Community Interview: Park Istra

Park Istra is a community initiative focusing on sustainable development in Slovenia. The founders live communally alongside volunteers from around the world to address the various needs of local throughout the Istria countryside.

After moving from Prague, I headed south to explore different intentional communities and do a little “work away” travel. A very fortunate first stop was the Park Istra community project, which focuses on supporting sustainable development in Slovenia.

Located just an hour from Ljubljana, Park Istra is situated amongst tree-covered hills and rocky bluffs. For one month, I helped out the community and benefited from the proximity to places such as Koper, Piran, and Izola–which means cute towns, history, and amazing beaches.

Volunteers work 4-5 hours each day and then have plenty of time for excursions, including accidental or purposeful forays across the Slovenian-Italian border.

What I’m saying is: not only is Slovenia jaw-droppingly gorgeous and should be on your destination list, but also you can support Park Istra’s community-focused initiatives.

Anyways, Petra Matos has graciously offered to tell you all the details. Here you are!

Is there a purpose or mission to Park Istra? What is it?

Our mission is to support sustainable development in Slovenia and help the local population. We help people whenever they need our hardworking hands, but we especially like to support the ideas and projects that bring long-term positive effects to our region.

There is huge potential for sustainable development in Slovenia, particularly in this region of Istria. Yet, new knowledge and young energy is needed to move forward. This is exactly what we would like to bring to this beautiful region.

What brought you, personally, to communal living?

Experience of volunteering in an intentional community in India back in 2008. I felt so balanced and fulfilled there! I came to the conclusion that I want to live like that and I won’t accept anything less.

After India, we started our first NGO—Ecologists Without Borders—and did some great projects connected with waste management. We got many references and gained important experience with running projects.

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How did Park Istra initially come into existence?

Four years passed by and we were again evaluating our life.  We realized it was time to fulfill our dreams of focusing on sustainable development in Slovenia. We moved to the coast and lived for a year in a caravan, saving money by renting out our apartment. We were able to survive and focus on starting the project.

Really, it all happened in 2013. My husband, Janez, and I started the project in inland Istria. Over two years, we renovated a beautiful house that was more than 200 years old with the help of volunteers. For some time we ran the project there.

Then, the last few years, we were moving from one local community to another and help them in all the ways we could. Last year, we finally got a permanent location that we are renovating now.

sustainable development in Slovenia

Clearing brambles from a village river

How does Park Istra economically maintain itself?

In all five years of existence, the volunteering portion has been covered through donations of volunteers coming to work and learn about sustainable development in Slovenia. They contribute for the food and other costs (electricity, water, waste, internet, accountancy, buying new and repairing old tools, petrol). At the end of the season we are back to 0 with volunteering finance, as all volunteer donations go directly to basic needs.

Since starting the project, we also applied for an EU grant and got one. We’ve saved the money from this grant for renovation. As for our family, Janez and I continue to be financially supported by the rent of our apartment in Ljubljana.

Please describe some of the roles and responsibilities at Park Istra:

There are many different roles. Since we have a volunteering project which hosts (at all times) 10-15, sometimes even 30 volunteers, we need to coordinate their daily work with the locals.

Various stakeholders give us the ideas of where to donate our work, so that we contribute the most to sustainable development in Slovenia.

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And, of course, there is the household part. There is a Household Coordinator (who takes care that things in a house are working fine) and an IT Master (who takes over social media). We also need to feed all the people and go shopping at least twice a week.

Finally, there is the accountancy and applying for grants. This is a very important part, as its important to find continuous financial support for the project.

sustainable development in Slovenia

View from the new, permanent location of the Park Istra Vounteer Centre

Name some challenges Park Istra has faced and how they were overcome:

Park Istra is developing fast! We are helping more and more local communities and partners. For us the most challenging part—which till now was not really problematic, but it would become so over time—is to set healthy boundaries between the project and our family life.

In our new location at Kastelec, we will finally have a small apartment which will allow us more privacy. And, finally, we will not need to move every few months like we did up till now.

There are, of course, everyday small challenges—like how to keep the house tidy with so many people around—but if you enjoy what you are doing you can overcome all the challenges.

You need to persist and try again and again. When you fail you need to stand up again, richer for another experience.

Lugging coal out of the building at beginning of renovation

Your favorite thing about living communally?

We are lucky to be surrounded by great, active people. Everyone is special; everyone brings something new to a project and helps us to learn more.

I really like when we share knowledge with each other. I especially like evenings spent singing by bonfire, playing Dixit, Uno or Jungle speed. The things, that happened so rarely in my previous life (because everyone in a “normal” world is so busy), are now happening on a daily basis.

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What advice would you give for others looking to create a communal home?

At the beginning, it is good that there are not too many people who are starting the project. I would say not more than two.

Why? Because if there are too many people, then you need to adjust project to everyone and, at the end, the project can lose its soul. With all the compromises, it can happen that the project will not motivate you anymore.

If a few people with the same vision start the community, then other people who believe in this vision, will join.

Make sure, also, that you write everything down, sign with all involved the contracts prepared with the help of lawyer to protect yourself if things go wrong.

The stunning view near a popular rock climbing spot

What does the future of Park Istra look like?

Our vision is that every region in the country would start projects focusing on sustainable development in Slovenia, like Park Istra, and that it would expand through our volunteers to other countries, as well.

Additionally, we would like to give experience of a sustainable lifestyle to as many people as possible. We would like them to see firsthand how fulfilling it is to give and to live a balanced life between doing something meaningful, having time for yourself, as well as, for socializing and learning from each other.

In the meanwhile, we live our dreams: living communal life with volunteers from all around the world, working, eating, playing, and having fun together. It is not all perfect but we wouldn’t change our lives for anything else in the world.

Anything else you would like to share?

Thanks for being with us and help us to improve us our project!

Please check out the website of Park Istra and follow them on social media at: Facebook and Instagram!

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