A summer of workcamps in Kosovo
Written by Ismael Lasanta from Kosovo
Imagine hiking up the mountains to a village whose houses spread all over the lush slopes of a peaceful valley, then going deep in the forest until you hear some bells ring, look up and notice the white tower of a monastery pointing at the clean sky above you and finally descending to a town built around another beautiful medieval monastery to sit round the fire when it starts getting dark.
This could very well just be describing a perfect day outdoors with the family but, for us at GAIA Kosovo, the whole summer felt like it, because the village, church and town I’ve just walked you through are Bozevce, Draganac and Gracanica, the places where we organised our four workcamps of this year.
First came our permaculture estate in the village of Bozevce. For the first time, in what we hope will become a yearly tradition, we received volunteers from all over Europe to help us make part of our design for the property a reality. In ten very intense days full of digging, just as in the good old times of early SCI, we built a chicken house topped off with a green roof and made a reed bed for greywater purification. The main idea is to make the place into an educational centre and showcase for permaculture and simple living in practice, where not only workcamps but other trainings, workshops and events will be hosted. After this first experience, seeing how satisfied the participants were and how they became inspired to make changes towards simplicity and sustainability in their lives, we are even more determined to make this estate, which was abandoned and falling into disrepair when we took it up one year ago, the heart of our organisation.
The abandoned village of Stari Draganac, just a short walk away from the Orthodox monastery of Draganac, has been home to four GAIA workcamps so far, all of which were organised by an unlikely partnership of monks and SCI activists. That was not the only unusual thing about this workcamp, though. A group of international volunteers, most of them Kosovo Albanians, came to a Serbian Orthodox monastery to help its brotherhood prepare the busiest event of the year for them – their “slava”, feast day of their patrons the Holy Archangels, for which they receive hundreds of guests. Needless to say, most of the participants had never even been to an Orthodox monastery before, though they live in a country where there are dozens of them. However, they quickly came to friendly terms with the monks and churchgoers and, on the evening of the feast, local Serbs and Albanian participants sang and danced all together in a circle while the abbot smiled approvingly. Not a common sight in a country torn by war between the two communities twenty years ago, but a clear example that reconciliation and even friendship are possible when people meet each other face to face and join hands to work together.
The last two workcamps brought volunteers from as far away as Taiwan or Japan to Imaginatorium, GAIA’s educational centre in Gracanica’s Roma neighbourhood. There they spent their days with the lovely, and very noisy, local kids doing crafts, teaching them Math and English, playing board games and all kinds of sports with them and much more. Each of the workcamps had a particular focus: the highlight of the first was a day out with the kids up in the Sharr mountain National Park, while the second had a group of British volunteers from the World at Play organisation take some kids to another school each day, this time in the Albanian-speaking town of Fushe Kosova, where they all played together with the local pupils. Our kids had a great time and took up this rare opportunity to leave their neighbourhood for a while in earnest, and every morning they would stand in front of our gate asking about the trip to the mountains, their favourite volunteer or the time when we would open Imaginatorium that day. We’re sure most of them will always remember this summer fondly, and so will we.
Volunteer Petra from Croatia made a nice video documenting our workcamp in Bozevce: