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.
Due to the state of emergency in the country, for 2 months now, the children and young people without parental care have not been allowed to leave the family-type centers that are their home. In these centers, they live in groups of 8 to 14 children, many of whom are vulnerable because of disabilities or illnesses.
The coronavirus poses new challenges to the children and young people’s care in these centers. Much more attention is required to secure their physical and mental well-being, including through the organisation and implementation of new interesting activities, to help them with the online studying, as well as to ensure constant disinfection and security in the centers. At the same time, many of the people who provide 24/7 care to the children, are at the Covid-19 risk group because of their age, and also need support.
We are raising funds to provide for the emergency needs of 70 children and young people in 8 family-type centers. The funds will be used to purchase protective equipment, food, educational and art materials for leisure, equipment for online studying, transportation for the staff, and online psychological support sessions.
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An interview with Alexandrina Dimitrova – Executive Director of the Cedar Foundation on how the social services managed by the organization cope with the state of emergency and the physical isolation.
How has the COVID-19 crisis affected your work and what is happening to the children and young people living in your centers?
In the family-type centers, we had to put in place serious measures to maintain hygiene, ensure continuous disinfection, and secure protective masks and gloves. We took these measures even before the state of emergency was introduced in the country.
Many of the children and young people we care for have intellectual and physical disabilities, which puts them in danger. A large number of the staff at the centers is also in the high risk group. That is why we have limited the contacts with people outside the social services, and the children and young people can only go out in the yard of the respective center.
We face difficulties explaining to the children and young adults why they do not go to school or a day-care center, and why they cannot go for a walk or to the grocery store. Staying home often leads to behavioral crises. But our social workers and social therapists are constantly planning and implementing interesting activities, so for now, we keep the situation under control.
The specialists from our Social Rehabilitation and Integration Center work remotely with young people with intellectual disabilities and their families. All services and materials have been adapted so that the work can be done online. The feedback from the youth and their close ones is positive. Some of them say that their progress is even greater as they are excited about the opportunity to use new technologies.
What are the difficulties that the teams face and how is the work in your centers organized?
For our employees the main challenge is explaining to the children and young people why they cannot go outside the center and the yard, as well as coping with the crises that some of the children have because of the isolation. We are also concerned about their own safety, especially since some of them are at risk. For this reason, we have reorganized the shifts at the centers to make it easier for the teams, and to give them peace of mind as much as possible in the current situation. We provide them with additional incentives to the best of our ability, as well as continuous methodological and psychological support.
The costs for our residential social services are increasing as we need more food (the children and young people generally have lunch at school or at the day-care center Monday to Friday, while now they are home throughout the day), disinfectants, protective equipment, and thermometers.
The teams at the family-type centers cannot work from home because they take care of 70 children and young people around the clock. They are professionals who deal with severe crises on a daily basis even besides the situation with COVID-19. Currently, all the difficulties have multiplied and now, more than ever, we need to find a way to support the people who work directly with the children. They are our heroes.
Are there measures that the state can take to ease your work and address specific problems?
The main problem we face is the lack of guidance on what to do in case of an infected child/youth or employee, in any of the residential services. The way the services are organized and operated, and the number of rooms do not allow for isolation and quarantine.
We believe that quarantining the whole family-type center would be inappropriate because of the vulnerability of the children and youth accommodated there, and the inability of an employee to care for them around the clock during the 14 to 28-day quarantine.
We believe that in such a doubt, the child/youth or employee concerned should have the right to immediate testing. In case of a positive test, the employee should be quarantined at home and the child/youth at a hospital or at a non-working social building in the community. Guidance from the Agency for Social Assistance is needed in this regard.
Another problem of which we have been giving a warning for years, and is now coming back with particular urgency, is the obligation for a companion from our team when a child/young adult is admitted to hospital. We already had a case during the state of emergency, and a member of our staff had to accompany a young person to the infectious ward. This is extremely risky and does not fall within the responsibilities of our employees. Besides, government funding is not covering the costs of such overtime.
What external support do the teams receive and are there any problems that hinder your work?
We have received help from some community based social services. Their staff supports the work of our teams at the centers. Our teams are in contact with the doctors of our children and young people who provide telephone assistance. We also have support from our long-term donors.
We are experiencing difficulties with some new donors, so we urge anyone who wishes to help to first contact the charity they have chosen. The givers need to understand what the organization needs the most right now, and how to best organize the delivery of the donation so that everyone is safe.
What are the worrying trends arising from the current state of emergency?
The care we provide in our centers is directly linked to our ability to raise at least BGN 600,000 a year. Unfortunately, despite the great efforts we are currently making, many fundraising projects and events have been cancelled.
We hope that everything will quickly go back to normal because the needs of the young people and children at risk are daily and continuous. We are aware of the difficulties that most sectors are experiencing, and that everyone is currently mobilized to invest in the fight against coronavirus. We are concerned that donations will be affected in the long run because people and businesses will be unstable or will suffer financial losses.
For years, we have been paying attention to the low salaries in the social sphere, especially given the workload of the professionals in this field and the responsibility they carry. In the current situation, they face even greater difficulties and still do not receive the salaries they deserve.
The Cedar Foundation’s Executive Director Alexandrina Dimitrova gave a presentation on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) at the HR Industry 2020 event that focused on the newest trends in HR. The participation was secured pro bono by Job Tiger.
The main focus of Mrs. Dimitrova’s presentation was on how CSR can be effectively applied while benefiting everyone involved— businesses and their employees, as well as the cause and society as a whole. By showcasing real-life examples, she pointed out different aspects of the topic which include both negative and positive tendencies.
“Quite often Corporate Social Responsibility is seen as yet another PR instrument, something trendy and therefore necessary. But in fact, the public image should be a byproduct, not an aim in and of itself.”
According to Alexandrina, the goal is for the company to positively change the environment in which it makes business and to make this happen in partnership with its employees:
“There have been many studies, showing that employees are more satisfied when they see that their company contributes to societal change. One such study shows that 88% of the so-called ‘millennials’ have higher work satisfaction if their job gives them the opportunity to contribute to positive change in the society they live in”, she added.
Among the other highlighted negative tendencies were the lack of focus of donations as well as the poor communication with people who stand behind the cause.
“Many companies get into the trap of wanting to support many and various causes or they tend to change the cause they contribute to on a yearly basis. However, this approach wastes and scatters the already limited resources and the overall impact that can be achieved becomes negligible. It is much more effective for companies and employees to focus their efforts on one cause. With time they will see how their support provides sustainability and can address a problem in the long run. Another problem we often see is that sometimes in their desire to help, donors decide on their own how to do so as well as what to donate without contacting us and asking about the actual needs of the children and youths we care for.”
According to the latest data from the Bulgarian Donor’s Forum from 2018, Bulgaria has seen a 4% decrease in corporate donations despite the good economic environment. Just 36% of all donations have come from companies. In addition, the country ranks 126th in the World Giving Index 2018 out of a total of 146 countries.
“There are many companies who have shared with us that they don’t want to brag about their donations because they are not doing it for the PR it brings. But actually good practices need to be shared so that their example can inspire other companies. This is the only way in which we can change this unpleasant statistic.”, Mrs. Dimitrova said. She shared the good examples of The Cedar Foundation’s long-term corporate partners all of whom have united the efforts of the company, its management and employees in service to the cause.
On February 6th The Cedar Foundation’s social therapists in Kyustendil welcomed their partners from Maria’s World Foundation. The aim of the visit was for the two organizations to exchange experience and for the visitors to become acquainted with Cedar’s good practices in the provision of quality care for children and youths with intellectual disabilities. Within a day the hosts proudly presented their everyday activities and responsibilities, their methods for developing the children and youths’ autonomy, the art therapy and leisure time activities.
Despite the snowy weather, the staff presented their herbal garden, greenhouse and zoo corner in the yard of the family-type home. Meanwhile, the children and youths joyfully and willingly demonstrated their work in the “Tell Me a Story” group and in the “Agile Hands” workshop, where they were preparing martenitsi from yarn and beads.
In the Center for Social Rehabilitation and Integration (CSRI), the youths from the “The Stage is Mine” club presented a humorous theater play on social behavior in a real situation- travelling by public transport, which was followed by unprompted singing and dancing. In addition, the cooking and arts clubs were presented, and the art therapists from both organizations discussed the different techniques they have developed, such as decoupage. They discussed the ways of implementing the techniques depending on the difficulty and the level of skills needed.
Another important aspect of the visit was the therapeutic character of all CSRI’s activities—the clubs and workshops, which Cedar offers. Meanwhile, our colleagues from Maria’s World shared their experience in fostering work habits and abilities, selecting suitable jobs that match the clients’ interests as well as the employers’ needs, and working towards the inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities in the job market.
Cedar’s team will also visit Maria’s World’s Day Center in the future.
The photographs were taken with the participation of young people from the family-type homes in the city.
The “Discover Me” photography exhibition was presented on Thursday, January 16, 2020 in the Cultural Information Center in Kazanlak. The exhibition showed photographs taken with the participation of the youths from the family-type homes in the city managed by The Cedar Foundation. The photographs will be on show until the end of January, 2020.
The exhibition is one of the many activities of our Photodrama project – a psychodramatic approach which achieves strong therapeutic results for children and youths who grew up in specialized institutions.
Among the visitors of the event were the deputy mayors Ahmed Mehmed and Lilia Tsonkova, representatives of the “Social Assistance” Directorate and the Department of Child Protection, partnering organisations, school directors, teachers, and society members.
During the official part of the event Lilia Tsonkova talked about the effective long-term partnership between Kazanlak municipality and The Cedar Foundation. Our Executive Director Alexandrina Dimitrova thanked the attendees for their support and shared the successes of the foundation, focusing on the results of the individual care for the children and youths in the centers.
“Through the “Discover Me” project we expanded the activities for the children and youths in our centers and we provided therapy for those with disabilities, as well as mentorship for the disadvantaged teenagers. The photodrama sessions gave the children priceless experiences for working in a team, having meaningful discussions, and making choices. They also helped them become more confident and ready for an independent life after leaving the centers.”
In addition to the photodrama, the project also focused on individual and group therapeutic activities, health, mental health, social and education counseling, support for personal development, development of talents and nurturing social inclusion as well as improving the abilities required to live an autonomous life.
The “Discover me. See me. Support me. Support for independent living and social inclusion” project is funded by the European Social Fund of the European Union as part of the “Human Resources Development” operational programme with The Cedar Foundation as the beneficiary.In News
The “Discover Me” photography exhibition will be presented at 4 pm on Thursday, January 16, 2020 in the Cultural Information Center in Kazanlak. This exhibition will show photographs taken with the participation of the children and youths from the family-type homes in the city, managed by The Cedar Foundation.
The photos were taken during photodrama sessions and aim to raise awareness about the talents and potential of the children and youths. The opening ceremony will be attended by representatives of the local authorities, the “Social Assistance” Directorate, partnering organizations, schools and others.
The exhibition is part of the “Discover me. Look at me. Support me.” project, funded by the European Social Fund of the European Union and its “Human Resources Development” operational programme with The Cedar Foundation as the beneficiary. The activities in the project were aimed at encouraging the social inclusion of the children and youths from the family-type homes managed by Cedar, improving their skills for independent living, nurturing their talents, and supporting their personal development.
The photographs can be seen in the hall of the Cultural Information center until the end of January 2020.In News
This Christmas we wanted to share with you what the most important things are when working with unprivileged people – attention, time and patience. We at Cedar believe that good happens when people find and choose the form of support that feels closest to them. And during the last few weeks you – our partners and friends – donated resources, time and effort and proved that while it can be a difficult mission, donating care is possible.
More than 300 pieces of cake were baked and sold, over 150 Christmas chocolate balls were decorated, and dozens of Christmas carols were sung to an audience of proud and excited parents just before the holidays. All of this in support of Cedar’s children and young people. Over 200 families stood in front of our photographers’ cameras for a charity photo shoot with Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus. A woman knitted a scarf until 4 AM to sell it at a charity bazaar in our support. The Cedar Foundation was the cause of charity brunches, lunches, sales, Christmas parties, and workshops. We were supported by companies and individuals, some of whom were with us for a first year, while others— for yet another.
Cedar’s team would like to thank VMWare, Westum, International House Sofia, Bulgaria Mall, Canon, Soho café, Ocado, OnProcess Technology, British School of Sofia, JC Decaux, Lufthansa Technik Sofia, City Mark Art Center, “Veselite Kambanki” Kindergarten, Ishy Bakery and Friends, the “Mati Bolgaria” Primary School in Kazanlak, Nu Boyana, Violeta Apostolova- Leti, Anton Draganov, Simeon Salov, and everyone whose thoughts were with us.
The human face of the social care, to which the state is a debtor
by Martina Bozukova, Mediapool, December 10, 2019
“The mistrust in NGO’s is largely due to people’s lack of knowledge about our work. Messages against non-governmental organizations, that work with our fears, are remembered very easily. But this is the fear of the unknown. Similarly, there were fears when the process of deinstitutionalization began, and people protested and signed up against the establishment of centers for children from the state institutions… So, maybe we need to get better at reaching out to the society,” says Alexandrina Dimitrova, executive director of the Cedar Foundation.
In the past 10 years, Cedar has been developing a successful model of social services for one of the most vulnerable groups – “Bulgaria’s Abandoned Children” – the children from the former state homes, most of whom were closed in the process of deinstitutionalization.
You can read the whole material here.
We see a huge difference in the young people we took out of the institutions. After proper physiotherapy, a 9-year-old boy started walking, while everyone was saying it was hopeless.
Interview with Alexandrina Dimitrova for Monitor
Mrs. Dimitrova, how long have you been involved in the social sphere? Is your foundation the first to independently close down a state institution? Tell us more about it.
The Cedar Foundation has been active for 14 years, and the process of deinstitutionalization has always been the focus of our work. We are the first to close down a specialized institution for children with disabilities. It was located in the remote village of Gorna Koznitsa (20 km from Kyustendil). More importantly, we provided care and a family type environment for all the children and young adults who used to live there.
Over the years, we have been able to participate in the closure of 11 more institutional homes, and we currently manage family-type centers as well as a rehabilitation center. We provide 24-hour care to nearly 70 children and also specialized support to young people with intellectual disabilities and their families.
How do your practices and efforts influence the children and their parents?
There is a huge difference in the development of the children and youth that we took out of the institutions. It is important to say that they are predominantly severely disabled children, many of whom have spent many years in an institutional setting.
How did this environment affect them? What are your observations?
They have serious mental traumas and distrust the people around them. Most of them have gone through several consecutive abandonments and their disabilities are both emotional and social.
Fortunately, in the new environment, thanks to the intensive care of a well-trained team, things are changing. We have many stories of children and youths, whom we were able to help.
One of them is about a 9-year-old child. We took him out of an institution for children with disabilities. He has cerebral palsy and several accompanying diagnoses. A non-verbal kid who always needed a companion – someone to hold his hand so he could walk.
In a year’s time, after physiotherapy and a lot of effort, we witnessed his first steps. At the age of 9, he started walking! Now, this kid welcomes everyone who visits the center- running towards the door, smiling from ear to ear. We are proud of him!
Do you manage to cover all the medical needs of the children?
We invest funds in additional staff and different types of therapies, which we raise through corporate and individual donors throughout the year. We do not have any medical staff to work directly at the centers. There are social therapists and social workers, and we rely on partnerships with GPs and hospitals in the cities where we operate. Whenever we have a problem, we get in touch with them.
Our foundation believes that caring for the children and young adults in need should not only depend on the social system but on each person and on society as a whole. We all need to share the responsibility.
Are donors open to help?
It was very difficult at first. They were not ready for this process themselves, and it took us time to build good relationships. Now, years later, I can say that things are much different, communication is easier, and their engagement with the problems is greater.
Healthcare professionals in hospitals respond whenever we need support, and I hope this happens anywhere in Bulgaria. We are aware that there is a lack of capacity and resources in both the education and health system. But ultimately, it is important to work together because we want these children to develop and be able to live fully, to be part of society.
Is it difficult to educate children with disabilities?
There are only 11 schools in Bulgaria that specialize in the care of children with autism. The children in your family homes have specific physical needs. Doesn’t this make the educational process even more challenging?
Yes, it is very difficult, especially for children with intellectual disabilities. They mainly attend auxiliary schools. We also have a child with an intellectual disability who is in a public kindergarten. We see that it is difficult for the specialists who work there, but they are too few.
Children without disabilities often face the problem of rejection. One survey showed that only 40% of parents approve of their kids studying with a child who lives at a center. We, at the Cedar Foundation, put a lot of resources into preparing our children for school. They are usually teenagers who have had to repeat classes, often fall behind their peers, or have to start their studies from 0. They also need serious support.
Does the number of abandoned children with disabilities continue to increase?
I can’t tell if it is increasing, but we are working with parents who tell us that their difficulties get bigger as the child grows older and becomes an adult. The reason for this is that there are not enough social services to support them. These young people remain isolated, without access to services and work. Through our Social Rehabilitation and Integration Centre, we try to support such youth. We already have 5 cases of disabled young adults who were able to find employment with our help.
We are not only supporting them but also their families. Our idea is that both parents and children are calm and confident to handle the challenges they are faced on their own.
Do you get support from the state and other institutions?
I think that Bulgaria is a good example in this aspect, as NGO’s work well together and have the support of the Ministry of Labor and Social Politics, which is one of the drivers of major reforms related to deinstitutionalization.
What we need to focus on is ensuring a good quality of care for the children and youth we took out of the institutions. Our appeal is to invest more in people – those who take care of them and are employed in the social sector. They are the ones who are with the children and need to be motivated and supported to be able to cope with the difficult situations they often come across because of the specifics of their job.
After the changes in the People with Disabilities Rights Protection Act, is it easier for young people to be employed, what are your observations?
I think it’s too early to say because the change in the law happened not long ago. What we are seeing with the young adults who began to work is that the mediator played the most important role. A mediator supports and helps disabled people to work.
We have youths who are employed in kindergartens, helping the support staff. We also take care of a young man who works part-time in a municipal laundry. I want to tell you that their confidence has grown. And I’m sure this is the right path to successful social inclusion.
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