Rosa Hergan, a volunteer from Austria telling her story about the first edition of BREfest – Sharr is more than snow – nature gathering in Brezovica ski resort, Kosovo.
Sitting next to a girl on the bus to Brezovica, my journey started with lots of giggles and a lively conversation about the various animals living in the Sharr Mountains of Kosovo. The Sharr Mountain range stretches along the southern borderlines between Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania, and is one of the richest hubs of endemic species in the South Western Balkans. As well as being a paradise for biodiversity, this National Park is also home to multi-ethnic communities: Albanian, Macedonian, Serb, Bosniak, Turk, Gorani, Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian groups make it one of the most culturally diverse areas of the Balkans. In other words, the trans-border area is ideal for creating a meeting space for both people from different backgrounds, as well as locals with international volunteers.
Our EVS work camp gathered volunteers from 14 different countries, to organize BREfest, a festival of music and nature amidst breath-taking views in a small village, called Brezovica. Together, we created a programme to raise awareness of environmental topics and to re-evaluate the natural and cultural potential of the mountain. In workshops and discussions, dealing with nature conservation, sustainable resource distribution in the region, and the issues posed by the current demographic displacement, new synergies were built, ideas were connected and stereotypes were broken (a video message from the volunteers of BREfest).
The weeks of our stay flew by like no other. Days were filled with exchanging ideas, illustrating personal takes on a more sustainable lifestyle, and proliferating workshop ideas, we also ventured out to explore the mountain. We conducted clean-up actions (video, pictures), built our festival area from scratch, and got to know the environment and its inhabitants by joining cultural celebrations in higher altitudes. These experiences provided me with valuable opportunities to increase my own understanding of life in Brezovica from different perspectives, as well as what it means to make a living in Kosovo in general. Overall, these encounters encouraged me to constantly redefine my understanding of activist work and humanitarian aid in complex post-war situations such as Kosovo. On an individual level, it takes dedication, patience, and genuine passion for the cause, to work through any unexpected challenges, and to continuously dismantle my own assumptions.
Ultimately, joined by many friends and volunteers of GAIA (SCI Kosovo) and the Bike Tour of Freedom, we achieved our goal. We established a space that gathered people from different backgrounds, as well as different age cohorts as we had Roma children from Imaginatorium, the alternative education center in Gracanica, visit us. By sharing personal visions of nature conservation, we reconnected through the medium of the mountain. This, in combination with a great appreciation for the music by Roma, Albanian, Serbian, Macedonian musicians and DJs, afforded for an atmosphere of freedom and acceptance, which both strengthened our group dynamic as well as facilitated our collective journey to find our way back to our roots.
With everyone contributing their part in the festival, be it through manual labor, photo exhibits, workshop facilitation, singing, or showing off their cooking skills, we created something incredibly beautiful. Even if our expectations weren’t entirely met, the intimate encounters between individuals certainly planted strong seeds for future action in the Sharr Mountains and beyond. Due to the great friendships that we have been able to form, many of us will return to our lives with a clearer vision of our ideals, and with the insightful wisdom that we are not alone in quest for a better world! Together we resist, together we persist for change and conservation of our planet, and to bring together people living and loving Sharr Mountain.
Rosa and 17 other young people from around Europe joined a short-term EVS “All colours of Sharr mountain”, part of Thinking like a mountain… project, financially supported by Erasmus+ programme of the EU.