Running We Talk Women provides my activist side some satisfaction but for a while now I have wanted a more interactive experience with the women I advocate for. I am a nature enthusiast and I wanted to bring my two passions together so I pitched the idea of connecting women to nature to my friend at a local shelter and to my surprise she responded very enthusiastically. It was a shot in the dark but it worked out. I went through some training, signed a few papers and then we set the date for our first walk.
I was really nervous and excited and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Is it going to be awkward? What do I say about why I’m here and subjecting them to walk with me? The first curve ball was that one of the women wanted to bring her baby. They were instructed not to but I wasn’t about to say no. As I said “okay, that’s fine”, I was panicking on the inside. The route I had planned was not stroller friendly. Thankfully Google maps saved the day and I found an alternate route. Crisis averted.
We gathered outside, I told them that spending time in nature is known to relieve stress and it’s good for your health. “Take some deep breaths and enjoy the fresh air,” I said with a big smile on my face and we were off. They kind of laughed, I think some were apprehensive but they were willing to give it a try. Five minutes into the walk, a few of them stopped to take a picture and soak in the view. I wanted to do a happy dance but I figured it might be premature. I did most of my walk with this one woman who calmed my nerves as she described the forests she hiked back home. Most importantly she taught me a few things about the type of women who might end up at a shelter. I always believed they were brave and courageous, what I wasn’t expecting was the openness and the friendly embrace. I’m so grateful to this woman for trusting me with her story and for giving meaning to my first nature walk with survivors.
I engaged a few other women in conversation and as they shared bits and pieces of their lives with me I became further invested in this program. There’s something about a walk in nature that encourages people to let loose and share their stories. But I have to keep my attachment to their stories and the women themselves to a minimum because by the time I come again, they may or may not be at the shelter anymore. And although I would like to get to know them better, leaving the shelter is something to be celebrated.
After that first walk I knew that this was the best idea I had ever pitched. After a few walks, one of them admitted to me, “When you come to get us and we go for the walk, it’s so easy. When you’re not here I never go, I want to but I don’t.” Success! Not all the women feel this way. Some are stressed about crying, hungry maybe even sick babies back at the shelter. They might ask me to cut the walk short and although I think these women still enjoy the time to talk to their shelter companions or me, some aren’t getting out of it what I had hoped. But overall the program is being well received.
When I set out to run this program I didn’t think I would have any interaction with the kids at the shelter. Luckily, I have. They are a reminder that innocence and true joy still exist in this world. One of the babies, who I said goodbye to the last time I was there, might have been the cutest little girl I have ever seen. I’ll never forget her face. The children are young, half of them are babies and that’s really exciting because it means that women are leaving their abusive homes earlier than they used to. This is a sign of progress.
My vision is to be able to run this program for at least one more shelter and work towards making something like the Secret Camps of Sweden happen here in Canada. “Once a year, at an undisclosed location deep in the Swedish forest, women and children who have suffered domestic abuse gather to support one another’s healing.” You can see the images here.
It’s been a humbling and inspiring experience thus far. The women have taught me a lot and I hope in this small way I can continue to make a positive difference in their lives.
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