Call for participants – Youth Exchange in Sharr Mountain (Kosovo)

From 15th till 26th of August this year,

30 young people coming from Croatia, Serbia, Kosovo, Greece, Macedonia and Bulgaria, will gather in the magical mountain of Sharr in the south of Kosovo

During these 10 days, we will:
…learn and share about nature conservation
…explore the meaning and practise of coexistence with nature in rural areas,
…get to know the local community, customs, tradition and lifestyle, and living with seasons,
… explore biodiversity of Sharr mountain and benefits of cultural and natural diversity
… visit inspiring and protected natural and cultural places (monasteries, mosques, roman sites)
… learn about and from wilderness (herbs, other pants, animals, relations, fungi, human impact etc.)
…reflect on our role in this world (lifestyle, activism, ignorance…)
… experience living in a big diverse group in the mountains,
…enjoy, have fun and much more

PROGRAM & LIFESTYLE

Program will be diverse, intensive and very much up to participants and we will be having sessions in the morning and afternoon, but also evening activities.

Frame of the program will be prepared by the group leaders, but participants are expected to contribute with their own ideas, skills, questions, suggestions, games, movies etc.

The main topic of the YE will be wilderness and our relation with it… It will be explored in different ways. At the end, we will work in small groups, which will be organized according to interest and ideas, ideally creating something very concrete for the end (a short video, exhibition, installation, blog…). We are expected to be as sustainable as possible, so food will be vegan with vegetarian option and mostly from local and seasonal products.

LOCATION

The Youth Exchange will take place high in the mountains, in a motel situated in ski resort Brezovica, at 1750m above the sea level.

The village of Brezovica (Municipality of Strpce) is a small, with around 400 inhabitants, and is situated in the north-eastern part of the Sharr Mountains.

Sharr Mountains is oldest National park in Kosovo, and provides habitat for the lynx, bear, chamois, wolf, roe deer, wild boar, vultures and many plant species among which many are endemic and relict.

REQUIREMENTS FOR PARTICIPANTS

Each partner organisation will choose 5 participants, among which one will be a group leader (which can be older than 30). Previous experience in international youth gatherings (exchanges, seminars, workcamps…) is not required nor advantage, but here are several points which will be taken into account:

  • be interested in topics and willing to get prepared before the youth exchange
  • be willing to disconnected virtually, but connected naturally
  • be willing to live sustainably and in an international community in a remote place in the mountains for 10 days
  • be ready for active participation and contribution
  • be in the age between 18 and 30 (few exceptions possible for young people under 18; group leaders can be older than 30)

PRACTICAL CONDITIONS OF PARTICIPATION

  • accommodation and food will be covered through the project
  • travel costs (only environmentally friendly means of transport) will be reimbursed after ALL ORIGINAL tickets are received
  • visa costs will be fully covered
  • internet will not be available, except for urgent (really urgent and important cases), so if you are supposed to write your thesis or cannot survive without Facebook, please do not consider applying 🙂

If you are interested in taking part in this Youth exchange send your application to kuterevo.volunteers@gmail.com before the 5th of July 2016

Application form can be found here.

Nature that (re)connects us…

Sharr mountain, November 2015

Once again, the peaceful village of Brezovica welcomed a number of enthusiastic young people, this time as the extension of the project Mountains Connecting People – Nature that (re)connects us. Last time it was winter, but now we were honoured by beautiful sunny weather.

Some of us knew each other from previous exchanges, some of us were already here. 25 of us, mostly from the Dinaric mountain region (Croatia, Serbia, Kosovo, and for the first time, Bosnia and Herzegovina), while a few were volunteers from Germany and a student from India. Together, we discovered the magic of Sharr mountain, local tradition, but also threats this refuge of wilderness is facing.

After some usual ice-breaking and getting to know each other, talk about previous exchanges, the second day we went outdoors for a little hike to explore the untouched parts of the resort. We were all amazed and touched by the beauty, only to stumble upon a very unpleasant sight – garbage dumps, all over the place. This contrast really made us feel conflicted – how can such a beautiful place mean so little to some people? That’s when ideas started simmering about doing something to change the situation. During the hike, we also had a little concert a couple of participants made with improvised parts of the ski-lift house. The music was for the mountain, but us humans also enjoyed it. During the whole exchange, people were inspired to share their favourite music with others.

In the evening, the participants from each country shared some important info about the Dinaric mountain region which is common for all of us, and what kind of life forms and customs are present, as well as challenges in nature conservation.

The next day we also explored nature, but with one difference – we were in complete silence. No verbal communication, no words, just exploring with your senses and emotions. This was obviously very intense for a lot of participants, but we all enjoyed it an it helped us connect to nature, each others and ourselves even more.

A whole day was dedicated to explore the villages of Brezovica and Štrpce, as well as the magical forest we had to walk through to get to the village. We collected information about local community, customs, proverbs, songs and relation with the mountain. We were so suspicious that some of us ended up in the police station, but just for a short while.

We had a visit from the National Park Sharr director, who talked about the state of things in administration and conservation (including the planned building of a new ski center) which aren’t that great and it inspired us to write this position paper. During the same day we heard a presentation about management of protected areas with the example of NP triglav, by Martin Šolar from WWF Adria and had a little conversation.

The day after discsussion on nature and religion, we visited the monastery Visoki Dečani and Sinan-Pasha Mosque and spent the afternoon in Prizren. Our visit took place in days when media were creating much of attention around Kosovo’s nomination to UNESCO, so it was actually interesting to see how much Kosovo or Serbian Orthodox Church do care about cutural heritage in practice. Some of us visited the church of Bogorodica Ljeviška, and we were astonished that such a beauty can be closed, fenced and abandoned by all.
On the other side, we were honored to meet čika Boža who plays kaval (old instrument) and who taught us the song of Sharr Mountain (Navali se Šar planina). Local cultural groups also visited us and presented traditional dances from the district/region.

We were also guests of a local Kosovo television, they had a story about our exchange and how a bunch of young people from the Balkans lived, worked, explored together for 10 days without any tension about our nationalities, customs, religions… just a lot of jokes on that part 🙂

Somehow, everyday we would end up discusssion about the new masterplan and future plans for the mountain. Even though Kosovo went too far with the plan, we felt like all that is being done in a wrong, unsustainable and destructive way. Therefore, last 2 days we spent thinking and discussing about what should we do to contribute to preservation of the untouched wilderness in Brezovica. We want to stay involved and active, thus we are planing to:

  • distribute postcards which address current issues which has not been solved (waste management and pollution in the National Park)
  • organize voluntary workcamps and youth exchanges in order to support local community, share knowledge and bring more young people closer to this magical mountain
  • support local community in their efforts

If you are interested to join, get in contacts with us and for information, stayed tuned

Sharr Mountain is expecting you…

Ivana & Helena

Active summer in Kutrevo – part 2

The second part of Active summer in Kuterevo started with “open space” workshops where shared some of our knowledge and skills. We had discussion about EVS opportunities and what we can all do to be more sustainable in our daily lives. We also learnt how to make bracelets and decorated our clothes with some wildlife images. We also talked about the science behind climate change.

The rest of the time here in Kuterevo was dedicated to groups projects and finalizing ones from the previous youth exchanges. Our aim was to create projects and actions which would leave a mark. That’s why we divided into four groups with different tasks. Our painting team left a permanent footprint on Kuterevo bear refuge by making a mural to greet the visitors. Some benches also got a makeover and brought even more color to the place.

The key task we undertook was to come up with a follow up project. We made a commitment to organize different actions in our home countries on 16th of October – International food day. This group is also writing a new project connected with the topics that we already covered and at the same time building up the knowledge that we gained during all Mountains connecting people Youth exchanges. Because we wanted to spread the word about the project and get more people involved and active we set up a special website. There we shared all the information, photos and activities from the three exchanges. The idea is to maintain the blog with useful information and updates future exchanges and actions. The translation team made the Food and climate change exhibition available in a six different languages – Bulgarian, Serbian, Russian, Albanian, Croatian and German.

Our Friday evening was very special because we had a ceremony which made us friends of the bears and the refuge. We had s special ritual where we received a beautiful bear necklace representing the Kuterevo spirit. It symbolizes the selfless and sharing way of interacting with each other which means giving without necessarily receiving something in return.

On our last day we shared with the others the result of our hard work. We left also our totem which will be staying in the refuge along with others from previous volunteers, youth exchanges and workcamps.

Another amazing exchange now came to its end!

Ivan, Milena, Petya and Nelly

Youth Exchange “Active Summer in Kuterevo”

The third part of the project “Mountains connecting people” had a really promising beginning. 25 young people from Croatia, Kosovo, Bulgaria, Russia and Serbia gathered at a really special place – Bear Refuge Kuterevo, on the outskirts of Velebit mountain.

Some of the people already knew each other from previous two exchanges in Kosovo and Bulgaria and were really happy to be reunited with their friends.

We marked the beginning of our project with games and activities that brought us even closer together as a team. The group agreed on some guidelines that would make our life as a community for the next 10 days easier. They also contributed to the idea of the project to live simple, sustainable and nature-friendly way of life. We also shared memories and experience from the previous projects. We were introduced to the bears and the bear refuge and got in touch with the spirit of Kuterevo. It’s a very special place in Croatia where people still live in harmony with nature and wilderness.

The local people introduced us to their way of living. They showed us how to make tamburica named kuterevka which is a typical local hand-made instrument and coklje which is a type of shoes which are only made in the village. After few discussions and workshops about volunteerism and activism, we wrote a letter to the future generation which provoked us to think few generations ahead. On Saturday we explored the surrounding area and wildlife by going on a short hike to Kopija – a special place where people from the village gather on holidays. It brought people together in the past and still does. We had a really challenging experience to prepare our lunch in silence. Without speaking we were able to understand each other even better.

On Sunday we had skype meeting with Maruska an activist from Young friends of the Earth Europe who shared her experience and motivated us on future actions on Balkans. Later that day we spend some time with local families where we cooked to gather, shared a common meal and stories.

The highlight of the first part of the exchange was the 15-kilometer – hike to Northern Velebit National Park where we connected with ourselves, others and nature. We were also lucky enough to encounter some bear footprints. For some people it was the first serious hike in their lives and some of us even overcame their fears. We enjoyed some spectacular view of Adriatic sea from one the top of the hill. On the next day and we visited the Velebit botanical garden and then we took the trails of the beast and we went down to Krasno where we learned about growing your own garden and how medicinal plants are useful.

Dinner was shared with friends from Bärenfreunde and Postaja volunteers (volunteers station). Although we felt physically tired, we were inspired and glad to finally start with the more practical work. Now we are facing the task of finalizing the “Mountains connecting people” project.

Ivan, Petya, Anamarija, Nelly

“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