Thursday, December 19, 2013

Make it short...

...we asked ourselves five questions. clear and brief. New volunteers - Indre, Ida and Iuliia, who we are, with whom we want do drink a cup of coffee, what things we like in Bulgaria, what drives us crazy? 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

If Christmas isn't found in your heart, you won't find it under a tree.



Seeking asylum is not a crime.  Share your love.

Looking forward for a new holiday season, in the rush and joy of wrapping presents and sharing the happiness with our beloved ones, let’s not forget about the importance of other things we share – our words and actions 
In the past couple of months, with an increasing influx of asylum seekers to Bulgaria, xenophobic attacks on asylum seekers have spread out through the country. On-line media commentators incite hatred on those of different  race or country of origin suggesting to “lock  them up” or calling asylum seekers “criminals with no legal right to stay in Bulgaria”. It seems so hard to step into the shoes and imagine that most of these people were soldiers deployed against their own people whos conscience did not allow to shoot the innocent so they were sentenced to death. Or mothers, who did not want their children to see the outrageousness of war. Are those, fleeing from unbearable, are criminals?
One can clearly see a double standard here. What is the difference between a person from Middle East fleeing war and Eastern European fleeing economic situation? If the borders in the EU still existed, would it be a crime to pursue a better future for the following generation? As it is a place of financial impossibilities for its residents, Eastern Europe is a safe haven for new comers. In this perspective we are all the same. 
For this very reason, let us share the moment of warmth with those who are not going to have a lovely Christmas by spreading the word about their so needed support.
Currently there are around 8 800 refugees in the country. While the state is not equipped to deal with influx of this quantity, most of them live under conditions that are far from ensuring one’s dignity. Lack of electricity, hot water, and space is only worsened by insufficient supplies of food and other goods.
You can contribute to the advocacy and raising awareness by raising your voice against subjecting newcomers to discrimination and supporting this campaign by sharing via your social media accounts.

Don’t let words of hatred lead to acts of hatred. 
And remember, if Christmas isn't found in your heart, you won't find it under a tree.


Да търсиш убежище не е престъпление. Споделете Вашата любов.

Докато тръпнем в очакване на Коледните и Новогодишни празници, в бързането и удоволствието от опаковането на подаръци и споделянето на радостта с хората, които обичаме, нека не забравяме и останалите важни неща, които споделяме – нашите думи и действия.
През последните няколко месеца напливът от хора, които търсят убежище в България, е все по-голям, а ксенофобските нападения срещу тези лица зачестяват. Редица коментатори в социалните мрежи подбуждат към омраза спрямо различаващите се по раса или страна на произход хора. Някои от тях стигат до там, че предлагат бежанците да бъдат „заключени“ под предлог, че са „престъпници, без законно право да останат в България“.
Трудно е да се поставим на тяхно място.  Представете си, че най-вероятно част  от тези хора са били войници, заставени да стрелят по собствените си сънародници. Отказвайки да направят това, те са били осъдени на смърт в собствената си държава. Други от тях са любящи майки, които не искат децата им да виждат ужаса на войната. Нима тези, които бягат от безумието, са престъпници?
Двойният стандарт е очевиден. Каква е разликата между човек от Средния Изток, който бяга от войната и този от Източна Европа, който бяга от влошеното си икономическо състояние? Ако границите на Европейския съюз още съществуваха, щеше ли да е престъпление да потърсим по-добро бъдеще за наследниците си? Освен място на ограничените финансови възможности, Източна Европа се оказва сигурно първоначално убежище за бежанците. В този смисъл всички сме еднакви и търсим доброто за нашите семейства. 
Ето защо Ви приканваме да споделим момента на топлина с тези,  за които Коледата няма да е толкова прекрасна, като разпространим информация за толкова необходимата им в момента подкрепа.
Към настоящия момент бежанците в страната са близо 8 800. Тъй като държавата не е в състояние да се справи с толкова големия миграционен поток, голяма част от тях живеят при условия, накърняващи човешкото достойнство. Недостигът на електричество, топла вода и пространство за живот са само част от проблемите, съпътствани от постоянна липса на храна и медикаменти.
Всеки от нас може да допринесе дори и малко за повишаването на обществената осведоменост, като „надигне глас“ срещу дискриминиранията на бежанците. Подкрепете тази инициатива, като я споделите във Вашата социална мрежа!
Не позволявайте думите на омраза да доведат и до актове на омраза! И запомнете, ако Коледа не е във вашите сърца, няма да намерите нищо под елхата.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Equality

Today the first snowflakes came to Sofia this year. I guess everybody knows that it comes in a variety of sizes and shapes. But did you know that individual snowflakes are nearly unique in structure?

Doesn't it remind you of human beings? There are around 7 billion of us in the world, like never ending snowflakes falling from the sky. All the human beings are different, like individual snowflake is unique in structure. Different face features, different height, different habits, different hair colour, different skin colour, different eyes... We are all unique. Every single one of us. But at the same time like all the snowflakes are called snowflakes we all are called - humans. We are all uniquest and equal.








Monday, November 25, 2013

Inspiration and photo exhibition in Sofia City Library

You can get inspiration from a lot of different things, people, ideas. You can be inspired to do some piece of art, to write a song, to post something on your Facebook wall, to comment an article, to comment your friends picture or post... you can be inspired to share piece of you with the world or just close ones.

We are wishing that everybody would be inspired to share their best...love messages, bright thoughts, encouraging ideas, positive energy! 

Our colleague George Psarros was inspired by his EVS service in Sofia, landmarks of the Bulgarian capital, Bulgarian culture, traditions, and beautiful people around him. Therefore today in only few hours he will open his photo exhibition which will guide you through the extraordinary life of EVS volunteers in Bulgaria.

It is called "Another Point of View" and will be exhibited in Sofia City Library till 30th November, 2013.





Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Positive energy from us

Today we would like to share a peaceful moment from last summer in Bulgaria, Plovdiv.

Peace of mind, clear thoughts, sunny days... We are sending you positive energy that we can feel in our office in Sofia.




Monday, November 18, 2013

Internet without hate

Internet - that magic word. It lets us communicate with our friends, relatives, fr enemies, enemies, the world around us. It lets us share our life. It lets us share our ideas. It lets us share our creativity. It lets us share information. It lets us provide information. It lets us see the piece of world without moving out of your home, office, coffee shop.

Internet - the place you live you digital life.

We prefer Internet without hate.


Friday, November 15, 2013

Same Meaning Same Consequence

No matter what language you are using to express your feelings it has the same meaning in any other language in the world. In this case we are not so different, a? Feel.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Simple as it is!

Simple as it is! Social media is a huge part of our life's so why not to make it a nice space to be?


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Move out to my house

Every reality has different faces and in crisis situations all of them become more intense. Thus, last brutal racist attacks against refugees in Sofia, which ended up with the stabbing of youngsters from different nationalities, are faced with the same intensity by people who are offering everything they have in order to help those who need it. In most of the cases this solidarity actions are anonymous, not being possible to find them in any newspaper or television.

Last week, some days before the nationalist march against immigrants took place, I had the chance to experience one of this philanthropy stories in person. I was having a drink with an amazing person, refugee, who was explaining me the terrible conditions they were suffering in the overcrowded refugee camp where he was living. We were keeping this conversation while having a cigarette in the door of a bar. Suddenly, another smoker who heard us by accident, jumped into the story out of the blue offering to my friend his house for free the time he needed it. My friend moved out last Thursday and his hosting celebrated a welcome dinner full of vegetarian food and positive energy. Amazing time and people.

Other similar case, this time documented by the media, is the one staring by the four-time world boxing champion Evander Holyfield and the billionaire Canadian citizen of Jewish origin Yank Barry. They have rented a hotel in Bankia,  where Syrian families from the refugee camp will be accommodated. Today, a 17 member Syrian refugee family has been received in this hotel. The goal is to integrate the refugees into Bulgaria. In one of his interviews, he mentions that his willingness to help the Bulgarian state is provoked by the human endeavors of the Bulgarian citizens during the World War 2 when the community tried to save all Jews from being expulsed to the concentration camps in Germany and Poland.


Even though in Sofia, racism and xenophobia are becoming more visible day by day, we should not forget the other side of the reality. The one in which concentrations in solidarity with the refugees are held, and where food and winter clothes are gathered in order to be delivered in the refugee camps. This face of Sofia stuffed with famous or anonymous people willing to help. Persons who are opening their lives and houses to those who have been forced to run away from theirs. 

Clean Your Tongue

One more design to our campaign.

As one wise man said: "If you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all". It is worth to rethink do you really want to hurt other persons feelings before saying anything. If you don't even agree to this saying always think what would you feel if somebody would tell you this. You can always find a different ways how to express the same thoughts and feelings, in this case you can accomplish much more and feel more peaceful to yourself.




Thursday, November 7, 2013

HUMAN

All these words defines different people characteristics, but despite it at the end we all are humans.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Racism in Sofia



Racism and xenophobia are becoming more visible in Sofia streets. The 3rd of November three nationalist parties, Ataka, VMRO-BND and National Resistance, organized a march in the center of the city against foreigners and “immigrant terror”. The request was the expulsion of refugees from Bulgaria, shouting slogans like “we have to sweep the streets”, “Bulgaria for Bulgarians” or “we have to impose order”. The leader of VMRO, Pearl Milanov, is currently being investigated for inciting racial hatred. The excuse used to promote this racist demonstration was an attack of one 20 years old woman the 2nd of November. According to the local newspaper Dnevnik, the girl was injured with a knife by a 20 years old guy from Algeria who entered in the shop she was working in and stole 300 levas. Refugees living in the Voenna Rampa center have denounced the aggression, expressing solidarity with the victim and her family. Meanwhile, in the surroundings of this same camp, a 17 years old Syrian refugee has been attacked with a knife in the evening of the 5th of November. As it has been published by Novinite, the man was attacked on his way back to the shelter by two people who spoke Bulgarian.  

This hate against immigrants and refugees is nowadays a huge issue in different European countries. Far right parties are gaining ground in most of the states, and immigrants are being massively and unfairly used as the scapegoat of the economic crisis.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Our second action day in Sofia

Sunny autumn, smiling people. All in the support to our campaign against the hate speech!
















Wednesday, October 23, 2013

We are now at Schools

This week we have started our presentations in Sofia's high schools. We have already visited two of them and several more we are going to visit in the nearest time.

The first school that we have visited was 28 Средно Общообразователно Училище "Алеко Константинов". There we gave a presentation to the seven graders. The second school was that let us in was 113 СОУ "САВА ФИЛАРЕТОВ". There we had a little bit older audience – 10-11 graders. But at the same time there were few children from the lower classes. During all the presentations in the classrooms we gathered around 50-60 youngsters.

During the presentations we have presented the video about bullying that led to the discussions what youngsters are seeing there and what they think about this topic. Later on it was our turn to talk more about human rights, specifically about hate speech online. We have presented our work and what we are doing here in Sofia. We ended up all the presentations with a topic about volunteering and the great things that it can give to all of us.

We feel that our work is going well and not unnoticed. We have received a positive feedback from youngsters and schools staff. It was a great feeling when after the presentation few young people comes to you and asks for more information and even wants to become a volunteers like us.

We want to say thank you for the staff of the schools for the support. Maybe we will see you soon in your school :)

Friday, October 18, 2013

International Youth Day Video

Some flashbacks from International Youth Day in Sofia where we took part in. Our friend, EVS volunteer in Lovech Maria Sonia Vigart made an amazing video about that day and our EVS experience.

Thank you Maria!




Thursday, October 10, 2013

What I found after the tunnel

In Nadezhda there are not playgrounds but children willing build them up. As an alternative, they are using a steep ramp inside a tunnel - the one they should cross everyday on their way back from school. Built under the railways, this narrow and yellow corridor is the entrance and exit passage to two entirely different realities: the Tsigani and the white Bulgarians’ one. This is the story of the Roma Neighborhood in Sliven, one of the cities with the highest Roma Population in Bulgaria. 
Tunnel to Nadezhda
When we arrived to Nadezhda´s doors I didn´t even notice we were there. This huge Roma Settlement starts behind the red building of the train station in Sliven, and when the train reaches this stop the neighborhood disappears. It is like a curtain made of wagons which hides for a couple of minutes every two or three hours one of the biggest Gipsy ghettos in Bulgaria.

During my visit to Nadezhda my Polish friend and I were guided by Stefan and Dorothea. Two of the workers of Thirst for Life Association, an NGO founded in 2005, with the main aim of empowering young Roma with risk behavior to exercise their constitutional right of equal access to health and health care. 

The neighbors

According to the last official census, Nadezhda is inhabited by approximately 33.000 people. However, this figure is probably not realistic as from the time the registration was made, Stefan told me that around 10.000 people have emigrated to other countries in Europe searching for a job. Actually, this is one of the undercover reasons of the refusal of France, Germany and The Netherlands for the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the Schengen area.

Nevertheless, regarding Roma community, most of the population censuses are not reliable at all, due either to migrations or to the fact that a considerable amount of people don't want to say they are Roma due to the discrimination and prejudice they suffer. This lack of information related to Roma figures is more important as it seems because it influences (or at least it should) the policies and funds intended to their integration. In Bulgaria, as reported by different NGOs, the number of those perceived as Roma varies from 700.000 to 800.000 people2. 88% of them are at risk of poverty, 72 % live in areas that are predominantly inhabited by other Roma, and more than a half in illegal housing3. Although Bulgaria is one of the signatory states of the Decade of Roma inclusion 2005-20154, the country presents the highest rate of spatial segregation of Roma among EU member states5. Nadezhda is an example of it.

Walnut ghetto

Regarding to jobs, Roma keep facing huge doses of discrimination almost everywhere in Europe. This is certainly a thing that you can smell in Nadezhda. In the central square of the settlement, the owner of a van turned into a coffee bar with the sign “Refrescos” on the top, tells me in perfect Spanish that unemployment there affects the majority of people at working age, which is unbearable.

Listen, we are gypsies, you know? And here, in Sliven, if in a job interview they understand that you are living in Nadezhda, no way. Hard to be selected”. This man in his sixties has been living in Murcia for 13 years, working as chauffeur. At the beginning he didn´t look like willing to talk to us, but eventually he moved his chair to our table to finish drinking his coffee in front of me. In a Bulgarian-Spanish-English-Russian language conversation (depending on which of us took the floor) he explained that unemployment allowance for them usually consists of 20 Leva and 14 days of communitarian/cleaning works. “Not enough. We are screwed. During the communist time we used to have different factories in Sliven. There was work, but not any more¨. The lack of access to the labour market is common among Roma living in Central and Eastern Europe, who are generally unemployed and face substantial structural and cultural barriers when looking for a paid job6. Thus, Roma involvement in the informal sector is on average four or five times more common than for non Roma7. The image of these two facts are the “walnut ghettos”. Leaving the central square to enter deeper in the settlement, there are people cracking walnuts in almost every corner. With more than a 60% of jobless, they are using self- employment as a brave response to discrimination. 
Map of Sliven
 School desegregation

I visited Dorothea´s house and Stefan’s mother, grandmother and aunt. We shake hands with a big smile. Family. This word is really important in Nadezhda and its meaning is different than in the rest of Sliven. Roma Families are frequently bigger and younger than white Bulgarian ones, and they include more children. I saw a lot them in Nadezhda. Stefan says that here is common to get pregnant at the age of 15, 16. Someone tells me that once they give birth, parents are receiving a monthly benefit from the State consisting of 37 Leva per kid, which last till children reach the age of 18, as long as they are attending school. Education is another hot topic in Roma community. On average, only one out of two Roma children attends pre-school or kindergarten8, and there is a high rate of school drop-outs among them. In numbers, 44% of Roma have basic education in Bulgaria, with 20 % of Roma not even completing primary level education, and therefore, just 0,3% of Roma undertaking higher education9. In this field it is important to highlight as well, the trend to educate Roma children in segregated schools or in schools located in rural areas, where the quality of education is lower than in the mainstream schools. It means ghettoization and future barriers which are affecting nowadays to the 75% of Roma children10.
A steep ramp inside the tunnel
 Everybody´s place

We keep walking. People greet me with smiles and curiosity. Everybody greets each other and every so often someone surprises me with one “Hola España!” A lot of them can speak Spanish. Stefan told me that an 80 % of the population in Nadezhda can, although for me, this might be a bit optimistic percentage. In Nadezhda public space is public for real. You can feel it: we are now in everybody´s place. Woman, men and children are standing in the door of their houses talking to each other, saying hello to the strollers, working...Some people are cleaning their pig in the middle of the street. A man is fixing a bicycle. Others are remodelling their houses. The streets of this part of the settlement are clean. They have rubbish collection service as well as electricity and water, though the last one with restrictions. Children are playing freely in the middle of the path. Music. Nadezhda exudes life and people.

Prayers and votes

I meet the Evangelist priest who comes from the city. He talks with his priest voice something in Bulgarian to Dorothea I cannot understand. In Nadezhda you can find all the religions, despite not counting with any temple within its walls. In Bulgaria, 44% of the Roma are Orthodox, 39% Muslims, 15% Protestants and less than 1% Catholics11. This morning I encountered as well one of the representatives of the local authority of the settlement.

I take advantage of the meeting to ask Stefan if in Nadezhda there is any kind of political activism, neighbors’ associations, etc. The answer is no. In Bulgaria, Roma Community presence in the politic world is almost nonexistent. They are basically a tool for politicians. Bulgarian political leaders are following a double manipulation strategy related with Roma. On the one hand they are exploiting them to get their votes, sometimes by buying them, and on the other hand they are using them as a fall guy of economic and social problems.
Community Health Centre

Nadezhda’s Community Health Centre is a humble building in whose doors people crowd queuing. Most of them are men with children. Dorothea knows almost everybody. Her work in the association consists on the prevention and detection of tuberculosis among the neighbours. This illness in from 2 to 5 times more common between Roma than between ethnic Bulgarians12.

Apart from this, life expectancy for Roma is in general 8-15 years lower than other Bulgarians, and child mortality rates are almost three times higher. All this figures are the result of several factors such as the isolation they suffer, the poor living conditions in the ghetto, the lack of health education and preventive health care, and the administrative barriers and discrimination in the access to medical care. Specifically in Bulgaria, approximately half of the Roma population don't have health insurance as a result of unemployment and poverty, and 55% have difficulty accessing doctors13.

Ghetto inside a ghetto

Turning left from the Community Health Center, the streets start to be darker and sadder. Actually this is the saddest part of the article, of Nadezhda and probably of Europe. A ghetto inside a ghetto. A forgotten area which, actually, you can find in almost every country. Here, the streets are not paved and the rubbish collection is not working. Garbage piles up almost everywhere and the smell is terrible. Four children aged between 2 and 6 years stir a mixture which looks like concrete. Houses are crumbling what allows me to see the interior of almost every one of them.

Old and tiny clothes hanging here and there and hundreds of kids. As we are going into this zone I cannot stop wondering how this is possible. How European Union and its States and its citizens (all of us very modern and committed to human rights) can bare this situation. How can WE bare this situation? Where are our priorities? Thirst for Life Association and another French NGO whose name Stefan couldn’t remember are the only organizations working here.

I leave the settlement reflecting of the repercussions of being born in one or in another side of the railway. The tunnel is now full of children running with their bagpacks. I think back all I saw this morning. The conclusion is definitely positive. Nadezhda, despite its difficulties and somehow because of them, is full of life and future, and we cannot let prejudice and discrimination deny them. Europe has much to learn from its citizens who invent slides and combat unemployment by cracking walnuts. Such important things as not give up and always look for alternatives.
Yellow corridor to a different reality

2 NATIONAL DELIVERATIVE POLL: Policies toward the Roma in Bulgaria
3 European Country of Origin Information Network: Bulgaria: Situation of Roma, including access to employment, housing, health care, and education; state efforts to improve the conditions of Roma (2009-September 2012) [BGR104200.E]
5 European Country of Origin Information Network: Bulgaria: Situation of Roma, including access to employment, housing, health care, and education; state efforts to improve the conditions of Roma (2009-September 2012) [BGR104200.E]
6 ROMA IN EUROPE: Issues and policy responses
9 ROMA IN EUROPE: Issues and policy responses
10 Deutsche Welle “Roma: more integration through education”
11 NATIONAL DELIBERATIVE POLL: Policies toward the Roma in Bulgaria
12 Deutsche Welle “Millions don't help Roma integration in Bulgaria”
13 Roma in Europe: issues and policy responses