For most, manual labour does not sound like an ideal leisure activity, but there are whole communities in Slovakia where residents are dedicated to spending their free time cultivating plants, constructing buildings or helping to preserve a castle ruin simply because they consider these activities meaningful.
UPDATE OF THE ARTICLE PUBLISHED ON SEPTEMBER 21, 2015
“People often are rushing somewhere and feel that they are still missing out on something, but these activities give people a chance to slow down and enjoy life more intensively while they support crafts and people who are creating something,” said Manik who has been taking part in such activities since 2009.
Perhaps, the best example of such a community is Zaježka, the colloquial name of the Zaježová hamlet located approximately 15 kilometres southwest of Zvolen. It involves about 20 families, with some of them trying to follow local traditions and folk culture while creating a so-called ecovillage. Their effort was recognised by the Ecovillage Excellence Award of the Global Ecovillage Network in 2009, said Miroslav Kašiak, from the civic association Society for Harmonious Living, which oversees the project.
Alternative holiday in Slovakia
People live their own lives but also participate in joint projects such as helping at the local kindergarten and elementary school covering the first four grades.
Farmstead Sekier, part of Zaježová, is maintained by volunteers who stay there for several months to learn some of the basic skills known by their ancestors. They work in the garden and care for goats and chickens, said Hanna Schneiderová, the farmstead’s manager. Foreigners under 30 also take part through the Erasmus+ programme.
“I like the people there because we are similar,” said Pierre Alexandre Le Bouëc from France who lived in Sekier.
Living in line with nature
The community of Brdárka, not far from the town of Rožňava in eastern Slovakia, is involved mostly with environmental projects emphasising modesty over consumption. Residents try to live ecologically, grow plants organically, and support traditional crafts. Residents are adherents to so-called permaculture which develops sustainable architecture, regenerative and self-maintaining habitats and agricultural systems modelled from natural ecosystems.
“We are trying to live in line with nature,” said Marcel Antal of Alter Nativa, the civic association that oversees Brdárka community activities, “and to sensitively use even contemporary achievements of human knowledge in a way that disturbs the natural environment as little as possible.”
Volunteers at Brdárka have reconstructed the original village house built of clay from local renewable sources and other original environmentally friendly technologies. They also are working to revive old orchards, the permaculture design of the place and construction of various buildings for the community and the village, Antal said. Accommodation is available for volunteers who want to help.
Teaching alternative ways
The founders of Sosna eco-centre in Družstevná pri Hornáde near Košice have created a place to demonstrate alternative ways of living that are not only environmentally friendly but also economically advantageous. They educate people how to secure food, energy and a general lifestyle with ecological technologies.
“We started to prefer a lifestyle focused on improving local self-sufficiency,” said Štefan Szabó, one of the Sosna founders, “localisation as opposed to globalisation.”
Sosna, with the help of volunteers, runs a natural garden and a root zone waste water treatment system. It is also constructing an eco-friendly hobbit house, a round house with a crushed-stone foundation and walls made of bags filled with soil. The centre implemented a passive solar heating system called Trombe Wall with sources of light made from old mirrors.
Sosna also provides simple accommodation for visitors willing to stay for a longer time if they bring their own sleeping bags. “The strongest feelings come from 20 or more people who have never met before who start working together from dawn until dusk with sincere joy and without asking for money,” Szabó said.
Saving Slovak history
Another possibility for volunteers wishing to participate in public projects is the reconstruction and preservation of Slovak historical monuments, an activity gaining popularity. For example, 18 of all the 110 castles and ruins in Slovakia are being maintained by civic associations.
The Association to Save Lietava Castle was founded by musicians who originally wanted to collect money to preserve the castle by organising a concert, but their efforts kept going. Dozens of people have been working on the castle for several years, while others just come for a single weekend. Some are tourists who come to the castle as part of their visit.
“They see how we work, leave their bag, join us for several hours and then disappear,” said Olga Guttenová from the association.
Another civic association, Donjon, is taking efforts to reconstruct the artillery fortifications of the Sklabiňa Castle ruins near the town of Martin in northern Slovakia. At the same time the association breeds alpine goats, which were among the first of their kind used for grazing grass and shrubs around castles, according to Michal Svateník, the statutory representative of Donjon. Volunteers can help with the daily work while learning how to farm, breed goats and make cheese. Dubova Colonorum is a project to preserve a small church in Sedliacka Dubová, a village in northern Slovakia. It organises 12-day-long volunteer camps during the summer while encouraging a spiritual experience in nature without electronic devices like mobile phones or personal computers.
Monuments under reconstruction that take foreign volunteers
58 Galanta: Neo-gothic manor house, www.en.nkga.sk
5 Banská Štiavnica: Calvary, www.kalvaria.org
71 Lietava: Lietava Castle, www.hradlietava.sk
80 Sklabinský Podzámok: Sklabiňa Castle, www.hradsklabina-donjon.sk
46 Šariš Castle , www.hrad.wbl.sk
Other monuments maintained by volunteers
22 Bernolákovo: Čeklís Castle, www.hradceklis.webnode.com
11 Katarínka Monastery , www.katarinka.sk
19 Tematín Castle , www.tematin.eu
26 Lednické Rovne: Lednica Castle, www.lednica.eu
27 Považská Bystrica: Považský Castle, www.hradbystrica.sk
a1 Šášov Castle , www.hradsasov.pum.sk
a2 Revište Castle , www.hradreviste.sk
a3 Čabraď Castle , www.rondel.sk
21 Vinné: Castle above Vinné village, www.zemplinske-hrady.sk
31 Jasenov: Jasenov Castle, zachranahradu.wix.com/jasenov
40 Zborov: Zborov Castle, www.hradzborov.sk
a1 Slanec Castle , www.hradslanec.sk
a2 Brekov Castle , www.brekov.sk
a3 Kamenica Castle , www.kamennaveza.sk