Earlier this year we committed €1 million through our Explore Fund to support the companies, organisations, communities and individuals that make exploration possible. One of those organisations is Ich Will Da Rauf, a Munich-based team of volunteers and coaches that enables and supports the creation of joint climbing groups for people with and without disabilities. To find out more we sat down with Ich Will Da Rauf project manager, Lena Frank.
ICH WILL DA RAUF
At The North Face, we’ve always believed walls are not obstacles that divide us; they are opportunities to bring us together. This is exactly what Ich Will Da Rauf (I Want To Get Up There) does.
Uniquely, it doesn’t just cater to physically disabled people. Its climbing groups are actually designed to bring both disabled people – physically and mentally – and non-disabled people together, as such it welcomes everyone regardless of age, race, gender or disability.
But for much of this year its fundamental mission has been virtually impossible. Germany, like almost every other country on the planet, introduced a Covid-19 lockdown. Only strictly necessary functions stayed open. Climbing gyms, being recreational facilities, weren’t on that list.
Humans are social beings. We seek out company, like-minded people and shared experiences. Evidence is emerging of the detrimental mental health effects of coronavirus lockdowns on all of us. But for people already struggling with mental health or those in high-risk groups, lockdown posed an even greater challenge.
“Many of our members are part of the high-risk group for Covid-19 complications,” explains Lena. “The crisis has affected existing anxieties, but also new anxieties have emerged. Our members have lost the climbing club as their anchor.”
Ich Will Da Rauf has been ‘an anchor’ for both disabled and non-disabled climbers since 2009. It was created to fill a hole: despite the now evident interest, there was a complete lack of accessible climbing spaces.
But it started almost by chance. In 2008, a physiotherapist took his wheelchair-bound 14-year-old patient, Linda, to a climbing wall. Rather than seeing the wall as an obstacle Linda looked up at it and said, “Ich will da rauf!”, which means “I want to get up there!”. In spite of her disability this is exactly what she did. Rather than seeing the absence of accessible climbing gyms as a problem, Linda, her family and her coach saw this as an opportunity. A year later they set up Ich Will Da Rauf.
In Germany, 7.8 million people (9.4% of the population) have a severe disability. They experience and interact with the world differently, which often leads to marginalisation, notions of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Understanding, compassion and acceptance aren’t possible if disabled and non-disabled people never interact. At Ich Will Da Rauf, people of all backgrounds find common ground through climbing. They discover that their differences are often very few and they share many more commonalities than they expect.
“By bringing people with and without disabilities together in joint climbing groups, we create a safe space for exchange and common experiences. This exchange reduces barriers and jointly we challenge the perception of being ‘normal’,” says Lena. “Shying away from contact, on both sides, can lead to the development of negative attitudes, beliefs and prejudices towards the other group. This is where our job begins. We act as ambassadors for inclusion and even if disability is our focus, we embrace everyone irrespective of age, sex, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic status.”
Gyms are now reopening in Germany. Some level of normalcy is returning. But not for everyone. Many people with disabilities fall into the high-risk group of individuals that remain in isolation. This is for their own safety, but with no clear exit route – perhaps not until we have a vaccine – they become even more marginalised. Ich Will Da Rauf is trying to help.
“As their climbing family, we need to continue our programme and guide our members into the ‘new normality’. We support them to overcome fears and experience community in a safe context,” says Lena. “For those that can get out, we offer experimental education excursions in the mountains. For those that can’t, we are experimenting with digital training and activities.”
AMBASSADORS OF INCLUSION
Aside from supporting its existing members, Ich Will Da Rauf also wants to share its knowledge and experience to aid other organisations across Germany.
“Inclusion and equal participation in society is a human right. Yet separation is still an everyday experience for many people with disabilities. We want to change that. We realise that creating safe spaces to spend time together and get to know each other is key.”
It has now created a programme to enable and support stakeholders in other cities in setting up climbing groups to bring people both with and without disabilities together. Ich Will Da Rauf truly believes in creating a ‘climbing family’, where everyone is welcome. Where we can come together at the wall and share life experiences, push our own personal goals, break down boundaries and have a lot of fun in the process.
The story of Ich Will Da Rauf is one of many. Through the extra Covid-19 funding of the Explore Fund we’ve been able to help more than 20 different organisations and groups that make exploration possible. Here are three more of those stories: