The Cedar Foundation Executive Director Alexandrina Dimitrova led a workshop on “Strengthening Civil Society” within a seminar organised by the Bulgarian-American Fulbright Commission. The seminar entitled “Strategies for Strengthening Democracy: 30 Years after the Fall of the Berlin Wall” was organised by the Bulgarian-American Fulbright Commission, with the support of the US Embassy in Bulgaria and was held from 24 to 30 September 2019 in Sofia.
The purpose of the seminar was to draw attention to the challenges within the democratic environment in Eastern Europe and globally, and discuss pathways, initiatives and activities for rebuilding it.
Mrs. Dimitrova led a workshop on “Strengthening Civil Society” together with Lena Borislavova, a lawyer and a Fulbright alumna. Ms. Borislavova gave a brief overview of the legal framework of NGOs in Bulgaria, their access to the legislative process, and their role as advocates for the rights of vulnerable groups. Mrs. Dimitrova presented the issues of public image and sustainability of NGOs. She stressed on the importance that NGOs have the capacity to hire professionals in order to be able to deal with some of the toughest problems in society and achieve large-scale impact. Then the audience were challenged to participate in a practical exercise so that they could experience first-hand the everyday challenges that NGOs face when trying to attract partners and ensure resources for their noble causes. Some of the participants were in the role of Fundraising Experts, who had to meet with the rest representing the business and negotiate with them.
“Thanks to this practical exercise, the participants experienced what it was like to stand up for your cause and the integrity of your NGO, and to ask for funds in order to ensure the sustainability of your work.”, shares Alexandrina. “I was amazed at the lively discussion after the exercise, and all the relevant questions I was asked. The fact that students and experts of different backgrounds are becoming interested in the topic of NGO management, fundraising and sustainability, gives me hope for the future of civil society in Bulgaria”, adds Mrs. Dimitrova after the workshop.
Participants in the seminar were PhD, MA, BA students and civil society representatives from Bulgaria, the US, the UK, Romania, Germany, Portugal, Canada, the Netherlands and Greece.
Cedar Foundation invites you to an international conference Deinstitutionalisation of Childcare: Investing in Change
The conference will take part from 6 to 8 November 2019 in the National Palace of Culture in Sofia.
This three-day conference aims at sharing and discussing relevant data and experience, promising practices and challenges in the field of Deinstitutionalisation (DI). Within the global context of this reform, the event will take an EU perspective, focusing on the reform’s specific national characteristics and on bridging the gap between the accumulated knowledge and decision-making in DI.
The conference will document the lessons learnt concerning the DI processes under the overarching question “How should we invest in the change DI has generated?”
Within it, three key sub-questions will guide the discussions:
To what extent does DI facilitate attachment relationships and provide the necessary conditions for child development?
Where and how should investments be made to ensure these relationships and conditions?
Which investments are effective and how do we measure their effectiveness?
In order to answer these, the conference will:
open up space for reflection, giving the DI actors a chance to position themselves in this large-scale and complex social change;
facilitate the exchange of knowledge;
inspire and motivate participants to identify strategic investment areas by creating evidence-based, effective childcare and family care mechanisms.
Prof. Kevin Browne, Director of Centre for Forensic and Family Psychology, School of Medicine, University of Nottingham; Prof. Peter Fuggle, Director of Clinical Services, Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families, UK; Charles H. Zeanah, Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics, and Vice-Chair for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans; Nathan A. Fox, Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland in the Department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology; Charles A. Nelson III, Professor of Pediatrics and Neuroscience, Harvard Medical School; Jana Hainsworth, Secretary General of Eurochild; Robert Gilligan, Professor of Social Work and Social Policy, Trinity College, Dublin; Prof. Frank Oberklaid, Honorary Professor of Paediatrics, University of Melbourne; Stela Grigoras, UNICEF ECARO; Andy Bilson, Emeritus Professor in Social Work, University of Central Lancashire .
Ministry of Labor and Social Policy of the Republic of Bulgaria; Know-how Center for Alternative Care for Children, New Bulgarian University; Cedar Foundation; UNICEF; Eurochild; SOS Children’s Villages; Hope and Homes for Children; Lumos Foundation.
The conference will bring together experts with world-class research on and practical experience of DI’s different aspects. Over 200 representatives from universities and educational bodies and training organisations, the European Commission, national authorities, international and local NGOs, service providers, child policy and child protection professionals from across Europe, Australia, Central Asia and the USA, will participate.
Parents’ and children’s views will receive particular attention.
Young researchers in the area of child welfare will be given dedicated space to present their results.
The participants will agree on a set of conclusions and guidelines for investment in childcare reforms and increasing the capacity for evidence-based DI policy development and implementation.
For registration http://www.disofia2019.com/registration-information/
The majority of the children and youths in our family-type homes were abandoned shortly after their birth. It is inevitable that from an early age this event would leave some emptiness in their lives. For them, growing up in parallel with photos, that can be compiled into an album is impossible; they don’t have any baby photos with Mom, Dad, or Grandma, no photos from family celebrations. This lack of that positive history, which begins from the family and creates a healthy foundation for the future development of every individual, brings emptiness and makes finding oneself considerably more difficult.
Through the “Find Me” project, we provided support for a more independent life and social inclusion by applying the psychodramatic therapeutic approach of Photo Drama.
Sixty-two children and youths, 48 of which live with some sort of disability, took part in the project. Photo Drama helps the development of children and youths by allowing them to create and enrich their personal history, based on reality, which they inhabit. Photo Drama is performed in a group and within a protected environment. Through the support of their mentors, the children and youths observe, explore and come to know themselves with the help of photography. Through photography’s shooting, review, and analysis, a strong therapeutic effect is brought about in a group setting.
During the photo sessions, the youths had the opportunity to get to know themselves as well as the others around them. They observed and analyzed their feelings when their photos were taken and studied their image. The group discussions, through the help of the mentors, helped them develop their abilities to share and presenting through images, and improved their sense of their equality within a group.
In addition, the Photo Drama sessions helped the youths in our centers develop their skills and talents. They independently chose their roles and appropriate outfits. In a number of sessions, they had the opportunity to live out the feeling of posing in front of a camera, and enacting their role by wearing make-up and the appropriate costume.
The usage of this therapeutic method has shown that observing one’s photo image, even in children living with intellectual disabilities, often leads to an improvement in their self-assessment and self-confidence. In addition, it inspires a positive emotionality in the children’s psychology and assists in their personal development.
We realized the Photo Drama activities with the support of the “Centaur Art” Foundation as part of the “Find me. Look at me. Support me. Support for independent living and social inclusion.” funded by the European Union as part of the “Human Resources Development” operational programme.
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.
At Cedar, we believe that children are a responsibility of each and every member of society, not only of those who look after them. We are happy that for the third year in a row we have been collaborating with the Future for the Children Association, distinguishing the people who take that responsibility and contribute to improving the lives of the children in Kazanlak.
The Future for the Children Award Ceremony took place on June 4th at the Rose Museum. These awards are proof that more and more people take personal responsibility, by investing their skills, time and resources in those who need them.
There were three categories of honors – “Public Figure”, “Business With a Cause” and “Child’s Friend”. An award was also given to three voluntary initiatives.
This year once again, the category with the most nominees was “Child’s Friend”, where the students of class 4B at “Nikola Vaptsarov” School were distinguished. The award “Public Figure” went to “Iskra” Library, and the “Business With a Cause” was granted to Rotary Club Kazanlak.
Three initiatives and campaigns, organized in support of Kazanlak’s children also awarded at the event – Stenli Nanchev, “1 Percent Change” Association and Petko Chirpanliev.
Our young adults, part of the folklore band “Mavruda” also took part in the ceremony, along with their director Dimitar Gaydarov. They gave a special musical performance for the guests of the event.
About the “Future for the Children” Award:
The award was created five years ago by the “Future for the Children” Association in order to honor public figures, citizens, friends of the child, donors, companies and civil structures, who support Kazanlak Municipality’s children.
Cedar Foundation embraced the association’s idea and have been partnering with them in honoring those who contribute to making children’s lives better, for three years now. Our common goal is to encourage volunteer work and charity at a local level and to prove that the future of Bulgaria’s children is up to each and every one of us.
Pupils from the International School of Zug & Lucern in Switzerland visited Cedar foundation for the 9th year in a row. They spent two days in the residential homes in Kazanluk and Kyustendil and there they met the children and youngsters living there. They also worked on various volunteering initiatives and in this way making the homes even cozier and more pleasant to live in.
At the beginning of their visit, the volunteers had a day trip to the institutional home for children with mental and emotional difficulties in the Gorna Koznitsa village. Fifty-eight children and youngsters were residing there up until 2010 when it was shut down. Swiss pupils witnessed the living conditions of the youngsters. Svetla Vaseva, the director of our residential homes, shared with them her flashbacks of working as a caretaker in the institution and brought the pupils back in time:
“Coming back here gives me goosebumps. I can still remember hearing children and youngsters´ voices and can still remember the morning smell of the bedrooms. Buckets were used in the bedrooms instead of the toilet. Children were often sleeping on the bare mattresses because the sheets were ripped. A cleaning lady and a nurse were looking after all the fifty-eight children from 6 pm to 7 am. During the rest of the time, there were just two caretakers. The best word to describe the environment is ‘hell’. I am so glad that nobody lives here any longer and the youngsters are in a much better place. I am proud of what we at Cedar Foundation have achieved.”
In the next two days, the Swiss pupils actively participated in our homes´ everyday life. They managed to meet and connect with some of the children and youngsters as well as to work together on the activities. They shared how impressed they were with how different the living conditions in the residential homes are from the ones in the institutional homes. “I got familiar with Cedar foundation´s work while I was still in Switzerland. But it all seemed hard to believe. Now that I am here I can fully comprehend and feel that this is happening. I am glad that I can contribute in some way,” said Zoe, one of the pupils. The first day was dedicated to decorating beautifully t-shirts using special techniques and paint. After that, they painted together the fence and the wooden walls in the residential homes. The day ended with dancing and lots of laughter. Hosts taught the volunteers how to dance Bulgarian traditional dances and gave them traditional souvenirs as gifts. The activities on the next day included painting, renovating the living spaces, gardening. They together planted flowers, new hedges, and herbs. The day ended with a cooking competition for the best-made banitsa (traditional Bulgarian pastry with Feta cheese and eggs). The foundation´s team and the children and youngsters from the residential homes happily shared with the Swiss pupils their recipes and the techniques they use to make banitsa.
In addition to the meaningful contribution the volunteers made, they also managed to make friends among the children and youngsters living in residential homes. They played soccer, table soccer, rode bikes, draw, did hairstyles and laughed together. The pupils’ visit ended with expressing gratitude – they gave the children and youngsters presents to thank them for their hospitality and to express their willingness to contribute in the future. Cedar foundation also showed their gratitude to the pupils by giving them certificates and thanked for the long-term partnership with the International School of Zug and Lucern in Switzerland.
The process of remodelling foster care in Bulgaria started in 2010. It involved closing down the larger public institutions for abandoned children and substituting them with wholistic care homes resembling family environment. The Mogilino orphanage, that became notoriously famous in a BBC documentary, has been closed since then. Along with it another orphanage, the one in Gorna Koznitsa village, in which the living conditions resembled a scene from a horror movie, was shut down. Since then the number of children in institutions drastically went down – from 7500 to 620 children. The last 29 institutions are about to be closed and children relocated to residential care homes by the end of 2020.
What is happening with the children and youngsters who have been relocated from fostering institutions?
Most of them are living in the so called residential homes. More than two hundred and eighty residential homes have been established so far. They usually are located in lively neighbourhoods and because of the small group size, the living conditions allow for better individual care and attention for every child. A study by Alpha Research, ordered by the Bulgarian Agency for Social Assistance, showed that approximately 75% of people have a positive attitude towards the children living in residential homes and do not mind having them as neighbours. However, throughout the building of the residential homes locals were often organising protests, signing petitions and commenting that they do not wish “mentally ill” and “dangerous” young adults to live nearby and to play alongside their children. So the evidence from Alpha Research’s study indicates a mindset shift in a positive direction among locals. Even though their attitude has changed somewhat and they stopped protesting and showed that they support adequate conditions for children and youngsters in foster care, they still see them as different.
The examples vary from downright rejection to misunderstanding that manifests as gestures out of pity
One of the examples in Alpha Research’s study is of a child who invites all of his classmates to a birthday party except for one classmate – the one who lives in a residential home. Another example is of a child from a residential home becoming the first suspect after a theft among classmates. In the second instance the child turned to home schooling because of what happened. At the same time people who seem eager to help the children and youngsters deprived of parental care see donating clothes, toys and food during public holidays as the only way to help. But children need more than that, they have been receiving material help while they were raised in foster institutions too. It did not help them feel more secure, loved, and assured. It simply confused them even more, because strangers constantly wanted to meet them, to come in the residential home and to see smiles on their faces, but once holidays were over they never saw them until the next holiday. It is confusing for the children and it is high time to reconsider this type of help.
Feeling genuinely cared for and feeling included in their school and city communities are two of the children and youngster’s basic needs
Carers and social workers in the residential homes provide support and care and so they need decent working conditions, support, guidance, and training to enable them to create an environment similar to the one in a family home, to take a good care of the children and to connect with them in a trustful and lasting way. The carers need to possess a specific skill set, because in residential homes they come across children with really challenging behaviours for whom there is no other option, i.e. children with severe and complex disorders or children who have experienced repetitive abandonment and violence and the emotional trauma that comes with it. So a lot is expected of the teams whilst the conditions they have to work in are very far from corresponding to the demands. For instance, the salary is either minimal or close to minimal and there are no opportunities for development. Low payment rates are demotivating and compared to other fields such as education they are not going up. As a consequence, turnovers are common and children have to experience constant separation with staff. It is high time to standardise payment rates for social workers and carers in order to ensure better funding for the residential children homes. This could help attract qualified and motivated candidates and allow hiring enough people to provide individual care for every child. At the moment it is common for a single carer to support about twelve children per shift, which is unrealistic given the complexity of each case. It is vital to provide opportunities for further development accordant with the specifications of children and youngster’s needs, i.e. supervision or professional team support. Because only truly motivated people could offer attention and make the children feel heard, seen, and understood even when they themselves are feeling lost.
We, the carers who have chosen to support the children in residential homes, often feel lonely. We work closely with them and as such we have a great responsibility for their wellbeing and development. We spend our days together and so we have become their families. However, society is equally responsible for helping children feel accepted and included in the social day-to-day life. Thus, people’s attitudes need to be changed.It is true that children in foster care show challenging behaviours, but this is mostly due to traumatic experiences they have gone through in their early years. It is equally important for them and for society that they are given an opportunity to mature, to form healthy relationships, and to become valuable members of our society one day. So if you are a parent have the talk with your child and while you are at the playground encourage them to get to know the children living in residential homes and to play with them. If you are not sure of how to do that, we invite you to seek guidance from the carers and social workers at the residential homes. They are the ones who know the children and youngsters best and will help you with inclusion and connection. If you are a teacher, create a culture of inclusivity and appreciation of differences in the classroom. Leading by example and showing the importance of connecting to others in contrast to rejecting them just because they are different and did not have the chance to grow up in a family.
For the sixth successive year, Hilton Sofia’s team created another magical Christmas experience for the children and youths from our family-type homes in Kyustendil. They had arranged for Santa Claus to come in and visit, along with the dwarves and the reindeer, and to give away many presents, delicacies and to produce a natural sense of excitement.
In order to give their guests with a warm welcome, the children and youths prepared a short play in which they recreated the spirit of the Christmas tradition. As part of the play, some of them dressed up as carol singers, while others held a ritual around the Christmas table and greeted their guests with poems, memorized especially for the occasion.
After the celebration, Hilton’s team visited our family-type homes in Kyustendil. They teamed up with the children and youths to put up the Christmas tree and decorate all the rooms in the center. Finally, together they crafted many Christmas cards for the holidays.
We would like to thank our partners from Hilton Sofia, who for yet another year gave more than presents and delicacies to the underprivileged children and youths. Once again, they gave them their friendly attitude, understanding and helped create wonderful experience, which will not be forgotten in our family-type home in Kyustendil.
Alexandrina Dimitrova, the CEO of the Cedar Foundation, is one of the 30 Bulgarians featuring in the ‘Social Entrepreneurs’ category of the 2018 edition of the Forbes 30 Under 30.
Forbes 30 Under 30 is the largest and most prominent selection of young global leaders. The magazine features thirty entrepreneurs, bright talents, and game changers in various industries, who are under the age of thirty.
The list of leaders for this year was released during the 6th edition of the forum ‘30 under 30’ on September 18 at Capital Fort. The young visionaries were selected for one of the following categories: Social Entrepreneurs, Business, Arts, Education and Sports. For the first time in Bulgaria the selection was made by a jury including the most influential leaders in each industry.
“For me being selected for the Forbes 30 Under 30 means a recognition of the worthwhile contribution the Cedar Foundation makes. I am very happy that through 30 Under 30 more people will learn about our mission and professional approach to managing social services and attracting socially responsible partnering organisations.” says Alexandrina Dimitrova
Find out more about 2018 edition on Forbes Bulgaria’s website.
Each of us has encountered the maxim that true knowledge derives from the immediate experience, not the experience of others. That is why we at Cedar strive to encourage the children and young people in our centers to gain knowledge and develop skills from their own experiences. We motivate them to go out of their comfort zone, to challenge their opportunities and to make new discoveries about the things that excite them.
That was exactly the purpose of the first experiential learning camp we had at the foot of Stara Planina mountain. The children and young people without disabilities from our family centers in Kazanlak embarked on a real mountain adventure in the heart of Bulgaria – Uzana. For one week they participated in various activities organized by our friends from the Association “Natural Explorers”.
Through fun group games the young people had the opportunity to learn more about the features of the Stara Planina region, as well as the necessary equipment and equipment for the hiking and stay in the mountain. They learned to navigate with a map and a compass, and they also understood what the “nording of the map” means. They also remembered which natural objects and celestial bodies can help them understand where they are.
After the training sessions, the time has come for the “big challenges”, as most of them called them – the climbing of two of the peaks in the area – Mount Korita and Mount Ispolin and a night out in the tents. These adventures placed the young people in front of many challenges and not just physical ones. In addition to the tiring climb and the fear of sleeping under the open sky, they faced the challenges of group work – meeting the needs and wishes of the whole group, not just their own.
Despite all the difficulties, however, they managed to overcome their fears and climb the peaks, thanks to their mutual support, desire and tenacity. Their journey was also an inward one, towards themselves. They’ve set goals, beyond the limits of their daily lives, understood more about themselves and others, gained courage and self-esteem. And most importantly, they supported each other and showed sympathy and concern towards their friends.
Survival camps are part of the project “Live it to learn it”, funded by International Women’s Club Sofia. The project aims to motivate children and young people to learn and develop themselves without limiting the knowledge within the school classroom. The basis of camps is the learning experience through experience where participants have the opportunity to make their own discoveries and experiments instead of listening or reading about the experience of others. In addition, they analyze the experience and thus discover unsuspected personal abilities that can help them improve themselves further.
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