Digital Nomads

Croatia Through the Eyes of a Digital Nomad: Boranka Plants Virtual Trees in Real Life

By 21 October 2021
Volunteers gather at the meeting point in Korešnica, where they pick up food, water, and supplies before heading up the mountain.
Volunteers gather at the meeting point in Korešnica, where they pick up food, water, and supplies before heading up the mountain. All photos ©2021, Cyndie Burkhardt.

October 21, 2021 -  The Boranka reforestation campaign encourages children to color trees and volunteers to plant them, it’s part of an ongoing effort to bring the green back to the burnt area of Dalmatia.

Ever since my Girl Scout days, the Scouts hold a special place in my heart. Americans love the cookies (I sold plenty of ‘em), but I’m talking about the program. I filled my sash with badges earned for all sorts of activities, including a badge my mother made for our troop when we came up with a new sewing project. When I heard about the Boranka campaign, led by the Scout Association of Croatia, I was keen to volunteer for the reforestation effort on the mountain. Plus, it’s a great day outside in nature.


(Scout leaders making tight neckerchiefs. This part of the scout uniform represents a scout’s promise to uphold Scout beliefs and it also has practical functions, such as protecting the wearer’s neck and being made into a slink or bandage for first aid.)

So many volunteers

This was my second year as a volunteer, planting seedlings on Mosor Mountain. Unlike my first experience with other digital nomads and expats, I was side by side with Croatians from a long list of organizations that support the campaign, including Croatian Forests, Croatian Mountain Rescue Service, Scouts of Brodosplit, Croatia Red Cross, Croatia Navy, Croatia Civil Protection, and of course, the Scout Association of Croatia which leads the physical effort as well as the marketing campaign. It was an impressive bunch up there!


(The Croatian Navy is the first group to head up Mosor, where they will disperse into different sections on the mountain.)

It’s amazing how much interest there is—Croatian schools, mountaineers, armed services units, veterans, and the president, along with NGOs, ambassadors, and expats from around the world, have been on the mountain doing the same job as me and getting their hands dirty.


(Darko Gavrić, head of the Croatian Mountain Rescue Service (HGSS) in Split told reporters, “We’re all working together on this.”)

Split scouts

A free bus took us volunteers from Split and when I arrived in the area known as Korešnica, I was given a pair of gloves, water, a sandwich, fruit, and a cool goody bag. Nearby, I watched some scout leaders roll up a neckerchief with precision; this is part of the scout uniform. Three women held the corners of a scarf and pulled tight as a fourth began rolling one edge. The leader rolled and pulled, rolled and pulled, and finally handed the finished piece to her colleague who placed it around her neck. I noticed how skilled the women were at this and when I mentioned that it was funny to watch them work so seriously and still keep up their casual chatting, they laughed and were like, “yeah, no big deal.”


(Two members of the Croatia Civil Protection from Zagreb with Sanja Matešić, President of Sea Scouts Brodosplit, and Dan Špicer, Business Director of the Scout Association of Croatia and Boranka campaign coordinator—all on active duty for a great day of volunteering.)

Sea Scouts Brodosplit

The Scouts of Brodosplit—aka Sea Scouts Brodosplit—were heading up the weekend’s volunteer effort, a job that rotates between six different local Split units each weekend. Scout Mihi, the “Chief of Staff,” and his wife Sanja, “the boss” (the president), were there with nearly 40 of their members, including a big group of teens and others they call Friends of Scouts. For the latter, this is “a way of life and a way of helping,” Sanja said. She loves running camps with the members, especially the Cubs, all over Croatia.


(Even with a pickaxe, digging holes in Mosor’s rugged mountain terrain can be tough with all the stone.)

Planting seedlings

When it was time to get to work, we formed into little teams—one person dug holes and another placed seedlings in the ground. Others went back and forth from the supply truck to pick up more trees. Weather can be harsh in this landscape with intense summer heat and year-round Bura wind. To help these little guys succeed, you have to pat down the dirt firmly around them and surround each one with small rocks to hold the dirt in place and keep the moisture in the ground.


(Volunteers from all over the world and different backgrounds meet on the mountain for a productive and fun day.)

Roughly 90,000 trees have been replanted in four years, a mix of local pine and oak varieties. These native species somehow grow in rock, not like our trees in the U.S. that grow in dirt. Apparently, there’s enough water below the surface of this karst landscape to keep them alive.


(Everybody works together, digging and planting, with lots of friendly banter included.)

Boranka campaign

My burning question was, what does the word Boranka mean? Dan Špicer, business director of the Scout Association of Croatia and the Boranka campaign coordinator, filled me in. Bor translates as pine and bojanka as coloring book. “It’s a word game,” he said, a clever marketing concept based on bringing the program to the people and “coloring your tree.” 

Dan’s team came up with an idea to make crayons from the burnt pine trees. When you use one to draw and see the color on your fingers and the paper, a connection is created—to the fire, to nature, to the campaign. Over 150,000 ash crayons have been made so far and over 10,000 have been distributed to schools.


(Tips for helping the small seedlings grow successfully include pushing down the dirt firmly then surrounding them with stones, which are protective measures against harsh growing conditions.)

Kits instruct kids to color their own forest and name their tree. For every tree drawn and uploaded to a database, a tree is planted by Boranka volunteers. At one point the system overloaded due to the overwhelming response. 

There was another hurdle early on to get the crayons made. “Where do you burn two trucks full of burnt trees?” Dan found a factory willing to help and they devised a special formula. The machines jammed at first, they weren’t used to ash, but the team figured it out.


(Seedlings ready to be picked up by volunteers and planted.)

Future campaign

With millions of trees lost in the devastating 2017 fire around Split, the Boranka effort isn’t going away any time soon. In November, a new campaign will start — Co2mpensating by Planting. This CO2 program appeals to organizations’ desire to offset their carbon footprint. Companies will buy trees and scouts and volunteers will plant them, it’s a direct one-to-one transaction. The European parliament and the American embassy are already onboard with support. 

When asked about coordinating such a big undertaking, with so many moving parts and pieces and different organizations, Dan told me, “the campaign came easy, it came out of a need, to save something, not just to plant trees.” That’s what he cares about and that’s what I love about Scouts, their heart and passion.


(Campaign kits called “Draw Your Tree” include an ash crayon, drawing paper, and instructions on how to draw your tree and plant it in the virtual forest (in the database) where it will be turned into real tree planted by Boranka volunteers.)

Digital nomads and others can still volunteer for this upcoming weekend, October 23 and 24. Find more information on the Boranka Facebook page.

Story and photographs ©2021, Cyndie Burkhardt.

Learn more at TCN’s Digital Nomads channel.