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

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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

BREfest! Sharr is more than snow

Festival in Brezovica ski resort brings people together to celebrate Sharr Mountain nature and culture

From 11th to 13th August local people, guests from around Kosovo and neighboring countries are gathering in ski center Brezovica for music and nature festival BREfest. The event is free of charge, voluntarily organized and based on guests’ participation in activities. It aims to bringing attention to the beauty of Sharr Mountain, to raise awareness on environmental topics and to provide space for people who love the mountain; to share their vision for its future. The message of the festival is “Sharr is more than snow” emphasizing the unique, natural and cultural values of the mountain besides the attractive skiing slopes.

The program during the day will offer diverse activities for children, youngsters, elders and families. The evening will be a celebration of nature friendly music and cinema. Jimmy Mustafa band is opening the festival musical progamme on Friday. The band consists of 4 young and talented Roma musicians who create music based on Roma tradition and contemporary sounds and genres. On Saturday the mountain will be vibrating in a jazz wave thanks to the rich sound of Trio Biber. The last day will be all about exchanging music and culture between locals and volunteers from around the world.

Throughout the 3-day-event, multiple workshops such as capoeira, vegan cusine, RecycleArt, DIY (do it yourself) activities will take place. Guests will have the possibility to learn about medicinal herbs, wildlife and the mountain through guided educational tours. Everyday of the festival has its own topic which will be presented by an exhibition and discussion. The first day is dedicated to the environmental realities and the alternatives for a just world. Saturday is all about migration of people throughout centuries and continents creating a link between the historical cross-border region of Sharr mountain with current migration issues. Last day is dedicated to the nature and culture of Sharr – sharing positive stories, challenging threats, exchanging and creating a vision. More about the programme, accommodation, transport you can find out here.

BREfest is promoting a different approach of appreciating nature by making us think about our own impact on the environment. The organizers from GAIA are inviting guests to bring their own cup (and camping food equipment if possible) in order to avoid the use of plastic and to reduce the amount of waste. Share and exchange is another festival principal which is valid for sharing transport to the ski resort but also for exchanging skills, home-made products and stuff between people.

The organization of the festival is supported by:

  • 25 International and local volunteers from 13 countries
  • 20 international participants of the Tour of Freedom, which are traveling by bikes from the north of Kosovo to Brezovica
  • Roma children from Imaginatorium – alternative educational center in Gracanica
  • And everybody else who is interested

CONTACTS

GAIA Kosovo, brefest2017@gmail.com, http://www.gaiakosovo.org
Phone number: +386 49 386 709; +386 49 819 573

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New EVS team

Once upon a time, a bear refuge in the far away mountain village Kuterevo was formed. It started small, one bear at the time, but now it is a place with a family of nine scarily cute beasts, Ivan and around 300 volunteers a year. Some of these people are here every year, some are here for the first time. We, the EVS team, are here for the very first time and this is our story up until now.

But, before we start, we would like to introduce you to the term EVS. EVS or European Voluntary Service is project funded by the European Union, through Erasmus + program and organized together with the National Agency of Croatia with partnership of the Erasmus+ Programme countries and Neighboring Partner countries. Our stay in Kuterevo lasts for two months, but in general one EVS project can last from two weeks to 12 months. Right now, for the Kuterevo EVS project present are people from the following countries: Anja from Slovenia, Aleksandra and Maja from Serbia, Laura from Lithuania, Martin from France, Teodor from Bulgaria, Allem and Asmir from Kosovo, Ivan from Bosnia, Luke from the UK and Marios from Cypros. And our days here looked something like this:

The first few days of our arrival we were met by tasks like chopping wood for the winter and for cooking on the stove, cleaning up the house were other volunteers were supposed to sleep and cutting branches and clearing up bushes, so we could prevent and protect ourselves and visitors from snakes, or more likely to protect the snakes from us 🙂

But then, we had a week long Camp Leadership training where we covered topics such as volunteering, group dynamics, intercultural learning, different leadership/coordination styles, conflict management, peace in work camps, and eco-leadership, all that in the companion of 10 other people from different countries and cultures.

After taking this short break we were back on track with our hardworking selves. The bears needed some help, so they asked us if we can help them. Mostly, they asked for:

  • Food: a lot of fruits and veggies, grass, grains, seeds, ice-cream (actually huge ice-cubes filled with fruit and seeds, great for cooling off and hydration!), and meat (but only once or twice a month, because as they put it – they are only 10% carnivores and 90% vegetarians)
  • Water for their pools, a lot of water, so they could cool themselves on the very hot days
  • Tree branches, so they could play with them, especially when we throw seeds in them, so they can mush around trying to find them
  • Clean area around their enclosure, so the visitors could enjoy clear view

Besides being the bear’s little helpers, we also fixed the geese house, even though they don’t really like us, we take care of all the other animals we have in the refuge, making sure that they are fed, happy, safe and sound all the time. We have to make sure that we are doing a good job in maintaining the facilities we have and to coordinate all the work camps and scouts groups that come and go all the time. And our artists in the group are also responsible for painting and decorating the souvenirs for our respected visitors, as a way of self-financing the refuge.

Other big thing that our EVS team is responsible of is guiding visitors, who come to this refuge more and more, day by day, year by year. And for that reason, it was really important for us to learn as much as we can about bears in general, their biology, mythology and lifestyle, but also to gather as many information we can for our bears. By now, we know so many things about bears, we sometimes talk only about them when we call our family back home.

Alongside this, we found time to be part of the local festivals and holidays, Barkanijada, Karmenica and Eko Etno Fest Otočac. Working on a different field than the Kuterevo refuge was a breath of fresh air that we all appreciated, even though we wouldn’t replace it for anything in the world.

And probably the most interesting thing for us was the information that we can use our creativity for a personal project, that would still contribute to the refuge. Until now, three of our boys, Allem from Kosovo, Ivan from Bosnia and Teodor from Bulgaria made trashbins, enough to cover the whole territory of the refuge. Anja from Slovenia is repairing our Herb garden, and at the brim of it being finished, we can assure you that it looks awesome! Our French man Martin, and the Serbian girl Maja, and our Anja are all together in reviving our German Garden, trying to put some order in it, so we don’t actually eat plain weed as a salad :D! The British Luke and the Serbian Aleksandra are at the beginning of their personal projects, so we will fill you in about them in our next post, but for now it’s a surprise! Psst!

But, in general, even though we are a bit unorganized and sometime we have no idea what is happening around us, we are really content and happy with our stay here and we can’t believe how quick time actually passes. We realized here that time passes quickly, especially if you are surrounded by people that have become your family in only few days or weeks time.

So, for that cause, we would like to thank all the individual volunteers that came in Kuterevo, so thank you Tadej, Pierre, Gaelle, Lili, Mathias, Thalia, Matheu, Martyna, Lois, Aurelien, and all the others that came for a day or two. Thank you to all the scouts, Pihos 42e Floral, Pionniers of Lamberont, Pionniers du Precieux-Sang 69, Caravelles and Les Compact. Thank you work camps, thank you Alex Club, thank you Red Cross Germany. Thank you for making our stay here precious and memorable, thank you for all the laughs, tears, joy, clumsy stories, nights spent by the bonfire!

And we will give ourselves the right to keep the “..And they lived happily ever after. The End” for our goodbye post. For now, we will stick to “Talk to you soon! Vidimo se uskoro! До скоро! A plus tard! Τα λεμε συντομα! Iki pasimatymo! Се виждаме скоро!”

Bear hugs,

The EVS team

Written by:

Tamara Gjuroska

Youth for nature, volunteering and inclusion

The project Youth for nature, volunteering & inclusion is, actually, follow up idea from Mountains connecting people project which was initially consisted of 3 youth exchanges in mountains in Kuterevo, Bulgaria and Kosovo, but continued to generate more youth projects afterwards.

While organizing those youth exchanges, we realized that they bring great potential, ideas and energy to local communities and that we should include long-term strategic approach which will integrate other youth and voluntary activities into local programs for nature conservation. The concept is mainly focused on SCI approach and methods, but we are not limited with that, and we want to explore other methods and ways of thinking and planning.

Velebit assocation Kuterevo became again partner for this new project and sent participants to the different activities:

The first activity within the project was Training Course on Qualitative volunatary programs in rural and remote areas, which took place in Peja, town surrounded by the Coursed Mountains.

In general, the training course was focused on 3 main topics:

  • nature conservation
  • history, sectors, stakeholders and challenges
  • grass-root youth and voluntary programs in nature conservation, with focus on Erasmus+

Second activity was the Youth Exchange (YE), which took place in Brezovica , National Park Sharr, situated on the south of Kosovo, from 15th till 26th of August 2016. Partner organizations were VCV Serbia, SCI Hellas, CID Macedonia, CVS Bulgaria, VUK Croatia, GAIA Kosovo and in total we had 30 participants who:

…learnt and shared knowledge about nature conservation

…explored the meaning and practise of coexistence with nature in rural areas,

… explored biodiversity of Sharr mountain and benefits of cultural and natural diversity

… visited inspiring and protected natural and cultural places such as Visoki Decani Monastery, Sinan Pasha Mosque, Prizren and Peja

… learnt about and from wilderness (herbs, other pants, animals, relations, fungi, human impact etc.)

…reflect on our role in this world (lifestyle, activism, ignorance…)

…and reacetd on it by: clean up action, murals, building up a compost place and benches and creation of a video about the mountain.

Partnership Building Activity (PBA) took place in Banja e Pejes from 25th of November till 5th of December 2016.

PBA gathered 32 representatives of 19 organizations which are involved in volunteering and youth programs for nature, but also those who are more focused on other topics, such as refugee work, inclusion and so forth.

The aim of the PBA was to provide space for developing new and strengthening existing strategic partnerships for nature protection projects through youth and voluntary work, to give opportunity to the participants to share good and bad practices in their work on the topics, to give an overview and details on the possibilities of the Erasmus+ programme. In addition to that, the aim was to improve and deepen participants skills in stakeholder analysis, inclusion and strategic and systems thinking.

More information about the project and results are available HERE.

this project is supported by Erasmus+ program of the European Union