In August, I had the chance to spend 3 weeks in the small village of Bozevce, in Kosovo, doing a youth exchange with the OFAJ programme.
We were 15 participants and 2 coordinators, from 3 different countries (Germany, France, and Kosovo), gathered in Bozevce to learn the basics of eco-construction.
Besides us, there were also several groups of scouts, as well as volunteers and staff from the GAIA association (the organization that hosted us). In total, our small community was made up of 20 to 30 people, with very diverse life paths and knowledge. But we also came from different countries, and these three weeks were an opportunity to discover other cultures and other perceptions of the world, during the long evenings around the fire where we chatted. It was an incredible human and cultural adventure! We experienced community life during these three weeks, sharing rooms, meals (vegetarian and delicious), evenings, work, free time… It was not my first group experience, but I still love these experiences and what they bring me. We learn to be more open, more tolerant. We discover new cultures, religions, opinions, etc.
Before telling you what we accomplished, let me describe the place where we lived and GAIA, the association that hosted us. GAIA is an organization dedicated to the culture of peace, social and environmental justice. The place where we lived consisted of a garden and several buildings, which GAIA renovated or built according to the principles of eco-construction and permaculture. The goal of the organization is to create a sustainable place where they organize different educational and volunteering programs.
Bozevce is a very small village located in the hills (800 m above sea level) in eastern Kosovo. Previously well populated, there are now only 50 inhabitants in Bozevce, mainly elderly people. GAIA tries to revive the village and inspire people to come back, by showing that you can develop many activities (such as volunteering) and live there.
Our group also made their small contribution. During these three weeks, we built a chicken house using traditional techniques and respecting the principles of eco-construction. We only used hand tools and local and natural materials.
Alex, our trainer, first introduced us to eco-construction. We then all discussed together what we were going to do, and one of us drew up a plan. Then we moved on to the practical part. To begin, we worked on pieces of wood with wood chisels and hammer, to create the mortise and tenon structure, without using screws or nails! Alex then placed it on the foundations and made the roof, two tasks that were a little too technical and time-consuming for our group of beginners. Then, we made the walls, using the wattle and daub technique: we woven hazel branches into the hollows of the structure, and we coated them with a mixture of mud and straw in order to make the daub, which will insulate the chickens from the sun in summer or from the coolness of the Kosovo mountains in winter.
Finally, we made the doors and windows. In the end, it was a luxury XXL chicken house that we built, under the watchful eye of the chickens.
Said like that, you might think that we haven’t worked much in 2 weeks. However, these two weeks of econstruction were intense and tiring.
Got up at 7 a.m., we started at 8 a.m. with a linguistic game, to learn a few words of Albanian, French, or German. We then moved on to eco-construction until 12 p.m. After a long lunch break to escape the heat of the afternoon, we resumed at 4 p.m. for 3 more hours, after an energizer, to remotivate ourselves after the nap.
Sometimes, the afternoon was devoted to discussions or learning activities: we had a presentation of permaculture, created a climate fresco, had discussions on environmental protection, on religion… Interesting activities that complement “physical” work. We were thus able to leave Bozevce with new practical and theoretical skills and knowledge.
But as there is more than just work in life, we also had leisure activities: board games, karaoke evening, discussions around the fire… And above all, we went for 3 days to the Sharr mountain national park ! On the program, hikes! The landscape was sublime, and it also allowed us to get to know each other better and to discover another part of Kosovo.
From a personal point of view, I really loved this exchange. I learned a lot about eco-construction and permaculture. Discovering a new country and meeting people from all over Europe is also a great cultural experience. Finally, how much we laughed during this project! We had great evenings and I left Kosovo with new friends. Therefore, if you have the opportunity to do youth exchange or group volunteering, go for it!
Want further proof that I appreciated this experience? I am going to return to Bozevce for a civic service for a year!
Jules, GAIA’s new Service Civique volunteer 🙂