Here in Central Europe, we are constantly bombarded with information about the "Refugee Crisis". But how many of us have actually had personal contact with this sector of society, let alone worked alongside them?
In Sölden in 2016, we were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to do just that. On our team of around 25-30 trail builders, 4-6 refugees worked alongside us every day. Mr. Dominik Linser from the Ötztal TVB (Tourismusverband) facilitated the idea, and it turned out to be a win-win situation for everyone involved.
As trail builders, we learned the personal stories of those who were forced to leave their homes and families in search of a better life in the Austrian Alps. We got the chance to put a face and a name to a stereotype, and gain a better understanding of who they were and why they came here. We heard their stories, which would melt your heart. For the refugees, they got the valuable opportunity to work, but also to integrate into the local society. While at work, they were able to practice their German and English, and meet people from around the world. It didn't take long until they became a valuable part of our team, with their own skillset to offer. They learned from us, and we learned from them.
When it comes to "Sustainable Trail Building", social sustainability is part of the equation. TVB Ötztal definitely checked this box by not only getting locals involved, but by providing work for refugees. By providing work for those around us who are less fortunate, as well as facilitating the chance for local people to be exposed to a side of society they may not otherwise see, we can do something for the greater good for the community.
It sure gave us a different perspective. While we are worried about our carbon bikes needing a service, or wanting the latest iPhone, working alongside refugees helped to put our own "first world problems" in perspective.
The work ethic and dedication of this particular group of refugees to the task at hand was admirable. I would venture to say that all of the refugees were able to pull their own weight, and more, on the job site. The refugees we worked with were all eager to learn and to contribute to the good of the group, and I would be eager to have the chance to work alongside refugees again, on or off the trail.
Photo credit: ORF.at