An interview with Alexandrina Dimitrova, CEO of the Cedar Foundation, was one of the daily highlights in the “This is Bulgaria” show of Focus radio
Radio presenter: 92 thousand levs were donated during the 14th Annual Changemakers Charity Ball, which took place on November 2nd in the Central Military Club. The proceeds will go for quality care for the 105 disadvantaged children and youngsters the foundation takes care for. We are discussing the impact of the event with the CEO of the Cedar Foundation Alexandrina Dimitrova. Mrs. Dimitrova, how does the donated amount of 92 thousand levs compare to the donations from previous years? Is it more or less?
Alexandrina Dimitrova: We are extremely pleased with the result this year. The amount is similar to the one last year, which was the highest amount of donations we had ever raised in the 14 years of organising this ball. We think that the amount of donations from tickets, the charity raffle, and the auction is impressive. Most importantly, it will be of great use for the children and youngsters we provide 24-hour care and specialised support for.
R.P.: Who were your partners for the event?
A.D.: We had many supporters, and this made it possible to spare the expenses for organising the event, so in the end all donations from our guests went for our cause. We had sponsors and a lot of partners who donated the items for the auction and the prizes for the raffle. In addition, the host Stephan A. Shtereff participated voluntarily and Preslava Fentham-Fletcher, who is a certified auctioneer from Christies, came all the way from London to support us. The musicians, including the trumpet player Mihail Josifov and the leading opera singer Edelina Kaneva, all took part voluntarily. Guests were around 200 people working in socially responsible local and international companies based in Bulgaria.
R.P.: In addition to the financial support in what other ways was the event successful?
A.D.: The most important thing for me is that in addition to the donations we succeeded in attracting many new supporters as well as our long-term partners who had been looking forward to the ball and asking us about the exact date. I noticed that it becomes more and more popular among people who have already attended our charity ball to return and bring along friends, colleagues, partners. In this way they pass on the good deed and expand our network of supporters. This makes us extremely happy, because our cause becomes lasting, i.e. the bigger our support network, the longer we will be able to provide for our children and youngsters.
R.P.: How is the money going to be utilised?
A.D.: We manage 9 centres. Eight of them are family-type meaning there is 24-hour care available. The ninth is a centre for social rehabilitation and integration, i.e. we support parents of young people with special needs. One part of the proceeds from the ball, and from the other events and initiatives we organise throughout the year, will go for more therapists who can provide individualised care for the children and young people. For example, we can provide art therapy sessions, physiotherapy, psychological and logopedic support that match the individual child’s / young person´s needs. Another part will go for transport, which is essential to overcome some mobility constraints and for the children to be able to go outside and attend school. Still another part will go for various activities such as trips and camps. We raise at least 600 thousand levs per year in order to provide all the activities for our children. The charity ball is one way to do this.
R.P.: What happens after the ball? What´s next?
A.D.: This week is an intensive one, because an international conference starts right after the ball. It will run from Wednesday until the end of the week. The theme of the conference is deinstitutionalisation and the Cedar Foundation is one of the organisers along with six other organisations and the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy. It will be held here in Sofia and approximately 250 local and international experts in the field of deinstitutionalisation will take part. There will be many presenters coming from abroad who will present the different aspects of the process. A topic that will be discussed is replacing specialised institutions such as orphanages with quality care for the children / young people who used to live there. Another topic will be preventing separation of a child from their family, i.e. how to support families so that a child is not abandoned. These and other topics will be discussed in both extensive sessions and small thematic panels.
R.P.: What are the benefits of such a conference?
A.D.: The main benefit is the experience gained in the past nine years since the deinstitutionalisation reform began. It is important for us to learn from this past experience, to remember the successes as well as the challenges, which we are still facing. Certainly, the biggest achievement is the closure of most of the specialised child institutions and in the next years the rest will follow. However, it is crucial now to discuss the next steps, i.e. how to provide truly quality care for the children and youngsters coming out of these institutions. For us at the Cedar foundation another really important aspect is acknowledging the role of the caregivers and specialists. They are the ones who spend 24 hours every day with the children and need to receive adequate support so that they can handle the difficult task of providing the best possible care for disadvantaged children and youngsters. We think that conferences such as this are crucial for exchanging insights from experience with other countries and colleagues and for sending out the message to people responsible for determining the future of this process.
R.P.: Who are the recipients of your message?
A.D.: On one hand, they are directed to the Bulgarian government and the European institutions. There will be representatives from the European Commission taking part. They have been supporting this process across the EU member states for years. We think that it is important for them to hear the experts’ opinion on what could the next steps be (because closing down orphanages is not the end, but rather a beginning) so that we can provide quality care for children coming out of the institutions and to prevent children, as many as possible, from being abandoned.
R.P.: Have Bulgarians become more compassionate and responsible towards disadvantaged members of our society and especially the little ones?
A.D.: I think there definitely has been a positive trend in this aspect. I remember the time when we first opened our family-type residential homes in Kazanlak and Kyustendil and there was a lot of tension. Local people were scared and worried that “different” children and youngsters will live among them. But I can see how this has changed over time, more and more people accept the differences, and they see there is nothing to worry about. So, I can see a change for sure. But at the same time, it is still difficult for people to understand how to help sometimes. Very often people who really want to help think that gifts and toys for Christmas and Easter is the best way to do that. Whereas for me it is important that they understand that our children need support every day and that there are professionals providing it daily. The role of the society is to accept them in school, in the park, and wherever they encounter them. This is still not happening completely. I hope that time will change this attitude as well. When it comes to donating, I notice that in the past 3-4 years there have been more Bulgarians coming to events such as our charity ball compared to before when the attendees were mostly expatriates in Bulgaria and Bulgarians living abroad. This shows that donating is becoming more popular among Bulgarians.
R.P.: Are young people more likely to donate?
A.D.: This is difficult to say. What I notice for sure is that donating to a charity becomes a bigger priority for young people in their work life. There are many people who work in companies, both large and small, which are looking for ways to give back to society. So, a company is seen in a more positive light if it provides this benefit. The results of a survey revealed that 88% of millennials find their job more satisfying if their company gives them the opportunity to donate to a charity or to volunteer. This becomes more and more popular among companies in Bulgaria and I hope this trend continues.