Bears forest energy

Have you ever seen a stranger pretending to be a bear? That will be the first thing you will see if you go to Kuterevo. The man we are talking about is Ivan, the founder of Velebit Association Kuterevo, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.

Nowadays the association´s aim is mainly to protect orphan bears of Croatia, offering them a shelter, and learning about natural and cultural heritage through different perspectives. Each year more than 200 volunteers travel the world to Kuterevo to support the project. We were part of them for ten days living in the middle of the forest 2,5km from the village in a place entirely designed and built by volunteers called Kopija.

Since we were living in the forest, the lifestyle required ability to start a fire for cooking, hearing wild pigs during the night and even having to deal with scorpions in your sleeping bag.

As the food was vegetarian we were supplied with local products such as cheese, cherry jam, ajvar and rakija. Even if you don’t drink, like some of us in the camp, rakija is traditional drink  that you have to try.

Our mission consisted of different tasks such as building ponds for wild animals, clearing up paths, decorating the place and, occasionally, going to the village to help other volunteers with their jobs.

Indeed, all the decisions were made collectively, this way we did not experience any conflict between us.    On top of that the timetable was flexible and could be adjusted according to our wish as well as the weather.

We also took part in the local community by visiting people from the village working with them, learning about their skills and experiences. For instance, we visited Dragica who makes coklje, traditional shoes made of recycled materials, hand-knitted and unique.

Đurđica, in the other hand, who has been a volunteer for many years, came to discuss the concept of peace on different levels as well as teaching us about SCI origins.

We enjoyed the simple style of living which strengthened our group relationship and the peace during our stay (we even found a common language with foresters working around our camp).

But these were not the only opportunities we had to meet with locals because lots of them were also part of the volunteers. We also cooked and had lunch with them.

However, the workcamp was not only about hard work but also about creativity and cultural exchange. Indeed, Kuterevo Volunteers Station and Kopija are covered with different pieces of art from all the previous volunteers and workcamps. For example, our group did a bear shape totem and painted the water collector in which we kept out food to prevent the wild animals from coming to the camp. Nevertheless, we occasionally had some guests such as a squirrel, dormice, bats, a wild pig, all types of insects and even something which sounded like a bear.

These experiences gave us a chance to share our cultural differences and discuss about it. As you probably know Croatia is well-known for its coast so that is where we spent our day off. Although our original idea was to hike in the Northern Velebit National Park  we spent only few hours there and we went to the beach because the weather was dangerous for hiking (very strong wind and no visibility because of the clouds + temperature of 5 degrees Celsius).

Our last day, we took part into a ceremony during which Ivan made us promise that we would behave according to Kuterevo spirit in our own countries devoting at least four days per year to volunteering, but also to gather more people in our everyday life and inspire them to become more active members of society.

Kuterevo spirit aims to create a global community in which people just help each other without any personal gain in order to build a peaceful world. Now it is our responsibility to spread it.

Claudia, from Spain

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Call: Youth exchange in Kosovo

Call for participants!

Youth exchange: Mitrovica Urban Garden

Permaculture as a Path to Peace

25th of May – 2nd of June 2018, Mitrovica (Kosovo)

This Spring, in Mitrovica, GAIA and friends will organize a youth exchange about urban permaculture, with the focus on gardening and food production. The Youth Exchange will gather 25 young people from Croatia, Albania, Serbia, Bulgaria and Kosovo, what means that this call is open only for young people who are residents of those countries (we are sorry for those who are not) and applying through organizations which are partners for this exchange: PVN Albania, VCV Serbia, VUK Croatia, CVS Bulgaria and GAIA Kosovo. It will take place from 25th of May until 2nd of June and will be organized in partnership with Down Syndrome Kosova in Mitrovica and the City Museum.

Why permaculture?

Permaculture is a design system that uses ecological principles, which can be applied to organisations, communities and economies to create a more harmonious and sustainable system of relationships. Based on the ethical foundation of care for the earth, care for the people and fair share, permaculture shows us a way, inspired by ecological understanding and principles, to create beneficial relationships and work with nature to regenerate and restore land, communities and our relationship to both. With learning about permaculture and gaining practical and theoretical knowledge about its principles and designing, which are inspired by natural systems, we can learn about social connections and ways of creating sustainable, resilient societies.

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CALL for 8-month long EVS in Kuterevo Bear Refuge

Kuterevo Bear Refuge is looking for 3 volunteers to join us for 8 months, starting from March of April.

The volunteers will be focused on celebration of 40 years of Kuterevo Spirit and 40 years since Velebit Mountain has been proclaimed as UNESCO MAB reserve. The volunteers will also support creation of publication which will include stories from volunteers, and especially EVS which were one of the main foundation of the volunteering program in Kuterevo in the last 10 years.

Interested volunteers should fill in the online application form available HERE and to send specific motivation letter and CV to kuterevo.evs@gmail.com ideally before 15th of February.

General conditions:

  • age from 17 until 30
  • preferably from German speaking area or coming from a program country of Erasmus+ program
  • good will and availability 🙂

More information about this EVS can be found in call for volunteers and about the project at this page.

NOTE: call for short-term group EVS will be published soon 🙂

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Bear Art Workcamp #3

For some people 20th of August was just another ordinary day but for us, 9 volunteers
who had the opportunity to be a part of Bear Art 3 Work-camp, that day was the beginning ofnew experiences, adventures and friendships.

Our work was a lot different from the work of other volunteers because it was focused
on art connected with bears. We came as “artists” so everyone had different ideas about what we should do, but we managed to make a compromise surprisingly easy. Instead of one big project we decided to do a few smaller ones depending on each person’s interest and we helped each other out.

For example, we made a few signs that were not yet there and a wooden book about
Kuterevo village and bears in the refuge. Photo-place was a real success because people were intrigued by colorful bears even when the project was not even finished yet! And prints of bear paws on the road turned out to be really helpful; both for tourists, who didn’t know where to go and for volunteers working at info-station, because their work became a lot easier with saying “just follow the bear steps” to visitors.

But we weren’t just drawing and painting, we also had a chance to feed the bears,
explore the village and for example meet a lady who makes special traditional shoes typical for Kuterevo, we also had a little tour through the village and learn a lot of information about nature in that part of Croatia. We also learned stories of bears and some of them are really touching. We tried to spend as much time as we could admiring and observing these magnificent animals and we were having fun guessing which bear is which.

For one day we also went to camping place Kopija where we proudly became
Kuterevo volunteers and had a little party for ourselves, baking potatoes, exchanging funny
stories, making fun of our accents and there were a lot of failed attempts of singing but
even the youngest among our group was enjoying himself.

We also quickly adapted to the simple living conditions and realized that you really
don’t need much to be happy – we probably did break a few records in taking the quickest
showers ever because of the cold water and every day was full of surprises, especially when it came to cooking. Gordon Ramsay probably wouldn’t be impressed, but hey, we are artists, not cooks 😉

And then came that day of goodbye’s, handshakes, hugs and even some tears. We
were all a little sad because it was already over and it seems that time really flies when you are enjoying yourself. So, we were people of different ages coming from different parts of the world, we had different backgrounds, spoke different languages (thank you Google translate), and had different personalities, but nevertheless, we all came with the same purpose to volunteer and at the end we left Kuterevo as friends with beautiful memories.

Bear Art team

Enregistrer

Moving Feet Opening Minds summer project

From 24th of July to 8th of August, 13 students from Askham Bryan College and Newton Rigg College, UK, came to volunteer in Kuterevo Bear Refuge thanks to the Moving Feet Opening Minds project.

For these students in animal management, it was a beautiful opportunity to discover the project, learn about bears and other wild animals in Croatia, experience simple way of life and enjoy volunteering with many other international volunteers.

For our organisation, it was a great help since we always need new motivated people to give a hand in our daily tasks!

Together with Maja, one of our EVS volunteers from Serbia, and Dora, from Croatia, students gave a lot of energy working for the needs of the bear refuge. Among many tasks, they helped with renovating the enclosure for the youngest bears, prepared enrichments for them, built a new bench for visitors… Carrying rocks and heavy rotten trunks was not always easy, but altogether and with good mood and good will, everything was done!

But volunteering in Kuterevo Bear Refuge is not only about hard physical work. During their stay, English students discovered Kuterevo traditional lifestyle, visited local families, learnt how to bake bread… They also met with Teta Dragica, our dear grandma maestor in making „Coklje“ (handmade Kuterevo shoes) and always willing to share life lessons with volunteers.

As part of the educational activities of this project, Professor Vedran Slijepcevic, from the University of game-keeping and environmental protection, was invited to give a lecture about signs of animal presence in the wild. Students and other volunteers learnt how to recognize footprints, feces, signs of feeding… of ungulates, small carnivores and large carnivores.

And after the theoritical part, spending time in our forest camp Kopija was perfect to enjoy natural wild animals’ habitat and to reconnect with nature!

 

Last of the EVS team 2017

So, the end is here, our fellow reader.

Two months have passed and we don’t really know how to feel about that. In one hand we are relived to go home and see our friends and family again, to go back to our old lives. But, in other hand we feel really sad and depressed to leave Kuterevo, to leave this small piece of Paradise, to leave the bears, to leave Postaja (our Volunteers Station), to leave all the domestic people, all the friends we made here.

No matter how we twist it, that is reality. And to cheer up the sad part of the story , here we present you some bloopers, funny photos or just us doing… something!

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Farewell Kuterevo, farewell bears, ponies, Misho, Kiki, Ivan, Barbara, Glorija, Josipa, domestic people and other volunteers! We shall come back, but for now here are our faces in case you star forgetting how we look like.

Goodbye, for now!

Lots of bear hugs and wishes to meet again soon,

The EVS team 2017
Written by: Tamara Gjuroska

The Golden EVS Middle

Yes, our dearest reader, believe it or not we’ve come to the more than a middle of our EVS stay! A lot of laughing, tears, sweat, friendships and more has filled our month and so. In our previous post we talked and talked about all the things we’ve done so far. So, now, we wanted to justify our words and offer you pictures as a proof! But, first, bears!

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So as you can see on the pictures above, our Lithuanian girl Laura repaired our Meditation Spot and even though we don’t have pictures from before she laid a hand on it, we assure you that she did a great job. She cleaned it up, repaired the fence and gate, put new gravel on the floor and even made motivational quotes.

Next one, we have Martin, our French man, who besides reviving the German Garden worked on another personal project which involved creating a Greenhouse. Below you can see the almost finished product and how Martin and Teodor enjoyed it :’D We will also show you pictures when it gets painted, but for now we just wanted to show you our EVS human plants!

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And the last finished personal project belongs to our youngest EVS volunteer, Aleksandra from Serbia, who repainted the old bear signs we have, so we could replace the ones we have on the roads as directions to the refuge that were too old to be easily noticed by our visitors.

And here you have the chance to see Luke working on his personal project, but because it’s still not finished, we’re not going to tell you what it will be!

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Besides all of this, we were special guests to Hrvatski Radio Otočac twice and will be one more time by the end of our stay here. We also had a Skype talk with the volunteers in Brezovica, Kosovo, where the second part of this EVS project is taking place. It was really nice to meet these people and to share our experiences so far, to give them advice considering that we started our EVS one and a half month earlier and to hear what their plans are! We found out they were working on organizing an eco-friendly festival, BreFest on Sharr Mountain, Brezovica, a project that was initiated by GAIA Kosovo, our sister organization. They were working on a music program, capoeira workshop, vegan cuisine, sustainability education for visitors etc… but all with consideration and respecting the mountain. They were at the beginning of their project, and the first thing they did was to remove a very large garbage dump from the place! (Good job, guys and girls!)

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Both volunteer groups on both mountains (Sharr and Velebit) had a similar motivation to join these projects, experiencing an eco-friendly lifestyle and paying respect to nature and its creatures and living in harmony with them. Of course, one of the biggest topics of the skype meeting was bears 🙂 and the volunteers were especially interested to know how they should act in case one visits them. (reminder – act calm, don’t run, give the bear space to go away)

We built a new fence around the volunteer accommodation, we learned how to cook and eat vegetarian food ONLY (a challenge most people survived surprisingly easy) and how to make an amazing homemade bread! How to play chess, to take care of a garden and not to kill it, how to make limestone mixture and paint fences with it, (we are preparing planks to extend the fence for the Shetland ponies we rescued from a zoo this year).

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But also how to have fun every night and use our days off to the maximum as the next few pictures can show.

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This is all we can tell you for now. We hope you enjoyed the pictures and you will stay here till our last post!

Lots of love and bear hugs,

The EVS Team 2017

Written by: Tamara Gjuroska