Story by Brittany Nouwen – Alberta Parks Seasonal Interpreter
Alberta Parks staff, Catholic Social Services and four volunteers from the University of Alberta Outdoors Club teamed up to host 55 Syrian Refugees at the Long Lake Centre near Athabasca this past weekend.
The first thing staff and volunteers notice about the refugees was that they were fearless. Coming from a place of uncertainty and imprisonment, these new Canadians reveled in the freedom that the outdoors provided and dove headfirst into the new challenges and experiences at the camp.
The purpose of the trip was to introduce some truly Canadian activities, such as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, and provide the newcomers with an opportunity to learn about and enjoy nature.
The team was surprised and inspired when the group tackled these new outdoor sports with enthusiasm and reckless abandon. There was no hesitation, no fear of embarrassment, just overwhelming enthusiasm to take part and get involved.
In addition to outdoor recreation, the group was also encouraged to become comfortable with their new environment through a night-time hike and a hands-on session with some native wildlife. Heading out into the dark many people were nervous about what they might encounter, but after listening to the sounds of the forest and hunting for wildlife tracks any uncertainty was forgotten and a second loop was quickly requested.
Given that some members of the group were uncomfortable with the idea of the animals out in the forest, Alberta Parks staff brought out a selection of furs that garnered great interest and many questions.
One young mother was especially interested in learning everything there was to know about each animal. As we dispensed as much information as we could she said, “This is so much knowledge, but I want to remember it all. I have a degree in Natural History and Geography and I love these things.”
As an Alberta Parks employee, the best part of my job is connecting people with nature. We were honoured to be a part of this experience and as we fell into bed with echoes of songs in romantic syllables we couldn’t understand and chants of “I love Canada!” each of us knew that we had witnessed something spectacular, something that will not be forgotten any time soon.
This special experience at the Long Lake Centre allowed this group of people to stretch their legs, both literally and figuratively, discover some things our great province has to offer and help them feel more at home in Canada.