Impressions of Ismael about Gracanica Summer Workcamp

After our workcamp in Imaginatorium, GAIAs educational center in Gracanica, I feel like a student who has just graduated from school and, looking back, reflects on the things he learnt, the ways he changed and the friends he made throughout those years, though in my case I was only there for little more than a couple of weeks. One of the wonders of life is that the whole of it can be experienced in a seemingly short time, and I can contemplate all things, from birth to death, by going through my memories of these past few days, from our meetings before participants came, during which, like parents who are expecting their first child, we made detailed plans and schedules and worried about all that might have gone wrong, all the way to the end, when the time came to say goodbye and many kids – and grown-up volunteers as well – could not contain their tears.

Then the house where we were living and, more vividly, the school where we were working with the kids come to my mind. I see our daily chores : cooking for the group, cleaning the bathroom, fixing broken pipes, tidying up the house, washing the dishes, … and, while those things may not seem to us worth telling, they now appear important and even beautiful to me, because we carried them out in order to make life easier for those around us, out of love for the small family we became during those two weeks together. However, those things cannot show the power of love nearly as much as the moments we shared with the children of our school. What else, if not love, could make those kids, who live such hard lives amidst poverty and violence, all run at us smiling in the morning to hug us and offer us some of the sweets they were eating? What peace I felt then, as we were walking up the street towards the school and passing by the black fumes of old cars and the red unfinished houses with the kids holding our hands. Having them by our side when crossing the thick clouds of pollution and noise was like carrying a candle in the dark.

Little by little it became clear to me how much those children were full of light. And sometimes, as when they finally understood whatever it is we had been trying to explain to them, like the best way to solve a math problem or a smart move in some board game, all that light of their hearts shone right through their eyes. In those and other such moments, Imaginatorium became a school for us as well, and we slowly learnt from the kids something far more important than English or Math : to keep our hearts as pure as theirs, free of the stains of deceit, fear and darkness.

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If such are my memories, how can I go on with my life with neither those kids nor my fellow volunteers to share it with? Again, the answer is love. Yes, workcamps may end, volunteers leave, kids grow up, … all things pass, but love never ends, and love was all that this workcamp was ever truly about.

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Call for participants for PBA in nature conservation, 22.02-01.03.19, Kosovo

GAIA Kosovo and Velebit Association Kuterevo are looking for participants for a Partnership Building Activity within the Mountain spirit – Strategic EVS for Nature Conservation project. The networking activity is for organizations, volunteers, youth workers and activists who are or would like to be involved in nature conservation and youth volunteering activities. The PBA meeting aims at providing space for the participants to establish contacts, exchange and work on ideas and future cooperations.

The PBA will happen from February, 22nd until March 1st in the city of Peja/Peć, Kosovo.

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Main topics include:

  • European Solidarity Corps – new approaches and possibilities for cooperation
  • Nature protection and volunteering – examples, challenges, needs and opportunities
  • Mountain spirit project – what has been done, what comes next?

The specific objectives of the PBA are:

  • To create 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 provide opportunity for partners within Mountain spirit project to meet and plan next activities
  • To give an overview and details on the possibilities of the European Solidarity Corps and Erasmus+ programmes
  • To serve as a place for setting up future projects and initiatives between the participants.

More about the call, profile of participants and of targeted organizations you can read from the Mountain spirit website (here) or from the attached pdf.

We are looking for 25 participants from Erasmus+ program countries and the Western Balkans  (eligible ONLY for: EU countries, Macedonia, Turkey, Liechtenstein, Norway, Iceland, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia).

If you want to apply fill in the application form until January 14th 2019.

For further information you can contact us at gaia.kosovo@gmail.com.

 

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.

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.