Sharr and Brezovica

GAIA has been active in Brezovica since 2015 by hosting youth exchanges, short-term EVS group volunteers and a small festival BREfest. Since June 2017, a long-term EVS volunteer within the Erasmus+ supported project Mountains empowering people  joined the organization to dedicate time and efforts to setting up long-term volunteering program and youth activities in the area.

In March 2018, we were 5 volunteers coming from Bulgaria, Kosovo, England and France for a new GAIA project: Mountain Spirit. We act for the protection of nature by exploring the mountains. Our goal is also to gather the local community around ecological issues by leaving with them and sharing their lifestyle. We occupy a house rented by a Serbian family who lives on the ground floor: Ilija and Natasha, with who we have dinner and drink some rakija when we can, and who teach us Serbian dances when we are drunk enough to let it go.

Updates from September 2018 with info about achievements and progress you can find in red and italic within the text. 

We live in Brezovica, situated in south Kosovo, part of Štrpce municipality. In that corner of Kosovo, the villages are mostly Serbian, but some Albanians also live here. Brezovica is especially attractive for tourists during the winter season with the ski resort up in the mountains, and of course for being surrounded by Sharr Mountains. GAIA has also been present here for some time through organizing youth exchanges and short-term volunteer groups in the mountains.

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The view from the balcony

  Here is an overview of the different activities and projects we initiated in the village and its surroundings:

  ~ Contribution & preservation of nature and keeping things moving:

   – When it comes to nature protection and study, it first comes to us studying and expanding our knowledge, then trying things out: like setting up camera traps, how to make surveys and collect data. UPDATE: We confirmed one more time that it is easier to get yourself familiar with a topic when there is an expert (or somebody more experienced) to lead you in. Therefore we really welcomed the possibility of learning from Bardh Sanaja (from ERA – environmental organization from Peja) and Ariston Lipa during our summer activities. What we learned will be transferred to the next volunteers in Sharr mountain. 

   – A work of listing the flora of Sharr Mountains is also in progress: we study books and information found regularly on the internet to compare the species we find during our excursions. Then we collect them for making a herbarium.

   – In Sharr Mountains, finding information about the landscapes, the fauna and flora, and even about the ski resort and the National Park is almost impossible. That’s why we are collecting info to promote here in the Mountain spirit blog, but also to set up info signs raiseing awareness about different topics such as waste, protected species, etc. UPDATE: We filled in some missing gaps or we summarized some of the knoweldge we found scattered around the internet and in books in articles in the blog (flora, climate, hydrology, human threats,…). We set up a hand-drawn panaroma sign in Rudina park and we are in the process of preparing other signs. 

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The peaks of Sharr seen from the park, with information about how the mountains have been created

   – Discovering the mountains is a way to communicate that idea of Mountain Spirit, to be close to nature, understand and respect it. That’s why after a one-week training about the discovery of reptiles in Kosovo, we organized an excursion with teenagers who came from Ferizaj/Uroševac to share with them what we learned

Bee, Qendrim and Sofije, discovering the salamanders
Bee, Qendrim and Sofije, discovering the salamanders

   – Exploring means also for us counting on the knowledge of people living here since generations – hiking with local guides, learning about mushrooms, flowers, bees, gardening, landscapes…

Veliko Jažinačko jezero / Liqeni i Jazhincës: expedition with Arandjel
Veliko Jažinačko jezero / Liqeni i Jazhincës: expedition with Arandjel, a local hiker

   – You can also find and explore mines in Brezovica, near to the house, by walking one hour:

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  ~ Getting into reach the community and to meet local people

   – Our main action inside of Brezovica is to rehabilitate the park in the entrance of the village. Rudina Park is just next to the school and it is not really maintained in a good state. For transforming that public space, we ask the community to participate if they want to and feel concerned. A lot of children helped during the clean-up action in the park. UPDATE: We can definately say the park is way more colorful now – painted by the children and the teenagers of Brezovica and Jazince. Some improvements were accepted, while others just posed temptation for the more rebelious youngsters and got destroyed. We accepted that we also have to be more observant when suggesting and applying changes – simply they should be answering the needs. Ideas for next year – plant fruit trees for shade and food, explore possibilities for outdoor sports and recreation activities, chill-out zone, open-air library, fix lights (if not repaired by the responsible institutions), outdoor classroom and many more… Let’s see…

After a clean-up day in Rudina park with the children of the school
After a clean-up day in Rudina park with the children of the school

– Jovan, the owner of our house, lives in Vrbeštica/Vërbeshticë, a village next to Brezovica. He works in INEX, the company managing the ski resort, and he invited us to join the clean-up action they organized at the end of the ski season. Around forty people came to help. UPDATE: It seems trash will be the main topic for very long time in Sharr mountain, in the villages around in not only. In August we organized a clean-up action with volunteers as part of the summer activities and again we got very upset with the existance of the illegal landfill just in the entrance of the ski resort. Therefore an open letter to the responsible insitutions was send. The text of the letter, you can read here. So far the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planing and the French embassy reacted, we will keep you updated on the follow up. 

~ In order to learn more about the different aspects of our mission (nature, fauna and flora of Kosovo, meeting local people as well as other volunteers), each of us participates in trainings which takes place everywhere in Kosovo and in Balkan countries:

– Youth Exchange in Mitrovica in the Down Syndrom Center (a story of one of the participants is available here)

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– Zoological excursion in Kosovo with the biology students of Prishtinë/Priština University :

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– Participation in the lessons given by Asa, a Polish EVS, to teenagers in Ferizaj :

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Other training is also coming:

~ What to expect in summer:

Several programs will also take place in Brezovica from July to August: the summer will be full! We welcome :

– 12 EVS volunteers…

– 40 other RYCO participants coming for different activities (art colony, traditionnal knowledge, wild summer school & storytelling)…

–  Teenagers from Imaginatorium, alternative education centre in Gracanica’s Roma Mahalla run by GAIA volunteers…

…to prepare & celebrate the BREfest. That ecological festival will take place from 10th to 12th of August in Brezovica ski centre. More information about the first edition of last year is available on GAIA’s website here. UPDATE: Through the impressions of participants and outcomes from BREfest 2.0 activities, you can get into the athmosphere of this year’s edition.