Youth in a service of people and nature

At the beginning the elderly were doubtful towards the young enthusiasts

By Lazar Marković
The members of the group named as Kobra, which was formed from the karate club named as the group, are spending their free time by helping elderly, organizing international volunteering camps, organizing cultural events, cleaning in their villages, they are engaged in a publishing sector and many more.
They are developing their ideas in a decaying house of culture in a village called Donja Toponica, situated around 15 kilometers from Niš. Unlike their passive peers, they have decided to take the matter in their hands and make something for themselves and for the environment. They gained sympathies from their neighbors while dislocating two illegal landfills located between Donja Toponica nd Donja Trnava and on that location, they have built a Park of good will for the youngest members of the villages.
In a close cooperation with the locals and with the help of the Foundation Trag, they have succeeded to renovate the old House of culture. Thanks to the action called as House for all, the locals now have a place where young and elderly can have fun and can learn as well.
After the reconstructing the floor and the roof and after the group re-painted the walls, the locals got their first library, youth club, a folklore hall and a hall for various sports – karate, table tennis, darts and chess for pensioners.
At the beginning the elderly were doubtful towards the young enthusiasts. But, when they saw what they can do for the greater good, they joined them, the women prepared food, the men were helping with the physical work and the children were taking pictures with their mobile phones on every activity.
-We are especially proud on the action from 2010 in Donja Trnava, where we have managed to take out 30 tons of garbage, we have made a public fountain, three summer sites and a terrain for a volleyball on sand, where young people from the both neighboring villages can spend their free time. That project got the credits for the best initiative in Serbia by the Foundation Places in heart, which gave us an additional boost and energy for new challenges, says Milan Stoiljković, a member of the group Kobra.
What this organization defers from the others is the fact that in 2012, the doors of the renovated House of culture was opened for more than 20 volunteers from around the world. In the past years, the volunteers, despite the presentation of their cultures, they were working on school facades, cleaning school yards, parks and monuments with the help of the local activists. The Kobras have visited Niš along with the foreign volunteers and they have introduced to them the cultural and historical sites. The foreign activists were amazed by the hospitality of the people and by the natural beauties of the southern part of Serbia.
There is a plan for organizing three camps for 2015. In May, there was organized an agricultural camp with the help of ten volunteers from seven states – Poland, Germany, USA, South Korea, Montenegro, Finland and Belgium. The volunteers were planting organic herbs along with the traditional plants.
-The summer camp will be from cultural, ecological, sport’s and agricultural character and importance. In the evenings, we plan a basketball tournament, table tennis, volleyball on a sand, as well as a cultural program. Food is a theme for our autumn camp. There will be organized a competition in cooking of goulash and similar food, typical for a hunters food, announced from Kobra.
During the camps, the foreign volunteers and the locals are getting along very well. And it is not unusual for the volunteers to stay one more day after finishing the action. Natalija, an artist from Russia paid a visit even four times. A doctor from Great Britain during the camp in 2013, voluntarily visited the elderly and performed medical checks. Almost every volunteer can say that gained at least five new friends within two days of their stay.
All foreigners learned about the folklore in the evenings from the children of the folklore section, and later, the children were learning English from the volunteers. During the final events, the guests were performing the traditional dances along with the locals. As the locals are not interested to learn English, the foreigners are „forced” to speak some words on Serbian.
-From the establishing of the group up until today, there is no moment where we weren’t active. In times when we haven’t had projects and financial support, the actions were imposing – we helped the trapped people on the road, we were cleaning the snow in households with elderly, we were planting trees, held seminars, said Milan.
Kobra is considered as an example of good practice whenever someone is talking about the development of rural areas in Serbia. The members are all equal. There is a positive energy within the group and everyone is feeling good and useful. But, it is hard to find new volunteers even though the group is open and everyone interested in their actions is welcome.