“When making a change, the first step is the hardest. But we have the courage to take it”, says Adam Stojanovski, a high school student from Bitola. Adam, together with his classmates from the second largest city in North Macedonia and with peers from five other towns, is working on changing people’s habits and producers’ practices. The goal is to make the country cleaner and its economy sustainable.
A project under the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) brought these students together with civil society – in identifying environmental problems and in trying to solve them.
“We will watch out, sound the alarm and clean – in order to make Bitola a better place for living”, says Adam, who is engaged in a campaign to clean up litter in Bitola and in picnic spots around the town. These activities follow from the successful campaign that the EU Delegation has carried out in the recent years with the motto ‘Keep it clean as at home’ (‘Za chisto kako doma isto’).
The project is run by the Institute for Communication Studies (ICS), in partnership with the Macedonian Ecological Society (MES). Last year, through a public call, they selected six initiatives by NGOs and high schools from regions with high nature value and regions facing substantial pollution. In addition to cleaning up actions and anti-litter campaigns, the initiatives cover monitoring of the quality of water in the Prespa Lake, promotion of organic production in Tikvesh and Strumica, eco-activism in Struga, also when it comes to small illegal dumpsites near the Ohrid Lake, and removal of construction waste from the Demir Kapija Gorge. Through very practical steps.
“We have been swimming in the Prespa Lake since we were born. Lately we do it rarely because they say the water is polluted. Now we have an opportunity to find this out first-hand”, says Natalija Vojdanoska, high school student from Resen. She is taking part in monitoring the lake water thanks to the initiative of the Eco Guerilla NGO, which brought together eco-activists, students and public institutions (the Water Quality Monitoring Station in Stenje). This initiative not only includes students in research activities with professionals. Activists and students will also use recycled organic waste to revamp the space around the Station’s building.
Turning waste into compost is the central activity of high school students from Strumica who are involved in the initiative run by the Horti Eko NGO. “I want to master the process of compositing and thus protect the environment. Farmers throw materials they do not need around river beds and thus pollute the fertile soil. With composting, we have an organic product that can be reused in the soil’, says Tankica Goneva, one of the most active students in this process.
The region of Strumica, one of the main producers of food in the country, is said to have over 100 illegal dumpsites. Horti Eko and school professors help students learn more about sustainable agriculture – agriculture which works in harmony with nature.
“It is a huge problem that some farmers do not reuse or compost bio-waste; instead they burn it and pollute the air”, says Tome Timov from Horti Eko.
The urgency of changing habits is best illustrated by professor Dincho Krstev, “There is enormous pollution of waters and the environment in general because of wrong and unnecessary use of chemicals such as herbicides (pesticides used to kill unwanted plants). The soil and water are so polluted that they pose a problem for production”.
But the project does not end here.
Until February 2022, the high school students and the civil society organisations will develop their lobbying skills for the better protection of the environment - through interactive workshops and by learning the principles of the Aarhus Convention, a crucial document on the rights related to protection of the environment. In addition, the Institute for Communication Studies and the Macedonian Ecological Society will train CSOs and high school students how to develop and conduct public awareness campaigns. And thus further encourage the rest of society to join them in promoting the ‘green’ transition.