People with disabilities encounter countless barriers when it comes to doing various activities that others enjoy. And making trips in nature has been rather impossible for people with mobility impairments in Romania. But a local NGO has decided to change that and make it possible for the mobility-impaired to enjoy all the benefits of spending time in nature.
There are many studies and researches saying that spending time outdoors, in nature, comes with many benefits: it improves health and psychological wellbeing, reduces anger or stress, and boosts happiness. However, there was no need for studies to know that, as most of us try to spend as much time as possible outdoors and charge our batteries with nature’s energy.
And while some find it rather difficult to make time for walks in nature or other outdoor activities, many others put “spending time in nature” at the top of their list of passions and hobbies. This is the case of young Romanian Alexandru Ionescu, who decided to take his passion for nature even further and launch an NGO with two simple targets: bring nature closer to people through awareness campaigns, and also bring people closer to nature by facilitating access. His organization has already launched a first project called Natura este pentru toti (Nature is for everyone), which is aimed at helping people with mobility impairments enjoy trips in nature.
The NGO is called Acces Natura Association and was launched in the fall of 2018. It has been a two-people organization until recently, meaning that Alexandru Ionescu and his life partner Sabina Calu have been in charge of everything, from structure and organization to logistics or planning. But, with the launch of their first project, the team has grown to five members, of which two are permanent volunteers.
There are very few spaces in Romania especially arranged for people with disabilities to allow them access to nature. Alexandru Ionescu and his NGO thought it was time to find a solution to this issue and thus launched the Natura este pentru toti project, which aims to do just that: help people with mobility impairments make trips in nature. They purchased a special chair for this project, which is specially designed to allow people with reduced mobility, children or adults, enjoy hiking trips or running activities. This all-terrain chair was produced in France and is the first such chair used in Romania. The team at Acces Natura covered the cost with funds from the Start ONG program launched by Kaufland Romania and implemented by Act for Tomorrow Association, and they plan to use the chair for 15 assisted trips in nature this year.
“At least three volunteers are needed for each trip, for light routes, and up to 7-9 volunteers for trips on rough terrains, where a very good physical condition is needed and where volunteers must take turns during the journey,” Alexandru Ionescu told Romania-insider.com.
The project Natura este pentru toti “came somewhat naturally during trips in nature,” Alexandru explained. “While you enjoy this privilege you can’t help thinking that there are people who can not have this experience. And if you are among those who have received many things in life (I am not referring here to material things), it is a blessing and why not, a moral obligation, to do something for those who have not been so lucky.”
Things will not stop at this project, however, as the team at Acces Natura have other initiatives in mind. For example, they would like to “bring children and young people closer to nature through a birdwatching project near Bucharest, so that they discover the amazing biodiversity just steps away from home,” Alexandru Ionescu said.
Then, they also plan to organize various workshops for young people and children aimed at stimulating their desire to spend as much time as possible in nature. “In nature you can cook, paint, make terrariums, practice a sport, play entertaining games, just to list a few of the many possibilities.”
And last but not least, the NGO also has something planned for adults used to spending many hours in the office and then in traffic: a project to bring nature closer by arranging green spaces for relaxation in office buildings or in their vicinity.
And, as expected, help is always needed and more than welcome. The NGO needs volunteers for their special trips in nature and for their participation at various sports competitions, where the organization plans to be present with stands. “We also want to make possible, through this project, the participation of people with disabilities in mountain running competitions, which are normally not accessible to them,” Alexandru explained. Those interested can also help the project in other activities, such as site development or fundraising and brand awareness campaigns.
Funds are also important, of course, so any help in this sense is also very important. Moreover, Alexandru Ionescu also said that the organization is currently looking for a headquarters in the Bucharest area and “this would be a substantial help for us to carry out our activities and store the necessary materials.”
Irina Marica, [email protected]
(Photos: courtesy of Alexandru Ionescu)