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


“Farewell to spring in Pirin” part 2

During the second half of our agricultural adventure, in the beautiful village of Stara Kresna, it was time to get dirty. Compared to the first exchange in Kosovo, where we focused more on intellectual learning, this time we had the possibility to put our new-gained knowledge to use. We grabbed the tools and we went to “play” in the hay. Some of us have never ever seen a fork, except the one on the kitchen table, so we were pretty excited. The happiness of one particular Russian fellow sitting on the hay pile was indescribable. It was really nice to do something helpful for the locals.

It wasn’t only field work that day, we also had many diverse workshops led by the participants during our “open space”. Some of them – such as “sharing economy” movements and vegetarianism, were connected to our topic, while others focused more on cultural exchange and sharing different skills and knowledge.

The next morning continued in a similar manner. This time, there was a garden involved. Our ability to make everything fun is amazing. By noon we planted potatoes, tied tomatoes and got rid off all the weeds, while throwing dirt and “natural fertilizers” at each other, having the time of our life.

Maybe we shouldn`t mention that there was no water that day so we polluted the pool a bit. The rest of the afternoon was connecting food production and climate change, which involved presentations and group workshops.

We watched the sunset through the smoke of burning cow eco excrements, after which the brave ones even milked a cow and/or were just slapped by her tail and run away.

The next couple of days we worked on our final projects divided into smaller groups. The aim was to get some output out of the knowledge we gained throughout our stay here. We had four teams consisting of participants from every nation.

The results of the work are amazing as you can see with the article. One of the groups wrote a project for an eco-camp for young people in Russia and created games for children. The other teams focused on creating something that we can also use in the next parts of the project “Mountains Connecting People” or for other events of the Create Climate for Peace campaign. We prepared an exhibition about industrial agriculture and its impact on climate change, everything will be translated in our own languages and it will be used for further projects and reactions.

Small preview (complete exhibition to download and share soon online):


The best part of our final project are the short movie “Bon Appetit” and a song about climate change “Polar bears felt it”. The garbage-group was really inspired, the short movie wasn’t enough for them – dumpster diving guide and an alternative menu will be also available online for you to see. Feel free to share our work!

The last evening was big and somehow sad, farewell to each other and the hosts of Debeli Dab. Everyone of us will keep this place in their heart and hopefully take something helpful back to their home-country.

At the same time we are already looking forward to the next part of “Mountains connecting people”, which will be in Kuterevo in August. Until then we’ll sing our polar bears song and hope you’ll do it too…

Lukas, Lea and Elitsa

Youth Exchange “Farewell to spring in Pirin”

As a second part of the project “Mountains connecting people” youngsters from Bulgaria, Croatia, Serbia, Kosovo and Russia (Republic of Mari El) are gathering in the Bulgarian “eco-village” Debeli Dab, in Stara Kresna village, close to the mountains of Pirin.

After the intensive work connected with Climate change and climate justice from the first part of the project now we go one step further. The topic of this exchange is sustainable agriculture. We want to inform ourselves about how to cut the supply chain of conventionally produced food and how to grow our own fruits and vegetables.

During the first half of the youth exchange we had many activities related to the main reason why we are here. To become more familiar with the topic and the current situation in every participating country we started with presentations about what is really happening in our motherlands and we also showed real existing examples for sustainable agriculture. Besides the theoretical part we also had an agro exchange, where every country presented typical, local produced food such as homemade cheese, different jams and of course traditional drinks.

On Friday, the 12th of June, we went altogether for a very interesting and inspiring excursion to a small village in the heart of Pirin called Vlahi. It’s really interesting how in small mountain village with population 10 people there are 4 environmental NGOs.
One of them is Vlahi Nature school – a project started by CVS Bulgaria in 2008. There we saw the permaculture garden and an artificial lake for frogs and other species that contribute to the natural growth of the garden. Besides gardening and permaculture they also organize different initiatives and events – for volunteers and school groups and this year there will be a long term EVS volunteer there for a first time.

We also visited the stables that belong to the NGO Centra Viva. They breed a rare local sheep. Also we saw the bears and the wolves that are under the guardianship of Balkan Wild Life Association, another NGO based in Vlahi. After this interesting walk around the village and the talks with the locals, the half our group decided to hike from Vlahi to Debeli Dab. It was a bit challenging to hike for 4 hours under the hot sun, but we did it.

On 13th we had an amazing guest lecturer – Gabriela Petkova, she is volunteer coordinator for Greenpeace Bulgaria. She talked about Permaculture and Urban gardening. She shared with us her personal experience and explained us the basics and principles of permaculture. And divided into teams we developed our own small projects for permaculture garden. It was really inspiring to see someone who really loves what she does. She said something I will never forget: Your garden is your teacher.

It’s not possible to skip the movie night, we watched “Taste the waste”. A movie that makes you rethink your lifestyle and what you really cause to our planet. It’s not a cheery one, but it’s worth to watch it.

On Monday we had another interesting visit, we had the chance to meet a couple of Petar Dunov’s followers. They presented to us their philosophy of living in harmony with nature. And we practiced paneurhythmy.

Don’t think that we work all the time. Even during the first days, when we were in process of getting to know each other. We had a very interesting Treasure hunt, speed dating and we also visited the thermal baths near the village of Stara Kresna.

Elitsa, Lukas and Lea

Pictures: Dennis Todorov

Winter Peace in Brezovica – part 2

After a week of informative and inspiring lectures, workshops and discussions, our group was ready to put what we had learned into practice.

But before that, we had a „break“ day, when we went altogether for an very interesting and inspiring excursion. We went first to visit an orthodox monastery, Visoki Dečani. Meeting the monks, visiting the church and listening to the story of all they went through during centuries was impressing and a very strong experience.

After that, we went to Prizren, a very beautiful city were we could discover another face of Kosovo. After simply walking along the river and enjoying the place, we visited the mosque and had a great talk with the Imam, who welcomed us warmly, introduced us to the place and its history, and who had beautiful and inspiring speach about peace and tolerance between religions.

The day ended at the fortress, watching the amazing view on the city, the mountains, and the sunset. Definitely a strong moment of this Youth Exchange, when we all felt connected and shared precious time.

Once back to Brezovica, it was time to put our words and talks from the last few days into action! Our idea was to spread awareness and knowledge about climate change and climate justice. We wanted to create something meaningful, something that would make an impression on people and make them reconsider their behavior and habits.

We came up with two action plans. The first one came as an idea after part of our group went to the ski center in Brezovica. They told us how ridiculously polluted the ski slopes were and how people were absolutely uninterested in the state of their own surroundings. We wanted to bring the absurdity of the situation to the attention of the people. Our plan was to gather the garbage, make statues of it and simply talk to people. We also designed banners and flags, useful tools for putting the emphasis on what we want.

Upon arriving, we found out that the trash had been gathered and dumped at the entrance. This was a temporary setback, but it also meant we could focus on talking to people about climate change. We set up our banners, our dedicated team of snowboarders and skiers went down the slope a few times, carrying banners and wearing white painting overalls, to attract attention. Meanwhile the rest of us were doing our best to attract people’s attention and make them curious. After the initial shock of people wearing overalls and waving flags around had subsided, we were approached by all kinds of individuals. Naturally, some of them waved us off the moment we mentioned the word climate, but others took genuine interest in our campaign. One particular fellow was even convinced we were from National Geographic, because we “knew so much”.

In the end, we did what we went there for – we talked to people, we shared our views and explained our mission. After hitchhiking home, we started preparing the action in Prizren. After rehearsing our march and synchronising our little routine, we were ready to take the stage in the city- the public square. The plan was to separate in two teams, march to the center drinking fountain and start reading stories of climate change victims. Every person of our group had a different story. It worked like a charm. Even during the marching bit, we had already gathered an audience. Once we started reading, people approached us and we explained what we’re doing and what our mission is. It was quite the experience. After a while, we ceased action and went to dinner, exhilarated and surprised how much interest people had shown.

Besides the flashmob we also organized an exhibition in Prizren in a pub near by the square. For the installation we used the same stories and pictures that show the reality of the so called “climate change witnesses”. We decided to use the open space of the bar, where Gipsy Groove were performing. They supported our campaign and putted our banner “Wake up before the nightmare comes!” on the stage behind them.

It was quite interesting and intense day for all of us. Unfortunately “Winter Peace in Brezovica”, first part of the project “Mountains connecting people” is over, but we did a great job and we are all looking forward to the next part of it in the beginning of the summer in the eco village of Vlahi in Bulgaria.

Hristo, Elitza, Amelie

Youth Exchange Winter Peace in Brezovica

The remote, isolated village of Brezovica, Kosovo has been our home for five days now, although it seems like time is trapped in a kind of vortex here. It feels as if months have passed since our adventure began. Surrounded by the vast, continuous chain of the Sharmountains, 27 of us, coming from Croatia, Serbia, Russia (Republic of Mari El), Kosovo and Bulgaria, have gathered to talk about climate change and the possibilities of salvaging, what is left of our planet, from the scary consequences that we’ve all contributed to. „Winter peace in Brezovica“ is a part of a larger project called „Mountains connecting people“. And they have connected us in ways we couldn’t imagine. This youth exchange is about nature, culture, climate and discovering ways to live sustainably and make our home a better place for us and the generations to come. We still hope that total devastation of our existence can be avoided and today we are here to exchange information and inspiration and to become The Change. We have disconnected from our usual life and lifestyle, opened up our minds and erased the borders of our countries. Differences don’t matter anymore. We are all interested in one goal. To act before acting becomes impossible. „Too little, too late“ is not an option for us, which is why we are here.

It was really hard for us to sum up all the activities from the past few days after the beginning of the project. As every youth exchange „Winter peace in Brezovica“ also started with group dynamic and team building. But besides the „ice- breaking“ games, the culture night, the adventures on field and all the fun we had, we also did a lot to get more familiar with the central topics „Climate Change” and “Climate Justice“. Of course most of us were already somehow involved with different initiatives connected to environmental problems, climate issues, ecology, etc. But only a few of us have actually enough information and the knowledge that they really can make a change. After all this is the main purpose of this youth exchange – that at the end all of us will leave something valuable behind us.

We jumped to the main topic with presentations about the current situation in every participating country. We also had two guest lecturers. The director of National park Shar Mountain which is managing protected area in Serbian enclave, Violeta Stamenković, explained us more about the national park, its problems and the future opportunities. It was very interesting for us not only because it was connected to our „Climate change“ talks, but also because we already had enough time to explore the „wild side“ of Shar mountain on our own. The whole group is inlove with this beautiful place and that’s why we are even more concerned about what is happening.

The second guest lecturer was Rinora Gojani from the INDEP, think thank NGO, which is member of Kosovo Civil Society Consortium for Sustainable Development (KOSID). Her presentation about the energy policies in Kosovo was really impressing. She showed us that every single person can start the change, even when it seems like it is impossible.
Besides those sessions, which gave us more information about our own realities we also had an open space, where some of the participants presented topics like Veganism, RE- design and UN Climate talks and skills like juggling, photography, step dance and knitting.

One of our first tasks was to explore local community, their habits and their way of life. We were divided in groups of five and „unleashed“ on the inhabitants of Brezovica and the nearby town of Štrpce. The purpose of this activity was not only to learn about the place where we will be living for ten days, but also to get in touch with the people of the area. Every group had a questionnaire prepared and we just asked people we met on the street if they have time and want to share a bit of their lives with us. Almost everybody we approached was very friendly and tried to answer on each question. Also, we told them, why we are here, where we are from and what our motivation is, so it happened that these „interviews“ turned into interesting talks for everybody.

We tried to ask people from every social background, gender and age to get an overview of the general opinion of the whole community. We had a lot of fun, reaching Štrpce, exchanging info and enjoying the day with local people.

Since we are people from several different countries with different cultures and traditions, we decided to have an evening for exchange. On Sunday, the 15th of March, each group prepared a table with local, home-made, vegetarian and vegan food, drinks and typical items.

This evening, called „Agro Exchange“, was an opportunity for everybody to learn and experience interesting things about the other participants around us and their origins. The focus of our gathering is on climate change and its impacts, so the majority of the presented products were local and home-made. We enjoyed a long-lasting evening as a big connected group, and although the differences were placed across the room, we felt connected even more.

Along with other group activities, this evening helped us to overcome the „artificial borders“ of the nation-states and truly feel like inhabitants of the planet Earth, that we all share and need to preserve for future generations.

Elitza, Lea, Lukas and Stefan

Create a climate for peace

Service Civil International (SCI) is a  worldwide movement dedicated to promoting a culture of peace by organising international voluntary projects for people of all ages and backgrounds. Velebit Association Kuterevo is a partner of SCI in Croatia.

This year, SCI is running a climate justice campaign: Create a climate for peace. The biggest challenge of today´s world is climate change: a growing threat to peace, non-violence and human rights.  Our fossil-fuel based economy and culture of consumerism is contributing significantly to this process. Communities around the globe are already facing the consequences of climate change: draughts and famine driven by changing natural conditions cause escalation of existing conflicts (for example in Syria, Somalia), destabilisation of governments and disruption of social cohesion in countries that are already struggling with other challenges. It is expected that we will witness 200 million climate refugees leaving their homes by 2040. SCI, as worldwide, can have a impact in different areas, such as mitigation (reducing the footprint), disaster relief and in building resilience of impacts of climate change.

As part of the campaign, we hosted in Kuterevo in February a preparation meeting for Nonviolence needs nature project. This year, we will organised different activities part of this campaign, like join the Week of Action this week (see program below) and adjust all our workcamps to the goals of the campaign: sustainable activities, challenging educational part and contribution to climate justice.

Scientific reports

One focus of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the impact on Earth’s ecosystems. The report says that in recent decades, many plant and animal species have moved their range, changed numbers or shifted their seasonal activities as a result of warmer temperatures. Hunters in Croatia has already witnessed “spring advancement” earlier breeding by bears, which is supposed to happen in May or later. Researchers are finding that changes in a region’s climate are affecting hibernation behaviors around the world. The three main triggers that activate hibernation behaviors in an animal include changes in air temperature, food availability, and day length (also called photoperiod).

For example, in Spain, scientists have found in recent years that a European brown bear species that inhabits the Cantabrian Mountains no longer hibernate during the winter months. Mother bears (sows) and their cubs have remained active due to warmer conditions and the ability to find abundant food resources year-round.

In general, the reports says that the world faces threat to food supply, conflicts over water rights and growing inequality. The only option to is cut emissions and to adapt to the unfamiliar changes of climate.

Week of Action

This week, from 7th till 13th of April, we will be organizing in Kuterevo different activities related to climate justice and sustainable living.

Every evening at 8pm we will be screening documentaries in the volunteers’ station. Don’t hesitate to join us! For more info, contact us.

Wednesday: ANIMA MUNDI

Besides, we will:

  • built a new composting toilets for visitors of the Bear Refuge and empty our toilet in the Volunteers’ Station 🙂
  • start up a food forest with combination of forest and domestic fruit trees
  • sow and plant in our gardens

As usual, we will be eating local products, lots of bear garlic 🙂 reusing ‘expired’ food, taking less shower, saving energy and exchange seeds and groceries with neighbours.


Winter Peace in Kuterevo – the end

Hello again!

Today (14.01.14) is the last day of the project Winter Peace in Kuterevo. Finally we got rain. I know it’s not snow, but it’s something. It’s like in the movies, when you leave some place the whole nature is like crying 😀 But before sharing napkins and goodbye hugs, we have to boast about what we did for the last 3 days. We started projects that we want to use to show the world some solutions, ideas and things to think about the way we treat the nature. At the time we had to gather our ideas, what should the projects look like, no one believed that we could make it for a day and a half and prepare presentation for the rest of the second day. We separated in five groups for the five projects:

  • Land art: This group had the aim to remind people of the fact that everything is connected, especially humans and nature by doing art. With natural materials they created a stickman-family.
  • BEar THE CHANGE – Interviewing all volunteers what is change, what prevents it, and to write a quotation for it was the the way for this group to gather material, also for some kind of art. On two long pieces of wood, decorated with the footprints of bears, they stuck the portraits of all 25 volunteers and their quotations.
  •  KUTEchangeREVO – This project-group created a photo essay of how people from the village see the climate change, how it affects their way of life and what it might tell about their future.
  • Travelling footprint –  All around the globe, volunteers engaging themselves in all kinds of projects and programs travel through long distances, most likely by planes. For this reason the group of “Travelling footprint” recorded a very serious video to convince these people of the benefits of using environment-friendly tranportion.
  • reconnAction – The most artistic and creative volunteers created an exhibition of posters, bags and buttons with sayings about (missing) change and bad industry to provoke people to think more about what they do, how they live, how far are they from nature and that we should reconnect to it by taking actions.

Yesterday we made a  presentation in the local fire department hall in front of Kuterevo’s  local community. Also we prepared an intercultural evening presenting some food and useful phrases from our countries. During this evening full of joy, the spirit of Kuterevo and of course rakia we learnt a traditional song and we sang it to the visitors with the help of five young musicians from the village. We also danced traditional dances with some of them. This night, we felt like being part of the big family of Kuterevo.

A bit of melancholy is noticeable as the volunteers come together for the big end-evaluation. Can you see the problem here? Now we don’t want to go back to our countries 🙂 We felt so good here that we made it like our home. We felt part of it all for only ten days. Only ten days you need to get to know other people’s culture. This miracle would be impossible without the work of Helena and Amelie, the main leaders of the project, their inspiration, love to nature and this way of living – peacefully but not monotonically.

We wish you to get inspiration like we did. Maybe you don’t need to go to other country or to get in touch with different people but at least you can start from where you are exactly right now. Get up put a smile on your face and try to feel the place you live in other positive way. Try to see the good in other people, try to make them smile too. Just start with the little steps so you can find the inner force to not stop changing, develop yourself and your world in peace, harmony and become one with the universe.

The last thing which is left to do is the farewell-party, a night which is supposed to be full of joy, singing, dancing and giving an opportunity for the volunteers to remember the days they spent together. Afterwards they’ll start their journey to Zagreb in order to return to their home-countries, starting out in a future where they have to face new challenges, but also with the chance to make the world a little bit better.

BOK ! (‘’Hello’’, ‘’Goodbye’’, ‘’God’’ in Croatian)

Boryana and Siggi