Plovdiv 2019: Volunteers of the Poorest European Capital of Culture Created Community Service from Scratch

Go green with peer learning

Cultural Insights in Moclin 1

Erasmus+ Climate Action Now! Save the Future ( Moclín, Spain) is an international youth project organized in July by Euro Youth Club – Spain. The Bulgarian team of 7 youngsters was selected by CET Platform Bulgaria. And I was the leader of the group.

Moclín is a small mountainous village with 4000 inhabitants, a unique place to visit in Spain for those who favor eco-friendly practices – driving less and walking more.


With non-formal educational methods – peer teaching and nature-based tourism, 30 international participants raised their environmental awareness about situations in each other countries. For one week, we experienced sustainable living by doing a lot of hiking and prepared interactive sessions for each other.

Draw a Great Action Plan with 7 Eco friendly Ideas 1

For most of us, it was the first trip abroad since the beginning of the pandemic, and everyone was curious about how people managed to maintain sustainable lifestyle in other places.

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With the country presentation workshops, the Spaniards shed more light on the topic of microplastic in food; the Italians prepared a lecture about marine pollution, while the Lithuanians talked about the role of dumps in water pollution.

Together with the Bulgarian team, we introduced Bulgarian ecological initiatives focused on the conservation of rare species and their habitats – the Volunteer Bird Vacation on Pomorie Lake and the Dancing Bears Park in Belitsa.

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My presentation about the power and potential of Bulgarian eco initiatives. Moclín , Spain – July, 2021

Additionally, we engaged the international teams in the debates about the recent bear attack in Belitsa.

Dividing the participants into three groups (locals, government and ecologists), we offered them to find the answer to the question: ‘What to do with the bear?’.

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It’s was quite challenging to exchange experiences with people from countries with different levels of social development. Yet it’s always interesting to reflect on one’s own country.

‘Another time I see that we, Bulgarians, live in a more eco-friendly way because historically we are used to frugal living and being closer to nature, – says Bulgarian eco-activist and participants of ECOPACK projects Stilian Stefanov from Vidin. – Although many western countries recycle more, they generate more rubbish too. Every daily habit leaves a long-lasting imprint on the environment. We should produce less rubbish, and it will make a difference in many spheres of life’.

stilian stefanov katerina stefanova preparing the bulgarian dinner
Bulgarians Katerina Stefanova and Stilian Stefanov: preparing the Bulgarian dinner in Moclín

The sustainable living topics were inseparable from cultural aspects.

‘It’s very comfortable to learn about other cultures within such projects, improve communications skills and attempt to leave one’s comfort zone, – holds Bulgarian student Katerina Stefanova. – For me, it was a great pleasure to share the Bulgarian culture. But the real challenge was to represent it in an accessible way because there is some special in us, Bulgarians, that is quite difficult to comprehend by others. But I believe that we’ve succeeded’.

And we really did! The Bulgarian team won in the most important contests – the country quizzes of the Spanish and Lithuanian teams and Bulgarian eco-activist  Vaya Ezhova generating most of all eco-friendly ideas by a solid vote was recognized ‘The most environmentally aware person’, the most important individual nomination at the closing party.

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Vaya Ezhova (left) exchanges experience with international team mates

Hike and pick up litter while sightseeing

moclin spain

For one week, our learning spot was our residence – a mountainous Spanish village Moclín, the province of Granada. Situated at 1045 m above sea level, the location is the perfect place for mountainous trekking and long walks. The hamlet is just in one-hour drive from Granada and 2.5-hour drive from Malaga, must visit places in Spain.

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At the first glimpse, it comes across as an unspoiled area – a great variety of breathtaking landscapes and rare encounters with people.

The remnants of the medieval 13th century walls at the mountain peaks enhance the sense of remoteness.

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However, our Trekking & Plogging: Ruta Gollizno session showed that even such distant places littered a lot. We collected four large bags of rubbish during our 8-kilometre-long trekking. The most frequent findings were masks, soft drink cans and plastic bottles. Locals said that weekends’ tourists were the main source of pollution.

Combining trekking with sport or cultural activities is a recent western trend aimed at the protection of environment from negative consequences of people’s activities. And plogging is a new sustainable initiative developed in Sweden, it combines sports like jogging with caring for the environment.

Combine hiking and picking up litter
Leader of the Lithuanian team Tautvydas Rimkevičius demonstrates another mask found during trekking

‘The project in Moclín is a great overview of what is happening in the world and how people in different countries are dealing with environmental issues, – maintains Italian environmental engineer Adam Yaka. – It’s great that this project is not in a big city but in a small distant village where we can observe the real life of local people connected to nature. It’s a great place for developing some new daily habits for eco-friendly living’.

The necessity to comprehend a lot of things fast was one of the main challenges at the project. ‘You need to learn everything quickly – how to help each other, brainstorm ideas and teamwork, – points out Spanish linguist studying Russian and German Ahinoa Rodríguez. – But I like it, those skills are the most important for me’.

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Adam Yaka and Ahinoa Rodríguez: making the learning fun

All the participants agreed that combining rubbish collection and hiking (and sometimes singing:) is the most feasible solution for making our environment cleaner.

Get comfortable with uncomfortable social skills

Presentations, videos and newspapers prepared by each team became a means of learning and teaching as well as ways of overcoming common fears related to social interaction. Public speaking was the most challenging thing for many.

We used different digital tools (Canva, TikTok, etc.) to enrich each other with eco-friendly ideas and help to master new social skills.

‘As a professional biologist, I was pleased to share my knowledge in the country workshop and try my skills in lecturing, – says Spanish food biologist Lidia Garzòn Garcia. – In the future, I intend to develop training courses, and here I can hone my communication and presentation skills’.

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Lidia Garzòn Garcia living and working in harmony with nature

Practicing social skills while sharing eco-friendly ideas was equally beneficial and for non-environmental professionals.

‘When I visit different countries for championships, I see sad reality of environmental issues interlinked with social matters, – says Aras Lazaravičius, a Lithuanian chess champion. – South Africa particularly struck me – the heat, the droughts, limited access to fresh water. And I really want to know how we can help each other and always explore new ideas for sustainable living ‘.

And everyone was trying to find more comfortable ways of public speaking to exchange experience.

‘I began researching environmental issues with school reports about Christmas over-consumption, – says Lithuanian champion in wrestling Eglė Valčiukaitė. – Here, it was particularly beneficial for me to explore deforestation problems in Kenya and then present my discoveries to others. The most useful thing I learned is not to be afraid of talking. No one is judging, so share your opinion and allow others to do the same’. 

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Eglė Valčiukaitė (left) and Aras Lazaravičius (right) engaging everyone in an interactive quiz about Lithuanian ecology

Travel was a way of learning and rest for many of us.

‘I appreciate the opportunity to meet new people and practice my English, – holds Italian student in computer science and IT Fabio Chiarini. – It’s great that they gathered together ecological professionals and people of other professions. It’s useful for practicing social skills. And I really enjoyed our trip to Granada, one of the best cities to visit in Spain. It was interesting to compare different places in the same region’.

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Fabio Chiarini (in centre with the box) practicing English while inventing punishment

Invent rewards and punishment

Trying to improve discipline, we developed reward and punishment systems. To prize high-achievers, we prepared the improvised Oscar ceremony with ten nominations and origami-like prizes.

Makeup rewards and punishment

Winning the hearts of most participants, the Italian team won the most prestigious group nomination ‘The best chef’. In addition to a welcoming dinner, the Italians wowed everyone with a dancing workshop.

To punish wrongdoers, we made a punishment box and a great choice of sanctions written on paper. Being late for the learning sessions was a ‘common disease’.

Extra work out and dance activities represented the main types of treatment (=punishment).

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Try seasonal international dishes! (+recipes)

The cultural evenings of national cuisines definitely became the highest level of engagement at the project. For this section, I’ve selected several the most loved dishes.

Spanish cuisine: Spanish Potato Tortilla (Potato Omelet)

Spanish Potato Tortilla

1 large onion
4 potatoes
6 eggs
5 tablespoons olive oil, salt
Step 1
Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and put finely sliced potatoes and onion in a pan. Cook about 25 min.
Step 2
Cool the cooked onions and potatoes. Add beaten and mixed eggs to the vegetables
Step 3
Return the mixture to the heated pan. Cook 5 minutes. Flip the tortilla and cook another 5 min the other side. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Bulgarian cuisine: Cheese Pie Banitsa


1 pack of filo dough
250 g Bulgarian cheese (or feta cheese)
4 eggs
1 cup of Bulgarian yoghurt
60 g tablespoons butter
Step 1
The filling: in a bowl mix eggs, cheese, yoghurt and butter.
Step 2
In a large baking pan, put some butter. Layer the pastry sheets adding the filling. Roll each sheet and arrange the rolls in the pan in the form of a spiral.
Step 3
Bake in an oven at 200-250° C for about 30 min.

Italian cuisine: Pasta al forno (Baked pasta)

Pasta al forno con fagiolini IMGP9921

For the meat ragù
500 g minced meat
500 ml tomato pulp
100 g peas
1 carrot
1 celery stalk
1 onion
150 g white wine
1-2 garlic cloves
olive oil
basil leaves, salt, pepper
For the pasta
400 g pasta tubes
300 g caciocavallo or mozzarella
50 g parmesan
Step 1
Chop the carrot, onion, garlic and celery. Fry them in olive oil.
Add the minced meat and cook for about 30 min.
Step 2
Add the wine and stir again. When the wine evaporates, put the tomato pulp, basil, salt and pepper.
Cook the sauce covered on low heat for about 1 hour. 15 min before it is ready add the peas.
Step 3
Cook the pasta in salted water 3 min less than is instructed. Mix the pasta with the meat mix and let it cool.
Step 4
Put a layer of pasta and meat on the oven dish. Layer it with the cheese. Add another layer of the pasta. Cover it with the second cheese layer. Finish with a layer of pasta.
Step 5
Sprinkle with parmesan and bake in preheated oven at 200° C for about 35 min.

Lithuanian cuisine: Dessert Tinginys (A lazy person)

tinginys TasteAtlas

200 g biscuit cookies
30 g butter
75 g dark chocolate
3 tbsp cocoa powder
200 ml condensed milk
Step 1
Break cookies into small pieces into the bowl.
Step 2
Melt butter and chocolate, add the condensed milk and cocoa.
Step 3
Mix the sweet sauce with the cookies and leave to cool.
Step 4
In a plastic wrap, form a roll of the mixture and put it in the refrigerator at least for 4 hours.

Enjoy your meal!

Feature image: Fortunato Greco, photos and videos: Tatyana Garkavaya and Eglė Valčiukaitė