During a training that GAIA organized earlier in 2016, some of the participants developed the idea to organize a workcamp in their local community. Two young women, Jelena and Milica from the region of Novo Brdo/ Novo Brdë, stated that there is a need for help in a monastery that is very close to their homes and plays a great role in their life. Draganac monastery is situated close to Gnjilane/Gjilan city in the eastern part of Kosovo. It exsists since 14th century and at the moment there are 9 monks living and working there.
After some planning and organizing, the workcamp finally started on 18th of July 2016 and participants gathered full of enthusiasm. On the first day we were getting to know each other and discovered the place where we will be living and working in the next days. After settling down in the small village Straža, nearby the monastery, local volunteers as well as volunteers from other parts of Kosovo as well as from Roma community, and volunteers from Serbia, Albania, Croatia, Frrance, Cataluna spent 2 weeks together and worked in the abandoned village of Stari Draganac close to Draganac monastery.
The village was formerly inhabited by Serbian People but abandoned during the war period. Since then it has basically been left on its own, therefore at the moment we arrived it was very overgrown by time. Now, Draganac Monastery owns parts of it. Our goal was to make the place usable for the monastery again, and therefore clean around the village and destroy a badly demolished house in order to turn it into a terrace. The work was demanding since it was all physical and hard, but we didn’t lack enthusiasm since we spend our working time singing, joking, talking and laughing. Cleaning the demolished house included cleaning the area from bushes and trees, taking all the clay walls down, organizing the material that can be reused in the future and so on. On sunday we went for a trip to Novo Brdo Fortress and another location where a church has been situated in the past. On the 26th of July, Draganac monastery was celebrating ‘Slava’ Svetog Arhangela Gavrila (the celebration of their Saint), so we helped the monks cleaning the monastery and preparing everything for the festivity. We painted the kitchen and helped with cleaning, but we also cooked lots of food and hosted the visitors on that day.
Everybody felt very connected during these two weeks and in the end nobody wanted to leave so we prolonged the workcamp for one more day, until 31st of July. During our stay there, we realized how much more there is to do, so we decided that we will make one more workcamp later this summer, from 28th of August till 10th of September.
After almost a month, we came back for the 2nd workcamp. It was very exciting, both for us and the monks. This time we were working and living in Stari Draganac. It was a completely different experience since we didn’t have electricity nor running water and we were sleeping in hayloft with mice. Luckily, all of us have been crazy enough to not even notice that these conditions are not so usual. Our team this time consisted of few local volunteers and volunteers from other parts of Kosovo as well as from Serbia, Croatia, France and Germany. We had a Bulgarian and an Albanian friend that came to visit us and help for few days. This time we destroyed another very demolished house but as well had some more constructive work, such as closing a fence around corn field, building an outside space for chicken as well as three composts to be used for a herbal garden that the Monks are going to build there. Therefor we constructed garden beds from material we recycled from the house that we took down. We also cleaned the place in terms of felling part of a forest in order to transform it into a fruit yard later, and helped in the already existing monastery fruit yard. Since some of the volunteers had to leave before the end of the workcamp, and we still had lots of work to do, the six remaining volunteers agreed to stay in Stari Draganac three more days in order to finish what has been started.
Both of these workcamps were financed by US Embassy. Living together with new people made us all connected instantly and we decided to share our responsibilities such as cooking or cleaning our living space, which gave us opportunity to stay one-on-one with other participants. In our free time, we would usually sit all together, drink coffee and talk about topics such as different countries, religions, nationalities, peace… In the evenings, we would make bonfire, sing, look at stars and discuss life. Sometimes, before sleeping, we would also watch movies (in our portable cinema) or read stories.
To sum up, this place and the time there is amazing and it has lots of potential for future. We will continue to have projects in that area, so stay connected with GAIA!