“This year was all about socializing and getting me active. Not being afraid to go past my boundaries. And eventually my boundaries kind of became my comfort zone. My comfort zone became the trees and the rocks and the water.”
In Vancouver, the Downtown Eastside is a neighbourhood that is too often viewed as a desperate and fearful place because that is the perspective constantly placed upon it. At its heart is a community of survivors, people of great strength and resilience. The residents help each other with their struggles to overcome and cope with a situation that makes it incredibly difficult for change to occur – not for their lack of trying – but for the lack of appropriate supports and resources.
Forest and the Femme is a program that takes small groups of marginalized women from the Downtown Eastside into the wilderness that surrounds Vancouver. Jaime Adams started the program seven years ago, when she began to see the barriers that these women face in being able to access resources and opportunities outside of the area. “For instance, the women often can’t get into treatment and recovery programs because of their cognitive disabilities and they aren’t accepted into recreational or social programs because of their substance use or the stigma of being sex workers. It’s heartbreaking.”
Taking the women out of this environment, for a day or an afternoon, into a natural space where they can respond to the setting on their own terms, introduces a new avenue for them to restore, build on their skills and heal. “My goal is to have them feel like they deserve more and that they can access the outside world,” Adams says. “Nature puts your sensory system back together. It helps with anxiety, it helps bring you back into your body, which is important for women with trauma. They belong here. These spaces are theirs.”
One of the participants in the program explains: “Over the past few years, I have experienced a lot of trauma and grief. One of the biggest consequences I struggle with now is that I have a lot of fear. I feel afraid and nervous of everything.”
Yet the response to wilderness is dramatic in its healing. Like spring leaves, the women begin to unwind. Their bodies stand taller, they are curious, they smile; they can envision new narratives for themselves. “They feel their strength, they remember how powerful they are, and they believe in their abilities.” Courage is a remarkable instrument.
There is no simple solution. Volunteers in this organization recognize that. “There is no expectation of a hero’s journey. We tailor each outing to the women who are with us. We adjust our plan as we go along, so that they always feel safe, comfortable and in complete control of their experience.” Adams herself finds that being in nature continually helps her change the way she sees herself and her place in the world. Being in the mountains is healing; it makes us feel we can accomplish new things.
Comfort zones: Not everyone is as fortunate as we are. In cities, we forget that the experience of nature for some citizens may not exist. Green spaces are urbanized, with ambient light, street soundscapes and there is always some degree of risk. Hearing water, trees move, or the feeling the rhythm of the ocean, these experiences can have the power to change a person’s life. They restore our sensory perceptions, mental focus and instinctive ability to solve problems.
Forest and the Femme needs funding. Operational costs include purchasing food for their outings, gas for vehicle transport, gondola rides and admissions to parks. Simple things with immeasurable value. Contact them to find out more. Tell your friends and your colleagues about the program. There is an alternative.
Safe, quiet, cared for: just a few hours of living in these conditions can be life changing.
“Before I started to come out with Forest and the Femme, I felt hopeless that I would ever be able to overcome how fearful of a person I have become. Now I feel like I have a safe place to work through my fears.”
In 2018 Arc’teryx selected Forest and Femme as one of its annual IMBY grant recipients to receive $12,000 to continue the important work the organization does right in its hometown of Vancouver, BC. Learn more about Arc’teryx’s community partnerships HERE.
Learn more about how to get involved with Forest and The Femme.