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.
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.
Cedar Foundation > Stories