape of the Year Senegal/The Gambia. In his interview with NFI, he explains how important this initiative is for the region and his association, as well as his visions for the future.
In your opening speech you expressed your excitement about the new Landscape of the Year Senegal/The Gambia. In addition to the many participants from the region and the neighbouring countries, more than 40 Naturefriends from Europe came to visit, in order to take part in the festivities and to get to know the area. What does this mean for Naturefriends Senegal?
For us, Naturefriends Senegal, it is a great honour and a token of friendship and appreciation that NFI is showing us. Putting the organisation of the “Landscape of the Year 2018/19” into the hands of Naturefriends Senegal, an African Naturefriends organisation, is a first within the history of the Naturefriends movement. You are giving us once more the chance to express our warm thanks to those responsible at NFI, as well as the participants from Europe and Africa – they have enriched the official opening of the Landscape of the Year with their presence.
Which parts of the region do you want to show visitors the most?
As you know, there many things to discover in Senegal, as it is a country with a rich biodiversity, many ecosystems, a lot of exceptional tourist attractions and a vibrant culture. In addition, the Senegalese are wonderful people, very hospitable and open, also because of their diverse ethnic backgrounds and languages. We created different eco-tours for tourists which we can warmly recommend.
In addition to the different geographical zones that our country contains, the Gorée Island is worth a visit, which reminds us of the slave trade and slavery that lasted for centuries. Other destinations are the Lac Rose lake, the different museums in the capitol, the art markets and the African Renaissance Monument. Those wishing to stay close to Dakar can visit the Bandia reserve and watch the giraffes, giant elands, different kinds of antelopes, monkeys, buffaloes and many other animals. They can also visit the seaside resort Saly and pass Poponguine on the way, as well as forests with Baobabs, the trees with many healing properties.
The tour through the North, offers visitors a chance to experience Saint Louis, the old capitol of Senegal and a world heritage, its historical monuments (hotel Mermoz, Faidherbe bridge, palace of the governor), the fishing village Goxxu Mbathie, the Langue de Barberie, the colourful and lively return of the fishers, the traditional villages of the Moors and Peulh and last but not least the Geumbeul reserve, as well as the bird park Dioudj, the third national bird sanctuary world wide with its thousands of birds and pelicans. People interested in religion, can visit Tivaouane, the capital of Tidjanisme, as well as Touba, the capitol of Mourisdisme and Kaolack, the capital of Niassènes… Everyone interested in great nature and culture should visit the regions Tambacounda and La Casmance.
For the Tour d‘Horizon this year we suggested to the Naturefriends to visit the border region between Senegal and The Gambia. Here, they can experience “Senegambia”, with its special eco-system – a geographical region with a high biodiversity, a vivid culture and fascinating people.
One aim of the Landscape of the Year is also to put concrete actions into place which should improve the life of the local community. What do you think is necessary, to make that possible?
The program should be aimed at protecting the environment, fighting against climate change, increasing biodiversity and especially at strengthening eco-tourism. Indeed, the plan is to plant trees that can be used in many different ways in the family gardens: Trees with many leaves to provide shade, fruit trees to fight malnutrition and to support the family income, trees for firewood and to stop deforestation, trees that can used by traditional healers for medical purposes – in summary a reforestation to bind CO2 and to fight against global warming and climate change. In addition, it is also a chance for the local population to visit their cultural heritage. Once you get in touch with the diverse population in Senegal, you will admire how rich and multi-faceted their culture is. According to African tradition and the Senegalese “Teranga” (hospitality), your hosts will teach you to dance Mbalakh, Yela, Ndawrabine, Sawrouba and much more, to the rhythms of the tamtam, kora, balafon, riti etc. With the Kankourang Festival in The Gambia the guardian spirits will come from the holy forest. Not only to dance and to welcome the Naturefriends, but also to help the “Landscape of the Year” succeed.
After the successful first tour through the Landscape of the Year, the next tours are already being planned. How important is tourism for the region and what is needed so that the community benefits from tourism?
Tourism is an economic factor that can benefit the people. It can be helpful to keep young people in the region and to minimise illegal emigration and its terrible consequences such as long odysseys, many lives lost in the desert and on the ocean and modern slavery in Libya and other countries. Yet, it is important to support the local population so that they can indeed benefit from tourism. Thus, it would be helpful to build tourist accommodation in the villages, to support local artists in selling their handicraft as souvenirs to tourists, to educate and employ women to work in agriculture, the processing of local fruit, vegetables and grains, as well as in the food service industry.
Naturefriends Senegal, as well as many other African Naturefriends organisations, has developed greatly as an organisation in the last years. What do you think was the recipe for success for a positive future of the Naturefriends movement? How important is the fact that our movement is international?
There is no one-size-fits-all solution. It is the work that counts. We have to realise that we, in my opinion, can profit from three main aspects: 1. The example of a wonderful man, the late president Alioune DIAGNE MBOR, who with his wisdom, foresight and his position in the community united the group and opened many doors for us. 2. Competent members who were committed and volunteered. 3. Reliable, generous partners who were just as committed as we are, as Naturefriends International, who were ready to support us and take up the challenge together. I personally do not regret to have asked Naturefriends France and NFI for a partnership with ASAN in the past. The fact that the Naturefriends’ movement is international is very important, as it expresses the common vision to work for environmental protection, against climate change, against poverty, for the support of eco-tourism and the international solidarity between the people, based on shared values, messages and specific initiatives. Your presence here, especially in times of worldwide
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conflicts, is definitely a way to increase mutual understanding and bringing people together in order to work for world peace together.
Manfred Pils | President of NFI
Manfred Pils from Austria was re-elected as President of the international umbrella organisation by the Congress of Naturefriends International in Lage Vuursche (Netherlands). The staff at NFI congratulates him on his re-election!
Manfred Pils shares his vision for the future of the Naturefriends movement and talks about current challenges, as well as his personal goals.
The 23rd Climate Conference has just come to an end in Bonn recently. In addition, the Congress of Naturefriends International was placed under the motto "Living climate justice! In solidarity towards a better future!". Climate protection and climate justice are also key issues of the international Naturefriends movement. What do you consider the biggest challenges in this regard and how can comprehensive climate protection be achieved? How would you describe a climate-just world? What can and will Naturefriends International do to achieve this?
Climate protection needs to deal with the core issues. This especially means the radical reduction of CO2 emissions in the western industrialised nations, as well as the emerging nations – in particular energy production, traffic, industry and heating.
The technologies already exist - we just have to use them, which will in turn benefit the economy. At the same time, we need to assist the people in the South – who are already strongly effected by climate change though they in no way contributed to it – to mitigate the detrimental effects of climate change. This means that reforestation projects, necessary structural measures to stabilise coastal areas, projects to ensure water supply and irrigation, as well as necessary resettlements need to be financed.
To achieve this, active solidarity at the international level is needed – which is exactly what NFI stands and works for. And of course us Naturefriends need to also actively work for climate justice, which we already do through a few projects – for example planting trees in Senegal and the Gambia, which is financed by the Naturefriends Climate Fund.
Naturefriends currently face many challenges. Core issues for many national associations are for example maintaining the Naturefriends Houses and adapting their offers for members to new social developments. At the same time, many national organisations struggle with the declining income from membership fees and national subsidies. What are your visions for a successful future of the Naturefriends Movement?
NFI cannot and will not tell its member associations what to do. However, our common basis is the sustainable use of our natural resources, experiencing nature together and internationality. We connect recreational experiences with dedicated services for a sustainable society. For me, that is what makes our movement special and what we should emphasize. We can convince people to join our movement through a modernised image, we can renew our movement sustainably.
What can Naturefriends International do to achieve those visions? Can you tell us more about your personal goals you set yourself as President of Naturefriends International for the next three years?
Naturefriends International is the figurehead for the Naturefriends Movement – very important to spread the movement. Our strength is the diversity of the Naturefriends, the creativity and the dedication of many volunteers. We would wish to support the exchange and enrichment, while showing that internationality is an important value within a global society – not only for the individual member but also for the political work of Naturefriends, as for example our activities for climate justice.
Especially now, in times when international politics is driven increasingly by national interests and the core values of our society are being questioned more and more, NFI needs the full support of its member organisations so we can speak with a strong voice and be heard. This will be at the heart of my work in the next three years.
Mag. Günter Abraham | Managing Director of Naturefriends Austria
Since the beginning of July 2017, Günter Abraham has been on duty as Managing Director of Naturefriends Austria. He followed Reinhard Dayer, who has led the association very successfully for 44 years.
In conversation with Andrea Lichtenecker, Günter talks about his motivation for his commitment to Naturefriends and his future plans.
You look back on a varied career. What motivated you to apply for the position of Managing Director of Naturefriends Austria?
I have spent a wonderful childhood in Styria, a beautiful Austrian region. My parents have always been living in tune with nature and have shared their enthusiasm with us children. Naturefriends inspire me as a movement, which has dedicated itself to the preservation of the environment as well as to sports activities in nature. In my previous professional activities, I have been working on sports and environmental issues. Both topics are of great interest to me. When the vacancy of the position of Managing Director of Naturefriends Austria was announced, I knew I had to follow my passion and applied for it!
Within the international family of Naturefriends, Naturefriends Austria is the association with most individual members. In times when many other Naturefriends associations are struggling with declining membership numbers, Naturefriends Austria has succeeded in keeping membership numbers at a stable level. Nevertheless, Naturefriends Austria also faces major challenges – what are your priorities for the next few years?
When I took over the position, I set myself some goals: I would like to make Naturefriends more attractive for all generations, especially the young ones. From my own experience I know how important it is to raise children's awareness of nature and nature conservation in their early years. I have often witnessed how much fun kids have when discovering and exploring nature! I will emphasize competence-oriented learning – learning outside, in nature and with nature.
In addition to cooperation with schools, a main focus of my work will be the preservation of alpine infrastructure. In Austria, Naturefriends take care of approx. 15,000 km of hiking trails and about 140 Naturefriends houses. The effort of maintaining this enormous network is almost unimaginable.
New climbing and bouldering halls, innovations in the technological field, educational offers for environmental and nature conservation issues, as well as modern methods in managing Naturefriends houses shall secure that membership in our association is desirable. We will achieve these goals through team spirit and cooperation!
Naturefriends are often perceived as a leisure and hiking association only. Formulating political positions is of different importance for the national associations of Naturefriends, and the topics vary from social policy and free trade to free access to nature for everybody. What are your ideas for the political work of Naturefriends?
We will continue to stand up for free access to nature for all population groups, irrespective of their financial circumstances. Conflicts between recovery seekers and landowners occur quite often. With our brochures and articles in various media, we will continue to communicate the legal basis and place demands whenever it is necessary. Thus, we stand up for the opening of all forest roads for mountain bikers – a legal standard that has already been reached in many neighboring countries!
Naturefriends will continue to safeguard the interests of people and nature. Free access to nature, including free access to the Austrian lakes, shall not be restricted but must be extended!
Naturefriends’ “Berg frei!” is a strong manifestation of rejecting all attempts to restrict the free access to nature.
In your first speech as Managing Director, you used a very beautiful African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together with others.” Team spirit is not only a central element of Naturefriends’ activities, but also the basis of cooperation within the international Naturefriends movement. What does internationality in relation to Naturefriends mean for you?
I am a committed European. I believe that international cooperation in a united Europe is a particularly important task. Just as we work together in families, local groups and communities, I would like to have cooperation of Naturefriends on the international level – in order to pursue our path together.
Urs Wüthrich-Pelloli | President of Naturefriends Switzerland
On 13 May 2017, Urs Wüthrich-Pelloli took office as president of Naturefriends Switzerland. The education policy-maker and former member of the cantonal government has big plans for his time as president. In our conversation, Urs talks about the reasons for his involvement with Naturefriends and his ideas for the future of the organisation.
You look back on a long political career. What made you get involved with Naturefriends now?
As a private person, I have been making a contribution to a sound environment for a long time, and I've been a member of the Naturefriends organisation since the 1980s. I have a triple connection to this association. A historical connection, because Naturefriends arose from the labour movement, where my roots are, too. A sports connection, for I'm committed to sports and I love to go hiking. And a connection of values, because I think that friends of nature also need to take responsibility for the latter.
Many people still perceive Naturefriends solely as a leisure-time and hiking organisation. Political work is of different importance to the various national organisations. At the same time, different topics are important at the national level - from nuclear energy over free trade to right of way. What are your ideas on Naturefriends' political work?
I think it is crucial for the Naturefriends movement to intervene in political issues on nature and the environment. I explicitly don't say that Naturefriends should become a political party or be instrumentalised by one. But Naturefriends clearly need to regain a political profile and position themselves as allies of organisations that champion sustainable development and stand up for "Friends of Nature".
The Naturefriends movement is currently experiencing difficult times. Many national associations have been struggling for several years because of decreasing membership figures and the loss of national funding - e.g. for the maintenance of their mountain lodges. How do you intend to counteract this situation at the national level?
The development of our membership figures and the ageing structure of various local groups bring to light the shortcomings in attracting the young generation that need to be made up for. Various sections successfully show that renewal in continuity is possible. I am confident that this success will be infectious.
A topic that is very close to my heart is to run our Naturefriends houses successfully and sustainably. This is where we need to combine the indispensable commitment of volunteers and the expectations of high professionalism.
And, as I mentioned before, the substantive profile and political positioning of Naturefriends Switzerland is a top priority. I consider our movement's depoliticising a disastrous development - a development that brings a loss of identity, profile and unique feature and which makes our guiding principles and values remain empty phrases and futile statements of intent.
In the past years, you held numerous international offices, such as the head of the Swiss delegation and the presidium of the Franco-German-Swiss Conference of the Upper Rhine as well as the representation of Switzerland at the Congress of the Council of Europe and at the Assembly of European Regions. How important is internationality for you - especially with regard to the Naturefriends movement?
I have repeatedly experienced cross-border encounters as enriching and an indispensable prerequisite for mutual understanding. It is only the exchange of different opinions and experiences and discussion about other perspectives that provide development and stability for our society. Especially in an ever more globalised world, movements such as Naturefriends need to join forces across borders and become strong networks if they want their voice to be heard by international decision-makers. Consequently, I welcome the work of NFI and I am looking forward to contributing to this commitment with my expertise.