Experience of a camp coordinator

The Bear the Peace camp was held in the Kuterevo bear refuge, where every year there is a large number of volunteers from all over the world, most of which subscribe to the same values and are interested in peace/building. There were 10 volunteers, from different countries – Spain, France, Czech Republic, Taiwan, Croatia …

The village itself is in a former conflict area, and lots of volunteers at the camp were interested to find out more about the history of the wars here, and what the situation is currently. Being that I (the coordinator) am coming from Serbia (which was the ”other side” of the war), I was swamped with questions about it, from a historical, factual perspective and also personal. Both aspects were pretty tough to answer, since facts can be blurred depending on the ‘side’, and I wasn’t directly involved. However, we went into details with how this influenced the youth of today, and the relationship between Croatian-Serbian people. The volunteers also had conversations with others, who were not in the Bear the Peace camp and gathered some interesting information (granted, the bear refuge usually attracts people who are believers in peace&harmony, so their picture of the world might be  a little biased).

Anyway, during the study part, we realised none of the participants had any direct experience with wars (fortunately) and we focused our topics on what it takes to keep it this way, and what that means – can the absence of war actually be called peace? We discussed subjects like systemic violence, wars between genders, between classes, oppression….

In the beginning of the camp, we had very rainy weather, so this was a perfect opportunity to stay in and focus on the study part, get to know one another and so on. During the study part, I did have good use of the NMW toolkit and various other SCI  and non-SCI texts about workshops, discussions. The participants were also very self-organised about the discussion topics and I was satisfied with how the discussions were going.

Since a big part of the work-part was making an ”Alley of peace” in the refuge, with the names of various people from the Balkan area, who gave a lot (even their lives) to fight for peace, I gave them the task to look up the information about these people online and present it to the rest of the group. This was not such an easy task, since most of these people are pretty unknown to mainstream history, so there were no texts in english. Me and a participant from Croatia helped them out with learning about this. The volunteers also had their own suggestions for names that will be in the alley, so we discussed them and decided to include more.

One of the first things we did as physical work was unloading a big truck of bread – food for the bears. Not that related to the topic at first glance, some thought of it as just physical labor for the refuge, but after we discussed it – it was three tonnes of bread that was returned from the stores to be thrown away (luckily we got it for the bears). Throwing away food when there are so many people starving in the world is definitely an act of violence and this resonated deeply with the volunteers.

bear refuge photo 2.jpg

Other work that we did was collecting food/grass for the bears and feeding them, making a lot of benches from scrap materials / repurposing unused stuff. For example, we made a ”lounge area”  with benches, table, and the ”Wall of peace” using only old wooden boxes that were used to transport watermelons (a donation for the bears to eat). We repaired an old outdoor kitchen and made a dinner party for all of the volunteers, cleaned up parts of the refuge etc…

For the alley of peace, we decided to paint name plaques to dedicate to the important people we learned about, and plant a tree for every one. For getting the trees, we had a trip to the forest. We decided on some wild fruit trees from the Sorbus family. The act of taking the wild trees was very symbolic – we took them from a place of peace – a forest – and brought them to the refuge to act as messengers of peace here. The trip was also exciting because we found a lot of traces that bears left in the forest.

In the end we had a traditional ”ceremony” of the Kuterevo volunteers, promising to continue volunteering for the improvement of your community and the world around you.

bear refuge photo 3.jpg

Story written by Ivana Kosovac, camp-coordinator in 2016 on a No-More-War (NMW) camp in Croatia.  A NMW-camp is a project with a special emphasis on non-violence, pacifism and anti-militarism. 

Want to have your own workcamp experience? There are plenty of short term voluntary projects you can still join, just check our workcamps database!

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