Hiking

Georgia hiking group helps refugee and immigrant women find their place in the outdoors – WABE

On a cool, overcast Saturday morning just north of Atlanta, a group of hikers hiked the Vickery Creek Trail chatting in a handful of languages.

The Refugee Women’s Network of Atlanta and the Georgia Conservancy have partnered to form the refugee women hiking group. It started in 2021 when COVID-19 impacted the physical and mental health of refugee and immigrant populations.

The hiking group has become a safe place for women to find community, exercise, get away from family and work, and break through the barriers of the outdoors in a new place.

Mehran Bina is an Iranian teacher. She joined the hiking group when it started last year.

“I don’t have family here, so it’s a good place to be with friends,” she said.

Bena hiked with her siblings when they were younger and has a master’s degree in physical education. She said she liked this group because she met people and was able to translate between multiple women as the group walked the well-worn clay path.

In addition, it helps him stay healthy.

And that’s part of the goal. Immigrant and refugee populations already faced barriers to health care before the pandemic. This was one of the ways the Refugee Women’s Network sought to alleviate some of the difficulties, said Temple Moore, community health promotion program manager for the Refugee Women’s Network.

“Our refugee and immigrant women are our health brokers,” she said. “It’s the mothers and those who take care of us, but often don’t take time for them.”

The trekkers came from countries such as Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Egypt. Some come with hiking experience, but it’s not necessary or required to join the group, Moore said.

Through partnerships with companies like REI and Patagonia, Refugee Women’s Network and Georgia Conservancy have been able to provide hikers with walking sticks, water bottles, hiking shoes, snacks and other gear that helps reduce the physical barrier outside.

Moore and a team of volunteers lead the monthly hikes with unlimited positive energy, often paired with a skilled ranger, to help refugee and immigrant women feel more comfortable on the trails. They want to empower hikers to see that they belong on the trails as much as everyone else, and encourage women to come back and bring family and friends as well.

Bena and other hikers did. She said she enjoys taking her husband and two sons on hikes she has done with the group.

“A lot of people who hike in Georgia have sort of the same look or background,” said Brian Foster, who helps coordinate hikes for the Georgia Conservancy. “We’ve noticed that we have a large group of new Georgians here, new Americans who live in metro Atlanta and we want to help people get out because it’s a place of healing and a place of fellowship and of community.”

Foster said the hiking group is also another way to build a group of advocates who cherish the nature around them and will strive to protect the environment surrounding their communities.

“An outdoor adventure doesn’t mean climbing a mountain or spending thousands of dollars on outdoor gear,” Foster said. “It doesn’t really mean driving more than an hour from your place. We are known as the city in the forest. We have lots of green space here.

At the end of each hike, the group shares a meal prepared by the Chef’s Club, another Refugee Women’s Network initiative that teaches refugee and immigrant women how to run their own businesses in the food industry.

After snapping photos near the waterfall and hiking up Big Creek, hikers shared a lentil shawarma and bright green chutney as the sun broke through the clouds. They laughed, swapped stories of their children’s antics, and joked about their husbands.

“Everyone can feel a sense of belonging and being outdoors. But it’s not often easy, especially when you don’t speak the language,” Moore said. “I think it’s the power of bringing different people together. Anyone can enjoy a waterfall, and you don’t need to be fluent in the language.