Call for participants: Creating a forest garden in Kosovo

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If you went out for a walk in the Kosovar countryside, what would you see? Now that the cold season is coming, little more than dried grass, burning straw and a few lonely trees here and there. It doesn’t need to be like that, though. Before humans arrived, those empty fields were forests full of life. At this time of the year, mushrooms, acorns and fruits could all be found lying on top of a thick cover of fallen leaves. What if the fields that provide us with our food looked like those forests instead of like a desert? Come with us and see!

GAIA Kosovo, with funding from SCI’s Gaia Microgrants Program, is organizing a short volunteer workcamp with the aim of starting up a a forest garden in the permaculture estate of Boževce/Bozhec, close to Kamenicë/Kamenica. A forest garden is a system of trees and other plants designed to provide humans with fruits, nuts, herbs, wood and other useful yields. The activity will take place from Wednesday the 21st of November to Monday the 26th and is open to everyone regardless of background, skills or experience. Food and accommodation in a house inside the property will all be provided by us free of charge, but bear in mind rooms are shared, everyone is expected to take part in cooking and cleaning duties and the living conditions are those of a village house, including outdoor toilets, water from a well, dog and cats around, … We will cover your bus travel expenses from anywhere in Kosovo to our estate and back as well. You just need to bring a strong desire to learn about nature and to get your hands dirty planting trees.

Participants will:
– Be introduced to permaculture and forest gardening in a very practical way.
– Learn about edible and useful species, including trees, herbs and mushrooms.
– Perform a variety of physical tasks, including planting, carpentry and making compost.
– Have the chance of meeting our neighbours, mostly elders with plenty of traditional knowledge and experience, and of exploring the beautiful natural surroundings
– Live simply and in contact with nature, with little technology.
– Eat a healthy vegetarian diet of chiefly organic, local and seasonal products.

Participants must:
– Arrive on Wednesday the 21st of November and leave no earlier than on the afternoon of Sunday the 25th.
– Be prepared to work outdoors.
– Be willing to do manual work.
– Be over 18.
– Eat vegetarian or vegan for the duration of the workcamp.
– Be willing to share their room and living spaces.

Interested? You have until the 10th of November to apply by filling this online form. If you have any questions, please send us an email at gaia.kosovo@gmail.com. See you up in the mountains!
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About forest gardening
Forest gardens are a form of agriculture in which the focus is on growing trees, shrubs and other perennial plants rather than the more common annual vegetable and cereal crops. They are modelled on young forests and share with them some important features which bring them apart from conventional agriculture.
Some of them are:
– A wide array of plant species are cultivated together and biodiversity is encouraged.
– Multiple plants use up available space more efficiently by growing on different levels, including trees, bushes, grasses and climbers.
– Fertility is built up by specific plants which are good at bringing nutrients from the soil up to their leaves and by making use of human and animal waste through composting and fermenting manure.
– The soil is kept covered all year long by ground plants, leaves or other mulches such as straw, and it is never plowed or dug.
– Most pests are naturally controlled by their predators.

Here’s a video in which Martin Crawford, pioneer of forest gardening in temperate climates, explains what forest gardening is and shows some plants from his own garden.

About 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.

About Boževce/Bozhec
Boževce/Bozhec is a tiny village community situated in the Eastern part of Kosovo, in the Municipality of Ranilug. The village used to be inhabited by 600 people, but nowadays that number has been reduced to only 60. It is hidden behind hills, between forest, rocks, streams and meadows. People still living in the village nowadays are mostly elders who still preserve the knowledge of simple and sustainable living in remote peaceful areas. Inhabitants of the village are Serbs, and one can find one Orthodox church in the village and a few others in the area around, some dating back to medieval times.

About GAIA
GAIA is a non-governmental organization dedicated to cultivating peace, social and environmental justice and sustainable living. The main activities of GAIA are international volunteer programs (workcamps, long-term volunteering), non-formal education (trainings, seminars, workshops, youth exchanges) and permanent community building programs.
GAIA is a full member of SCI (Service Civil International), a volunteer organisation dedicated to promoting a culture of peace by organising international voluntary projects for people of all ages and backgrounds. Throughout the years, SCI has made a major contribution to the development of the main forms of volunteering. Year after year, the organisation enables thousands of volunteers to participate in community projects.

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Doing long term volunteering in Germany (Leotrime from Kosovo)

Volunteering with Friedenskreis Halle e.V. was more than just being abroad and working
in one place of assignment. The whole experience was a learning process. It was a process of growing personally and professionally. This experience has helped me become more independent, more organized, self-confident, it has even changed my approach towards various things. No matter how cliché it may sound, being a volunteer is indeed a life changing experience.

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I did my voluntary service in the elementary school Evangelische Grundschule Halle.
What I liked most about this school is that everything happens in an innovative atmosphere; it offers individual and interdisciplinary learning. The school is divided into two parts: school time and Hort (after school care). My tasks were also divided into two parts. I assisted teachers in the classroom, learning together with children German, English, Mathematics, arts and so forth and after school time I played different games and did different activities with children. When I started my voluntary service I couldn’t speak German at all and in the beginning I was afraid this was going to be a barrier between us but thankfully I was wrong. The children were so willing to communicate with me and teach me German using examples or even gestures; they would not laugh when I made a mistake but instead they would support me. I was there to teach them but in fact, I ended up learning a lot from them. Since the beginning of the voluntary service and until the end, the staff welcomed me and made me feel part of the team. The staff and especially my mentor were very supportive, and ready to help me every time I had a question. Doing my voluntary service at this school was one of the best decisions I ever made.

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When I look back on this experience I think about all the moments that made me feel alive, the grounds my feet have walked, the kind people I met along the way who taught me new lessons in life. All these helped me grow and become the better version of myself. That’s why this will be the most valuable possession I will get from Germany. Once you live in a country you will forever belong there because you leave a piece of your heart in every place you have been and at the same time you take a part of that country with you wherever you go.

Leotrime Maxharraj from Istog , GAIA long-term volunteer in Germany (from 1st of January till 19th of September 2018)

Meeting neighbors: a week in Velika Hoča/Hoçë e Madhe

44497877_507786036362616_4063299139465641984_nFrom 24th until 29th of September 2018 a cultural exchange took place in the village of Velika Hoča/Hoçë e Madhe. Organized by GAIA Kosovo and Draganac Monastery, with the support of World Vision, the exchange gathered 16 participants from different places of Kosovo such as Drenas, Vushtrri, Mitrovica, Skenderaj, Prishtina, Rahovec but also from Albania, Serbia, Austria and France. It was a chance for them to explore cultural heritage sites in Velika Hoča/Hoçë e Madhe, Prizren, Peć/Peja, and to learn how culture, peace and religion interrelate in Kosovo.

For five days, the participants took part in various activities and visited cultural sites in Kosovo. The group learnt about and reflected on the significance of sustaining historical heritage to document the history and traditions of different communities. At the same time, they discussed the importance of keeping cultural heritage sites open to everyone. These included the historical village Velika Hoča/Hoçë e Madhe, the Sinan Pasha Mosque, Serbian Orthodox Seminary of Saints Cyril and Methodius and the Monastery of the Holy Archangels in Prizren, but also the designated UNESCO cultural heritage sites, the Patriarchate of Peja/Peć and the Dečani Monastery. While in Peja/Peć, the group paid a visit to Anibar at the `Jusuf Gervalla’ cinema and discussed their contribution to contemporary  culture.

More than visits, the cultural exchange was the opportunity for a group of young Albanians to grasp the variety of cultures that exist in Kosovo. Hosted in a Serbian family, they had the chance to meet local people and exchange with them, noting their sense of hospitality and sharing about their lives. Most of the young people never came in a Serbian-inhabited town before this week. “I am ashamed to confess that a few years ago I was this kind of person who swore she would never ever talk to a Serbian person” told a participant who was raised in a village nearby. Between the visits, GAIA volunteers organized activities which incited collective thinking about the topics of peace, intercultural coexistence and media disinformation. The reflection culminated when the participants had the chance to meet with Father Sava Janjic, abbot of the Dečani Monastery. First describing how he is harshly criticized by both Serbian and Kosovo Albanian media, he then delivered a message of peace, repeating his position against attempts of dividing people who can live together on a shared land. Participants later expressed their surprise as they just learned that the monastery hosted hundreds of refugees during wartime, the majority being Albanians fleeing the Serbian paramilitary. The participants met the Imam Lutfi Ballek too, who, while visiting Sinan Pasha mosque, gave them an overview of the mosque and discussed about the coexistence of people in Prizren. During the week, besides Janjic and Ballek, they also met Father Sophronios and Father Ilarion from the Draganac Monastery. All those spiritual leaders delivered the same message of peace and exchanges between the different religions.

The participants showed great open-mindedness regarding the issues addressed. Some mental barriers were brought down, and new perspectives emerged, in which the “Other” is not an enemy but a friend. “I need the time to process, but I know something changed for me” admitted another participant. A lot of participants expressed the wish to come back to Velika Hoča/Hoçë e Madhe in the future, following the invitation of the hosting family.

Call for Youth Exchange Participants: Rediscover hidden cultural heritage sites of Kosovo

Konaku_i_Manastirit_të_DeçanitPhoto: Kroni Krasniqi

GAIA Kosovo and the Orthodox Monastery of Draganac, with the support of World Vision, are organizing a youth exchange about cultural heritage, peace and religion in Velika Hoča/ Hoçë e Madhe, from 24th until 29th of September 2018. Come discover the way of living of a centuries-old winemaking community of Kosovo!

During this youth exchange, participants will have an opportunity to:

  • Learn about cultural and religious heritage of Velika Hoča/ Hoçë e Madhe
  • Get a taste of local foods and home made products 
  • Visit Prizren, a beautiful city where histories, cultures, religions and peoples merge
  • Visit several orthodox monasteries from medieval times among which some are on the UNESCO’s World Heritage list
  • Learn from and experience the everyday life of the Serbian minority in this small community, ‘hidden‘ behind vineyards
  • Engage in discussions about the interrelations of peace and religion

We are looking for 15 participants from Kosovo who are interested in spending 4 days in the small village, to exchange and learn about the intersection of cultural and religious heritage in a region which comprises lesser known cultural elements of the country. The youth exchange is about tolerance and understanding, and seeks to reach open-minded people who are genuinely interested in meeting different cultures.

Continue reading “Call for Youth Exchange Participants: Rediscover hidden cultural heritage sites of Kosovo”

Open letter regarding illegal landfill in Brezovica ski resort

To the responsible institutions, media, NGOs and international donors

Regarding illegal landfill in Brezovica ski resort in Sharr Mountain National Park

 

GAIA, European Voluntary Service volunteers and young people from the Balkans want to express their resentment and frustration regarding the existence of an illegal landfill in Ski center Brezovica within the Territory of National Park Sharr Mountain. More than 50 young people from Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Germany, Kosovo, Lithuania, Macedonia, Russia, Serbia, Spain and the UK are insisting that the responsible institutions take action and clear the landfill. The youngsters and the organization recognize that the existence of the landfill is part of a bigger challenge regarding waste management within the ski resort and the National Park, therefore we are encouraging the respectful institutions to implement long-term solutions that actually prevent the creation of new landfills within the ski resort.

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12 volunteers of European Voluntary Service (initiative of Erasmus+ program of the European Commission) and 40 young people from the Balkans taking part in a Youth for Sharr gathering (supported by the Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO) participated in a clean-up action organized by GAIA in the ski resort in the beginning of August. The illegal landfill in the entrance of the ski resort became the centre of the action, with volunteers collecting more than 200 trash bags from just a single part of the mountain slope. Most of the trash included glass bottles (beer, wine, water), plastic bottles and packages, construction material leftovers, broken ski equipment, diapers and other traces of human presence. It is clear that the intensive tourism in combination with a lack of control and collective reluctance to deal with the problem has ended up in a slope full of garbage, piling up for years.

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We find unacceptable that the resources of Sharr Mountain are being exploited in the name of profit while we ignore our responsibilities towards nature and the future generations. GAIA has previously expressed its strong opinions against other investment projects which threaten the values of the mountain, such as an expansion of the ski resort and small hydropower plants. Sharr mountain is proclaimed as a National Park and is even proposed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is the center of mountain biodiversity of Europe, with 2000 plant species, 339 Balkan endemic species and 18 local. Sharr is the habitat for brown bear, lynx, wolves, chamois, wild cat and other mammals, at least 147 butterfly species, 159 bird species, 47 amphibian and reptile species and many other.  Sharr mountain does not deserve tons of garbage on forest slopes going into the rivers that flow through the Balkans.

We understand that waste management is a challenging topic in Kosovo, however, we believe that with political will and joint efforts we can solve the specific case of Brezovica ski resort and its garbage. When it comes to clearing the landfill, GAIA is willing to support the organization of volunteer actions with local and international volunteers. When it comes to long-term solutions, we suggest an information campaign is needed to clarify to visitors and local people what is allowed and forbidden when it comes to waste in the ski center and in the National park, who the responsible institutions are and to encourage people to report when witnessing illegal activities. Strict control over visitors and businesses and issuing fine tickets to the ones not following the regulations is also crucial.

GAIA has been active in the region of Brezovica since 2015 by bringing young people from different countries together for activities dedicated to nature protection and environmental justice. In 2017 with European volunteers we have conducted a clean-up action at the illegal landfill, the results of which are still visible nowadays (video). So far we have received support from the respective institutions (Municipality of Štrpce/Shtërpcë, National park Sharr), therefore we believe a common solution can be found.

We are looking forward to receiving your answers and possible solutions.

For further contact: gaia.kosovo@gmail.com, 043918118 (Miroslava Popova, in English).

 

With regards,                                                                                                                                    Date: 07.09.2018

Helena Poucki,

Legal representative of GAIA

 

GAIA (website, facebook) is an organization dedicated to culture of peace, social justice, sustainable development and respect of environment. GAIA is promoting cultural diversity and works on education and integration of marginalized and minority groups in society. The main activities of GAIA are coordination of volunteer exchange, organization of non-formal educational programs, cooperation with other local and international organizations, organization of festivals, promotion of volunteering, intercultural understanding and solidarity in the region of Balkans and promotion of freedom of movement and youth mobility. GAIA is an official branch of Service Civil International (SCI), one of the world’s largest international volunteering organisations dedicated to promoting peace and volunteering.

 

International and local volunteers who support the letter:

  1. Aid Agaj, Kosovo
  2. Aleksandar Yordanov, Bulgaria
  3. Andrijana Vesic, Kosovo
  4. Angela Mojsoska, Macedonia
  5. Ariston Lipa, Kosovo
  6. Bejtullah Sharku, Kosovo
  7. Charly Duhoux, France
  8. Daniel Laurent, France
  9. Dejan Mladenovic, Kosovo
  10. Donjeta Shatri, Kosovo
  11. Dunja Dragun, Croatia
  12. Dunja Karanovic, Serbia
  13. Elio Allmace, Albania
  14. Elodie Riviere, France
  15. Esmeralda Perseku, Albania
  16. Gentrit Behramaj, Kosovo
  17. Goran Stamatoski, Macedonia
  18. Granit Gashi, Kosovo
  19. Helena Obajdin, Croatia
  20. Igor Markovic, Serbia
  21. Irdi Malaj, Albania
  22. Isabelle Wadbled, France
  23. Iva Mengova, Bulgaria
  24. Ivica Stojkov, Macedonia
  25. Izabela Markova, Bulgaria
  26. Jelena Jovcic, Serbia
  27. Jeremy Flauraud, France
  28. Jana Jovasevic, Serbia
  29. Kieran Murphy, United Kingdom
  30. Kristina Topic, Serbia
  31. Lara-Lena Godde, Germany
  32. Liubov Obraztcova, Russia
  33. Madlen Zasheva, Bulgaria
  34. Maja Mlinarec, Croatia
  35. Maria Begona Santaella Gomez, Spain
  36. Marius Leveli, Albania
  37. Marko Zajic, Serbia
  38. Mevlude Skuroshi, Kosovo
  39. Mia Cuk, Serbia
  40. Miroslava Popova, Bulgaria
  41. Nikola Ilic, Kosovo
  42. Nina Brauch, Germany
  43. Petar Blazevski, Serbia
  44. Rosa Hergan, Austria
  45. Silvia Brdar, Croatia
  46. Slavco Tisevski, Macedonia
  47. Slobodan Vasic, Serbia
  48. Sophie Bitsas, Belgium
  49. Stefan Georgiev, Bulgaria
  50. Sugen Reddy, United Kingdom
  51. Suljan Lamaj, Albania
  52. Vaida Saulyte, Lithuania
  53. Vladimir Djordjevic, Serbia
  54. Wiebke Tebbe, Germany
  55. Yana Ivanova, Bulgaria