“The Naturefriends from their very beginning until the present have been facilitating leisure activities and natural experiences for underprivileged groups of people”
How did you come up with the idea of the Organization? And how does it work?
The founding idea of the Naturefriends movement dates back to the end of the 19th century and is closely linked with the working class. It results from the critical development due an exploitative and capitalistic economy. Whereas the idyll of mountains and nature played an important role in the lifeworld of the bourgeoisie, the working class people didn’t have access to this kind of leisure activities. So the Naturefriends from their very beginning until the present have been facilitating leisure activities and natural experiences for underprivileged groups of people.
Around 1920 youth groups started to be founded as there were no other leisure facilities for children and youth – first outside the Naturefriends organisation but with a high share of members coming from working class background. After the Nazi-period, when Naturefriends organisations were forbidden, many young people took up positions in the boards of Naturefriends organisations.
Finally in 1958 the Naturfreundejugend (Young Naturefriends) became an ”autonomous” association with its own statutes within the Naturefriends organisation.
Still the Naturfreundejugend is linked with its origin values but developed as an organisation as the historical context was changing.
Which is the biggest challenge you’ve faced (or you are facing) since setting up this no-profit organization?
There was/is not one particular challenge our organization has had to face, challenges are changing according to the historical and societal context. The most important thing has been to stick to our values and combine them with contemporary changes – as acting sustainably, environmental and climate protection became a high priority topic. In recent times we are struggling to keep members, to reach potential members and to gain motivated volunteers. Due to time- and performance-related pressure and the domination of digitalisation the willingness to engage within / to bind to an organisation is limited.
Which kind of reactions/feedback does the Organization receive?
The feedbacks of members are mainly positive and affirmative regarding the offered range of activities and the variety of our programme. More and more young people (teens and students) do not like the connection with the social democrats as a political party, they focus more on living democratic values (like active participation, anti-racism, anti-fascism), nature- and climate protection, solidarity and community or just want to participate in group experiences or an attractive and affordable leisure programme.
“There are also few young people who grow up in a local Naturefreunde organisation and who consider the Naturefriends of a kind of wider family”
In your opinion, which role does the Organization play in local society and the life of young people?
The Naturfreundejugend does not play a really leading role in the local society, as besides the local Naturefriends groups there are no separated youth organizations. Youth work is an integral part in the local Naturefriends groups and can differ between actively engaged and practically not existent. In some municipalities youth activities are an important part of local life – but this is rather due to personal engagement and has less to do with the status of the Naturefriends organisation.
In the life of young people the organization can temporarily play a more important role, when we are talking about volunteers. For young members it is often a platform to book leisure activities or workshops, not more or less. But there are also – few – young people who grow up in a local Naturefreunde organisation and who consider the Naturefriends of a kind of wider family.
“The Naturfreundejugend is one of the first organizations in Austria which is taking active and central responsibility in the field of child and youth protection”
Can you talk about the activities of the Organization during these years?
The Naturfreundejugend is one of the first organizations in Austria which is taking active and central responsibility in the field of child and youth protection. So our activities in these years build upon environmental protection, a caring relationship with young people and outdoor sports.
In the area of sports one of our highlights are ski- and snowboard workshops on a high quality level (preparation for the state certified instructor qualification). Another topic is ice- and waterfall climbing – a fascinating sport offered to young people in a protected environment. A new and easily accessible event format are competitions for teams or families and friends with more or less climbing experience are competitions in climbing- and boulder halls.
An important activity in the area of sustainability is our annual environmental award – addressed to local Naturefriends groups in order to choose a best-of-list of particular and exemplary engagement and projects. Furthermore we develop different (card) games, knowledge and method boxes to specific topics. Sensitizing for eco- and fair travel is another important topic, where we like to cooperate with testimonials.
Event formats which combine all three pillars of our work are environmental work camps in the alpine area for a wide ranged aim group of young people.
Can you share with us experiences and motivation, highlights or something cool or inspiring you experienced during activities?
The most inspiring moments come out of personal encounters – between humans and the non-human world, between people from different cultures, between different generations…
Looking back at when you started the movement, is there something you would do differently?
Considering developments and happenings in retrospect usually leads to better-knowing and a different view. Organisations on an honorary basis are run by people that are mostly motivated, lead by their beliefs and doing their job voluntarily – and therefore do their best for the organisation. An important thing to learn for such an organisation as Naturfreundejugend is to always keep its values in focus and simultaneously keep its eyes open for the current challenges.
What’s next for the Organization?
Common activity with IYNF „International Environmental-Mountain-Week“ (editor’s note: “Socio-ecological Transformation – Naturefriendly way to sustainable tourism”) in August 2021, Summer Camps in cooperation with the regional Nature Park „Gesäuse“, Future Workshop in autumn…
Responsible person for International Cooperation in NFJÖ,
Project Manager for local organiaztion
Naturfreunde Steiermark and in charge of youth.