The Green Skaters of Slovakia
The author Gabriela Mezeiova – leader of Slovak Eco Quality and a Humphrey Fellow in the U.S. – is currently affiliated with the North American Association for Environmental Education as a Sustainability Fellow.
A community of young skaters, led by Igor Hanecak, the founder of a waste upcycling organization, gathered together on April 29, 2023 to clean the skatepark area in Poprad, Slovakia, nestled under the beautiful High Tatras. These skaters have adapted “plogging,” a Swedish term which refers to picking up trash while jogging, to their respective sport and community.
Despite the morning rain, the skaters were determined to make a difference. The overall cleaning was divided into several tasks and the work was interspersed with impressive skate tricks performed over bags filled with collected waste. Once all the garbage had been gathered, a recycling workshop was conducted by Igor, who taught the guidelines created by a local waste collecting company. In between the cleaning sessions, lively discussions centered around sustainability took place, aiming to ensure the long-term maintenance of the skate park and promote sustainable sport activities. Participants enjoyed vegan burgers from a local vendor and attended workshops on how to extend the lifespan of their skateboards as well as how to repair their skate sneakers and extend their lifespan.
Discussions among the skaters and other stakeholders, such as local decision makers, waste collecting companies, and the police, led to the creation of a follow up action plan for the skatepark. One of the key proposals was to have a designated steward at the skatepark, especially during the initial stages of the plan, to educate visitors about proper waste separation to ensure proper and effective recycling. Another issue raised to be addressed was the skatepark's nighttime transformation into a gathering place for low-income and homeless people which often results in broken glass and other forms of litter. Further, there is a need to transform the city's view of the skatepark as a not just a recreational space for the skating community but for the wider population. Events like this, which attract local media, community members, and local and regional stakeholders, raise awareness among elected city representatives and inspire them to support initiatives focused on regular cleaning, safety, and the stewardship of the skatepark.
All of these activities took place as part of the Green Youth Changemakers project, implemented by Slovak Eco Quality in Slovakia and UniGrowth Development Center in Armenia. This project also includes the engagement of decision-makers who have the power to support a greener future. Program participants learn from each other, participate in international training programs, conduct their own sustainability awareness campaigns, co-organize plogging events (like the one in the skatepark), contribute to sustainability-focused solutions during hackathons, and finally present their work in Brussels, the capital of the European Union. In Brussels, they have the opportunity to meet members of the European Parliament, donor agencies, and explore ongoing sustainability organizations and initiatives in the city. The project received funding from the Erasmus+ educational program of the European Union.
“What a cool project! What cool people! There is so much learning and fun involved in their journey toward becoming agents of change for sustainability”— the Green Youth Changemakers