We love it when the stories are a mix of inspiration, pride in our accomplishments and the drive for bigger achievements.
Some time ago, we told you about the success of one of our boys, Hristo*, in the Best Mechanical Engineering Technician National Competition. His good performance in this competition and his strong interest in the field of engineering and mechanical engineering was the reason for him to be selected by his school to participate in an international project under the Erasmus+ programme in the Vocational Education and Training sector.
The “Drip Energy Model” project involved a two-week visit to Germany for an exchange experience with visits to BMW and Porsche factories – a dream for every single boy who is passionate about cars like Hristo.
Hristo went to Germany at the beginning of April and came back fascinated by everything – the orderliness and cleanliness, the well-kept parks and beautiful buildings, the attitude of the people and their discipline. This was his first trip outside Bulgaria and by plane, which added a lot of impressions and excitement to the whole experience.
But what he was most excited about was how much could be learned in such a short time. All the project participants were accommodated in a mansion in the town of Schkeuditz. All the activities took place at the same place and included car repairs in the mansion’s workshop, as well as games and activities after an exciting day at work. The experience that Hristo and his classmates gained during their two weeks in Germany was unique, especially since it could not be compared to the practices in a school environment. This experience broadened his horizons and allowed him to see his own development in a new light.
Unfortunately, the epidemic situation did not allow the participants to visit BMW and Porsche factories, which was the original intention of the project. But Hristo had the opportunity to go to Berlin, Dresden and Leipzig. He has been able to see the Johann Sebastian Bach monument, the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin Station and the Golden Horseman in Dresden, as well as visiting an art gallery. It was the first time he had seen mounted police.
In addition to a certificate of participation in the project, Hristo came back confident that he wanted to continue his professional development in the field of mechanics and electrical furnishing. He will apply to the Technical University after his graduation in May.
We wish him good luck and perseverance in pursuing his dreams and believe that he will face every challenge and difficulty as he always has so far.
We wish you wings! And don’t stop pursuing your goals, dear boy!
This year Hristo* will finish school and will have to go his own way. He will not rely on parental support like the youngsters who grew up in a family. He won’t be able to return home on holidays and in times of need.
But we believe we have given him confidence and helped him to follow his dreams, be persistent and not give up. And one of his dreams is “to create something to help the world“.
This is one of our boys. Smart, talented and a fighter. He has had an interest in technology since he was a kid, and anything that can be taken apart and repaired. He helped out in his uncle’s car service when he was young and still has a passion for machinery and cars. He is also good at math, enjoys chemistry and art.
This is his last year at the vocational school where he studies. With great desire and enthusiasm, he took part in the first round of the “Best Technician in Mechanical Engineering” competition organised by his school, which was held at the end of February. Together with the other participants, he solved a 20-question test on general technical training and two applied tasks. He came home satisfied with his performance and, predictably for us, qualified for the next round.
The competition is included in the MES calendar and has been declared national since 2009, and started to be held annually since 1999 at the Gorno Oryahovo Technical High School, following an idea of the Milen Grigorov Foundation. The winners receive a certificate for admission without an entrance exam to the Technical Universities in the country.
“If I enrol to study and gain more knowledge, I will have the opportunity to do electrical engineering and become a mechanic.” This is what Hristo shared with us in a conversation some time ago.
We wish him to prepare well for the upcoming competition and know that when one has a goal, achieving it is only a matter of time.
*Name has been changed to ensure confidentiality.
He was born in a small country in Eastern Bulgaria. He doesn’t know his dad, whom he is named after, and he has seen his mom only once. His whole childhood passed in one of those big and unhappy children homes for orphans, situated in a desolated village in northern Bulgaria, a place one would say has been forgotten by God. He has grown without the idea of personal space or belongings, and was often referred to as “a child with mental retardation”.
How do you think this story would continue?
The story of Ivan, Mincho, Drago, or in other words, the story of the child who has grown in the now extinct homes for children with disabilities.
Here is the rest of Ivan’s story.
He began living with us five years ago. Now, he is 24. Good-hearted and benevolent. Diligent and always ready to help. He loves being busy and working hard. He makes wonderful origami, and he is interested in new technologies. He likes listening to music and being outdoors.
Ivan is very inquisitive and eager to learn. Therefore, he has enrolled in professional courses to become a construction worker and a masseur. He is aware that such courses would help him develop and become a more independent individual.
However, his greatest passion has always been cooking. Ivan managed to get noticed for his culinary abilities, and got a part-time job as an assistant cook in a local catering company. He later received training in the company and his hard work and dedication urged his manager to offer him a full time job.
Ivan is ecstatic; he would work everyday for 8 hours. His responsibilities include making prep work, sanitizing the kitchen, and assisting with deliveries. He has a supervisor, a local woman who is responsible for the catering of the retirement homes in the city.
For us, it’s a great privilege and a pleasure to hear the positive feedback from his employer. He says that Ivan has been doing his job in a responsible and thorough manner, fits in perfectly, and is enthusiastic about helping others. He even works overtime. His colleagues, also, really like him. With shining eyes, Ivan shares with everyone that this is a dream come true, and that he cannot wait for the next work day.
Despite his unfortunate childhood and the stereotypical belief that people with intellectual disabilities do not have a place in the labor market, Ivan is now working, evolving, and contributing to his community.
*The name has been changed due to privacy reasons.”
Growing up without a family is one of the biggest challenges that you may face in life. This is how things are for Y. and S.* for whom this is how life has been since their early childhood. But despite all the storms they have been through, they don’t stop striving for a better future, they don’t stop learning, gaining experience and dreaming of a world, where they will be useful and significant. For the past few years Y. and S. have been living in family-type homes, managed by the Cedar Foundation, where different experts are helping them follow the steps towards a better, more independent future. Their adventure began in the summer of 2019 with a job at the Margarita Asebo Nursing Home in Kazanlak where they help take care of elderly people. A year later, Y. and S. had the opportunity to upgrade their skills in working with children and young adults with special needs. This happened thanks to the Osvobozhdenie – 1884 Community Center in Sheynovo village and two volunteer projects with the European Solidarity Corps. An adventure, which continues today.
At first, the young boys started with regular visits to the elderly people in the nursing home and helped them with different activities – accompanied them to excursions and theatre, read books to them and organized fun games, bought essential items, etc. After a while they had the chance to work in family-type centers. Despite the challenging work with young adults with special needs, Y. and S. did a wonderful job and found an approach towards each and every one of them. They used methods like art therapy, sensory and music therapy. They organized sport activities, picnics, horse riding and nature walks. Their persistence and perseverance brought a positive change to the lives of the people under their care as well as to their own lives. While striving to be useful to the elderly in the nursing home and the young adults at the family-type homes, Y. and S. were also useful to themselves, because this communication taught them a lot of new responsibilities, patience and helped them develop practical skills, which will be always useful to them. Thanks to their efforts and the support they received, they managed to complete their professional education and can now work in rehabilitation and balneo centers. In addition, the two boys completed professional cooking and hairdressing classes. S. continues to develop his skills with an upgrading cooking class and Y. is attending music and folklore lessons with a professional teacher, as well as upgrading his math skills with the help of an experienced tutor.
The Cedar Foundation would like to thank the Osvobozhdenie – 1884 Community Center for their partnership, which helped the development and well-being of our boys.
*The names of the young men have been changed to ensure confidentiality.
This story begins with a campaign for collecting kitchen tools and household items for our Small Group Homes. Among dozens of coffee cups, forks, spoons, toasters, knives and a myriad of emails from all over the country we not only found support and understanding but also attracted real ambassadors for our cause. One of them was Rado who initiated an internal fundraising campaign among his colleagues. Rado created his own advertising poster for the campaign and communicated it to his colleagues. The tools and materials that they gathered were soon delivered directly to our central office in Sofia.
But Rado’s story doesn’t end here. Few months later Rado and his wife celebrated their wedding and encouraged their guests to donate instead of buying bouquets. Part of the money they raised that day went to the Cedar Foundation. In this way we were made part of their most special day.
As a real ambassador Rado promoted and shared our mission not only among his colleagues and relatives but also with the management of the company he worked for. Shortly after the company made a corporate donation for Cedar foundation.
We are grateful to our ambassadors for their dedication! You are an inspiration to us!In Stories
Frequent handwashing is the one method that we know helps protect against the coronavirus. Scrubbing your hands vigorously with soap for at least 20 seconds and rinsing off under clean, running water will remove most germs and viruses. Both warm and cold water would normally do, but in cold weather, contact with unheated water for long stretches is far from an inviting prospect.
A leaky roof this winter caused the water-heating system at one of the Cedar Foundation’s family-type centers for children without parental care to malfunction and eventually to stop working. In the absence of warm water, handwashing for both residents and caregivers at the center, located in the western Bulgarian town of Kyustendil, became a stressful experience. Showering was impossible.
Routine and calm, orderly activities are essential to the well-being of the center’s residents, who have both physical and intellectual impairments, so many found it difficult to understand and adapt to the disruptions wreaked by the Covid-19 outbreak. Predictably, the ban on extracurricular activities and trips outside, confinement within the facility grounds, the ubiquitous smell of disinfectant, and the mandatory wearing of face masks caused anxiety and fear. Having to wash in cold water was one distressing change too many.
“In the beginning, it was particularly difficult,” says Alexandrina Dimitrova, Cedar’s executive director. “They’d ask, ‘Why can’t we go out? Why can’t we see friends?’ We had to explain things to everyone, to calm them down. They have a harder time dealing with change.”
Existential emergencies like a broken water heater have the power to disrupt life like few other events do, so fixing the problem became top priority, even as the center’s staff continued to provide nurturing care to its residents. Cedar identified a fair-priced replacement heater and negotiated a good rate with a local firm for its installation. All they had to do now was find the money to pay for the equipment and service.
A social services provider, the Cedar Foundation draws nearly 60% of its budget from state subsidies. State support, however, allows it to offer only basic care: a roof, meals, and enough staff to tend to the essential needs of residents at the nine centers in two cities run by the foundation. But Cedar aims higher: it strives to give the best possible care so that every child can achieve his or her full potential. To be able to hire sufficient caregivers, therapists, and educators, provide staff with ongoing training and support, and ensure its services address every child’s needs, Cedar relies on donations. It is private support they turn to in emergencies like the broken water heater as well.
Cedar raised a third of the necessary amount to repair the heater thanks to individual donations through Bulgarian fundraising site Platformata.bg. A grant from the StandingTogether program of the America for Bulgaria Foundation and US Embassy Sofia covered the difference. The new heater was soon in place, and handwashing at the Kyustendil center became a more agreeable experience.
That particular hurdle was overcome, but other challenges remain.
Nearly one hundred children and young adults rely on Cedar’s services at eight residential centers and one daytime facility in Kyustendil and Kazanlak; since Cedar’s founding in 2005, nearly 3,000 individuals have benefited from its work. Many of the children and young adults in Cedar’s care have moderate to severe disabilities demanding 24/7 support and specialized therapy. Most residents are capable of some form of learning and take special classes. For Cedar’s staff, no child is beyond help and every child deserves love, care, and the opportunity to learn and grow to the full extent of his or her abilities.
Getting there requires long-term commitment—“very small steps over time,” as Ms. Dimitrova puts it, adding that it is humbling to see “how impactful good care is and how much you change the life of each one of these kids.” All individuals in the foundation’s care experience noticeable improvement in their behavior and skills over time, while a handful of them have even gone on to lead independent lives.
“Every child or young adult requires an individual approach, which may change with the changes they experience in their lives. The important thing is that they feel secure that they are not alone. We give them this security,” Ms. Dimitrova says.
Individual work with speech, physical, and art therapists, regular counseling, around-the-clock care, and specialized skills training involve considerable investment. The Covid-19 outbreak has put additional pressure on the foundation’s already overstretched budget and removed an importance source of fundraising income: events. Cedar was among the first NGOs to pioneer charity balls in Bulgaria and, before the outbreak, organized regular quizzes and donor get-togethers, which over the years helped it cultivate many repeat supporters. “Our donors feel like they are part of a community, and they are proud to belong to it,” Ms. Dimitrova says. The crisis, however, has made it more difficult for them to give.
She is optimistic, however, saying: “Little by little we are adapting.” She is particularly proud that although many of the caregivers at Cedar’s centers are in the high-risk group for infection, and employees with small children have to arrange for alternative childcare, all of them keep going to work and even put in longer hours.
And amid all the havoc the virus wrought for millions, the lockdown hasn’t been all bad for Cedar residents. “The positive thing is that they grew closer together and closer to the people caring for them. The family feeling is stronger.”
Source: America for Bulgaria Foundation
It all began with the personal initiative of one of our long-term volunteers. She often spoke to her coworkers at VMware about the Cedar Foundation, but she knew that in order to be drawn to the cause, they needed to meet our team and learn about the positive change we make ‘first-hand’. So, she decided to invite us to VMware’s Charity Christmas Bazaar. And we gladly accepted the invitation.
As early as during the organization of the event, we were impressed by the support we received. Our volunteer baked delicious pastries and one of her coworkers stayed up until 4 in the morning to knit the scarves which the two of them would sell with us at the Christmas bazaar. Many of the company’s friendly employees stopped by our stand, talked to us about the cause and happily bought Christmas presents and pastries in support of the children and youths at risk. Everything was completely sold out!
The winter holidays passed by quickly but VMware’s employees who became engaged with our cause decided not to wait until next Christmas. Those who were already supporting us shared their experiences with their colleagues and suggested that they donate the bonuses that they receive from the company. Thus, more and more people started giving to our cause, while the company gave them the opportunity to do so in an easy and accessible way, including by doubling their donations.
Sometimes you simply have to share the cause that you support with others, and your support will multiply. We thank VMware and all their employees who chose to change lives with us.
For a second year in a row Dessie, who lives in one of our residential homes, won the scholarship of “Blagotvoritel” foundation.
The scholarship is part of their campaign and is aimed at high school and university students deprived of parental care.
This year participants had to write an essay with the Dalai Lama’s quote as their topic: “If each of us unleashed their potential, the world would become a better place”.
Dessie has two more years before she finishes high school, but her essay demonstrates the depth and wisdom of her personal experience. She is very responsible, loves to read and study and her ambition is to do better at school even though she is already exceeding.
This is the essay which won her the scholarship:
“Every person has a talent and is very special. What is important though is to rediscover ourselves, because the toughest battle we need to win in our lives is the struggle within.
We all dream about a world in which people get along with each other, achieve what they have ever wanted, discover what they are good at and pursue it further. We dream about a world with no crimes, violence, hate, fear, pain, and suffering. We long for a world full of calmness. Centuries after centuries people have fought wars against evil and so that they change the world for the better. But the“evil” is always the other, because everybody thinks they are right and sees their actions as just even if it might look appalling to others.
We all long for a better life, but why is there still violence, hate, jealousy, wars, and hunger?
…Because it always is the other´s fault.
Every person creates their own world according to their consciousness and the degree of self-discovery through struggle.
Even if we live in the same city, on the same street, in the same house, even if we´re siblings, our worlds won´t be the same. Because the degree of self-awareness and self-discovery is individual…”
The Annual Meeting of the National Network for Children took place at the end of June in the town of Hisarya. George and Peter, two of the boys living in a residential home, participated and were supported by their team lead Maya Coneva. During the event, they took part in the educational panels and discussions. In the time that was left, they learned more about the ancient history of the town and networked with same age pupils from around the country.
George, who took part in the youth program for defending children´s rights called “Megaphon 2017-2019”, received a certificate for participating in the platform. He was highly motivated and actively participated in various organizational and invention activities. During the event, George also took part in training on children´s rights and child and youngsters’ participation. There he was delighted to present his essay on his role as a ‘reporter’:
“I started my role as a reporter for “Megaphone” about a year ago and I can say that this experience has helped me grow as a person and as a citizen.
I live along with children and youngsters from various ages (oldest ones are nineteen) in a residential home in Kazanluk managed by Cedar Foundation. They filled the questionnaire and answered my questions. Each month I picked at least eight of my friends and together we discussed current topics related to the society we live in. Then I collected, put together, and sent their responses.
This activity helped me learn more about the people I live with while the preparation for the sessions broadened my horizons about status quo topics.
What I found most challenging in my role as a ‘reporter’ was to motivate the participants to express openly their opinions and to stick to them. I see this as a failure of the educational system, in which we are only encouraged to paraphrase somebody else´s opinion or learn it by heart.
The most intriguing topic I worked on is ‘How to cope with cyberbullying’, because it affects me and people my age directly. Thus, we always need to be prepared for the dangers on the internet.
‘Reporting’ is a mission, thirst for knowledge and a new way of exploring the world around you. So, don´t hesitate to become a part of our team and to ‘have your voice heard’.”
In addition to youngsters´ participation, in the spare time they did some sightseeing around the town of Hisarya. They explored the Archeological museum in the town and the Tibetan Art Exhibition.
This is Danny! He is one of the children for whom we are currently raising funds in the “Bulgaria donates” campaign.
He was abandoned immediately after his birth and spent the first 9 years of his life in an institution where he was diagnosed with “Severe mental retardation.” Despite his age, when he came to our family-type center, he needed support for all activities in his daily life. He couldn’t walk alone, he lost balance and preferred to move on his knees.
Despite all this, Danny’s smile is enormous, and his eyes are full of yearning.
His story is not sad. It is a story that demonstrates the great importance of individual care, warmth and understanding.
After Danny started living with us, the positive changes in his life followed soon. In just a few months, he learned to feed himself with a spoon, which was a sign that he would become even more confident and independent in the future. As a result of the rehabilitation and individual care he received, Danny soon started walking alone and is now one of the first children to greet you when visiting the family-type house where he lives.
He is friendly, calm and cheerful, and his face shines with an infectious and warm smile. He enjoys meeting new people and is very social. Even if it is difficult for him to keep his attention on certain activities for a long time, he is always eager to take part in group activities and games.
Danny goes to school for children with special needs, and during the holidays he visits a day center for children with disabilities, where he receives additional specialized support from a rehabilitator, speech therapist and psychologist.
In order to build upon what he has already learned and acquire new skills, Danny needs active rehabilitation, physiotherapy and therapeutic gymnastics. His eyelids are sagging due to a condition he has, and a surgery is needed to improve his vision.
In addition, he needs individual therapy with a psychologist, speech therapist and rehabilitator, as well as to maintain experiencing positive emotions through fun activities outside the center.
This is Danny in a nutshell. It is the care and warmth he receives every day that make him different from a “sad story” about an abandoned child with a harsh diagnosis.
Support Danny today by sending an SMS with the text DMS USMIVKA to 17 777 or see the other ways to donate in our cause Donate a smile to Bulgaria donates.In Stories
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