Students for Rivers Camp

The Students for Rivers Camp is a week-long gathering of students, academics, experts, and local river defenders. We come together for one common goal: to celebrate and protect the last remaining free-flowing rivers of Europe through collaboration, knowledge exchange, and creative action. The 2021 Students for Rivers Camp was held at the Valbona River in Albania. We look back to a great event and will soon be sharing a recap. 

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Students for Rivers Camps

The below information refers to the 2021 SRC in Albania. Have a look to get an impression of what our SRC’s are all about!

  • Everyone who is allowed to travel to Tropoja is welcomed to the SRC! 
  • All participants must follow the rules of their local and the Albanian government in terms of required proof of vaccination, and/or negative (PCR) tests.
  • All participants have the responsibility to be informed and follow the rules of their local government as well as the Albanian government. We will keep you updated about the situation in Albania. 
  • The SRC location is mostly outdoors with enough space for everyone to maintain their distance. 
  • Participants are requested to bring enough masks. Extra masks will be available. 
  • We will provide rapid antigen tests for all participants, lecturers, and organizers upon arrival. Mid-week, all participants and organizers are required to do an additional rapid antigen test.
  • The Valbona River, with its crystal clear water and surrounding Albanian Alps, is one of the last pristine rivers in Europe. To the local Tropojan community, the Valbona River is an obvious source of life. It’s wildness, however, is threatened by the construction plans of 14 small hydropower plants.
    Flora, fauna and ecological habitats will be devastated. Water availability for local communities and their cattle will also be critically impacted. Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) failed to properly assess these impacts. Learn more about the fight against hydropower development on the TOKA website, where you also find an elaborate report by WWF Adria.
  • Almost 100 % percent of the electricity in Albania is produced by hydropower, mostly from large dams. Small hydropower plants are criticised for causing a disproportionately high impact compared to their small contribution to the energy supply. Around the Balkans, the voice to stop construction of small hydropower plants is increasing and governments are withdrawing concessions and halting subsidies. Simultaneously, international attention for the Vjosa River is increasing, calling for a wild river national park as opposed to large hydropower development. During the Students for Rivers Camp, we will give attention to the controversies and conflicts regarding river protection and hydropower development. Elaborate studies on small hydropower development, threatened species, and legal frameworks you will find on the website of the Save the Blue Heart of Europe Campaign
  • In Albania, civic space is under pressure mainly from the drive towards progress represented by powerful businesses and lobbies. It is often hard for citizens and local communities to participate in decision-making processes. Additionally, there are risks and injustices related to opposing the further development of hydropower plants, as the sector is interlinked with the criminal sector. However, in the last years, local communities have raised their voice, organised themselves, and protested against injustice like never before in Albanian history. The fight for the free-flowing Valbona River is one of the strongest in northern Albania, but would benefit from wider support, both locally and internationally. River defenders face risks when opposing hydropower development and see little result in their actions (e.g the first dam in Valbona was constructed despite court decisions to halt the works and others pending).
  • Through mutual learning and collaboration between participants and local community members during and after the SRC, we will find creative ways to enlarge the civic space and work towards environmental justice. We will be connecting to other affected communities in the Albanian Alps, strengthening the voice throughout the whole region. We believe that standing up for environmental justice is standing up for social justice, which is why we take an inclusive river conservation approach. A new government is in place, so this is our chance to use the momentum of change, to motivate the government to choose for all its rivers. 
  • Although hydropower development is the core issue of the SRC, the Valbona River is also threatened by gravel mining, pollution, and lack of economic development. We encourage participants to tackle any interlinked issues regarding the Valbona River. 
  • Despite the threats, the SRC will also celebrate the strong connection to the river that still lives within many people!

During the Students for Rivers Camp we will explore and learn from the pristine Valbona River. The SRC aims to engage participants with the broader context of river conservation and connect across diverse disciplines where ideas can flow! Have a peek at the program below:

The Students for Rivers Camp is open for Bachelor’s, Master’s, and PhD students from ALL disciplines. If you are not currently enrolled in a university, you are still welcome to participate – just send us an email regarding your situation. If you live in Albania and interested in participating as a non-student, we are also happy to hear from you! (If in doubt, feel free to send us a quick message.) We hope to welcome 5 participants from Tropoja, 5 from Albania, 5 from the Balkans and 5 from the greater European region.

Use the “Apply Now!” button to apply and participate in the Students for Rivers Camp that takes place from the 4th to 11th of July, 2021. Until the selection announcement, you can at any time withdraw your application. If you are unable to travel to Tropoja and join us in person, you will be able to join part of the activities online or around a river close home. You will not have to pay until we are certain that you can join us! 

To apply, please fill out the questions in this application form. Take your time to answer the questions as this will allow us to make the difficult selection of SRC participants! The following questions will be asked within the form.

  1. What is your connection to rivers?
  2. Why do you want to participate in the camp?
  3. What do you imagine learning from this experience and where would you like to apply this?
  4. If you could start developing your Action for the Valbona River now, what would it be? 
  5. Is there anything else you would like us to know? 

Note: Since the SRC will take place in English, participants need to be able to communicate in English – which is why we also ask you to apply in English. We will not take the level of your grammar into account in the selection procedure. 

Apply now!

Selection procedure
We believe that everyone has their own, personal story. For this reason, we cannot define strict criteria to evaluate the applications. Therefore, the complete SRC organizational team will assign an overall score for every application. It should be noted that we do aim for a balanced mix between nationalities, gender, and study disciplines, which can give priority to certain applicants.

Selection announcement: June 1st, 2021

After your arrival to Tropoja, you will pitch up your tent and be welcomed with some local food! Here you can get to know the River Collective team and other SRC participants. 

The Valley – Serious Game
To break the ice, we’ll introduce the SRC with an interactive game. Corruption is a known driver for hydropower development that is hard to grasp for some and an impossible battle for others. Through this game, you will play the role of an investment bank, mayor, company, or local and learn how corruption is a part of life. It will open a discussion on the need to fight corruption or to accept it as a context in which rivers need to find a place. 

Down to Valbona Day
Often, the best way to learn about a new environment is to just dive into it head-first. After a short preparation session in which we will learn about the social and environmental history of the Valbona valley, we will spend the day exploring the area. Our aim will be to bring our bodies down to the Valbona geography. Where does the sun come up and go down, where does the river come from and flow to? We will be talking to wise locals to gain a better glimpse into the history of the valley, the relationship that its people have with nature, and why it is important to protect the beautiful Valbona river.

River Experience
On this day, we will explore the Valbona River by raft! While experiencing the recreational value of the Valbona River, we will stop for several riverside lectures and experiments. Here, the physical processes that keep a free-flowing river healthy and how hydropower dams would impact these processes will become crystal clear.

Actions for Rivers
The chance to turn your knowledge into action! As a group of river passionates, we have a diverse set of skills and expertise. With the insight you will get over the local situation and the inspiring chats around the bonfires, you will work in small groups to develop a project and contribute to the long-term health of these river ecosystems. To help you develop interdisciplinary, inclusive river conservation projects, you have the opportunity to join several workshops and lectures of your choice. Read on to get a glimpse of the different workshops awaiting you! 

Workshop: Water Quality and Clean Rivers
Using various water quality measuring toolkits, we will have a look at the water quality of the Valbona River and discuss what we can learn from all parameters. What is the influence of different forms of pollution on these parameters and what measures can be taken to keep our rivers clean?

Workshop: Citizen Science – How and where do I start?
With the Valbona River as a case study, we will develop a citizen science campaign, identifying data needs, and the potential pool of citizens to engage in data collection. 

Workshop: Editorial
Books, magazines, fanzines, maps, comics, and many other online and printed words. They all form part of the editorial world. In this workshop, we will present the basics of editorial work, its uses for environmental projects, and show some example projects conducted by members of our team in different formats. Maybe you end up writing your own book about rivers!

Bioblitz with focus on plants
We will host a bioblitz focused on riparian plants, where we will learn native plant names, characteristics and medicinal uses. Through ethnoecology, our aim is to understand the multiple cultural understandings of nature. At the end of the activity, we will prepare some nice herbal teas with local plants, to enjoy the power of plants!

Workshop: What is Ecofeminism?
Unequal gender relationships and global injustice are the same culture that triggers the exploitation of our river ecosystems. How did this come about and how do we navigate this? Together, we will work to disseminate ecofeminist ideas and values through art, humor, and open discussions. 

Workshop: Artify your Science!
Science or art are not able to explain the world in which we live. However, by bringing together sciences and art, we’re able to explore new areas of understanding the planet and the life which inhibits it. In this workshop, we will work on turning your thesis, project, research, or even a scientific journal article that you love, into ART!

Workshops: Digital Storytelling – Activism Through Film
We can craft impactful stories to protect our rivers. In this three-part workshop, learn how to find, create and empower your own important stories to life using the affordable tech you already have. Tune in from anywhere in the world – this session will require your digital attendance before and after the SRC! 

Brainstorm: Legal protection now and in the future
During this session, we will discuss the various ways rivers can be protected based on current legal tools. When are national parks or other protected areas effective? Would an Albanian Alps National Park be feasible? We then explore novel approaches that are being developed around the globe. Can a river have rights, on which values would this be based, and would such a framework be effective in the protection of rivers in Albania? 

Discussion: Economic Development Alternatives
The biggest drive for hydropower development is rooted in a system of constant economic growth and the myth that hydropower is green energy. Are there alternatives to realise financial security that benefits the local population? We consider options like sustainable tourism and agricultural development. 

Evening Activities
In the evenings, we have several activities where stories can be told. We invite locals to join us for some food and to share their stories or some songs with us. We will have a movie night, some open science chats where you can share your work, and will make bonfires. Feel free to bring your instrument for some spontaneous jamming sessions!

On this elaborate travel page assembled by TOKA, you find all the information you need to plan your journey to Valbona.  If you decide to come by car, we encourage you to travel together and we will help you connect to the other participants. 

We will be camping outdoors. No experience needed, but be ready to experience outdoor living! If you do not have camping equipment (tent, sleeping bag) we can help you arrange this. 

The SRC will be free of cost for participants from Albania and Kosovo. We ask all other participants to pay a contribution that helps us to cover expenses like food, logistics, camping, and the River Experience. The total amount requested is € 250,- for Bachelor and Master students and € 500,- for PhD students. If you, as a PhD student, cannot get the contribution funded through your institution, please notify us through the application form. We do not want your financial situation to be the reason why you cannot participate in the SRC. If you, as a non-Albanian student, are not able to pay this contribution, please let us know in the application form. 

Dates to keep in mind
Application deadline: May 20th, 2021
Selection announcement: June 1st, 2021
Students for Rivers Camp: July 4-11, 2020