BREfest 2.0 unfolded in many beautiful ways in 2018. This year’s team encompassed GAIA volunteers and friends, EVS volunteers and Balkan youngsters, participants in the RYCO youth gathering (BALKAN LyNKS project). Together, they revived the sleepy corridors of the stone walls in the Kameni Dom (Mountaineers’ house) and took up parts of the BREfest programm in their own ways.

DSC_0295RYCO participants in the courtyard of the Kameni Dom in the Sharr Mountains

The RYCO participants were able to choose between four different, but equally engaging workshops that focused on traditional knowledge, wildlife, storytelling of and by locals, and nature and art. Together, the participants were encouraged to venture beyond comfort and familiarity to adjust to a new environment and thereby mingled into a colorful crowds of different backgrounds, knowledges, habits, and laughs.

For BREfest, the workshop participants prepared under the guidance of their facilitators engaging and educative presentations that provided visitors an insight into their work experience in Brezovica. Goran, (28) from Macedonia was part of the traditional knowledge workshop and used the opportunity to reflect on his personal connection to nature and how he could extend his contribution to environmental activism. He conceives nature protection as an issue that lies in the hands of citizen initiatives because national governments across the Western Balkans fail to pay adequate attention to it and its importance to the environment, but also to livelihoods of its residents. At the same time, this attitude is reflected in the way the National Park has been treated by its visitors; layers of trash have accumulated in landfills along the road site and invade the blissful natural environment of the Sharr Mountain. Beyond that, he observed that the National Park lacks a proper infrastructure, and information about its biodiversity and trails that would prevent these things. Through the clean-up action that was organized by GAIA in the days before BREfest, he took part in the protest against the deliberate littering in the National Park and to sought to draw attention to the waste management problem in this area. (read the open letter regarding the topic of RYCO, EVS and volunteers to the institution here)

IMG_7946Goran performing the drums during the healing ritual at BREfest 2.0.

As a member of the traditional knowledge workshop, Goran was introduced to the local practices of people living with the mountain. He was integral in the presentation of his learning outcomes, which the group performed through a healing ritual during BREfest. Apart from that, he is positive that his newly attuned awareness to environmental conditions of protected ares will encourage him to stay alarmed and engaged in environmental activism beyond BREfest. This is particularly important since Sharr Mountain ridge is used to mark the border between Kosovo and Macedonia, a imaginary line that wildlife and nature doesn’t care about. Moreover, the part of the mountain lying in Macedonia has not yet been declared a National Park, therefore no protection practices exist. BREfest, and the RYCO youth gathering made him want to return to Kosovo for BREfest 3.0 to unlock the remaining potential lingering in his hands as a facilitator.

IMG_7976Traditional Knowledge Workshop Group