The transnational "Peaks of the Balkans Trail” leads through one of the most remote and wild mountainous regions of the Western Balkans shared between Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro. A quote in the New York Times effectively explains this: "The Peaks of the Balkans Trail, literally links Muslim, Catholic, and Orthodox enclaves, as well as Slavs and numerous Albanian tribes in three adjoining national parks, each showcasing the border region’s inestimable beauty.”
To explore this thrilling corner of earth, Todd Walters Executive Director of the US based NGO International Peace Park Expeditions and Geoff Dabelko Director of Environmental Studies at Ohio University's, has partnered to organize a learning excursion for young students. From May 10th to June 1st about 16 students joined the expedition and got involved into a unique experiential learning experience in one of the last bio-diversity hotspots in Europe, a place where the legacy of the conflict of the 1990s is being overcome with entrepreneurship, ecotourism and environmental peacebuilding.
On 17th of May in Shkodra, Albania, the group received a lecture from PPNEA Chairman Kujtim Mersini on trans-boundary cooperation in the Balkans. The discussion focused on the work achieved by PPNEA and its partners in saving the critically endangered Balkan Lynx whom territory stretches through the borderlands among Albania, Montenegro, Kosovo and Macedonia. The work to preserve this amazing animal comprise a lot of environmental peace building elements such as cross border environmental conservation, community driven sustainable development, eco-tourism and natural resource management.
During the presentation, Kujtim introduced to the audience success stories such as Balkan Green Belt and the PrespaNet and the factors that pose challenges to the NGOs in implementing cross-border environmental protection. These case studies enshrined how the environment is being harnessed as a tool to stimulate cross border cooperation and how the conservation NGOs work is providing an alternative model for sustainable development and real world livelihood creation.
We hope that the students left Albania with a new vision and determination to love, care, conserve and respect Nature!