What happened during BREfest 2.0.?

In cooperation with the Regional Office of Youth Cooperation (RYCO), GAIA gathered young adults from across the Western Balkans to learn and share knowledge, thoughts and ideas about Sharr Mountain. This resulted in the first BALKAN LyNKS youth gathering with four different workshops that were facilitated by practitioners from each field.

At BREfest 2.0. the participants were given the possibility to present their learning experiences to visitors and engage them in lively discussions on how we can foster alternative lifestyles that build upon a holistic understanding of biosphere which interconnects humans and nature. The following sections will introduce each workshop and present its outcomes.

The Art Colony Workshop

Under the guidance of Dunja Karanovic, a long-term friend and volunteer of GAIA, art majors, nature lovers and keen explorers channeled their educational background in fine-arts into environmental public art and imprinted Sharr’s wild landscapes onto the walls of Kameni Dom.

the wall before the Art Colony contribution
The mural painted by the Art Colony workshop and the children from Imaginatorium

How the process looked like and details from the mural in the slideshow below:

Besides adorning the court yard of the stone building with mural paintings they also offered their skills in the printing workshop during the festival to enshrine the BRE-spirit on recycled garments and created Brezovica’s first gallery of up-cycled art pieces. Moreover, the creativity went down the Brezovica village, where the art colony together with volunteer organized an artistic public space intervention in Rudina park.


The action in Rudina park in Brezovica


Take a look at some of the art gallery pieces:

The Wild Summer School Workshop

“This experience opened our hands and sharpened your eyes to the sounds of nature.”

Under the guidance of Ariston Lipa, youngsters from across the Balkans fine tuned their knowledge and skills through their learning experience about the biodiversity of Sharr Mountain, what does it mean wildlife monitoring and why we do it. Together, they set up camera traps, built insect hotels and learnt about the endemic plants and animal species inhabiting the National Park.


The group set out to contribute to filling in the gaps in documentation of the natural environment. And they did it through promoting citizens science and open data, by contributing to iNaturalist.org website, where thousands of people share their knowledge, pictures and videos in contribution to wildlife monitoring and research.

Mapping of the species around Durlov stream / Durlov potok and the ski resort through direct observations, camera traps and sound registration.

At the same, they used these experiences to expand their knowledge about the local flora and fauna and to re-kindled personal connections with the natural surroundings that often disappear in busy lifestyles of urban concrete jungles.

Picture from the camera trap that the participants placed for the duration of the youth gathering

Durlov Potok (Durlov Stream), and its preservation from a planned hydro dam project were central to this years GAIA summer activities in Sharr. Presentations about small hydropower plants, how they function and what are the consequences to the environment, local people and economy came hand in hand with screening of the Blue Heart movie (trailer) which uncovers the scarry situation for the whole Balkans when it comes to hydropower. The Wild summer school group got engaged into the topic, which was central to their final presentation during BREfest and produced a compelling message referring to all the colors of Sharr mountain:


The final presentation of the wild summer school

The Traditional Knowledge Workshop

Throughout the two-weeks, a bundle of curious minds explored traditions tied to Sharr Mountain. Guided by the film maker, Jelena Jovcic, the group ventured out of Kameni Dom to pose more questions about traditional knowledge about herbal medicine, but also about everyday encounters with the mountain, music and culture.

They enjoyed unique opportunities to listen to century-old family stories and got a taste of local foods – encounters that simultaneously opened their minds to alternative lifestyles and helped them grounded their own understanding of their origins. By the end of their stay, the group had gathered insights through interviewing locals and transformed them into two short film which was presented at the BREfest 2.0.


One of the movies centered on the traditional knowledge transferred through music and interviewed local musicians and singers Slavica and Mile Redzic, Stanoje Nikolic.

The other movie focused on the traditional use of herbs and plants for healing transmitted by an experienced herbalist … who has only 16 years. Watch the video:

Part of the Traditional Knowlege final presentation at the festival was a cleansing ritual walk that centered on one’s relationship with the environment. It took place at Durlov Potok, a place that is being threatened by human desire of dominion and resource exploitation through the establishment of a hydro dam. Visitors were given the opportunity to contribute to the ceremony by paying tributes to the river, as a source of life, and then to participate in the cleansing dance across a fire pit.

The Storytelling Workshop

This workshop set out to document stories revolving around BREfest 2.0. Led by Mia Cuk, the workshop managed to capture a significant part of the preparatory stages of the festival and to provide an insight into the personal passions that contribute to the intimate atmosphere of BREfest. Part of their project was that participants engaged with international, regional and local participants in the Sharr activities before BREfest, but it also captured interviews with people from the villages around investigating their everyday life and about their relationship with the mountain.

As busy journalists, the participants of this workshop collected audio material about the area and transformed it into a podcast called “BREfest Radio.” On this platform curious minds will find a collection of personal anecdotes, stories about Sharr and favorite music pieces.

Listen to what Mira Popova and Mevlude Skuroshi, who are both GAIA coordinators for the festival, are sharing about their personal relationship to nature conservation work and the unique ecosystem in Sharr Mountain.

All of the podcast you can find below:

The Permaculture Corner

Run by GAIA volunteers from Eastern Kosovo, this corner promoted permaculture as a tool for peace building, reconciliation and empowerment of youth. GAIA has been constructing a permaculture garden in the village of Boževce/Bozhefc (municipality of Kamenica). A story from a long-term French volunteer about the activities in this small and isolated village, you can find here.

DSC_0167 (2)In this corner, visitors could engage in discussions on what does permaculture mean in reality and how to implement its principles in daily life. This included a compost which simultaneously served as an interactive demonstration of the principle “produce no waste,” and took care of the festival’s kitchen scraps throughout the three days.


Contrary to the popular idea that Permaculture is yet another approach to alternative gardening and agriculture, it also focuses on how physical structures impact social interactions. With the aim of envisioning different approaches to becoming responsible and independent producers of healthy food, the corner offered information on designing a garden that embraces diversity by planting multiple varieties of vegetables, fruits and herbs to bring in beneficial pollinators. Other presentation included how to make green roof and how it affects the energy efficiency of a building.


Similar to ecological systems, valuing diversity will make us appreciate differences between us in society, a process which will ideally result in a broader perspective and deeper understanding of issues and events, as well as a more resilient responsibility.

Networking and Capacity-Building Meeting

On the final day of the festival, GAIA organized a networking event to facilitate stronger cooperation between grass-roots actors in the region.

With the help of GAIA volunteers the event generated concrete ideas for future actions between the attending NGOs working in the field of youth work, rural and urban environmental protection and conservation from Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia.


Open letter to the responsible institutions regarding the illegal landfill in the ski resort

On August 5th participants from the RYCO youth gathering, EVS volunteers, GAIA long-term volunteers, friends and concerned citizens participated in a one day clean-up action around the ski resort. On of there “cleaning hotspot” was the illegal landfill in the begining of the ski resort, which uncovers a very serious issue regarding waste management in the touristic centre. The text of the open letter, you can read here.

BREfest is an annual, small-scale, sustainable, educational and creative nature gathering in Brezovica ski resort in the Sharr Mountains, Kosovo.

Let’s keep this spirit and meet again next summer!