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Keep It Green

26 May 2021

Promoting a greener way of life in Kosovo

Keep It Green and its network of volunteers are raising awareness of industrial pollution and other environmental issues in the industrial town of Obiliq.

A mere ten-minute drive from the capital Pristina, the small town of Obiliq is a centre for the mining industry in Kosovo. With only 6,800 inhabitants, Obiliq is home to three coal mines and two power stations that produce the vast majority of Kosovo’s electricity output.

This is a region that relies heavily on employment from the power plants, with 5,000 people from Obiliq and the neighbouring villages working in the industry. Inevitably these mining and industrial activities have caused deep environmental damage.

Keep it Green is a grassroots youth organisation that is working to raise awareness of environmental issues in Obliq and the effect these are having on the population.

“Around 30 percent of people in Obiliq suffer from respiratory diseases,” Guxim Klinaku, Director of Keep It Green tells EED.

He explains that like many ideas in the Balkans, Keep It Green was inspired by a conversation in a coffee bar in 2015. As Klinaku recalls, “We were sitting drinking coffee and we started talking about all the problems our community was facing. We realised we had to do something”.

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Encouraging citizens to protect their environment

Six years later, Keep It Green is now a network of almost 60 volunteers who focus on developing and implementing community-based projects encouraging local citizens to become involved in protecting their environment. This volunteer network is managed by a council of ten members and a three-person board.

The last few years have not been without their challenges, particularly given the economic hardship many face in this industrial region.

“It’s hard to get people to care for the environment when they are struggling to earn a living wage,” admits Klinaku.

He also relates that the central government is increasingly concerned about pollution levels and had announced the closure of the Obiliq power plants. In the end, the government gave into pressure - this move would have resulted in mass unemployment.

Successful implementation of  environmental laws and restrictions in the area is also complicated by the community's reliance on the power stations for employment.

Keep It Green are cogniscant of these realties but continue to advocate for greener energy in Obiliq. Prior to the Covid-19 period, they held  weekly protests in front of the power plant demanding the implementation of environmental legislation in Obiliq. They have also organised many community actions to improve the city.

Volunteers recently cleaned up a park, fixed its broken benches and decorated it with street art to make it a welcoming and pleasant space for the people of Obiliq. They also installed transparent bins divided into two sections in the town, with environmentally-related questions written on top of them. People could answer 'Yes' or 'No' to the questions by throwing their cigarette butt in the left or right section of the bin, a simple but smart way to attract people’s curiosity while keeping the town clean. The questions are changed monthly to keep people entertained.

They have also spearheaded an annual Green Art Fest, a city-wide festival to raise awareness of environmental issues. The festival is a unique opportunity to involve the more apathetic youth of the city in a community project, since Keep It Green is the only active organisation in Obiliq.

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Working with young people

The organisation has worked with local schools since 2016, conducting ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ workshops, teaching students how to reduce waste.

“It is particularly rewarding when these young people bring our teaching into their daily lives even years after the workshop, and keep recycling and being interested in environmental issues,” says Klinaku.

Keep It Green is also active in organising summer camps for young people centred around environmental themes. The main objective of these camps is to raise a new generation of young leaders for environmental activism in Kosovo, usually with great success.

In 2018, they held Solar Camp, an entirely solar-powered camp, which taught teenagers about solar power as a clean, renewable alternative to the coal used in Obiliq.

A Keep It Green activist, Gresë Koca, was part of the 2020 cohort of the Obama Foundation leader programme, a fellowship for young activists who are committed to bring about positive change in their communities.

Coping with Covid-19

Like other similar organisations, Keep It Green had to come up with creative ways to adapt to the Covid-19 pandemic. While the ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ workshops are proving successful even in webinar form, they had to cancel the 2020 edition of the Green Art Fest, but this summer they are still planning to run one of their trademark environmental activist camps, involving 20 participants in a three-day training on how to raise awareness of environmental problems.

Klinaku is particularly proud of the group's video campaign in 2020 focused on the excessive waste of single-use plastic during the pandemic. As part of this campaign, they also distrubuted reusable masks in the town.

While the future is still uncertain because of Covid-19, once the pandemic is under control, Keep It Green plan to resume their weekly protests for the implementation of environmental legislation and to keep pushing for a greener Kosovo.

EED support is now enabling Keep it Green to transition from a volunteer-based operation, surviving on enthusiasm, to a more stable organisation with a regular staff. It is also ensuring that its activities, such as the environment awareness camp, can become permanent activities, allowing for more strategic planning and development.

“This funding comes at a very important time for us. The environment is now a very popular topic around the world, and more people are interested in getting involved. While things are less developed in Kosovo for the moment, I'm hopeful that  the green wave will arrive here soon,” says Klinaku.