8 months for the Mountain Spirit

Aurélien Gadde, the French volunteer, who spent 8 months in the village of Kuterevo, Croatia, volunteering for the bears, people and nature, continues his story. The first part you can read here. Enjoy!

Feeding the bears.

Part 2. 

A sense of usefulness

Kuterevo is a village in the Velebit Mountain.  You can enjoy every day with the company of the villagers, the other volunteers and also with the different tasks proposed. All of the tasks are beneficient to the Mountain.

We work for the animals, for the village, for the mountain – a beautiful mountain which is a Biosphere Reserve.

So that’s why everything what we did, was done respectfully and seriously because all of us were so happy and excited to work this kind of area. The people who came here know how it is, how different things here are to enjoy.

The first few weeks were daily work as a team with English students and their tutors but sometimes I also worked alone (pruning for the upkeep of the Refuge, feeding the animals, maintening the facilities, repairing of creations done by previous volunteers…). We needed to be organized for the tasks to be performed daily by volunteers (who will cook, clean the house of volunteers, who does what and where in the day etc…). It wasn’t every time easy but we managed.

Explaining the surrounding to volunteers.

After about a month, I started to organize work for the other volunteers. It started with a group of French volunteers present (sent by their business university for 1 month). To succeed, patience was necessary. But I know that it has been very beneficial. Some of them left changed. They learned to live in groups, to share, to cook, to use new tools, simply to work. So I see this first experience rather as a success. Then came two French civic services for a period of five months, once they settled in, their help was great during the high season – summer (many visitors and many volunteers to manage).

During the months of May and June I also made the visits of the francophone groups in the refuge (schools, groups on holidays, visitors…). All these visits have been a pleasure to perform. Explain what the Refuge is, how it works, for what purpose, who are the residents and why they are there, where they are from, what is Velebit Mountain, why those mountains are special, gave me the desire to work even more to help everyone.

From July, volunteer groups began to arrive, mostly scouts. So before we were preparing everything necessary for them (water tank, enough wood to make fire to cook, a safe place to put their tents…), in short everything to be good and comfortable.

Preparing and cutting wood with English students.

It was from that moment that we began to have fairly regular meetings with Ivan (founder) and Josipa (coordinator). They made me understand that I will take these groups with the help of Theo, a civic service, from their arrival to their departure.

Indeed it is important to welcome them in the way they should be welcomed and to prepare them for their volunteering at the shelter. The first thing to do was to show them around, talk to them, make them confident and explain the rules.

First rule is Respect!

For local biodiversity by preventing yourself get injured from the various dangers you might encounter such as spiders, scorpions, snakes… Respect for the premises, the buildings, the equipment, the tools… Respect for the work schedule as well as the neighborhood, limiting noise pollution for the neighbors and the bears!

Second is about safety instructions, injuries are”prohibited”!

And for the third is one more Respect!

Respect for good humour! You are here to help but also to learn and enjoy.

Then each morning, after discussing with Ivan, we organized with Theo and the leaders of each group a small meeting in order to offer them the activities of the day. Such organization was obligatory not to have any problems especially when some days we were more than 50 at the same time.

The activities were very various in order to satisfy the animals, the volunteers and the needs of the organization.

The main tasks were obviously for the bears. So nice to wake up everyday and to see them playing and waiting to eat. That was the first task to do, to feed the bears in the morning, at different hours of course. The routine is not good at all for them.

For the food, we receive and take care of that (sunflower, acorn, corn, driedbread…) and we needed to put that in different dried places and not on the floor because of the mice or rats which can be present and attracted to the food.

After receiving (literatelly) tons of seeds, corn, acorns.

After a big part of the job was to renovate some enclosures (new electric fences, concrete, clearing trees too close to the fences…) for the security first and in case of a new bear come here…

Next we created a path with signs to walk all around the last enclosure for big bears and put some protections (wood planks) for the visitors. In this place we renovate one pool with two villagers, a nice mixed team! But also, we start to create a new pool for the young bears. They have already two little pools but a big one to make a link between those two can be very interesting for them, they love to play in the water.

Filling bears pool after it was renovated.

All of this hard stuff was done with a lot of volunteers, like when the scouts groups were there. We cleaned and dug for a new enclosure (up for a new project). We cut trees and kept the branches for bears. Thanks to the branches they can play or find some seeds on it and we use those branches to hide the food as well. It is very useful and interesting for the bears. They have to search, to move the branches… even the birds can come, play and eat!

Organizing the cleared wood.

The rest of the trees (the big logs) we kept for the oven in the volunteer station.

Here everything is used, there is no “waste”.

Often we made ice cream for the bears with vegetables and fruits during the summer. All of the vegetables and fruits were collected in the closest town. Some shops and markets give us everything they can’t sell on a discount. This is also part of our environmental and no waste policy, we use food that otherwise wouldn’t be consumed and will be thrown away. Moreover, it is better for the economy of the refuge, after all we are a place which works just with volunteering and donations.

The second most important, after the bears, was taking care for the ponies.

We created for them two new enclosures because we got three more (foals) and three young became adults and the dominant male didn’t accept them anymore. So we had to build the fences. We used iron because the fence needs to be strong since there is no electricity there and we don’t really want to use too much energy. We created also some hedges with the branches which we cut before to build the fences.

Ponies looking around their new enclosure.

We built also in the last enclosure a new house for the three young males, to put some oats, for each enclosures we dug some ponds. Thanks to this house we can collect the rain and that will go directly to the ponds.

Building roof on a new pony house.

During all the summer we were mowing the grass with the villagers all around the refuge but also in different places in the village. After few days we collected the dried grass, the hay, together (volunteers and villagers). All of this hay was for the ponies but we had not enough space for it. So we built nine hay stocks around the ponies’ enclosure.

I love that because we leave time to the biodiversity to work (by example pollination), to get a refuge for a long period and the grass is not lost. It will be useful during the winter for the ponies.

We live here in a UNESCO MAB (Man and Biosphere Program), so it is unthinkable to take another way to live and to work. We are trying as well to save most of the water, to use less energy everyday, to reuse everything (wood, old tools…), we are using compost toilets, we have some solar panels to get a bit of warm water for the shower and of course collect trash around the shelter in the ground (a lot of broken glass, old shoes, clock, paint…) from many years ago.

In the shelter we have some geese and chicken as well. We took care of them, collected the eggs, fed them in the morning with different grains, with salad and vegetables and cleaned their house often (with new straw). We received new chicken so it was necessary to renovate the fence. We created also some new stairs for them because inside it wasn’t easy for them to go upstair to sleep. 

It was so nice to work for the animals. A big part of them had a bad life before (orphans or poorly treated).

We have also a big and nice project in a house called Obrstar. It is a beautiful place in the end of the village and at the beginning of the forest. The plan is to create an educational, playful and memory place. A place which can be also used for the volunteers, a place to sleep, to work and to spend good time. There are a lot of stuff to do because this place was «abandoned» 20 years ago.

We started to work in this place in May to clean outside, it was a real jungle. It was really interesting for everyone because we were talking about the different species of trees (fruits tree or trees used by the villagers to make furniture or the trees what the bears use for their food like the beech tree). We kept all of the most important species for the biodiversity and we reuse all that we cut (branches for the bears, wood for the winter, grass and flowers for the bears and the ponies).

The second step was to clean inside the main house, move all of the furniture and trash and then to keep the best furniture. We painted inside with two villagers. In this house we created a very nice library for books with a lot of different topics (about wild plants, animals, insects, life, psychology, education…).

Changes made in Obrstar house.

There is a barn as well and we moved from upstairs the old hay and we gave that to the ponies while keeping the seeds. We planted them in the ponies’ enclosure where there was no grass.

One more time, we kept everything to reuse.  We use now upper floor of the barn to put the dried bread for the bears. These dried breads are actually breads not sold in Zagreb, which is another cool example of trying to make less waste and use what is no longer for selling.

Since August until September, it was the time to collect fruits. We started to collect the plums to bake some rakija (local alcohol), and then walnuts, apples, pears… A lot was used to feed the bears, we kept a lot for the winter as well, to cook compote, bake cakes…

During the long-term EVS many others things were very interesting and this feeling of usefulness was always present. One day we went to Otocac , the closest town to Kuterevo to represent the Refuge in an eco-ethno festival. This year was the 40th birthday of the Refuge and in the same time the 40th birthday of the registration of the Velebit mountain as a UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere Program Reserve (MAB). That is why we were there to talk about the Refuge, the volunteering, the mountain where the people live, to play with children, to make a place and time for exchange.

Teaching kids to juggle during eco-ethno festival in Otocac.

We were present in another festival in Gospic, Jesen u Lici (Autumn in Lika), a fair for all the culture, folklore and local produce of the Lika region. We were there with some villagers to show to the visitors every skills and knowledges of Kuterevo (making chairs, spinning the wool, making the typical shoes «coklije»…) and also like in Otocac to talk with the visitors about the beautiful wildlife in the Velebit mountain.

Representing Kuterevo at Jesen u Lici fair in Gospic.

The sensibilisation for the bears, the wildlife and the respectful way to live, was more than often present.

During the stay of the volunteers we organized activities outside the working time. We put in place hiking days, screenings on big screens of theme films like “Tomorrow”, a film that shows some solutions to solve the ecological and social problems of our planet but also other kinds of projection.

Tomorrow – official trailer

So many things have been realized in 8 months and everyone can be proud about what they did. I can just thank all the villagers with whom I worked, all of the volunteers (scouts, other EVS, civic services, individual volunteers…) and of course the organization. I am very thankful to Ivan. I will not tell some details because it can be too long and I will do it in another part. I am also thankful for the help during those eight months toJosipa the coordinator who was always around, thankful to Maya, my mentor who was available at all times (for good and challenging)! Sure I will forget someone but thanks to everyone for those stuff we did during this EVS.

After all of that I am happy that I have this feeling of usefulness.

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