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HEALING NATURE: CYCLING ALONG THE DANUBE RIVER – School on Wheels

On the 6th of may 2019 eleven students of the SMaC school embarked with their educators and some volunteers in a 5-day bicycle journey in the Wachau region of Austria. Starting from the medieval town of Melk, the group followed the course of the Danube river for 120 km, sleeping in Tulln and Krems am der Donau, before reaching Vienna for the final stay.

The “Non uno di meno” project, also known as “SMaC school”, was born from the experience of educators of the Community of San Martino al Campo, who, organizing educational project in Trieste’s public secondary schools, noticed some kids who did not fit in the traditional public school system. These kids have psychological or social problems which limit their ability to relate to classmates and teachers in a positive way. By creating a safe and positive educational environment, the hope is to reinforce the students’ confidence and to integrate them back into the public system once they get a secondary school licence. All these objectives are pursued by means of the educators’ ability to relate to the kids and to constantly support them, and thanks also to the educational approach of the school, which focuses its attention on learning trough practical experience and sees traditional tools like tests and grades from an empowerment point of view.

Namely, this journey through Austria’s countryside plays an important role in the educational path. Reaching a practical goal (cycle the 120km route to Vienna) is a way to boost self-confidence and determination, and can be seen as a metaphor of the whole project: educators and teachers sustain the kid’s personal effort towards obtaining an important goal, where the arrival in Vienna stands for the positive grade at the final exam. These five days are also a great opportunity to relate to classmates and adults in a positive and less formal way.

Although the historical and didactical aspects of the school trip were not neglected, as the group visited the Mauthausen concentration camp the first day and many Vienna monuments in the final day, nature stood as the prominent feature of the journey. Kids benefits greatly from the contact with nature, and the Wachau valley is a unique natural landscape with vineyards, woods and medieval villages. Big cities can offer beautiful architecture and historical places, but can also be stressful environments, especially for problematic young boys and girls. “Hiking in the nature always has a positive influence on them, natural landscapes infuse a sense of calm and freedom” says Daniela, member of the educators’ equipe.

The love of nature is shared by many of the project’s educators, and it expresses also in their private life activities (hiking, climbing and running in the mountains for example). This feeling makes It’s Great Out There and The North Face the perfect partners in giving young boys and girls of the “Non uno di meno” project the opportunity to explore natural landscapes, in the name of the shared belief that exploring the nature is exploring ourselves.