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.
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.
Doncho – one of the young people living in the family-type homes in Kazanlak participated in the initiative “Support a dream” organized by the President of Republic of Bulgaria. The initiative helps youngsters from disadvantaged social groups to realize successfully their potential after finishing school and supporting them in their further development and pursuing their dreams.
An important event is the traditional yearly school ball in Sofia. The Bulgarian President Roumen Radev and his wife Desislava Radeva officially hosted the event and greeted more than 120 young people from different parts of Bulgaria.
Doncho was one of the young people who had the opportunity to visit the capital city and celebrate his high school ball once again. We wanted to hear from him about the event and asked him several questions. In addition to sharing his story about meeting the President, he told us about his plans for the near future and shared some of his dreams.
Tell us about the ball in Sofia and your meeting with the President.
The event was great. After arriving in Sofia, we were brought to the hotel. Afterwards, we went to visit the President’s office and met the President Roumen Radev himself. Following the visit, we went to the National Palace of Culture (NDK) where we had dinner. We could use the services of professional hairdressers and stylists who helped us with our looks. The dinner was great, the evening program was interesting, and there were a lot of celebrities.
Which celebrities did you meet at the event?
I met several singers – Poli Guenova, Michaela Phileva, Dara, Lyubo, Orlin Pavlov, Pavel, and Ventzi Ventz. I even was able to take some pictures with them. The actors from “The comedians” were there as well and gave an amazing performance, we all had a lot of fun!
Which part of the evening did you like most?
I liked everything, but most of all I am happy that I could meet cool people with whom we became friends. I hope that with one particular lady we will stay in touch and who knows what the future will show.
I liked that we all looked special at that evening – wearing nice clothes and very elegant.
Recently you graduated from high school. How did the final exams go, are you happy with the results?
I still have to take the second exam, as well as two state examinations. In my case it is a bit different because I graduated from a professional school.
In which subject will the second exam be? What are the state exams?
I am graduating from the Professional School for Construction and therefore, my second exam will be in my major – internal and external finishes and flooring. The state examinations are practical exams – the hands-on experience is very important in our profession.
What are your next steps? Do you want to go to an University?
I took a summer job in a construction company, because I want to save some money to get a driving license and buy a car. Being a driver is one of my dreams and I really want to invest my time in it. Afterwards, I would like to study at the Military University in Veliko Tarnovo – I believe this is the place for me.
What are you dreaming about?
To be successful and some day have my own business.
After a two-hour trip bus trip through the scenic Rila mountain, the children and youths from the
family-type home in Kyustendil had the opportunity to visit the Rila Monastery and its
surrounding areas. This trip was made possible with the funding of the American organization
Orphan Sponsorship International (OSI).
In the monastery, the youths used the opportunity to walk around the yard, to take photos, to
explore the frescos, and to light a few candles in the church. They filled the cloister with chatter
while walking down the stone roads, among the wondrous murals and amid the fresh mountain
“They are in their usual high spirits because this is a rare opportunity for them to go outside their
everyday surroundings.”- said employees from the caring staff from the Kyustendil, who
accompanied the youths throughout the day.
After purchasing a few souvenirs, the group headed towards the “Kirilova Polyana” area which
is not far from the Rila Monastery. The area is surrounded by some of the most majestic peaks
in the Rila mountains. It welcomed the youths for a few hours of ball games, running around, or
as in Dancheto’s case – for some relaxing suntanning.
After an enjoyable lunch in the open and a whole day full of great experiences, the youths,
pleasantly tired and sleepy, once again departed for Kyustendil.
Upon arriving, Sisi, who had been the most active throughout day, did not miss the opportunity
to put the other strap of his backpack around the shoulder of a member of our team, who was
“There’s always something you can learn from the children”—shared Veselina, one of the
women, who care for the children. Perhaps, this is an apt summary of a very special day for
them, spent at the Rila Monastery.
In the spring of 2018, the Cedar foundation welcomed two interns within its partnership with the German organization Robert Kümmert Akademiе on a project, financed by the program Erasmus+. The interns Lucas and Karo worked for one month in two of the Cedar’s family houses in Kazanlak.
Throughout their stay, they managed to keep all the children and young adults engaged. From the very beginning, they applied individual approach to the children and young adults in the center and forged an emotional bond with them. Both interns got actively involved in different workshops and therapeutic sessions as well as in everyday activities like shopping, feeding and cleaning.
Apart from the children and young adults, the interns created strong bonds with the foundation’s team, despite the language barrier between them. “Right from the very beginning of their stay in Kazanlak, we helped them learn several Bulgarian words, by writing them in the Latin alphabet, so that they can remember them easier. This helped them communicate with their colleagues better. But even when they did not understand our language, they applied great sensitivity, which helped them communicate wonderfully with everyone.” – shared Denitsa.
Throughout the entire month the interns initiated different activities, which made the everyday life of the children and young adults more interesting and exciting.
“We are happy that we had the chance to carry out different projects. The team always created a positive working environment and supported our ideas. One of the most exciting experiences was painting the columns in one of the houses. We had the children and young adults do their handprints with paint. Everybody had lots of fun and were feeling relaxed. Even one of the young adults, of whose reaction we were not sure, came to us in his wheelchair, moving on his own with his hands open. The entire experience had a very positive impact on his behaviour.
We decided to do finger painting on paper on the next day, to make him this happy again. “ – Lucas and Karo said.
The team of the Cedar Foundation fully counted on the support of the interns, had full trust in them and thanked them for the devotion, motivation and care. The foundation hopes to continue this partnership in 2019 as well and is looking forward to welcome more interns from the academy.
The end of March saw the final round of the national competition for high school students “Energetics and Us” which took place in Varna. Among this year’s 88 finalists from 17 schools across the country was Georgi – one of the youths who lives in one of our family-type homes in Kazanlak.
Georgi is 16 years old, and has developed a keen interest in automobiles and is passionate about everything that could be taken apart or fixed. He loves riding his bike, which he is adamant about fixing himself. He is excited about telling people about his ideas and inventions. Once we asked him to tell us about the helicopter that he put together himself, he flew out of the room to get it and demonstrate its workings.
Read on to find out about the helicopter’s assembly, the energetics competition and the ideas which Georgi would like to make a reality in the future.
So, how did you develop your interest in energetics in the first place?
I was interested in these kinds of things since I was a kid. I can’t remember that far back but I’ve been told. When I was two years old, while my parents were building our house, I had been busy taking out the screws from one of the electrical sockets with a screwdriver. I had taken out the cables and reassembled them. I grew up and when I heard that story I became drawn to energetics once again. Now I dream of creating something that would help the world.
Tell us more about the competition you took part in.
After going through the first round of the competition, I had to present a personal project in the final round which took place in Varna. I had to choose between creating a model of something, a report, an educational piece or a film. From the start, I knew I’d be creating a model which would be accompanied by a presentation as I had to present my idea.
And what was your idea? What was the project you developed?
My physics teacher suggested a few ideas. I had to choose what kind of power plant I wanted to build—whether it would be based on water, heat, wind or nuclear energy. I chose wind turbines because I find them the most fascinating and because I had done work with them before. I had previous experience which made it slightly easier.
How did the creation of the model go?
After I had the idea and knew what I wanted to do, I started implementing it. A lot of materials were necessary. I started with the base and then assembled the generators. I started thinking about how I could make the model look as appealing as possible and began to add decorations. I put in rocks, bushes and artificial flowers to recreate the real-world conditions. I made the propellers spin. Finally, I added in a few LED lights.
What are the LED lights for?
They are required in order to warn low-flying jets and to prevent accidents.
When do they turn on? Is it only when the propellers spin?
No, I made them so that they would turn on, irrespectively of the activity of the propellers. We can’t rely solely on them because if there is no wind, the LEDs would not be active and would not be doing what they are supposed to.
How long did it take you to create the model?
I was done within two weeks, even though I had more than two months to work with.
Did you face any obstacles or challenges while you were creating it?
Yes, these were a lot of challenges. Initially I wanted to put the LED lights on the edges of the model so that they would function as a fence for the wind turbines but I forgot to add in the fuse which resulted in a short circuit. I didn’t give up though—I removed them and started thinking about what I could do to make electricity flow normally.
Do you have ideas for future projects?
I recently created a wirelessly controlled helicopter. I took two broken helicopters apart, bought new circuit boards and with the remaining parts I built a new one which can fly. I need to put more work in it though as it is still showing some problems with the remote control.
And I have idea for another project, but I’m not entirely sure it can be done at the moment. But I am going to start working on it too. I want to create an electric motor which would generate electricity, which I would then use to build a motorbike.
Okay, last question. What would like to be when you grow up?
I am not sure yet. I had been thinking about starting and developing an automobile repair shop but now I am not sure. If I go to university and learn more, I would have the opportunity to work in electrical engineering and become an engineer.
My name is Hristiyan, but my friends call me Hris. Oh yes, I have a lot of friends now and the people of Cedar Foundation is a great part of them. Since they are supporting me, my life has changed rapidly.I am now 21 years old, but when I was born, I was diagnosed with a terrible decease. And according to this, I was not able to do a lot of thing. And I couldn’t, but not because of the diagnosis, but because there was no one to show me how – to me and to the others 60 kids, with whom I’ve spent 16 years of my life behind the walls of an orphanage for disabled children. When I was living alone, I was aggressive, didn’t talk, didn’t know how to behave around others and preferred to stay away from others. Although I was a teenager, I needed diapers all the time, for nobody had told me how to deal without them…In 2010 with the help of the Cedar Foundation I moved to a family-type home in Kyustendil and thanks to the individual care I am getting every day, I turned into an entirely different person – with the chance to learn so many new things. And I am happy, because I am able to now go to work, have a paycheck, go shopping all by myself, be trusted and be able to deal with cash. I have long ago forgotten not only the diapers, but I am now able to fully take care of my hygiene and I enjoy helping the household in the family-type home, where I live. I wanted to be alone once, now I love being with other people, singing and dancing. I can’t wait to begin with my folklore dances lessons.And I don’t think about the diagnosis, because it wasn’t that was stopping me from develop. It was the fact, that there was nobody to show me how to do it while I was growing. Well, there is now, and I hope this would last.
*The name of the young adult is changed
Zori and Mitko are two happy and sensitive children. Currently Mitko is 11 years old and Zori is his younger sister, who is 7 years old. Before they start to live in one of the family-type houses, managed by The Cedar Foundation, they’ve spend all their childhood in different institutions for abandoned children, encountering difficulties for which the kids at their age do not even suspect. Zori and Mitko gather together again in 2015 when they start living in one of the houses in Kazanlak. For them this is just the beginning of a great and happy change in their lives.
Over the past year, spent in the family-type home, they feel comfortable, secure and beloved in the loving care of the staff and their friends in the house. Both children immediately feel the warmth of home comfort and begin to develop many new skills, become more independent, confident and learn how to defend their positions. With the help of the team they begin to dream and to believe that dreams come true. Their greatest desire is to have a family – mother and father to protect and guide them. Parents, who are always beside them and fill the great void, with which they lived during their whole childhood.
This year their cherished dream came true. The children were adopted by nice and radiant American family, which has 7 more children. For the first time the brother and sister were able to say with a smile on their face “These are our parents!”, for the first time they experienced the warmth of their mommies kiss and the safety of their father embrace.
On the occasion of the departure of Zori and Mitko, the children and youth from the family house and The Cedar Foundations team prepared a special surprise. They crafted handmade cards with greetings and congratulated Zori and Mitko with poem. The children received also T-shirts with a photo of their friends as a keepsake. As a gift from Bulgaria they took with them their favorite book with Bulgarian folk tales and special souvenirs from Kazanlak, which will remind them of the time spent in the city. Their dispatch ended with treats and lots of songs and dances.
Zori and Mitko promised to always keep the memory of Bulgaria in their heart. They said that the cards are the best gifts they have received because they represent the friendship, love and support of their faithful friends in Bulgaria.
“We will miss you and remember that we will always be a great family of many brothers and sisters! We’ll meet again! – were some of the last words, exchanged between the children and youngsters in the house.
With great joy, the entire team of The Cedar Foundation wishes good luck and many happy moments of Zori and Mitko. Good luck wonderful children!
*The names of the kids are changed.
“Very few he needed to unlock his full potential” – says the volunteer Simeon Andreev, when he talks about the development and achievements of Stefcho – 19-year-old young man from the protected home of The Cedar Foundation in Kazanlak. Before he started living there, Stefcho has spent his entire childhood in institutions where his life has not been kind to him and he has experienced difficulties that most boys at his age do not know.
The friendship between Simeon and Stefcho arose during our 10th Charity Ball, where the two met for the first time. From the very beginning Simo notices the great potential that Stefcho owns and after seeing the thirst for knowledge in his eyes, he decides to help him. “I believed immediately in him and I was sure that I want to help him with what he needed most – namely education.”
Simeon felt that Stefko needs teacher with years of experience who will approach with understanding and respect for him. A teacher that works not only on his knowledge but on his confidence. In addition to providing lessons in Kazanlak, Simo makes an annual subscription for Stefcho in the Bulgarian portal for educational video lessons in all school subjects – Уча.се.
At the beginning Stefcho starts with lessons only in mathematics, but after the first 4 lessons his teacher considers that he has far greater capabilities and will be able to combine well math with lessons in Bulgarian and English. Her aim is both to help him improve his knowledge as well to believe more in himself, be more confident and sure.
Only a few months after starting lessons Stefko successfully took his first exams. Besides his quick progress in learning, he started working in the rosary in Kazanlak and says he feels great and wants “to catch the life in his hands.” Stefcho often sent pictures of his excellent notes in his notebook to Simo and is much more confident in his knowledge, pleased with his success and promises to fully carry out his mission – the mission Education.
Simo appreciates his friendship with Stefcho, he is extremely proud of his achievements and is adamant: “From now on you will read and hear about him!”
At the end of April 2016 a group of students from the International School of Zug and Luzern, Switzerland visited the children and youth that Тhe Cedar Foundation supports in Kazanlak. Several days before we welcome the Swiss volunteers again, we share with you an interview with the Middle School Assistant Principle at the International School – Stuart Byfield, which we did last year.
In 2016 the volunteers organized charity events in their school and took part in various volunteer initiatives, which improved the lives of the kids and young people, who live in our family-type houses and protected home.
Stuart Byfield supports The Cedar Foundation since 2009, and as a representative of the school – since 2011. He is also part of the Board of Directors of the foundation. In the interview you can read more about the whole project – its ideas, goals and achievements. Check it out:
Tell me more about the project. What are you doing with the students in Bulgaria?
Our students have worked since the end of August 2015 and they’ve been selling hot chocolate. The whole school also brought euro coins and the kids created a piece of artwork together. The idea is that they will raise 20 000 BGN to pay for the work that they’ve done here – for the trip, the landscaping, the planting and painting. They have more projects coming up over the next 2 months before they break for the summer. When we go back to school we don’t finish the project. We continue to raise funds, but then we also do a feedback session not only for the positive side of the trip, but also how we can improve it for the future. We share what we took, what we learned. I think that the human brain needs time to remember the specific moment that was not important at the time, but is more valuable later.
How was the idea born?
We’ve done this for 4 years. Every year we bring a group of students here and we make a group that works back in Switzerland. Not all students want necessarily to come in Bulgaria, but they want to support The Cedar Foundation’s cause. I don’t think this experience is for everyone, but I think that everyone could contribute to the change. We’ve supported The Cedar Foundation as a school for 4-5 years and the relationship is very strong.
What is your aim?
I think that are two things actually. The key aim is to improve the lives of the kids and young adults, with whom we work in Bulgaria. But then second to that, comes the understanding for our students. They now have a greater understanding of the wider world and what life is like outside of the bubble, outside of their comfort zone. Switzerland is one very comfortable place to live and you don’t see poverty, you don’t see children and young adults with disabilities. So for the volunteers to come here is a very different situation and for some of them is a real test.
What motivates the volunteers to help the disabled kids and youths?
I think that our students understand that they are in a privileged position. They have parents that guide them and support them, they are doing fine financially. They believe that we, as human beings, have the responsibility to help the other, who are not in a good position.
How are they feeling now?
Tired (he laughs). I think that it takes time to process the things you see and the things you feel. It takes time to understand. I believe some of them made a really strong connection with some of the residents, they showed deeper understanding on what’s going on. The students are very pleased with what they’ve done, they’ve had their eyes open about the situation in a different country and different atmosphere.
What is their attitude towards the children and young adults?
There is a great sense of compassion, this is the big thing that comes through. They talk passionately about the kids, about making a difference in their lives, which I think, is our highest purpose.
Do you think that they’ve had enough time to build relationship between each other?
What is interesting is that our students don’t speak Bulgarian, but you can see the relationship that they’ve built quickly. The communication is not only with words. I saw a lot of non-verbal communication and this makes me happy. At the dance class they’ve connected very well with the children and youths and this experience is very special for both of them.
How do you think this relationship will affect the life both of the students and the residents?
The relationship between our school and The Cedar Foundation is very strong. It is true that we give our time, compassion, love and money to the kids and young adults in the family homes, but this is a two way relationship and we should not forget it. Our students get so much back. We forget sometimes that they are too young, they’re only 13 and 14 years old and in this position they learn so much about themselves. The project changes lives here in Bulgaria, but it changes lives in Switzerland too, because the volunteers go away with a different mindset. They may never work with The Cedar Foundation again, but maybe a small part of them will stay here and they will change their ideas about who they want to support and what they want to do in the future.
Tell us which the most exciting moments were for the kids and the volunteers.
I think the dance class was really eye-opening, because even the most shy and reserved students were up and they were dancing with the residents. Also that very first morning when we walk into that very first home was the greatest experience, then we saw kids and young adults that can’t speak or act, or move, or respond in the way that the social norms expect. That was huge and very powerful! We’ve learned how to feel the kids, how to cope with them. Because is not a comfortable and easy situation, is not an exciting moment, but is very, very powerful.
What makes you proud about the whole project?
The volunteers are not adults, they’re kids themselves and the way they interacted, the way they communicated, and the way they worked with the disabled kids – that is the key thing for me.
With what feeling are you leaving this place?
This place always makes me smile, Bulgaria makes me smile. It’s a fantastic country with great people and very different culture, because it is important to keep that cultural identity. And what makes me smile is that I see hope here, I see hope for other places, where the children still need help. I see hope that they will also have the chance to feel the love, the embrace and the dedication.
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